Lungs burning, muscles quivering, every fibre in your body telling you that this rep will be the last one, and then you do 3 more. If you’ve been there, you know how it feels. It hurts, but you just want more. I have been told by more than one person that Crossfit is the best medium for attaining this high. Coming from marathon and triathlon, I’m not so sure. However, I was more than willing to investigate.
All Shapes And Sizes
Exercise comes in all forms. One individual can have many different motivations for wanting to exercise. These can include sport specific training, improvement of health or weight loss for aesthetic reasons to name just a few. Some people can run for 26.2 miles but have the upper body strength of a five year old. Others have washboard abs but couldn’t run for a bus. My own fitness journey has seen me compete in bodybuilding, marathon running, sprinting, rugby, tae kwon do, horse riding, open water swimming, water skiing, cycling and ultimately, triathlon. Current health issues aside, I’m fitter than your typical Irish person, perhaps a little leaner and my diet (this I can definitely stand over) is more balanced and nutritionally dense than the typical Irish diet. So, its no wonder I became curious about cross fit.
Constantly Varied Functional Fitness
Cross Fit is a brand. If you want to have the term over the door, you must become an affiliate – in other words, pay a fee to call yourself a Cross Fit gym. However, many gyms all over the world operate out of a ‘box’ and do this style of training but don’t affiliate with the brand due to the very significant costs.
Once such gym is Howling Heart Fitness in Clonakilty. Howling Heart are not a Cross Fit gym – but their strategy is to provide constantly varied functional fitness. What does this actually mean? Well, lets look at it a little more closely. I called up to watch an intro session up McCurtain Hill last week and my review may leave you wanting more….or not.
I know it is ‘constantly varied’, but my first thought as I watched the group was that it was constant. The ‘advanced’ or ‘initiated’ (my own terms) group were moving constantly. How does that work, you might ask, when it comes to rest periods and recovery doing lifts? Well, this was a conditioning session so intensity is high and the aim is to provide a circuit type workout that covers leg strength endurance, upper body strength endurance, anaerobic fitness (watt bike) and I’m fairly sure that the rowers were verging into anaerobic territory too because they were going pretty hell for leather. Each station lasted 50 seconds and was followed by a 10 second rest (Im sure those involved wouldn’t agree on the term rest) and then back into the next exercise.
Within the session, the exercises are varied. But what impressed me most was during my chat with Kieran Howlin (as in Howling….as in, the big boss) was his attention to detail and his passion in describing the periodisation that they bring each client through. This caught my attention. I’ve trained in many many gyms and its (believe it or not) few who have mentioned that gem of a word to me. You see, when you are training hard, you can’t do it all the time. Well, you can, but eventually you break down. You get injured, you get sick, your training plateaus and you get frustrated. So, periodisation is the magic word that to me means ‘gains’. Ok, so now I can feel that little lust for a session start to burn quietly in the background. Lets move on to the next thing.
This is definitely a bit of a buzz word at the moment and truthfully, almost every exercise you will do is functional. Press ups make your chest and arms stronger and help in the function of pressing. Farmers lifts make you stronger at carrying things (most people do this on shopping day and once they have kids!). Perhaps thats functional? Whatever your take on it, Kieran broke the sessions down for me into “Push / Pull / Press” days. I like this. This is the way I used to train.
What I loved most about the methods though, is this: When you wall into the ‘box’ its minimal. There are no machines (apart from the watt bike and rowers), no mirrors and there is nobody standing on the gym floor chatting. Its a work space.
At the bottom of that work space, Eithne (Harte…..as in Heart….as in “An Boss Mor Eile”) had an intro session starting and I was really eager to see what was happening. A number of people had said to me “Sure I can’t go up there, you have to be super fit”. Its simply not true. In the first instance, one of the beginners was coming back from a back injury and the other was very tall and, as us tall people do, he had mobility issues and appeared to me to have tight hamstrings and lower back. I wonder how this would fare with learning to squat and clean and deadlift.
Eithne brought them through their paces. First a warm up, then mobility….lots of mobility and movement. Plain, simple movement and I thought…”Hang on a second…this is what ALL gyms should be doing…teaching people how to MOVE”. All gyms should be teaching people how to use their bodies correctly and to the best of their abilities. This gym was doing just that!
I can only tell you what I saw and I am sure that standards are down to the individuals involved as I have heard of many other gyms with huge injury rates and serious illness following a hard session. But what I saw in this gym was beyond professional. The first question Kieran asked was if anyone was carrying an injury. This question is asked at every session. The second thing that struck me was the attention to detail in technique. Both Kieran and Eithne spent the entire time correcting technique, offering advice and constantly encouraging. There was no berating or belittling and there was certainly no aggression. Here I was sitting on the sideline in a ball of flames, bursting to fling my clipboard to the ground and pick up a bar.
After dousing myself in a cold shower of reality, I had a chat with the guys about the logistics of joining and how the system works. Its so simple – turn up at the door ANY TIME to come look and say hello. If you like what you see, you download the app, and you book your sessions online. Small class sizes contribute to quality of coaching. Sessions change daily from strength work to skills work (gymnastic) to conditioning to a mix of everything. You go as hard as you want to go and each session is tailored to the individual…you will not be lifting the same weight as the 7 ft tall bearded athlete beside your 4ft 6″ frame (or actually, maybe you will….stranger things have happened).
So, is this style of training really all its cracked up to be? I think that it really depends on the people who are running the show. In this instance, I would have to say Yes! I loved the sense of support and friendship within the gym. I’ve been to gyms where I attended classes for 12 weeks and never spoke to one person in the class. This had the sense of a club. Some people call it cultish and I can understand why. But the difference is this place will actually get you fitter and healthier. Whats not to love about that?
If you are interested in attending a session, get in touch with the guys on their facebook page here
If I got anything wrong, please feel free to educate me on the matter and if you have anything to add about your own experience, please feel free to post it below.
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