Getting CrossFit: Easy don't cut it

By Rebecca Gibb

Crossfit is a quick, effective and fun way to beat the flab ... and challenge yourself.

Shunning cookie-cutter routines means workouts are always fresh and challenging. Dave Gatman does an Olympic lift at CrossFit Birkenhead. Photo / Janna Dixon
Shunning cookie-cutter routines means workouts are always fresh and challenging. Dave Gatman does an Olympic lift at CrossFit Birkenhead. Photo / Janna Dixon

Butch Bulgarians, lycra suits and facial hair spring to mind when thinking about women weightlifting. But there's a more feminine side emerging with a training system that's taking New Zealand by storm.

There are no Bulgarian brutes here, rather a motley crew of men and women, from teachers and accountants, to mums and pensioners.

The first crossfit gym opened in 1995 in California; today there are about 2000 worldwide. The founders, Greg and Lauren Glassman, blended weightlifting, gymnastics, kettle bell training and calisthenics to create a new form of fitness training that's now widely used by police departments and armed forces.

Understandably I'm little alarmed at this, but I'm calmed by my partner, who has dragged me along. His main sport is couch surfing, so how hard can it be?

My nerves are eased further by the unassuming gym - it's certainly not for posers.

The ratio of men to women is about 60:40 at CrossFit Birkenhead, and the women range from petite to plump; the men from beanpole to beefcake. This lulls me into a false sense of security.

Each session starts with strength work, so you may learn to squat, shoulder press, or, the one that always causes a few sniggers - the snatch. Don't worry if it's a foreign language at first, you'll be eased in gently, practising with a broomstick.

One of the first things you'll notice at crossfit gyms is the absence of mirrors. Paul Davies, owner of CrossFit Birkenhead, says, "You don't need a mirror because there's always a coach to tell you if you are doing it right or wrong."

Having no idea whether I'm looking dishevelled or not, the session kicks off. Each day brings a different workout and most take only 10 to 20 minutes. It's up to the coach to decide on the "workout of the day" - "There's no blueprint, nor cookie-cutter programme," adds Paul.

However, there are several universal workouts named Cindy, Fran and Grace, which sound rather endearing, but don't be fooled: "It's like how they name hurricanes, there's something nasty about them," laughs Paul.

Everyone in the gym begins the workout (which is scaled according to your fitness) simultaneously. Newcomers are eased in with lighter weights and fewer repetitions. Those who have completed the workout - and those who are still going - cheer each other on and, when I finish in a sweaty heap, I'm glad there are no mirrors.

So why am I now hooked, like so many others? It's great for the time poor: you can be in and out within 40 minutes having completed a really effective workout. My arms and legs are more toned within weeks, I'm stronger, and there are certainly weightloss benefits.

Paul believes variety is key to its success: "It's the complexity of the challenge, there are so many different exercises ... you continue to learn new things."

There's also the community aspect of everyone training together. This camaraderie keeps you coming back for more.

There are CrossFit gyms across the country:

CrossFit Birkenhead
Free trials take place on Saturdays at 9.15am. Contact Paul on 021 784 988.

CrossFit NZ, St Johns
Free trials take place on Saturdays at 9am. Bookings are essential, email

CrossFit Newmarket
Join Tony Veitch and Radio LiveSPORT's Dean Lonergan at the gym. Contact or call him to arrange a free trial on 021 850168.

Crossfit Hawkes Bay
Free trial Saturday 9.15am or call 0211775995.

CrossFit Wanganui
Free trial every Saturdays at 8am at Peat Park. Just turn up or email or call 0212082645.

- Herald on Sunday

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