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‘More than just silly pull-ups’ CrossFit continues to grow despite pandemic

The CrossFit games
In it to win it: The best CrossFit athletes compete at the CrossFit games, usually hosted in America. Credit: Travis Isaacs via Flickr.

By Ben Lovell-Smith | Sport Editor

After stopping rugby due to injuries, CrossFit athlete and coach Charlie Yip was looking for a new sport before stumbling across CrossFit. Three years later he’s a qualified coach and regularly uploads his workouts and personal training tips to his instagram (@c.y_fitness). 

CrossFit is a competitive sport and physical exercise philosophy, combining elements of many of the fitness sports, such as high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, calisthenics and strongman. Individuals complete daily workouts, known as “WODs” (workout of the day).

Roughly half of CrossFit ‘boxes’ are located in the United States, but the sport is growing rapidly across the globe. There are four main boxes in the Cardiff area; Reebok Crossfit Cardiff, Crossfit Origin Fitness, ION Crossfit Llanishen and Dragon Crossfit. 

Former ‘fittest woman in Wales’ Sammy Ventrice trained out of Dragon Crossfit and as a member of the gym’s team Dragon Athletic, who qualified for the 2018 Reebok CrossFit Games Europe Regional.

The growth of the sport is in spite of a lot of criticism. “I think [growth in the sport] is both down to higher exposure online, and people realising that it is a lot more than just silly pull ups!” Charlie argues. The sport has been criticised for its link with exertional rhabdomyolysis, a possible life-threatening breakdown of muscle from extreme exertion, which is potentially caused by dangerous movements and inappropriate levels of intensity.  “I would say that [the risk of injury] depends on the programming. I programme for athletes doing CrossFit but implement strength and conditioning properly to keep them healthy. Some gyms can be guilty of not implementing this and this leads to injury through random, high intensity movements which participants are not yet prepared for.”

CrossFit can also be expensive, though Charlie is quick to stress that it is certainly value for money. “Yes, CrossFit is expensive to take part in. But so is personal training. Standard of coaching aside (which varies from box to box), every participant of a CrossFit class will get some 1:1 time. This is what you are paying for. The 1:1 coaching of potentially highly technical movements. In comparison to paying a PT £30+ an hour to teach you very basic things in a commercial gym.”

Part of the reason for the growth of the sport can be attributed to the online content which has documented the growth of the CrossFit games. The Crossfit Games documentaries can be found amongst the giants of online streaming services; Amazon Prime and Netflix. Whilst, a vast number of Games competitors, such as Josh Bridges and Tia Clair-Toomey, provide a behind the scenes insight on YouTube that most sports simply cannot offer.

The benefit of the infancy of the sport is that it has been able to develop in a more gender equal way. Female Games athletes are every bit as prominent within the sport as men. In fact, the fittest man and woman in the world Mat Fraser and Tia Clair-Toomey both exclusively trained together until Fraser’s recent retirement. “There’s definitely more gender equality than other sports and the standard of both genders is equal and extremely high”. Many more popular sports can learn from this.

The next potential challenge for Charlie is the 2021 CrossFit Open, which according to the CrossFit website is the ‘largest participatory sporting event in the world’. The 2018 games are said to have recorded more than 415,000 participants across 172 countries. Whilst, this year’s Open will be ‘the most accessible in CrossFit history’. Organisers have accounted for local gym closures and competitors with health reservations. Flexible competition options mean that anyone can compete from anywhere, even without equipment. Though Charlie is disappointed that under current government restrictions it would not be viable to compete alongside his mates. “The environment of doing open workouts with your peers is sometimes more rewarding than the actual workouts, part of a large reason why many people love it so much. 

The 2021 season will begin with a three-week CrossFit Open that starts on March 11. Registration is still open, whether you back yourself as the next fittest in Wales or just need an excuse for an endorphin high to break up the monotony of lockdown.

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