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So let’s get one thing straight….I am a runner…thats what I do, however what you might not know is I am also quite partial to trying other fitness stuff too…I swim, I cycle, I do yoga (badly) and very occasionally I do try more extreme things like circuit training, body pump and kettlebells, I just never really stick at them?

Why?

A. Cos they are hard
B. Cos running ticks more of my boxes I guess, especially as on the whole it is FREE

IMG_5537But I must admit I really am interested in how more intense training can impact on my fitness, body shape and running ability, so when I recently got the opportunity to try out my local CrossFit (CrossFit 1971 in Stratford) for a month I jumped at the chance.

So what is CrossFit? Well the official website says this…

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more.

But why huh?

These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work divided by time—or power. The more work you do in less time, or the higher the power output, the more intense the effort. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity lead to dramatic gains in fitness.

In Julie talk…I would say CrossFit is a bloody good (but intense) work out which will challenge every aspect of your being, (as its physical, mental and emotional for sure)….but let me break it all down for you a bit and share with you what I have learned so far.

So a CrossFit box is the name for the venue they use which are run by affiliate coaches in my case Dan “Muzz” Aldridge (in the red) and Martin “Flan” Flanagan (next to him in the blue) both ex army blokes with more fitness qualifications to their names than they have tattoos between them.

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I have been taking part in their 6 session beginners course called Fundamentals so that I can learn all the essential moves under the careful instruction of the coaches before joining the main workouts.

CrossFit folks appear to speak a whole new language, which is actually quite easy to understand once you get to grips with it…and makes you feel like you are part of a secret club

WOD – Workout of the Day

AMRAP – As many reps as possible within a given time frame

MetCon – A Metabolic Conditioning Workout

Rx’d – As prescribed; as written. WOD done without any adjustments or scaling down

FT – For time…as in this is what you have to do…how quickly can you do it.

Then there are the different types of lifts to do with a barbell.

Thrusters

Jerks

Deadlifts

Overhead Press

Now I have done body pump before so I knew some of the terms before I came to CrossFit, but it has been great learning them properly and having my form adjusted.

Can we just talk about squats for a bit?

IMG_6130I like squats…heck we even have a xmas squat challenge each year, but I had been doing them all wrong. In part because my body didn’t appear to want to do them properly…at first it was showing real resistance. But now I can do a proper ATG (Ass to Grass) squat…with or without extra weight….and don’t get me started on Wall Balls.

I have been updating the ladies in The Clubhouse (our online running club) about my progress over the last few weeks, with sweaty selfies and snap shots of the session plans (which they scribble on a white board each session) and they have come up with a whole heap of questions which basically beg the question…

IS CROSSFIT FAT FRIENDLY?

Now by Fat Friendly what we mean is, could an overweight and/or inactive person walk into a Crossfit Box and join a session, and more importantly will they feel welcome and feel like their needs are being met…so lets get with the questions (Remember these have come direct from my ladies)

How long is it and what happens if I can’t keep up? 

So the sessions are an hour long and normally start with a short run…like 400 meters or so. I am a slow runner and I often come in last, but not by much. Then there has been some technique work to learn and practice key moves and then comes a longer workout to get you sweating. The session is written on the whiteboard and you do it at your own pace, its not a competition with anyone else…although you do put your scores on the board afterwards.  I have never felt like anyone is judging what I can do…I have also found that some people who look fitter, smaller, stronger than me are not always fitter, faster or stronger in everything…we all have our own strengths.

IMG_5314Do I need any special kit?

I have been just wearing my running kit and general trainers. I need a headband because I sweat a lot and I tend to take a towel too to wipe my face. I made the mistake of wearing shorts once, which didn’t end well but many people do wear shorts. I notice that much of the clothing others wear is functional rather than being coordinated or fashionable…they sell CrossFit merchandise which also seems popular.

How often should I go?

I have done 5 sessions in just short of 4 weeks. I would like to have done 2 a week, but childcare and other things (like running 18 miles in a race) have got in the way.

Will it fit in with other training I am doing?

I haven’t been doing as much running as a result of being quite sore most weeks. But I have been cycling and swimming. Once I start doing day time sessions on the same days I will build the sessions into my wider training plans.

How accessible is it as a workout? Is it inclusive of all sizes or are all the other women there skinny wearing hot pants and tiny tops?

I am the Fattest there…lets be clear on that. But there are people of all different builds who take part. There are no mirrors and nobody walks around showing off their bodies. But it is quite interesting people watching and checking out the different physiques. I haven’t seen any women in hot pants and tiny tops. I have however noticed lots of women with nice strong thighs and round butts….strong is most definitely the new skinny!!

Do you workout on your own, pairs or in groups? I would say you are there as an individual, but there is an element of group effort. Things like pairing up to use kit, helping pack stuff away. You are encouraged to get to know each other and support each other with form and technique. I hate the feeling of letting someone down because I’m slower at doing things or looking stupid because I am weaker…but I guess because I am doing the beginners sessions we are all in the same boat.

IMG_5300Is it an environment where you can take care of/respect your own level and ability or are people pressured to work beyond their limits?

Every time I turn up at CrossFit I know I am going to be pushed to my limits. Because the sessions are hard. And I don’t do anything like this otherwise. My body is adjusting to this level of workout. The Workout of the Day is scaled so that it is easier for those that need it to be, and the weights are adjusted for men and women. On the few occasions that the weight is still too much, I have been offered smaller weights. The coaches are great at assessing your ability and offering alternatives, however the onus is on you to speak up if you can’t do something.

Have I lost weight or seen fitness gains yet?

This is a difficult one because I don’t religiously weight myself, and August was probably the worst month for me to start this because I have been on holiday and attending lots of music festivals etc. Dan took all of my measurements at the start…including a very up and personal body fat assessment using kallipers…I think we are due to review them in a few months time.

I would say my bum and thighs feel firmer and my back and shoulders look different too, oh and I noticed muscles in my arms yesterday while holding on to the pole on the tube…so my body is definitely getting stronger.

I am looking forward to next week when I will start to do two sessions a week and get on top of my meal planning. I am confident that CrossFit will help me with my health and happiness gains, without me being overly focussed on weight loss…some fat loss and toning would be great though.

IMG_6129Have there been any down sides to your experience so far?

Yesterday I was the only girl in my session and I felt a little exposed. We did skipping which is not great if you have a weak pelvic floor. I was a little nervous to tell the coach, but I had to it was that or have an accident (urrghh!!!) he adapted the exercise…there was still skipping, but just in shorter bursts and I had to really use my muscles to keep things under control.

I would also say that its been quite tough taking my daughter to the session with me. I did this twice and she sat in the little waiting room off the side of the main gym area. She was safe, and happily occupied with an iPad, but I felt completely triggered by the fact I had to bring her as I would say the majority of participants are younger and most probably childfree…but for me this was the only way I could get my 6 sessions done this month as they are in the evenings.

So my plan is continue going to CrossFit. I am a little nervous about going up to the main sessions, but my philosophy is just to get there and do my best.

I will continue blogging about my experience as I feel I am learning a lot about myself and my body through this process, and the bottom line is, just because a fitness trend or space might not appear to be designed for overweight women, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go or enjoy it.

By showing up and taking part you change the dynamic and perhaps even encourage other women to be brave enough to give it a go too. CrossFit is bleeding hard work, but it teaches you how to push through mental barriers, build mental toughness and much much more.

I am currently in talks with CrossFit 1971 about scheduling a specific beginners session for women only, possibly even marketing it as fat friendly, to give larger women an opportunity to give it a go in a safe space around bodies that look like theirs…so watch this space.

A massive thank you to Dan and Flan and the rest of the CrossFit 1971 team who have made me feel so welcome. For more information about my local branch and to come down and join me in a session click here

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