‘Don’t tell me that wasn’t a proper workout,’ says Candice Howe, owner and trainer at Dubai’s Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark, which has just opened a new facility at JLT. Apparently it’s not called a gym, but a ‘box’, as are the rest of the world’s CrossFit franchises, of which there are supposedly more than 5,000 across the globe. Candice is taking me through a taster version of one of her regular CrossFit classes, although no two sessions are ever the same: the Workout of the Day, or ‘WOD’ (this is an acronym-loving discipline) will always be varied, not to mention guaranteed to leave you heavily fatigued.
It may be much maligned by those who get their workout playing sport or through other more traditional methods, but CrossFit must be doing something right to have gained more than 72,000 followers worldwide. I’m gobsmacked when Candice explains that this is the number of people who participated in this year’s Reebok CrossFit Annual Open in February this year, with individual sessions held in gyms around the world.
In short, CrossFit describes itself as a ‘principle strength and conditioning programme’. Using functional movement (FM) that is high intensity (HI) and constantly varied (CV), the idea is that you will improve your fitness far more effectively than if you spend two hours left to your own devices in the gym.
When I visit, Candice explains that during a typical one-hour session, following the warm up, the WOD will include a series of exercises that are either to be performed in AMRAP format (that stands for As Many Rounds As Possible) or RFT (which stands for Rounds For Time). These incredibly high-intensity workouts can last anything between 20 seconds and 90 minutes. Candice runs me through the short programme, before setting me off against the timer. I start with 400m on the rowing machine, which I should attempt to complete within two minutes, 30 seconds. I then attempt five press-ups (proper ones, on my toes, not the lazy lady versions), 10 sit-ups (with my knees apart, flat on the floor and soles of the feet together) and 15 full squats. Once we’ve done the run-through, Candice sets the clock to eight minutes, and instructs me to aim for as many rounds as possible, using the rowing machine only once at the beginning.
Eight minutes doesn’t sound like an awful lot of time, but as I burn through each step without pausing, the onset of fatigue is rapid. When the buzzer finally goes to signal time is up, I flop onto the floor in an exhausted heap. (I’m too ashamed to admit my AMRAP total.) Candice explains that I probably would have completed a similar workout in the gym, but dragged it out over an hour. The higher intensity of the session we’ve just finished should therefore have far more impact on improving my fitness.
Before I leave, there’s just one more thing left for me to achieve. ‘Have you ever done a pull-up?’ Candice asks. I laugh and shake my head. ‘No-one leaves here without getting their first pull-up,’ she says. Attaching a coloured, industrial-looking elastic band to the bar, she invites me to hop into the loop and attempt to lift myself up. The band will give me a boost by taking about 6kg of my weight. I pull, and raise my chin over the bar, lowering down to rise back up again. I’m told it will take me a few months to get to the point where I’m lifting myself unassisted. But I have just completed a proper workout, even if it was only eight minutes long. Before I start working on my pull-ups, I think I’ll have a little rest.
Reebok CrossFit LifeSpark runs a comprehensive introduction to the discipline every Saturday, noon-3pm. Dhs400 per person. Concorde Tower, Cluster H, Jumeirah Lakes Towers (050 556 5640).
CrossFit gets competitive
The first round of the CrossFit Games is open to all CrossFitters around the world. A new workout is released each week: athletes have a few days to complete it and submit their scores online, either with a video or validated by a CrossFit affiliate.
The top Open competitors are entered into the regional finals. There are 17 in total, including 12 in North America, and five across the rest of the world – Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Australia. Up to three men and three women from each region will go on to compete in the Games.
CrossFit ‘Masters’ skip the regionals and qualify for the Games based on how they did in the Open. During the Games, they’re split up into different age categories; other competitors battle it out in gender divisions. The first prize is US$250,000.