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Coach Joe Goes CrossFit — Part I — Picking a “Box” #CrossFit #Running #Fitness #Triathlon

running-advice-bugOver the past couple of seasons I have been asked a number of times if CrossFit would be a benefit to my runners and triathletes. Since I hadn’t tried it myself, I thought it was time to get some in-depth experience with it and provide you all the answer: will CrossFit benefit you as a runner or triathlete? Oh, the things I do for you, my dear readers. Over the course of the next few months I’ll be weighing in — both literally and figuratively — to tell you what I think of the whole experience.

I went into this with my mind open, ready for a new challenge and certain that I would be humbled a few times in the process. So far, I’m right on track.

Coach Joe at T9000 CrossFit

Coach Joe at T9000 CrossFit

According to Wikipedia, CrossFit is “promoted as both a physical exercise philosophy and also as a competitive fitness sport. CrossFit workouts incorporate elements from high-intensity interval training, Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, gymnastics, girevoy sport, calisthenics, strongman and other exercises.”

From a methodology stand-point, CrossFit makes good sense for both runners and multi-sport athletes. CrossFit puts an emphasis on several things that benefit endurance athletes. First, CrossFit aims to strengthen the body, in particular the core, hips and legs. From a power production stand-point on the bike and run this should be a benefit to many athletes. In addition, CrossFit puts an emphasis on stretching and flexibility, especially around the hips. Being able to increase the range of motion of those tight runners’ hamstrings and quads will hopefully reduce injuries and lengthen strides. And finally, CrossFit includes a great deal of shifting between activities. Quickly moving from muscle-group to muscle-group — typically done under time pressure — is good to help triathletes with their transitions on race day.

My strategy was to get started: pick a gym, get myself enrolled and add this to my workout routine in the early “strength building” portion of my season. Ultimately, I wanted to add 2-3 CrossFit workouts to my week during the three months of January through March when I’m focused on building base and strength and my racing activity is moderately low. In my case, I traded off my 2-3 traditional “weights” workouts in the gym for my new CrossFit routine.

Picking out a “Box”
The first thing that you’ll need to do is find a CrossFit gym, which is called a “Box” in the CrossFit lingo. You may be surprised, or even a little over-whelmed with the number of choices you may have. In my local area there were almost too many to count. I visited a number of Boxes and decided based on three factors: 1) proximity to my house, 2) a structured introduction program and 3) a welcoming attitude. Thankfully, CrossFit T9000 in Hillsboro, happened to be the closest one to my house, but it also turned out to have one of the best introduction programs I experienced. There’s a lot to learn and many of the skills require a close attention to detail. Those Boxes that invest in you up front are helping you to avoid injury and get more out of the workouts once you get started.

Just like with a running club or other social group, you want to make sure that the culture feels welcoming and accepting of you. I was a little nervous walking in the door, but the members of my CrossFit T9000 gym eagerly took me on a tour and were overtly welcoming in nature. At every workout so far, someone has introduced them self to me unprompted and the people feel genuinely invested in one another’s success.

Cleanliness is another thing to look for in a CrossFit gym. Not only for keeping germs at bay, but it should be apparent in looking at the facility that things are put away after workouts, kept in good condition and everything is in a safe working order. It’s important to see that the owners care about the facility, because you’ll be hanging from bars, lifting barbells and using things like stretch-bands that need to be in good condition so that you don’t get injured.

I had heard from some friends that other gyms simply “throw you in” and let you experience the workouts for yourself. Having gone through a more structured foundation program, I would highly suggest this to start slowly, learn the language, and focus on getting the movements down before jumping right in.

So how’s it going so far?
Having completed my “Foundations”, I can already say that I like the way CrossFit is adding to my fitness. The rapid fire changes between sports keep me on my toes and I’m already seeing the benefits of stretching my hips and legs on the bike. After just two sessions, I was more in touch with the feel of my hip position (from doing a lot of squats) and I was able to make a subtle change to my riding position which was yielded good results. I’m excited to see how much this improves my strength over the next few months and then be able to measure that as racing season picks up again. After these first two weeks, I’m guessing I won’t give this up after those first three months!

More to come as the season unfolds.

You can find out more about CrossFit in general at http://www.crossfit.com/.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News
www.running-advice.com

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