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A to Z Sport Challenge: C is for… CrossFit!

Liz Sully, Engagement Manager at Women in Sport, attended her first CrossFit session as part of Women in Sport’s A to Z of Sport Challenge.

In the past few years, as CrossFit has grown in popularity, I’ve often thought about giving it a go. People I’ve spoken to who have tried it rave about the benefits and the difference it has made to their lives. Despite this, I’d stopped short of taking the plunge and going along to a class, mainly because I was worried that I’d find myself out of my depth and unable to keep up.

When the team at Women in Sport suggested the idea of an A-Z of Sport, which challenged us to take part in a sport that we had never tried before, I saw it as an opportunity to face my fears and give CrossFit a go. As luck would have it, I saw a friend had posted about a free beginner’s taster session on social media, so I decided to go for it.

On the day of the class I felt a mixture of excitement and nerves. When I arrived at the CrossFit gym (or ‘Box’ as they’re commonly known), I was pleased to see a group of equally nervous looking people waiting for the taster to start. I was also relieved to see that there was a good balance of men and women. CrossFit can sometimes appear as quite a macho sport, but it turns out that isn’t really the case (in fact, a recent statistical analysis of CrossFit participants found that the number of men and women is almost equal).

Before we got started the Head Coach, Adam, gave us a bit of a briefing about what CrossFit is and how it works. He explained that CrossFit is a fitness regime that uses high intensity workouts based on functional movements, which change regularly so that the experience is always varied. Because the programme doesn’t specialise in a particular discipline, it covers all of the different elements of physical fitness: which means there’s something for everyone and it doesn’t just favour the strongest or fastest.

After the briefing, we were led through a warm up. Despite being challenging, this part of the class was light-hearted and – dare I say it – fun. There were games and some partner work, so you got to know some of the others taking part in the class.

Then came what we were all there for – the WOD (workout of the day). Ours involved kettlebell swings, ab crunches and burpees. I’m no stranger to crunches and burpees, but was a newcomer to kettlebells and they worried me a bit. I had visions of not being to pick the weight up, or dropping it on my head as I swung it overhead! Luckily, Adam and the other coaches spent a decent amount of time talking though the technique we needed to use, and then watched us practicing to make sure that we had the right weight for our ability.

We had a set number of repetitions to complete within a time limit, and for us that was 21 kettlebell swings, followed by 21 burpees, then 15 of each, and then 9 of each. If that wasn’t a challenge enough, there were also 25 crunches added to the beginning and end of the workout. We worked in pairs, one completing the workout and one counting reps and checking form, which really helped as it was good to have someone encouraging you. The whole thing was over in less than 12 minutes, but they were a very long 12 minutes!

By the end everyone was out of breath and sweating buckets, but it felt good to complete the challenge and get your score written up on the board. Scoring and data are a big part of CrossFit, and whilst some people will compete against each other, for most it’s more about beating your own score and tracking your progression. If you’re driven by watching your stats improve then it is great motivation.

When the workout was over we were all told what we needed to do if we wanted to take the next step to doing CrossFit regularly, and lots of the participants seemed interested in taking it up. It’s easy to see why – you get a really thorough workout with lots of support and motivation, and the intensity means that whilst it’s exhausting you also feel energised for the rest of the day afterwards.

For me, it made me realise that CrossFit really isn’t as intimidating as I thought it would be. The coaches are brilliant and you work to your own level. If you can’t lift a weight there’s no judgement or pressure, you just go for a lighter one and work your way up over time. It’s also much more inclusive than I thought it would be – not everyone has visible abs and can do countless pull ups – and there’s a real sense of community, which is great if you’re motivated by the social side of exercising. You do need a certain level of base fitness though, so it’s better suited to those who do some activity and want to increase their fitness, rather than those who are just started out on their fitness journey or who have been out of action for a while.

To any woman thinking of giving CrossFit a try, I say go for it. It’s not as scary as it looks, and if you can find somewhere that does taster sessions or open days it’s a great route in and helps to build confidence to take it further.

I tried CrossFit at CrossFit Oxhouse in Weston-super-Mare