Karen Asp

Getting fit isn't easy. It takes time, discipline and hard work. But if you’re serious about working out, the benefits are worth it. Consider CrossFit. Originally the main strength and conditioning program for police academies, military units, martial artists and professional athletes, it caught the attention of recreational athletes when it became the training program for the 2007 blockbuster film 300. Today, there are 1,300 CrossFit affiliates worldwide and a DVD in the making. No longer reserved for pro athletes and commandos, CrossFit has widened its appeal to men and women of all shapes, sizes, ages and fitness levels. What’s more, CrossFit workouts are quick, and they pack an intense, full-body workout in just 10 or 20 minutes. More pluses:

Build functional fitness

Unless you've done it, CrossFit can be hard to understand. But essentially, "it's functional movement done at a high intensity with constant variety," says Andy Petranek, owner of CrossFit Los Angeles. Functional movement refers to the way you move in daily life. To achieve that, CrossFit workouts pull from numerous disciplines, including gymnastics, Olympic weight lifting, calisthenics and traditional strength training. In the end, you develop 10 skills: cardiovascular endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, speed, agility, balance and accuracy.

Challenge yourself

CrossFit workouts are tough -- after all, the tagline of CrossFit is "forging elite fitness” -- but they’re not impossible. "While you should have some base level of fitness before you do CrossFit, the workouts can be modified for any fitness level," says Tony Budding, director of media and content for CrossFit and co-director of the CrossFit Games. In fact, the oldest client at one CrossFit gym is 83 years old. While many of the exercises are timed events, you're competing solely against yourself. So you may be asked to do as many push-ups as you can in a minute. Your first time, you might squeeze out only a few. You might even have to do push-ups against the wall if being on the floor is too difficult. Your goal, though, is to progress to doing more push-ups and using a more challenging body position.  

Enjoy constant variety

One unique aspect of CrossFit is that every workout is different. For instance, you might do a workout focused on box jumps and burpees one day, then heavy lifting the next. Because of this variety, you can do CrossFit frequently. "The general rule is three days of CrossFit followed by a day of rest," says Budding.

Overcome weaknesses

"Eventually, you'll find something in a CrossFit workout you don't like doing, probably because you're not good at it," Budding says. "Yet by training these weaknesses, you'll become that much fitter."

Achieve your best fitness

"Because we're focused on performance -- yes, you do lose weight, and you will get a better-looking body, but those are just by-products of what we do -- we make you better, faster and stronger than you've ever been," Petranek says. In other words: CrossFitters get in the best shape of their life.

Sound like something you’d like to do? To locate a CrossFit affiliate in your area, visit CrossFit’s Web site. If you’re lucky enough to be near multiple affiliates, check out each one before you commit, as they may differ. For example, one might operate in a park while another might be in a club, or one might be targeted to competitive athletes while another might appeal to baby boomers. Once you locate the right class, prepare to become addicted. As Petranek says, "Once I started doing CrossFit, everything else became a waste of time."

Karen Asp is a fitness/health writer who writes for numerous publications, including Fitness, Natural Health, Men's Fitness, Prevention, Self, Shape and Women's Health. She's a contributing editor for Woman's Day and the “Fit Travel” blogger for AOL. Asp is also a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor.


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Health - Maximum Fitness: CrossFit Training