For police officers, firefighters and lifeguards, being ready to save lives means staying in top shape. To keep fit, an increasing number are using a conditioning program called Crossfit, and the intense regimen is catching on with regular fitness enthusiasts as well.
Crossfit workouts combine skipping rope, weightlifting, medicine balls and more, with “functional fitness” as the mantra. “We want you to be ready for anything,” says Greg Glassman, an ex-high school gymnastics coach who opened the first Crossfit in Santa Cruz, Calif. in 1995, and began training local firefighters. Today there are more than 1,600 civilian and military affiliates worldwide, including six in Hawaii.
Crossfit gyms are decidedly old-school; no weight machines or Stairmasters here. Instead, pull-up bars, climbing ropes, barbells and kettlebells vie for space. The program’s basic building block is the “Workout of the Day,” which can be modified for different fitness levels. The WOD for a top athlete might be three rounds of 35 “burpees” (aka “squat thrust pushups”), 20 pull-ups and 12 deadlifts. The workout, but not the intensity, is scaled down for the less fit. Group classes (and the stopwatch) spur one’s best efforts.
New Crossfitters must be taught the movements before jumping into a WOD. “We don’t want anyone getting hurt,” says Bryant Powers, owner of Crossfit Oahu, the oldest and largest affiliate in the state.
After 10 years as a firefighter, Joel Tessier quit to open Crossfit Big Island. “I saw how effective Crossfit was,” he said. “Any firefighter I worked with could rescue a 300-pound victim, but afterward they’d be icing their knees while I was ready to play volleyball.”
Sam Molitas, a massage therapist, once got caught in a strong undertow off Kahena, a Big Island beach notorious for drowning unsuspecting swimmers. He credits Crossfit training with making him strong enough to survive. “It felt like a Crossfit workout. I was exhausted but I didn’t quit.”
Most Crossfit gyms offer free introductory classes, with monthly fees thereafter of $75 to $150. Visit crossfit.com for details and contact information for specific local gyms.