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Fit For You: CrossFit

Audrey Nowakowski

Crossfit, the high-powered, high intensity interval-based workout, has been very popular in recent years, with gyms devoted to the program popping up all over the fitness landscape.

But for a lot of people, CrossFit can be intimidating. Often the images people are exposed to involve an elite athletes in competition, making the sport appear to be inaccessible and/or high risk.

However, CrossFit at its very base is simply "constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity."

"It started out as a sport, but it's more meant for the person who's just looking to get into the best shape of their life," says Badger CrossFit founder, owner and head coach, Tyler Sullivan.

The key to the practice is function. "We sit, we stand, we put something on a shelf, we pick something off the floor; we consider those functional movements that we need to be able to perform properly in our daily life as well as in the gym," he explains.

In order to perform these daily tasks properly and in a stronger manner, CrossFit utilizes exercises that cover the basic natural movements of the body such as squats, presses, dead lifts, running, jumping and pulling, according to Sullivan.

"The beautiful thing about CrossFit in the gym is that we can take those movements, scale them and modify them to the person's ability and create the exact same movement patterns or mimicking of that movement and make it so that they can do those things in the gym setting," he explains.

Credit Michelle Maternowski
Lake Effect's Audrey Nowakowski (left) participated in Badger CrossFit's Function class that utilized simple interval exercises with weights such as reverse lunges, overhead presses, stationary bikes, squats and modified pull ups. Participants can take as many Function classes as they feel are needed until advancing to the group CrossFit exercises.

This approach in fitness is done in many stages. First with "Function" classes that focus on the basics -without the dynamic movements and added weights that are typical in a CrossFit class. Sullivan notes that making sure participants understand and properly perform the basics is important to build upon and also reduces the risk of injury.

CrossFit gyms are dedicated to the sport as well as the training structure. These classes are planned and coached at every stage, and the workouts vary from day to day.

Sullivan admits that coaching can be the best aspect of CrossFit, but it can also turn people away from the practice if they have a negative experience.

"Football the sport is not bad, but you can have a bad coach. You can have a bad experience with a bad coach, but it doesn't mean that all of football is bad. Same thing with CrossFit," he says.

Credit Audrey Nowakowski
The regular one-hour group CrossFit class switched between overhead squats and jumping (either jump rope or over the bar on the ground) in sets that decreased with each round.

With CrossFit exploding around the country, there are many gyms to choose from. Sullivan stresses that any person interested in trying a class or joining a gym needs to do their research.

"You have to make sure that you do your due diligence in making sure that there's the right process for that person (or yourself) to be able to get into the fitness routine in a safe manner," he says.

Sullivan also notes that a good CrossFit gym has their coaches consistently evaluated and educated in proper instruction in order to give every athlete a good experience. The coaches also ensure that the work out gives each participant "group fitness in a personal sense."

There is always a shortcut to getting your abs or getting better arms or whatever. But when you see the real, true way of being fit or pursuing fitness, and you experience that, it is a life changing moment. - Tyler Sullivan

"Training with people is always more fun," says Sullivan. Whether people enjoy the competitive aspect or the social dynamics, CrossFit often develops a strong sense of team accomplishment.

Sullivan recalls an 80-year-old woman who joined CrossFit in order to simply garden more efficiently and stay out of a nursing home for as long as possible. Doing the same exercises as the younger participants, she modified each move and kept a positive attitude all while getting stronger.

"That to me just reaffirms why I do what I do, it's to help people with real fitness, real life tasks. And when I see that in people and they tell me the stories, it keeps me going. That's my fuel," says Sullivan.

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Audrey is a producer, host and reporter for Lake Effect. She is involved with every aspect of the show — from conducting interviews, editing audio, posting web stories and mixing the show together.