Everyone’s route into CrossFit is unique and mine was no different.
From the age of 16 I have played rugby and loved it.But, back in 2015 I decided to hang my boots up to start a journey into a sport I knew very little about… ‘CrossFit’. I didn’t know it yet, but this would change my way of living, thinking and breathing forever.
By the time I had worked my way into the semi-professional National Three Sheffield Tigers RUFC first team I was beginning to get bored with playing rugby. Every game was starting to feel the same. I had previously played rugby league for Leeds Beckett University and Ireland Students, various ‘7s’ teams and rugby union for local teams. At the Tigers, the weekly travelling to nationwide games, the travelling from Leeds to Sheffield for training, the stress of expectation and the rising physicality of competition took it out of me both physically and mentally. Having said that, I regret none of the games I played, friends I made and games we won after being part of so many successful teams.
One Thursday night after work in February 2015 my housemate mentioned that he was going to look around a ‘new gym’ and wanted me to tag along. We were already members at Virgin Fitness and so I asked him why he had booked to look around a new gym. He explained to me that it was a CrossFit gym, to which I replied ‘I’m not coming – that’s for idiots’. After 10 minutes of my complaining, him showing me CrossFit videos and reminding me of favours I owed him, I reluctantly agreed to go along to see what ‘CrossFit Leeds’ was all about.
Embarrassingly my first thought upon seeing what would soon become my second home was
‘where are all the machines?!’
I’m sure this is a common question Coaches at CrossFit gyms get asked over and over again. I’m glad I kept my mouth shut and saved myself from the embarrassment. We were greeted by the owner of CrossFit Leeds Mike Rawlinson who showed us round and offered to give us a free taster session there and then. After arriving sporadically, we managed to catch the last 15 minutes of a class and, yes, it did look like hard work. We didn’t take Mike up on his offer that night as we were already mesmerised by the level of fitness, motivation and aesthetics on display in the box. However, we didn’t take much convincing and booked on the CrossFit Leeds fundamentals course to start the following Monday.
The fundamentals course was tough and consisted of 6 two-hour introductory sessions to learn and develop the basic movements and lifts required to take part in a class. These movements included squats, deadlift and bench press to name a few. Although the movements seemed simple, coming from a rugby and weight training background we found that repeating movements together ‘for time’ was tougher than it looked in the videos! At the end of each session we did what is called a ‘WOD’ (workout of the day). We thought this acronym was hilarious until we had to slog away and do our first one; this was anything but funny!
After completing the fundamentals course in March 2015, I was let loose to take part in classes; I was instantly hooked on pushing myself to ‘win’ every wod. I made every single rookie mistake you could make at the beginning of my CrossFit journey, trying to run before I could walk. As you would expect, this lead to a shoulder injury after drilling handstand walks and snatches every day for two weeks. Admittedly, I would often sacrifice form for time in the class workouts but luckily I was always stopped and corrected by the top coaching staff at CrossFit Leeds. I have seen nearly every new person to CrossFit make this same mistake. A little bit of advice from me would be to concentrate on your form and the time differential will come quickly and without injury.
I took part in my first competition after only 4 weeks of training; the Spring internal CrossFit Leeds Black and Blue Games. I managed to get a second place podium finish after four tough wods. The last one was a ‘chipper’ workout, a short time into the workout I realised that my body hadn’t yet adapted aerobically and my work capacity wasn’t at a level to put me anywhere near winning this workout. However, the overall podium placing made me even more addicted to this new sport. After only one month of starting, I was watching old CrossFit Games videos to learn who was the best, gain help and advice to aid training and instructions on improving my rusty mobility I had inherited from rugby. These videos proved really useful and allowed me to gain a better understanding of my body’s requirement to move freely and use food as fuel to get bigger, faster and stronger.
Whilst playing rugby at university we had our own strength and conditioning coach, so I already owned a sketchy 80kg clean. After a couple of months of CrossFit I progressed to a 105kg clean and jerk and was loving the gymnastics classes. My competitive nature and rugby background seemed to allow me to progress quicker than others who had no or little sporting backgrounds. Another piece of advice, if you have already developed a strength in certain areas or body parts then some elements of CrossFit relating to these may seem to come a little easier – so work on the other parts.
The next six months flew by and before I knew it I had competed in my first ever national competition, Scale The Heights. I was the ‘wildcard’ entry into the competition and placed 16th overall in the semi-final. This was a huge boost to my confidence and allowed me to improve basic movements and learn new ones. By the autumn of 2015, 9 months after starting CrossFit I was stepping back out to compete at CrossFit Leeds Autumn Black and Blue Games this time in the Black category, which had experienced CrossFit athletes within it. To everyone’s amazement including my own, I won this competition. The win fuelled the fire burning inside me to compete in future bigger and better competitions. Anyone who has competed will know what the feeling is like once you have given it your all and all of your hard work has paid off. The buzz can only be compared to crossing the line for what you know is a world-class try at rugby.
(Picture: Autumn 2015 Black and Blue Games podium)
CrossFit gyms are different to the mainstream globo gyms. You’re encouraged to engage and interact through classes and a lot of the warm ups and strength work require you to work in groups for efficiency and space. This creates a community atmosphere where people care and encourage one another in the gym and that in itself is what makes CrossFit unique.
18 months on from first starting out on this journey to forging elite fitness I feel great. I have more energy than ever, look half decent shirtless and am enjoying my new hobby. I’ve made a countless amount of friends down at the box who will help, correct and enthuse my technique and movements. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that CrossFit is just a hobby and not to take the workouts and programming too seriously. You’ll have bad days and you can’t always PB, which took me a while to get my head around. I would get annoyed and I thought I was in a plateau but true to advice I’d bounce back the following day or week and surprise myself with a good session.
Another piece of advice:
‘Training should be challenging but fun. A lot of members tend to take workouts and strength work too seriously. You should enjoy what you do, work hard and leave nothing to chance in competitions’
Every athlete has a different goal, but for me summer is almost CrossFit’s off season. This is where I’ll try to get bigger and stronger whilst maintaining a moderate fitness level. Summer will be when the CrossFit Games Open results are forged. Putting in the hard work in the heat and maintaining a training programme is vital to ensure continued improvement. I’m no expert but this and having a few one-week rest weeks every couple of months seems to work to not only recover my body physically, but also mentally. For me, mental attitude to training is 50% of the battle. If you’re not emotionally ready to train hard then expect to fail and plateau. To consistently give 90% plus in each session is draining, so ensure you have fun with it. Whether this is doing daft videos or just training alongside someone it’s important. I have been lucky enough to train with some patient and persistent crossfitters who have taught me these lessons and allowed me to develop at an increased pace.
I’m proud of how far I’ve come so far and cannot thank everyone enough that has helped me along the way. Right now, I’m happy training hard, having fun and achieving constantly varied functional fitness.
I’m excited to see where the next 18 months of my CrossFit journey will take me!