Exercise regimens change daily, keeping people motivated, challenged

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

After being diagnosed with hip arthritis last year, Keith Lawrence knew he had to find a workout to replace running.

He found what he was looking for — and then some — in CrossFit.

“I think this is actually better for you,” said Lawrence, 49, of Peters. “I think this is healthier. This is a lifestyle change — it isn't a workout.”

The regimen that combines elements of weightlifting, gymnastics and aerobic exercises is booming nationwide. Kevin Schmitt, who teaches CrossFit at CrossFit Supernova in Irwin, said although many bigger cities have several CrossFit Inc. affiliates, “Pittsburgh is now just catching up.”

CrossFit was founded in 2000 and has grown steadily, but the pace has accelerated recently. The CrossFit Games website said the number of CrossFit affiliates grew from 3,400 to more than 5,000 in the past year.

The CrossFit Games, held every summer since 2007, deserve some credit for that growth, Schmitt said.

More than 70,000 people registered for the first round of the CrossFit Games in 2012, a jump from 26,000 in 2011. From the first round, competitors can advance to one of 17 regional tournaments held worldwide for a chance to advance to the Reebok CrossFit Games in July, which features an ultimate $250,000 prize.

ESPN2 televised the CrossFit Games last year. “People are getting exposed to (CrossFit) through the TV, and then they go and search out where they can learn how to do it,” Schmitt said.

CrossFit differs from other workout regimens in that the nature of the exercise changes from day to day.

“You're going to see body weight work — pullups, pushups, air squats, running, rowing, stuff like that,” said Jim Crowell, co-owner of Integrated Fitness, which has CrossFit locations in Bethel Park and the South Side.

“You're going to see weight training, which can be kettlebell, dumbbell, barbell. That could be any type of power lift, like a squat or a bench press, or it could be an Olympic lift, like a clean or a snatch.”

Crowell said the goal is for participants to become proficient in different exercises.

Because the regimen changes, many CrossFit companies post the daily workout on their websites each morning.

Jimmy Wells, who began practicing CrossFit in January, said the organization helps him get a better workout.

“Whenever I was going to the gym, I got lazy (and) complacent with what I was doing,” said Wells, 36, of the North Side. “I didn't really know what I was doing. I would gravitate to the stuff I knew I could do well and do that, and I would (waste) an hour and a half or two hours there.

“I don't have that time anymore. So now what's nice is this tells me everything I need to do and how to do it within an hour.”

Crowell said CrossFit attempts to help people understand the neuromuscular connections in their bodies so they can move better outside the gym.

“The goal of all that is so everything they do outside of the gym is easier, better, more efficient, (and) they're healthier (and) happier,” he said.

Lawrence said although his arthritis hasn't improved, it hasn't worsened, either — one of his goals when he started CrossFit.

CrossFit's pace distinguishes it from other workouts. Because CrossFit workouts are designed to last a certain amount of time, many exercises are done with a high intensity.

Crowell said although he had no problems with gyms that use the fast-paced, high-intensity structure for all workouts, Integrated Fitness takes a somewhat different approach.

His business has found that “people make more long-term and consistent progress by having those tests implemented from time to time, but then the majority of the training actually needs to be training.”

Crowell said one of his favorite aspects of CrossFit is the community side of it — anyone can do the workout.

“What's nice is that everything is scalable,” Wells said. “You don't feel like you have to keep up with the guys who have been here forever. You work your way up to it. Getting your form and technique down is ultimately what will allow you to get to those higher weights.”

Jennifer Johnson, 31, of Greenfield took her first intermediate CrossFit class last weekend. “It's very challenging,” she said. “That's what I like about things. I'm a runner also, and the challenge of actually doing it, pushing yourself to do it, is what makes you want to come back for more.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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