CrossFit craze: The intense workout that's going mainstream

Lifting with traditional weights--or even just the barbell bar for beginners--is another key part...

Lifting with traditional weights--or even just the barbell bar for beginners--is another key part of CrossFit workouts. (Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village/Terri Coles)

TERRI COLES, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:05 AM ET

Athena Maikantis signed up for a free CrossFit class at a local gym in July of last year after encouragement from a friend who was a fan of the intensive workouts. Her excitement wore off on fiance Greg LeGros, who tried a free workout of his own in September. Now the two regularly attend classes at West Toronto CrossFit.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that improves fitness through intensive, physically demanding workouts. "We take the best of weightlifting, gymnastics, and monostructural exercises—running, skipping, or rowing—and combine it into an effective conditioning program that will increase various aspects of fitness like strength, power, speed, stamina, cardiorespiratory endurance, flexibility, coordination, agility, and balance," said Jordan Symonds, head coach and co-owner at Reebok CrossFit Liberty Village in Toronto.

CrossFit is increasingly popular with athletes and military veterans, as well as celebrities like The Biggest Loser trainer Bob Harper, Jessica Biel, and Miss America 2013 Mallory Hagan. Forbes has called CrossFit "one of the fastest growing sports in America." There are now more than 5,500 official CrossFit affiliates around the world - up from just 500 in 2008.

But CrossFit—founded by Greg Glassman in 2000 - isn't just for people who are looking to compete, or those who are already athletes. "It's probably one of the best things that somebody who hasn't had much experience or is out of shape can do," Symonds said. Classes are coached throughout, so people aren't going into their workouts blind, he said.

At Reebox CrossFit, most of the members are health-conscious young professionals in their 20s and 30s, Symonds said, though they also have two 16-year-old girls who come regularly and members as old as 65. The split between men and women is about even, he said.

Canada's oldest and largest CrossFit gym, or "box," is Crossfit Vancouver, but there are now official CrossFit facilities located across the country, with boxes in every Canadian province as well as the Yukon. A typical facility is usually industrial and bare bones by design and are run by affiliates who apply for the right to license the CrossFit name on an annual basis.

LeGros and Maikantis are happy with their results so far, which include weight loss, increased energy, and improved endurance and strength. "I've lost a significant amount of weight in a short period of time," LeGros said.

Bottom line: whatever your current fitness level, if you're sick of the typical gym environment and looking for a challenge, this could be the workout for you.


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