Tag Archives: Crossfit

Going Inside the Box

By Pete Williams

There’s a popular perception of CrossFit, the bare-bones fitness craze that has swept the nation in the last three years. Think lean, ripped, tattooed Millennials grinding their way through intense anaerobic sessions in sweaty Spartan “boxes” lasting as little as 10 minutes. Lots of Olympic lifting, Burpees, and cheating – er “kipping” – pullups.

Running? That seems like it has little to do with CrossFit.

T.J. Murphy, a longtime endurance athlete and journalist who joined us today on The Fitness Buff Show, says that’s pretty much the view of CrossFit he had 15 months ago when he stumbled into a CrossFit “box” in Los Angeles. Newly-divorced, 47, and suffering from a litany of injuries from 15 years of heavy endurance training, Murphy was willing to try anything.

What he found, as chronicled in his terrific new book Inside the Box: How CrossFit Shredded the Rules, Stripped Down the Gym, and Rebuilt My Body, is that a lot of the popular perceptions of CrossFit are inaccurate. CrossFit coaches spend a lot of time identifying and helping athletes correct muscle imbalances and ease athletes into the program so they don’t blow out a joint performing a deadlift of overhead squat. CrossFit places a heavy emphasis on nutrition, advocating a hybrid plan of Paleo and The Zone Diet. As for the kipping pullups, even the most skeptical trainers see the value in them for developing core strength.

Murphy’s book chronicles his own journey into CrossFit and how ex-gymnast Greg Glassman built a loose empire of 4,000 CrossFit affiliates (up from just 13 in 2005) based on the notion that “constantly varying” workouts of short duration and high intensity that prepare athletes for any physical challenge imaginable are the best way to train.

CrossFitters are notorious for disliking running. Though CrossFit has a sister program, CrossFit Endurance, most CF disciples seem content to focus on body-sculpting WODs that stay inside the box. Even though Tough Mudder and Spartan Race closely align themselves with CrossFit, some CrossFitters struggle with the distance of longer obstacle races.

That’s not to say CrossFit can’t be good training for endurance sports. Quite the contrary. We’ve found the obstacle race training sessions very effective at CrossFit affiliate TNL Tampa, where trainer Eric Stratman includes runs ranging from 400 meters to 2 miles into a typical obstacle training WOD on Saturday mornings.

Murphy, now 48, thought he needed knee replacement surgery in the summer of 2011, but plans to return to running now that CrossFit has corrected his muscle imbalances, eliminated his back pain, and left him feeling energized in the morning rather than like a creaky old man getting out of bed. He’s going to apply CrossFit to his marathon and triathlon training, figuring the efficient nature of CF will enable him to get faster while logging far fewer miles.

Though there now seems to be a CrossFit box in every office park in America, we’re guessing CrossFit will only get bigger – especially as endurance athletes discover the value of getting inside the box.

Listen to our Fitness Buff interview with T.J. Murphy HERE.

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Surviving Bootcamp in Downtown Tampa

Editor’s Note: David Adams, a University of Tampa student and U.S. Army veteran, is comparing obstacle race preparation and other training methods to the training he underwent in the military. In a series of stories for EnduranceSportsFlorida.com this summer, he’s writing about his progress.

By David Adams

Running the stairs in downtown Tampa

TAMPA –  A small crowd gathers near the back steps of the Tampa Convention Center. They aren’t here for a symposium, conference, or assembly.  This group is meeting with one goal in mind: to attain a higher level of physical fitness and endurance.  The group leader, Jon King, wanted to spice up his normal workouts a few times a week and felt that CrossFit would be the change he needed.

As CrossFit gains popularity throughout the country, many people who previously hit the gym now are hitting the steps, park benches, and other obstacles found in urban settings to create a high intensity workout that breaks the monotony of grunting over weight bars with ungodly stacks of plates on either side.

Fitness centers provide climate control and mirrors, but training outdoors gives athletes a pleasant change of scenery and real-world weather conditions that training facilities cannot. Endurance-oriented workouts usually are done in groups, a welcome change from the solitary nature of weight lifting and treadmill runs in the gym.

King wanted to break the repetitive nature of his workouts at Powerhouse Gym in Tampa’s Channelside District.  He and his wife Katherine, who is also a fitness enthusiast, started a free bootcamp where their friends could enjoy high intensity training a couple of times a week, as well as a fun social environment.

At the start, only a handful of people would come to the twice-a-week conditioning session, but the couple stuck with it. Now it’s not uncommon to see as many as fifteen friends gathering together for a fun and free workout.  Friends and acquaintances want to try new ways of getting in shape, and the design King created caters to people at any level of fitness.

King structured his class so that participants would be able to choose what they got out of each session. Instead of a repetition-based workout, King  set up timed events.

“I want people to get out what they put in to it.  Since not all of our friends are serious trainers, I didn’t want to overwork anyone,” King explained to me the first time we trained together.  “By timing each set everyone is free to go at their own pace, and if they are serious about it there will definitely be marked progress.”

Post-workout team photo

To vary each camp, King will change up the workouts and meeting place.

“We either meet at the Convention Center steps or at (Tampa’s) Riverwalk Park,” King says. “One session will be centered around running sets of stairs, and the next will be sprints.  To me it’s always good to change things up, it keeps people on their toes.”

A typical stairs workout session starts with a short warmup of jumping jacks.  After that, the real challenge begins. King will time each set for anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute, and usually follows up every drill with a set number of steps.  Squat jumps, burpees, pushups, mountain climbers, and lunges are common exercises during each camp.

After every set, running steps are all trainees have to look forward to.  The only relief that “recruits” receive is a short respite in between every cycle. Breaks can range from just thirty seconds up to a minute and a half, and trust me, they are much needed.  Seeing someone doubled over is fairly common, and although no one has thrown up at sessions I’ve attended, many have come close. By the time bootcamp is over, everyone is drenched.

“The gym can get boring, and when you work out alone it takes the competition out of it,” King says. “I like the sense of camaraderie that working out in groups can bring, and at the end everyone celebrates together.  Starting this and sticking with it has increased my endurance, and I’m sure everyone who comes regularly can feel the difference.”

The sweetest part of the deal: anyone can come and there is no cost involved.  The only thing you have to bring to this workout is motivation, and a willingness to push to your personal limits.

“To train with us costs you nothing but sweat,” King says.  “We welcome anyone who is looking for a change of pace.”

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Obstacle Race Training at TNL Tampa

By Pete Williams

The dreaded farmer’s carry

TAMPA – We made it back to TNL Tampa for what I’ve been calling “Tough Mudder Training” ever since I showed up last summer at the CrossFit gym near Westchase.

Back then, TNL owner Eric Stratman took some traditional CrossFit workouts of the day (WODs) every other Saturday morning and interspersed 400-meter and 800-meter runs to make the workouts better simulate obstacle races such as Tough Mudder. After dealing with that torture all summer and fall, I had no problem with Tough Mudder and found such training to be one of the most effective, time-efficient workouts I’ve come across.

These days, TNL puts on such workouts every Saturday morning, though it’s closer to a traditional CrossFit WOD, with little running. This morning’s workout had just one 400-meter run, so I tweaked it for myself to more closely resemble the Tough Mudder training. Here’s what it looked like:

400m run
11 Burpees
40 pushups
400m run
40 wall ball (throwing 14 or 20lb med ball up 10-12 feet onto wall)
11 Burpees
400m run
40 tire flips
11 Burpees
400m run
40 ball slams (20 or 30lb balls)
11 Burpees
400m run
40 overhead walking lunges (25 or 45lb plate)
11 Burpees
400m run
200m farmer’s carry (45lb plates or lighter dumbbells/kettlebells)

Flipping tires is an incredible exercise for developing lower body power.

We’re especially fond of moves like the farmer’s carry, tire flips, and the walking overhead lunge. All of those develop power and endurance strength and if you can handle those you’ll have no problem making it through any obstacle race. I made it through this workout twice before time was called at roughly the one-hour mark. What an ass kicker.

Afterward, we filmed five fitness segments that will air every Sunday beginning next week, June 10, on ABC 28 here in the Tampa Bay area. (They’re always posted online shortly thereafter.) Thanks to Nichole Franklin of TNL and Sophia Zayfman for doing the heavy lifting.

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How Do CrossFit, Boot Camps and Obstacle Races Compare to Military Training?

Editor’s Note: How do popular fitness regimens such as boot camps, CrossFit, and obstacle race preparation compare to actual military training? We’ve assigned David Adams to find out. A U.S. Army veteran who was twice deployed to Iraq, David now is a University of Tampa student and avid fitness enthusiast. For the next three months, he’ll train via every popular fitness routine and enter Central Florida obstacle races to see which is the best preparation – and if any of them measure up to actual military PT. David will compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run in Tampa Friday night (May 11) and write periodically on his findings. He’ll also report on endurance sports news and trends. Here’s his preview of the next three months.

By David Adams

I joined the Army in the spring of 2004 and left for basic training that September. While I always considered myself athletic oriented, once I arrived at boot camp I was introduced into a new world of fitness.

My fellow trainees and I were subjected to a full range of physically demanding activities during 16 weeks of training. Long-distance running and road marches left me nursing large blisters, shin splints, and other lower body injuries.

The first few weeks of basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia were hell. Never had I trained at such an intense level. The intensity had its payoffs, though, and when I graduated basic training in December I was in better shape than during any of my athletic seasons in high school. Being in shape took on a whole new meaning. Instead of hitting the gym and throwing iron around, my world became cardio oriented as I hit the roads and fields running, ruck-marching, and sprinting.

After basic training, I was permanently stationed with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Although I had received an Army Physical Fitness Training award for my scores on the fitness tests, training at my unit was more intense than basic. CrossFit-like routines and long distance runs occurred daily. Our company held regular competitions, pitting platoons against one another. Obstacle courses, forced march-and-shoots, Humvee pushes or pulls, tire flips, and water drum sprints were the more elaborate innovations and, as always, no competition would be complete without pushups, sit-ups, pull-ups, and lots of running.

I developed a love-hate relationship with these events. I hated them because they were physically demanding. It was a common sight to see soldiers running to the bushes or hunching by the side of the road to deposit their breakfasts, and it happened to me more than a few times over the course of my 5 ½-year Army career.

Although the workouts took the word intensity to a whole new level, nothing was more rewarding than finishing, unless of course your platoon finished on top. After the competitions we felt as though we had accomplished something great. Those are the moments I will always remember, celebrating with my fellow platoon mates after we finished at the top of our company, going out for a victory meal with the guys.

The Army opened my eyes to a different kind of fitness, one that has more real world applications than any other type of training. After two Iraq deployments, hundreds of physical training competitions, thousands of “fun” runs, and what felt like millions of pushups and sit-ups, I was released from active duty.

In January 2010, just two days after my release, I enrolled full-time at the University of Tampa.  I try to go to the firing range on a regular basis to keep up with my shooting skills, but I would be lying if I said I was anywhere near the same level as when I was a full-time soldier.

One facet of the military is so engrained in my head I doubt I will ever lose it: the need to be in the best physical shape possible. The Army educated me on the importance of living healthy, and although I am no longer a soldier, I always try to keep myself in constant “fighting” shape.  Physical training is important, not just for the body, but for the mind as well. Intense training helps with focus, mood, and concentration. Completing rigorous training gives an athlete a feeling of accomplishment unlike any other.

Over the summer, I will be competing in various athletic events in and around Tampa. Since my enlistment ended, I have not competed in an obstacle course, CrossFit competition, or adventure run of any kind.  I am curious to see how these civilian-designed events match up with the intense training I handled during my time as an infantry soldier. My first run will be on Friday, May 11th, when I compete in the Picnic Island Adventure Run.

I’m looking forward to pushing myself and chronicling my latest training journeys here at EnduranceSportsFlorida.com.

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Ramping it up for Tough Mudder

By Pete Williams

Eric Stratman takes a dose of his own medicine on "The Prowler."

TAMPA – We thought maybe Eric Stratman was easing up for this morning’s edition of Tough Mudder training, keeping it to the same 75-minute session as two weeks ago.

No chance. The owner of The Next Level training center near Westchase added to the degree of difficulty. He wasn’t responsible for the heat, which approached the mid-90s when we started at 10:35, but he could claim credit for everything else.

This week’s menu included a 2-mile run to start the proceedings, followed by rope climbs, another 800-meter run, a return 200-meter engagement with the dreaded weighted “Prowler” weight sled, another 800-meter run, various 200- and 400- meter runs (backward, lateral shuffle), tire tossing and a whopping 50 Burpees.

My training colleague Eric Keaton and I were “fortunate” enough to have time to spare and got to repeat the 2-mile run along unshaded Race Track Road.

I felt pretty good about my performance, hanging pretty much with a lead pack that included Stratman, Keaton, ex-Florida State swimmer Christie Pesce and a couple of others.

No tiring out for Christie Pesce

Tough Mudder is regarded as one of the more difficult races in the booming category of obstacle mud runs, generally taking athletes two and a half hours to complete a 12-mile course. The race encourages athletes to compete as teams to make obstacle navigation easier and is known for its signature feature: an “Electroshock Therapy” challenge.

Tough Mudder is staging 14 events this year and more than 10,000 athletes per day (plus spectators) are expected at Little Everglades Ranch in Pasco County on Dec. 3-4. The Saturday race is sold out but space remains for Sunday.

For the next training session, Stratman plans to bring in some Tough Mudder-like obstacles. His free Tough Mudder prep sessions at The Next Level continue on Oct. 1 and every other Saturday until the race.

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Tough Mudder Training “Camp”

By Pete Williams

Four months and counting

With the debut of Tough Mudder in Florida just four months out, many registrants are getting ready to tackle what’s been called the toughest race in the obstacle mud run category.

There’s a free Tough Mudder training session on Saturday, August 6 at Crossfit TNL in the Westchase section of Tampa (12720 Dupont Cir.). It gets underway at 10 a.m. and is followed by a Paleo Potluck BBQ. Our pal James Bellamy from Mix1 will be out there with free samples of Mix1, the all-natural protein shake.

Athletes of all fitness levels are welcome. Whether you’re signed up for Tough Mudder, considering registering or have just been wanting to try an adventure race, this is a great way to ease your way into it.

It’s difficult to think of another event that involves many of the breakout elements of endurance sports in 2011: CrossFit, obstacle mud runs, the Paleo Diet, and convenient post-workout protein shakes.

We’re registered for Tough Mudder and we’ll be there on Saturday. Will you?

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