Life hacks are all the rage, even in fitness circles everyone is always looking for the quick way to get all the benefits of longer work. You could argue this became popularized when mega-podcast-star Tim Ferriss wrote the Four Hour Work Week and then followed the success of that book with other hits such as Four Hour Chef and Four Hour Body. The fact that these books are all best sellers seems to indicate that as a society we are obsessed with getting more done faster. Sounds about like our high output culture!
This is also why it has normally required a lot of time in order to improve in all aspects of your fitness. In the CrossFit world, we focus on ten aspects of fitness, but it’s a lot easier to think of three:
- Body control (ability to do push ups, pull ups, air squats, etc)
- Cardiovascular ability (run, swim, bike, etc at various intensities)
- Strength (back squat, deadlift, overhead press, etc)
On the surface, these are opposing goals – it’s easier to run faster if you weigh less, but weighing less makes it harder to lift heavy weights. What’s the solution?
The old way: Lots of time and commitment
Typically, the old way of wanting to improve in those areas required what we’ll call split training. In simple terms, this means spending multiple hours in the gym with each session focused on different things.
This can be as easy as one hour of cardio in the morning, and one hour of weight training in the evening. On the surface, it doesn’t seem so bad, right? You can spend some time running, biking, rowing, swimming, or any other form of cardio activity in the morning to start your day, and then spend more time in the evening working on your back squat, deadlift, and bench press.
In theory, this seems okay. The problem comes – as so many do – when you try to make this happen in real life. Do you really have the two hours to spend in the gym? Not to mention the drive time to get there, and the time to shower after. Between pursuing your career, your social life, and time with your family this amount of time each day simply doesn’t happen. You’re left choosing between resistance training and cardio training, and probably alternating days of each to try and slowly improve in both.
Enter: CrossFit, the ultimate fitness life hack
CrossFit readily says we’re not trying to create the next Usain Bolt, or the next Michael Phelps. CrossFit training is not designed for specialization, but rather for making you better across the board. The quintessential CrossFit model is to run a 5:00 mile and to deadlift 500 pounds – at the same time. To achieve this, the focus is on ten areas:
- Cardio/respiratory Endurance
Can you imagine trying to split those ten areas up into individual days? You’d never improve across the board. It’s exhausting to think about.
This is why CrossFit is such a unique programming model, and why it is so effective for producing well-rounded health and fitness. With CrossFit, your main workout is called a Workout Of the Day (or WOD) and is typically 12 to 18 minutes in length. You spend another ten minutes warming up, 15 minutes working on specific component of the workout, and then you do the WOD. It is an intense workout. Then you’re done, and you’ve just improved your fitness in so many ways. Take the following workout as an example:
- 3 Rounds: 400m Run (speed and cardio endurance), kettlebell swings (strength, power, coordination) and pull ups (coordination, flexibility, strength)
Just in this short workout you have touched seven out of the ten components. Pretty amazing, huh? If you wanted to add accuracy, you could make the pull ups chest to bar pull ups, which requires even more coordination to do successfully.
Best of all, you don’t have to spend all day in the gym.
Hacks always come with tradeoffs.
CrossFit eliminates your need to excessively exercise. But the program works best when you buy into the lifestyle.
One of the reasons CrossFit grew with such intense popularity from the start is that people saw amazing changes in how their bodies looked and performed with this style of working out.
This is at least partially due to the nutrition focus of CrossFit. This is not just a fitness program. Yes, without changing your nutrition, you will still improve your fitness and health with CrossFit. But, if your nutrition never changes, you will never see the results you want in the mirror, and you’ll be stunting the impact in your overall health, too.
In the CrossFit Journal, there is a basic format for sound nutrition: eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch, and no added sugar. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, that automatically becomes tougher. You can change it up to fit your individual diet needs, and a plant-based version could be: eat protein-dense plants such as tofu, ancient grains, and legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, and no added sugar. “Little starch” is taken out because starchy things like legumes and ancient grains often are protein sources in a plant based diet.
The point is if you want extreme fitness gains on a quick schedule, you have to eat for that goal, as well. CrossFit will save you hours of effort and frustration in the gym, but its greatest impact will be when you change it from a workout program into a lifestyle shift.