Where to do CrossFit in Beijing

Get results at this high-intensity social workout

CrossFit is a high-intensity social workout that shuns machines in favour of a stripped-down ‘box’. Does it really get the best results?

‘It can kill you. I’ve always been completely honest about that,’ Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit once said in a New York Times article describing his high- intensity workout regimen that mixes gymnastics, weight-lifting and track-and-field skills.

CrossFit, the latest branded fitness craze to have swept through Beijing, was developed inside Glassman’s garage more than a decade ago in Santa Cruz, California. There he revisited the concept of the garage-gym: a barebones ‘box’ equipped with weights, gymnastic rings, pull-up bars, skipping ropes and other accessories that are perfect for an adult jungle gym. It has everything you need to get ripped, without the need for machines.

push up

‘In the box [there are] no machines. We are the machine,’ says Samuel Lian, co-owner of CrossFit86 in Shunyi. Lian says that CrossFit is a strength and conditioning programme focused on constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity, which yields incredible results.

‘In commercial gyms, we use machines to do bicep curls and tricep extensions, but in a box, we use pull-ups to do the exercise and it changes the whole muscle. We don’t isolate the muscles. We’re using more energy and, as a result, burn more calories,’ Lian says.

According to Lian, running on a treadmill for 30 minutes at 9km per hour burns 300 calories on average. Meanwhile, doing seven minutes of intensive aerobic burpees (a full body squatting, jumping move), could potentially burn 1,500 calories.

‘At our box, the record was 129 burpees in seven minutes. Every part of your body is at work and after the workout, you’re continuing to burn calories,’ says Lian.

Once inside the box, get ready for the workout of your life. There’s no time to linger around the water cooler. Take out those earphones; this is a social exercise with an almost cult- like following.

You’ll hear grunts, cries of pain, but also that loud whoosh of fiery air that’s exhaled from the depths of your soul once you successfully deadlift almost 100kg with your CrossFit mates cheering you on.

By the end of it all, it’s not uncommon to see someone just collapse from sheer exhaustion, having pretty much kicked their own ass, every other day, as prescribed by trainers. A typical hour-long session with Lian starts with 15 minutes of ‘dynamic stretching’, meaning you move as you stretch.

'After a workout, you stretch and hold a position, but for us, we’re kicking our legs, doing jumping jacks... these movements will stimulate most of your muscles, getting the body warm,’ he says.

After a stretch, Lian’s group, which caps at 12 people per session, move on to skills and strength training, similar to Olympic weightlifting. For the skills elements, CrossFitters are doing pull-ups, push-ups or handstands. This is followed by metabolic conditioning (MetCon) training with skipping and short sprints to improve cardiovascular ability.

To top things off there is a ‘WOD’ – or ‘workout of the day’ – which is a varied combination of movements, which could include push-ups, deadlifts or sprints that are repeated to enhance ‘good mechanics and form’, says Lian.

On the other side of town at Middle Kingdom Fitness (MKF) on Guanghua Lu, Steve Lin is breaking a sweat during his lunch hour. ‘When I came here fve months ago, I could barely do a pull-up,’ says Lin, but now the New Jersey native has moved beyond the pull-up and can lift up to 70kg.

MKF owner Tim Hill admits CrossFit is not for the lazy, as the programme demands commitment and consistency. ‘If you’re looking for an immediate result, you’re getting your priorities wrong,’ says Hill. ‘We expect people to turn up and give their best effort.'

With such a high-intensity workout, it can be easy to pick up an injury from overdoing it. But Hill says injuries are preventable, and CrossFit beginners at MKF go through foundation classes (called ‘Elements’) so that they’re eased into the programme. But can it really kill you, as founder Greg Glassman stated in his headline-grabbing comment? ‘We can get hurt just by crossing the street,’ says Hill.

A monthly membership at Middle Kingdom Fitness costs 1,200RMB; a foundation course at Crossfit 86 (crossft86.com) costs 1,500RMB.

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