Marta Montenegro: CrossFit, Pure Fitness and Athleticism

Training at high intensity and short duration, performing complex moves that work on strength and power, all while you push yourself to the limit – these principles have stormed the fitness scene. Outdated are the days of the long, slow 45-minute walk cardio workouts or the strength routine that was reserved solely for a man’s need to look like his shirt is about to rip.

The latest craze is CrossFit (CF). Is this a passing fitness trend or something that is a modern classic?

If you see someone in your gym doing Olympic lifts, such as power cleans, and transitioning to a heavy series of kettlebell snatches, then to push-ups and box jumps – all while looking at her stopwatch and not taking time to chat with anybody – you may be witnessing a CrossFit routine.

You probably can’t stop looking at how intense this whole routine looks practiced solo, but the group CrossFit session, with others to urge you on, is what attracts many to the practice. Either way, CrossFit is about pure fitness and athleticism.

“CF is a branded fitness program based on the principles of high intensity training (HIT). This protocol calls for a maximum muscle force output for either strength or power to stimulate gains in strength (muscle force output) and volume of lean mass,” explains Pete McCall, Exercise Physiologist for the American Council on Exercise (

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which has become a much-recommended way to exercise, has not sparked the debate about CrossFit. HITT is the foundation of CF, which has polarized fitness experts. It has centered mainly on the question of safety, specifically on having the Average Joe perform Olympic moves and other very complex exercises when that person may lack of the physical level to do this.

Addressing this debate, McCall says that “CrossFit is appropriate for all levels if (and only if) they have good mechanics, appropriate flexibility and are properly taught how to do lifts and coached to ensure proper form. Good CF gyms will require participants to go through a one-on-one personal training to receive appropriate coaching and to develop the requisite base strength prior to being allowed to take any class.”

Why Should You Try It?

CrossFit may be seen as “new,” but its foundation has been around for some time. Basically, this is the way elite athletes have worked out for years to get better in their sports. It has also carved some great physiques along the way.

1.     Get lean body mass: The exercise selection (complex moves), high intensity and short recovery time are proven ways to increase growth hormone, testosterone and other anabolic hormones important to maintain body mass, shed fat and keep an optimal metabolism. Women should not be afraid. This is a natural and good exercise response.

2.     Increase bone mass: McCall points out that the high intensity exercises will stimulate muscle growth and increase bone mineral density as more osteoblasts (bone cells) are created to handle the high/heavy loads.

3.     Greater overall health: “There’s plenty of research which suggests that HIIT is more effective for weight loss and increases V02 max (aerobic capacity) than steady state long, slow distance training,” he says.

4.     Enjoy the crowd!: Research suggests that people will exercise harder in a group and in a supervised environment where instructors are providing instructions and motivation. “Working with an instructor will lead to quicker results and training in a group of people with common goals will help increase the intergroup dynamic and intensity of the training session,” adds McCall.

5.     Training for a lifestyle change: Javier Pineda (, CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance Coach, explains that CF is not just a workout but also a way of living. It encourages lifetime habits in exercise and nutrition.

When doing CrossFit, don’t overdo it. McCall stresses this fitness program works on strength as well as dynamic flexibility.

“Doing CF workouts more than three to four times a week can increase the risk of injury due to over-training and fatigue. As any exercise program, you’d like to alternate this training method with yoga and/or other sport-specific training,” he says.

The amazing thing about the body is how fast it can adapt to new demands. So gains in strength and other fitness components can happen as fast as two weeks, even though you don’t visually notice a change first. Consistency is the key for the body to truly master something no matter what your fitness level is. We all have an athlete inside us and CrossFit may be the way to get it out, just make sure that you have a knowledgeable and certified CF trainer to make the best out of you.

Your peers will root for you no matter what!

Get Prepared to be a Champion

If you’ve never tried CrossFit, Pineda says, “Any person willing to start a CF program first has to attend a fundamental course before so as to be introduced to the CrossFit philosophy and the benefits. Review the nine major moves outlined in the Workout Of the Day (WOD): air squats, front squats, overhead squats, shoulder press, push press, push jerk, deadlift, sumo deadlift, high pull, and medicine ball clean.”

Each CF workout is different every day so as to avoid any routine and to constantly challenge the body. Pineda adds that “there are no specific workout for beginners or more advanced CrossFit athlete, as a CrossFit WOD can be performed by a first-time CrossFitter up to a CrossFit champion: It’s just a matter of scaling the workout with the movement and the weight used.”

Prepared for Action

Pineda gives us two different CF workouts:

1. Short duration, high intensity: WOD called FRAN

-    Thrusters 95 lbs (or scaled weight)

-    Pull-ups

-    21-15-9 Reps for time

2. Longer WOD called MURPH

-    1 mile run

-    100 pull-ups

-    200 push ups

-    300 squats

-    1 mile run

For Time                                 .

There’s so much out there written about CrossFit that it’s hard to differentiate the great from the good or bad. This article is written from someone who represents one of the most prestigious fitness organizations: American Council on Exercise. If you want to get educated on this topic, this is a must read.

Marta Montenegro is an exercise physiologist, certified strength and conditioning, coach and master trainer who is an adjunct professor at Florida International University.  Marta has developed her own system of exercises used by professional athletes. Her personal website, combines fitness, nutrition and health  tips, exercise routines, recipes and the latest news to help you change your life but not your lifestyle. She was the founder of nationally awarded SOBeFiT magazine and the fitness DVD series Montenegro Method.

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