When you set your New Year’s resolutions and tell yourself you’ll lose weight or achieve some level of fitness, what strategy do you employ? Looking back on my 2011 fitness goals, I realized I’d unwittingly put myself though 4 different fitness routines, each with varying results. If I break last year into quarters, I can safely say that the first quarter was an experiment with CrossFit, the second with fitness boxing at Cappy’s Gym, the third with P90X, and the last with good ol’ running. Which one got me in the best shape? Well, let’s first define what ‘in shape’ means.
My personal fitness goal is simply maintenance with minor strength and endurance improvements. In other words, weight loss is not a primary goal. I should also disclose that I don’t believe in strict schedule regimes. Sure, I dream to have toned abs and killer calves, but that doesn’t beat my desire to eat well and occasionally be at happy hour at 5pm rather than the gym. With that being said, my experience with fitness programs doesn’t involve strict adherence to any schedules or diets, with the exception of sticking with the Paleo Diet for a month during CrossFit. I tried my best, but 3 times out of 10 I said to hell with the diet and gave in to my Molly Moon cravings (and it was worth it!).
First quarter 2011: CrossFit
Being a fitness enthusiast, I’d heard a lot of positive things from people who have become diehard CrossFitters. In essence, “CrossFit is a methodology that seeks to define what fitness is and how to achieve it…Essentially, combining movements like pushing, pulling, bending, jumping, throwing, swinging, lifting, and running into fast, intense workouts will improve your performance across a broad range of activities.” CrossFit doesn’t promise or even strive to help you lose weight; that is simply a secondary benefit. The primary benefit is to improve your overall form in doing every day activities and use this is a launching platform to achieve fitness. It seemed convincing enough to me.
I started off the year by enrolling at Foundation CrossFit in Capitol Hill. Like all other newbies, my first few weeks were spent in required personal training, where I learned proper technique for CrossFit’s Olympic weightlifting standards. Prior to training, I had only a vague idea of what deadlifts or wall balls were. By the end of the month, I was more than acquainted with these exercises. After completing CrossFit boot camp, you sign up for a monthly membership that allows you to enroll in CrossFit classes. You pay more depending on how frequently you want to attend class. Either way, most CrossFit boxes (lingo for ‘gym’) will often post their Workout of the Day (WOD), which is designed to be completed in 30 minutes or less, adding the selling point of CrossFit being a quick yet comprehensive workout. You’re never mandated to do a daily workout, but the more you do, the more fit you become.
I loved how supportive the CrossFit community was, both online and offline. Most boxes offer daily classes that are kept small in number, allowing for more personal coaching throughout the workouts and leaving you more motivated to keep coming back. If that isn’t enough motivation, all you need is to flip through a CrossFit blog to get you fired up. For the dedicated, CrossFit truly becomes a lifestyle. For those who love encouragement, motivation, and competition, CrossFit is perfect.
Three months of CrossFit WODs, coupled with a semi-strict adherence to the Paleo Diet, led me to my peak fitness point of the year. I lost weight without intending to, and was physically stronger than ever. Never before had I been able to complete 10 unassisted pullups. By the time month three rolled around, I was craving endurance workouts. As a distance runner accustomed to 2 hour workouts on the road or treadmill, the 30 minute WODs rarely satiated my energy levels. I never got used to the idea that 30 minutes of Olympic lifting and short to medium distance sprints could be comprehensive workouts. Not to mention, the monthly price tag was killing me (CrossFit isn’t cheap). On the other hand, I definitely exercised muscles I never knew existed, and actually had a lot of fun during workouts. Who knew that dragging a large tire around could be a workout?
Second quarter: Boxing Fitness
For this experiment, I opted to enroll at an actual boxing studio, rather than my chain gym’s weekly boxing class. I opted for Cappy’s Gym in Seattle’s Central District. Arguably the hardest part of starting was getting the courage to walk through the front door. I was intimidated by the thought of being surrounded by beefy guys looking for their next victim to pummel in the ring. It turned out that the vibe at Cappy’s is the exact opposite. Locally-owned, the staff at Cappy’s is limited to several skilled, friendly coaches who learn your name faster than your high school English teacher would. As for the gym members, they include men and women from all walks of life. There were a few muscled guys who you could tell were more serious about boxing, but most people in the boxing fitness class (different from the boxing lessons) were your average gym goers looking for a good workout.
To get started at Cappy’s, all you need to do is fill out a waiver, pay $5 for your first introductory class, and get your hands wrapped. There are no special skills needed. All you have to be able to do is have a desire to learn and get sweaty. Even when the boxing gloves come on, you will never be expected to throw a direct punch at a person or take one yourself. Punches are limited to the bags, and it turns out to be a great way to relieve stress.
The hour long boxing fitness class always begins with a jump rope warm up before progressing on to intensive circuit training. You get paired up with a classmate and begin rotating through a bunch of stations set up around the gym floor. Exercises range from basic pushups and box jumps to the more technique-oriented speed bag and shadow boxing. Whatever the exercise, the coach leading the session circulates the room and gives you a quick tip or lesson if needed. You’re guaranteed to work up a sweat and be out of breath within minutes of the class starting. The nice part is that it’s all self-paced, so you push yourself to work as hard as you’re capable of.
At the end of three months, I ended up gaining back the weight I had lost during CrossFit, but I blame that on my lack of a diet, rather than the workouts. Boxing fitness classes pack a punch (pun intended) that will whip you in shape at your own pace. Each class has varied exercises, which is great for keeping you physically and mentally challenged. The classes aren’t structured as a program guaranteeing to deliver particular results, which could impact member commitment, but also serves as a great overall fitness routine for the self-disciplined. However, at $23/class, it can be a costly in the long run, which is ultimately what prompted me to look for other fitness alternatives.
Third quarter: P90X 90-Day Extreme Home Fitness
I’ve never been a champion of home fitness programs, especially ones that have their own infomercials. The idea of sweating where I sleep to profit some wacko fitness idea sounds less than ideal. However, P90X generated so much buzz last year, my curiosity got the best of me. P90X is Tony Horton’s home fitness program that promises to get you ripped and in shape in 3 months. This is the strategy of P90X as defined by Wikipedia: “P90X emphasizes ‘muscle confusion,’ a method of cross training and periodization achieved through switching the order of exercises and incorporating new and varied movements. Muscle confusion supposedly prevents the body from adapting to exercises over time, resulting in continual improvement without plateaus.” Cross training and constantly varied exercises—sounds a lot like CrossFit, doesn’t it? That’s certainly what I thought until I embarked on the P90X challenge.
Unlike CrossFit and boxing fitness, P90X is highly structured, with detailed daily workouts and diet plans. After all, you have a major goal to achieve, and only 90 days to do it. This is a “get fit fast” type of approach, although with the muscle confusion aspect, you can supposedly use variations of the workouts to stay fit after the 90 days are up.
Each workout day of P90X is dedicated to a particular body area. Mondays for shoulders and biceps, Wednesdays for legs, Saturdays for kempo, etc. The workouts largely involve using your own body weight, resistance bands, and a few dumbbells, so there’s no need for a huge investment in equipment. You don’t need more than a small room with a DVD player to perform these daily workouts. Specific exercises include variations of traditional gym exercises like pushups, pull-ups, and squats, yoga poses, and even boxing moves. This is where P90X greatly varies from CrossFit. P90X gives you several variations of one particular exercise, while CrossFit throws in tons of movements you never thought could be exercises.
I ended up gaining the most weight from the full P90X program due to the extreme muscle-building exercises that did their job and the protein shakes I started consuming. I’m the type that loses weight (and muscle) when I stop working out, so it made sense that P90X, being the most strength-oriented, resulted in a weight gain. By far the worst part about P90X was having to endure Tony Horton’s workout videos. While I can confirm his program works, Horton’s overly gung-ho personality kills. Maybe the strategy is to have him annoy you so much that you work harder in the process. I don’t know, but I could do without his over the top enthusiasm and commentary. Other than that, if you’re looking for a solid, detailed fitness plan and a set time frame to do it, P90X is an affordable and effective alternative.
Fourth quarter: Running
After investing in 9 months worth of fitness programs, decided to give my wallet a rest and go back to basics of outdoor endurance runs with several days a week of strength training. I was craving workouts where I could plug into an iPod and not have to socialize or pay attention to an instructor. I had also just read Haruki Murakami’s memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, which had made me rediscover my love for the sport.
As I began designing my weekly workouts, I realized it was possible to borrow from each program I had participated in. Here’s a sample:
Sunday: long endurance run
Monday: outdoor CrossFit circuit (5x400m run, 20 bleacher jumps, 20 pushups, 20 squats, 20 chair dips)
Tuesday: endurance run
Wednesday: P90X weights session (variations of pull-ups, pushups, squats, bicep curls, etc)
Thursday: endurance run
Friday: boxing fitness fun (jump rope, shadow boxing/P90X kempo routine)
By switching up the days and the endless combinations of workouts, it seems like a win-win fitness solution that’s practically free.
So which of the four fitness programs was the best? Well, CrossFit is great for learning you can push yourself beyond all boundaries. Think you can’t do an unassisted pullup? Want to change that? Go to CrossFit. If you’re looking for general cardiovascular and endurance training that involves boxing moves, check out a boxing fitness class. You might enjoy it so much you’ll dare to get into real boxing. If you have targeted fitness goals and want that beach body asap without going to the gym, give p90X a shot. It’s also the most affordable of the aforementioned programs. Finally, if you’re an endurance athlete at heart or just want to stick with the basics, lace up your shoes and go for a walk or run. Just getting outside on a daily basis will do you good.
All in all, the abundance of fitness options is great for exploring the many different ways one can achieve fitness, both inside and outside of a gym. It’s hard to say which workout philosophies will actually endure for me personally, and for the fitness community in general. I mean, who knows? Maybe the Shake Weight is really a fitness revolution after all. You can’t know until you try it.