The rise of a fitness phenomen

Walking into Crossfit Whāngarei is like walking into a nightclub minus the alcohol. Gangster rap is playing loudly over a huge speaker system, people are flying around on poles in moves reminiscent of a childhood monkey bars scenario and a small crowd is gathered around those finishing off a set of squats encouraging them to hold on for dear life.  The sight is unlike anything you may have ever seen in a normal gym.

But it’s not just the scene that makes this place difference, there’s also a whole language that goes with it. Box. Wod. EMOM. AMRAP. Toes to bar? HUH?!

The buzzer goes and people drop to the floor in what can only be described as looks of ecstatic pain. Emotions seem finally balanced between joy and misery.

“I can’t walk,” says one casualty lying on the ground.

“That was awesome!”Affirms coach Ioane Job as he swoops the class high-fiving every single member in a ritual-like state that signals the end of one class as onlookers wait to begin the next.

This is one extremely busy centre and takes the meaning of “group fitness” to a whole other level.

Chances are you’ve been stuck in a room of fanatics at some stage with nothing else to talk about but how much good their EMOM was and thought “am I missing something here?” What you may not be aware of is the sport’s growing attraction to not only the exceptionally fit but to the everyday person who are reporting phenomenal results.


The crossfit movement was born from the idea of Greg Glassman in 2000 for a physical sport that incorporates various elements to compete in daily workouts known as “workout of the day” or WOD.

The name was quickly branded and affiliates moved to opening ‘boxes’ with the first opening in Santa Cruz. The sport has seen a significant increase in popularity in the last nine years growing from 13 boxes to over 13,000 worldwide. Forbes magazine recently valued the brand at over $4bn.

The workout this group just completed consisted of movements that entailed toes to bar, which means exactly what it says, flicking your toes up to a bar whilst holding on. A flexibility feat in itself.    Kettle bell swings which combine a fairly light weight load with speed.  Box jumps, an agility movement with a plyometric element and goblet squats that combine strength with speed.

Repeat all those movements 21,15,9 times and you have just completed today’s wod which every person of this gym will tackle at some stage of the day. Getting the basic picture?  It’s short, it’s raw yet extremely effective and only asks that every person give their all and leave everything they have literally on the floor, which explains all the wet patches.


In his foundation document Glassman said that crossfit is not a specialized fitness program but a deliberate attempt to optimize physical competence in each of ten recognized fitness domains. They are Cardiovascular and Respiratory endurance, Stamina, Strength, Flexibility, Power, Speed, Coordination, Agility, Balance, and Accuracy.

Workouts can last anywhere from 6 minutes to a full hour with participants of this particular wod coming in at an average time of 16 minutes. What that translates to is a huge range of movements in a very short amount of time at full cardiovascular and respiratory capacity.

Crossfit Whāngarei coach Pou Manukau came from a rugby background and said from the first time he tried the sport he was hooked and only wished he had started earlier.

“What I first loved about crossfit was that I could get it in and done in an hour and know that I had done a really good workout,” Manukau said.

The regime prides itself on its ‘functional strength’ approach comparing gym strength to crossfit strength as a total different kettle of fish. Gym strength may inspire people to bench press twice their weight but can you engage your core and put your whole body into pushing a fridge up a flight of stairs if you needed to?  Could you sprint down the road in a hurry should the moment arise?  Can you pull body weight onto a platform or up a rope?  These are all elements of functional strength in everyday situations where those hours in the gym could actually serve as a tangible measure of use.

Crossfit6100 Perth member Chante Vili spent the last ten years playing touch rugby, league, netball and a gym and said she got bored with the same routine.

“I’ve got faster results in the six months I’ve been going to crossfit. Back muscles I’ve never really activated.

It’s challenging everyday and there’s lots of inspiring people, not only within my crossfit gym but the worldwide crossfit community and I now have the fire in me to push myself harder,” Vili said.

So what is it about the sport that creates such a compulsive addiction in people?

Crossfit Whāngarei member Toby Van Sinten said the sport pushes him outside his boundaries and he finds it consistently physically challenging.

“I just love the feeling of satisfaction of completing the wod. I love the community as well because the people are just awesome,” he said.

rehutaiA bell rings on the other side of the building as two young girls squeal with joy at lifting a weight of what is a new personal best. Everyone stops for a minute and claps in congratulations and though that may seem cheesy from an outsider – it’s just another motivator in a very well-oiled machine that encourages these athletes to keep pushing for more.

Because what seemingly helps in driving a crossfit participant to continue to exceed expectations and come back for more is the constant motivational outlets crossfit facilities provide which include daily leader-boards, personal best charts, local events to the crossfit games.

Crossfit Whāngarei itself has a monthly personal best wall with members names emblazed in bright colours and their achievements. Photos of the daily wod and times are also posted online every night and all these visible targets and elements of competition consistently enable the members to set goals and push outside of their capabilities.

It’s not just on a local level these member’s are aspiring to achieve either. The holy grail for crossfitters every year is the Reebok crossfit games and what sets this competition apart from other athlete competitions is that anyone can compete, from all around the world against each other in 5 weekly WOD’s.  Most members of this box will sign up to compete in the open which will give athletes a good indicator of where they stack up on a world scale.  It’s just another form of inclusiveness the sport encourages where all walks of life can compete at their own level doing the exact same workout.

The games labelled “The fittest on earth” started on a San Jose family farm in 2007 with around 50-60 athletes competing in fairly basic wods.  Fast forward to 2017 and over 380,000 people signed up to compete in the world open reflective of how quickly the sport has grown in a very short space of time.

In a study conducted by the Journal for strength and conditioning on the motivational variables in crossfit they found crossfit athletes were generally mentally split into two categories.  One is being related to goals of self improvement and two being performance goals in comparison to others.

15304327_10154619031481469_8858534049696579109_oOf the 144 members questioned men generally were more focused on performance concepts whereas women were motivated by a failure avoidance strategy. This means that women were driven harder not to fail in the mastery or skill of a workout.

What’s also glaringly obvious in this box is the range of physique’s the women are representing while cheering each other on. There are literally all shapes and sizes however one thing that is combining them all is a look of muscular strength.

Multiple games winner Annie Thorisdottir made the switch from a career in pole vaulting after deciding it was “too much of the same thing over and over”. In an interview with Vogue magazine she said that attitudes towards women’s bodies has changed and she wants women to focus more on what their bodies can do rather than how they look.

“Instead of the skinny look, it’s the healthy look for women now,” she said.

I’m not preaching that everyone should try to become a crossfit champion but I want to show them that training can give more confidence – and that being strong is beautiful.”

Big thighs, broad shoulders and butts even Beyonce would be envious of are reflective of how the sport is changing the face of what femininity looks like. With such intense workouts that require physical power and strength this can only be achieved by a strong, healthy body as opposed to the thin look women have spent centuries pounding a treadmill to achieve.


“When I first came in I was in awe at the women’s bodies in here. I couldn’t stop staring at what they could do, at how their butts literally popped and I thought I want to be like that,” said one female Crossfit Whāngarei member.

“For me it’s not about how skinny I can be anymore, it’s about how much I can lift, how fast I can run, how far I can go. It’s changed my whole perception of what a woman’s body should look like.”

In the constant pursuit for health and happiness it would appear that crossfit is encapsulating it all. Community, camaraderie, empowerment, personal progression and most of all fun.  So next time you are walking past a loud and booming box wondering what the fuss is all about, try taking a look inside.  With so many positive factors to offer,  one can’t lose.

Written by Shannon Pitman


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.



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