Arguably the greatest fitness phenomenon in recent years, CrossFit combines a smattering of gymnastics with kettlebells, squats, chin-ups, more squats, Olympic-style weightlifting, rowing, even more squats and the kind of fervour once reserved for religious devotion. “Everything we do is based around functional movements: We run, jump, push, pull and squat, and we use multiple muscles in our bodies to do these things,” says Jason Darr, owner of Crossfit 604 in Vancouver. “You’re constantly uncomfortable, but you recover really quickly and then are ready to go again.” That’s the benefit of high-intensity interval training: You end up more aerobically fit and healthier than if you exercised for longer at a lower intensity.
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A much-touted 2014 study from McMaster University found that three 20-second, all-out intervals, interspersed among nine minutes of slow, easy activity — repeated three times a week, for six weeks — led to major gains in endurance capacity, blood pressure levels and muscle fitness. And earlier this year, Harvard researchers linked strength training to a lower risk in women for cardiovascular disease.
Of course, any activity that requires heaving 65-pound barbells to shoulder height should not be entered into lightly. “Everybody needs to have a minimum skill standard before jumping into class,” Darr says. “That doesn’t mean you need to be an expert, or even good, but you need to take an introductory class with a trainer.”
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CrossFit enthusiasts are meticulous about tracking the progress of their workouts. At an Orangetheory fitness studio — there are now more than 50 across Canada — all that data comes at you in real time. A heart monitor records your heart rate and calories burned while you hit the treadmills, rowing machine and free weights, then broadcasts the output on electronic boards. It’s a workout tailor-made for ridiculously competitive second-borns.
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