Though, to the untrained eye, nothing seems terribly practical about locking yourself a rubber-floored room to deadlift beer kegs filled with sand, flip tractor tires, and perform sundry feats of upper body strength on giant gym class-style ropes that swing freely from a high ceiling, here’s the thing about it: it is.
Such is the pitch of Iron Cross Athletics anyhow, the CrossFit facility that opened on Wheatland Street last August. The way, they say, to build real, practical, everyday-sort-of-useful strength gains isn’t to handcuff yourself to a bench with a dumbbell in each hand, but to join their program.
“The main difference is that we promote functional movement,” said John Warnek, 26, who along with his wife Nikki owns and manages Iron Cross Athletics.
(The pair, not incidentally, met at a CrossFit competition in King of Prussia three years ago. “She whooped me pretty good,” he admitted, in an admirably candid moment. “It was an eye opening experience.”)
The problem with most exercise regiments, Warnek says, is this: they train for movements that just don’t come up very often in everyday life—or not nearly often enough to justify the amount of time gym rats spend perfecting them.
“My mom doesn’t need to be able to lift 400 pounds, but she does need to be able to lift her groceries,” he said, adding that his 62-year-old mother can now, after training with he and his wife, deadlift 145 pounds.
That's a pretty big grocery trip.
CrossFit training isn’t just for amateurs. Warnek says what’s unique about his students is the range of their abilities. He says he, his wife, or one of their instructors can shape a challenging exercise regiment for anyone.
“One guy who comes in here is a Navy SEAL, he just came back from Afghanistan. We’ll destroy that guy. We can put him in a workout that’ll have 50 deadlifts in it and we’ll make him do it at 350 pounds. And if my mom’s doing that workout, she’ll do it at 40 pounds.”
Class sizes at Iron Cross are anywhere from three to 12 people and each session runs an hour long; five to 30 minutes of actual CrossFit exercise sandwiched by rigorous warm up, cool down, stretching, and instruction periods.
And for the completely uninitiated, Warnek offers free Saturday morning sessions to teach prospective members training basics.
“If you get hurt in the gym, it’s not pushups or pull-ups or jumping rope, it’s trying to do too much with a heavy barbell,” he said, underscoring the importance of sound fundamentals.
After running a slack jawed—and muscled—reporter through some of the basics of his facility, Warnek was asked what the real advantage of CrossFit training is. It might be more fun, but is it really healthier to toss tires than it is to hit the weights in a more conventional setting?
Warnek didn’t hesitate.
“As far as generalized fitness, this is bar none the best thing you can do. That’s the reason the Marines, firefighters, police, the SEALS, the Army Rangers, that’s the reason they all do it. Nothing works faster to get you in shape. I’ll never say it’s easy, but nothing works faster.”