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Wanna Work Off a Beer Belly? Lift a Keg

Phoenixville's Iron Cross Athletics takes an unorthodox approach to fitness.

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.

The Program

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.

Why CrossFit?

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.”

Fair enough.

Lindsey Dougherty October 25, 2012 at 02:42 PM
ICA is the best! I have been a member for over a year and I wouldnt think of being part of any other gym! Nikki and John are fabulous!!
Jenn Tavenner October 25, 2012 at 06:41 PM
I love ICA!! Only being member for a few months but they feel like family! Nikki and John are awesome coaches and really care about each one's individual journeys!!!
kristen famous October 25, 2012 at 09:35 PM
When I lived in another area a few years back I was looking for a regimented program that would help build muscle and endurance and was recommended to join a Box. So I took the recommendation before doing proper research because the person who made the recommendation was already doing Crossfit and was a health professional area. Well let me just say, it is not for the people it targets. The programming is not individualized and did not address many of the major physical deficiencies I had and wanted to improve. No assessment of my abilities was conducted but I trusted the coaches new what they were doing. Well this lasted about a month before I ended under the knife with rotator cuff issues do to the extreme force and the repetitive nature of lifts that even Olympic Athletes do for very few reps. Of course after the injury I decided to dig deeper and I came across podcasts from some of the foremost authorities in the Health and Fitness. Just remember to research and educate yourself before participating in any fitness program. I have also included a few more pieces of info. Oh and if you have a problem with foul language don't even bother! http://strengthcoachblog.com/2011/10/26/mike-boyle-and-gray-cook-on-crossfit/ http://gawker.com/5928989/ http://www.livestrong.com/article/545200-the-fall-of-fitness/
Nikki Warnek October 26, 2012 at 03:14 PM
Kristen, I am sorry you had a bad experience at a DIFFERENT CrossFit gym. The truth is that most CrossFit gyms, including Iron Cross Athletics, have very low injury rates. I do not know what gym you attended, but I do know it was not ICA. When you pick a trainer you need to do your homework. Just like you wouldn't blindly choose a doctor or even a real estate agent... You should never blindly choose a personal trainer! Our gym has experienced coaches and an extremely low injury rate. We also have an extremely high success rate for helping our clients lose weight, gain strength, improve their overall athleticism, and greatly increase their quality of life. If you would like to see a well run CrossFit facility, we invite you to stop by our gym any time. We offer classes and personal training six days a week, and are bar none the best strength and conditioning training facility in the area. If you won't take my word for it, feel free to reach out to any our of 60+ members who have entrusted me and my husband with their health and fitness and seen incredible results.

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