CrossFit for the Masses

With more than 7,000 affiliates worldwide, CrossFit is the biggest thing to hit the workout scene since Arnold Schwarzenegger.

With more than 7,000 affiliates worldwide, CrossFit is the biggest thing to hit the workout scene since Arnold Schwarzenegger. Except that it’s kind of the anti-Schwarzenegger, a training protocol that has changed the way gym rats think about training by getting them out of the gym. 

With the release of his new book Fire Your Gym (Page Street Publishing, 2013), Andy Petranek, owner of CrossFit Los Angeles (the ninth affiliate ever opened), with co-author Roy Wallack, might just change the way CrossFitters think about CrossFit. The Fire Your Gym nine-week program is a scaled-back version of CrossFit with considerably less volume than you’d see at a typical box and minus such complex exercises as Olympic snatches and muscle-ups. In a recent interview, Petranek discussed his new book and why training balls-to-the-wall day after day (like many CrossFitters do) is simply not sustainable.

How did you, a longtime CrossFit coach, come to write an exercise book that veers from typical CrossFit programming?

CrossFit is not mine. CrossFit is fully coach [Greg] Glassman’s. It’s his brainchild, and I’m very respectful of what he has brought to the world of fitness. But I feel there’s an ever-increasing population of people who can’t really do CrossFit — it’s too hard, it’s too dangerous and the intensity is too risky. There are some incredibly great benefits to doing CrossFit, and there needs to be a method for people to reap these benefits while toning it down and making it less risky. The ongoing philosophy of CrossFit tends to be that you give everything your best shot every single time you train. But the normal person can’t continue to get better and better while constantly going as hard as possible. It just doesn’t work. It either ends up in injury or some sort of metabolic breakdown. Our philosophy is go hard, but then go easy the next day, then come back the day after that and go hard again. 

What exactly does the nine-week program look like?

In the book, the way Roy and I organized the training week was with a heavy lift followed by a very short CrossFit workout one day; a couple other CrossFit workouts during the week; one sprint day; and then easy recovery days when you’re doing endurance, keeping your heart rate low and getting in technique practice in terms of how you run, row or bike. So the program in the book is really a method of incorporating the benefits of CrossFit while making it work for regular people’s lives. 

Is this where the at-home element of the program comes into play?

Well, a couple things that make CrossFit a little less accessible are that (a) it’s expensive, and (b) very often you need coaching. Because if you’re really going to do CrossFit, you’re going to do cleans-and-jerks and snatches, and you really can’t do those movements without coaching. Well, actually, you can; people do it all the time, but it’s quite risky. So for the book, we took the elements of CrossFit that are the most effective, the simplest, and require the least amount of coaching and skill development and made it accessible to people who may not have the money or don’t have the time to get to the gym. What this book is really about is making sustainable changes that last not for a year or two years but for 10 years, 20 years and beyond.