Sit-ups and sandbags, and a Sting in the tale

Intrigued by the thought of a completely new discipline, I dined like a champion and joined the Crossfit family


For many of us, the struggle starts long before we run the first kilometre, sweat the first bead, lift the first dumbbell or do the first squat.

Most of the time, merely extricating ourselves from the damnably comfy clutches of a reclining couch and on-demand HDTV is a stretch too far as the chasm between us and the gym begins to gape.

Having become disenchanted with the banality of the typical gym routine, Hilary Riordan decided to try her hand at a relatively new sport called crossfit when she lived in New Zealand three years ago.

“My boyfriend was always talking about it and how awesome it was, so I thought I may as well get involved,” says Riordan.

“It’s just so addictive, and that’s why people love it. Because it’s so varied, there’s none of this ‘Ugh I’m getting bored’, or ‘I’m sick of this’; it’s just so totally different from everything that’s out there already.”

Now an elite crossfit athlete, 26-year-old Riordan was the only Irish competitor at the European Crossfit Championships in May, an event that involved competitions in handstand push ups, no-legged rope climbs and Olympic powerlifting.

Intrigued by the seemingly masochistic nature of the discipline, I contacted Alan Doyle of D12 Crossfit gym in Walkinstown who invited me to join an introductory session.

I had a hearty dinner of Pot Noodle and Bacon Fries the night before, following the diet of champions in preparation for my big debut, but when I arrived I met the intimidating spectacle of my classmates performing Olympic snatch lifts with weights that I couldn’t hope to lift with a JCB.

Minimalist surrounds

There is an edgy, underground-type feel to the gym. Located in the heart of an industrial estate, the minimalist surrounds and rough-and-ready appearance of some of the improvised exercise equipment gave the distinct impression that I was in for a very different experience from what I’m used to.

Having been warmly welcomed into the group, we began a series of thorough stretches that threatened to detach my extremities from the rest of my body.

But, still intact, I was invited to participate in a warm-up exercise to the tune of Roxanne by The Police.

Some readers might be more familiar with it as the soundtrack to the notorious drinking game in which you take a swig every time Sting sings Roxanne’s name.

However, Doyle had something very different in mind as beverages were exchanged for burpees (a special type of squat thrust). As always with bodyweight exercises, my willo-the-wisp frame proved a distinct advantage and, having found myself fully intact by the end of the chorus, I allowed myself the sneaking suspicion that I was in for a doddle.

How very wrong I was.

Dodging traffic

We began our 12-minute exercise cycle with a 50-metre run carrying a 20kg sandbag while dodging traffic in an unnervingly busy car park. After that, it was straight into the gym for a series of 12 accentuated sit-ups (not to get too technical, but they’re hard) and six 40kg deadlifts.

Despite a promising start, by the fourth round of exercises my resolve not to look like an outsider had been considerably diminished, and focus had switched to merely keeping pace with some other stragglers who were already beginning a fifth set.

Legs burning, stomach in turmoil and with four minutes left on the clock, I attempted to sneak a little respite during my sit-ups, but the amiable Doyle knows all the tricks of the trade, and my subsequent public shaming left me in no doubt that there was nowhere to hide.

That’s part of the beauty of crossfit. It’s a collective effort, and no one wants to let the team down by giving up on themselves.

Bereft of energy, I lay exhausted on the ground following my final set of sit-ups. The clock had just ticked down to zero, and yet, despite their own considerable fatigue, each one of the group encouraged and reassured me throughout the session, and congratulated me on completion.

That is one of the things that drew Christina Butler to crossfit. “We have a little family here and all the workouts are amazing. I go to bootcamps, circuits and every other type of class but I feel so much fitter going to crossfit,” she says.

Community base

With crossfit gaining in awareness and interest in Ireland, Doyle is confident he will increase his client base in the second year.

“There’s a huge community base here; traditionally we’ve played Gaelic games but that has changed a lot recently and I think a lot of people like the idea of being able to be bigger, faster, stronger and fitter while having fun,” says Doyle, who is qualified in weighlifting training and fitness therapy as well as crossfit training.

It is estimated that the number of crossfit gyms on the island of Ireland has tripled since 2012.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed my fleeting experience with the sport, it’s unlikely that I’ll adopt an intensive regime of six weekly workout sessions that people like Riordan need in order to maintain optimum performance.

The World Championships take place in California from July 25th-27th. Now, where did I leave that remote?

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