The community and culture of their members across the board is evident. The training environment incorporates a sense of family, trust and belonging whilst the work involved is constantly varied, highly intensive, functional movements with the addition of power and Olympic lifts.
Over the last year I have come to know who I would consider the ambassador to CrossFit South Africa, Andy Craig. Despite my highly opinionated character, criticism and despondence towards his training styles, Andy, being the gentleman that he is, set aside my indifference, and encouraged a friendship. This trait, I have come to learn is definitely a strong reason behind his prosperity. Needless to say we have got on like a house on fire ever since.
Him and his business partner Dean Ridgeway are the guys behind the flagship 'box' in Gateway, Umhlanga, and have set their new venture a light with the recent success of the UWS games. When the dust had finally settled surrounding the grand opening, the games and business commenced, I got five minutes of the busy mans time to bring Andy to you.
1) CrossFit has taken South Africa by storm, being in the US since 2000, it is still in its infancy in our country, where do you see your ‘CrossFit culture’ going to from here locally?
Provincially, nationally and globally CrossFit and the sub culture you talk of will only grow in size and interest. I have often taken a step outside of what we do to really try and grasp what it is I am involved in. It is actually mind blowing when you think of what CrossFit is globally and the wider CrossFit community that is such a big part of CrossFit.
In Cape Town and Johannesburg we are seeing boxes open almost quarterly and in Natal I think we will have another 4 boxes open with in the next 2 years at least. I know of 2 people already down the road to affiliating.
2) How does CrossFit separate itself from other forms of training currently available on the market, and what led ‘Andy’ to being an ambassador to the brand in South Africa?
CrossFit is unlike any other training. I’ll be the first to admit we didn’t invent exercise. We didn’t invent the squat, deadlift or pull up, but what CrossFit has done is package a program of fitness that uses variety and pretty bad ass training to allow the general public the opportunity to build a level of fitness and skill most didn’t think possible. I like to think of ourselves as exercise bandits. We will use whatever works to develop better health, strength and fitness. If it works use it, if it doesn’t get rid of it. This is why we use Olympic lifts, power lifts, rowing, strongman training and kettlebells in our program.
From when I can remember I always wanted to do everything. If I saw other kids jumping off a bridge I wanted to do it. If I saw someone climb a rope I wanted to be the next one up there. I played every sport at school, did nearly every event in athletics and was pretty good at most of it. I’m sure most of us are like that and that is what is so attractive about CrossFit – you get to try everything. It introduces people to lifts and disciplines that they may otherwise never of had the opportunity or drive to do. I know of a guy in the UK that only got into weightlifting through CrossFit and recently competed in a competition to get to the Commonwealth games. This is what sets us aside from other forms of training, we get to do all the fun shit.
I was essentially made redundant from my day job in the UK because of CrossFit. I was running my gym and working a day job and when the recession hit they let me go. In Hindsight it was the kick up the ass I needed to step in to coaching full time. My wife is from Durban originally so in February 2010 I flew out to see if it would take here and in September 2010 we got off a plane and started our affiliate. Maybe it was blind stupidity because no one knew me or CrossFit at the time but I had a belief that it would work and it seems to have paid off.
3) CrossFit is not only a training methodology but a growing culture with an ever increasing community, what is the drive behind this, that separates the average gym goer from the CrossFitter?
CrossFit’s whole beginning stemmed from a desire from coach Glassman to move away from the globo gym, mass membership, limited service model with a view to providing open source free information to the masses. This is still the case today and the community has grown around that
The CrossFit community while global in it’s entirety, really grows from each individual box. Every box has a distinct community that seems to have been lost in today's busy climate and this is a deciding factor for many when getting in to fitness again or taking on a new challenge. Due to the group environment people feel part of something greater than just a workout
It is very difficult to explain to people just what CrossFit provides for you both physically and emotionally. You have to do it and be involved to really understand. CrossFit can be tough and at times mentally as well as physically exhausting. It isn’t for everyone and those that do it are the kind of people in life as well as in the gym, are willing to get stuck in. CrossFit is a lifestyle.
4) There is a lot of contention surrounding CrossFit's approach to training, me personally in the past having held a high opinion of it, how do you separate yourself from the controversy and dispute that encompasses this practice of training?
I don’t! Why would I separate myself from the very style of training I love and practice just because other people think it’s dangerous or doesn’t work? It works for me and my members. With all due respect to you Lil, there is also much contention as to whether kettlebells can really provide absolute strength to someone once they are passed squatting with 2 x 32kg bells, would this mean you would try to separate yourself from this training style?
Louis Simmons broke his back twice power lifting. Has he tried to separate himself from that style of training? No. Do people still do power lifting? Hell yes. Has Louis addressed the reasons he broke his back? Definitely.
I’m a CrossFitter. If I only wanted to be strong I would do strength work. If I wanted to be a runner I would just run. If I wanted to be good at lots of different things, be relatively strong and also conditioned I would do CrossFit.
5) CrossFit aside, you are a certified trainer, Olympic lifting coach, and sports massage therapist amongst some of your other vast extent of certifications, and like the rest of us, have a burning passion for physical strength and well being, what are some of your own personal goals in training and how do you go about achieving them?
To get better at the things I'm crap at. CrossFit encompasses so much that you will always find something that you are less capable of doing. Take ring handstand push ups, I can do them but not with the greatest of ability and if they came out in a workout I would be in a world of hurt. So, I must work on them.
I love strength work. I love to squat and deadlift and throw heavy stuff around. I will continue to work these while still trying to work on my weaknesses. As long as I am constantly progressing then I am happy.
How do I go about constantly getting better? Programming which includes nutrition and rest.
6) What led you personally to this industry and what motivates you on a daily basis to keep doing what you do?
I have always been involved in sport both playing and coaching. At school they literally locked me in a room and only let me out to play sport and represent the school. It's all I really knew and understood growing up. It's a miracle I even made it in to mainstream corporate society but I did and it paid the bills and paid for me to study my qualifications and run my gym when I first started.
I reckon mid life crisis had something to do with it. I was coaching teams and putting programs together for guys at the gym before I studied and qualified. It was and still is my passion and I wanted to follow that passion.
Being able to coach people and give my knowledge to them is a special thing. Watching every day people learn and develop and be able do things they never thought possible makes me get out of bed in the morning. Sure they pay me to do it but it's fun for me. I have seen shy people come out of their shells. Overweight people shed incredible weight, and people do amazing things that they thought were out of reach for them when they first started. CrossFit is who I am. It defines how I live my life and how I mould other peoples.
7) What is the greatest advise you can give to any aspiring coaches in your field?
Practice what you preach and never stop learning. Never discredit anything before trying it and have the balls to admit if you make mistakes.
Andy, thank you so much for your insight into your work and the world of CrossFit.
Photos by Tanya Olsen