I was reluctantly dragged to CrossFit Auckland in May 2013 by my boss Mark who had a spare GrabOne package that his wife was unable to use. I say reluctantly because although I didn’t have any real idea of what CrossFit was, what little I had read online screamed to me this really wasn’t going to be my cup of tea. Group exercise? Check. High intensity? Check. Possible High-fives? Check. But anyway, it was free and Mark was persuasive enough so I ended up agreeing to go. I figured I could learn a few things and take that back with me to the gym I was going to. I had no intention of staying on past those 4 weeks…and…well…somehow I’m still here 72 weeks later.

I’m not going to write a long back story about how the combination of an office job, not exercising enough (or effectively) and drinking and eating too much rubbish had led to a few years of a steadily increasing waistline. Needless to say it had. Instead I’m going to write about the reasons why I still happily walk through those doors 4 or 5 times a week.

Weight loss – When I joined CrossFit Auckland I was the heaviest I have ever been at about 94kg. I’m not tall so that was a lot of weight to be carrying around and as I soon found out not very much of it was muscle! The last time I weighed myself I was 81kg. I have gone from a size 40 down to a size 30-32 waist. The only downside is that I now have a cupboard full of jeans ranging from 40 down to 30, and only 2 of them fit me.

Strength – I had never done any strength training before. Generally my workouts had consisted of half an hour of cardio followed by a few sit ups, what I thought were push ups, and maybe some curls.  I’m stronger now than I have ever been and I’m doing things I never imagined I’d be able to do. Unassisted pull ups and ring dips were a big achievement for me as I really struggled with the bodyweight movements. I had never squatted before, let alone with weight. I’m now up to 90kg front squat and 110kg back squat. What I had never anticipated was how much easier everyday things are when you are stronger. Working around the house, doing yard work, cutting up and carrying firewood is all far easier and more enjoyable these days. CFAK has also been my first introduction to Olympic weightlifting and it has become one of my favourite aspects of CrossFit.
Fitness – The typical CrossFit workout was a complete shock to my system. I struggled for months with the amount of mental and physical discomfort these workouts put me through. Anyone who scoffs at the idea that a 10 minute workout can leave you in a complete mess on the floor has never tried a 21-15-9 couplet for time. I had never exercised at that level of intensity before and it has clearly proven to be effective for me. I am fitter and stronger now than I ever have been and I spend about half as much time “exercising”. People say CrossFit workouts never get easier, you just get stronger and faster, which is true. However one measure I have noticed above all is how my body responds to the workouts. When I started, a hard workout would have me feeling mentally and physically exhausted for the rest of the day. These days I have almost completely bounced back within half an hour and have far more energy and alertness throughout the afternoon.

Coaches – Before joining CrossFit Auckland I had never done any sort of training with a coach. The extent of it at my old gym was a quick walk around the machines with one of their trainers and then they set me up with a simple program and that was that. It is painfully obvious looking back that I was never going to make any progress there. I had spent 2 years plodding along on the cardio machines thinking I was doing well. At CFAK every workout I do is done with a coach. Each movement is practiced regularly with the coaches to ensure they are correct and safe, and that carries over into scaling correctly to ensure we are attacking that specific workout at a weight and level that is appropriate. This is especially important for me as I have had intermittent knee issues caused by having discoid lateral menisci which have meant at certain times I have been unable to do a large number of the prescribed movements comfortably or safely. CrossFit Auckland helped me through the rehab and recovery of the first operation, and during that process ensured that I was doing movements appropriate for the condition of my knee while still getting a really good workout in. I am most likely going to need the same operation in my other knee in the coming months and as daunting as it is having to take more time off training I now know that I’ll be back and continuing to progress as soon as I can.

The People – Despite initially being unsure of the group workout dynamic it is now one of the biggest draw cards for me. We have a solid group of regular lunchtime QucikFitters. It’s great to see all these people pushing themselves and kicking ass every day. It’s pretty incredible to see how far everyone is progressing.

On top of all that the regular exercise has had the effect of overall improving my life. I am more productive at work, I sleep better, I don’t drink as much (because let’s be honest, have you tried doing a crossfit workout hungover…), and I am just generally happier. I have really changed for the better since starting at CrossFit Auckland. My partner and I are expecting a baby in January so I’m just glad to be where I am now rather than where I was 2 years ago as I know I’m better equipped physically and mentally to face the challenges that will bring!

Nathan Bitcheno

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