By Michelle Cannon Epting

As the summer season unfolds, the time comes to shed more layers of clothing and engage in more physical activities. If you are looking to take on some alternative activities to get in shape and transform your body, you might want to consider these atypical pursuits. The experiences may be extreme, and the results may be dramatic.

Over the last decade or so, one popular way to see the most dramatic physical transformation and gain in fitness has been with CrossFit. In Crossfit’s technical terms, the strength and conditioning program is “a regimen of constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity in a communal environment lead[ing] to health and fitness.” The key components of CrossFit are movement, fitness, nutrition, and community. CrossFit workouts have been incorporated into fitness routines by fire departments, law enforcement agencies, and military organizations. However, any person can also engage in CrossFit by joining one of the more than five thousand affiliated local CrossFit gyms (known as “boxes”) that share the CrossFit philosophies and have paid fees to use the licensed CrossFit name.

Daily workouts, or WODs (Workout of the Day), are posted online and usually include a warm-up, skills development session, high-intensity workout, and stretching. CrossFit workouts are short, usually lasting for twenty minutes or less, and can be described as intense, demanding, all-out physical exertion. Physical activities can include sprinting, rowing, jumping rope, climbing rope, flipping tires, weightlifting, box jumps, burpees, and wallballs. The basic equipment used in a workout, other than one’s own body resistance, can include barbells, dumbbells, jump ropes, pull-up bars, kettlebells, medicine balls, and boxes for box jumps. While WODs are designed for the fittest athletes, CrossFit workouts can be scaled to any fitness level. All participants follow the same regimen and content, but the degree can be changed for varying abilities. Thus, any person can have a performance advantage. During WODs, individuals practice and train major lifts, perform basic gymnastics, bike, row, swim, and run hard and fast. One of the main goals of a typical workout is to avoid routine by creatively varying activities.

Many CrossFitters follow the Paleo diet as a nutritional complement to the workouts. The Paleo Movement was founded by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. and is designed as a “lifestyle plan to optimize health and well being.” The Paleo diet includes lean natural meats, fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds and nuts, and healthy oils. Noticeably lacking in this diet are dairy products, grains, legumes, most starch, rice, potatoes, refined sugars, salt, and processed foods. The diet is based on what ancestral hunter-gatherers would have eaten before mass-produced, processed, cheaper, less nutritional foods were added in Western diets. By following the Paleo diet, one can experience weight loss, feel increased energy, and avoid chronic illnesses, including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. Paleo theory attributes the diet’s results to the human body’s genetic adaptation to better process more natural foods without the insulin response from more processed, higher glycemic index foods. The CrossFit model further encourages caloric consumption to support physical activity without excess to gain weight. The diet should include approximately 30 percent lean varied protein, 40 percent low-glycemic carbohydrates (vegetables), and 30 percent monosaturated fats.

In Brevard County, the owners and trainers at CrossFit Rise Above, Eric McKinley and Adrian McCollum, subscribe to both the CrossFit philosophy of fitness and the advantages of the Paleo diet. Each of the five thousand plus CrossFit affiliates will have a different training style and specific culture, while sharing a commitment to creating a supportive community where individuals can reach excellence and improve movement and fitness. This is especially true at CrossFit Rise Above (CFRA) located in historic Eau Gallie.

Co-owners Eric McKinley and Adrian McCollum met at Harris, and the two discovered their shared love of fitness and instructing. In 2011, McKinley and McCollum decided to focus on the CrossFit style for their gym, and they created CrossFit Rise Above.

Over the years, CFRA’s membership has grown to include a diverse population, and the results for those members are impressive. Ages range from 18 to 58. Careers range from student to physician to roller derby girl to division I athlete. One member has lost over one hundred pounds by doing CrossFit and following the Paleo diet. Other members have transformed their bodies’ tone dramatically. Several members have gone on to become triathletes and/or certified trainers with the box.

Members begin from any fitness level and take small steps to improve fitness under the tutelage of the coaches. Varied personal instruction is part of what makes CFRA successful.  There is a sense of camaraderie between the members, making the competition fun as the peers motivate one another. McCollum states, “There is accountability here. You see your friends while you’re here. It’s a motivation to show up because others miss you if you’re not here. It’s not an isolated experience.” That family spirit is exemplified by the extended activities of the members. “We’ve had baby showers, birthdays, engagement and anniversary parties, and other events at the box. We actually hang out and share life milestones with one another. It’s an extended family,” according to McKinley.
CFRA offers several types of classes/workouts, depending on the needs of the individual. If one wants to see what CrossFit is all about, CFRA offers free open workouts at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays.

McKinley expresses a general philosophy of the importance of fitness. “The key is just to establish lifelong fitness no matter what. You want to still be independent and functional at seventy, eighty years old and beyond.”