A fitness system stresses simple exercises

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A fitness system stresses simple exercises

Justin McGinley's commute to his second job takes seconds. That's because his "office" is the garage of his Cherry Hill ranch house. The 12-by-18-foot space is equipped with the tools of his trade: dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, rowing machines.

By day, McGinley, 30, is an information technology consultant. Before and after work, he's a personal trainer. Assisted by his wife, Alycia, 28, he helps clients build better bodies through a mode of conditioning called CrossFit.

CrossFit, which has attracted devotees across the land, is the physical equivalent of a liberal arts education: wide-ranging and inclusive.

"We're generalists," McGinley says. "Our goal is the well-rounded athlete."

Or, as the CrossFit website declares: "Our specialty is not specializing."

CrossFit originated in California nearly a decade ago. In Philadelphia and environs, two dozen gyms are CrossFit affiliates or "boxes." But many CrossFit adherents don't belong to a gym. Instead, they belong to a virtual community bound by the CrossFit website, which offers a WOD - Workout of the Day - as well as videos of exercises, suggestions, testimonials, and success stories.

Thoreau, who urged us to simplify, would love CrossFit. It uses simple body-weight exercises (pull-ups and push-ups) and simple equipment to promote functional fitness.

"The movements are functional because we're mimicking the movements performed in everyday life," McGinley says.

The aim is full-body versatility and capability. Accordingly, CrossFitters eschew weight machines and fixed-path exercises that isolate body parts in favor of free weights (such as dumbbells and kettlebells) and exercises that involve multiple joints and stabilizing muscles.

The CrossFit ideal is to possess the strength and agility of a gymnast, the speed and explosive power of a sprinter, and the cardiovascular efficiency and stamina of a rower or long-distance runner, McGinley says. Coordination, balance and an attractive physique are fringe benefits.

"Everyone who works out wants to look better naked," McGinley admits, but in CrossFit, the cosmetic yields to the practical, form follows function.

"I teach movements as opposed to muscles," McGinley says. "I don't care about the size of your biceps; I want you to get better at pull-ups and push-ups."

The appeal of CrossFit is its ever-changing variety and the "tangible results," McGinley says. Another feature: its "scalability." Everybody performs the same program, from cage fighters to McGinley's grandmother. What changes is the load and intensity: how much resistance you struggle against, and how fast.

"Some workouts are gloriously difficult. You can really feel thrashed," he says. "Others are less demanding."

McGinley learned about CrossFit in 2007. When he visited the website, he was impressed by what he saw: obviously fit people who weren't "hulking," and "petite women doing unbelievable things," such as handstand push-ups and lunges while holding heavy barbell plates over their heads.

After a two-day seminar in 2008, McGinley, a former sprinter at Haddonfield Memorial High School, became a certified CrossFit instructor. His "box," CrossFit Aspire, which opened in June, has 13 clients and will move to expanded quarters nearby in November.

One evening last week, as rain pelted the driveway, the McGinleys led their clients through a workout. After vigorous sets of squats, dumbbell thrusters and kettlebell swings, some collapsed on the soaked grass, exhausted but exhilarated.

Marlene Chappe, a "50 plus" paralegal from Lindenwold, who has tried many exercise programs, called CrossFit "by far the best."

"It's always challenging, always fun," she said. "And it's done wonders for my wind."

For Jamie DePolo, 48, a science writer from Lumberton, CrossFit has meant better-fitting clothes, improved posture, and the end of back pain. "I'm functioning better every day," she said.

In high school, Jason Holonia, 35, a customer service rep from Audubon, was a 175-pound cross-country runner. Over the years, his weight climbed to 250. Thanks to CrossFit, he's 225 now, aiming for 190. His gut is diminishing, and he's stronger. Since July, his deadlift has increased from 185 pounds to 335, his back squat from 85 pounds to 245.

But perhaps the most compelling testimony came from McGinley's wife, Alycia. In 2008, she finished the Broad Street Run in 1:41. When chronic foot pain derailed her training, Justin suggested she try CrossFit. For the next eight months, that's all she did for exercise. When she next ran Broad Street, she cut her time by 10 minutes.

"Weightlifting is not something women typically do," Alycia says "But after deadlifting 200 pounds, they feel like they can take on the world, and that confidence crosses over to their jobs and other aspects of their lives."

For more information, visit www.crossfitaspire.com or call Justin McGinley at 609-922-1459. The CrossFit website: www.crossfit.com.

Source: Philly.com Health News , By Art Carey "Inquirer Staff Writer"

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