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Photo: Ruby Wolff

October/November 2013

CrossFit builds communities

and retail profits

CrossFit has only been in South Africa for a few years, but it has gained an enthusiastic following. CARIN HARDISTY found out what makes it so successful, and what retailers can stock to benefit from its success.

CrossFit is successful due to several reasons, but the main ones are the community that is built around the movement, the constantly varied workouts and the scalability of the workouts to suit anyone — on any level of strength and fitness, says Paris Philippou of Rebel Elite Fitness, local manufacturers of CrossFit-style equipment and distributors of brands such as Concept2, inov-8, PurePharma, SpiBelt and SportTape.

“CrossFit is constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement,” adds Greg Glassman, co-founder of CrossFit.

CrossFit is for everyone. No matter the shape, fitness level, strength, etc. of the participant. If the participant can’t do a specific workout or movement, the coach will scale the workout and show him how to do the right movements, but in a way that they can do it safely.

“The CrossFit community is leading the way toward transforming the world’s view of health and people’s ability to achieve it,” says Bruce Joubert of Reebok. “The CrossFit community is busy redefining the way most people will train in the future irrespective of their sporting codes or fitness objectives.”

The boxes (CrossFit gyms) are designed around the community of people it wants to attract — and CrossFit is very much about building a community feeling — for example, there are biker boxes, mommy boxes, boxes aimed at specific religions, etc. to name a few — and CrossFit international does not dictate what décor the box should have. The only common element to the design of a box is that a box typically has an indoor as well as an outdoor area (for running, sprints, tyre flips, etc.).

Because of the community feeling, it’s a feel-good sporting movement. The competition is on a personal level — how far the participant can push himself — with other participants offering support and motivation, especially to those who seem like they’re struggling. “Your intimate connection to your new community of CrossFitters compels you to stay committed and regularly have the guts to challenge your best,” says Steve Young of Reebok. “It’s a sustainable lifestyle of fitness vs. a spurt of good will to get in shape!”

CrossFit is also practical. The movements are actions such as running, jumping, lifting … building muscles that a typical person needs in everyday life — not working on isolated muscles that are only needed for one activity, or working out on one part of the body simply to look good.

CrossFit has not been around that long, yet it seems to have attracted interest from day one. The programmes are constantly varied and provide high intensity, functional movement. Participants are unlikely to see the same workout routine repeated regularly — CrossFit programmes take the boring out of working out. “The movements are exciting and get you moving like you did when you were a kid: climbing ropes, fireman carries, beating tyres with huge pounding hammers! You get to lift massive weights and feel great about your achievements — your body takes shape fast and your strength increases significantly!” says Young.

Due to all the public attention, media companies have also directed their attention towards the movement … and the increase in coverage has in turn also played a part in getting the message across to even more people. “CrossFit worldwide has seen tremendous growth in my view based on several factors,” says Wayne Becker of Rocktape SA. “Firstly the strong media coverage of the Reebok|CrossFit Games in the USA, secondly the business model that allows for a CrossFit box to be open with minimal barriers to entry and a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer certification, and finally because its training methodology produces results.”

Companies involved

The introduction of CrossFit to South Africa not only motivated the public to get moving — it also affected suppliers who saw the importance of being involved in the movement.

“Rebel Elite Fitness was involved in the growth of CrossFit in South Africa from the start — in fact, the company was founded as a result of the start of CrossFit in South Africa,” says Philippou. At that stage, no company brought in the correct equipment - Rebel Elite Fitness saw the need and soon started supplying the necessary equipment. “We are now the leading supplier of CrossFit-style and functional fitness equipment in Africa.”

Both Reebok and Rebel Elite Fitness are among the companies in South Africa who are actively promoting the CrossFit movement. One of the ways is by partnering with boxes, which is a win-win situation for the box and the brand – the box is supported while the brand receives added exposure to the very people who should be using their products.

Rocktape — a new kinesiology tape brand in South Africa, but no stranger in overseas markets — has already started partnerships with boxes where they provide branding inside the box.

“At a CrossFit box level, Rocktape plans to roll out CrossFit-specific Taping Application courses, with the first course being held at Cape CrossFit in November,” says Becker.

Reebok and CrossFit signed a 12 year partnership in 2010, which allows the fitness brand to provide the official CrossFit footwear and apparel. “The partnership was not signed for normal transactional benefits, but out of true partnership as our values are perfectly aligned,” says Young.

“The partnership was a natural collaboration between two companies that are committed to fitness and aim to promote fitness in a new way,” adds Joubert. “Through the partnership, Reebok will be the title sponsor of the CrossFit Games, the world’s premier test to find the Fittest on Earth. We partner with select CrossFit boxes and introduce a range of footwear and apparel designed specifically for CrossFit training and competition.”

“The Reebok|CrossFit Games echo across the world as the mother of all fitness challenges and is a weapon in Reebok’s arsenal in the fight to change the world through fitness,” explains Young.

“Reebok South Africa not only sell and market the co-branded official footwear and apparel for CrossFit, but invest millions into encouraging participation by showcasing the sport of fitness to consumers and for the CrossFit community each year,” says Joubert.

Reebok, together with their box partners, sponsor five world class events annually: the Pretoria Throw Down, the Africa Regionals (in which the winners go to the US to compete in the Reebok|CrossFit Games to win $1-mil), the Big 5 Showdown in Johannesburg where the fittest on earth complete locally, the United We Stand Games in Durban at Gateway, and Fittest In the Cape. The equipment for the events is supplied by Xite Equipment.

Internationally, Rocktape has been a sponsor of the Reebok|CrossFit Games for the past four years. Locally, the brand assisted with athlete medical services at the previous CrossFit Africa Regionals and is the official tape supplier to the United We Stand CrossFit event, which was held in Durban at the end of October.

CrossFitting at home

While it is possible for consumers to practice the CrossFit exercises at home, recommend to your customers that they first attend sessions at a box where a trained professional can guide them and show them the correct techniques. This will allow the consumer to gain the most out of their exercise and also prevent injuries.

“Safety is key. The best advice is that they need to go train at a reputable and legal CrossFit affiliate,” says Philippou. “After understanding the basics very well, training at home is something that can be done to a certain degree.”

“CrossFit is a technique-based program. Watching a movement on video is not sufficient coaching to perform it safely,” adds Imtiaz Desai, the head coach at CrossFit Jozi. He is also an exercise scientist with MSc in Exercise Rehabilitation and a CrossFit Level 1 coach with 10 years’ experience.

CrossFit Jozi is one of the boxes that Rebel Elite Fitness is involved with. The box became the sixth official CrossFit affiliate in South Africa in 2010 — three years later there are over 70 CrossFit affiliated boxes in South Africa. In order to become an affiliate, a box has to be certified by CrossFit Inc. and, amongst others, the box’s coaches have to be at least Level 1 certified CrossFit trainers.

What this boils down to for the participant is a trust that he is in good hands. After all, it’s very easy to get injured when lifting heavy equipment or doing quick movements and participants need someone to keep an eye on their form.

Consumers should find a reputable and well experienced coach to teach you the basics before attempting anything, adds Desai. “Safe, effective and efficient movement is the base of our pyramid.”

“Don’t underestimate the value of these CrossFit coaches,” recommends Young. “Their motivation and experience will drive the participant towards reaching his potential.”

What should retailers stock?

CrossFitters don’t need big bulky equipment typically associated with a gym. Instead, participants make use of a wide range of smaller fitness products. There is a long list of products that retailers can stock for avid CrossFitters who might want to do their own workouts at home.

Some of the essentials that retailers should stock include weighted products (kettlebells, barbells, dumbbells, lifting mats, olympic bars, rubber bumper plates, weight plates, weight vests), resistance bands, medicine and rubber slam balls, boxes, foam rollers, surfaces (stretch mats, rubber flooring), and yoga bars. “A jump rope is a must too,” recommends Desai.

The great thing for retailers about this type of equipment is that they require very little maintenance, so you don’t have to worry as much about after sale service.

The CrossFit exercises can be done anywhere — provided the person doing them knows the safe way to do the movements and knows not to push so hard that he hurts himself. If your customer is an adamant home CrossFitter, you can offer him several videos featuring CrossFit exercises. He can then follow the video trainer at home.

There is even a travel pack for those CrossFitters who will be away from their box or home setup and wish to get their CrossFit fix. The travel pack comes complete with resistance bands, a skipping rope and foam roller, says Billy Hönicke of Rebel Elite Fitness. “Your customer can travel light, but still do a good workout!”

In addition to the equipment, CrossFitters also require comfortable clothing and footwear.

Reebok’s CrossFit apparel and footwear are designed by CrossFitters, for CrossFitters. They are designed to offer a full range of motion during exercise as well as explosive power movements while keeping the participant’s safety in mind. The apparel features several technologies, such as PlayDry that has antimicrobial properties, four way stretch and tailored panels. “CrossFit gear wearers often comment that it’s like training naked,” says Young. “The gear is designed to eliminate any restriction.”

T-shirts should be lightweight, flexible, fit properly and sit in place, be breathable and wick sweat away from the body.

“Reebok CrossFit board shorts are a must for any fitness enthusiast practicing functional movements!” adds Young. The board shorts feature four way stretch “and they also look good”. Other clothing pieces such as hoodies and compression tights (top and bottoms) are also great for CrossFitters.

There are footwear products specifically designed for CrossFit, but participants can also wear most low profile or flat soled, lightweight shoes with clothing that allows the wearer to move freely. The participant will be moving around a lot and quickly, so there should be no restrictions.

Inov-8 offers shoes ideal for CrossFitters, which are lightweight and feature zero drop, excellent grip and Rope-Tec for rope climbs. “Inov-8 has been the natural choice of CrossFitters for the past ten years,” says Philippou.

The Reebok shoes of choice are the Nano 3 and Oly lifting shoe, which are now in their third generations, says Young. The Nano 3 is a wide, low platform hard working shoe that has decoupled flex nodes for toe flexibility and firm footing when lifting heavy overhead weight. The breathable mesh keeps the foot cool, while flexibility allows for variation such as interval sprints. The shoe also features DuraGrip for ground crawling and rope-burn resistant panels.

“As participants become better they tend to want more specific products that are better suited to the sport,” says Philippou. These include Olympic weightlifting shoes, wrist support wraps, speed ropes for skipping, etc. “It’s a personal choice.”

Then there are also medical products, such as kinesiology tape, that will help participants — no matter if they’re doing CrossFit at home or in a box — protect their hands, wrists and shins, and promote blood flow, reduce swelling and help to stabilise weaker areas such as the lower back, ham strings and calves.

CrossFitters will especially be looking for items that provide protection for shins, such as long socks, adds Young.

The lightweight Rocktape Shin Skins have been specifically developed to protect athletes’ shins, adds Becker. Shin protection is especially useful when doing activities such as rope climbs, lifts, cleans and snatches and box jumps.

Accessories such as wrist support straps and grip gloves are also useful to help prevent injuries.

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