Cameron Van Der Burgh Shares His CrossFit Experience

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South African swimmer Cameron van der Burgh is a two-time Olympic medalist and former world-record holder in the 100m breaststroke. Along with co-founding the marketing agency Touch 58, he recently started a blog in which he gives an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the life of elite professional swimmers — both in and out of the pool.

In the blog post below — written by van der Burgh — he shares his thoughts on CrossFit.

Part 1 – The Beginning

Eight weeks later and I’m still waking up in the morning with new aches and pains from last night’s session. Eight weeks! By now, normally I find my body adapting to a new form of training but I guess that’s why it’s called “CROSSFit" because it kind of makes you cross!

Just to be clear, I’m still a swimmer. I’m not a full-time CrossFit athlete so I have been doing the performance program down at Cape CrossFit. The next level up is the elite class which is a whole another level of madness and pain, but I am a sucker for punishment so I hope to one day land up there.

My reason for doing CrossFit? Since moving down to Cape Town I couldn’t find the motivation to gym in public facilities. I am used to being with my long-term strength and conditioning coach, Naat Loubser, in his private setup. Naat is one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the world, having countless Olympic, world, and Commonwealth champions run through his dungeon (gym). I have a few friends that picked up CrossFit to feed the competitive void left after retiring from professional sport that recommended I give it a try. Eight weeks later, I couldn’t be happier that I took their advice.

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I joined up with a local box called Cape CrossFit under the guidance of Coach Chris, a Swedish Viking who is straight out of yolk-town but just as flexible as a yogi... Impressive! Cape CrossFit set up shop in 2009 and through its community-driven approach where everyone is equal and no big egos are allowed it has grown into the most successful boxes in the city with over 500 members in three gyms and the pro team reaching CrossFit Games Regionals seven years in a row with numerous individual podium finishes in the African regionals. 

The members see each other as a family more than members. Anyone new is greeted in their first session by everyone and made to feel right at home. The halls are constantly filled with cries of encouragement and support. No matter the athletic ability, each person leaves feeling as if he or she has just won Olympic gold.

The setup is textbook performance driven. The box is based in a warehouse on the top floor with spectacular views of Table Mountain and the city for inspiration when you need it, which is almost every session. The box feels like home. It’s a replica of Naat’s Dungeon, the place that forged my love for Olympic lifts and Tabata soul-searching workouts.

I was fortunate that with all my weightlifting training over the past 10 years with Naat I could slot easily into the performance class without too much hassle. The class is hard-hitting. Weights are similar to what the competition class uses, but the session consists of a warmup and one WOD (Workout of the Day) versus competition having two to three WODs in one session. It's perfect for me as I still need to pair a swimming session into my daily training load.

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Ripped hands and lung burn are daily occurrences even after eight weeks. The workouts are grueling but manageable, which ultimately keeps everyone coming back for more. Anyone can write programs that are tough, but it’s a fine line to be capable of balancing hard work with improvement. Chris has managed to find this equilibrium seamlessly. Workouts constantly end with the sound of a bell signaling someone in the group has broken his or her personal best, myself included.

In Part 2 coming up, I’ll get more into the numbers of what I have been doing — my favorite workouts, results from World Cup, and how Chris, Naat, and myself have adapted CrossFit to fit seamlessly into my Olympic training regime and the benefit for athletes.

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