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It’ll Shape You Up—If You Last

Real fitness, a newish gym co-owned by T.J. O’Connor in North Naples, is one of those places that receive a lot of publicity for its strange workouts, like making members flip tractor tires or pound sledgehammers.

It’s an affiliate of CrossFit, a national system that dismisses many of the tenets of weightlifting or traditional cardio workouts as too specialized, replacing them with simple but intense workouts that address every aspect of bodily health.

With nearly 2,000 branches in all 50 states and 14 countries, including Afghanistan, it’s spreading like a virus and is inspiring classes at many local fitness haunts. (Its principles have even ensnared Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis.) Real Fitness, however, is one of the only places in town that devotes itself entirely to CrossFit: 6,000 square feet without a bench press in sight.

It’s thriving, too. In 10 months, the place has signed up 270 members, only 30 shy of its final goal.

But the most obvious proof of Real Fitness’ success is the maniacal devotion it inspires in its followers. A CrossFit disciple is paying for a planned Real Fitness expansion, and a woman at my office talks about it as if it’s religious dogma.

Considering its growing popularity, I figured I should give CrossFit a three-week trial to see whether it’s worth its hype.

Plus, I thought it looked easy.

I should have taken the motto of CrossFit’s Afghanistan branch more seriously: “Preparing for Ragnorak one [day] at a time,” with Ragnorak translating to the “end of the divine and human worlds,” according to www.thefreedictionary.com.

And if you’re training for Armageddon, Real Fitness is your gym. I have no doubt that it will get you into the best shape of your life. I also hated almost every second of it.

I showed up at Real Fitness for the first time having just downed a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. I then told the pretty trainer behind the desk that this workout would be a breeze.

It wasn’t a good start.

She told my trainer what I said. He decided to ratchet up my baseline workout—what every Real Fitness rookie goes through during their first workout. It’s designed as a way to instruct newbies on the basic CrossFit moves. I, however, was forced to substitute regular squats with wall balls.

Wall balls are a staple of the Real Fitness program. In their DNA, they are squats. But at the top of the squat, you throw a medicine ball 10 feet into the air, striking a large “X” painted on the wall. You then catch the ball.

Squat. Throw. Catch. Repeat. Forty times. With a 14-pound ball.

After finishing the baseline, covered in sweat and with endorphins firing like cannons in my skull, nausea radiated through my body. I burst toward the restroom, my stomach rising dangerously. I then … well, it wasn’t pleasant.

Each workout includes a warm-up session. A warm-up, by itself, might include a mile run, or a 1,000-meter row, or it could be an eclectic mixture, like a 500-meter row and three rounds of waist bends, push-ups and sit-ups.

The main entrée is also hard to describe because it changes every day. But here’s the example of my day two workout: five minutes of continuous deadlifts, followed by three straight minutes of box jumps (which are exactly what they sound like) without any rest. The object here was to complete as many reps as possible.

Time constraints and competitions, O’Connor says, are used to ratchet up the intensity.

“Intensity breeds results,” O’Connor said. And in the end, Real Fitness is completely about results. That doesn’t mean it’s about making your glamour muscles pop or training for a marathon. “We blend the best of everything, not just aesthetics,” he continued. “Real Fitness is about real fitness—it’s about everything.”

Two anecdotes stand out from my final weeks at Real Fitness. The first occurred during a particularly brutal session of 100 pull-ups counterbalanced by sets of wall balls. Of course I couldn’t do it and soon said to the trainer, in my best whine, “Is it normal to be this bad?”

Honestly, I was fishing for a little encouragement. Instead, he said, “We need to talk after the workout.” And talk we did. The trainer, co-owner Joey Sandoval, tore apart my nutrition.

When I told him that all I’d eaten that day was a bowl of Cheerios (it was then about 3 p.m.), he guffawed. He then prescribed a diet of cheese, berries or apples, and almonds or almond butter before each workout. Without the right fuel, I was burning muscle instead of carbs, making such a high-intensity workout nearly impossible.

The second incident occurred during my final workout, when somebody was caught cheating on his reps. (The only reason I noticed this was because I, too, was cheating and thought at first that the trainers were calling me out.) And I don’t mean to embarrass the offender. He probably lost count; it’s easy to do when you’re amassing this amount of reps.

The point of both these examples is that Real Fitness members will always be guided and chided by ubiquitous trainers. They are not going through the motions—they will bust you for cheating, force you into completing exercises you claim you can’t finish, and give you a last kind word when you’re ready to quit.

Yes, it’s a little like Big Brother with their ever-watchful eyes. But if your true goal is to get in fantastic shape, what’s better than a constant, uncompromising fitness overlord?

So Real Fitness is good fitness. But here’s the ultimate question: Is Real Fitness for everybody? No. Even O’Connor won’t say that everyone can handle CrossFit and Real Fitness, although its discriminating factor isn’t age or fitness level. And it’s true; some 60-year-olds love the gym, as do overweight patrons.

“Some people are not strong enough mentally to get through it,” O’Connor said. “It’s not too hard. They’re just not ready to give 100 percent to fitness. If you’re not going to give 100 percent, you’re not ready for it.”

I was not ready for it. Real Fitness takes a commitment I don’t have. Even some of its biggest proponents dread going, and my laziness is too large to overcome that daily anxiety.

O’Connor nailed it during my first workout when he said: “The best part about coming here is
leaving here.”





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In time for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 21st Century Oncology has opened Regional Breast Care, an advanced breast disease treatment center, at Regional Cancer Center in Fort Myers. The center hopes to provide an all-encompassing resource for breast cancer patients and will be under the leadership of Dr. Rie Aihara, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and former co-director of the Breast Clinic at the Boston Medical Center.


Sticking with breast cancer awareness, a 10-year study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the Mediterranean Diet may be associated with “lower breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women and could explain, in part, the lower incidence of this disease in Mediterranean countries.” However, the study also showed that the diet produced little or no difference when compared to the typical rate of breast cancer among premenopausal women.


Physicians Regional Medical Center has established a new maternity program called CuddleBugs to educate new mothers on every stage of their pregnancy. “Physicians Regional is committed to providing a variety of services for new moms who deliver at our hospital,” says Joe D. Pinion, the hospital’s CEO. “The CuddleBugs program is something very unique in our community, and we encourage new moms to take advantage of its many benefits.” Participants in the program receive weekly e-newsletters with information based on the mother’s due date. For details, visit www.cuddlebugsbaby.com.

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