By Gregory Scruggs, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – At 6AM on a Monday morning, while most are enjoying their last hour of sleep before the weekday begins, Rogerio Rodrigues is on the sidewalk that straddles the Praia de São Conrado even before the traffic begins to choke Avenida Niemeyer as it winds its way into Leblon. He is coaching Carlson Barros through a series of animal walks and crawls – the jacaré (alligator), siri (crab), and pato (duck) all make appearances.
Soon after, he sends Carlson, 29, to fill a nylon sack with sand, who fetches it from the beach, returns, and begins a series of lifting repetitions like a gardener hauling sacks of soil.
For Rodrigues, 30, imitating nature and acts of manual labor is the genius of CrossFit, a global fitness movement that avoids the artificial postures of mainstream gym culture to focus on natural movement that breaks a sweat and builds conditioning.
Codified by former gymnast Greg Glassman in California during the 1970s, CrossFit came to Rio in late 2008 at the hands of Chris Clark, a former volunteer with the Instituto Dois Irmãos, where Rodrigues also serves as volunteer coordinator. A long-time boxer, Rodrigues was attracted to the CrossFit routine and resolved to continue training even after Clark’s departure.
Through the CrossFit website, he received certification as an official CrossFit branch – the only in Rio de Janeiro and one of only three in Brazil – and began training clients morning, afternoon, and night most days of the week. His clients range from Jiu-Jitsu and boxing trainees to non-athletes. “I adapt the volume and quantity,” he explains, “but never the intensity. The workout is like a pressure cooker. It heats up, heats up, then boom!”
Short sprints, squats, push-ups, sit-ups, and dead weight lifting all regularly feature in the Workout of the Day (WOD), the centerpiece of any CrossFit session. Carlson huffs and puffs his way through repetitions with the sack of sand as the traffic begins to pile up on Niemeyer.
Rodrigues coaches him with a stopwatch in an enthusiastic and encouraging fashion, a far cry from the “boot camp” trend of fitness training where trainers motivate by verbally pressuring their trainees. That said, police academies, military training centers, and SWAT teams are all known devotees of the CrossFit training regimen.
As for the fact that Rocinha CrossFit is based in Rio’s largest favela, where Rogerio was born and raised, it is a point of pride for him. “We are the only CrossFit affiliate in a community like this and the response is so positive,” Rodrigues proffers, pointing to a t-shirt from CrossFit Denmark.
Kelsey Hanks, an American living and working as a volunteer in Rocinha agrees: “Rocinha CrossFit spreads the message about fitness, giving kids a healthy and pro-active way to stay busy and make friends.”
Rodrigues hopes to train other coaches from within the community in the near future, especially given how busy his schedule is with clients. “Rocinha has problems with education, violence, and drugs,” he points out, “and CrossFit offers mental training as well. My mission is social inclusion. My vision is that one day Rocinha will send a champion to the CrossFit Games [an annual competition among CrossFit athletes].” An hour a day with Rogerio and that should be a breeze.
Rocinha CrossFit sessions begin at an hour for newcomers and extend to 90 minutes for regulars, at a cost of R$30 each (monthly packages are available).