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Staying Fit: Meet the UAE’s CrossFit elite

As the fitness programme is being adopted by a growing tribe around the world, the UAE is no exception

  • Jamie Greene and Elliot Simmonds Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • During the Workout of the Day event at Crossfit GoldBox in Al Quoz, Dubai. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Dwynn Trazo during The Workout of the day at the Crossfit GoldBox in Al Quoz, Dubai.Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Elliot Simmonds crossfit champion during the Workout of the day at the Crossfit GoldBox in Al Quoz, Dubai.Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Jamie Greene crossfit champion during the Workout of the day at the Crossfit GoldBox in Al Quoz, Dubai.Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • During the Workout of the day at the Crossfit GoldBox in Al Quoz, Dubai.Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Greene (centre), Simmonds and Crowley (far right) with the WOD participants. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News
  • Cool down stretches after the WOD at CrossFit Gold Box. Image Credit: A.K Kallouche/Gulf News

First, know your WOD.

CrossFit Gold Box in Al Qouz played host to a Reebok sponsored WOD (Workout of the Day) ahead of the CrossFit Regionals in Madrid and a select group of individuals was on hand to experience a slice of a CrossFitter’s life. Jamie Greene, Elliot Simmonds, and Claire Crowley, who are among the athletes representing the UAE in the Regionals, conducted the session. Yours truly got to participate and lived to tell about it.

Trying out CrossFit for the first time, I fell in love with the sport. As the name suggests, it’s a cross between various training methods. And what’s even more beautiful is how welcoming it is for literally everyone.

“CrossFit is for anyone … You go to a box, there’ll be a set class, and it will be the same for a 10-year-old-boy or a 90-year-old woman … what you change is the movements to make sure that everybody can perform it as intended. For example, a squat for me might be a loaded squat with 100kgs. A squat for a 90-year-old lady might just be sitting down and standing up. The idea is that you’re doing things in a safe manner where I can get the same stimulus as everybody else in the room. So we do scaled versions of the workouts.” Simmonds says.

It is often referred to as the pinnacle of functional training and the combo of movements they made us do demonstrates that. From the warm-up to the actual workout to the cool-down stretches, we engaged muscle fibres which normally aren’t recruited that much. I was certainly feeling it in places I’m not usually sore at following a workout. And that’s attributed to varying disciplines being put together when you do CrossFit.

“It’s doing different exercises every day at high intensity. We combine weightlifting, gymnastics, metabolic conditioning. Weightlifting being anything from a dead lift to a strict press, anything with weight. Gymnastics being your body weight movement, so pull-ups, push-ups. Metabolic conditioning being your running, rowing, skipping and cycling.” Simmonds adds.

Our WOD lasted for about 45 minutes and I’m sure, following the session, those who also did it with me had much more respect for this very demanding sport and its equally resilient athletes.

You’ve got to admire the dedication they put into the game. Greene, who, may I remind you, is the number one CrossFit athlete in the UAE, had this to say when I asked how her typical day was: “I train normally two times a day. For us, since we’re coaching, we have to fit in two sessions. So you’re coach in the morning, then do your first session … then maybe chill out for a bit, train again and then coach in the afternoon. If in the weekends, where we’re not coaching as much, sometimes you just split it into three sessions. It sounds like a lot, but you just break it down.”

We all know training’s just one aspect of fitness, nutrition is another and there are adjustments in there depending on activity, as Greene adds: “My diet changes throughout the year … if were coming up to a competition it will be a little bit different than if we’re going through the off-season. A guy in the UK writes a diet programme and from there we order our food in Dubai … and just eat the same thing every day … I’ve got oats in the morning, a shake after training or before training, a meal and I train again, another meal, I train again.”

Hearing these words form pros, some might find CrossFit a bit intimidating because of its demands, but I recommend you try it because it’s also fun. Some movements may be unfamiliar, sure, but everyone goes through learning curves anyway. I think Simmonds sums it all up perfectly: “You go into a CrossFit box, half the things you don’t know, you don’t know what’s going on but everyone’s smiling, half the people are lying on the floor [exhausted], but you’ve got people fist-bumping and slapping each other. It’s just a cool environment to be in.”


The CrossFit movement in the UAE is a train powering through mainstream fitness. CrossFit gyms, popularly known as boxes, have sprung across the nation and naturally, from thousands of practitioners, rise a handful of premier CrossFit athletes. Among the cream of the crop are Jamie Greene, Elliot Simmonds, and Claire Crowley.

All three athletes qualified in the CrossFit Open earlier this year and will now represent the UAE in the upcoming CrossFit Regionals in Madrid, Spain, on June 2-4. The Regionals is the next step of the tourney and those who’ll emerge victorious will proceed to the annual Reebok CrossFit Games in the US. It’s an intense battle against elite athletes across the globe where the winners are named the ‘Fittest on Earth’.


Age: 25
Height: 163cm
Weight: 140lb

Jamie Greene, the Kiwi known for being the fourth fittest woman on Earth and number one CrossFitter in the UAE, is a former gymnast and rugby player who burst onto the scene after winning last year’s Reebok CrossFit Games Open. Greene has been a CrossFit athlete since 2013 and currently coaches at CrossFit Yas in Abu Dhabi where she helped Team CrossFit Yas take third at last year’s Reebok CrossFit Games. This year, however, she’s on her own.

“This year, I’m competing as an individual … it has changed a lot. Last year you had six people working out every day. The training was very different, you had to make sure you were coinciding with everyone else. The volume wasn’t as much. Now, as an individual, training volume has come up, training more like four-six hours a day rather than three-four. And everything’s back on you. If you don’t train, then it’s you that doesn’t perform. If you eat something that’s not right it comes back on you. So you’ve got to be a lot more strict on yourself, but it’s still fun. But sometimes you do miss the team dynamics.” Greene says.


Age: 23
Height: 183cm
Weight: 185lb

Elliot Simmonds, who has been in the UAE for three years, studied Sports Coaching in his University days and was also a former rugby player before becoming a CrossFit Coach. Simmonds ranks third in the 2017 Opens and will compete in this year’s Regionals as an individual. It’s a departure from his previous two entries, in 2015 and 2016, as an integral part of Team CrossFit Yas where they, together with Greene, finished a solid third in the 2016 Reebok CrossFit Games.

Asked about his final preparations for the upcoming competition, Simmonds has this to say: “Now, it’s just ironing out the movements. There’s a few different movements that we’ve not seen before like dumbbell overhead squats so that’s single arm overhead squats. That’s something that I’m sure a lot of people will be working on. Other than that, CrossFit always finds weaknesses so you just work on things every day.”


Age: 28
Height: 157cm
Weight: 130lb

Claire Crowley, originally from South of England, has been in Dubai for three years and is currently a coach at CrossFit Gold Box in Al Quoz. Crowley will compete in the Regionals with her team, aptly named ‘Whatever It Takes’, which ranks 10th in the Opens.

Individuals qualify according to their scores, but entering as a team is slightly different as Crowley explains it. “If you go as a team, your score will be accumulative from all of the team members. There’s six people that go on a team. All of us go together for the accumulative team score.”

With regards to their preparations, she has this to say: “Training volume is high so we’re doing a lot. Now, it’s becoming more team specific … you have to work on the team’s strength and weaknesses, and lots synchronised movements.”

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning programme characterised by its mix of aerobic exercises, callisthenics, and Olympic weightlifting. This fitness methodology was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000. It is built on the foundations of constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements, education and collaborative competition. CrossFit develops strength and fitness while cultivating community and camaraderie in each of the more than 12,000 affiliated gyms worldwide.


What is the Reebok CrossFit Games?

The Reebok CrossFit Games are an annual competition where elite athletes compete to be named the ‘Fittest on Earth’. The Games has three stages in its journey:

1. THE OPEN (from February 23 — March 27)

This five-week, five-workout competition is held in CrossFit affiliates around the world. Workouts are released online each Thursday, and athletes have until the following Monday to submit their scores. Anyone who’s at least 14 years old can sign up and join the first stage.

THE ONLINE QUALIFIER (from April 20 — 24)

New this year, teenage athletes will join the masters in The Online Qualifier following the Open. The top 200 masters and teenagers from each division will be invited to compete in the four-day, online competition. The qualifier will decide the 20 fittest masters and teenagers from every division who will each receive a ticket to the Games.

2. THE REGIONALS (from May 19 — June 4)

The top athletes from each of the 17 regions qualify for the second stage of the competition, Regionals. Three-day competitions held over three weekends in May at eight Regional locations around the world. The top athletes from two or three regions combine, and compete for the five qualifying spots for the CrossFit Games. Our Athletes from the UAE will compete in the Meridian Regional in Madrid, Spain from June 2nd — 4th.

3. Finale: THE REEBOK CROSSFIT GAMES (from August 1 — 6)

The season culminates at The Games in July in the US. At this point, the field has been narrowed down from hundreds of thousands of athletes in the Open to the world’s fittest 40 men, 40 women, 40 teams, 40 teenagers, and 200 masters. The Games rank the world’s fittest, and determine who is the ‘Fittest on Earth’. In the Games, the athletes engage in a series of challenges unknown to them until right before the competition. This combination of highly trained athletes and unknown events makes for exciting viewing.