How this CrossFit training plan is turning former addicts into fitness machines
If anything proves the real transformative power of fitness and exercise to change lives, then this is it.
The revolutionary new 180 Recovery Project in Clitheroe, Lancashire, is the first of its kind in the world.
Recovering addicts are using hardcore CrossFit training to break the cycle of substance abuse, crime and prison to help rebuild their lives.
The programme uses CrossFit strength and conditioning training alongside attendance at 12-Step Fellowship meetings to keep them off drugs and out of jail, for good.
The training looks pretty gruelling but the results have been simply incredible. In six short weeks the training programme has turned these men into fitness machines - but even more so has given them health, goals, prospects - and most of all, hope for the future.
Just watch the video at the bottom to see how it has changed their lives.
We spoke to Anna Chadwick, who helped create the 180 Recovery Project, to find out about all about this life-changing fitness programme.
Where did the idea come from?
We all know how compulsive and fulfilling fitness can be. You start working out, you begin feeling good about yourself, the endorphins are flowing, you eat better, you start making better choices about your lifestyle and health. It can change your life.
If you've ever done CrossFit, you can times this by a thousand.
So if this is what it can do for your average gym bunny, imagine the transformative effect it could have on someone recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.
This is the whole idea behind the 180 Recovery Project - but amazingly it has never been done before.
The jigsaw pieces just seem to fit with those behind the project. Anna has a police background, Robin within the Prison Service, and Lindsey- a successful businesswoman who is heavily involved in 12 Step work saw the power that CrossFit training could have on the lives of ex-offenders and recovering addicts they worked with.
"It's never been done before," Anna says. "There are some gyms in America where they will let people in recovery train for free.
"That is fantastic, but nothing like this. We aim to attack addiction from all directions.
"It's going to be massive - because it works."
The community aspect, the shared experience of people in the same boat and just the simple feeling of achievement of having mastered a new lifting technique or smashing a workout is incredibly powerful in the recovery process.
Anna explains: "So when they leave they've not got mates saying 'come on, let's go and score a bag or an ounce' you've got lads on the pilot going 'you've done amazing. Look how far you've come. Can't wait until next time'.
"They talk about CrossFit type stuff and recovery, they go to meetings. They are just friends who want each other to succeed with healthy friendships.
"They have got hope for a future. They really do."
Who is the project working with?
The 180 Recovery Project works with some of the most prolific offenders in Lancashire. Many have been trapped in the cycle of drugs, crime and prison for too long - but they all have one thing in common - they want to change. And this scheme gives them another chance.
"We are now on week 15. They are clean and out of jail - and they were prolific offenders," Anna explains.
"One member in his early forties. From the age of 13 he started on cannabis and progressed onto other things and ended up a heroin addict.
"He was in and out of jail - just crime, jail, crime, jail - that was his life."
Anna said this particular man came out of jail and went into rehab - which has been working really well. But under the 180 Recovery Project he has come into his own and could now be getting paid work as a mentor on the project for new members.
It's the same story for so many of the men in recovery on the project - drugs, crime and jail.
"Another member was a really promising footballer player but he found cocaine at the age of 17 and then went on to harder stuff crack cocaine and everything apart from heroin," Anna said.
"He had mental health problems, in and out of institutions until he tried to take his own life and woke up five days later in a coma.
"When you met him from day one he couldn't look you in eye, but it has really changed him.
"His confidence and self-esteem have grown massively and he is now a huge asset to the project. He basically says it has saved his life. It has given him purpose."
Anna says the ones that will succeed long term, do so because they're doing the fitness programme in conjunction with the group meeting.
The two things mutually benefit each other - they get the support of the 12-Step meetings and go straight into a CrossFit workout three times a week.
"They compliment each other, she said. "CrossFit won't keep them drug and alcohol free on it's own. But it's a tool that really works with the 12-Step group meetings."
What has the training been like?
If you've ever seen any of the CrossFit Games - you'll know the training protocol is pretty damn hardcore.
The WODs can be any gruelling combination of weightlifting, running, rowing, kettlebells, callisthenics, strongman and gymnastics - all performed at high intensity.
But the 180 Recovery Project didn't water it down for the guys - they got the full force of it from the first minute they stepped into the gym.
"Day One was really tough," Anna says. "It's run professionally and we went through all the foundations and basic movements. So they are just learning Cross Fit.
"They do partner workouts in pairs and learning all the techniques. In the class they're treated like any other newcomer."
Once they had learned the foundations, the intensity and the difficulty of the movements, the skills and the workouts increased.
The video at the end shows you just how tough the training was from week one to week six.
"We have done every kind of workout with them - logs, kettlebells, burpees - you name it," Anna said.
"The other day we did one with a rowing warm up, then there was was skill work of split jerks to get their one-rep max. Then it was 15-minute AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of 10 calorie row and eight split jerks."
They really aren't messing around. Here is another example of the type of workout they are being put through.
But like everything in fitness, there has to be an end goal. Marathon runners have their race, bodybuilders go up on stage and so the guys on the 180 project have their training focus too.
The guys team up with a police officer in a CrossFit partner workout competition at the end of the six weeks.
"We have a partner workout with the police. Every six weeks we give them something to train for.
"We have bobbies of all ranks - from constables to DIs and Chief Superintendents - it's like three or four WODs (Workout of the Day) and they pair up with the lads from the programme and just workout together. They are really gruelling WODs."
She continued: "This has been a huge success and everybody who has been down to witness the events have been blown away.
"It is incredible to watch each team of ex-offender and police officer working so hard together to be the best they can. It has created bonds between the guys and now we have police officers training with the guys each week."
What have the results been?
"It's mind blowing," Anna says, as she struggles to put into words how far some of the lads come in 15 short weeks.
But you only have to listen to the responses from the guys themselves speaking on the video as they made it to the end of the training programme.
It has given them physical fitness, more energy, mental well-being and the motivation to keep improving.
It has built self-esteem, character and a desire to lead a healthier lifestyle.
They have created incredible bonds together and just last week they entered a football tournament and won. The team, which consisted of a police officer, 180 coach and six guys from the pilot scheme, were ecstatic and so proud of each other.
But the bottom line is it has helped keep them from slipping back into a life of drugs and crime.
"One guy we're working with was in rehab, but he thought 'it's not working' so started smoking cannabis again," Anna says.
"He said he was going down the same path again - within weeks he would have been back on heroin and back in jail.
"But he got on this and with the support network he's clean - that's like three months - which he has not done and been free of substance abuse for about 20 years."
The training is no different to another other person who walks through the doors of a CrossFit gym - but what it can do for them is far more powerful.
"It's no different that anyone else gets taught," Anna says. "But it just has such an incredible effect on them.
"They give it absolutely everything. Often they are not used to achieving anything, but when they get that last rep out or they come first in a WOD
"The member who was an alcoholic from 14 came first in the Police WOD and got a tub of protein and t-shirts and stuff. If you could bottle that happiness, he was the proudest person ever."
"It's so rewarding to see the results - and this comes from someone who has spent years locking them up and chasing them at 3am in the morning.
"Don't get me wrong, if people commit crime, they should be in prison. But these people want to change their lives and they have got to be supported. They are a brilliant group."
How are you going to help more recovering addicts with this programme?
With the pilot scheme of the 180 Project being such a success, there's clear plans for it to grow.
They are looking for funds to open a stand-alone day centre which has the CrossFit training and mutual aid meetings under one roof - along with nutrition courses and education for everyone who comes through the doors.
There are also plans to actually take the scheme directly into prisons for inmates on the recovery wing. They would follow the same programme as our guys on the outside, our coaches and mentors would also be going into the prison to take part in the WODs. A relationship of trust will be built up as a result.
"Once they are released they would be met by their mentor - one of our members lads who is a mentor - and they come straight up for a WOD as research shows the four hours following release are the most vulnerable.
"We plan to book them in with us and set up a training programme for them. which is the most vulnerable day.
"It's the biggest thing for many of them - they come out, nothing changes so they get back to their old ways. We need to break the cycle."
But like anything the 180 Recovery Project needs money to get on its feet and help more former addicts change their lives.
Currently the scheme is being funded by the Lancaster Foundation and other Lancashire businesses like Fettle and supported by volunteer coaches and trainers.
"We want to put more of these courses on because they are literally banging down the door to get on it.
"We just really need funding to keep it going. It can't dry up. The Lancaster Foundation want to see it grow, but we need our own building.
"We want everything under one roof. If it takes them five years to support them, then so be it. We want them to get decent jobs and education."