From humble beginnings in 1996, CrossFit has become one of the biggest exercise franchises in the world.
There are literally tens of thousands of boxes, pop-up gyms, around the world, in more than 130 companies, with 4 million regular daily attendees, and millions more doing it at home.
So what exactly is CrossFit, what does it entail, and how can you get involved? How will it work for you, how tough is it, and what you need to look out for?
I’ve done CrossFit amongst other things on and off for a couple of years, and I wanted to put together this guide so that you can learn how to use CrossFit as the main training modality for you, or to fit it in around gym work, or whatever workout routine you develop for yourself.
What Exactly Is CrossFit?
CrossFit is described by the company itself as “high intensity, constantly varied, functional movements”.
- High intensity refers to the fact that after a warmup you rapidly work up to maximum capacity fast, getting your body and heart rate up and working quickly and keeping it there for the session.
- Constantly varied refers to the endless variation that is built into a CrossFit workout (known as a WOD, workout of the day). The key thing is that it’s never boring, and it changes all the time. Working through different routines to build up general core fitness.
- The last bit around functional movements is how full-body exercises are used to mimic natural required movements. Two squats, lifting, pushing, things that will make us naturally stronger to benefit everyday life movements, rather than just building muscle or fitness for the sake of it.
CrossFit is also easily tailored for different capabilities; I’ll talk more about that later. But basically, it’s not that a pensioner would have to do different exercises to an Olympic athlete, it’s that they would do different variations and intensities of the same exercises, which is why CrossFit is universal and works for everyone.
How Can I Get Involved In CrossFit In My Local Area?
The first thing I would say is to not get intimidated into thinking that everyone who goes to CrossFit is superfit and scarily toned. It’s not always experts there, you do tend to get a good mix.
You should also not be scared that you’re new. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of shape. CrossFit is designed to be tailored to individuals. So you can take part while doing slightly different variations of the sessions. A good coach will not only develop the sessions for you personally but also take into account your own personal fitness levels and any health problems in detail when doing so.
The key to it is that it’s not about being able to do certain types of exercise or having certain types of capability, it’s about the prescription, it’s about how well you can do core movements that everyone will do. Everyone can do a squat. But somebody might only be able to do a few, only a half squat perhaps, while somebody else somebody might be able to pump out 100, that’s what it’s based on.
My suggestion is to look at social media. You’ll find a class near you in almost every area in the developed world. That’s also a way of getting good feedback about the quality of the coaching.
Can I Just Do CrossFit At Home?
You certainly can do CrossFit at home. There are tons of online resources, and YouTube videos you can use. There are also live sessions every day online as well.
But you do miss out on the social aspect of it. It’s easier to push yourself with other people around doing the same thing, it builds a sense of community and purpose.
Plus you get encouragement and better development from having a coach.
You can do it home though, as long as you got some equipment. You’ll need a barbell, some kettlebells, a rower, a jump rope, a pull-up bar, and workout mats as a minimum. Plus some space. So it’s not universally accessible at home.
So although it would be free, or very low-cost do at home, and if you have no problems, if you’re motivated, then millions of people do CrossFit at home. But if you’re a beginner especially, I’d certainly recommend you try the classes first.
Choosing The Best CrossFit Affiliate Coach
I would also look at getting an experienced CrossFit coach. The basic entry-level or qualified affiliate Coach is level I certification. But it goes up to level IV, with other specialties built-in as well. So look around for people locally who are the most qualified.
I’m not saying you should not start with the level I coach, but you may find if you are a beginner, especially if you have slightly complex needs, that a more experienced coach will be able to minimize your chances of giving up or getting injured.
CrossFit has had a bad press in the past for giving a few people a deadly condition where excessively overworking the muscles can lead to shedding that hits the kidneys. But that was extreme cases of absolute nut jobs being pushed too far either on their own or by lunatic coaches.
If you have a good coach, qualified in CrossFit with a regular local class with great feedback, then go along and give them a try. They need to pay personal attention, help you get started, assess you, and demonstrate competence from the beginning.
If you can get a great coach, and you listen, both to them and your body, then regular attendance is safe, and there’s no more chance of getting injured doing CrossFit than any other type of regular exercise.
What’s Involved In A Typical CrossFit Class/Session?
There are usually four components/parts to a typical one hour CrossFit class. The four components are usually as follows:
- As you’d expect, the first part of a CrossFit session is warming up. Obviously, this helps to minimize the chance of injury, and it also allows people the opportunity to go through the exercises in the WOD (workout of the day) slowly, before the actual high-impact main session.
- There is then a strength and skill element to a CrossFit class. This lasts around 15 minutes, and it focuses on building strength through lifting things. So barbells, kettlebells, dumbbells are used. Also, gymnastic movements like handstand push-ups and others are done as well (these like all elements of CrossFit can be scaled so it doesn’t matter what your capability level is)
- The main part of the CrossFit session is the WOD, the workout of the day. This is where the timed workout begins, and you move as fast as you can to complete it with good form. The most popular formats for this main part of the session is EMOM (every minute on the minute, or AMRAP (as many rounds as possible).
- Unsurprisingly, the last part of a typical CrossFit session is to cool down and stretch, to warm the muscles down. In some CrossFit boxes, this can be a subscription-based stretching product called ROMWod, which gives a daily stretching WOD as well. So yes, they do try to get you to even pay for a warm down product as well.
There is sometimes a section after that where the coach will talk to people, go over what’s happened, offer assistance, and talk about things like diet and motivation.
How Is CrossFit Tailored To Different Capabilities?
The reason CrossFit is universally popular and accessible is because of the way it can be tailored to meet somebody’s individual fitness levels and their physical capabilities.
The exercises are broadly broken down into three groups: cardio, gymnastics, and weightlifting.
It’s the variation, the intensity which is different. So for example you could have to run 400 m on the spot. But it’s the speed and intensity, that changes that. If you can’t do that, you might do 200 m, or walk 100 m. It’s the same motions, but the intensity is turned up or down.
Examples Of Typical Compound Movements Involved In CrossFit Sessions
Let’s give you some examples here by talking about the typical compound movements involved in a lot of CrossFit WODs. There are hundreds of variations, so it can only be a snapshot.
- Running (Indoors, Outside, Treadmills, Or Using The Trueform)
- Swimming (Only If Available And It Works For You)
- Rowing (Up To 7 Rowing Workouts Using An Ergometer)
- Biking (Using The Assault Bike)
- Squats (Front And Back Squats That Develop Core, Legs, And Upper Body)
- Cleans (Squat Cleans And Power Cleans)
- Thrusters (Front Squat And Overhead Press Combo)
- Snatches (The Second Type Of Barbell Lift)
- Muscle Ups (A Combo Of Pull Up And A Dip In One Motion)
- Pull Ups (Strict And Kipping Pull Ups)
- Handstand Push Ups (With Progressions If You Can’t Manage It)
- Toes To Bar (Abdominal And Grip Intensive Exercise)
- Burpees (A Core Exercise That Everyone Hates)
So as you can see, there’s a huge variation. Those are some of the big hitters, but as I say, it doesn’t matter if you’re a 90-year-old pensioner or 12-year-old kid, there are variations and different types of exercises within the three groups that everyone can do. And once you’ve settled on what you can do, it’s the reps and intensity which build the fitness and strength.
For some people, it can be quite daunting. But don’t worry, you really can start from the bottom and work up.
I was in a bit of a good position when I started CrossFit because I was already experienced in the gym. Also, I was using SARMs and some of the natural CrazyBulk supplements to help build muscle, strength, and cut fat, so I was ahead of the game compared to other people around me.
The CrossFit Language
One of the barriers to CrossFit that’s put some people off is the language used. Once you’re in it, it’s a way that it gets you talking in a common language with others. For me, it’s a bit like introducing a new language of acronyms and names that sound a bit like something from the book 1984. They are definitely designed to make people think they are part of something.
Here are some examples of the main parts of the CrossFit language:
- WOD – the main element of CrossFit, the workout of the day
- AMRAP – as many rounds as possible in the time allocated
- METCON – metabolic conditioning
- FOR TIME – complete workout as fast as possible then recorded
- PALEO – the paly of the diet which is at the heart of the CrossFit nutritional recommendations
- GIRLS – a lot of the routines are named after girls, so you will read and hear about “the girls”
What Else Do I Need To Be Successful Doing CrossFit?
Mainly it’s a good attitude and being able to talk and get involved. But don’t worry if you’re a bit shy because a good workout coach will help you to get involved.
My top advice is to make sure you have flexible clothing options. Get yourself some really top quality trainers, and get them specially fitted using the electronic machines which look at your stance and running gait.
The flexibility and the clothing allow you to not be too hot, or too cold, and to have options for whatever situation you are facing. You also will feel less awkward about fitting in. But generally, it’s about having fun. Once you’ve done a couple of sessions, with a good workout coach, you won’t feel like a spare part anymore.
Try it at home a bit first if you really want to. Do a few of the basic exercises using YouTube videos, for example, to see how you get on and give yourself an example of how you are in terms of fitness.
But the bottom line is that most people who try CrossFit continue, and they will tell you that it’s a very positive experience in life, so my advice is to give it a go.