What Is CrossFit?


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Chances are you know someone who does CrossFit.

Whether they are the co-worker who constantly talks about his WOD, the old college friend who suddenly has Michelle Obama-arms or your neighbor who does burpees in his driveway, it's hard to deny that this fitness trend is here to stay.

So we sat down with certified personal trainer and CrossFit level 1 coach, Jonathon Ross, to talk about the basics of this very popular workout.

Here's what we learned.

What is it?

CrossFit is a program developed to offer a full-body workout that combines elements of cardio, weight lifting, gymnastics, core training and more to prepare the body for the unexpected.

According to the CrossFit website: "CrossFit is the principal strength and conditioning program for many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide."

This high-intensity workout is extremely varied and all about getting the most bang for your workout buck. A CrossFitter will likely never do the same routine twice in one week and each workout will usually last between 45 minutes to an hour.

CrossFit gyms are usually large warehouses (often referred to as the "box") which offer group classes where an individual may choose to workout anywhere between three to five times a week. CrossFit coaches either develop their own daily workout or follow the "WOD" or Workout of the Day from the CrossFit website.

For example, a typical CrossFit WOD may look like this:

Sample WOD:

20 Min AMRAP (As Many Rounds As Possible)

  • 100m Run
  • 2 Burpees
  • 2 Deadlifts 185lb
  • 2 Pull-ups

AMRAP means that you will do your best to complete as many rounds of this sequence as possible in the time allotted; in this case 20 minutes.

To learn more about this fitness regimen, read on.

What do people love about it?

CrossFit classes are high-intesnity group classes focused on the philosophy of high-intensity interval training or HITT, the belief that more intense exercise in a shorter amount of time is more effective.

CrossFitters are also part of a unique culture and philosophy. Many CrossFitters follow a specific diet, namely the Paleo Diet, and are fitness fanatics or former athletes who thrive off of competition and a team atmosphere (but that doesn't mean nonathletes can't reap the CrossFit benefits).

CrossFit addicts love the communal environment of this workout regimen and appreciate the verbal encouragement and support that they gain from their teammates and coaches while they exercise.

Sometimes criticized for just how intense the workout can be, CrossFit teaches its followers to accept discomfort, push your body to its limits and therefore bring yourself to a place of maximum impact. CrossFit operates off of the belief that you should train your body for the unknown and be physically prepared for almost anything.

While this philosophy may be intimidating to some, it is inspiring and motivational to its followers.

What's limiting about it?

Okay, so we've talked about what people love about CrossFit, but what about the stuff that trainers and attemptees are not so crazy about?

CrossFit is a high-intensity sport, meaning that it opens athletes up to the risk of injury if certain exercises are not properly executed. Almost all CrossFit gyms offer what is called an "On Ramp" or "Elements" course. These courses typically last between two weeks to a month and will teach you the 9 Foundational Movements of CrossFit and the proper form for each. This is an essential part avoiding injury as a CrossFit beginner.

However, that doesn't mean all athletes are safe. "CrossFit's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness," said Ross of the exercise regimen. "People have that 'finish at all costs' mentality and there's a little bit of a lunatic fringe that runs in the culture."

Ross says that often the coaches' explanations of the exercises are thorough and accurate; however because of the group setting, individuals are not always getting the appropriate one on one follow up needed to make sure that they are executing the moves correctly. This in turn, can make beginners very vulnerable to injury.

It is also worth noting that CrossFit classes cost a pretty penny. Most classes range from anywhere between $25 per class to $150 per month.

Still thinking about giving CrossFit a try? Read on to learn helpful tips for any CrossFit beginner.

Tips for Trying CrossFit

If you've never tried CrossFit before and you think it may be the right workout for you, here are some helpful tips for staying safe:

  • Go to a few different gyms, talk to the coaches and get an idea for what the workout entails. Most CrossFit gyms offer a free introductory class to beginners considering joining the program. This is a great way to meet your potential CrossFit coach.
  • Be sure to make your coaches aware of any previous injuries before attempting any CrossFit exercises. If you have a serious pre-existing injury you may even want to speak with your doctor before purchasing a package for this high-intensity program.
  • Before attempting CrossFit you should have a basic understanding of general fitness. As Jonathon puts it, "You wouldn't add weight to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, so don't add weight to a squat with poor form." Be sure to take an "On Ramp" or "Elements" course (mentioned on the previous page) to ensure you'll complete WODs safely and effectively.
  • Scale your workouts. This is something that is discussed a lot in the CrossFit culture. To "scale your workout" means that you, as a beginner, cannot lift as much weight as CrossFit Chris who has been doing this for years. This also applies to intensity and knowing when your body has reached its maximum capacity.

For all medical questions speak with your doctor and consult your CrossFit coach.

About the Expert

Jonathan Ross
Jonathan Ross

Jonathan Ross is a Discovery Fit & Health blogger and author of the book Abs Revealed. Ross is also a certified personal trainer by the American Council in Exercise and certified CrossFit level 1.

Jonathan invites you to join his cruise through Alaska for "A Better You" coming this summer. For more information, see here.

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Sources

  • Ross, Jonathan. "CrossFit Interview." Telephone interview. 26 Sept. 2013.
  • Smith, MM, AJ Sommer, BE Starkoff, and ST Devor. "Crossfit-based High Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition." National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23439334>.
  • Douglas, Scott. "How Good of a Workout Is CrossFit?" Runner's World & Running Times. Runner's World, 17 May 2013. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. <http://www.runnersworld.com/workouts/how-good-of-a-workout-is-crossfit?page=single>.
  • Steve. "A Beginner’s Guide to CrossFit." NerdFitness.com. Nerd Fitness, 01 Mar. 2012. Web. 02 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2012/03/01/a-beginners-guide-to-crossfit/>.