Chances are, you have at least one friend who’s into CrossFit—like really into it. You may be curious why they’re always talking about reps or boxes, or how there’s an annual competition (the CrossFit Games) that includes intense events like sprinting uphill with a corn sack on your back or across a field while doing a handstand.
But CrossFit isn’t just for hardcore exercise enthusiasts, and it doesn’t always have to be as intimidating. Here’s what you need to know about CrossFit, its benefits, and how to get started.
What Is CrossFit Training?
As defined by CrossFit.com, CrossFit is “constantly varied, high-intensity functional movement.” Functional movements are essentially ways our bodies move in daily life, including sitting down and standing up, carrying objects, picking up something off the ground, etc. “CrossFit is a high-intensity training discipline. Its focus on function means that when you get good at CrossFit, you generally get better at doing regular everyday movements,” says Michael Julom, a CrossFit athlete, ACE-certified personal trainer, and founder of ThisIsWhyImFit.com. “It combines various movements from gymnastics, Olympic lifting, and cardio exercises into a prescribed WOD (workout of the day) in order to improve one's conditioning and strength.”
CrossFit was incorporated as a company in 2000, but the concept behind it started earlier. As a teenage gymnast, founder Greg Glassman wanted to get stronger and started incorporating other exercises, such as strength training with dumbbells and bicycling, into his training. This led to what became CrossFit’s goal—instead of achieving specialized movements, it aims to improve general physical preparedness.
Who Is CrossFit Best for and Can Beginners or People With Injuries Do it?
CrossFit is for “anyone who wants to get fit,” says Carter Williams, a certified CrossFit & Kuudose trainer, but, he warns, “you want to be willing to modify and learn the movement properly before you push yourself with weight.”
Even if you’re a beginner to training, CrossFit can be a good training option because you can tailor or scale your workout to your ability and current situation, says Julom. “Injuries, on the other hand, need to be dealt with a little more carefully. Obviously, if the injury involves a broken limb, then do not do any form of CrossFit. However, for niggling injuries like a pulled or strained muscle, then CrossFit can still be done. It just needs to be managed more closely. Workouts need to be tailored such that movements included in a workout don’t involve the use of said injured muscle.” Either way, pay attention to your body, and consult a physician if you have any questions before starting a new exercise regimen.
What Equipment Do You Need to Do CrossFit?
Many of the exercises in CrossFit can be done with bodyweight, but adding on a barbell, pull-up bar, and kettlebell will allow you to do a large variety of different workouts, says Williams. And if you want to go all out, Julom says to do CrossFit “properly,” you should include an Olympic barbell, bumper plates of various weights, a pull-up bar, gymnastic rings, a Concept2 rower, an assault bike, a ski-erg, a wall ball, kettle bells of various weights, dumbells of various weights, a skipping rope, and a box for jumping. Phew. You don’t have to build an entire CrossFit gym at home though; start slowly and build up.
What Does a Typical CrossFit Class Look Like and How Much Does it Cost?
Kunal Jhaveri, a strength and conditioning coach with a degree in kinesiology/exercise science and CEO and owner of Bear Grips, breaks down a typical CrossFit class, which is usually 45-60 minutes long and led by a coach.
- Warm-Up: Light exercises to prep your body and help prevent injuries for the WOD.
- Skill or Strength: Exercises that are focused on technique and improvement of weights or cardio. They can consist of getting your one rep max, which is the maximum weight you can lift in that particular exercise, or high-intensity but short exercises with little rest and a lot of cardio.
- WOD: This is the main event, where you put in maximum effort. It can have exercises you did in the earlier portions of the workout or brand new exercises, but the number of repetitions increases. It can last anywhere from 10-30 minutes.
- Stretching or Cool Down: This can include stretching or cooling down by running a small distance, as a way to let your body and heart rate gradually slow down.
Depending on where you live, the size of the gym, and whether they are an official CrossFit affiliate, Jhaveri says a CrossFit gym membership can cost anywhere from $45-$150 per month, or $10-$20 for a drop-in class.
Where Can I Find a CrossFit Class and What Should I Look For?
There are CrossFit gyms (also called boxes) all over the world—go to CrossFit.com to find affiliate locations. “Look for one that puts an emphasis on learning to move correctly,” says Williams. “CrossFit gyms that have on-ramp prep classes are good, because they will focus on teaching you the movements without adding weight."
Can You Do CrossFit at Home?
Because the workouts can be done with minimal or no equipment, it’s totally possible to do a CrossFit workout from the comfort of your home after learning how to do the exercises from a certified trainer. And if you want to use equipment like dumbbells or kettlebells, but don’t own any, Jhaveri suggests getting creative and using something like a heavy backpack filled with books or a full water bottle.
What Do You Need to Know Before Trying Out a CrossFit Class?
CrossFit can look intense, and any time you’re new to any workout, it won’t always be easy. “CrossFit is a high intensity workout known for being difficult and challenging. This means that you have to mentally prepare yourself,” says Jhaveri. You may not be able to do certain exercises or the workout at the beginning, and that’s okay. “Know how to humble yourself," adds Williams. "The workouts can be hard, and sometimes the mind wants to push harder than the body can handle. Check your ego at the door."
It may be tempting to go big as quickly as possible with CrossFit, but Williams advises to make sure you have proper form. "Focus on moving correctly over big weight,” he says. “Learn as much as you can from your coach and be honest with your body. Be willing to learn and be excited to get better."
“In my experience, one of the main risks in CrossFit is inexperience. I’ve seen many members that have only done CrossFit for a few months and attempt to clean and jerk over 200 lbs over their head. It’s a recipe for disaster,” says Julom. To minimize the chance of injury, he suggests making sure you warm up, stretch, mobilize, listen to experienced coaches, and only compete with yourself.
But also know that with practice, you can improve. “At the end of the day, it’s just a different way of training—and an effective one at that. The great thing about CrossFit is that it’s an encouraging and supportive community that’s there for the sole purpose of keeping fit,” says Julom.