Whether you’ve walked by a CrossFit gym (aka a “box”), have a friend who talks obsessively about it, or have seen an online coupon encouraging you to join, you’re probably aware of the CrossFit craze.
Why has it gained such popularity? Why are so many people trying it and should you? We turned to some coaches to learn more about the fitness phenomenon.
What Is CrossFit?
CrossFit, by definition, is constantly varied, functional movement, done at a high intensity. Each CrossFit workout is different from every other. No two CrossFit classes are the same — the movements and skills you work on are always changing.
“Functional movements are movements that have transfer to everyday movements, typically in the form of pushing or pulling,” says Nick Lobotsky, coach at Hudson Valley CrossFit and Poughkeepsie CrossFit, both in New York. “While they might not transfer in terms of load or weight, the actual movement patterns do.” Think of something like squatting or an overhead press. You squat down so many times in everyday life, maybe to pick up [a child] or if you drop your phone. Putting luggage into an overhead compartment on an airplane is just like an overhead press.
And then there’s the high intensity. Instead of just going through the motions, CrossFit challenges you to put more weight on your lift or shave some time off your workout.
What to Expect
Contrary to popular belief, you’re not just walking into a box and doing Olympic lifts. Almost all CrossFit gyms require newbies to sign up for intro classes, often called “foundations” or “elements.” These classes are created to introduce CrossFit principles and lingo, like WOD or “workout of the day,” EMOM or “every minute on the minute,” and AMRAP or “as many reps/rounds as possible,” so you understand the speak. You’ll also learn the correct form for lifts and certain movements, using PVC pipes instead of barbells, so you don’t injure yourself. Once you’ve finished the intro classes, you can sign up for more advanced classes.
Joining a more advanced class can be intimidating at first. But don’t freak out! Yes, there will be people in class who kick butt, but everything in CrossFit is scalable. “As coaches, we start you out at your level and build from there,” says Keith Wittenstein, Level 4 CrossFit Coach, and CrossFit HQ seminar trainer. “There is more than just lifting. Skill work, technique, and proper form all play a major role of any CrossFit workout.”
Joining a more advanced class can be intimidating at first. But don’t freak out!
Classes generally begin with a prescribed warm-up to help get the blood flowing and joints moving. After that, you’ll move into skill or strength work. That is the part of class that requires the most coaching in order to perfect the lift, whether it be an overhead press or a clean [bringing a barbell from the floor to rest on your shoulders]. “In today’s CrossFit world, this skill is often repeated each week or maybe every other week for a designated cycle,” says Lobotsky. “The goal is to improve upon that specific skill or strength move.”
Why the repetitiveness? This allows you to track progress and growth, which is important to reaching any type of fitness goal.
Then you move on to conditioning, also known as the WOD. This is generally a timed workout focusing on speed, explains Lobotsky. Though there are prescribed weights and movements in order to complete the WOD, each movement is scalable, so you can choose what weight you’re putting on the bar for snatches or if you’re going to use a band to assist you with pull-ups.
Just ask — or look at — anyone who does it. The benefits start with the changes in your body. CrossFit helps improve endurance, strength, and confidence, explains Lobotsky. You also make great friends, thanks to the community surrounding CrossFit as a sport. If you go to the same classes week in and week out, you work out with the same individuals and form bonds. “You join a community and then you are accountable to the community, so you show up to class,” says Kenny Santucchi, coach at CrossFit Solace in New York City. “You eat right because everyone is eating right. Then you start caring about that community and you become the person who helps others, the way the community helped you. It’s a great cycle.”
Focus on Community
Community is a huge part of CrossFit. It’s the reason why people become “addicted” to it and want to talk about it and get other people to do it. WODs aren’t easy, and the support from others in your class helps you through those tough lifts or the last seconds. The support of others can help take you to the next level.
But it can also be what hurts you, too. You still need to know your personal boundaries and when it’s time to stop or maybe sit out a round if your shoulder is bothering you. And your box, peers, and coaches should understand and support you. If you feel overly pushed or uncomfortable, consider trying a different box.
It’s OK to try different places. Every box is different, so if you don’t like one, that doesn’t mean you won’t like any. “There are bad doctors, bad lawyers, and bad CrossFit gyms,” says Wittenstein. “There are people doing it wrong and there are people doing it right. It’s necessary to invest in the right care and coaching staff so that you will thrive.”
Who Should Try It?
The answer is anyone. CrossFit is for everybody because it can be scaled to different levels. “In a typical CrossFit class you will find very competitive, young athletes working out next to elderly members, weekend warriors, soccer moms, and people with injuries and disabilities,” says Santucchi. “However, they are all able to work out together and do roughly the same WOD by properly scaling and modifying the movements, making it appropriate relative to their physiological and psychological tolerances.” Everyone can benefit from it and see changes in their body, which can translate to a strong mind as well, says Wittenstein.
But that doesn’t mean everyone will like CrossFit. What’s fun for some may not be fun for others. “The nature of the classes and the push for intensity doesn’t jibe with everyone,” admits Lobotsky. “Even the movements we do are not something everyone wants to do. For example, I love snatches, but most people don’t.”
Lobotsky also says that people who can’t be or don’t want to be coached should steer clear of CrossFit. “The core of CrossFit is coaching,” he says. “You have a coach with you during your entire class, and he or she is working hard to make sure you and your classmates are safe and improving. If you won’t listen to a coach, you become a liability.”