The Ultimate Guide to CrossFit: Everything You Need to Know

CrossFit, Workout Classes

CrossFit has become exceedingly popular over the years, and it makes total sense why.

No other workout is quite like it, combining elements of functional training, HIIT, and Olympic weightlifting to create a comprehensive exercise program that improves your all-around fitness.

CrossFit is also known for encouraging a strong sense of community, helping keep members engaged, motivated, and more likely to achieve their fitness goals as a result.

Have you considered CrossFit but weren’t quite sure if it was for you?

We’ve written this guide just for you, providing an overview on what CrossFit is, what it’s like, where you can do it, and what you can expect to get out of it.

Are you ready to find out?

We’re going in 3…2…1…

 

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a program that blends elements of functional fitness, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), gymnastics, and Olympic weightlifting to create a comprehensive approach to better overall health and fitness.

It was founded by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000 and has since gained overwhelming popularity on a global scale due to its effectiveness and community-driven approach. Today, it is even considered its own competitive sport, hosting annual CrossFit Open and CrossFit Games events to showcase top talent and crown a new champ each year.

While elite athletes enjoy and praise CrossFit, it offers lots of value for the average Joe too, seeking to help everyday people improve their overall fitness by building strength, endurance, and flexibility through a wide range of activities. Plus, the group setting and heavy focus on community building helps create a sense of belonging, keeping members coming back regularly to get those gains together!

 

What is CrossFit like?

CrossFit does not call its locations “gyms,” but instead uses the word “box” to refer to the place where everyone gathers to train. Since CrossFit is an affiliate program, boxes and box owners are essentially independent operations under the CrossFit umbrella.

In layman’s terms, that means no two CrossFit boxes will be identical. Although the program will be very similar, each box will put their own personal spin on things, and each coach or instructor will lead class in the way they feel is most effective and most appropriate.

CrossFit exercises tend to be constantly varied to help stave off boredom, target muscle groups rotationally, and create muscle confusion to stimulate growth in muscle size and strength.

Most classes are typically broken up into a functional strength training portion and a “workout of the day,” or “WOD,” to improve conditioning, preceded by a warm-up and followed by a cooldown and stretching.

 

Strength Training

Again, the program may vary depending on the approach used by your home box, but generally the strength portion revolves around one lift, including classics like the bench press, back squat, and deadlift, as well as Olympic lifts like the clean, push press, push jerk, and snatch.

Here is an example of a CrossFit strength training schedule:

Day Lift Sets Reps
Monday Back Squat 5 5
Tuesday Overhead Press 5 5
Wednesday Deadlift 5 5
Thursday Bench Press 5 5
Friday Power Clean 5 5
Saturday Front Squat 5 5
Sunday Hang Snatch 5 5

 

Members are given an allotted time in which to complete their sets before moving onto the WOD. In some cases, the coach might prefer the WOD first and the strength portion after, but it is usually performed with strength first and conditioning second.

 

The WOD

The WOD is where you really get to test your mettle. WODs are typically timed and require the participant to complete a combination of exercises and lifts to determine their “score.” The function of the timer may vary depending on the type of WOD.

Common WOD types include:

  • For Time: WODs done “for time” require you to complete the required exercises and number of rounds within a set time limit. Your score will be the time it takes to complete the full WOD. An example is the popular WOD “Fran.”
    AMRAP:
    “As many rounds as possible.” An AMRAP workout provides a time limit to perform rounds of the required exercises. Your score will be the number of rounds you are able to complete within the time limit. An example is the popular WOD “Cindy.” The AMRAP meaning changes to “as many reps as possible” if the WOD includes only one exercise to be performed during the time limit.
  • EMOM: “Every minute on the minute.” An EMOM workout provides a time limit and requires the participant to be done with the set each minute before the start of the next minute. If you’re not ready to do your next set at the top of the next minute, you forfeit that round or the WOD is finished, depending on the rules of the specific WOD. Your score will be the number of rounds you are able to complete during the specified time limit. An example is the popular WOD “Chelsea.”
  • Tabata: Tabata training is not exclusive to CrossFit, and was actually developed by a Japanese doctor, Dr. Izumi Tabata, back in 1996. The popular format of HIIT involves setting a Tabata timer, or twenty seconds of work followed by ten seconds of rest for eight rounds and cumulatively four minutes of exercise. Your score for a Tabata workout will be the total number of reps completed within the time limit.

The strength portion of CrossFit training is great for improving physical strength and achieving muscular hypertrophy, but the WOD is where the sport truly shines. Those who practice CrossFit love making a game of the WOD, setting personal scores and trying to best them as they make fitness improvements over time.

This gamification is one of the major things that makes CrossFit so effective, and fun too!

 

Nutrition Programs

CrossFit primarily encourages a healthy lifestyle through physical fitness and exercise, but they promote healthy eating and proper nutrition too. As stated on the CrossFit website, “You cannot out-exercise a bad diet.”

CrossFit recommends eating a combination of lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates to foster good general health and fuel appropriately for the high-intensity workouts they’re known for. They also provide resources for proper nutrition on their site.

Many CrossFit members gravitate towards the Paleo diet, or “Paleolithic” diet which mirrors the presumed diet of our early ancestors from centuries ago. The Paleo diet involves eating lots of protein and fat while minimizing carbohydrate intake, especially complex carbs like bread, pasta, and rice.

The Keto diet, or “ketogenic” diet, is popular too, requiring practitioners to consume high quantities of fat, medium quantities of protein, and very few carbohydrates. The idea behind the Keto diet is to use fat as the body’s primary energy source rather than carbohydrates, thus burning fat and encouraging a leaner physique.

 

Benefits of CrossFit

So, you decide to take the plunge, sign up at your local CrossFit box, complete the on-ramp assessment, and you’re all-in. What kinds of benefits should you expect if you stick with it and start showing up for your Daily WOD?

  • Improved GPP: CrossFit loves talking about GPP, or “general physical preparedness.” This is a fancy term referring to your all-around fitness and ability to perform everyday tasks with relative ease. CrossFit utilizes functional exercises, which will facilitate the physical demands of everyday living and encourage all-around better health and fitness.
  • Healthier body composition: The strength component of CrossFit encourages gains in strength and muscle size, while WODs totally torch calories to sculpt a leaner physique. Through consistency and dedication, you will notice a change in your body composition, including a lower body fat percentage and more toned appearance.
  • Improved athletic performance: The lifts and movements performed during CrossFit translate to improved biomechanics and power output in a variety of sports.
  • Increased fortitude: Many WODs will push you to the brink, letting you prove to yourself that you’re capable of so much more than you think you are. This dedication and discipline increases your mental toughness and grit.
  • A sense of community: CrossFit promotes a strong sense of community, which transcends the feeling of having a fitness family at your local box and gives members something in common with a global community as well.
  • Better health: There are many fitness-focused advantages of CrossFit’s program, but these improvements also help you maintain better overall health, helping prevent and protect you from chronic diseases like obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia, and depression.

All things considered, performing CrossFit regularly helps contribute to a happier, healthier lifestyle that will help you become the best version of you possible!

 

CrossFit Workouts

The best place to perform CrossFit WODs is at a CrossFit box under the watchful eye of a qualified coach, but here are some popular WODs if you’re looking to try them out:

 

Fran

21-15-9 reps for time:

Thrusters (95/65 lbs.)

Pull-ups

Most CrossFit boxes provide a nine-minute time cap on the Fran WOD, but some pro CrossFit athletes can knock this one out in under two minutes. If you don’t happen to be a pro, take your time with it, rest as needed, and modify the WOD as needed.

Popular modifications include a lighter barbell for the thrusters and/or a pull-up modification like banded pull-ups or jumping pull-ups. Kipping pull-ups make the volume easier to manage as well.

Fast-paced and highly-effective, Fran remains one of the best CrossFit workouts out there. Although it is very challenging, scaling and modification make it a decent beginner WOD too.

 

Murph

For time:

1-mile run

100 pull-ups

200 push-ups

300 air squats

1-mile run

Commonly dubbed as “Memorial Day Murph,” CrossFit members commonly complete this Hero WOD on Memorial Day to pay homage to American hero Lieutenant Michael Murphy, an armed forces serviceman who lost his life in Afghanistan in 2005.

Unlike most WODs which require one exercise to be completed before the next can be started, you are welcome to break up the pull-ups, push-ups, and air squats in any format you like during the Murph workout. However, the WOD must begin and end with a mile run. This part is non-negotiable.

Average completion times for Murph workouts fall between fifty and fifty-eight minutes, while pros get it done in under forty. For an added challenge, pro athletes will perform the full WOD wearing a 20-pound weighted vest too.

 

Annie

50-40-30-20-10 reps for time:

Double unders

Sit-ups

Annie is very tricky for those who have not yet mastered the double under, a jump rope exercise that involves the rope passing beneath you twice on each jump. You may modify it to do single jumps and double the reps, but Annie is always a good excuse to at least practice your double unders.

Beginners can be happy to finish Annie within ten or twelve minutes, while pros should shoot for six minutes and under.

 

Grace

For time:

30 clean and jerks (135/95 lbs.)

Grace is straight to the point– how fast can you crank out thirty clean and jerks? Getting it done in under eight minutes is respectable, but pros will fly through it in the two to three-minute range for finish times.

 

Scaling and Modifications

In CrossFit, completing a workout “as prescribed” is referred to as “Rx.” Elite athletes and pro CrossFit competitors will always perform WODs Rx, but scaling or modifying exercises to suit your fitness level is recommended with CrossFit workouts for beginners.

Scaling involves taking the prescribed weight and reducing it to fit an individual’s current fitness level. For example, if the purpose of the WOD is to cycle reps throughout the full duration of the timer, you’ll diminish the effect of the WOD by spending the whole time resting. In this case, choosing a lighter barbell, kettlebell, wall ball, or whatever required equipment will be preferable to ensure you stay moving from start to finish.

Modifications, on the other hand, involve subbing out an advanced technical movement for something more manageable. For example, muscle-ups might be impossible for a novice, so pull-ups or even ring rows make a good substitution.

Modifications can and should be used to avoid aggravating former or current injuries as well. For example, someone dealing with an ankle injury might be unwilling or unable to jump rope, making a rower or assault bike a good substitution to produce a similar stimulus without aggravating the ankle.

Who are some of the most well-known CrossFit athletes?

Who are these elite athletes we speak of?

Here are some of the most popular CrossFit athletes who boast various accomplishments over CrossFit’s twenty plus years of existence.

  • Rich Froning: Froning is widely considered the most dominant athlete in the history of CrossFit, having won the CrossFit Games four years in a row from 2011 to 2014. He also won the CrossFit Team Series in 2014 and 2015.
  • Mat Fraser: Fraser is a five-time CrossFit Games champion, having won every year from 2016 to 2020. He also won the CrossFit Open four times and the Dubai CrossFit Championship twice.
  • Tia-Clair Toomey: Toomey is a four-time CrossFit Games champion, having won every year from 2017 to 2020. She also won the Australian CrossFit Championship in 2018.
  • Katrin Davidsdottir: Davidsdottir is a two-time CrossFit Games champion, having won in 2015 and 2016. She also won the Open in 2015 and 2016.
  • Annie Thorisdottir: Thorisdottir is a two-time CrossFit Games champion, having won in 2011 and 2012. She also won the Open in 2011 and 2012.
  • Samantha Briggs: Briggs is a former CrossFit Games champion, having won in 2013. She is also a five-time CrossFit Games competitor and a former firefighter.
  • Brooke Ence: Ence is a former USA Weightlifting National Champion and former professional CrossFit athlete and fitness model who competed in the CrossFit Games from 2015 to 2017, finishing as high as 14th place in 2015. Ence has since transitioned to a career in acting and has appeared in films such as Wonder Woman and Justice League.
  • Dan Bailey: Bailey competed in the CrossFit Games from 2010 to 2015, finishing as high as 4th place in 2015. He also won the Open in the Central East region in 2011 and 2012. Today, he works as a CrossFit coach, motivational speaker, and television host.

These are only a few of the many high-level athletes who competed and dominated the sport over the past twenty plus years. Given CrossFit’s considerable popularity today, we expect to see many more in the coming years.

Are you the next great CrossFit champ?

 

Where Can I do CrossFit?

With a global presence and CrossFit affiliates in most major cities worldwide, it’s not too hard to find a local CrossFit box to call home. You can use the CrossFit affiliate map on the CrossFit site, but typing “CrossFit near me” into the Google search bar works just as well.

Remember– not all CrossFit boxes are created equal. One location might feature a completely unique approach or coaching strategy that doesn’t resonate with you or work for your fitness goals. This is one of the limitations of simply typing in “best CrossFit gym near me” and picking the first one.

To really ensure you’re getting the best CrossFit experience, consult Google and Yelp reviews to see which locations are receiving predominantly positive feedback, then drop in for an introductory class or tour of the facility.

Trying the program firsthand is always the best way to find out if it’s right for you.

 

Common CrossFit Misconceptions

It’s not all sunshine and roses. The popular sport and fitness program has received some criticism over the years, and there have been many misconceptions that repel would-be CrossFitters from ever trying it out for themselves.

Popular CrossFit misconceptions include:

  • CrossFit is dangerous: Lots of people wonder– is CrossFit safe? CrossFit can be intense, but it’s not inherently dangerous. Performing all CrossFit movements and lifts with proper technique under the guidance of a qualified coach will help ensure you stay safe and healthy at all times.
  • CrossFit is only for elite athletes: If you go Rx on every WOD, you will need to show some serious skills. However, every WOD is scalable to make it more accessible for casual fitness enthusiasts and everyday people alike.
  • CrossFit is only for young people: CrossFit offers an array of attractive benefits for everyone, no matter how old you are or what your current fitness level is.
  • CrossFit is only for getting big: Many elite CrossFit athletes boast a seriously hulking physique, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to bulk up instantly from showing up for the WOD. Unless you’re lifting very heavy weights and eating a diet to support gains like that, you’ll more likely enjoy a stronger, leaner physique.
  • CrossFit is a cult: CrossFit promotes a sense of community, which will attract some overly zealous individuals, but it is far from a cult. You are welcome to engage it at whatever level you find comfortable and appropriate, and you definitely don’t have to bring it up in every conversation if you find that sort of behavior annoying!

These misconceptions are unfair, unfounded, and incorrect. If you thought you could be interested in CrossFit but steered clear based on any of the above assumptions, consider reevaluating your decision and finding out for yourself if the program is right for you.

 

Final Thoughts

CrossFit is one of the best fitness programs out there today, helping participants worldwide live a healthier lifestyle, enjoy a sense of belonging, improve their physical abilities, and achieve their fitness goals.

Are you ready to try it out and see for yourself if it’s a good fit for you?

Count it down with us. We’re going in 3…2…1…

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