Many people all over the world want to start CrossFit every year, but it can be intimidating walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time and you might have many doubts before you begin your training journey.
In this beginner’s overview to CrossFit we hope to answer your most pressing questions and provide you with the confidence and necessary tools to get started.
Table of contents
- What is CrossFit?
- How long is a CrossFit workout?
- Is CrossFit better than gym training?
- Does CrossFit change your body?
- Why are there no mirrors in a CrossFit gym?
- Is CrossFit bad?
- Is CrossFit good for over 50s?
What is CrossFit
CrossFit is an exercise regime that combines endurance, gymnastics, and weightlifting to increase your general fitness level.
The official definition of CrossFit is: “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity.”
In simple words, this means CrossFit workouts combine a myriad of exercises (constantly varied) the basis of which is often found in natural movements in day-to-day life (functional movements), performed maximising the amount of work done in the shortest time (high intensity).
The aim of CrossFit is to increase your fitness, which the sport defines as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains,” and improve your health, by placing big emphasis on the exercises it chooses to prioritise and your nutrition.
The exercise regime is popular with law enforcement and first responders, as the constantly varied CrossFit sessions train them for the “known, unknown and unknowable.” However, CrossFit is also practiced by many older people wishing to stay in shape, as the exercise regime is “infinitely scalable,” meaning intensity is relative to the physical and psychological tolerances of each individual.
What is a WOD
WOD stands for Workout Of the Day and is the main task of a CrossFit class.
There are many types of WODs, including AMRAPs (As Many Reps/Rounds As Possible), EMOMs (Every Minute On the Minute), workouts For Time or even Death By WODs. All these types of workout prioritise either workload or time to achieve a desired stimulus.
WODs are different every day, although there are some benchmark workouts that athletes go back to every now and then to measure their performance over time.
The Workout Of the Day is meant to be modified or adapted to match each athlete’s fitness and experience level, and help them achieve their goals.
A CrossFit class will usually start with a warm up, include a relevant strength or skill element, and finish off with the WOD.
What is a Box
A CrossFit Box is where people go to train and it’s essentially a stripped-down gym with the bare necessities to perform the WODs. You won’t usually find mirrors and machines in a CrossFit box; instead, there will be dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells, gymnastics rigs, med balls and some odd objects.
Many CrossFit Boxes are located in warehouses where there’s no need for fanfare, bells and shiny objects. A CrossFit Box represents CrossFit’s ethos of functionality over aesthetics.
How long is a CrossFit workout?
CrossFit workouts can be anything between a couple of minutes to hours long. In general, most CrossFit workouts run between 10 and 20 minutes, with a usual class lesson running for an hour.
Most CrossFit workouts seem short because they focus on intensity.
Intensity is the most widely accepted variable associated with maximising the rate of return on favourable adaptation to exercise – meaning it gives the highest bang for you buck. The aim is to increase the loads you lift as you progress to develop strength, as well as increase the reps you can complete to increase your stamina and endurance.
Working harder allows for a greater training load per minute of exercise, which in turn can bring the results you seek from training faster. However, high intensity is unsustainable for longer periods of time, so high intensity workouts are bound to be short.
There is a lot of crossovers between training results and adaptations from short and long workouts. Generally speaking, low volumes of high-intensity training tend to deliver fitness gains through increased muscle mass and power output, while traditional endurance training does so though increased blood volume.
Current literature agrees that short bursts of high intensity interval training can be as effective as longer training sessions, producing the same physiological adaptations, so long as you work hard enough.
Though CrossFit workouts varying significantly in their length of time, the majority fall on the shorter end, with intensity being a constant.
Is CrossFit better than gym training?
CrossFit and gym training are different, and one will be better than the other depending on your fitness goals. There is a lot of crossover with both exercise programs, but the former generally focuses on functionality and the latter largely on aesthetics and strength.
If you want to increase your general fitness CrossFit is better than gym training. If you want to work on aesthetics or specific strength, then gym training might be best.
With structured one-hour sessions that include warm-ups, strength- and skill-focused work, and a “metcon” (a conditioning piece), you’ll be working on all aspects of fitness during a CrossFit class.
CrossFit metcons are designed to improve your endurance, stamina, strength, power, flexibility, speed, coordination, accuracy, agility and balance. Unlike the gym, where you train mostly with machines and isolate muscles, CrossFit workouts are constantly varied in their exercises, time domains and intended stimulus.
CrossFit is not a specialised strength-building program but a deliberate attempt to optimise your general physical preparedness through functional movements – CrossFit was born with the aim to improve an individual’s competency at all physical tasks.
If your goal is to increase muscle size and strength, then a specific strength-training or hypertrophy program would be better suited to your aims than general CrossFit training.
CrossFit is usually practiced in small classes under the supervision of a coach, while gym training is generally an individual pursuit. If you like not having to worry about what you’ll do each session and are motivated by a group, then CrossFit would trump gym training for you. However, if you like to take control of your training sessions and do what you want in your own time, then a traditional gym would be more suited to your style.
If you don’t have clear goals for what you’d like to achieve with your training, then choose the activity that you enjoy the most. Both CrossFit and gym training have the ability to get you in shape, help you lose weight and build strength and muscle – choose the one you’re most likely to stick to long term.
Why is CrossFit so expensive?
With memberships ranging between $100 and $300 USD per month, a CrossFit membership is significantly more expensive than joining your local gym.
Membership fees for Boxes around the world are not cheap, but you get a lot of value in return for your money:
- Small group classes not usually bigger than 15 people
- Professionally led one-hour sessions
- A wide range of training possibilities and potentially different classes
- Clear workouts and an effective training program
- Trained coaches there to answer your questions
- A community of like-minded individuals
We have dived deep into each individual point, explained exactly what you get for your money and what kind of service you can expect in the past. Learn why a CrossFit membership is worth it here.
Does CrossFit change your body?
There are two types of changes to your body that come as a result of exercise: structural and chemical changes. Structural changes are the ones you see, they’re the physical transformations people are aware of after following an exercise program, so we’ll focus on those.
Your body will adapt to any type of exercise. How much your body changes when you start CrossFit training will depend on your previous athletic experience and how often you choose to practice the sport.
People attending CrossFit classes regularly, around three to five times a week, can expect their body to change, especially if they’re not used to resistance training. Even training once or twice a week can have significant effects on your physique if you’re untrained and have previously been inactive.
You’ll notice very little change immediately but will see the biggest transformation after a couple of months. As time goes on, it’ll get harder to achieve the same results so, unless you increase your training volume, the magnitude of those changes will likely decrease.
Some people worry about getting “bulky” with CrossFit, but one would have to work incredibly hard to look very muscular. Additionally, the sport of CrossFit asks people to reframe the question and ask instead what our bodies might be capable of, regardless of what they look like.
In terms of physical changes, CrossFit can help you tone your body, build muscle, and burn fat. You can also expect mindset changes in regards to a healthier approach towards body image.
Why are there no mirrors in a CrossFit gym?
CrossFit focuses primarily on functionality, not on physique. While your body might change in the process of training, there are no mirrors in CrossFit gyms because these changes are secondary, a result of the work you have put in, and the primary focus is your performance.
You don’t require mirrors to increase your endurance, power or strength and a coach should always be at hand if you require assistance with your technique.
While starting exercise to change your appearance is a very valid reason, the message from CrossFit is to focus on performance, not aesthetics, but aesthetic changes are likely to follow if you improve your performance.
A CrossFit Box is stripped down to the bare essentials – the whole training program is based on the ethos that “less is more” – so you’re very unlikely to find a mirror in a CrossFit box.
Is CrossFit bad?
All physical pursuits come with risk. This holds true for essentially all sports, especially when athletes chase improvement.
CrossFit has gained a reputation for being a dangerous form of exercise over the last few years, but the reality is a bit more nuanced than what most news articles will have you believe.
Most of CrossFit’s bad press originated as a result of a study published in the National Strength and Conditioning Association’s (N.S.C.A.) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which focused on CrossFit’s efficacy and claimed that, out of 54 people who undertook a CrossFit program for 10 weeks, nine had failed to finish owing to injury.
Following the publication – which lead to a lawsuit – it was discovered that management at the N.S.C.A. had essentially told researchers to fabricate the data. However, by this point big news organisations had already produced sensationalised stories with the results, and CrossFit gained its reputation for being dangerous.
This is not to say that you won’t get injured practicing CrossFit – the risk is always there regardless of sport and the likelihood will usually come down to how good your coach is (and how good you are at listening to them).
In theory, each CrossFit session should be coached by someone knowledgeable who can keep you safe and whose priority is to ensure you strive for consistent mechanics before increasing intensity in your workouts.
In practice however, even the strongest CrossFit advocate has to admit that this is not always the case in every single CrossFit Box around the world.
If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, make sure you talk to your coach. CrossFit workouts can be scaled, modified or adapted to match each athlete’s fitness and experience level, and to meet them where they are.
Is CrossFit good for over 50s?
Absolutely, CrossFit exercises focus on functional movements, meaning that especially maturing athletes should take up the exercise regime to continue to live healthily and independently.
It is never too late to start CrossFit training regardless of your age, your previous training experience, your current fitness level or whether you have an injury.
The program follows the ethos of relative intensity, which means workouts can be modified to match your current levels of physical and psychological tolerance.
We’ve written a whole article about why it’s never too late to start to start CrossFit training – go ahead and have a read.
Anyone can do CrossFit, and if someone should, it would be your grandparents.