Well hold on to your protein shake, I am about to tell you.
CrossFit is advertised, in four words, as “the sport of fitness" and "constantly varied, high-intensity functional movements"- I actually have a shirt with those exact words on it. CrossFit training coaches people of all shapes and sizes to improve their physical wellness and cardiovascular fitness in an intense yet encouraging, accepting environment.
Crossfit's main site, gives this definition-
"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.
Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing. Combat, survival, many sports, and life reward this kind of fitness and, on average, punish the specialist.
CrossFit contends that a person is as fit as they are proficient in each of ten general physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy."
Reader's Digest version: CrossFit is a program that builds strength and conditioning using varied and challenging workouts. Each day the workout will test a different aspect of your functional strength or conditioning. CrossFit training does not specialize in one particular thing, but instead the goal is to build a body capable of practically any task.
Who is CrossFit for?
CrossFit is designed for universal scalability, which makes it ideal for any COMMITTED person, experienced or not. Every day there is a workout prescribed for everyone who attends CrossFit. Rather than having one workout of the day (or WOD, as it is called in CrossFit-world) for older ladies and one for hardcore athletes, there is ONE workout written for everyone, but completely scalable based on your abilities. "We scale load and intensity- we don't change programs."
Pull-ups and squats are great examples of how scaling works. Here is an example of how a WOD (workout of the day) might be written:
back squats (135-men/85-women)
What this means is that the athlete will complete 21 pull ups, then 21 back squats (a squat with a weighted barbell resting on their shoulders), then 15 of each, then 9 of each, as quickly as possible with good form. Let's look at three people who could be doing this WOD. Mike Muscle, Grandma Betty, Big Ben, and Joe.
Mike Muscle has been at it for a while now. He does pretty much every WOD as written- never has to scale a movement to make it easier. Sometimes, he even scales up- adding weight or complicating a movement to challenge himself. Mike is a rarity in the box. these WODs are HARD as is, and here he is taking this one and adding MORE weight to his back squat! Impressive!
Grandma Betty is in her 70s. First of all, hats off to Grandma for coming to CrossFit, right? She knows that she will likely never do a WOD as prescribed (RX) but it doesnt matter- she is still getting a level of intensity that is appropriate for her and is seeing improvements in her mobility. Grandma's hips aren't really up to squatting with a barbell, nor can she pull herself up onto a pull-up rig. No problem- her coach has solutions: she will squat onto a box and in lieu of pull-ups, do ring rows.
Joe is a pretty average guy. Average Joe. Joe can squat to full depth (crease of hip below knee) and he is coming along in his strength. His bodyweight movements are so-so and his cardiovascular endurance has improved. But he isn't quite ready to RX this WOD. He'd really like to, but at the advice of his coach, he takes the weight down to 115#, and knowing that he isnt very effecient at pull-ups, he adds a resistance band to his spot on the rig to help him meet the bar a little easier.
Although Mike, Betty and Joe are all doing the same program, they are doing it in different ways, based on their personal abilities. I can bet money that by the end of the WOD, all three of them will be out of breath, possibly laying on the floor, and high-fiving each other for a job well-done.
After reading about Mike, Betty and Joe, one would draw the conclusion that CrossFit is for everybody! Well, CrossFit can be for everybody, and certainly everyone can benefit from it in some regard. Old or young, fit or fat, CrossFit will make you a fitter person. But CrossFit is perfect for a few types of people:
- weight training newbies – If you have NEVER weight trained before (machines at the commercial gym and your dusty Bo-Flex don't count), CrossFit is a great place for you to start. You’ll learn how to do all of the important lifts in a verysupportive and non-judgmental environment. You might even find, as I did, you love strength training!
- people, people who need people- (Sorry) This is a HUGE appeal to CrossFit. Every CrossFit gym has a tight-knit community feel to it. When you come in our box, complete our on-ramp course and become a member, we expect you to show up. Often. And if you aren't, we want to know why. You’re not just a membership payment to us, and this isn't exclusive to our place. You’re a person that needs help, and we are there to give it. We eat together, hang out together, get silly together- we are truly like a family.
- Fitness freakazoids - You know who I mean. The people who MUST work out every day or they feel like part of their life is missing. Although rest days are STRONGLY encouraged for recovery, many CrossFitters end up at the gym everyday. It is addicting. There are shirts that say "It's like meth but you get to keep your teeth." Pretty accurate.
- Competitive people - CrossFit has built-in teamwork, camaraderie, and competition. Almost all workouts have a time aspect to them- you either have to finish a certain number of reps of exercises in a certain amount of time, or the time is fixed and you need to see how many repetitions you can do of an exercise. You get to compete with people in your class, and go online to see how you did against the world’s elite CrossFit athletes. Side note here, the competition isn't really about those around you, it is with yourself; trying to beat your last score, your last personal record, etcetera. But for those with a competitive drive, there's nothing wrong with letting your friend's progress push you to go harder.
Is it dangerous?
Ok, here's the thing. I coach CrossFit. My husband coaches CrossFit. We own a CrossFit box. Im going to seem biased if I say no, so I will say yes- it can be. It can be for a few reasons, but probably not what you may think or may have been led to believe.
In the good situation, with good coaching and a coachable athlete that has set aside their ego, CrossFit is safe. Can accidents still happen in spite of the best circumstances? Sure. In a bad situation with bad coaching and a person with the wrong mindset, CrossFit can be very dangerous, and because i am a rational person, I don't have any problem admitting that, also because I know that is NOT true of our box. What would those "bad" situations/coaches/people be?
Because our workouts (WODs) are typically for time- that is, you complete the assigned task as quickly as possible- it can be easy to sacrifice form in exchange for finishing faster. If you don’t have somebody coaching you to keep your form correct, then you’re in trouble. Improper form during strength training is a great way to get yourself injured. Having a coach watch you and correct your form through the ENTIRE class will help keep you safe, and your coach should be proactive both during class and outside of it, not just "keeping an eye" on things and starting the clock, but reading articles, watching videos, talking with other coaches, and so on.
Because CrossFit is intense, it attracts people who are, well, into that kinda thing. Some of those people don't know when to quit, or maybe they do but they just tell themselves to shut up and keep going anyway. Puking, torn-up hands, and the inability to walk like a normal human being are all pretty well standard in CrossFit-world (not to say everyone experiences them, but it isn't really a big deal when someone does). Because CrossFit is competitive in nature, has a motivating atmosphere, and gives people a primal drive to do well, many people break their personal limitations (not necessarily a bad thing) but some keep going after that. Cue the infamous CrossFit-exclusive (except that it's not) condition of Rhabdomyolysis. In a VERY small portion of CrossFitters, a very serious medical condition called rhabdo for short, can take place. This has tarnished CrossFit's reputation even though rhabdo is more prevalent with marathon runners. Anyway, when people push themselves too hard, too much, too fast, their muscle fibers break down and are released into the bloodstream, poisoning the kidneys, thus causing Rhabdo. This typically happens with male former athletes who have not been active for a while and come back trying to prove they are more awesome than they actually are. Typically.
So…like with any activity, you can have people that like to push themselves too far, too hard, too fast, and too often. If you don't have the common sense to know when to stop or your coach doesn't force you to, there is the (albeit small) chance of getting rhabdo. If you won't listen to your coach when he/she tells you to shed some weight, you have a pretty good chance of getting hurt. If your coach is busy texting instead of making sure you have your chest up, butt down, weight in heels, good spinal position, you need to find a new box.
What’s a CrossFit class like?
Let’s say you’re interested in joining a CrossFit class, (and I'd like to think that if you have read this far in, you are) but you don’t know what you’re getting into! Nearly every CrossFit around the world, including ours, will let you come in and try out a class for free. We actually do the first TWO for free. The first one is on Saturdays at 10 AM. Every box is going to have a different set -up but this is how we do it.
On Ramp Class-f you’re interested in joining the regular CrossFit workout, you’ll y be required to go through the On ramp course. The purpose is to teach you the nine foundational movements of CrossFit and all about proper form. No matter how experienced you are, these are valuable and worth the time.
Regular classes: This is what you’re probably used to seeing or hearing about. A regular CrossFit class takes anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour. Everybody starts at the same time, led by the coach who continues to walk around throughout the class and, well, coach.
Most CrossFit gyms will divide their classes into three or four sections:
- Dynamic warm up – If you are thinking of a 5 minute jog on the treadmill, no dice. We dont have those. Think more along the lines of middle school gym class- jumps, jumping jacks, jump rope, squats, push ups, lunges, pull ups. Sometimes some yoga, some mobility work, and sometimes something super fun like dodge ball, obstacle courses and other "games". The warm up movements always compliment the movements we are doing in the workout that day.
- Skill/Strength work: If it’s a strength day, then you’ll work on a set rep scheme of a strength movement (like squats or deadlifts). If it’s not a strength day, then you’ll work on a skill and try to improve, like one-legged squats or handstand push ups. Yeah, they are real things.
- WOD: the workout of the day. This is where you’ll be told to do a certain number of reps of particular exercises as quickly as possible, or you’ll have a set time limit to do as many of a certain exercise as possible. The main event. This is also called the met-con or metabolic conditioning
- Cool down and stretching. Either as a group, or you’re allowed to stretch out on your own. (We rarely do group cool downs here but encourage everyone to cool down and mobilize after class.)
Can I just do it at home?
Again, I own a CrossFit box, and while I am by no means a money-monger, I am a business owner. As such, it wouldnt be very smart of me to tell you, "heck yeah you can! Tons of people do it in their garage!" But a lot of people DO do it in their garage. In fact, many CrossFit boxes, including ours, began in a garage. Here is the thing to consider with that:
- No coach to check your form - CrossFit requires many very specific movements. If you start by yourself at home, you’ll never know if you’re doing them wrong and you could honestly hurt yourself.
- No cheers - A HUGE part of CrossFit is the supportive community that comes with each box. It sounds cheesy, I know. But having a room full of people screaming your name and telling you "you've got this!", "pick it up!", "let's go" honestly makes you finish faster and better.
- No equipment- If you’re working out at home, you probably don’t have all the stuff you will need: kettlebells, squat racks, olypmic barbells, bumper plates, a rope to climb, and so on . So you will find yourself creating very modified versions of WODs you find online and then...
- You will want it all - The more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it right. Check out the cost of the equipment- it ain't cheap. Might as well come to a box, use the equiment, and get the programming, coaching, and community as an added and very awesome bonus.
Why is it so expensive? CrossFit is group classes. Think of yoga classes, spinning classes, etc. – they are typically $10-20 each. It’s not like a normal commercial gym where there are hundreds of members who come in, use the elliptical for 20 minutes and go home – there is a coach teaching the class. Isn't that worth more than $25 a month? I encourage anyone on the fence about trying us out to check out prices of other CrossFit boxes- near and far. We are easily the most affordable you will find, by far. And at least give the free classes a try- you literally have NOTHING to lose.
Will CrossFit make me lose weight? CrossFit is not a weight loss program, but that is not to say you wont lose weight. Because it is a strengthening and conditioning program, you will gain muscle. Time out ladies- gaining muscle does not mean you will look like Arnold. Not even close. But, as you probably know, muscle weighs more than fat so if you don't have much fat to lose, you may notice the scale going up instead of down. We typically don't even mess with scales and encourage measurements and pictures instead. And also keep in mind, your diet is the key. You can work out all day every day, but if you are not eating well (or enough), you aren't going to get the results you want. I had better get off the nutrition rant though, or this will get exponentially longer.
To wrap this up, here is why CrossFit is super awesome:
- We have a GREAT community that a commercial gym will never come close to. We have outings, bbq's, parties- we like each other. A lot.
- In a commercial gym you have no clue if you’re doing an exercise right or not. well, you might if you pay a personal trainer big bucks per HOUR, not month, to tell you. While it’s not one on one training, you have a coach with you during every workout to help out.
- If you don’t show up, people notice. Not only do they notice, but they call, text, and Facebook message you to find out where the heck you have been. When does that happen in a commercial gym? When you fail to show up for your session with Sven, your overpaid personal trainer.
- Because you get to keep track of how much you’re lifting, and because all of the workouts are done for a score (either reps or time) you get to see constant improvement as you work your way up, at YOUR pace, toward RX workouts.
- Friendly competition is an amazing motivator. You will be surprised how much further you’ll push yourself when surrounded by other people who are cheering for you, and suffering with you.
- Weightlifting. As a woman, I would have never attempted anything involving a barbell if it had not been for CrossFit. I saw it as a "man thing", didn't think I could EVER lift anything significant, and was frankly scared. And I know many women feel the same, along with the misconceived idea that weightlifting makes women huge. No ladies, cupcakes make women huge. (Couldn't resist using that one!) Weightlifting feels great- getting strong, powerful, building muscle- why should that be exclusive to guys? Get off the treadmill, ladies!
- For those who were athletes in high school, then college, all that's really left is...church league softball? Coaching T-ball? Yikes. CrossFit is a good solution for the inner athlete in former athletes who still have that competitive drive. It's great for ANYONE with a competitive drive. I think my Uncle who is a cutthroat rummy player would LOVE it!
- CrossFit builds all around fitness AND muscular endurance to prepare you for basically anything. That is why CrossFit training is used by firefighters, police, and military for training- to "prepare for the unknown and the unknowable".
- It is addictive. In the best way. Most people that start going to CrossFit find themselves talking about little else, shopping for things like lifting shoes and wrist wraps, and probably confusing and annoying people with terms like AMRAP and EMOM (sorry, it's just really exciting!) But what a great thing to be addicted to- getting fit, making goals and reaching them, and all in a supportive community.
- It gets you to do things you wouldn’t do on your own. I would never go running on my own – but if it’s in the WOD, I don’t have a choice. And I’ll go and do things that I would never do before (such as meeting up a fellow CrossFitter at the park for a run) because I know it will help me get a better time on a WOD later on.
After reading all this, you should have a much better idea of what the heck CrossFit is. Is it absolute perfection in fitness form? No. There are flaws to it, as there are with anything. But letting those flaws define CrossFit as a whole and furthermore turn you off from a potentially life-changing training program isn't really fair, and is borderline foolish. Give it a shot. You have nothing to lose but an hour of your Saturday and some sweat.