CrossFit is renowned for creating the fittest people on the planet. But is it for you? This article gives you an insight into just what CrossFit training is, why it's so popular and who it's aimed at...
Thinking of Starting CrossFit?
CrossFit requires extreme commitment and dedication - it's certainly not for the feint of heart, weak-willed or weekend workout warriors.
If your idea of fun is a one-mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 bodyweight squats, finished off with another one-mile run, all against the clock - then you'll fit right in! ...and we tip our hat to you! You are indeed CrossFit material.
If on the other hand, fitness is important to you - you want to look good, be strong, fit and healthy - but the all-out, blood, sweat and tears approach to training isn't quite your thing, then there's a lot to be said for loosely following the CrossFit principles without the cult following.
One consideration you should bear in mind is the reason why you're training. CrossFit is very much an anti-specialisation form of workout, with the goal of total fitness across all ten fitness domains (we'll come to those in a moment). If your particular goal is to specialise and compete in one sport then CrossFit wouldn't be for you.
With CrossFit training you probably won't win a powerlifting competition or come first in a marathon as you'd need a tailored, specialised program to achieve those goals, but you will be a well-rounded physically fit individual, wholly competent and capable.
This anti-specialisation approach to training is why CrossFit is so accepted by the military and emergency services - what point is there in being huge but not strong, or a great runner with no strength or power? Especially when other people's lives (or even your own) might be on the line.
CrossFit isn't just popular with these services and it's becoming widely accepted by the general public, with CrossFit affiliated gym's springing up all around the world. Seemingly, general physical preparedness is an appealing concept to many. Also, quite simply, CrossFit produces results - you lose weight, become faster, stronger and more agile.
So, if you want to learn more about CrossFit we cover off an intro to this controversial fitness movement...
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program that in their own words prescribes "constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement”.
Part of the appeal of CrossFit is that the training is not geared towards a specialism - but attempts to optimise 'fitness' in each of the ten domains listed below:
- Cardiovascular and respiratory endurance
CrossFit practitioners are taught to be fitter, more physically well-rounded human beings across all these fitness domains and it's producing athletes whose sport is essentially "fitness". As a result of this all-encompassing model CrossFit has become a highly popular strength and conditioning program for the military, emergency services, tactical operations teams, martial artists and any individual or profession demanding complete physical capability. These are people who desire fitness when they don't know at what point their physical skills and ability will be called upon, or indeed in what form.
The CrossFit Fitness Model
CrossFit work toward their own definition of "fitness" - a definition often contrary to mainstream beliefs. They capture "world-class fitness" beautifully in 100 words -
"Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds.
Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.
Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy.
Keep workouts short and intense.
Regularly learn and play new sports."
CrossFit Training and Exercise
As described, CrossFit training is intense and varied, encouraging participants to explore many ways to physically express themselves and apply their fitness skills. This broad, almost random approach to fitness is somewhat contrary to mainstream training methods of stringent exercise sets, reps, order and control and is more akin to our own views.
CrossFit places an emphasis on gymnastics and bodyweight exercises, training participants in body control, and developing balance and flexibility whilst maximising strength-to-weight ratio.
Olympic weightlifting also features quite strongly in CrossFit programs, focusing on the core lifts such as deadlifts, squats and presses. Weight training is primarily used to develop explosive power and strength.
The CrossFit training program is designed to be scalable to people of any age or experience with the necessary commitment to apply themselves. Load and intensity of the training is altered accordingly but the CrossFit program remains the same.
CrossFit Data and the CrossFit Community
CrossFit is an empirical training program grounded in real-life data, supporting the movement with measurements, actual observations and facts. They call this "evidence-based fitness".
This is a refreshing approach in the fitness industry which is often dominated by marketers or the ill-informed, where bold, vague and unsubstantiated claims are made to make more money.
CrossFit is built on transparency and competition and drive their participants not through insults and abuse, but partly through the human competitive spirit - brought out simply by attaching a whiteboard to the wall and writing your name.
See the Fitstream training diary article to read more about the benefits of tracking your training and download our free training log PDFs.
CrossFit is a "minimalist program" geared up for functional training and movement. It recognises that elite fitness is born out of the most basic of equipment with hard work and dedication, and CrossFit are strong advocates of the garage gym, with much less fitness equipment that that found in your average commercial gym.
An article in the CrossFit Journal analysed the frequency of equipment used in the CrossFit.com daily workouts for a year and found the following:
|Fitness Equipment||Frequency in CrossFit WOD (1 yr)|
|Place to run||90|
|Back ext bench||37|
|24" Plyo box||22|
|Concept 2 Rower||19|
The Essential CrossFit equipment you need is an Olympic bar and weight set (preferably bumper plates) and somewhere to perform pull-ups and dips.
Gymnastics rings are a great option too because they're cheap, durable, hugely challenging and allow you to do ring pull-ups, dips and muscle-ups just about anywhere with one piece of equipment. The freeform movement of the rings makes the exercises much tougher than using fixed apparatus so they're a really efficient form of bodyweight strength training.
You can buy parallettes (or make your own) as an essential way to start CrossFit bodyweight training and throw in some plyometrics boxes, a Dynamax medicine ball, dumbbells, kettlebells, climbing rope, a Concept II Rower, and a glute-ham developer to equip your gym with enough kit to follow the CrossFit Workout Of the Day very closely.
See the Fitstream Store for more examples of selected CrossFit Equipment.
CrossFit and Safety
CrossFit training is as fiercely condemned as it is followed in some circles, as people cite the dangers of such intense training methods and the extremely physically taxing demands it places on followers.
If you're just starting out with CrossFit take note that the workouts would challenge even the world's best athletes and you should scale the workouts accordingly to pitch the training correctly for your fitness level whilst ensuring that you make solid gains.
Approach CrossFit workouts cautiously at first because to throw yourself into the training probably won't end well. Try Reducing the recommended loads, reps, and sets and ramp up as you progress and your body adapts. As you develop a feel for the program you'll become more aware of your own capabilities and how to structure the training effectively, yet safely.
CrossFit - A Summary
CrossFit is an intense physical training program promoting 'fitness'. CrossFit fitness being of totality and extreme breadth that produces non-specialising athletes.
CrossFit will turn you into one of the fittest versions of you, you could possibly be, being able to perform effectively at many, diverse, randomised physical challenges. A life athlete, if you will.
The CrossFit logic is sound. We applaud the required commitment, well-rounded and empirical training regimes and regardless of the controversial debates and opinions there's one thing that's certain - CrossFit works, it builds elite athletes that are the very definition of "fitness".
Read the CrossFit website for more information and you'll find the Message Board is a particularly good resource for pointers, technical help or just general encouragement for the CrossFit program.