Crossfit's intense workouts are a polarising subject of discussion. It seems the first rule of Crossfit club is that you must never shut up about Crossfit club, and on the flip side, the sport (routine? Discipline? Hobby?) has its share of haters. So let's take a minute to cut through that for anyone who's intrigued but isn't sure what they would be getting into and whether it's worthwhile.
Photo by Amber Karnes.
To bring everyone up to speed, Crossfit's workouts can include powerlifting or Olympic style weightlifting; gymnastics and calisthenic type activities such as ring pull-ups and rope climbing; and often cardio in the form of running, cycling or rowing. You can also expect stretches, push-ups, and a lot of other stuff besides.
If you take a class, it will be centered around a WOD, or workout of the day. You won't do all of the above, but only a small subset. Perhaps the goal of the workout is improving your deadlift, or maybe it's a metabolic conditioning ("metcon") workout that alternates cardio with full-body strength movements so you're working on multiple types of fitness at the same time.
I tried Crossfit for the first time recently, although almost all of the components are things that I already knew how to do and loved. Here are some of the things I learned:
- You can get a training session before starting classes. This will depend on your gym (sorry, your box) but mine offered a free session to teach techniques. Boxes also typically offer (paid) private lessons or let you sign up for a series of beginner-specific classes before you jump in with everybody else. At my training session I began to learn how to do a snatch, although to stay safe I'm not going to attempt it with heavy weight until I've practised it a lot more.
- The barbells are a lot lighter than they look. If you're used to working out at gyms that only have 20kg bars and where the large plates are all also 20kg, you may be baffled when you see videos of Crossfitters lifting them like they're nothing. It turns out bars come in a variety of weights, from 15 to 20kg, and those giant plates are available in sizes going down to 5kg. That means the barbell has about the same shape and size no matter how heavy it is.
- Nobody expects you to Rx a workout any time soon. The WODs posted on Crossfit.com or at your gym often specify an enormous weight or a difficult move that makes you go "uh, I can't even do one handstand push-up, much less 45 of them". But even at a box full of experienced athletes, very few people are doing the prescribed (Rx) weights or moves every time. Those numbers are a goal to work up to, and your instructor will help you modify the exercises so you get an appropriate workout. For example, you might do push-ups with your feet on a box in place of those handstand push-ups.
That said, I find it hard to believe a total beginner could show up and have a great time; it feels like you have to know your body and have some experience with other kinds of exercise. Crossfit is also infamous for setting people up for too-intense exercise that can lead to injury, although you can protect yourself by knowing your limits and choosing a good coach.
So, let's talk about what beginners can expect.
- If you have tried Crossfit, what do you wish you had known before you started? What did you learn in your first few days or weeks?
- If you haven't tried Crossfit but might like to, what do you want to know? What questions or concerns do you have?
If you haven't tried Crossfit and don't want to, ever, because you think it's stupid, please scroll quickly to the next article.