If you’ve been following along with my Fitness Journey (follow the link for updates) you are probably aware that I recently transitioned from weight-lifting in a traditional gym (and at-home workouts before that) to CrossFit as my primary means of exercise. In just three short – and very sore – months, CrossFit has brought new lingo, long-sought-after skills (hey pull-ups!), and camaraderie to my routine. But beneath the industrial gyms, the Games, the WODs, and the Icelandic super-athletes – what is CrossFit at its core, and what does it mean to the genpop? As someone who has experienced both success and passion in the sport, it’s my hope that after reading this post you have a heightened understanding of CrossFit and functional fitness. And if you just so happen to get a taste of the Koolaid, that ain’t so bad either 😉
When I refer to myself as a CrossFitter, I may
or may not generate some variation of this response:
I don’t blame you. You’ve heard about CrossFit, but the entire concept still feels shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Don’t worry, that’s just the chalk dust, y’all! 😉 Before you keep reading, let’s clear up the top three CrossFit myths.
CrossFit makes women bulky. Truth be told, it pains me to have to address this point. What even is “bulky?” Is it resting flex arm (#goals), is it a tight ass, is it a six-pack, a quad-shelf, the physical appearance of muscle? The thing about CrossFit, which you’ll read more about below, is that it prioritizes performance and function, and treats aesthetics as a welcomed side effect, however they may choose to appear. And if that philosophy is not enough for ya, science tells us (because, facts), that large volumes of muscle mass do not develop with exercise alone. Gaining requires a highly specific diet that consistently meets targeted caloric and macronutrient intake.
CrossFit athletes compromise form. Quality over quantity, right? Actually, this age-old saying doesn’t totally apply in CrossFit; but not in the way you’re thinking. CrossFit believes in quality and quantity, where quantity (reps) is inextricably contingent upon quality (form). CrossFit workouts are simply too intense and taxing to forego performing exercises in the most efficient ways, and nothing is more efficient than exceptional form. Additionally, each unique movement in CrossFit has a defined standard directly related to its proper form. Improper form = no rep = no measure in the CrossFit community. A burpee ain’t a burpee unless you clap at the top 😉
CrossFit is dangerous and injury prone. Let me be clear by stating that as with any physical exertion (and also, life in general) risk of injury is an inevitable factor of CrossFit. However, CrossFit is no more injury-prone of a regimen than marathon training, organized sports, body building, and hell, even yoga. And yet, it seems to bear the weight of all the hype. What are we to do? Support gyms who staff certified, experienced trainers, create scalable* & individualized programs, and provide education on proper recovery, including rest and nutrition.
Now you’re more like this, amirite? 😉
So, What is CrossFit?
If CrossFit isn’t a dangerous workout guaranteed to “bulk” you up, what is it?
CrossFit is a cross training approach to health and fitness (get it, “cross” + “fitness”?) founded on functional movements and measured by “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.” Okay, that’s a lot of jargon. Let’s break it down.
- Functional Movements are defined as movements based on real-world situational biomechanics. Functional Fitness exercises as seen in CrossFit mimic everyday tasks and aim to improve daily activity. (A blog post on functional fitness and how you can apply it is coming soon!) These movements typically engage compound muscle groups including the core and cardiovascular system. Think: picking something heavy up off the ground, reaching, bending, climbing, etc.
- Increased Work Capacity is how CrossFit measures progress, where work capacity is simply the ability to perform physical tasks.
- Broad Time refers to the ability to perform these physical tasks in a range of time capacities, from short exertions of max-effort to long stretches of endurance.
- Broad Modal Domains refers to the ability to perform these physical tasks across the 10 general physical skills: accuracy, agility, balance, coordination, cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, flexibility, power, strength, speed, and stamina.
CrossFit defines fitness (or the state of “being fit”) as optimal work capacity in a wide breath of functional circumstances and physical skills. For example, where a long-distance runner aims to build cardiovascular endurance and stamina, and a sprinter aims to develop speed, CrossFit aims to maximize both.
But beyond conditioning a body that is capable of practically anything, CrossFit distinguishes itself from other forms of exercise with one key differentiator: camaraderie. Every. Single. Day. in every CrossFit gym around the world you are sure to hear words of encouragement – most times through heavy breathing 😉 – “you got it!” “keep going!” “push it!” “keep your pace!” Other times it’s a simple head nod, a high five, or a fist bump at the end of an intense workout. As someone who went almost 2 years too preoccupied with my HYPE playlist to interact with the 10 people I exercised with every day, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing like hearing “Up! Up!” from the bottom of your 1 rep max back squat, and looking over to see a fit friend cheering you on.
The first time I experienced a CrossFit workout, I was totally like, “we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Though isolated exercises have their time and place, moves like bicep curls and tricep extensions are often just passing through the gym. (And spoiler alert: I’ve never had sore biceps like I do today from 1.5 years of dumbbell curls.) Instead, CrossFit focuses on a set of specific compound movements that can be loosely categorized as weight lifting, gymnastics, or cardiovascular. Let’s get to know the regulars.
- Weight Lifting: back squat, front squat, overhead squat, deadlift (my fave!), clean, snatch, jerk (see more demos here)
- Gymnastics: pull-up, chest to bar pull-up, muscle-up, ring dip, hand stand push-up, pistol squat, push-up, toes to bar
- Cardiovascular: run, row, assault bike, ski erg, box jump, burpee, double unders
Box: A CrossFit specific gym
WOD: Workout of the Day
Typically comprised of both a strength and conditioning series.
Hero WOD: Named after military, police, or firefighter CrossFit athletes who have died in the line of duty, typically comprised of the athlete’s favorite movements.
The Girls: A series of benchmark WODs created by CrossFit headquarters.
Metcon: Metabolic Conditioning
Often synonymous with high-intensity, sweat-dripping, max-effort workouts in which an athlete’s goal is to maintain 100% intensity for a set period of time with minimal rest and maintaining a specific rep scheme and quality of movement. If you are familiar with HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), this may sound familiar. Unlike HIIT, which follows a work:rest ratio (30 seconds of work : 30 seconds of rest), Metcon does not define a standard rest scheme within the workout. AKA, you rest when you’re done, k? 😉
AMRAP: As Many Reps as Possible
A form of measure based on the number of rounds and reps of a sequence an athlete can complete in a predetermined time period.
For Time: A form of measure based on the time it takes for an athlete to complete a prescribed workout
EMOM: Every Minute on The Minute
Starting at the top of the minute, the athlete must complete the assigned movement and rep scheme quickly and efficiently. The athlete rests the remainder of the 60 seconds until the top of the next minute, when they begin the rep scheme again.
RX: Successfully meeting the defined rules and standards of a WOD
RX derives from the pharmaceutical symbol for “prescribed,” and refers to the defined standards of a WOD including lift weight and skill movement.
Scale: Modifying or adapting WOD components to meet an athlete’s skill level. Keep in mind that all athletes must complete the same number of prescribed reps of a movement, but can adapt the performance method of a movement to meet their needs.
To scale Fran (above) an athlete would adjust the barbell weight of the Thrusters and convert pull-ups to jumping pull-ups, while maintaining the rep scheme.
PR: Personal Record
An indicator that an athlete has surpassed their previously recorded max in form of reps or weight.
1RM: One Rep Max
The heaviest weight at which an athlete can successfully complete an exercise for one repetition.
Double Under: A method of jump roping where the rope passes beneath an athletes feet two times per one jump.
Thruster: A front squat directly to a push press.
Kipping: Using momentum to complete a movement
*in defense of the kip* To say a kipping pull-up is not a “real” pull-up (where real = strict) is to say a deadlift is not a back squat. It’s an obvious truth. Kipping movements are a different defined standard than strict movements with different purposes (and strict movements also have their place in CrossFit gyms) Kipping is primarily beneficial when an athlete needs to maximize power over a long period of time or large rep scheme.
A CrossFit Class
It’s time for a class! Here’s a sample of what a typical class looks like at my gym, Broad Street CrossFit, and most gyms ’round the world.
Arrive 5-10 minutes early for class to work through a light, self-propelled warm up and to chat with your pals 😉
5:30 am: class begins with a dynamic warm up that primes athletes for the WOD.
Sit in a perfect squat for 2 min, shoulder rotations, PVC work, hip flexor openers, etc
5:45 am: the coach provides an explanation of the WOD, demonstrating movements, defining scale, and answering questions as needed.
5:45 – 6:00 am: Strength Series. Athletes work through a weight lifting session in a prescribed rep scheme.
For example, 3×8 back squat at 70%, 75%, and 80% or take 15 minutes to find your deadlift 1RM
6:00 – 6:25 am: Metcon WOD, complete with all the high-fives!
6:25 – 6:30: cool-down and stretch.
So, you wanna be a CrossFitter?
You’ve debunked the myths, you got the gist, you know the goals, the lingo, and the foundation lifts. Did you like what you
heard read? Thinking about researching some local gyms, but don’t know where to begin?
First things first, CrossFit is for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or fitness level. There’s no experience in weight lifting or base fitness aptitude required. In fact, with personalized attention from certified trainers in every class, CrossFit is the perfect way to learn fundamental lifting techniques with a foundation of exceptional form, as opposed to self-teaching and taking correctional measures later (*cough* me with my barely parallel back squats *cough*).
Every CrossFit gym should offer at least three introductory classes with a certified coach that will prep you for your first WOD with an overview of the sport and gym, demonstrations of lifts, and first hand experience with other members.
It’s a must for your gym to be an official CrossFit Affiliate that staffs certified coaches, and it’s ideal if it offers educational resources in the form of nutrition, supplements, equipment, and recovery. But equally as important is that you enjoy the people at the gym. Get to know the coaches and drop by a few classes to check out the energy and atmosphere! You’re gonna get real close with these folks real fast.
Find your local gyms here!