The Starting CrossFit Guide for the Unsure
CrossFit defined from CrossFit.com
“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.
The CrossFit program is designed for universal scalability making it the perfect application for any committed individual regardless of experience. We’ve used our same routines for elderly individuals with heart disease and cage fighters one month out from televised bouts. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change programs.
The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree not kind. Our terrorist hunters, skiers, mountain bike riders and housewives have found their best fitness from the same regimen.“
OK…since I am new to the CrossFit concept, can you put that in language I can understand?
CrossFit is a high-intensity workout program based around functional movements. CrossFit uses a mixture of gymnastics, powerlifting, Olympic weight lifting, and endurance movements. Functional movements, unlike isolated movements (curls, flies, leg extensions, etc.), mean that improving your competency with the movements will have real world applications and will improve how you move around every day and in sports. Through CrossFit, you will become extraordinary at everyday things. Equipping you for anything that may come your way. This capacity has a ton of benefits. CrossFitters don’t even think twice about doing things other people may dread.
“What? There’s a 5K run tomorrow? Sure, I’ll join you.”
“You need an extra person for your softball league? I’m in!”
“Ya, let’s take the stairs.”
“Sure, I can help you carry the lumber for your new deck!”
CrossFit workouts are referred to as “WODs.” WOD stands for “Workout of the Day.” CrossFit workouts can be scored. This means you can compare yourself to others and to your own scores in WODs to see how you are improving. They are typically scored on how fast you complete a task, how many repetitions of certain movements you can complete in a certain amount of time, or how much weight you can lift. You can look at your scores from 3 months ago and definitively know if your fitness is improving.
One of the most famous examples of a CrossFit WOD, is the CrossFit Benchmark Workout “Fran.” Benchmark workouts are named after girls and are common terminology across CrossFitters. The Fran CrossFit workout:
Thrusters (Men: 95lb / Women: 65lb)
This means that, as fast as you can, you will perform 21 Thrusters and 21 Pull-ups. After that, without resting, you will go straight into the next round which is 15 Thrusters and 15 Pull-ups followed immediately by 9 Thrusters and 9 Pull-ups. The best in the world can finish the Fran CrossFit workout in less than 2 minutes.
Starting CrossFit can be intimidating and leave you wondering how the hell to get started.
The CrossFit Games are now shown on ESPN and CrossFit shirts are worn around town by people who look like super heroes. What you don’t see, is the average CrossFitter. The average person does not care about competing or being the best in the world, they just want to workout a few times a week and enjoy doing it. The easiest way to get a feel for if CrossFit is for you to go to a local CrossFit affiliate. Most of them will offer a free intro session and a beginner series of classes to teach you all of the foundational CrossFit movements. Getting in the door the first time is the hardest thing. Once in, you will see it is for ANYONE. Although it is for anyone, it is not for everyone. The CrossFit affiliates are built around people who want to work hard. If you are not willing to challenge yourself, don’t bother…maybe going to a sunshine bootcamp where you will see little results is what you are looking for. You will feel better because you are doing something, but CrossFit will bring real results.
Something to be aware of is CrossFit affiliates are independently operated. This means you will not get the same experience if you go to all the different CrossFit gyms in your city. You will be surprised how different each will be. Shop around, take advantage of the free introductory sessions, and see what the best CrossFit affiliate is for you.
Is CrossFit dangerous?
No. Performing movements that are above your skill level with weights that are too heavy or doing the movements too quickly can be dangerous. Walking into a 24-hour Fitness or Gold’s Gym and lifting without learning proper form is dangerous. There are so many people who think they understand basic movements who are just ticking time bombs for injuries. Being around trainers who are under qualified is dangerous. CrossFit affiliates take pride in teaching how to perform the movements used safely and efficiently. Good CrossFit coaches are great at identifying an athlete’s weakness and working with them to fix their issues. That is not to say there is no risk for injury, but you are much more likely to get injured playing a sport than walking into a CrossFit gym. Also, be sure to check your coaches certifications before you sign any contracts. We recommend learning how to squat properly and use that as your reference to if the coach is any good or not.
Since every CrossFit affiliate is independently owned, classes may vary greatly between gyms. Typically, a CrossFit class will be about an hour long. The actual WOD will be anywhere from 2 to 30 minutes. Class will begin with a dynamic warm-up, teaching of any skills for the day, the WOD, and a cool-down. Now affiliates may call each of those sections something a little different, but will be something close to that. When you are starting CrossFit, most CrossFit affiliates will offer a beginner class series. These are also referred to as a CrossFit bootcamp, CrossFit Elements Class, CrossFit Fundamentals, CrossFit On-ramp Program, etc. They all mean the same thing. While you are starting CrossFit, more time will be spent introducing you to the movements and working on your technique before adding you to their general population. They are great!
Why are CrossFit affiliate memberships so expensive?
CrossFit memberships may appear expensive, but once you look into the service you are receiving, the rates are more than fair. Memberships typically allow for a certain number of classes a week or month. Averaging the membership out, classes will come down to costing around $10-20. This is on par with yoga classes, and when looking at what a CrossFit affiliate provides comparatively, a CrossFit membership is a much better value. Basically, CrossFit classes allow for small-group personal training where you are sharing the training fee with the other people in your class. You still receive the individual attention you need and also are not overwhelmed with someone staring just at you the whole hour. The communities this small group setting builds are amazing.
Sill a little worried about walking into a CrossFit affiliate gym and starting CrossFit?
Although there is no substitute to the personal attention you will receive in a CrossFit gym, you may want to try out some WODs on your own. Being a little biased, you should check out our site WOD at Home, which will provide you a few CrossFit WODs in which you can do at home with minimal equipment. The links to amazing educational online videos, provide fitness level substitutions, and equipment substitutions that are perfect for someone starting CrossFit.
When you are starting CrossFit, form should be your priority.
Learn the movements and become competent with them before trying to do them as fast as you can or put as much weight on the bar as possible. The CrossFit philosophy for starting CrossFit, “Competency, consistency, then, and only then, add intensity.” You cannot expect to do every rep with perfect form. “CrossFit Slop” is what CrossFitters are going for. This refers to the balance of form and intensity. CrossFitters aim for choosing weights and speeds that will allow your form to keep you safe while challenging your body. If you only do the movements perfectly, then you are not challenging yourself enough. There are a lot of haters out there who bad mouth CrossFit for not emphasizing proper form. All you need to do is go to a CrossFit affiliate and try and squat with a rounded back…someone will be on your ass immediately fixing your form.
Leaning proper form will be part of the everyday class agenda at a CrossFit affiliate. However, if you are starting CrossFit, there are also many amazing resources available to learn proper form on the movements used by CrossFit affiliates online. Here are some of our favorite online resources:
The CrossFit journal is an online resource which is updated daily with articles and videos centered around the CrossFit community. It includes inspirational stories, coaching resources, and just everything CrossFit. It is around $25 a year for a subscription and we would easily pay $200 a year for it. It is a must for anyone either starting CrossFit or looking to take their fitness to the next level.
Carl Paoli is from CrossFit San Francisco. He has a gymnastics back ground and his site provides great videos on learning the gymnastics CrossFit movements, the right way.
Jon Gilson provides a lot of videos where he dives into coaching many of the CrossFit movements in the Mic’d Instructor section. They are great for leaning the movements and learning how to coach the movements alike.
Now, CrossFit affiliates are not for everyone. For many reasons, some choose to workout at home.
Following a CrossFit workout program from your home gym or garage gym can provide many obstacles. The main issue is not having all the equipment necessary to perform the workout exercises as prescribed and trying to figure-out proper substitutions based on your fitness level. Luckily, this problem also bothered the founders of WOD at Home. To follow WOD at Home, all you need is a space to do pullups, a barbell with some weights, and a kettlebell. WOD at Home’s daily workouts are centered around this limited list of equipment for use in your home gym or garage gym. WOD at Home may occasionally program workouts requiring additional equipment, but will always provide substitution options based on the 3 required pieces of equipment mentioned above. This allows for you to not lose out on the effectiveness of the workout due to home gym or garage gym equipment or space limitations.
CREATE A WORK-OUT AREA
- Your home gym or garage gym does not have to be fancy. You just need room to move around. The space should be near your pullup bar (See below for purchasing and D.I.Y. pullup bar option).
- Get rid of all cable machines, elliptical machines, total home gym machines. These take up valuable space and do not allow for you to perform functional exercises, which are the basis for WOD at Home’s programming. Sell them on CraigsList.org to get some extra cash for more efficient and effective equipment.
- You want as flat of a surface as possible on which to lift. Garage floors, concrete patios, hard ground, etc. are the best. To upgrade your space, you can place 3/4″ rubber horse stall mats down to make for a comfortable place to work-out. Don’t bother with the cheap, puzzle piece flooring as it will just create too squishy of a base on which to lift and deteriorate quickly.
- High ceilings. The higher the better. Depending on how tall you are, you can probably get away with 8′ ceiling, but you need room to hold a barbell over your head with bumper plates on it without hitting the ceiling.
Check out this CrossFit Journal Article about the the Garage Gym http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/cfjissue1_Sep02.pdf. Keep in mind this was written with the CrossFit affiliate in mind, so like the workouts, scale down the principles to be put to use in your home gym or garage gym.
The real answer for starting CrossFit is to just get started. Give CrossFit a try at a local CrossFit Affiliate or follow WOD at Home for a daily updated program with equipment substitutions only requiring a barbell, pull-up bar, and a kettlebell.