Have you spent months — or even years — slogging away in the gym only to see your fitness level remain the same, despite your consistent efforts? Do you long for a workout that would propel your fitness level forward, improving not just what your body looks like, but also what it can actually do? If you’re looking to break free from your fitness rut, then CrossFit may offer a solution.

What Exactly Is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a multi-disciplinary fitness program that focuses on developing functional fitness through various high-intensity exercise elements. CrossFit’s program is designed to not just develop your muscles, but to improve your muscles’ ability to actually perform useful functions. That’s why it’s a popular training method for military and service professionals, like police officers and firefighters.

What started as a local gym business has grown into a global movement with over 12,000 CrossFit-associated gyms operating worldwide. It has even become an actual sport itself, with the CrossFit Games competition growing in popularity each year.

Common CrossFit exercises include burpees, mountain climbers, box jumps, jump squats, jump rope, running, deadlifts, pull-ups, push ups, kettlebell swings, tire flips, and a variety of ab exercises, just to name a few.

These exercises require various equipment, including jump ropes, gymnastics rings, barbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, plyo boxes, and resistance bands, among others. Through its unique program, CrossFit develops strength, flexibility, agility, stamina, coordination, balance, and power in its participants.

How To Get Started

If you’re looking for an intro to CrossFit, the best way is to visit a local gym and experience it for yourself. But before you go, here are a few things you should know:

Get ready to get your WOD on.

CrossFit refers to its workouts as WODs — Workout of the Day. When you arrive to the gym, your coach will have posted the WOD. Each WOD seeks to be functional, varied, and intense. CrossFit WODs have so many options, it’s possible you may never do the same workout twice.

CrossFit emphasizes its lack of specialization. As a result, workouts are broad and varied, incorporating various strength-based and high-intensity elements structured in creative sets and repetitions, including EMOM — Every Minute on the Minute — and AMRAP — As Many Rounds As Possible.

While your WOD may only last 20-30 minutes, it will pack as much activity into that time as possible. Each CrossFit workout will begin with a warmup and end with a cool down, with your WOD performed in between. Most CrossFit participants perform WODs up to 3-5 times per week, as their bodies and schedules allow.

HIIT workouts deliver results.

Many of CrossFit’s workouts incorporate High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which involves performing interval sets of various exercises at maximum intensity for short periods of time, but with limited recovery time in between. Studies have indicated HIIT training through CrossFit can help improve aerobic capacity by over 13% in men and 11% in women and significantly improve muscle endurance. In addition, it helps reduce blood pressure and lower body fat.

Even just a short amount of high-intensity exercise each week can lead to improved cardiovascular health. Whether you’re doing burpees, mountain climbers, box jumps, or jump squats, CrossFit’s HIIT programs can help propel your fitness forward.

Find the box that’s right for you.

CrossFit calls its gyms “boxes.” Your CrossFit experience can vary, depending on your Box. CrossFit encourages a community environment in its Boxes, with participants of all ages, shapes, and abilities performing beside one another, cheering each other’s victories and pushing one another forward. Make sure you find a Box that’s a good fit for you.

You will also want to assess the quality of your Box’s coach and trainers, as they design your program, set your WODs, and oversee your workout. Make sure your trainers have the right qualifications from CrossFit.

You’ll still need to workout outside of CrossFit to meet your fitness goals.

While CrossFit training can dramatically improve your strength and fitness, you will still need to train outside of CrossFit to reach your specific athletic goals.

If your goal is to complete a Century bike ride (100 miles!), then you’ll also need to log a ton of miles on your bike each week. While CrossFit can help improve your strength and increase your aerobic capacity, all of which will help you on the bike, it won’t actually train you to ride a bike.

Whatever your goal, use CrossFit as a supplement to your training, not as a replacement for it. If your goal is simply to get fit, fast, and healthy, then CrossFit alone may suffice. Consult your trainer and your doctor before making this decision.

CrossFit training can lead to injury.

While CrossFit can lead to great gains in fitness, its focus on intensity can also lead to injury. One 2013 study indicated up to 75% of CrossFit participants sustained some type of injury during their training, with lower back and knee injuries proving the most common.

CrossFit injuries often occur because of overuse, as muscles and joints work hard to push beyond their max, day after day. Other injuries can occur because of compensation. If your left knee gets injured, you may depend more on your right knee to help you get the job done, placing unhealthy pressure on the right knee, which results in additional injury.

Other cases of CrossFit injury have proven more serious, even leading to death — or near death, in some cases — as athletes push themselves and their muscles to dangerous levels, leading them to develop rhabdomyolysis, a condition where the muscle fibers break down and release into the blood stream, shutting down the kidneys.

WODs are designed for adaptation and scalability; for beginners to professional athletes. Everyone does the same WOD. You don’t have to do as many reps as fast as your training partners. You don’t have to perform an exercise if it hurts you, as it can lead to injury and set backs in training. Remain in tune with your body, and do what’s right for you to avoid injury.

CrossFit is not for everyone.

It just isn’t. While certain elements of CrossFit can prove useful for a variety of fitness levels, not everyone will thrive in a CrossFit program. Some may find the intensity too high, while others will not perform well in the community environment. Although CrossFit is designed for athletes of all ages and abilities, this does not guarantee that it will prove a good fit for you. And that’s ok!

Sources:

https://www.sciencenews.org/blog/scicurious/high-intensity-interval-training-has-great-gains-%E2%80%94-and-pain

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0065382

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24276294

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2325967114531177#ref-18

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4365849/