Ever since I began training at my local CrossFit - CrossFit Northern Soul, I've been asked the question 'what is it you do? cross trainer?..'. Or, it's completely misunderstood as an exercise in itself. Or even thought of as a cult!! lol I wanted to write a blog post to help break down the mystery and to give you a little insight into what goes on in my awesome CrossFit box and others' around the country, and indeed around the world.
More gritty than pretty, you won't find anyone doing the token totter on the treadmill... there are no treadmills! In fact, there are very few machines at CrossFit... we ARE the machines! You come to work and have fun with like minded folk :-D So, if you want to know your 'snatch' from your 'box' and your 'push press' from your 'clean and jerk', then read on... ;-)
CrossFit was developed by Greg Glassman, a former gymnast who began training clients out of his Santa Cruz, CA gym using this methodology. He continues to coach and train instructors to this day.
According to the training guide, the aim of CrossFit is to "forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness". The CrossFit prescription is "constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement"
Technically, functional movements are performed in combination with variances of load, distance and speed. For more on the technical side you can visit wikipedia here - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CrossFit, or theres a plethora of information on the CrossFit website - https://www.crossfit.com/what-is-crossfit.
I'm not going to get into the weeds with a technical explanation of CrossFit and the methodology. I want to tell you what CrossFit is to me.
I first walked into a CrossFit box around 9 months ago. My boyfriend does CrossFit and was always banging on about it. It sounded brilliant and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about! So, off I went in search of my nearest CrossFit. What did I find?
So, unlike gyms, the place you go to do a CrossFit workout is called a 'box'. The name reflects the fact that the average CrossFit box is just that, a box with walls, and great big rig to pull yourself up onto and for resting bars on. Then there is usually a few rowers and assault bikes also. Unlike the commercial gym there are unlikely to be any TV's or mirrors. You're there to work out and the CrossFit box strips all airs and graces back to concentrate purely on fitness and performance. Looking good is usually an incidental result ;-)
CrossFit usually builds a sense of community since you are encouraged to try your best and to encourage and congratulate others for their efforts. There is lots of encouragement during workouts from fellow CrossFitters and from the coaches. It's a great community atmosphere full of likeminded people who want to train, have fun, improve their fitness and are, (certainly in my experience) massively supportive and encouraging of everyone, at any level and of all abilities.
I've worked out in 3 CrossFit boxes - my local, my boyfriend's local CrossFit, and I've even dropped in to a CrossFit box in the US when working in Dallas. Each one has welcomed me, encouraged me and helped me to reach my goals. In essence, in my experience, it's a community of people who want to see you succeed. You will undoubtedly form lasting friendships!
So what is CrossFit?
CrossFit sessions are usually 1 hour sessions that are programmed providing the same workout for each session throughout the day. Most boxes will provide morning, afternoon and evening sessions you can either book into or drop in to depending on member numbers per box.
I like to describe what I do at CrossFit as a combination of Olympic lifting, gymnastics and circuit training. There is lots of different equipment that can be used such as skipping ropes, kettlebells, barbells, resistance bands, wall balls, flipping tyres, climbing ropes, jumping boxes/ steps, and there are probably more I haven't experienced yet!
What I love about CrossFit is that, to quote Forest, "...you never know what you're gonna get...". You don't know what the session will entail until you walk in the door, and usually the programming is a mystery for everyone attending each session throughout the day.
The daily workout is written on the whiteboard on the wall in the box, and will be split into three elements :
1. Warm up - usually relevant to the work out you're about to do so that you warm up the muscles that will be engaged.
2. Strength or skill section where you practice that skill or lift and work up to a maximum best (e.g., a 1RM = 1 rep max = the heaviest weight you can lift with good form for that particular lift)
3. And there's usually a metcon (metabolic conditioning session to me and you), which will combine strength, skill and speed.
Is it for me?
I hear this all the time. 'Oh no, that's really hardcore!' or 'I'm not fit enough!'. It's as difficult or as easy as you make it. The weights can be as heavy or as light as you want them to be. You can go at whatever speed you are happy with. CrossFit really is for anyone... you are encouraged to push yourself out of your comfort zone but are also recognised for your starting position, wherever that may be. There is always a 'scaled' option for the skills and workouts. For example, if you can't do a pull up, you will start with the easiest resistance band which will allow you to learn to do a pull up with correct form while the band takes your weight. Other examples of scaled options include:
- Box jumps scaled for either different heights of the box or jumping from an elevated position rather than from the floor.
- The required or "RX'd" weight, can be scaled so that you perform any given lift or exercise using a weight you feel comfortable with and able to manage throughout the workout.
- Handstand push-ups can be scaled back to a push-up from a box to the floor (box push-ups) or walking up the wall into a handstand push-up for a further progression.
- Double unders (a double skip - jump once for the rope to run round twice) can be scaled to double the amount of single unders (single skips).
That's why I love CrossFit, there's so much variety, always an option to work at your own pace, as everybody does, and you can monitor your improvements.
How do I know it will work?
If your goal is to improve your fitness and strength, or to develop new skills, or improve existing ones then CrossFit can help you do just that. Workouts are scored in each session with the weight you lift, or the number of reps you managed, or the time you managed to complete a WoD (workout of the day) in. Although there is an encouraging and mildly competitive spirit you are not directly competing in the daily WoDs with anyone, except yourself. My goal, at least, is to improve my fitness and master the skills. I've steadily seen my strength and my fitness levels improve in the 9 months I've been a member at CrossFit Northern Soul.
You will experience a myriad of emotions with CrossFit... frustration, anger, joy, elation, and of course, accomplishment and deep satisfaction. You are responsible here for your own fitness journey, your own comfort levels and how far you push them.
I love that I can track my personal bests on lifts and times so that I know what i'm capable of and can push myself a bit further each week. I know that there is always someone there to encourage me to try harder. Just last week the coach and a fellow CrossFitter helped me achieve an overhead lift weight that I didn't think I could as part of a WoD. It was the most awesome feeling! As was the first time I didn't finish last in a time based WoD. lol Just as it will be when I get my first RX on that whiteboard!
CrossFit is helping me get fitter, stronger and as a result I feel mentally more capable in other areas of my life. It's also great fun!
Will I be great at CrossFit?
You may be great at some things and you may suck at others. Get used to, and comfortable with, being the last to finish because it happens! And you know what? It's not so bad! Being in a room with half a dozen people shouting encouragement, willing you to go on, and helping you to finish a WoD is a great feeling. It's exhilarating to complete something difficult that pushes you out of your comfort zone. It's awesome to achieve things you never thought possible!
The coaches are approachable and are keen to help you learn and understand how to improve your form - don't be afraid of asking. My memory is rubbish! I don't have a great deal of time to practice the lifts enough so am always asking for a form check during WoDs. The coaches will watch you and give you prompts and pointers to ensure you're lifting safely.
You will have time, guidance and encouragement to improve your strength and hone your skills overtime with qualified coaches who know how to spot and correct incorrect form. They are there to teach you the fundamental movements before you begin to lift any real weight. Some boxes even offer beginner classes to teach you outside of the WoDs how to perform the fundamental lifting movements and practice your technique. There is even a CrossFit kids! My 9 year old Son loves it!
Although you might not be able to RX everything and be brilliant at everything, there are so many skills to master that you're guaranteed to find something that you're great at!
Some of the jargon demystified...
WoD - Workout of the Day
Box - CrossFit gym
RX - to complete the exercise or workout as prescribed
AMRAP - As many rounds as possible
FT - For time
ATG - Ass to grass (when squatting to ensure you are as deep in the squat as you can be, at the bottom of your squat)
If you want to delve further in to the shorthand for all of the exercises then there are a couple of good resources below which decipher the terminology used :-)
It really depends on the location and on the type of membership you want. Many boxes offer drop in sessions for a one off fee, a block of 10 sessions for example, or a monthly membership committed or non-committed. The average price of a CrossFit monthly membership is around the same price as a good gym I'd say.
Would I recommend CrossFit?
Hell yes! For lots of different reasons,. Combined with good nutrition I'd recommend it for weight loss, or to increase strength, or to improve fitness, and for fun. Yes! I said for fun!
I hope I've managed to demystify the phenomenon that is CrossFit. I recently read the phrase "CrossFit might not be for everyone, but it really is for anyone". I love that. There are so many ways to challenge yourself and so many varied workouts that I'd defy anyone not to find something they love about CrossFit.