I often get asked what is Crossfit. Here’s my potted explanation of the philosophy and jargon. Well you did ask…
- Crossfit is a “general physical preparedness” training program that defines fitness as the ability to generate maximum power (speed x weight) over broad time and modal domains (a few seconds to hours, doing (m)any activities)
- It uses elements of gymnastics (the ability to move oneself in space) , weightlifting (the ability to move other things in space) and mono-structural (running, rowing, skipping, jumping etc, the ability to move through space). Transferable functional movements are key as these use the most powerful muscles and motion patterns and can be used in many activities, and these movements are performed at high intensity (for power) and constantly varied (to be prepared for anything).
- Sessions typically last an hour, are coached in small groups of 8-12 per coach, and the main workout is the “workout of the day” or “WoD”. You normally keep track of your “score” = weight/time/repetitions for the WoD so you can track progress quantitatively. Since the WoDs are constantly varied (but not random if correctly programmed by the coach), you will only do the same WoD every few months, or maybe only once ever. Most people train 3 to 5 times per week, rest days are key too.
- The WoD is typically just 4-12 minutes but may be only a few seconds long say to achieve a maximum heavy weightlift. This is because after a few minutes of exercise the main source of body energy becomes aerobic, so the WoDs focus on training the more immediate anaerobic energy systems, the phosphagen pathway (a few seconds maximum energy) and glycolytic pathway (a few minutes high energy) as well as the crossover to aerobic energy (hours of moderate energy).
- The WoDs are done as intensely as “good form” on the movements allows (intensity = power) and usually only after 20 or more minutes of targetted warm-up, mobility and technique or strength work. While you might do some much longer workouts, Crossfit uses a lot of interval training to work aerobic capacity since intervals also boosts anaerobic capacity. Training at high intensity does put the onus on you to take responsibility, as the chance of injury is higher than say aqua-robics a low impact and relatively low intensity.
- There are some famous WoDs. “The Girls” are benchmarks and generally deceptively simple but short and brutal. “The Heroes” are generally 20-60 minutes long and brutal and commemorate servicemen who died in action. If you think “I can never finish this WoD” somewhere around the halfway mark, and start resorting to mental strength and pacing techniques to finish, you are probably doing it about right.
- WoDs typically have an “Rx” prescribed standard weight and number of repetitions, but you actually need to be very fit and strong to Rx all of your WoDs. Pretty much everyone else should be scaling the WoDs with the coaches help to lighter weights or easier movement substitutions relative to their ability.
- Since the workout style is not very compatible with your typical cardio- and weight-machine “globo” gym, Crossfit developed largely in home/garage/industrial spaces and the gym is called a “box”. Boxes typically have a lot of empty space in the middle to work out in, and around the edges pullup bars and weightlifting racks. Core equipment is lots of barbells and weight plates, plyo boxes, medicine balls, kettlebells and dumbells, jump ropes, rowing machines and gymnastics ring often lots of other stuff to play with: ropes, sandbags, strongman stuff like atlas stones. Bands, balls, PVC pipes and rollers are used for mobility and technique work.
- Crossfit didn’t invent “functional training” but has packaged it in a very effective format both of content and context. Besides the physical training method Crossfit emphasises a diet (as in “way of eating”) of quality non-processed foods and balanced macro-ingredients so many Crossfitters eat “Paleo” and/or “Zone”. Proteins and fats are not the enemy, and carbohydrates, especially high glycemic index sugars and starches are not seen as the foundation of a healthy dietary food pyramid either.
- Because of the coaching, competitive element, small groups, training frequency and intensity there is often a strong community feel about boxes. This and the fact that it is very very good at making you very fit and strong, and you keep track of progress, make it quite addictive especially if you are anyway quite driven and competitive. All of that means it has quite a love it or hate it effect on people.
- Crossfit is not a franchise, but rather a very open business branding model, and boxes can affiliate to be official Crossfit boxes for relatively little time, money or training. Not all boxes are equal so shop around and ask about the coaches experience of and before Crossfit. This is key a Crossfit done wrong can be dangerous.
- Personally, Im hooked. It helped me lose 45lbs and get fitter and stronger than I’ve ever been in my life at age 46. The fitness is functional so it’s easy to go bike, run, or ski, sprint for the bus or move furniture. I also love meeting people of all ages and backgrounds with a common interest. This includes on my travels when most boxes are super welcoming of “drop in” visitors who share this passion.