"What is CrossFit, and Can I Do it?"
Updated: Aug 4
You might be wondering what CrossFit is, where has it come from, what it 's all about, and can you do it too?
Is it a gym? Is it a workout? Is it a brand?
One of the common (perhaps even the 'official') definitions of CrossFit is:
"constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity"
...That probably doesn't help much, right?
What is it?
CrossFit is basically a brand, a trade mark.
The movements that form CrossFit workouts are not created or 'owned' by CrossFit. These are exercises you'd find in other workouts (such as squats, pull ups, or burpees), but programmed in a way that makes it CrossFit. It is a style of training using a variety of training methods with the overall aim of being fit across disciplines. So it doesn't just set out to get you stronger, or faster.. it's everything.
There is said to be ten components of fitness. These generally comprise;
CARDIOVASCULAR ENDURANCE: The ability of the body systems to gather, transfer and process oxygen.
STAMINA: The ability of the body to process, store, deliver, and utilize energy.
STRENGTH: The ability of a muscular unit or a group of muscular units to apply force.
FLEXIBILITY: The ability of maximizing range of motion at a given joint.
POWER: The ability of a muscular unit or a group of muscular units to apply maximum force in a minimum amount of time.
SPEED: The ability to minimize the time cycle of a given movement.
AGILITY: The ability to minimize transition time between one movement pattern and another.
COORDINATION: The ability to combine many distinct movement patters into one precise motion.
BALANCE: The ability to control the placement of the bodies’ center of gravity in its relation to its support base.
ACCURACY: The ability to control a movement in a given direction and at a given intensity
Okay I know this sounds like a lot, but basically all it means that in CrossFit you do varied movements all-together to help you get 'fitter' all-round.
The WODs (Workout of the Day) usually have regular human names (mostly female) - they say it's the same idea as how they name storms.. Apt. Other WODs ("Hero WODs") are named after service personnel who have lost their lives in combat.. And others just have random names too.
Isn't it just for super-fit people?
CrossFit has evolved a lot over the years.
It's a fact that the 'image' of CrossFit as a hardcore workout exclusively for super-fit people is the one that sticks with many people. The slogan Forging Elite Fitness kind of backs that up too. The glitzy promotional material for the CrossFit Games flaunting almost superhuman athletes also kinda seals the deal.
If you go on the CrossFit website today though, and even their social media channels, the focus is less on the 'elitism' and more about the 'accessibility' of it. Their site describes CrossFit as;
"A lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. CrossFit can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to weight loss to better performance. The program works for everyone—people who are just starting out and people who have trained for years."
So CrossFit is about workouts, but also lifestyle and community too.
As a 'customer' of CrossFit, I would say that there has been a definite shift in the marketing of CrossFit in the last couple of years toward making it more available to people of varying abilities. When I wanted to join CrossFit, I was worried I 'wouldn't be fit enough', I couldn't have been more wrong. I have seen a considerable number of people who - yes, are beyond fitter than myself - but also people from other walks of life that modify the workouts to suit their own needs. Personally, I believe that anyone and everyone should exercise, and the variety of CrossFit is valuable.
Let's go back to that original definition. The three components of that definition can still be applied;
"constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity"
constantly varied going back to the idea of improving fitness as a whole and challenging different physiological systems in our bodies.
functional movements using 'everyday movements' to enhance efficiency in life. Developing upon simple movements like squatting (sitting) and burpees (getting from horizontal to vertical) to replicate life-like scenarios and improve competency.
high intensity probably the sticking point for many but in reality 'high intensity' is a fluid term. For example, everyone's 'high intensity' will look different. Similarly, one person's high-intensity will change as they get fitter too. CrossFit workouts are usually scaled to suit the individual, whilst being executed in a way that is challenging, yet safe, for them.
Depending on the venue and its members, CrossFit workouts are usually always scaled (modified) so that they can be completed successfully and safely. Find out more about that here,
Am I going to get bulky from doing CrossFit?
Well, honestly, if that's your goal then yes, you could gain a lot of muscle by doing CrossFit. In using the term 'bulky' I refer to large, defined muscles (I actually hate that term, but anyway...)
Generally speaking though, attending CrossFit WODs is not likely to make you 'bulky'. Lifting heavy weights (often) will do that. BUT in saying that, any exercise programme that involves strength training coupled with fat loss will likely result in that outcome too.
I think this is the association that many people make with CrossFit as they have likely seen footage or promotional material of the elite-level athletes who compete in the CrossFit Games. The assumption is that if you do CrossFit you will end up with physiques to match theirs.. and it's probably because CrossFit is still an unknown, a 'dark art', to many people.
To that I will respond by saying that these are in fact the highest level competitors in this 'sport'. The athletes (also, it may be worth looking up the definition of the word athlete to reinforce that understanding) who qualify for the CrossFit Games compete for the title Fittest in the World. They live and breathe to compete for that status. Three 60 min classes a week at your local box is not likely to send you to the dizzying heights of The Games.
Think of it this way, CrossFit athletes competing at the CrossFit Games is essentially their Olympic Games. Olympic athletes train for their sport too, and are the very best in their field. Same idea. The difference is that Olympic athletes will train to a specific discipline, whereas CrossFit athletes have to prepare for all disciplines to compete across four days. Here is the event list for the 2019 CrossFit Games. And if this wasn't enough of a test, the athletes often won't find out what the events are until they are revealed at The Games itself.
Doesn't CrossFit have a high rate of injury?
Honestly, I don't know the statistics. There has been a level of study into this though. One research paper concluded that current evidence suggests the injury risk from CrossFit training is comparable to Olympic weightlifting, distance running, track and field, rugby, football, ice hockey, soccer, or gymnastics.
Based on a similar question asked in a Chasing Excellence podcast, I believe part of the answer given was that the volume involved in CrossFit workouts (usually a high number of repetitions / heavy weight) could be a considering factor in increasing the risk of injury. For example, if you have to do 100 repetitions of a single movement as part of a workout you may be increasing your risk of injury if you would normally only do 20 repetitions. Scaling appropriately can mitigate that risk though. The workouts are designed to be effective - not injure you.
Again, personally, I think a lot of this prejudice comes from the unknown. There are often scaremongering click-bait articles floating around about how dangerous it is - coupled with a good few blooper complications CrossFit mishaps... Probably doesn't help!
Do You Do CrossFit?
I moved to Perth toward the end of 2019 and I joined our local box, Claymore CrossFit, in January 2020. I began attending classes each week until Lockdown happened in mid/late March and have occasionally been taking part in home WODs with the coaches.
So, yes, I do CrossFit but I am very new at it.. I wouldn't even consider myself a 'CrossFitter' at this stage but I really enjoy it.
During 2019 I also trained with Duncan, who launched his own box in 2020 as well, CrossFit Emergence in Aberdeen. He trained me to compete in an obstacle course race, which involved multiple training disciplines, so he also used CrossFit-style training to improve my abilities.
I scale most, if not all, WODs. I can't do butterfly pull-ups (I can barely kip), I can't do a muscle up. I don't lift heavy. I can't do handstand walks or push-ups. I still can't do double-unders. I still get a great workout though and hopefully over time I can begin to progress to each of these moves - to be honest though I'm not hell-bent on being able to do all of the high-level movements if there is still something I can do as an alternative that challenges me!
So can I do CrossFit?
The simple answer is yes, anyone can.
With a good coach there is no reason why anyone cannot do CrossFit for the reasons outlined above.
Take a look at the benchmark WODs and, for example, check out Chelsea or Annie. There are workouts you could probably do just now at home, right? Whereas others are more complex (Note: I would strongly advise that you attend formal classes/ training with a coach before attempting CrossFit workouts).
Some of these acronyms may mean nothing to you! But, if you train in classes or with a coach, chances are you will have done similar methods;
EMOM (Every Minute On the Minute) or E2MOM (Every 2 Minutes...)
AMRAP 20 (As Many Rounds as Possible, 20 minutes)
AFAP/ For Time (As Fast As Possible)
RX means recommended/ prescribed weight for that workout, a benchmark. Many participants may not meet that benchmark for some time.
The Wrap Up
I hope this has answered some of your questions and deshrouded some of the mystery about CrossFit. When I'm asked what CrossFit is, it's quite hard to explain and as you can see there's a lot to talk about!
All in all, I really like being a CrossFit participant and genuinely, there are people from all walks of life and ability that attend my box too and that makes it enjoyable to do. Our coaches make sure it is an inclusive environment where we support each other. With any kind of exercise, it really depends on the environment and coaches - and usually if people have a bad experience it could be down to those factors rather than the activity itself. But, everyone is different!
I'd be interested to hear about your own CrossFit experience if you have one, or talk about it more if you are interested or have questions. Find me on Instagram!