“The magic is in the movement
The art is in the programming
The science is in the explanation
And the fun is in the community”
Greg Glassman – Founder of CrossFit
I started going to the gym when I was 19 with the same old excuse: I wasn’t happy in my skin and wanted to lose some weight. I never liked sports as a kid so I started to do classes at my local gym. Following this initial interest, I discovered I really liked lifting weights so when I heard about this new thing called CrossFit which involved doing just that, I was intrigued. With the concept built around Olympic lifts, I went to check it out and I was hooked from the get go.
Going to a CrossFit gym can be quite a daunting experience, especially if you are new to exercise. Some guys take their shirt off before the workout has even started and watching them throw 100 kgs around like it’s nothing can be intimidating at best, and off-putting at worst. If you recognise this in yourself, I would encourage you to at least give it a go. Try to forget what anyone else is doing, and just be ready to give it your all. Exercise is like nutrition, there is no one size fits all. There’s more than one right way to do it, you just need to find out what works best for you and your goals.
So what is CrossFit and is it for you?
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is actually a trademark. The company was founded by Greg Glassman with the aim of quantifying and measuring fitness. CrossFit set standards for how an exercise should be performed correctly. Before CrossFit there was no method of standardisation like it and therefore measuring progress was not as easy. CrossFit is a way of training that incorporates elements from Olympic lifting, endurance training and gymnastics. It’s all about creating workouts that are measurable and repeatable. Every workout has a recommended weight or intensity for men and women called “RX”, but there is always a ‘scaled down’ option available. This is to ensure anyone can do the workout at their own level.
Each workout is different everyday but there are several benchmark workouts created that every CrossFitter knows and regularly does to measure their progress. This includes the so called “girls”: workouts with names like Grace, Fran and Diane. The CrossFit Open is an annual 5-week event at which a new workout is released every week. Anyone can enter and you can submit your scores online and compare them with everyone who’s entered worldwide. The top athletes can enter the CrossFit Games to compete for the title “fittest on earth”.
Give it a try because...
It is very difficult to consistently do CrossFit and not get fit. However, this is true for any well designed training programme. The added benefit of CrossFit is that you’ll get the community and coaching that comes with it for help and support.
CrossFit teaches you how to lift properly and you’ll learn new movements that most people would never challenge themselves with. CrossFit is by definition about standardising and measuring correct form. They determine what correct form is, to the extent that you will in fact get “no-repped” if you’re not doing the exercise with good form, meaning the movement does not count and you’ll need to do it again to complete the workout.
You’ll also learn some cool movements like the clean and Jerk, snatch and double unders. These movements can prove tricky to master alone, and can be potentially dangerous without coaching. This keeps training interesting and it is incredibly motivating once you begin to see the progress.
So maybe now you’re thinking, “that’s nice and all, but I can also just learn all that with a PT, I still don’t see the point”. Whilst this is valid, my number one reason for recommending CrossFit to people is not because of the specific moves you learn to execute or even the level of fitness you achieve, because there are other ways of doing that. The standout benefit for me is the community that comes with it. CrossFit gyms form strong communities that support each other inside and outside of the gym. If you struggle to keep motivated to go to the gym this could be your solution. For some reason it’s much easier to push yourself harder and crush your PB’s (Personal Best’s) when there are 10 people cheering you on and often the more experienced CrossFitters help out the newbies, so instead of one coach, you might have 5. I’d be impressed if you don’t make new friends after joining a CrossFit gym. Especially if you are not very experienced like I was when I first started doing it, I suggest you give it a try. For me, CrossFit was the reason I became serious about lifting. Even though weightlifting and running form the core of my training now. Six years later I still do a class almost every week.
As previously mentioned, there is no such thing as “one size fits all”, so for some people CrossFit may not be the way to Rome. If your main fitness goal is muscle gain it’s probably not for you. There’s a reason bodybuilders and CrossFitters have endless arguments about the difference between a kipping pull-up and a strict pull-up. It’s 2 different exercises with a different purpose. Bodybuilding and CrossFit focus on very different goals. Bodybuilding is aimed at aesthetics, gaining lots of muscle with little fat and the way your body looks, not necessarily how strong or fit it is. Although there is a correlation between the two, CrossFit is performance-based training aimed at improving fitness, not the size of your biceps. You will probably get leaner and put on muscle from doing CrossFit but it’s not the main goal. You won’t find bicep curls in a CrossFit workout and doing CrossFit 6 times per week is not going to get you on the WBFF stage.
You cannot lift without your ego. CrossFit has a bit of a bad rep in regards to getting injuries. Yes, there is some more risk involved in doing a snatch (bar from the floor to an overhead position in one go) than doing air squats, because it’s a more complex movement which requires more skill. In my opinion, people injure themselves when they have some experience lifting and they can’t let go of that when learning new things in CrossFit. This results in them picking too much weight without having the technique yet. If you can deadlift 100kg it might feel like you’re back to square one if you start snatching with just the bar (which is 20kg). If your ego gets in the way, you might want to skip to stay safe.
Furthermore, most CrossFit gyms tend to be quite a bit more expensive than the average gym. This is in part because each gym needs to pay a fee to be allowed to carry the CrossFit trademark and trainers need to do several instructor training courses which aren’t cheap either. Therefore, most gyms have prices that start around £100 or more, and then you’re allowed to come only once or twice a week. It’s more if you want to have unlimited access. Having said that, you may need to ask yourself where your priorities lie. Many of us can spend £100 on a night out easily without giving it much thought.
Regardless of everything I’ve just said, there’s only one way to find out whether CrossFit is for you or not and that is to just give it a go. I would say CrossFit can certainly become anyone’s thing and that it is suitable for all levels. You may not be able to snatch 50 kg on day one but that is not expected of you, nor advisable. There is always an option to scale the workout down to meet your level. Some gyms also make you do some sort of induction or a beginner’s crash course to get you up to speed with the movements and terminology if you are very new. It’s also not a magic bullet, I still can’t do a ring muscle up but I can clean and jerk my own bodyweight. The gymnastics part has never been one of my strengths but that’s part of the reason it’s still interesting for me.
What CrossFit can do is help you push yourself past the limits of what you think you can do, teach you new skills, improve your fitness and get you some new friends along the way.
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Disclaimer: FYI I am in no way paid or associated with CrossFit. This is just me talking about my experiences.