What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a core strength and conditioning program that consists of ⅓ weightlifting, ⅓ gymnastics, and ⅓ metabolic conditioning (cardio). CF uses compound movements and high intensity cardiovascular sessions to elicit a physical response as well as improve in the ten recognized fitness domains.
These domains are:
- Cardiovascular/Respiratory Endurance: The ability of body systems to gather, process and deliver oxygen
- Stamina: The ability of body systems to gather, process, store, and utilize energy
- Strength: The ability of muscular unit, or combination, to apply force
- Flexibility: The ability to maximize range of motion of a given joint
- Power: The ability of muscular unit, or combination, to apply max force in min time
- Speed: The ability to minimize the time cycle of a repeated movement
- Coordination: The ability to combine several distinct movement patterns into a singular distinct movement
- Agility: The ability to minimize transition time from one movement pattern to another
- Balance: The ability to control placement of bodies center of gravity in related to its support base
- Accuracy: The ability to control movement in a given direction or at a given intensity
Prepare for the ‘Unknown’
CrossFit’s popular tag line is to “specialize in not specializing.” The theory is that the specialist is punished when unknown physical demands arise because the specialist is only prepared for a specific set of modality(s) whilst a generalist will be better prepared for the unknown because of a more spread out skill set.
The goal is to achieve Elite fitness as an overall unit. This would mean that you strive to be very good in the 10 fitness domains but not world-class in just one, two, or anything else specific.
As a result of this focus (or lack-of), CF asserts that you will achieve world-class fitness overall and will be fitter than other athletes that only specialize. I have found this assertion to be true when tested on hundreds of clients. This is partly due to the fact that most athletes have so many weaknesses and imbalances, and also because training CF is freaking awesome at improving overall fitness.
You will not be stronger than a powerlifter, or be able to produce more power than a football player, but you will be more ‘fit’ than both.
Once again, the goal is “Elite Fitness.”
Because of the assertions that CrossFit HQ has made about its methodology compared to other fitness programs, it has received a lot of criticism and even downright hatred from others in the fitness community. Many call it a quote and make fun of our kipping pull-ups. This is typical of anything that pokes the status quo and unfortunately those set in their ways are closed minded to other programs that could potentially help them. It has become part of the CrossFit brand to be renegade like, or different.
You Should Start Today and Yes Bring Your Mom
I personally believe that everyone can, and should do CrossFit in some capacity. CrossFit is universally scalable to any age or fitness level despite popular misconception about it being too hard or too extreme for average people. Everyone can and should do CF. It’s a great way to get fit.
If you are an athlete in a specific sport I recommend you train CrossFit as a base level of fitness using it’s GPP (general physical preparedness) aspects to achieve overall fitness, while also training your sport-focused modalities. This will make you fitter, faster, stronger, and fundamentally better at your sport.
The combination of the two has created some crazy beast athletes. MMA fighters, Baseball players, Football players, and thousands of other athletes have benefited from a sport-focused CF program. Military, Police, Law Enforcement, and first responders become more overall fit and ready for their job by preparing for the “unknown.”
We Call It Metabolic Conditioning, Everyone Else Calls It Cardio
CrossFit’s metabolic conditioning, or cardio, consists of high intensity circuit training performed in a repeatable and measurable format. These workouts are called WOD’s, which is short for Workout Of The Day as made popular by CrossFit.com’s blog. Each day there is a new WOD posted to the blog for the world to see. The comments section is a place to post results, compare with others around the world, and keep a workout log all the same.
World-Class Fitness in 100 words By Greg Glassman:
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds,
some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep
intake to levels that will support exercise but
not body fat.
Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean,
squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly,
master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups,
dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to
handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds.
Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast.
Five or six days per week mix these elements
in as many combinations and patterns
as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy.
Keep workouts short and intense.
Regularly learn and play new sports.
The Three Fitness Standards
CrossFit uses 3 standards for evaluating fitness and a program. These include:
1. You are as fit as you are competent in the 10 general Physical skills – A program is as effective as it is at improving these 10 physical skills.
There are ten recognized general physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
“Importantly, improvements in endurance, stamina, strength, and flexibility come about through training. Training refers to activity that improves performance through a measurable organic change in the body. By contrast improvements in coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy come about through practice. Practice refers to activity that improves performance through changes in the nervous system. Power and speed are adaptations of both training and practice.”
2. Fitness is about performing well at any task imaginable
The essence of this model is the view that fitness is about performing well at any and every task imaginable. Your capacity to perform well at a random task compared to other individuals is another guiding principle of the CF method.
“The implication here is that fitness requires an ability to perform well at all tasks, even unfamiliar tasks, tasks combined in infinitely varying combinations. In practice this encourages the athlete to disinvest in any set notions of sets, rest periods, reps, exercises, order of exercises, routines, periodization, etc. Nature frequently provides largely unforeseeable challenges; train for that by striving to keep the training stimulus broad and constantly varied.”
3. Total Fitness must include training and competency in each metabolic pathway
The three metabolic pathways that provide energy for human action include:
Phosphagen: Highest Powered Activities Less than 10 seconds
Glycolytic: Moderate Powered = Few minutes
Oxidative: low-powered = more than few minutes
Total fitness, the fitness that CrossFit promotes and develops, requires
competency and training in each of these three pathways or engines.
Balancing the effects of these three pathways largely determines the
how and why of the metabolic conditioning or “cardio” that we do at
Favoring one or two to the exclusion of the others and not recognizing
the impact of excessive training in the oxidative pathway are arguably
the two most common faults in fitness training
The Wellness Continuum
CrossFit believes that a fitness regimen should support health (I agree). This is a peeve subject of mine that has developed from running a gym for over 5 years. I see clients that beat themselves up on a regular basis. They avoid proper recovery, nutrition, weakness training, and mobility. And it definitely cuts into their health as a result.
CrossFit is brutally effective while also brutal. It’s very easy to overtrain. Human mentality is usually one that believes more is better. Unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth for a high-intensity training program (or nearly any fitness program for that matter). When training CF on a pure level without drugs I believe that there is a large emphasis on genetics in determining the better performing athletes. The point here is that many zealous CrossFitters try to be the next Rich Fronning or Annie Thorsdittor and my assertion is that there is a reason they each won the last two CrossFit games back to back.
These athletes have heart and they train full-time as a profession. They are also blessed with favorable genetics.
With that being said, I wish more athletes would listen to their body’s, spend ample time recovering actively and safely, and have a strict diet and supplement routine. What athletes fall into is the “more is better” mindset trap. Train 7 days a week while eating a shitty diet, drinking gluten-filled beer, not sleeping enough; all with the hope of overcoming the bad habits by training more and training harder. It just isn’t going to happen.
Any training stimuli is a stress to the body. It can be a good stress when balanced with rest and recovery. It can be a bad stress when piled on without a chance to repair the body through proper rest and nutrition.
I know I have digressed but please take my advice: Eat better, Sleep more, Recovery Actively, And Listen To Your Body!!!
There is another aspect to the CrossFit brand of fitness that is of great interest and immense value to us. We have observed that nearly every measurable value of health can be placed on a continuum that ranges from sickness to wellness to fitness. See table above. Though tougher to measure, we would even add mental health to this observation. Depression is clearly mitigated by proper diet and exercise, i.e., genuine fitness.
For example, a blood pressure of 160/95 is pathological, 120/70 is normal or healthy, and 105/55 is consistent with an athlete’s blood pressure; a body fat of 40% is pathological, 20% is normal or healthy, and 10% is fit. We observe a similar ordering for bone density, triglycerides, muscle mass, flexibility, HDL or “good cholesterol”, resting heart rate, and dozens of other common measures of health. Many authorities (e.g. Mel Siff, the NSCA) make a clear distinction between health and fitness. Frequently they cite studies that suggest that the fit may not be health protected. A close look at the supporting evidence invariably reveals the studied group is endurance athletes and, we suspect, endurance athletes on a dangerous fad diet (high carb, low fat, low protein).
Done right, fitness provides a great margin of protection against the ravages of time and disease. Where you find otherwise examine the fitness protocol, especially diet. Fitness is and should be “super-wellness.” Sickness, wellness, and fitness are measures of the same entity. A fitness regimen that doesn’t support health is not CrossFit.
How To Start Training
I recommend those that are new to CF find a local CrossFit Affiliate for proper and safe instruction of the program. A CrossFit Affiliate is a licensed and affiliated CrossFit gym that follows the CrossFit methodology to get clients fit. These gyms are not regulated by CrossFit HQ other than use of the name so it’s best to shop around and find one you like.
Because of this ‘affiliate’ status, CF gyms cannot be regulated by the parent company other than the use of the trademarked name. Think of an affiliate as mom/pop business that uses the CF name. The gym is an exact reflection of the habits, knowledge experience, and choices made by the owner. This ist why there is a huge difference in quality from affiliate to affiliate. Because there is no ‘corporate’ control to regulate what gyms do or don’t do, CrossFit has received a lot of criticism.
CrossFit has experienced massive growth due to this affiliate model in which budding entrepreneurs apply for ‘affiliation’ and pay a fee. This allows them to to open a gym and slap the CrossFit name on it’s door. Applications must pay $1000 for a level one certification before being able to apply for affiliation. From there they can submit a application, and if approved, are able to use the CrossFit name and must pay a licensing fee to HQ every year for use of the name (might have gone up since I became an affiliate so don’t quote me on that).
I co-own CrossFit Estero and I believe that anyone interested in training CF should join a quality affiliate in their local area. The key is to test all of your options, ask questions, and make an educated decision on the best gym for you. Check this guide out for choosing a box.
The Affiliate, Box, Or Gym
At an Affiliate you will join a community of motivated people that are all working towards personal goals. These people are motivated, friendly, and helpful. A big part of sticking to a fitness program is accountability. When you join a Box, you assimilate yourself into the Box community and you start becoming accountable to your peers. They will call you, text you, and check up on Facebook to find out if you are going to “WOD today.” This is SO powerful to sticking with the program.
The second reason I recommend everyone join an affiliate is safety and coaching. You will receive instruction, coaching, and guidance through WOD’s and ultimately towards your goals. The coaches and staff of a Box are your support team.
The staff of any quality Box are there to make sure you do the movements properly, safely, effectively, and completely. They will help you stay on your diet. They will help you with your mobility. They want to see you succeed and will personally invest into your results.
I have seen lives transformed this way and it is why I love doing what I do:
I want to help as many people find CF and Paleo as I can.
I live and breathe this lifestyle and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Take it from me, it can change your life. You only live once, and my personal opinion is that everyone should be the best they can both physically and mentally. I have found no better formula than CrossFit and Paleo. Enough said.
Experienced athletes can jump into following the main page WOD’s if they have previous weightlifting and training experience. The Workout page provide valuable information on the exercises and explanations of the terminology. Youtube also has any exercise imaginable for detailed explanations of certain movements.
*Take your time and learn the movements with proper form. This is very important!
Check out these CrossFit Journal Free PDF downloads:
The Garage Gym For Experienced Athletes
What you know as a gym is probably not the same as what I know. My version of a gym has lots of floor space, the necessary equipment and nothing more. The floors and bathrooms are clean. The staff knows what they’re doing and help you reach your goals.
I can choose my own music. I don’t have to wait for equipment because I can take my equipment anywhere I want, even outside. I know everyone else in the gym at any given moment. I greet other members, we help each other, motivate each other, and there is no judgement or ego.
I can yell, scream, curse, and drop weights. I can jump on top of things or over things if it so pleases me.
This is a CrossFit gym. This is my training home.
Take the opposite of everything I just said and you will have a typical big-box corporate gym. People stare at each other, you don’t know anyone and no one knows you. People secretly (sometimes not secretly) judge your form, your looks, and your outfit (ladies).
Everyone seems to have an ego and only the select few gym-rats know each other by name. The gym rules ban any kind of serious training. Dropping weights is strictly forbidden, deadlifting is usually forbidden.
This gym lacks real training equipment such as bumper plates, rings, parallel bars, climbing ropes, plyo boxes, and most functional equipment.
This is what we call a Globo-gym and unfortunately you cannot perform a safe and effective CrossFit workout in this type of gym.
What is the solution?
A Garage Gym: A Box: A warehouse filled with equipment
A CrossFit gym is usually called a “Box” because it is a square or rectangle warehouse with lots of floor space and functional equipment lining it’s corners and walls. There are no machines other than a few rowers or possibly a glute-ham raise/developer. There are kettlebells, bumper plates, Olympic bars, rings, climbing devices, and other functional training equipment.
You will find all the necessary equipment to complete a CrossFit program in most local CrossFit gyms (most, not all). I recommend anyone interested in CrossFit training, aka changing your life, join a local affiliate for all the reasons mentioned above: coaching, community, camaraderie, accountability, it’s simply awesome, etc.
But for those that don’t have access to a local gym it is possible to build a basic garage gym with a few pieces of equipment…
The Basic Garage Gym Setup
1. A Pull-up Bar $150
The pull-up bar is a beast of a training tool. It is beautifully simple, fixed, and effective. New people will only use it for one reason, the pull-up. As you get more advanced, the training opportunities open up: skin-the-cat, inverted rows, bar muscle-ups, forward roll to support, and many other gymnastic type movements. You can also hang a set of rings or a rope from it.
*simply hanging from a pull-up bar by the hands is a useful exercise and stretch.
2. A Olympic barbell and set of bumper plates ~$500
This is the most expensive purchase for your garage gym and rightly so. You will likely use this set every single workout. It will be your go-to piece of equipment for getting strong and fit. Rogue is my favorite brand: Rogue Bar
*A possible sub for the barbell set is a dumbbell set of 5’s to 45’s (or heavier for you bigger males). You can mimic any barbell movement with a set of dumbbells, but for the long run you want a barbell set because of it’s heavy loading abilities and the fact that you can do the Olympic lifts (clean/jerk, snatch).
3. A set of gymnastic Rings ~$80
If you are a self-learner and not too heavy for your size, I would recommend a hanging set of rings as the most important piece of training equipment there is. If you could choose only one piece of training equipment, or if you are on a budget, get a set of wooden gymnastic rings.
Two things to note here:
1. You must learn the proper movements and spend time practicing them. It will take time to develop the strength to do advanced movements such as muscle-ups, and forward rolls to support, etc.
2. You must have a reasonable strength to bodyweight ratio, or be lighter overall, because of the difficult of training on a set of rings. As you may have noticed, male gymnastics are not tall or big. It is difficult for bigger people to train on the rings past a ring pull-up or static support hold.
World-Class Fitness For $750 If…
Overall this setup will cost you about $750. If you are on a budget, buy the barbell set first and then the rings/pull-up station.
WARNING: I must warn you…if you are not a self-motivated person, don’t buy any of this (except maybe some rings). If you can’t make a commitment to yourself to train 3-5 days a week for eternity, or if you think you will struggle with it, than go find a local affiliate! You will save yourself time, hassle, and money by finding a gym that will keep you accountable.
Athletes Love Their Gear
Around the holidays I like to find gifts for people that they will actually use. luckily all of my friends and family are CrossFitter’s so finding something for them should be a cinch. There is no better gift to give a CrossFitter than a CrossFit related gift; preferably something that they will use over and over again. CrossFitter’s tend to be habits of nature and any tool that is used in their routine will get a ton of action. This is the best kind of gift in my opinion. No one likes useless crap that gets tucked in a box or drawer left to die.
Fitness clothing companies have been booming the past few years in conjunction with the meteoric rise of the sport and method. ReeBok has come on board as the official CrossFit sponsor and created an entire product line called CrossFit ReeBok.
Some top clothing brands for CrossFitter’s:
Lululemon Athletica – I have spent way too much money at this place. Stuff does last though. I love their v-necks for men.
CrossFit Store – I have their Oly’s and their version 1 CrossFit Nano’s, excellent shoes all-around. Every CrossFitter should have a pair of Olympic weightlifting shoes.
LifeAsRx.com – I have bought a few shirts from them. High quality stuff and good customer service (had an issue with a pair of shorts and they returned quickly and with no issue)
CrossFit fashion rule number 5# states that knee-high socks are required WOD gear, especially for females. Not only are knee-high socks fashionable when tearing up a WOD, but they are also functional (and we CrossFitter’s like that don’t we) because they protect your pretty little shins from scars, cuts, and bruises from the barbell.
A few CrossFit sock options:
Every athlete should have their own personal jump rope. Typically these are one size fits all so you shouldn’t have trouble choosing one. Here are some of the best jump ropes that my clients use:
Ultra Speed Jump Ropes – These are good for the price but will wear out after a bit of use. I recommend using only on matted areas and not concrete or gravel. I suggest buying a couple extra for backups. [simpleazon-image align="right" asin="B004P3R6LE" locale="us" height="115" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41Fe6QRShDL._SL160_.jpg" width="160"]
Rx Ropes – I have no experience with these but I have heard good things from a few clients that use them.
The CrossFit games started in 2007 with the goal of determining the fittest single male and female on the planet. The games goal is to determine the most overall fit athlete using a comprehensive test of fitness that is unknown and that changes every year.
The CrossFit games are grown by leaps and bounds with 70 athletes in 2007 to 300 in 2008 and 69,000 sign-ups for the CrossFit open (qualifier) in 2012. 2011 announced an endorsement deal from ReeBok and a one million dollar prize pool with $250k going to the first Male and Female winner.
The current reigning champions are Rich Froning for men and Annie Thorisdottir for the women. Both are back-to-back champions and are set to defend their respective titles in the 2013 games.
CrossFit Games Champions from 2007-2012
2007 James “OPT” Fitzgerald – Jolie Gentry
2008 Jason Khalipa – Caity Matter
2009 Mikko Salo – Tanya Wagner
2010 Graham Holmberg – Kristan Clever
2011 Rich Froning, Jr. – Annie Thorisdottir
2012 Rich Froning, Jr. – Annie Thorisdottir
For more history check out the official CrossFit Games page
Further Study And Links
The beauty of CrossFit is it incorporates the best of so many modalities, programs, techniques, and methodologies. It applies the Bruce Lee method of: “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own.”
Each aspect of CrossFit and be pursued as a focus and trained accordingly. For example, I love gymnastics and I spend a lot of time on the rings. As a result my muscle-ups and ring dips are very strong and anytime I do a WOD with these movements I have an advantage. Now if I could only get running down…sigh.
It will take some time to develop your own flavor of CrossFit.
Will you lift heavier? Will you run more or less (less for me)? Will you train gymnastics often? Will you focus on Olympic Weightlifting?
We all have strengths and weaknesses and we should work more on our weaknesses than we care to admit. This is how we all develop our own ‘flavor’ of CrossFit. It is based on what we are good at and not so good at.
Unfortunately we tend to train the things we are good at more often than the things we aren’t. Take my advice and train your weaknesses EVERY SINGLE TIME YOU STEP FOOT IN THE GYM. Even if it’s only a few sets, it will add up.
CrossFit results can be fast and slow at the same time. Take your training one step at a time and don’t get discouraged by other athletes that may be further along than you. Always keep in mind that you want to CrossFit forever. You want to improve your health and be able to train for as long as you live and every injury or irresponsible move you make will keep you from that goal.
Best of luck in your fitness journey! If you have any questions, comments, or feedback please contact me here.
Useful links and resources: