Hate it or love it, people have strong opinions about CrossFit.
Devotees tout it as the best way to transform your body, while critics say there's no surer way to end up injured. Regardless, there's no denying that CrossFit has become a major fitness movement: there are more than 13,000 CrossFit gyms, known as boxes, around the world.Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
With all the claims about CrossFit, it can be hard for curious newbies to know what to expect for their first visit to a box. We spoke to a few experts to determine exactly what you should know before starting CrossFit to separate the bluster (from both sides) and the real truth.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit borrows movements from a variety of sports including, gymnastics, weightlifting, powerlifting, and rowing. It was created by former gymnast Greg Glassman to maximize the amount of work performed in the shortest amount of time, according to the official CrossFit website, which serves as the activity's governing and branding entity.Getty ImagesHinterhaus Productions
The goal of CrossFit is to boost your fitness and help you move better, whether it's during a hockey game or hoisting heavy bags at the grocery store. This is achieved by performing a bunch of functional movements at high intensity, says Ian Creighton, General Manager and Coach at BRICK New York.
What Do You Do in a CrossFit Class?
Typically, each class is broken up into three parts: the warmup, skill or strength component, then the workout of the day, or WOD.
The warmup is tailored to the skill or strength component, so you're prepped for what comes next. Skilled workouts are designed to improve your ability to do certain exercises, like the jumprope double-under, while Strength workouts aim to make you well, stronger.Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Getty ImagesJakob Helbig
The final part of the class is the WOD, which asks you to perform a specific set of exercises in a given amount of time or rep scheme. WODs are usually total body workouts that range from 8 to 16 minutes, but can be as short as three, Creighton explains.
"A three-minute workout sounds silly, but when you put the intensity at 95 percent, you’re going to be recovering for an hour after that," he says.
Many gyms create their own WODs, but CrossFit does have a slew of benchmark workouts named after women; Fran is one popular one, which consists of thrusters and pullups. There are also Hero WODs named after fallen service men and women.
What You Should Keep in Mind Before Starting CrossFit
When you start going to a well-established box, it might not be uncommon to see others performing feats like cleaning 300 pounds. You might be tempted to attempt to do the same. Don't.
"People come in and they’re competitive," says Creighton. "They want to do what everyone else is doing. That’s the wrong way to approach CrossFit."Getty ImagesPekic Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
Mathew Forzaglia, a personal trainer and CrossFit coach in New York City, agrees with Creighton, saying you should start by lifting with an empty barbell until you understand the movements.
"You can’t jump to the final result without doing the first step," he explains.
Managing your expectations of what you will and won't get out of CrossFit is especially important. Since the workout isn't specialized, don't expect to become a master Olympic lifter. Instead, you'll likely improve your overall fitness level, says Forzaglia.
"To be good at CrossFit, you must be good at a bunch of things," he says.
Is CrossFit Actually Dangerous?
As with any form of exercise, this cult favorite comes with risk. However, reports about the dangers of CrossFit may be overhyped, according to a December 2018 study.
Published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers at Kennesaw State University concluded that CrossFit is fairly safe compared to other types of training. After analyzing 3,000 survey responses of CrossFit participants, they found that people who are new to CrossFit or train less than three days a week are more likely to get injured. This is likely because these groups are unfamiliar with the movements.Getty Imagesskynesher
“This study indicates that injuries among CrossFit participants may not be as high as previously suggested in some media reports,” study co-author Yuri Feito said in a statement. “CrossFit training has been scrutinized because of a supposed high incidence of injuries, but our data does not seem to support that it might be any more ‘extreme’ or dangerous than other exercise training programs.”Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
A 2014 study published in Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine Research found that people with hands-on coaches who help them through the movements have fewer injuries, which is why Creighton stresses finding a gym that priorities safety.
"You need coaching where the coaches are focused first and foremost on safety and movement quality," he says. "That’s the most important thing."
Rhabdomyolysis, a condition that causes muscle tissue to break down and release kidney-damaging waste into the bloodstream, has been linked to CrossFit. However, pushing yourself too hard in any workout can cause the problem.
How Do You Find a Good CrossFit Gym?
Gyms usually offer free introductory classes, which you should hit up to feel the place out. Then, ask other members about their experiences and whether they've been injured, advises Creighton. You should also pay particular attention to the coach's leadership skills.Getty ImagesHero Images
"If there’s no structure to the class and it’s disorderly, then that’s a safety problem," he says. "That’s a red flag."
Don't be afraid to ask questions, either. "If someone makes you do something, ask them why," Forzaglia recommends. You want to be sure your coach has a solid understanding of the movements and isn't just arbitrarily doling out tips. Another warning sign: if coaches pay more attention to their phones than their class. Thruster videos might be cool to watch on Instagram, but getting hurt because of an instructor's negligence is definitely not.Advertisement - Continue Reading Below Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
What Do You Need for CrossFit?
Boxes will have almost all the heavy duty equipment you need, like plyometric boxes, weights, and barbells, but Creighton recommends investing in one key item: a quality jump rope.