Everything You Wanted To Know About CrossFit

In the mainstream, it seems like CrossFit-mania has died down. We assure you that CrossFit's rise in popularity and the rumors surrounding its end are just the tip of the iceberg. When its heyday began, CrossFit polarized the fitness community. For a while, it felt like you couldn't walk into a gym without hearing someone loudly expressing their opinions about how everyone who does CrossFit gets injured, blah, blah, blah.

Contrary to popular belief, CrossFit is not a surefire way to tear your rotator cuff. And you do not have to go hunt and eat a buffalo. CrossFit is essentially a boutique fitness club — one that is based in exercise science and was marketed just right. CrossFit has something for everyone to fall in love with from its belief in the community to scalable workouts and functional fitness workouts. Here's everything you've ever wanted to know about the high-intensity fitness program.

Note: If you have an injury or health condition, consult your doctor before getting started.

It is fun!

We get it — starting a new workout class can be daunting. And starting a new workout class that you hate can feel more like a chore than anything else. That's why it's good to choose something you'll enjoy. Enter: CrossFit. The workouts are dynamic, fun, and based on the principles of functional fitness, as the CrossFit website details. One of the best parts about these workouts is that you get to "suffer" alongside your friends.

CrossFit workouts vary each day, which helps increase the fun factor. If you thought Monday's workout was a total snooze-fest, you'll probably like Tuesday's better. The principles of CrossFit allow practitioners to reclaim their physical fitness through small-group-focused, precise instruction, Timberline CrossFit explained. The variation in workouts, in addition to the strong community backing, are just two of the elements that make CrossFit a fun place to get fit. Furthermore, CrossFit is propelled forward by the notion that it is a sport. That's right, CrossFit gamifies fitness, which ups the fun-factor exponentially (via CrossFit Training Guide).

CrossFit workouts are more accessible than you think

CrossFitters have their own lingo, which can feel pretty cliquey if you have never been there before. But as you start to delve into what CrossFit is all about, you'll pick up on what everyone is really talking about. CrossFit workouts, or WODs (workout of the day), are far more accessible than you might initially think, explained Nerd Fitness.

One of the first lines of the CrossFit Training Guide for coaches states that "the aim of CrossFit has been to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness." This theme is woven throughout the handbook and drives home just how serious this principle is. Under the tutelage of the right coach, CrossFit workouts can be scaled to match your unique fitness level. A common misconception about CrossFit is that you need to be in shape to actually do the workouts (per Nerd Fitness). Totally not true!

Many CrossFit newbies may feel apprehensive before embarking on their CrossFit journey, but good coaches make all of the difference. A good CrossFit coach will break things down into bite-sized pieces and modify the workouts for you. A good coach will do this in a way that doesn't make you feel less fit than more experienced people who may be in your class (via Nerd Fitness).

Newbies are welcome

The sounds floating out from a CrossFit gym, or box, can seem super intimidating. There is often a lot of grunting, clapping, hollering, panting, weight dropping, and people throwing their sweaty bodies to the ground. It's ... a lot. But you'll find when you do CrossFit, you'll do that too.

When you first start CrossFit, you'll walk into the box to see the WOD written on the whiteboard. At first, the movements might not make much sense, or they might be movements that you are unsure about how to execute. One of the best things about CrossFit is the fact that each class is small. This gives coaches time to assist the newer members and ensure that everyone feels welcomed, included, and like they know what they are doing (via Self).

As a new member of CrossFit, you will not be required to perform these complex and nuanced movements. It can be intimidating to walk into a gym and feel like you're the only one who doesn't know what is going on. But the coaches and the community will be there to help you along every step of the way. And as far as the guy in the corner practicing his muscle-ups or the woman doing extremely heavy clean and jerks, rest assured that they have practiced. They had to start somewhere, too (per Self).

The coaches are well-trained

CrossFit coaches go through rigorous training to get certified as Level 1 coaches. Unlike, say, Beachbody coaches, CrossFit coaches are subject to serious testing to ensure that your health is safe in their hands (via CrossFit). Truly, well-trained coaches can make all of the difference in your CrossFit experience.

To earn their Level 1 CrossFit coaching certificate, trainers must attend a two-day lecture in which they participate in the workouts. Once they attend the lecture, they can sit for the test. If they pass, they can teach. If they don't pass, well, they can't teach.

There are four levels of CrossFit trainers, with Level 1 being the most entry-level. Each level gets more complex and detailed as they climb. Although there is no "Level 5," after completing Level 4 training, coaches are eligible to become Certified CrossFit Trainers, which means they can become the trainers who train the trainers (via CrossFit).

Community is key

One of the foundations of CrossFit is a community. As highlighted by Harvard Health, numerous studies prove that being a part of a community and engaging in meaningful relationships can boost your longevity and happiness. Do not let the loud, sweaty countenance of a CrossFit warehouse fool you — it is more inviting than you think.

All boxes do things differently, but you'll always have a CrossFit community no matter where you go. It is common for people traveling to drop into other boxes to get their sweat on. Visitors are welcomed with open arms and inquiries. As Self revealed, "You are going to make friends at CrossFit whether you like it or not."

The main reason that the CrossFit community is so tight-knit is that most members end up working out at the same time every day. You'll wind up working out beside the same people multiple times a week, so conversations are likely to crop up. You will even be doing the same workouts as all of those people, giving you even more to talk about (per Self).

You'll get stronger

Many CrossFit workouts are centered around compound exercises. Compound exercises are movements that incorporate more than one muscle group to execute. Another way to think about compound exercises is that they require working "multiple muscle groups at the same time," explained Healthline. Because of the use of compound movements, in particular, you'd have to try pretty hard not to gain strength if you join CrossFit. Once you start performing compound exercises on the reg (are people still saying that?), you will begin to experience muscular hypertrophy.

Muscular hypertrophy means muscle growth, as explained by Medical News Today, and it can be approached from two different mindsets. Some athletes choose to prioritize the strength of their muscles, while others choose to focus on the size of their muscles. The thing is, though, even those who work out to increase size will inevitably get stronger. Muscular hypertrophy happens when you lift weights (or whatever heavy things you have lying around your house). If you impose demands upon your muscles, they will react by adapting and growing stronger.

Since CrossFit is a brand of functional fitness, the workouts usually focus on the strength element of hypertrophy. Even if you choose to perform CrossFit workouts without a barbell, weighted vest, or another torture device, bodyweight workouts alone will make you stronger (via Mayo Clinic).

You'll get faster

Whether or not it was part of your plan, you will likely become faster after performing CrossFit workouts regularly. Participating in CrossFit workouts will help you reach your fitness goals, whether you want to be a faster runner, swimmer, or cyclist. Even if you want to chase your kids around or walk through the grocery store parking lot faster, improving your cardiovascular economy will be your key to success. Between the rowing, the fast bike-riding machine, and the running, getting faster is almost a guarantee (via WebMD).

Like increasing strength, if you impose hefty cardiovascular demands on your system, it will adapt and deliver. Many CrossFit workouts are designed to keep your heart rate high, which is a great way to ramp up your VO2 max — that is, your body's ability to intake and utilize oxygen and is used to measure aerobic fitness (via Medical News Today).

By moving through box jumps, wall balls, sprints, and burpees in quick succession will keep your heart cranking and can have exceptional VO2 max-boosting effects. Once your VO2 begins to increase, your ability to go faster for longer will follow suit (per Healthline).

You'll develop skills you didn't know you needed

From double-unders to rope climbs to wall balls, CrossFit is full of lingo and skills that you never knew you could want or need. The best part is that with a solid group of coaches in your box, these skills can be broken down and built up to. Since CrossFit is grounded in functional fitness, the universal motor recruitment patterns are foundational (via CrossFit).

Functional fitness, or '"fun-fitness," as we like to call it, is built upon your activities of daily living. Many movements mimic their real-world applications, which can lead to overall ease of life. It may not seem logical to perform a close-grip upright row, but when you need to heft a packed suitcase out of the trunk of a sports car, your CrossFit muscles kick in. The value in performing these exercises is that they allow you to perform other activities safely and efficiently (via Mayo Clinic).

That said, some of the movements that get thrown into CrossFit workouts are wild. There are often ropes to climb, boxes to leap atop, and handstand pushups aplenty! Slowly but surely, dedicated CrossFitters can maximize their potential and skills. Tackling the fundamentals with patience and persistence is a great way to develop new skills (per Self).

You'll get more flexible

Flexibility is one of the key components of well-rounded fitness. CrossFit coaches like to push their members into the sweet spot just beyond their comfort zone, which can lead to tight muscles. With regular CrossFitting, it is critical to incorporate some mobility and flexibility training to counteract the tension and rigidity you're creating within your muscle fibers (via Ace Fitness).

CrossFit's Coaching Guide lists gymnastics as one of the main foundations of this method of fitness. While many gymnastic-style strength movements are involved in CrossFit, the flexibility portion is relevant and often utilized. In many boxes, this takes the shape of mobility-specific classes. Most CrossFit workouts begin with a dynamic warm-up, which is an awesome way to get joints primed and moving through their full ranges of motion (via Healthline). Coaches are encouraged to guide their classes through flexibility routines after completing their workouts (via CrossFit).

Stretching is a great way to gain flexibility, of course. But some CrossFit moves require flexibility to execute as well. For example, an overhead squat requires you to hoist a barbell over your head. To maintain proper form throughout the entirety of the movement, you have to have some flexibility in your thoracic spine (via Bodybuilding). As you begin to work up to more complex movements, your flexibility will increase to allow your joints to move right along with you.

CrossFit reinvented the wheel

CrossFit is high-intensity interval training at its core, with numerous extra goodies thrown in. Trainers and coaches have favored HIIT training for years. Still, CrossFit is what brought it into the cultural limelight. Paavo Nurmi trained for the 1924 Olympics with HIIT workouts, and it worked, as he won quite a few gold medals. Letters containing HIIT-style training plans were sent to Nurmi and dated back to 1910 (via Science of Running). Exercise scientists have known that this workout style reigns supreme for myriad goals for decades.

CrossFit's workouts feature many of the same elements. The fitness program's keen eye for form and the thoughtful and measured execution of WODs are certainly top-notch. They capitalized on a few key things that truly allowed their mania to sweep the nation. CrossFit incorporated the theory of community into their gyms. They also emphasize a competition-like feel to their workouts. The extent to which you participate is entirely up to you, and coaches encourage you to build upon your skills (via The Box). Seeing progress is addicting, afterall!

While the exercise physiology behind CrossFit workouts is widespread and well-known, the extra elements the program has included are what created the devout following we see today (via NBC).

It is expensive compared to other gyms

On our CrossFit list of pros and cons, the monthly price tag is a definite con. Many boxes allow you to drop in for your first time for free — after signing the waiver, of course. They offer bundle packages similar to those of yoga studios, not like traditional gyms. For example, memberships at Foundations CrossFit in Seattle, Washington begin at $169, as of this writing. Their most comprehensive package, the VIP plan, costs $289 per month. This particular package includes 35 classes per month. Other CrossFit gyms offer members the option to pay for unlimited classes per month. South Tahoe CrossFit in South Lake Tahoe, California, for example, charges $135 for a one-month unlimited membership. The average gym membership, on the other hand, costs $507 for the full first year, or $42.25 per month (via RunRepeat).

We aren't sure about you, but we often end up binge-watching "The Bachelor" on the elliptical in a traditional gym setting. CrossFit's coaches won't let you get away with that. If you show up to work out at CrossFit, you'll undoubtedly feel you're getting your money's worth.

CrossFit's controversial CEO stepped down

In spring 2020, CrossFit CEO Greg Glassman took to Twitter and posted a controversial tweet hours before declaring he was not mourning the loss of George Floyd, a man who was murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020 (via NBC News). During a Zoom call with other gym owners, a Minneapolis gym owner asked Glassman why CrossFit hadn't released a statement about Floyd's death and the ensuing protests against police brutality. According to BuzzFeed News, Glassman responded by asking the gym owner why he "should mourn for him." Glassman also expressed his belief in conspiracy theories and "repeatedly expressed doubts about whether systemic racism existed," according to BuzzFeed.

On June 9, 2020, three days after Glassman's Zoom remarks, the CEO released a statement announcing his retirement. Many CrossFit affiliates cut ties with the brand (via BuzzFeed News). However, the CrossFit team published an article on their official site, promising, "We're going to do what we can to be better with the hope of building a better world on the other side of this."

Additionally, Crossfit's new CEO, Dave Castro, released a statement, saying, "I'm here to listen to the community, and I'm committed to helping heal what's been broken and making all feel welcome. We will recover from this. CrossFit affiliates will continue to be the advocates of fitness and health, and to serve as an unwavering source of support for their communities" (via Men's Health).