CrossFit: How to Make This Workout Work for You

| Fitness

CrossFit gets mixed reviews, from being too hardcore and dangerous, to being too trendy, to something that’s far too intimidating, to being the best workout ever in the history of workouts. However you swing it, the opinions are strong. CrossFit is a mix of exercises pulled from three types of athletes: the weight lifter, the sprinter and the gymnast. If you have a competitive nature, this type of workout will fuel it. If you hate the idea of writing your results on the whiteboard for all to see, guess what — you don’t have to! CrossFit is growing and evolving so that it can cater to people of all fitness levels and goals. Let’s explore how this hot workout program could work for you.

crossfit class

Find a Gym and Ask the Right Questions

You might not realize it’s a gym because it looks like a huge dirty warehouse, but it’s a gym. A quick Google search should show you a few options in your area. Walk in, check it out. Ask to speak with one of the coaches there and ask the following questions:

Q: How many coaches do you have and what are their certifications?

A: More than three, and at least one has a CrossFit Level II or higher certification. All others should be LI certified, at least. See if they also have degrees in exercise science or experience in Olympic weightlifting, coaching and so forth.

Q: Do you offer other classes than CrossFit?

A: If they answer yes, expect yoga and bodyweight classes to be an option as well as a “lighter” version of CrossFit itself. If they answer no, ask about their ability to scale the programming.

Q: Do you have a beginner program or on-ramp course?

A: Yes, absolutely. This is a must-have. You can’t just walk into a gym and start lifting the barbell without going through a proper introduction.

Q: Do you develop your own programming or do you follow the CrossFit site and only provide “benchmark” workouts?

A: They better have their own programming. This shows investment and understanding of the programming itself as well as the exercises.

Make sure your coaches understand your goals. If you’re unsure about any exercise, ask for help. The coaches are there to help you get better while recognizing your limits and knowing how to respect them. CrossFit is only dangerous if you or the coach are careless.

Know why you’re joining. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what level of fitness you’re at when you begin. You can do CrossFit to lose weight, strengthen specific muscles and skills, challenge yourself, feed your competitor spirit, go for partner workouts with your bestie, cross train for 5Ks to marathons or simply try something new. If the workout planned for that day includes pullups, for example, and you can’t do pullups, don’t worry. There are a handle of progressive exercises you can do and that’s the truth for pretty much every other exercise.

(Photo: calibrated crossfit lifts Photo by Calibrated CrossFit)

Expect quick results with full effort. CrossFit is designed to be pretty intensive in terms of frequency. This is why most gyms will charge you between $100 and $200 a month. It ends up being your main workout option three to five times a week. If you go three to five times a week, you can expect your body to respond like whoa. But you have to put in the effort. Every workout will have something in it that you would rather skip. That’s the beauty of it. It begs you to improve every day. To be clear, this is not a “quick fix” workout that magically transforms you. No one is going to hold your hand, but everyone is going to root for you. If you want it, you’ll get it.

Learn the Equipment

In a workout, you could have five pieces of equipment or none at all. The most common tools used in a workout are below:

  • Kettlebells: For swings, farmer’s carry, overhead presses
  • Barbells: For Olympic lifts from cleans, jerks and presses to deadlifts
  • Dumbbells: For rows, resistance and presses
  • Wall Ball/Med Ball: For med ball slams, carries and wall balls (everyone’s favorite)
  • Box: For step-ups, jumps and jump overs; varies in height
  • Jump Rope: For single and double unders
  • Rowing Machine: Very effective cardio machine, often subbed if you can’t run
  • Airdyne Bike: Manually propelled stationary bike
  • Pullup Bar: For pull ups, toes to bar, static holds, tricep push downs and more
  • Squat Rack/Bench: For setting up front/back squats, presses, jerk practices, barbell pushups
  • Rings: For ring rows, planks, muscle-ups, pullups, dips
  • Bands: For assistance in pullups, dips; exercises for shoulders, chest, arms; resistance against barbell

Scale it to your liking. Even the best athletes have a weak area of physical ability. Some people can lift heavy all day, but run with lead feet. Others shine in the gymnastic movements like muscle-ups and pullups, able to whip their bodies all over the place, but struggle with the coordination of double unders. In CrossFit, you learn what you’re able to do and not able to do pretty quickly. Don’t skip the movement, but scale it to meet you at your level. Even if you have to scale down the entire workout, you’re still getting a workout! Push yourself a little harder each time by experimenting with weights and reps. That's how you get stronger. The day you do a workout "Rx" or as prescribed, it will feel pretty darn good.

(Photo: crossfit calibrated Photo by Calibrated Crossfit)

But I don’t want to bulk up! Each individual body will respond differently to CrossFit. Some might slim down while others quickly gain muscle. You don’t have to lift heavy. While the girl next to you is using a 53-pound kettlebell, you can opt for the 20-pound kettlebell. If you want to skip all of the Olympic weightlifting moves, then skip them. Sign up for the “lighter” version of the class or let your coach know you’ll be avoiding those movements. CrossFit is an opportunity for you to learn about what your body can do and what you can do with your body. A CrossFit athlete can have the same body fat percentage as a runway model.