“What is CrossFit, anyway?” I get this question fairly often from people who have never heard of it. That’s perfectly understandable; after all, before last year, I’ve never heard of it either. I thought I’d write a short post to summarize what it is, how it works, and why I like it. (I’m sure there are mistakes in this, given that I’m so new to the program, so don’t take this as gospel.)
The basic goal behind CrossFit is to combine many different types of exercises: strength exercises, exercises for cardiovascular fitness, flexibility exercises, and so on. A typical workout will start with a short warm-up, move into a mix of exercises done in rapid succession, often with many repetitions, and include a short closeout or cooldown phase. I haven’t been doing CrossFit long enough to have a comprehensive list of all the different exercises that can be incorporated into these different phases (but there’s a pretty good list at crossfit.com). Some of them will be familiar to anyone who ever took gym in high school: situps, jumping jacks, lunges, and so on. Then very easy to understand variations, like situps done with a medicine ball. You hold a medicine ball behind your head, arms extended, then do a situp holding the ball above your head, then touch the ball to the floor by your ankles, then return to touch your shoulders on the floor, arms again extended. However, the nifty thing about CrossFit isn’t the exercises; it’s the combinations.
Each day, we have what’s called the “workout of the day,” or WOD. Some WODs have women’s names, like Karen (150 reps of wall ball). Others are named after heroes, including servicemen, firefighters, and police officers killed in the line of duty. WODs are designed to focus on one or more particular fitness areas.
There are three basic types of WODs. First, there are timed WODs. The goal here is to complete the workout in as little time as possible. For example, Karen is a timed WOD.
Second, there are AMRAPs– “as many rounds as possible.” The goal here is to complete as many sets of the workout as you can within a given time period. Nicole is a good example: you run 400 meters, then do as many pull-ups as you can. That’s one round. Then you do as many rounds as you can without dropping dead in 20 minutes.
Finally, there are WODs that specify a certain number of reps, like Chelsea: 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats, on the minute for 30 minutes.
A fourth type of workout, the Tabata, is based on the work of Izumi Tabata (and yes, I had to look that up.) In this style of workout, you exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. That’s one round. A Tabata workout is 8 rounds of 8-10 exercises. Today, for example, our workout was a Tabata consisting of medicine ball situps, push-ups, jump lunges, pull-ups, wall-to-wall sprints, push presses, burpees, and wall ball shots. These provide a superb aerobic workout, along with high entertainment value as you see your fellow CrossFitters stagger around during the ridiculously short recovery period.
There’s not much to say about the warmup and cooldown periods. Today’s warmup was two laps around the building (0.6 mi), 20 jumping jacks, 10 burpees, and a short period of stretching. This is pretty typical, as the warmup’s goal is just to get your blood moving, not necessarily to be a huge exercise in itself.
My favorite thing about CrossFit is the variety. Every day brings something different, or at least familiar things in a different arrangement. This is a great change from my former routine of using the treadmill or elliptical, followed by weight training. The workouts are very effective as well; even in the short time I’ve been doing them I’ve noticed a marked difference in muscle tone. I don’t expect to gain a lot of muscle mass, but my strength has definitely improved as well.
It’s not for everyone, though. There have been a couple of times where I’ve had to lay off for a few days after straining or injuring various muscles. It’s easy to do, as most of the exercises are meant to be done explosively. Poor form will get you hurt quickly. To cite just one instance, I have a real butt problem when I’m doing squats– my butt needs to go farther back, and I need to really work on keeping my heels on the floor. Failure to do this always results in a sore back the next day. Luckily the instructors at TFL are pretty good at monitoring and encouraging the class.
I still feel like I have a huge amount to learn; a quick troll through someplace like crossfit.com or the CrossFit Journal reveals that there’s a lot of stuff I don’t understand or know, but that will come in time. For now, though, I’m really enjoying it!