Training like an athlete can be one of the best ways to improve your fitness and overall physical health, even if you’re not an NFL player or Olympic gymnast.
And how do athletes train? With full-body, functional workouts that work every muscle in ways that improve mobility, agility, strength and endurance.
CrossFit, a fitness regimen that has grown in popularity over the last two decades, brings together athletes and non-athletes looking to improve their fitness and performance. As any aficionado of this intense, functional workout can attest, the regimen has countless benefits, whether you’re already in professional athlete shape, starting out on your fitness journey or someplace in between.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is not just a bunch of muscular guys dropping barbells and rolling tires across fields. This regimen incorporates a series of varied functional movements—that is, actions the human body naturally does on a day-to-day basis—performed at a relatively high intensity to improve fitness and health in a measurable way.
CrossFit combines cardio (like running and rowing) with strength training (everything from lifting barbells to throwing medicine balls to swinging kettlebells) with elements of gymnastics to work every muscle in the body, including those that balance, those that propel locomotion, those that swing. It’s truly a full-body experience.
In a typical CrossFit class, you might expect to begin with a dynamic warm-up, jogging, bearcrawling and broad-jumping your way across the gym (or, in CrossFit terms, “the Box”). The class might then move on to working on a skill like handstands, pull-ups or double-unders with a jump rope. This is followed by a WOD, or Workout of the Day, a series of full-body moves incorporating lifting, plyometrics and bodyweight exercises for anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes.
Participants aim to complete a prescribed number of repetitions in the sequence in the given amount of time. That might be five pull-ups, five push-ups and five air squats for 10 minutes straight (the “Half Cindy”) or a 400-meter run, 21 American kettlebell swings and 12 pull-ups three times through (the “Helen”).
Who does CrossFit work for?
The great thing about CrossFit is that it can be scaled for anyone at any age or fitness level. (Have you seen those amazing videos of retirees lifting twice their bodyweight over their heads? For real.)
Coaches will tell you they scale load and intensity, not the program. There are always modifications available for any fitness level, so even if you’re not ready to do a 20-inch box jump, a smaller box or softer landing will be provided for you to practice and improve.
Physical benefits of CrossFit
CrossFit differs from other workouts in that it encourages participants to do the most work possible in the least amount of time. Rather than working at a moderate pace for an hour, CrossFit Workouts of the Day [or WODs] will feature terms like “As Many Rounds As Possible” [AMRAP] or “Every Minute on the Minute” [EMOM], where you’ll work through a series of movements as intensely and continuously as you can for the prescribed amount of time.
This intensity leads to faster, more dramatic gains in fitness in a shorter time: the harder you push, the faster your body learns to keep up with what you’re asking it to do, including endurance (a 25-minute high-intensity workout!) and strength (deadlifting the equivalent of your bodyweight!). CrossFit is also an effective tool for developing flexibility, core strength and power.
Because CrossFit relies heavily on performance data, like how many reps you do in a round or how many minutes it takes to complete a set, you have an accurate tool to see your progress over time. Seeing your incremental successes so clearly can be a motivating tool to continue working, meaning your performance will continue to improve with every workout.
CrossFit is terrific cross-training (go figure) for any sport and an effective tool for increasing endurance, heart-health, strength and achieving weight loss.
Mental benefits of CrossFit
It takes some serious mental focus to get through a CrossFit workout. What you’re doing may push your limits and ask you to dig deep to find that last bit of stamina.
Getting through a tough workout to the best of your ability builds confidence. You will leave the box feeling like you’ve accomplished something pretty fierce, which can translate into feeling more confident, more capable and more grounded elsewhere in your life.
ClassPass offers dozens of CrossFit experiences in every city. With a variety of boxes to choose from, it’s worth exploring which one feels best to you. Each has a unique community and structures their workouts differently throughout the week. Every instructor brings a different feel to the class, too.
A great place to start is a CrossFit conditioning class, offered at most boxes as a complement to a standard CrossFit program. Here, you can expect less lifting and more metabolic conditioning (think burpees, rowing, kettlebells and running around the block). Most gyms will also offer an “on-ramp” to help you get a feel for Olympic-style barbell lifting.
Whether you’re looking to improve endurance, build strength or amp up your confident, peruse “strength training” in the ClassPass app or website to find a box near you and get your CrossFit on!