Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
From celebrities the likes of Jessica Alba, Sam Heughan, and Channing Tatum to ordinary folks of all ages, CrossFit has become a popular way to get and stay fit. The challenging, fast-paced, and varied workouts may seem intimidating to the uninitiated, but could be just the thing to get you in shape or break through a plateau and achieve a higher level of fitness.
The Big Myth
“Everyone has this notion that you need to be in shape to start CrossFit, and that’s a myth,” says Adam Sturm, a certified CrossFit coach and owner of several CrossFit Outbreak gyms in Brooklyn, N.Y. “CrossFit is accessible to everyone.”
Can’t do a push-up? No problem—start with push-ups against a wall, and gradually progress to the full-blown version on the floor. Feel like you’ll fall flat on your butt if you try a squat? Do it over a ball or box at first, just in case you do fall. If you’re medically okay to exercise, says Sturm, you can do CrossFit.
This is how one of the members in Sturm’s gym put it: “I had many concerns coming into CrossFit for the first time, and was convinced that this wouldn’t be for me. One month in, I have completely converted. The results have been more than I could ever imagine and completely transformed me.”
What’s So Special?
Although no one disagrees that a good fitness routine should include aerobic exercise and weight or resistance training, these are often broken down into separate activities that don’t use the human body the way we do in life. Aerobic-style classes or exercise on treadmills, elliptical machines, or bicycles enhance heart health and endurance, for example, and weight training tends to challenge one muscle or muscle group at a time. Bottom line, you have to plan out routines to incorporate all the different aspects of fitness and come up with ways to create new challenges, or results will plateau. Unless you’re working with a competent personal trainer, it can get complicated or simply fail to produce results.
CrossFit is basically an easy way to get an all-around workout with built-in challenges, to continually improve endurance and strength of your whole body. “It’s very different than a health club, where you have to think about everything, what exercises you’re going to do, your playlist, what you’re going to wear, who’s looking at you,” says Sturm. “That doesn’t happen in a CrossFit gym.”
Progress is easy to see, feel, and measure. Using good form, how much weight can you lift? Can you do a 5k run or a 5k row? Periodic testing and recording benchmarks is part of the program.
How to Start
If there’s more than one CrossFit gym nearby, check them all out. Even though they all do the CrossFit program, the culture of individual gyms does vary, just as yoga studios have different vibes. Talk to the owner or a coach about your goals and fitness background, and go to one or more introductory classes. The class instructor should help you do moves correctly and at your fitness level.
If you want to continue, sign up for a membership and go to classes three times a week, recommends Sturm. Membership costs vary, but are higher than a basic membership in popular health club chains and may or may not require a contract. At many gyms, classes can be small, around 8 to 10 people. Regardless of size, they should enable you to get the hang of how to do each exercise with proper form, at a level that is challenging but safe for you.
Sturm also recommends taking a yoga class once a week. Some CrossFit gyms, including his, offer yoga classes. Because it enhances mobility, yoga is complementary. Doing other activities you enjoy, such as swimming or playing a sport, is also beneficial.
CrossFit isn’t a magic bullet—it requires commitment and a desire to try something new—but it does work. And if you decide to go ahead, it’s simple, says Sturm: “You just show up.”
CrossFit is basically a no-brainer way to get an all-around workout, to continually improve endurance and strength of your whole body.
Like other forms of movement (poses in yoga, for example), CrossFit has names for specific exercises. A squat without lifting any weight, for example, is an “air squat.” There are many more, but these are some basic terms:
- Box: A CrossFit gym.
- Coach: The class instructor, who should have a CrossFit certification.
- WOD: Short for “workout of the day,” literally a different workout each day, posted on crossfit.com, used in CrossFit boxes, and designed to be part of a complete CrossFit program.
To see how some of the basic exercises are done, visit crossfit.com/exercisedemos.