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Know Before You Go: CrossFit

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CrossFit has mysterious terms like “the box,” a loyal base that proudly dons catchphrase t-shirts, and even it's own Games on ESPN. But what is CrossFit exactly? It’s a strength and conditioning program designed for all-around physical preparedness that combines sprints with weightlifting, endurance with gymnastics, with a healthy dose of specialty disciplines — like powerlifting — added to the mix. It's quite a spectrum, so get the low down before diving into those muscle-ups and more and see if CrossFit’s right for you.

Befriending Fran — The Need-to-Know

Photo: Colin Gould / Reebok CrossFit Back Bay

 

CrossFit focuses on functional movements, exercises that prepare the body for everyday activities so we can tackle any task at hand — from getting out of bed to hauling bags of groceries. (Why do you think they call them “bulk” items?!) But these movements aren’t perfected in a shopping aisle; many CrossFitters head to “the box” (a CrossFit affiliate gym) to attend a group class that is generally broken down into four parts. First is a dynamic warm-up, followed by skill work to practice form on the many different movements used in workouts. Then comes the workout of the day, or the "WOD." These are usually 5-20 minutes long, and focus on movements done at a high intensity. Finally, a cool-down and stretch session closes out the workout before hitting the showers.

Seems simple enough, so why all the buzz about CrossFit? Some are hooked, while others are not fans. Here are the program's benefits, along with some possible concerns:

The Pros:
    • The community. Workouts are done in a group setting. The box is filled with support and camaraderie with each athlete cheering on the next.
       
    • The new moves. CrossFit often introduces people to exercises they might not be familiar with, like Olympic lifts, handstands, and kipping pull-ups. (They don’t teach you those in P.E.!)
       
    • The challenge. There’s no sugarcoating it: CrossFit is intense. So if you want to push yourself and get fitter, this could definitely be for you.
       
    • It’s a one-stop shop. CrossFit brands itself as the go-to place for every fitness need: getting stronger, fitter, leaner, and probably more badass too. If you’re looking to go after many goals, the box may be your answer.
The Cons:
    • It could be unsafe. While fun, those new moves can be pretty complicated. Some CrossFit moves, if not done properly, can be dangerous, especially if the instructor isn’t overseeing and coaching properly.
       
    • People may push too hard. Workouts call for doing moves in a certain amount of time or for as many reps as possible. If that competitive drive is in turbo-mode, athletes may push too hard or go too fast, breaking form and potentially increasing the risk of injury.
       
    • Uncle Rhabdo could appear. In very extreme cases, pushing the muscles to an extremity could result in rhabdomyolysis, the breakdown of muscle fibers that harms the kidney. CrossFitters created a (gross) figure called Uncle Rhabdo to remind athletes to stay smart.
       
    •  Again, it’s a community. For those who like to work out solo, CrossFit may not be the best bang for their buck. However, you can check out CrossFit’s workout of the day online and get a workout from almost anywhere.

The bottom line? Be smart and listen to your body, and never push to a dangerous degree.

 Ready to WOD —Your Action Plan

Think you’re up for the CrossFit challenge? Take these tips before jumping into that first class:

      • Find a gym. With thousands of boxes around the world, it probably won’t be hard to find a place to give CrossFit a try. Most boxes offer a free class for first-timers, too.
         
      • Ask questions. Many CrossFit gyms offer an intro course to teach the nine basic movements of CrossFit. Make sure you feel comfortable with everything before diving headfirst, and check to see if the instructor has the proper teaching certifications. These can usually be found on the box’s website.
         
      • Scale accordingly. All CrossFit movements are scaled and can be modified. Can’t hold on to a 50 lb kettlebell? Grab the 20 lb. Push-ups not up to par? Drop the knees down. Do what feels best and soon those heavier weights and harder forms will be yours!
         
      • Go at your own pace. Workouts are either “for time” (who can finish first!) or AMRAP ("As Many Reps As Possible" in a certain amount of time). Either way, make sure you feel comfortable with all the movements and go at a pace that’s challenging but doesn’t get unsafe.
         
      • Remember to rest. CrossFit.com prescribes every fourth day’s workout as a “Rest Day.” Make sure to take some time off to help the body recover.
         
      • Learn the language. Before you can walk the walk, you gotta talk the talk. From "burpees" to "thrusters," "Fran" to "filthy fifty," CrossFit has a jargon all its own. Luckily, we have a lingo guide to provide a head start.
         
      • Have fun. CrossFit may seem intimidating at first. But like any exercise program, the most important thing is to challenge the body while having fun. So if it sounds like a good fit, give it a try! Fran will love you no matter what…

What was your first time at a CrossFit gym like? Share your experiences in the comments below.

I'm the marketing director at Greatist, and when I'm not hanging at HQ with my best buds (aka co-workers...) you can find me training for... Read More »