CrossFit® Training: What You Need to Know

Strength pushup with dumbbell in a crossfit workoutCrossFit® Total Empowerment training has been gaining popularity over the last several years. There are more than 9,000 CrossFit-associated gyms in the United States and CrossFit provides accredited training seminars worldwide. It has a strong online presence, appears in magazines, and CrossFit games can even be seen on television. CrossFit has also garnered its share of controversy.

  • CrossFit, which was founded in 2000, is a training program that aims to enhance strength and aerobic conditioning.
  • It brings together all types of people to improve physical well-being and cardiovascular fitness.
  • Each structured, hour-long session includes exercises focused on fitness in 10 core physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, strength, stamina, power, speed, flexibility, balance, speed, coordination, and accuracy.
  • A typical session includes a warm-up, skill development, the exercise, workout of the day, and stretching.
  • The workout varies: the same exercise is not repeated within a 30-day period.
  • Workouts are adaptable according to your strength and ability.

What’s so good about CrossFit?
Advertised as “the sport of fitness,” CrossFit has its advantages. Its focus is on performing high-intensity exercises within a set time period. It has shown effective results in improving aerobic conditioning and burning calories, and people are, for the most part, in better physical shape than they previously were.

  • Each day’s workout targets a different type of functional strength or conditioning, in order to build a well-balanced body.
  • It is a good social activity: participants have said the companionship of others in the program helps them accomplish their fitness goals.

Is there a downside?
Nothing is perfect, and CrossFit is no exception. It is not for everybody; for example, if you want to specialize in one area—say, powerlifting or a particular sport—or prefer training on your own, it is probably not the program for you. A few thoughts to consider:

  • Some of the exercises may be linked to injuries and a condition called rhabdomyolysis, in which prolonged, excessive muscle strain causes the muscles to break down.
  • During a workout, participants are usually instructed to complete endurance or strength-training exercises as quickly as possible, or do as many repetitions as possible in a given amount of time. You’ll need someone to watch you to make sure you don’t sacrifice form for quick completion. Improper form can result in serious injury. Make sure your coach is experienced and observant.
  • Because of CrossFit’s competitive nature, motivating environment, and participants’ desire to excel, many people push themselves too far. The National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) has established some guidelines for high-intensity training protocols. Among these is a recommendation that training programs be individualized to a person’s experience, fitness level, and physical condition
  • One CrossFit athlete experienced a serious injury: while trying to lift 200 pounds during a competition, he was paralyzed from the waist down. It should be noted that this was an unusual accident that could have happened with any weight-lifting exercise, but it has become the “poster-child” incident for people who preach against CrossFit.

Should I try CrossFit?
As with any exercise regimen, know your body and use caution.

  • Be aware of your fitness level and your own limits.
  • Keep track of your pace: stay within your comfort zone. Don’t take too seriously the adage, “No pain, no gain.” If you experience pain during your workout, don’t push it. Working through too much pain could not only be counterproductive, it may be a warning of serious injury. In other words, don’t be a hero.
  • With any weight training that involves, axial, or top, loading of the spine, proceed slowly. Such activities include snatch, dead lift, or lunges with shoulder weights. Rather, increase leg and torso strength before progressing to these exercises.

In the final analysis…
If CrossFit aligns with your goals, it can be a good program—if you use common sense and good judgment in following the principles. Getting and staying in shape is a long-term commitment. Don’t try to condense a decade into a month or two. Again, make sure the coaches in that gym are experienced and competent. There may be a few CrossFit gyms in your area, so make a careful, informed decision.

Bear in mind, too, that is a financial as well as a time commitment. CrossFit can cost 2 to 3 times as much as a commercial gym, for the classes alone.

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Updated on: 09/15/16
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