Crossfit – What’s all the hype about?

If you pay any attention to fitness trends, you’ll be well aware of the recent explosion in CrossFit devotees.  CrossFit is a fitness company which promotes highly varied, high impact, short duration, functional workouts in order to develop high level general fitness – the kind of fitness elite army personnel might need.  The company, established in the USA, now has thousands of affiliate gyms which guide people through regular CrossFit workouts.

CrossFit focuses on developing fitness through three core training techniques: cardio, gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting. It utilises a range of training tools including kettlebells, bars, rings, dumbells, boxes, ropes etcetera.  But never weight machines.

A CrossFit class usually talks 45-60 minutes and consists of four sections:

  • Warm up: The warm-up is usually a series of dynamic exercises to warm up your muscles and prepare you for the work out ahead.  It won’t be jogging on a treadmill but a series of jumping jacks, burpees, jump rope, lunges, pull ups and other functional exercises.
  • Skills/strength:  You’ll work on a particular strength exercise or a skill or technique used in training.
  • Workout of the Day (WOD): The WOD generally consists of short periods of high intensity cardio interspersed with strength exercises including body weight exercise, weight lifting and gymnastics.  Usually you will have a set number of reps with the aim to finish in the shortest period of time or a set time period in which to complete as many reps as possible.  For example, a WOD might consist of 5 sets of 12 x shoulder press (50kg for boys, 35kg for girls), 12 x toes to bar, 400m run.  These are designed so that each aspect of the workout is able to be scaled up or down to suit all fitness levels.
  • Cool down: An opportunity to stretch out at the end of the workout.

In order to track your progress, there are standard, benchmark WOD’s which are performed at regular intervals to track progression.  Alternatively, many gyms will offer regular 1 rep max sessions to provide evidence of measurable improvements in strength.  This ability to measure and track improvement can be a huge motivator for some people.

CrossFit promotes a no-frills paleo style diet consisting mostly of fresh vegetables, lean protein and complex carbohydrates suggesting you should eat enough to support exercise but not body fat.   After 4-6 weeks of daily CrossFit workouts, you will likely see significant improvements in strength, muscle definition and body fat percentage as you build lean muscle and lose excess body fat.  However, it is important to remember that diet plays a huge role in weight loss so you can’t expect to lose weight if you’re still eating rubbish.

Pros:

  • Camaraderie and community:  Unlike a regular group fitness class, CrossFit encourages a supportive team environment and you’ll get to know the other cross fitters at your gym.
  • Competition:  Most WOD’s have an element of competition which is one of the world’s greatest motivators.
  • Build a rockin’ bod:  Fit is the new skinny!  With a little focus on diet, committing to CrossFit will help you sculpt that toned body you’ve always dreamed of.
  • Coaching and support:  CrossFit classes always have an instructor to encourage you and make sure you’re doing each movement correctly, unlike a regular gym where you’re working out completely unsupervised.
  • It’s HARD: If you think that this should be in the con’s column then CrossFit probably isn’t for you.

Cons:

  • Cost: Classes generally cost $10-20 a session as you are paying for a small group coached training session, similar to a yoga class.
  • Lack of consistency:  Some people may find the lack of consistency frustrating as, due to the varied nature of the workouts, you mightn’t ever do the same workout twice.  This is great for keeping things interesting but not so good for tracking your progress.
  • A bad coach can be dangerous:  Telling someone to do as many reps as quickly as possible is simply asking for poor form.  Poor form leaves you vulnerable to injury, especially if you’re using heavy weights.  Without a great coach to ensure you are performing the exercises correctly, you’re at risk of injury.
  • Not great for specialisation:  If you’re training for a particular sport or event, then CrossFit probably isn’t the best choice.  You’d be much better of finding a coach who is specific for your sport.
  • Shouldn’t be done solo: If you prefer working out alone then CrossFit probably isn’t for you.  Without the supervision of a coach to ensure proper technique CrossFit can be downright dangerous.