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CrossFit for the Uninitiated

So. You’ve heard about CrossFit … and if you’re on this site, you’re probably aware that we’re not referring to a Nike shoe. You’re interested, but it can seem a little intimidating– especially the way people talk about it. In the news and social media, CrossFit can come across as the physical equivalent of Bitcoin: you’re either a fanatical believer and can’t shut up about it, or you really have only the vaguest idea what it even IS.

According to Google’s dictionary, CrossFit is “a high-intensity fitness program incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise.” That’s accurate, but it’s not particularly helpful … and that “high-intensity” thing sounds a little scary. So let’s expand on that definition a little.

Jumping over to the Crossfit.com, we can learn that

“CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity … and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work divided by time—or power. The more work you do in less time, or the higher the power output, the more intense the effort.”

CrossFit workouts are built around intensity of movement, but now we know why: it’s a way to train your body to switch gears. In terms of fitness, “routine” is the bad guy.

Here’s another way to look at it: the human body can be remarkably efficient. If you run the same 3 miles every day of the week, your body will learn exactly how much energy that task consumes … and that’s all it will allot. The rest is stored–because not only is your body efficient, it’s also self-protective. It likes having emergency caches of energy.

So what happens if you try to go four miles one morning? Well, you’ll start tapping into that emergency energy supply–that’s why it’s there: your body considers any unplanned use of energy something of an emergency.

By constantly shifting the types of movements and the amounts of strength involved within a single workout and different workouts every day, CrossFit helps you train your body to tap into what is needed in the moment. The CrossFit philosophy is to accept discomfort and push your body to the limit to achieve maximum impact. CrossFit believes that training your body for the unknown allows you to be physically prepared for whatever challenge you face.

CrossFit is built around natural movements of the body, and often depends on your body for counterweight. Group classes involve individuals choosing a “WOD,” or “Workout Of the Day.” This may include callisthenic-type activities such as ring pull-ups or rope climbing; weightlifting, including powerlifting, and/or cardio exercise such as running or cycling. Basic moves like stretches and push-ups often fill in the rest of the time.

Is CrossFit hard? Well, yeah–that’s more or less the point. Is it dangerous? Sure–if done incorrectly, you could do some damage … just like any other exercise regimen. But find and follow a qualified instructor, and you’ll be in good shape (literally and figuratively).

Is CrossFit for you? Well, only you can really answer that question. Everyone needs a hobby, but not everyone fits the CrossFit profile. CrossFitters form a unique culture: many participants follow a specific diet (usually the Paleo Diet) and are fitness fanatics. CrossFit attracts a lot of former athletes who thrive on competition and relish the team mentality. None of those are prerequisites, of course, but if that describes you, CrossFit might be your fit.