Some would say it’s the professional, and costly, marketing that makes CrossFit a world-wide phenomenon. Well, it is hard to deny a crucial role of sponsors in popularizing sports disciplines of all kinds. Nonetheless, CrossFit had been spreading quite successfully via Internet even before it found its major sponsors. Thus, there has to be something unique to this training method. What is it?

CrossFit’s theory

According to CrossFit’s official webpage, Greg Glassman, the method’s creator was the first one “… in history to define fitness in a meaningful, measurable way”. Namely, Glassman defines fitness as an “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains.”

And here’s the first and foremost unique value of the methodit does not aim at improving any specific muscle groups, improving one’s looks, like the well-known aerobics or bodybuilding. It aims at overall fitness which is the body’s capability of coping with various real life situations – also, or maybe above all, the unexpected ones.

Next, there is the definition of CrossFit in the light of the fitness: “that which optimizes fitness – constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity“. These are the three core characteristics of CrossFit training:

Constantly varied

CrossFit avoids routine that is cyclic and clearly ordered. Instead, it promotes three types of physical activity:

  • lifting,
  • gymnastics, and
  • endurance exercises

combined in the most unexpected way, which is to prepare one to the most unexpected situations in real life.

Functional movements

The exercises included in CrossFit’s sessions are supposed to resemble the movements we perform in everyday life. That’s how training this way, one is to actually improve their everyday physical ability to lift, jump, pull-up, and so on.

High intensity

The high intensity brings noticeable effects in a relatively short time. In other words, working at a fast pace boosts one’s performance more effectively than working out at a moderate pace. It also additionally boosts the very important endurance.

The roots of CrossFit & typical exercises

The three roots of CrossFit include two sports disciplines and endurance workout similar to the one in military regimen.

  1. Weight lifting: during a CrossFit training session we will perform barbell squats, dumbbell split lifts, kettlebell lifts next to the classic snatches as well as cleans and jerks.
  2. Gymnastics: Glassman used to be a gymnast himself, so he knows very well how gymnastic exercises develop the whole-body physical capability. You won’t be expected to perform summersaults, but you will use high bar and parallel bars for different kinds of pull-ups, muscle-ups and dips. You may be also taught how to perform a hand-stand, or even hand-stand push-ups by the wall.
  3. Endurance workout (militarish type): This part involves burpees, all kinds of push-ups, as well as different kinds of jumps and lunges, exercises with medicine ball, jumping rope, and the like.

Additional qualities of the CrossFit movement

Social aspect was always very significant element of the movement. At the very beginning, Glassman would publish Workout of the Day every day on his website, which at the same time was the place of the followers’ meetings in order to exchange experience. Now, the CrosFitters form an elite community. Training together boosts motivation and gives an opportunity for competition.

And the competition is another feature of CrossFit, which is rarely connected to recreational sports, but is an inherent aspect of professional sports. Except for the official CrossFit tournaments, competition takes place also during the very workout sessions. As pointed out on the CrossFit official website, “…people would die for points”.

That is why CrossFit trainers often measure the time of performance, count the repetitions, and use different types of score boards to record the results of those who exercise. Not only is it to control the progress of the individuals, but also to boost the in-group motivation by competition and the fear of failure.

And here comes the Glassman’s equation (quoted from CrossFit’s official):

CVFM @ HI + Communal Environment = Health

A regimen of constantly varied (CV), functional movements (FM) performed at high intensity (@HI) in a communal environment leads to health and fitness.

Is CrossFit for everyone?

The CrossFit promoters claim it is. They affirm the method’s safety regardless age and experience and propose adjustments in load and intensity, while sticking to the original exercises. Unfortunately, reality sometimes shows the opposite scenario.

The clue is in estimating an individual’s actual level of advancement and physical capability and applying the exactly accurate load and intensity. In case of beginners, help of an experienced coach or personal trainer is a must. Without that, it is highly probable that the beginners might injure themselves.

To sum up

CrossFit skillfully combines polar opposites, maybe that’s why it’s so unique and attractive:

  • it is exhausting, yet satisfying;
  • it has many directives, yet it claims to avoid routine;
  • it aims at general fitness, yet it brings many more benefits;
  • it pretends to be for everyone, yet it also pretends to be elite;
  • it claims to be safe, yet extremely demanding at the same time;
  • it contains elements of group support, yet it feeds on competition;
  • it is a form of recreational activity, yet it contains the characteristics of professional sport.

Additionally, it has a very well-developed theoretical basis and a well-presented ideology. It’s almost scientific in its definitions and describing methods, techniques, and exercises, which is why it seems very reasonable and well-designed. It is described as “empirically driven, clinically tested and community developed.”

Make sure you won’t be seduced by all the definitions, equations, and the sense of an elite community. These are very important, and might be indeed useful and motivating just as soon as you have been properly prepared for the major physical effort served by CrossFit. Make sure you at least start with someone who knows what they’re doing and tells you how to exercise within the CrossFit’s framework without the risk of a serious injury.

Read also the previous article of the series: CrossFit – how it all started.

About Cathy Patalas

The sports soul and the alleged specialist in words of 52Challenges.com. The main 52C Blog writer. A diligent student at the English Department of the University of Wroclaw, majoring in applied linguistics. An ex-acrobat and aerobic gymnast with the 13-year long experience in „training for winning”. A multiple medallist of Poland nationals in acrobatic gymnastics, and academic nationals in aerobic gymnastics. A fan of gymnastics of every existing type. Personally, finds making everyday choices in a healthy lifestyle even more demanding a challenge than making everyday sacrifices in the athlete’s lifestyle.