Luke Weston, physiologist at AXA PPP healthcare

A guide to CrossFit

12 December 2019

Crossfit guide

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If you’re looking to introduce something a bit different to your workout routine, CrossFit can be a great way to add a new challenge to your gym training. There is usually a strong community feel to CrossFit because of its setup, as well as being a great way to develop all-round fitness. 

CrossFit is a competitive sport that came about in 2000 by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai as they attempted to create a sport that combined elements of high intensity interval training, gymnastics, weightlifting, powerlifting, Strongman and endurance events to create an all-encompassing ‘sport of fitness’.  Greg describes CrossFit as a combination of "constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains".

Most towns now have their own CrossFit ‘box’, a gym that is specifically set out for CrossFit activities. From dumbbells to skipping ropes, rowing machines to gymnastics rings, the equipment required is often vastly different for each session. This means that an individual class or session will be varied, but typically each is split into two parts. The first part will look to improve technique in a certain movement and may also focus more on strength aspects. The second part of the session will then be the workout of the day (WOD). A WOD will be different from session to session and is usually completing exercises in a circuit-like manner. The aim could be to complete a set number of rounds as quickly as possible or to complete as many rounds as possible in a set time. 

If you’re thinking about getting involved in CrossFit, it’s worth having a think about the pros and cons as to whether it’s the right thing for you.

The benefits of CrossFit

Community

If you want to feel part of a community with your workout routine, CrossFit is great because it has a strong community feel, with everyone following the same workout within the structured sessions. This universal sense can be beneficial for motivation and creating a real team spirit. CrossFit competitions usually have a team category which can also be a great way of strengthening relationships with your ‘box’ goers, whilst also being good fun!

Build all-round fitness

Because it focuses on so many different exercises and techniques, CrossFit can improve many components of fitness and can help you become a good all-rounder. According to their manual, CrossFit can improve cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy abilities. These are all important factors of health and fitness and can help to: improve quality of life, slow down the ageing process, lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol and heart health and help us to lose, maintain or increase our weight (depending on your needs). Weight training overall helps to improve bone strength, mobility, posture and stamina, so CrossFit is a real all-rounder when it comes to improving your fitness.

Competition

CrossFit is a competitive sport so, if you have a competitive side, this setup would suit you very well! This can be great if prior injuries are preventing you from competing in other sports you used to enjoy. CrossFit is also very controlled so it’s less likely an accident will occur; these sorts of injuries are more likely in team sports where fewer things are in your control. As with every exercise, there are of course risks, but they largely come down to how well the movements are completed, as optimal technique will greatly reduce the risk of injury.

Potential cons of CrossFit

Lack of specificity

The aim of CrossFit is to develop all-round fitness and while this is a positive, it does mean it can be hard to get very good at one particular area, such as strength or endurance. This is largely because a lot of the body’s adaptations required to excel at one will likely interfere and conflict with another. If you want to become very good at one area in particular, you need to be focussing your attention on this, meaning CrossFit may not necessarily be best for your fitness requirements or what you would like to achieve.

Putting winning over technique

Because CrossFit is a competitive sport that covers such a broad range of exercises and techniques, there is potential for form to be jeopardised with the desire to win, either competitively against others or your own previous achievements. Poor form when executing the exercises increases the likelihood of injury and should be avoided. Hopefully, you have a good coach or peers with your best interests at heart to prevent this from happening. If you are tempted to let technique go for that personal best or medal, they can reel you back in. Looking after your body comes first – you can’t go for the next personal best if you’re injured!

Finding a good ‘box’

If you’ve decided that CrossFit could be something that works for you, the next key thing to consider is making sure you find a good CrossFit box to train at. Make sure the equipment is good and well maintained, plus a good CrossFit box will have great coaches. The quality of coaches is so important when it comes to your enjoyment, making sure you’re doing the exercises safely and overall making sure that you get the most out of your sessions.

Having a good coach is very important regardless of what level you are, but particularly more so if you are beginner and just starting out. A good coach will be able to scale the session to your current skillset and fitness ability, ensuring that you learn the correct techniques and progress at a rate suitable for you.

Some things to consider when choosing a box and coach:

    • Try before you buy. Most boxes will have taster sessions to see if it’s right for you
    • Are the coaches qualified? CrossFit has its own certification levels and every coach should have at least one.
    • Is the coach experienced? It can be important to make sure the coach has ‘in the trenches’ experience as there is only so much you can learn from a qualification, so make sure to check how long they have been in the industry.
    • Is the coach getting results?
    • Is the coach engaging with clients and attentive?
    • Are they correcting technique?

CrossFit can be a great way of training if you want to improve your overall health and fitness, feel part of a community and have that competitive side to push you and keep you motivated. It’s important to never sacrifice technique for winning as this increases the risk of injury and be sure to find a good box with qualified and experienced coaches. 

Have fun and enjoy trying out something new!

For more information, take a look at the CrossFit manual here.

References:

CrossFit manual

CrossFit website

Dexheimer et al. Physiological Performance Measures as Indicators of CrossFit® Performance. 2019. 

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