There are workouts that create big, rippling muscles. Others maintain a steady heart rate to burn fat. Still others that increase your endurance and agility.
Then there’s Crossfit.
Designed for “elite athletes” and military personnel, Crossfit has trickled down to folks who are looking for an all-around fitness program — improving strength, endurance, agility, speed, and more — and who aren’t afraid of challenging themselves in the process. It’s also been my workout of choice for about 6-8 months now. I’ve never had my ass kicked so hard by a workout as with this one. Intensity is one of the two factors for success in a workout plan, and Crossfit is built to be intense.
How You Do It
Unlike most workouts, which include a regular repetition of certain exercises (arms Monday, legs Tuesday, etc.), Crossfit features a Workout of the Day (or WOD) that varies in a seemingly random (but actually structured) manner. Recent WODs included:
- Barbell squats, 5 sets of 3 reps for maximum weight.
- Alternating sets of sit-ups and jump-rope, done for time.
- Four rounds of 100 ft walking lunges, 24 inch box jumps, and weighted pull-ups, for time.
- 5k run.
Then there’s the Crossfit Total, which is intended to determine your single-rep max in the deadlift, squat and shoulder press. Other WODs are named after women (“The Girls”) or fallen soldiers. Yet others include such intense-sounding names as “Fight Gone Bad” or “Filthy Fifty.”
A workout is posted each day at the Crossfit.com web site by Greg Glassman, known to most Crossfitters as “Coach.” If you already have access to the simple equipment required for the workouts, you don’t have to pay a cent extra. In fact, this is the way I do it. But if you need a helping hand to lead you through the exercises, there’s probably a Crossfit-licensed gym in your town. It’s way more expensive than a regular fitness club, but you’re paying for a certain amount of personal training to help you with form, and camaraderie when doing the exercises.
New Dimensions in Pain
One aspect you’ll quickly catch on to is how taxing an average Crossfit workout is. Most WODs are quite short: between 10 and 20 minutes for timed sets, a little longer on strength days. But the exercises are intended to push your limits: “cheating” is difficult, because each workout has a recorded goal. You can share your results on the Crossfit web site or other discussion groups around the Web, but the only real competition is within yourself.
And because of the variety and intensity of exercises, there’s always the potential for injury. The word mentioned in criticism of Crossfit is Rhabdomyolysis: breakdown of skeletal muscle causing kidney failure. While it sounds horrible, it’s a risk in any intense program, from professional bodybuilding to police and military training, and even then it’s fairly uncommon. There are certain moves Crossfit discourages for their rhabdo potential, including large numbers of jumping pull-ups.
And because you’ll be lifting weights to your single-rep maximum, form is critical. Hurting your back the first time you perform a deadlift isn’t going to help you get fit. And when your intensity’s high, hydration and warmups become even more important.
When You’re Not A Marine
One final tip if you’re thinking of trying Crossfit: don’t do the WOD as posted. You’ll kill yourself, and I don’t want a dead reader. The version posted on the Crossfit site is the “as prescribed” or “Big Dawgs” version, intended for top athletes. Instead, go to the message boards at the Brand X Crossfit site and find the scaled version. A good rule of thumb is to find the scaling you think you can handle, and use the version just below that. The people on the Brand X boards can also help you with questions and support.
If you’re curious, give Crossfit a shot for a few weeks. It’s not for everyone — some guys just need a simple, basic workout, and whatever keeps you going out to exercise is what you want to be doing. But if you do try Crossfit, you might find a level of intensity you didn’t know you had in you.