A Beginners Guide to CrossFit and How to Get Started
Introduction to CrossFit
Most people, when they hear the word CrossFit, automatically think of high intensity, elite athletes such as Matt Fraser and Tia Toomey, doing countless muscle-ups and snatching ridiculous weights above their heads. To a certain extent this is not incorrect, however this is only a very small part of what makes up CrossFit and what it is. Yes, the Elite Athletes and those crowned as the “Fittest on Earth” certainly make for good television and good social media role models, but the truth is that these types of people are few and far between. To give you a rough idea of how scarce these athletes are, Crossfit.com estimates that there is approximately 5 million people that do CrossFit in 15,000 gyms across 158 countries. This doesn’t take into account the number of people who take part in unaffiliated CrossFit gyms, so that 5 million could be much higher. Of this 5 million or so, there are 332 athletes that participate in the CrossFit games (like the World Cup – only every year). Due to the Global pandemic this number was reduced down to the top 20 men and women from the Open (worldwide competition open to everyone, those who do the best get invited to qualifiers both regionally and nationally and then from there, the CrossFit Games). Of course, not everyone who takes part in CrossFit, does so to become an elite athlete. To many people, participating in CrossFit is no different than signing up in their local gym or going jogging 3 times a week or partaking in fitness classes with a local instructor in the local parish or school hall.
I would like to bust a few myths or misconceptions that are commonly held. I can reluctantly admit that once upon a time, I was one of those people who wrote off CrossFit and called it a waste of time and criticised it, without ever fully understanding what it was. Luckily in my twilight years (29th year currently!) I have grown to be much wiser and more open minded than being just resistance-training focused with a little bit of cardio when I wanted to drop bodyfat.
First and foremost, CrossFit is a brand, not unlike the UFC or the NFL. CrossFit is not officially recognised as a sport but the components of CrossFit such as Functional Fitness and Olympic Lifting are defined as sports. Another issue which often draws criticism from others but yet makes CrossFit so unique and gives it its selling point is the fact that it is not standardised. In fact, it’s the randomness of CrossFit that makes it so appealing and attractive to many who participate. There has also been criticism that it encourages people to perform movements incorrectly or with prescribed weights that they may not be able for. Ultimately this will boil down to coaching and people taking responsibility for their own safety. Unfortunately, with how populated the fitness industry is, there will always be poor coaches regardless of what their backgrounds are.
Where to start? Workout of the Day
The good news is: CrossFit can be done by literally anyone, regardless of age, injuries, current fitness levels, fitness goals or availability of equipment. CrossFit WOD’s (Workout of the Day) can be modified for each person depending on what equipment is available and what their capabilities are so that each workout can be done safely and effectively in making the user that little bit healthier and fitter.
So now you know that it can be tailored to suit everybody, where do you start? Well to be honest it’s a lot easier than you would think once you know the right places to look. For example, you can search Crossfit.com and search the homepage for the workout of the day. From there, there is a calendar which you can search back as far as 2001. That’s roughly 20 Years of WODS, each and every one of them comes with a video tutorial explaining how to do the WOD and how to scale as needed. Many of these WODs may require equipment that is beyond your reach. But don’t worry, there are as many more available to access that are non-equipment based.
If you can’t find a WOD that suits you then it’s very simple to plan your own WOD. Again, this can be done with little to no equipment. All you need is a theme, exercise, or movement selection and then a Rep Scheme. Now that might sound all well and good to somebody like myself who has fitness coaching experience and is familiar with programming but allow me to try break it down into its simplest form.
When I say that your WOD should have a theme, I’m talking here about what you want to be the goal from this workout. For example, you might want the WOD to be focused on getting a good burn in the legs or one to get your heart rate elevated. You might want to train your upper body but with more functional movements that will transfer over into a better quality of everyday life and movement. Once your theme has been decided then you select exercises to compliment what it is you want to achieve. You will be pleasantly surprised with the sheer number of exercises you can do using just your bodyweight or better still if you had a single piece of equipment such as a dumbbell or kettlebell or jump rope. After this, the only other factor that should affect your exercise selection is skill. For example, a complete beginner should first master the basic compound movements before tackling the likes of the snatch or handstand push ups. Regardless of ability, the basics have been tried and tested and have been proven time and time again to never let you down when it comes to effective exercise selection.
Choose Your Rep Scheme
Now that your theme is picked and your exercises have been chosen, you need to finalise the WOD with a Rep Scheme. The brilliant thing about CrossFit is that there are so many different options to vary up your sessions. Here are a few short examples of common CrossFit Rep Schemes:
- Rounds for Time: A workout structure where you perform X number of rounds of prescribed exercises as fast as you can, without compromising quality reps of course. An example might be 10 rounds of 10 squats and 10 press ups. You would complete the 10 rounds and see how long it takes
- AMRAP: As many rounds/Reps as possible with an allocated time. For example, you could have 7 minutes to complete the prescribed exercises as many times as possible. Your score would then be either the number of rounds you achieved or number of reps.
- EMOM: Every Minute on the Minute. For this type of workout you will need a timer or a stopwatch. You might have to perform a certain number of reps of an exercise and the remaining time of that minute could be rest or active recovery. Generally, the quicker you complete a workload in an EMOM, the more rest you have earned.
- 21-15-9: A very common occurring rep scheme in CrossFit. Complete 21 reps of each movement then move on to 15 of each and then 9. This can be altered for higher and lower numbers of any number of exercises you wish, depending on the volume of work you want to torture yourself with!
I’m now going to share a few sample WOD’s that you can try yourself. The best part is that its all basic movements that can be scaled down if needs be and there is no equipment needed at all.
Viola! Copper is a benchmark WOD which is done as a “Rounds for Time Format”. The Original Workout Consists of 10 Rounds for time of the Above 4 Movements. Of course this is a lot of volume, so for beginners it would be a good idea maybe to scale back the number of rounds. Time cap is just there in case it’s taking a long time, in that case I would recommend to call it a day.
As the once famous Neil Buchanan said, “Here’s one I made earlier”. This is a small example of how you can use the AMRAP concept. The great thing about this WOD, is that each one is short and all movements require no equipment. To note, the *HRPU stands for Hand Release Push Up’s. It would of course be much easier to Google any movements you may be unsure of as a visual demonstration may prove to be a lot more effective than an explanation. That’s me in the photo participating in my first ever CrossFit competition where I came joint 1st – a proud moment for me.
In conclusion, I hope I have given you a good overview of CrossFit. There is much more to it and I hope to elaborate in future blogs. I do hope I’ve convinced some readers to give it a try – you won’t be sorry. Perhaps someday I might even meet one or two of you at a competition. (No hard feelings will be held if you beat me).
About the Author
A qualified Personal Trainer with a Higher Certificate in Business Sport & Recreation, Paul Coates has lots of experience in the fitness industry in one-to-one and group-fitness. His own passion for fitness has brought him to football, athletics, body-building and CrossFit. Paul works with clients to develop a tailored plan to their individual needs focussing on the basics to build a strong foundation for success.