Almost 20 years after the first box opened in Santa Cruz, California, CrossFit has achieved a universal appeal—seriously, it’s one of the biggest global workout trends. Despite its popularity, though, a lot of mystery still surrounds “the sport of fitness” (as the company likes to be known). For starters, CrossFit has its own language, a dress code that doesn’t adhere to seasonal activewear trends, and then there are the workouts themselves. It’s a lot to unpack, and if you’re wondering, “Is CrossFit for me?”—we’re here to help you figure that out.
Before diving in too deep, here’s a little background for you. CrossFit is defined as constantly varied, functional movements—i.e. the types of real-life motions you’d make your body perform if you were lifting heavy bags of groceries, climbing stairs, bending over to grab something off the ground, etc.—executed at high intensity. Completing such moves requires effort and using multiple muscle groups and joints at once.
The name CrossFit was coined by Greg Glassman (dubbed “The WODFather”) in 2000. But by no means was he the first to incorporate functional movements into an exercise routine—he was just the first to think inside the box (which is what a CrossFit gym is called, FYI). “Greg Glassman simply put a name, a brand, to a way of exercising people have been doing in garages for a long time,” says Jenny LaBaw, NSCA, a former CrossFit Games competitor and certified personal trainer. “[He’s] a genius businessman.”
A typical CrossFit class usually lasts about an hour including the warm-up and cool-down. Maybe you’ve heard CrossFitters say “Our warmup is your workout,” which (while annoying) may be true depending on the intensity of your current fitness routine. But the warm-up is typically an incredibly-helpful instruction session that involves a review of and practice of the moves you’ll be executing in the workout.
If you’re used to hour-long boot camps or 90 minutes of no-break hot yoga, you’ll be surprised to learn that an actual workout of the day typically lasts just 5 to 15 minutes.
If you’re used to non-stop, hour-long boot camps or 90 minutes of no-break hot yoga, you’ll be surprised to learn that an actual workout of the day, which is called the “WOD” (and pronounced like a wad of toilet paper) typically lasts just 5 to 15 minutes. And anything over 20 minutes usually earns a groan and the nickname, “endurance WOD.”
A shorter WOD may look like 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats over and over for 10 minutes straight without a break. (In CrossFit speak, this workout is a 10-minute AMRAP, which stands for “as many reps as possible” in a certain timeframe.) Or it may look like a workout called, “Angie” (yes, certain WODs sound more like something you’d here shouted waiting in line for a smoothie than by an instructor during a sweat sesh), which consists of 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups, 100 squats completed for time.
Arguably the most famous CrossFit WOD is “Fran”: three rounds at a 21-15-9 rep scheme of barbell thrusters (a squat/push-press combo) and pull-ups, all done for time. (To get a sense of how fast this WOD is, the top female competitors in the annual CrossFit Games can complete this workout in under 3 minutes).
“Because you’re always learning new tweaks and techniques to move better, faster, and more safely, you’ll never get bored.”
But CrossFit goes beyond just “fitnessing fast” (or for time). “Good boxes and coaches will teach you gymnastics skills and technical compound lifts like how to kip, how to snatch, and even how to row and run more efficiently and safely,” says Grayson Wickham, DPT, a certified strength and conditioning coach. “Because you’re always learning new tweaks and techniques to move better, faster, and more safely, you’ll never get bored.”
Still trying to figure out if CrossFit is for you? Keep reading to see the workouts biggest benefits and drawbacks—plus, the types of personalities best suited for it.
Is CrossFit for me?
Box owners, coaches, and fanatics alike love to tell newbies and, ahem, potential converts that “CrossFit’s for everyone.” It’s a hyperbole, but they do have a point, given that the workout’s fitfam numbers over four million.
“CrossFit can seem intimidating because of its reputation, because it’s loud, because if you walk into a CrossFit box you’ll without a doubt be surrounded by people who are fitter than the average person,” says LaBaw. “But whether you’re a CrossFit rookie or know your way around a barbell and gym, CrossFit really can be for anyone,” she says.
CrossFit Games athlete Kelsey Kiel CF-L1, coach at CrossFit Invictus Back Bay, echoes that sentiment. She says she, her 60-year-old mother, and father (who’s had two hip replacements) all go-to, are challenged by, and are becoming healthier through CrossFit.
Of course, just like you probably won’t like barre if you don’t like wearing gripping socks and doing small muscle-movements, and you may swipe left on hot yoga if you can’t stand the heat, some personality types may like CrossFit more than others. Chances are good that CrossFit is for you if: You’re an extrovert or feel at least semi-jazzed about making new friends, are a fitness-junkie, former athlete, or love proving to yourself just what you’re *really* made of. Similarly, if words like hardcore and intense inspire instead of intimidate you, you might want to give the workout a try. That’s not to say that every person in a box has an excessive amount of big dick energy—there are exceptions to every rule, and ultimately, the best way to tell if CrossFit is for you is by trying it.
Ultimately, the best way to tell if CrossFit is for you is by trying it.
And guess what? Even if “sporty” or “in shape” are the *last* word you would use to describe yourself in your Tinder bio, you may still like CrossFit. “There’s a misconception that you have to already be in shape to do CrossFit,” says Kiel. “That’s not how it works. CrossFit gets you in shape. Erase the idea that you need to lose a few more pounds or get a little bit stronger before you join.” The same principle goes for beginner weightlifters: “Most CrossFit boxes have four to eight week on-boarding processes and classes where you learn all things barbell,” says LaBaw, who recommends *not* going to a gym that doesn’t have a system in place for new members.
All the experts I interviewed for this story agreed on one thing: CrossFit isn’t usually the type of place where you wipe your sweat and then go after a workout (like say, the way you might roll up your mat and peace after savasana). “When people ask why I think they should try CrossFit, I always says the community, the community, the community,” says Wickham, who believes that when you exercise with friends, you can hold each other accountable, which will likely help you reach your goals faster.
For CrossFitters like Kiel, their box is a third space outside of home and work where they go to connect and feel like they’re part of something greater than themselves. “I always say that the box is my happy place,” she says. “It’s cool when I can hear my members says the same thing, which they do. That’s the CrossFit community.”
If the group-bonding aspect of the sport excites you, consider this: “No two boxes are alike,” says Kiel. “The culture, coaching, and space of every box is different.” That’s why she recommends dropping into a few before committing yourself (and your credit card) to a membership. “Most CrossFit boxes will have free intro classes for newcomers, and I encourage people to take advantage of them as a way to meet the community,” says LaBaw. (Personally, I commuted 45 minutes to my box for a full year instead of going to the place that was more convenient because I jammed with the the overall community vibe better, and preferred the programming).
CrossFit is how I made my group of friends (and found my roommate), but for me that was just a happy-bonus to the main attractor: the competition. “CrossFit is also great for people who thrive in competitive spaces,” says Wickham. Almost all workouts have a competitive element to them. Whether you’re doing an AMRAP workout or a workout “for time” (where you’re given a set number of reps to complete and have to finish them no matter how long it takes you), you’re generally working to “beat” the other people in class, either by getting the lower time, or the highest rep count. However, Kiel says that some boxes will have a more competitive vibe than others, and opting out of the fun, competitive banter is always pretty easy—though a bit of healthy competition can be more motivational than support, according to research. “Whether you’re just starting, or you’re a CrossFit Games athlete, you’ll be able to find someone at your box to compete against,” says Wickham.
To truly figure out if CrossFit is for you, however, you’ll need to weigh its health benefits and drawbacks against your own fitness goals. Keep reading to see how experts weigh in on the pros and cons of CrossFit.
What are the health benefits of CrossFit?
When women come to her CrossFit workouts for the first time, Kiel says they tend to say: “I want to try CrossFit, but I don’t want to get too bulky, I don’t want quads like yours, or can I get arms like yours?” (I also work at a CrossFit box, and I too am often met with both these fears and excitements from newcomers.)
“Whatever your body goals are: weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, etc., CrossFit can help you get there,” says Wickham. Just not overnight adds Kiel: “While good coaches will make sure that their athletes know that they won’t get arms like yours, or legs like a Games athlete over the course of a year or even three years, there are ways to help an athlete reach his/her goals,” she says.
CrossFit can improve a person’s heart and lung endurance, stamina, strength, power, speed, flexibility, agility, accuracy, balance, and coordination. (Phew!) “Beyond helping you reach your fitness or weight goals, it’s a sustainable, long-term, fun way to exercise—it’s a lifestyle,” says Wickham. It’s also considered a form of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which is one of the top three fitness trends in the world (largely because of CrossFit falling into this category), according to the annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
Become a regular at a box, and you’ll start feeling the afterburn effects (AKA increased post-workout fat burning), your overall athletic performance will improve, and you’ll help your body prevent injuries, otherwise known as prehab—all of which are among the many health benefits of HIIT workouts.
This last benefit might seem surprising as CrossFit often gets a reputation for being a workout with a higher likelihood of injury. “People think if you do CrossFit you will get injured—that’s not the case,” says Wickham. “It’s not CrossFit that injures people; it’s that CrossFit is a demanding way to work out. You need to leave your ego at the door. You need a coach that lets you know what you are and are not ready for. If you have an ego and no coach telling you to tone it back, you could be in trouble.”
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Are there drawbacks to CrossFit?
Filling your schedule with CrossFit workouts and post-WOD tacos on Tuesday (just me?) is a great and efficient way to get fit, since it allows you to do a wide combination of exercises in a short period of time, while keeping the intensity ramped up. And while banking extra minutes back into your daily time savings account is a happiness-boosting bonus of the workout, it does come with a few drawbacks.
CrossFit boxes typically charge two to five (gasp) times what typical gyms cost.
The main one, not-so-surprisingly, is its price. CrossFit boxes typically charge two to five (gasp) times what typical gyms cost. Most nationwide chains cost less than $70 a month, while CrossFit gym memberships typically cost $150 to $200 per month, and in urban areas (like New York City), boxes charge up to $350 per month. Even if you’re used to dropping green on fitness “upgrades” ($50 on honey, $25 on vegan yogurt, and $15 daily on ‘Grammable lunch-time salads, to name a few), CrossFit’s per-month price tag raises some red flags. “Unfortunately, most people see the price tag and call it a no-go without thinking about the benefits or how far the sport could take you toward your fitness goals” says LaBaw.
If you’ve ever stepped into a bare-bones training space, you know this price certainly isn’t reflective of top-notch amenities. And if you haven’t, CrossFit boxes don’t have fancy mirrors or equipment; instead, you’ll only find pull-up bars, barbells, jump ropes, the occasional off-to-the-side rower, assault bike, or SkiErg (a cardio machine that replicates the upper-body movements of cross-country skiing), and lots of open space. So what are you getting with a CrossFit membership? “The coaching, the community, the confidence. That’s what you’re paying for,” says Kiel.
Cost factor aside, if you’ve been reading up on CrossFit, over the past few months, you’ve likely seen headlines warning about the workout’s ability to cause rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdo, essentially, means the breakdown of muscles fibers—that happens when people push themselves too hard, too much, too fast— that are then released into the bloodstream, poisoning the kidneys. It’s definitely serious and scary, but it’s important to note that it happens to a very small percentage of CrossFitters—and also that it can happen as a result of any physically taxing workout, like spinning, when taken to an extreme. The bottom line: Listen to your coach, listen to your body (which is the best rule of thumb for any workout.)
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How do I get involved in CrossFit?
Once you decide to give it a try, the next step is to show up! “There’s a learning curve with CrossFit, so when you first sign up, I recommend going as often as you can make work with your schedule—aim for at least three times a week,” suggests Kiel. Once you start going, you’ll want to go more and more often, she predicts. (Just remember to take enough rest days, because they’re definitely not optional).
The bonus of going two days in a row: You can start convos with your fellow CrossFitters by asking, “How sore are you?” Are you sore? Where are you sore? Can you walk up the subway stairs or does it hurt to lift your arms? CrossFitters love to talk about any and all of these and complain-brag about how their bodies are feeling.
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