CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program. The training method is offered by the US company of the same name and includes weightlifting, sprinting and exercises with your own weight. But CrossFit isn’t just for hardcore athletes. And you don’t have to pick up heavy weights to get started, either

The courses, which vary in length and content depending on the trainer and gym, can have several components. For example, it starts with a strength or skill exercise, which is often followed by more endurance-oriented fitness training.

Some benchmark CrossFit workouts are all about completing a certain number of repetitions as quickly as possible. A classic test called Fran consists of 21 reps of thrusters (squats and overhead presses with a barbell) and pull-ups, followed by 15 reps each, and then nine reps.

Other workouts are all about completing as many rounds or reps as possible in a given amount of time, known as AMRAP (as many rounds/reps as possible). The Cindy workout involves completing as many rounds as possible of five pull-ups, ten push-ups, and 15 squats in 20 minutes.

According to Nicole Carroll, director of training and certification at CrossFit, CrossFit workouts can help improve mental and physical health, build an athletic physique, and gain confidence.

For starters, you should focus on healthy habits, doing the compound exercises consistently, and being patient as you see results, Carroll said. Here’s what you need to know before your first CrossFit workout:

Anyone can do CrossFit safely

It’s a common misconception that CrossFit is dangerous or only suitable for young, fit people. However, according to Carroll, scaled exercises are used to adjust the level of difficulty and intensity for athletes of all ages and experience levels.

“CrossFit was designed to improve the fitness of all participants in the safest, most efficient, and most effective way possible,” she says. Research shows that CrossFit is just as safe as other sports like powerlifting or gymnastics.

It’s not about getting as tired as possible with various training sessions
Carroll said another myth about CrossFit is that the goal is to get as tired as possible by mixing exercises together. However, the various CrossFit workouts are very deliberately designed and focus on the core principle of “constantly varying, high-intensity functional movements,” according to Carroll.

For example, some workouts focus on heavy weights with movements like deadlifts or squats to improve strength and power, while others involve lighter weights but higher reps performed quickly to improve speed and endurance. Classes also include skill exercises perfecting advanced techniques like ring muscle-ups, handstand push-ups, or Olympic lifts like the clean.

While there is an opportunity to try complicated exercises, most workouts consist of basic movements combined in various ways to develop all aspects of fitness, from strength and endurance to speed and dexterity.

The key is mastering basic exercises

Beyond glamorous CrossFit moves like heavy weightlifting or complicated calisthenics, most workouts follow basic sequences of simple movements, Carroll says. At the beginning of CrossFit training, trainers begin with basic bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, pull-ups, and squats. Over time, athletes add weight, do more repetitions, and/or increase speed and intensity.

For example, the CrossFit benchmark workout Murph includes a mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, and 300 squats, followed by another mile run, all in a weight vest. Beginners can skip the vest, break the workout into smaller sets, and do the pull-ups and push-ups in graduated form to finish it off.

While CrossFit athletes are known for their lean muscles and six-pack abs, building muscle and burning fat is a side benefit, Carroll says, and not the main focus of the program. “We’re chasing work capacity. But form inevitably follows function,” she says. “When CrossFit athletes regularly invest time and effort into their training to increase their work capacity and follow the CrossFit nutritional principles, they are doing whatever it takes to build the body of their dreams.”

Prioritize your diet and sleep

CrossFit extends beyond the gym to lifestyle habits that support fitness, Carroll said. Getting enough sleep is important for fitness, and so is proper nutrition and a balance of carbohydrates, fats, and protein, according to Tia Claire-Toomey, one of the top CrossFit athletes in the world.

For example, Toomey eats high-carb staples like bagels and oatmeal for energy. One of the most important aspects of CrossFit is that unlike many fitness fads, it’s not touted as a quick fix. CrossFit is about a long-term journey that will lead you to success, Carroll said.

“A lot of athletes find CrossFit after years of taking pills and trying potions. Some of them eventually get disappointed that they didn’t get the secret workout that was supposed to fulfill their fitness dreams,” she says.

Aspiring CrossFit athletes can get the results they want, but only if they’re willing to work hard and be patient to reap the rewards, Carroll said. “My advice is to enjoy the learning process,” she said. “You just have to start and keep at it – the skill development will come naturally.”

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