The Definitive Guide To CrossFit
07. CrossFit Games
Imagine what would happen if you were in top physical condition in every way. You could run faster, jump higher, carry heavy weights for long distances, and burst into action with explosive power. What would you do with that phenomenal physical prowess? Would you excel at major league sports, win fighting competitions, or simply improve your health and fitness for everyday life? Think about your answer carefully, because there may be a way to accomplish it. Many people believe that CrossFit is the total package for physical fitness at every level.
CrossFit has become very popular and in demand as a unique strength and conditioning system. Firefighters, tactical police squads and special ops military units have all used it, with impressive results. Professional football players, martial artists, and elite sports players of all types use CrossFit to improve their performance. In fact, the program has been used by people of all ages and fitness levels who want to become stronger and more physically fit in every way. CrossFit is a program for heroes and hobbyists, for elite and amateur, and for young and old.
Yet CrossFit is not well-understood by most outsiders. Those who have not been involved with the program may only have a vague and general idea of what CrossFit is, if that. It is actually very understandable that more people are not well-educated on the subject. Although there is an enormous amount of information out there, it is hard to find a concise, complete treatise on the CrossFit program. If you are ready to learn about the system, its history, benefits, strategies, and special programs, you have come to the right place. In this Definitive Guide to CrossFit, you will learn just what the program is all about and be better able to judge your interest in it.
CrossFit is a program that is designed for complete fitness. It consists of doing exercises that use compound movements rather than training individual muscles. Its goal is to teach 10 basic areas of fitness: aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, stamina, flexibility, agility, coordination, accuracy and balance. The program does this with a continually changing grouping of exercises called the Workout of the Day.
The CrossFit program relies heavily on Olympic weightlifting, aerobic conditioning and gymnastics. Bodyweight exercises, such as pull-ups, pushups, and sit-ups are commonly used in the workouts. CrossFit athletes will often be seen sprinting, jumping, throwing or climbing a rope to improve their fitness. Cleans, snatches, and presses are simple but powerful exercises employed. Some movements in the program are based more on gymnastics, such as presses to a handstand, back flips, and pirouettes. Each workout consists of an almost random grouping of any of these types of exercises each day.
The training level is intense, in order to yield greater results in shorter exercise times. The average CrossFit daily workout is 20 to 30 minutes, but usually no longer than 45 minutes. Added to the basic level of intensity, there is also little or no time for breaks between exercises.
Nutrition is another element of CrossFit, but the ideas of the program are very simple. The main focus is on eating high quality proteins, carbohydrates and fats in the proper proportions and amounts. The CrossFit program uses the ideas of the Zone Diet as a basis for good nutrition. The program is not designed to build massive bulk, but it will contribute to lean muscle mass.
Not to be forgotten is CrossFit’s emphasis on harnessing the three energy pathways in the body. These are the oxidative pathway of aerobic fitness and the two anaerobic pathways of energy. These are the phosphogen pathway and the glycolytic pathway.
CrossFit programs are standard in type for everyone, whether elite athlete or senior citizen. It is just the intensity and loads that are changed to meet the needs of each individual fitness level. CrossFit, then, can be described as a broad-based fitness program in providing skills for almost any human endeavor, as well as in the variety of people who can use it.
CrossFit has not been around for very many years, so its history is a short one. Greg Glassman, a former gymnast, is the founder of CrossFit. He started out in the 1970’s with a theory of the ideal way to train for overall physical fitness. He started up the fitness program in his Santa Cruz, California home gym. There, Glassman worked on his program. He eventually instituted a routine for constantly reevaluating the efficiency, efficacy, and safety of each exercise in his system.
In 1995, Glassman opened his first official CrossFit gym. There was no other CrossFit gym anywhere for several years, but eventually Glassman decided to share his ideas with the world. He used an affiliate business model to spread the fitness system very quickly. By recruiting affiliates to run gyms across the country and worldwide, Glassman increased the scope of this CrossFit organization to over 1700 gyms by the year 2010.
A major turning point in this growth was the introduction of the CrossFit.com website launched by Glassman in 2001. The website had a very simple goal. It was meant as a grassroots movement to change the way people approached fitness and health.
The original website was a single page consisting of CrossFit information plus the all-important Workout of the Day. Glassman made a new workout and posted it each day with the hopes that more and more people would go to the website for their fitness needs. The idea worked, and after ten years on the web, the site had grown to a large multi-section feast of tips, workouts, theory, news and general information. As of 2010, the main website had thousands of visitors each day. What is more, affiliate websites garner attention from people interested in local fitness opportunities.
In 2007, the CrossFit Games were added to the basic program as a way to bring more competition into the system. The first CrossFit Games were small, with only about 70 competitors, but by the 2010 Games, the starting field had grown. Over 4500 athletes tried out at sectionals, and were cut to 1200 for regionals. There the final cut was made, leaving 90 competitors for the 2010 CrossFit Games.
The CrossFit Journal is another part of the CrossFit website. Its archives go back as far as April 2002, and span topics from foundations of the program to current news in the CrossFit community. The CrossFit Media Team covers stories around the globe relating to all facets of the program.
CrossFit has been alternately called a cult, a fad, and an amazing fitness program. From its inception, the system has made an impact on the world. From 2001 through 2010, the movement has grown at an astonishing rate. With footholds in sports, military, police and firefighter training, CrossFit appears to be making its mark in the most legitimate fitness circles. CrossFit’s history is likely just beginning.
There are several benefits to CrossFit that make it stand out as a uniquely helpful form of training. The proponents of the program have much to say about what makes CrossFit great. A short list of the advantages of CrossFit will provide some insight into its popularity.
1. CrossFit training develops broad fitness abilities.
Rather than focusing on one specific aspect of fitness, CrossFit is designed to have far-reaching effects on complete physical fitness. The program not only pays attention to the state of the muscles, but it also regards cardiovascular, hormonal, and neural fitness as important parts of the total package.
2. CrossFit training is a practical fitness plan.
By aiming to improve the 10 basic athletic skills, the program seeks to build fitness plans that will carry over to real life tasks. The basic concept is that usual bodybuilding workouts do not have anything to do with the way the body moves in situations outside the gym. By focusing on one muscle group at a time, those workouts effectively train the body for a job that will never take place. CrossFit, on the other hand, develops skills that will carry over to moving heavy furniture, running down a football field, or fighting in a combat situation.
3. CrossFit gyms are easy to set up and light on equipment.
The basic equipment for a CrossFit gym is very simple. Barbells and dumbbells are used, but no weight machines. Commonly found items such as sandbags, sledgehammers, ropes for climbing, and large tires can be used in the workouts. Plyometrics boxes can be bought cheaply or made easily. A complete CrossFit gym will also have some basic gymnastics equipment such as a set of rings. It is possible to set up a very inexpensive gym in which to do this program.
4. The CrossFit community provides social support online and at local gyms.
CrossFit has built up a system of forums, events calendars, and blogs that help people communicate about their fitness experiences. The community provides information, instruction, news and encouragement for CrossFitters of all levels.
5. CrossFit offers scaled programs for people of all ages and fitness levels.
No one is left out of CrossFit training except by choice. The program has been used for children, senior citizens and housewives, as well as the fitness elite. CrossFit has even been used for rehabilitation after injuries, due to this ability to scale down the workouts according to needs.
However, not everyone agrees that the CrossFit method is the best choice in any circumstances. Some detractors say that CrossFit has many problems and disadvantages. Here are just a few of their criticisms.
1. Perfect form is not a goal of CrossFit.
Many traditionalists claim that safety is sacrificed for intensity during CrossFit workouts. Workouts are geared towards intensity and volume. Perfect form may not always be considered to be important, and may even be thought of as detrimental to a good CrossFit workout. The idea of certain trainers is that if you are doing an exercise with perfect form, you are not doing it to your maximum capacity. Yet, if form is so bad that safety is an issue CrossFit becomes a dangerous program. In reality, most CrossFit coaches know that proper technique is not just safer, but it is also more efficient and effective. In fact, a majority of CrossFit coaches are certified by the USAW in Olympic Weightlifting and hold degrees in Exercise Science or Exercise Physiology. CrossFit trainers know that teaching excellent technique will produce the highest level of fitness possible.
2. There is some concern that CrossFit workouts can cause muscle breakdown.
After an intense CrossFit workout, one athlete suffered from extreme rhabdomyolysis, a condition which breaks down the muscle fibers and damages the kidneys. The result was a stint in the intensive care unit of a hospital. Although this is an extreme example, detractors of the program will point to it as a danger of the high intensity workouts.
3. Some people do want to specialize in their fitness goals.
CrossFit is designed as a well-rounded program that trains the body for competency in all areas of fitness. Some elite athletes want a more sports-specific approach. Plus, people who are interested in training individual muscles to look a certain way for bodybuilding competitions would probably not choose CrossFit.
Before choosing to do or dismiss CrossFit, it is a good idea to learn all you can about the best and the worst of the fitness program. Always search for that balanced view that will help you understand the system all the better.
Broad general theory is one thing, but to really know about a program you need to understand more. People who start out with the program will need to do things the right way in order to make progress in CrossFit. A look at the basics of the training will further define the program.
1. Mechanics of the movements must be sound.
The first thing to do when learning an exercise is to learn, understand and experience the mechanics involved. You need to know what parts of your body to move, how much to move them, and in what order it is to be done. This step is important if you want to do the movement with good enough form to make any progress. Elite athletes will spend less time on this step if they have been trained in doing similar exercises.
2. Consistency is essential.
Once you have dissected the exercise and learned every move it involves, the next step is to practice it until you can do it consistently well. If you are a newcomer to physical fitness programs, you will likely need to spend at least a month practicing all the movements of the basic exercises of CrossFit. The best way to accomplish this is to keep doing workouts regularly, especially during the learning phase.
3. Intensity is the goal.
After you know the exercises, the goal in CrossFit is to do them at a high intensity. Bear in mind that what is high intensity for someone else might not be much work for you at all. The key to success is in striving for your own personal best intensity level.
4. There is a time limit for CrossFit workouts.
CrossFit is all about increasing power for life activities. Because power is figured as a measure of force at speed, the time element is crucial. Workouts are timed, and the amount of work that a person can do in the time limit is seen as a measure of that person’s physical fitness. Because of features like this, CrossFit is a quantifiable program, where one set of results can be compared to another.
5. The Workout of the Day is to be used with caution.
Many people quit CrossFit because they cannot immediately do the Workout of the Day exactly as given. They feel that if they are not completing this standard workout, they are not doing CrossFit. However, the WOD is meant to be scaled down for people of varying fitness levels. Anyone without a good base of physical fitness should work up to the WOD, and many people will never be able to do the WOD exactly as stated because of age or disability. That does not mean they are not doing the program and cannot benefit from it.
The benefits of CrossFit are evident in the improved abilities people have in their work and daily lives. It is all possible because of the focus on functionality in the program. All the other elements of the program go back to this one overriding goal of broad and general fitness. Everything in the program is aimed at making your body perform better across a wide range of physical activities. This training for life is accomplished by many methods.
First, compound exercises are chosen for their ability to train people in these broad skills. Deep air squats are usually the first exercises a new CrossFitter will use. Olympic weightlifting builds strength and power. Pushups increase strength and balance. These and other exercises in the program’s repertoire use many groups of muscles, working together to make the large overall movement.
The second method employed is constant variation. If the body is to be ready for anything life has to throw at it, then it should be trained with the same type of unexpected variation. A good trainer will come up with a Workout of the Day that is different each day. You should not get the instructions for the WOD too far ahead, because the surprise element is crucial in training your body to overcome unpredictable challenges.
There are some standard combinations that come up from time to time in the workouts. One type of combinations is called “couplets.” This refers to a set of two exercises which are done together in a workout. One is usually an Olympic lift and the other is usually a gymnastics move. These are sometimes done in a special group of difficult workouts as well, named with women’s names such as Diane or Fran. These workouts are particularly challenging.
Many of the gyms use the hopper method to choose physical challenges for the day. A hopper is filled with slips of paper with CrossFit exercises on them. The hopper is then spun, and someone pulls out a slip of paper. Whatever is chosen is the exercise that everyone will be tested on for the day.
These tests are part of the competitive spirit that has arisen across the CrossFit gyms. In most regular gyms, people work out alone. If they compare their results with anyone else’s, it is casually. Comparison is not a basic part of the average gym experience. CrossFit gyms are different. They have adopted a theme of finding the fittest person in the group and rewarding the success with praise, recognition or sometimes even material rewards. In most CrossFit gyms, the competitions are done on a daily basis. The atmosphere in a CrossFit challenge can be intensely exciting.
Some people work alone, in a home gym, using information from the Internet and other sources. However, the gym and trainer method is best for most people. Anyone who decides to start doing CrossFit has to begin by thinking about his fitness level and abilities. Athletes who are highly trained in weightlifting and gymnastics will have a head start on people who are just beginning a fitness program for the first time. With careful consideration of your strengths and weaknesses, you will know better how to approach the program.
The CrossFit games were established in 2007 with the purpose of finding the fittest CrossFitter. The Games started as a competition among all the people who were doing CrossFit at the time and wanted to participate. Each year, more people have wanted to enter, and a system had to be developed to narrow the field. Now, there are sectionals, and then regionals to cut the number of participants down to a manageable level before the final CrossFit Games.
Since CrossFit is now a worldwide phenomenon, the goal has become finding the “fittest on earth.” The definition of “fittest” used in this case is the person who has the most all around ability in life’s tasks. In order to test for this capacity, the organizers of the event must set up a variety of challenges which cover a wide range of physical capabilities.
The exercises used all have a functional element to them. Any of the exercises can be used to train for the life of the participant outside the gym. In regular CrossFit training, odd objects are often used to simulate carrying actual loads you might carry in the real world. However in the games, although the exercises must translate to real world movements, gym equipment is used in order to keep the judging fair across the field of participants.
The 2010 Games started out with a couplet of muscle-ups and squat-snatches. Muscle-ups are gymnastics exercises using rings, and squat-snatches are weightlifting exercises. Another couplet that is often used is cleans and handstand pushups. Combining these two different exercises tested more aspects of overall fitness than any single exercise could ever do.
Some of the workouts used in the CrossFit games have been based on the named workouts, such as the Helen. The basic Helen workout has simple movements, such as pull-ups. This particular workout was used in 2010, with a longer duration and an accompanying heavy overhead lift at the end.
Rope climbing has been a staple of the Games throughout their existence. Rope climbing is considered to be a good test of general fitness alone, and it may be combined with other exercises for a mixed modality workout. Other common items have been used in some of the past games. For example, participants have been required to run, pushing a wheelbarrow filled with heavy sandbags for a set distance.
A final test is the blind challenge where the athletes are given their set of instructions immediately before time to start the workout. This is the ultimate test of how well they can perform in unpredictable circumstances. A separate event tests affiliate teams to find the fittest group in the system.
The Games provide a grueling contest, and many of the elite athletes in the final Games will not be able to finish every workout. In the end, the performance statistics of the participants are compared. The ones who come out the best in the overall standings are called out for recognition. The CrossFitter with the top score is proclaimed the “fittest on earth.”
CrossFit is not meant just for the elite. The elements of CrossFit can be applied to athletes, non-athletes, and even seniors. These three core elements of the program are functionality, variability, and intensity. There is no group of people who cannot benefit from workouts based on these central ideas.
Grounding the workouts in functionality assures that any CrossFitter at any level will gain physical abilities for life tasks by his efforts. Functional movements are those that do not isolate muscles, but move the body in ways that are natural and productive for real life situations.
Aiming for functionality does not mean that you cannot work with weights or other gym equipment during workouts. Quite the contrary; working out in a properly equipped gym helps with improvement of all the aspects of physical fitness. In your everyday life, you need balance, agility, flexibility, coordination, accuracy, speed, strength, power, stamina and aerobic endurance. Good functional workouts in the gym can help develop those qualities.
Variability is important for all skill levels and age groups as well. An athlete needs to be prepared for each unique move on the field of play. Likewise, a non-athlete needs to be ready for any physical task he runs up against in his life. Seniors are particularly vulnerable if they are not seasoned to a changing environment. Just a different arrangement of the furniture in a seniors apartment can trip him up if he is not fit and agile. He needs to be prepared for the unexpected as much as anyone. Varying the workouts is essential for any CrossFitter.
Intensity is the element with the widest range of acceptable levels in CrossFit. That is because what is intense for an athlete is impossible for a non-athlete, especially a senior. Yet, a senior can work at a level of intensity that is just as powerful when you factor in his age and fitness level.
By doing workouts based on the elements of functionality, variability and intensity, anyone can become fitter and healthier. CrossFit provides the foundations for these workouts by using these elements for athletes, non-athletes and seniors.
CrossFit can and has been used by elite athletes in training for their sports. Many athletes in the martial arts and other individual sports rely on this program for the majority of their training. However, most team sports athletes at the elite level have other types of organizationally mandated training. The big question for athletes is whether CrossFit will allow them to do sports-specific training at the level that they require.
CrossFit does offer advantages for any athlete. With its emphasis on functionality, it trains the body to do productive, purposeful movements. There is no time spent training muscles individually that will not be singled out in actual game situations.
Because CrossFit is a successful strength and conditioning program, it trains for strength, stamina and aerobic endurance. All these physical attributes will help any athlete no matter what the sport. The exercises are designed to work on real life movements, so they increase range of motion, making the athlete more flexible.
The variability aspect of the program gives athletes practice at meeting new challenges on the spur of the moment. They do not have time to plan out every move, just like in a game. This tends to make them more coordinated, accurate, and agile. It also improves their balance.
The intensity level of CrossFit is another advantage for elite athletes. The intense exercises in many of the Workouts of the Day are excellent for training in power and speed. CrossFit also uses sprints as an exercise, and these develop aerobic endurance. The nature of CrossFit training itself builds stamina.
Tactical athletes, such as firefighters, police and military athletes, also benefit from this same well-rounded fitness program. For example, a firefighter who needs to run into a burning building and then carry out an unconscious person needs this total fitness to do the job. The kind of training CrossFit has to offer is very appropriate to the types of operations done by these groups.
Lower level athletes probably have more freedom to train the way they want to train. If they choose to train in CrossFit to improve their game performance, there is no team trainer to tell them they cannot do it. In the end, they may be better off with all around fitness than with a narrowly-focused training style.
As to whether athletes would be better off with sports-specific training, the question is somewhat misleading. It presumes that athletes who do CrossFit training will not spend time working on their individual sports. Of course they will do technical drills, sparring, practices, or any truly needed training for that sport.
The fact that the athlete trains with the goals of functionality, variability and intensity only means that he will become a better-rounded athlete. He will be less prone to injury because he is more balanced in his physicality. He will have more basic physical capacity across all general areas of fitness. CrossFit is not a barrier to sports-specific training, but rather a foundation on which to build to a higher level of peak performance.
You do not have to be an athlete to benefit from CrossFit. Average people from dentists to assembly line workers have made it a goal to take on the program with all the enthusiasm they possess. While they do not have the same kinds of physical movement in their everyday lives as you might see from an athlete on the field, they still need to be ready to take on the tasks of their lives with energy and forcefulness.
The functionality component of CrossFit is really more significant in the lives of the average person than it is for an athlete. After all, which has the most bearing on real life: moving nimbly around a football field or running after a toddler to keep him out of the street? Sports may not be frivolous to the person who is getting the paycheck, but to the rest of the world, it is an exciting luxury.
Doing well in your everyday life is ultimately more important. Whether you see a ball game or even play in one, you are more committed to the necessary tasks of your life. Maybe you have to build a fence. Perhaps you have to paint your house. You might want to plant a garden. No matter what activities you need to do to keep your life running smoothly, your muscles must be trained for all-around fitness.
Variability is always a part of the program, even if you are a non-athlete doing CrossFit. Your coach will present you with workouts to do every day. Unless you are just beginning to learn the basic CrossFit exercise movements, you will be doing different exercises every day. Your muscles will never stagnate or go into a plateau. Instead, you should see steady progress. On top of that, you will develop those crucial abilities of flexibility, agility and quickness.
Intensity is something that has to be determined on an individual basis. The non-athlete who is training without a coach needs to be sure not to lift weights that are too heavy or try to get in too many reps in the time limit at first. Strength and power will come with time, but overdoing it usually leads people to quit before they see results.
Non-athletes can actually see a great deal of progress – probably more than those who start out at the top of their game. A non-athlete may begin the program in a very poor physical condition, possibly having spent months or years as a couch potato flipping through the TV channels or sitting behind a desk. This is a very meager start, but the good news is that they have such a great deal of room for advancement.
A person in her prime might begin a scaled program of CrossFit because she has a low level of fitness. If she sticks with it and works hard, she can improve her level enough to join the ranks of the true CrossFit competitors. It is even possible that she could win at the CrossFit Games and be declared the Fittest Woman on Earth.
Seniors have many needs that can be met with CrossFit training. Many of the functions of daily life can become problematic for seniors. Just getting in and out of the bathtub is impossible for many elderly people. Standing from a seated position can be difficult. Picking up items from the floor can be excruciating for someone who is extremely out of condition.
Functionality for seniors means not only building up muscle strength and other muscular abilities. Strength training can also increase bone mass in people who are at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. This keeps them on their feet and out of the hospital or retirement home.
Seniors must judge their level of fitness carefully in planning the intensity of their CrossFit program. A certified trainer will be in a better position to help the newcomer in establishing her baseline. Very few seniors will begin with the Workout of the Day put out by any gym. The standard WOD is designed to challenge the fittest in the group.
That is where scaling comes in. Scaling is just dropping back on intensity and/or load in order to keep the exercise within your capability. If the WOD calls for cleans with a weight of 95 lb overhead squats, you can scale that weight back according to your fitness level. Make it 85 lb, 75 lb, 50 lb, or whatever weight is right for you. Some seniors have even started their strength training by lifting a broomstick. The important thing is that you need a challenging workout. If you are working with a trainer, he will help you find that ideal weight to lift.
Seniors can actually do all the main exercises that any CrossFitter would do – just at their own level. Squats are very basic exercises for CrossFit, and seniors can work up to a full hip-crease squat. This will make it possible for the senior to get up and down from the seated position without giving it a second thought. Seniors can do deadlifts, they can do presses, and they can do just about any CrossFit movement there is. With seniors, excellent form must be a priority. Then, as long as their age is factored in, they can even progress in their fitness level with a good basic program.
Many people think of seniors as being set in their ways and married to routine. CrossFit changes all that with its focus on the element of variability. When seniors get different workouts to do each day, it keeps their minds alert and their bodies well-conditioned. Seniors can use this ability to face the unexpected in their lives every day. It is easier to be ready for the sudden changes that take place for everyone, no matter what age you are.
To most seniors, independence is the most important goal. Anything that will keep them from being reliant on someone else for their care and personal needs will also help them feel better emotionally. CrossFit has a way of improving moods and giving seniors a positive attitude. The best way trainers can foster this is to celebrate all the advancements the senior makes, no matter how small. CrossFit for seniors is a healthy way to promote wellness and fitness.
In the final analysis, CrossFit comes out a winner. It has helped people become stronger, faster and more powerful. It has given many individual athletes a way to excel in their sport and been used to train some of the world’s greatest heroes. What is more, it has helped average people to be fitter and more able to handle all the demands of their daily lives.
CrossFit is not just a strength and conditioning program – it is a social phenomenon. It has changed the way many people think about working out. It has brought competition into the sometimes dull atmosphere of the fitness gym, and it has brought that competition to fullness in the CrossFit Games.
The fact that not everyone agrees with the tenets and practices of CrossFit just means that the program has a definite position on fitness. It is all about general physical conditioning, and some people prefer to specialize.
The criticisms about the intensity of the program are weak in that they do not take into account the fact that scaling is encouraged for people who cannot handle the most intense workouts. The idea that many CrossFitters carry their sport too far should be leveled at individuals rather than the entire program.
People who want to work hard and make significant progress will still find help at CrossFit gyms. Most people who need some guidance can find a CrossFit trainer nearby. Those who want a social network with a fitness theme will be able to connect to other CrossFitters online or in person. The camaraderie is very powerful and uplifting.
You do not have to let CrossFit rule your life if you use it for a strength and conditioning program. The workouts are short, and you can get in and out of the gym rather quickly. Average people train with CrossFit every day and go on with their lives in the usual way. They date, get married, have children, go to college, work, play sports, and do work around their yards and homes. They are just stronger, more powerful and more capable in every physical way. After all, that is what CrossFit is all about.
CrossFit Journal: What Is CrossFit?
Discovery Fit and Health: CrossFit
The New York Times: Getting Fit, Even If It Kills You
CrossFit Journal: The New Girls
Examiner: The 2010 CrossFit Games Crown the World’s Fittest Man and Woman
CrossFit West: On CrossFit and Elite Athletes
CrossFit Journal: Seniors and Kids