Since its inception in the early 2000s, CrossFit has grown exponentially in popularity. CrossFit practitioners appreciate the overall methodology and love the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). One of the staples of every CrossFit gym (often referred to as a “box”) is the workout of the day (WOD), which is carefully designed to work different muscles and body movements each day. WODs are one of the best reasons for doing CrossFit exercises over standard gym routines as they help to quickly sculpt muscle and shed body weight; not to mention, WODs keep you from plateauing.
Understanding the CrossFit Terminology
Before walking into a CrossFit box for the first time, you ought to familiarize yourself with some of the common terminology that coaches and fellow crossfitters use.
What is a Rep?
A “rep” is an abbreviation of “repetition” and is a term meant to describe one iteration of an exercise. For example, one pull-up, one squat, or one bench press.
What is a Set?
Numerous reps in a row are typically referred to as a “set” and sets are commonly comprised of 10 to 12 reps.
What is a WOD?
As mentioned, a WOD is the daily workout and they are typically constructed with a series of sets. These sets could include a number of different exercises, such as jogging, pushups, or box jumps. Often there is a pattern to the WOD that has you do the exercise(s), rest, do the exercise(s) again, rest, and so on.
One of the great features of CrossFit is that all WODs can be done to the practitioner’s skill and/or strength level. So if you’re new, you won’t be expected to lift absurd weights or even overexert yourself. Plus your rest time is tailored to you; if you need more time, you can take as long as you need. However, WODs are designed to be high-intensive exercises and they are often timed to help practitioners challenge themselves by setting goals and working towards achieve them.
What is a Round?
CrossFit WODs are often written in a coded language, but once you’ve done a few different ones, and thanks to your coaching staff, you quickly begin to understand the lingo. For example, “rounds” are a term given to doing a number of different exercise sets, resting, and repeating the sets again. You often see WODs written as “24-16-8” and this indicates how many reps are completed per exercise, per round. So you may be asked to do 24 pull-ups, 24 pushups, 24 squats, rest; then do 16 pull-ups, 16 pushups, 16 squats, rest; eight pull-ups, eight pushups, eight squats, and rest. More intense workouts may have you do something like: 10-20-30-40-50-40-30-20-10. Clearly your routine starts easy, progresses towards being more difficult, and easing back down before resting.
What Movements Will I Have to Learn?
One of the beautiful aspects of CrossFit is that many of the exercises can be done without professional gym equipment. And because new practitioners typically don’t have the strength or stamina to complete high rep movements, the large majority of people begin CrossFit by doing lower reps and working their way up to more difficult challenges. The following movements are used at boxes around the world and are pretty much considered standard CrossFit exercises.
- Bench Press
- Power Cleans
The bench press allows the lifter to move heavier weights with the arms than any other exercise. It should be included in every barbell-training program. But it is not the only lift we should do, as is too often the case in typical gyms.
Benching provides hard active work for the chest, shoulders, and arms and isometric work for the forearms. It trains novice lifters the fundamental skill of pushing on a very heavy load, perhaps its most useful function. When people first start training, they have no experience with maximal effort. The bench press is a very good place to learn how to bear down and push hard, and this invaluable lesson translates to all the other slow lifts quite well.
Burpees are one of the most programmed exercises among great training programs. They are great at developing our conditioning and endurance; why? Because burpees make us engage in a highly complex movement pattern engaging our entire body – moving from flexion to extension to neutral to extension to flexion to neutral, as fast as possible. A little less complex, the movement requires you to just drop to the floor and get up as fast as you can. Burpees increase aerobic capacity when performed at a high intensity, getting your heart rate up – fast!
According to GPP Fitness:
Cartwheels just happen to be dang good exercise. They have benefit that would be hard to gain outside of other movements like them. They do things for your core that would be hard to simulate. They are also pretty fun and… the entertainment value alone makes them worth programming.
The deadlift, formerly called the “Health Lift”, is a quintessential weightlifting exercise and an important part of CrossFit. Functionally, it’s picking something up off the ground and putting it back down. Deadlifts develop the muscles and the movements that are involved in many forms of physical labor.
When performed correctly, they build your upper and lower body. The deadlift works more muscles than any other exercise, including the squat; it engages all of the major muscle groups. It’s even an effective exercise to develop your core strength, training the central muscles of your body. Muscles that make up the core are found in your upper and lower back, hips, buttocks, and abs.
Deadlifts do everything from build muscle to work your cardiovascular system. They are intense and involve using your entire body, so it is important to warm up thoroughly before lifting heavier weights.
Dips are intense and effective isolation exercises that help develop powerful and defined triceps. They can be performed on a machine at the gym or at home on a step; both methods use your body weight as resistance Some towers used for dips come equipped with a pulley system and platform on which you stand or rest your legs. The system provides lift support if your own body weight is too much for you.
Dips are a compound push exercise with a small range of motion that primarily works your triceps but also engages your forearms, shoulders, chest and lower back. These muscle groups are engaged from the moment you position yourself on a dip machine, as the muscles are needed to help stabilize and balance yourself on the arm handles. As you lower and raise your body, the muscles provide resistance to the gravitational pull on your body. The lack of momentum during the dip movement keeps the muscles contracted throughout, making it one of the most effective triceps exercises.
“As the squat is to weightlifting, the handstand has been the foundational block in the development of gymnastics and going forward should be seen as a staple in the CrossFit community” – Dusty Hyland (DogTown CrossFit)
The handstand is a movement that sometimes goes unnoticed. However, the handstand is more than a move to show off to your friends while you’re drunk and partying it up (which I would imagine your form would not be on point….for the most part). Why do I say it goes unnoticed? My reason behind it is that many people don’t see the benefits the handstand has…..balance, strength, core control, body awareness/isometric strength development, ect.
Isometric training consists of the muscle contracting without changing length in a static position. As a result, the athlete doesn’t undergo a full range of movement in the ‘lift’. Some may think that this isn’t an ideal way to build strength, but they couldn’t be further from the truth. Think about the beating your arms and shoulders will take when holding a heavy deadlift at full extension for as long as possible (take a look at event 4 from the recent CrossFit Invitational for further proof). The reality is that during isometric training the body is able to recruit almost all of its motor units. Motor units are comprised of a motor neuron and skeletal muscle fibers—groups of motor units work together to coordinate the contractions of a single muscle. In fact, in 1953 two German researchers, Hettinger and Muller, studied the impact of isometrics on strength, concluding that a single daily isometric exercise that utilized two-thirds of a person’s maximum effort exerted for six seconds at a time increased strength by 5% for up to 10 weeks.
The power clean and squat clean are two functional CrossFit movements that will help you gain strength and get ripped at the same time. Cleans are regularly performed by athletes because they demand explosive power, speed, and strength to be executed properly when using any appreciable amount of weight. Once you master the proper technique, the strength gains and benefits from clean presses will be evident from adding this move to your program are incredible.
It turns out that hand-release push-ups are tremendously popular in the CrossFit world, and many CrossFit competitions actually require them—the main reason being that they prevent anyone from “cheating” on their reps. To remove your hands from the ground, you must go all the way down. But besides its competition-friendly aspect, I noticed three interesting things about the hand-release push-up that could, perhaps, make it a viable push-up variation for anyone looking to change things up.
It forces you to go all the way down and all the way up on every rep, a much greater range of motion than most people perform with traditional push-ups.
A properly scaled workout safely maximizes relative intensity (load, speed, range of motion) to continue developing increased work capacity despite limitations. A long-term goal of scaling is creating the ability to perform workouts “as prescribed,” according to CrossFit Journal’s Jeremy Gordon.
When done correctly, sit-ups are an effective and safe abdominal exercise. The characteristics of an effective ab exercise are that the movement bends the spine in it’s full range of motion while contracting the abdominal muscles from full extension to full flexion.
According to Peter Melanson of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, the overhead snatch exercise is effective at preventing injury, increasing performance, building core stability, improving balance and increasing explosive power and speed of movements. For the snatch to be effective, it must be completed as explosively as possible. To complete the dumbbell overhead snatch, begin in an athletic stance, with your knees bent, butt out, back straight and head up. Allow the dumbbells to hang by your side, with your palms facing each other. Explode upward, attempting to jump as high as you can. Use the power coming from your legs to propel the dumbbells upward, guiding them over your head with your hands. Drop your body underneath the dumbbells and land with knees soft and your arms extended directly upward.
The very nature of the front squat requires the load to be place on the front of the body, resting on the shoulders (don’t choke yourself, but close); any forward torso lean and the bar will fall to the floor. This upright torso places less of a shear force on the spine and therefore makes it a better option for those with back issues.
What Workout Equipment is Used in CrossFit?
As mentioned, you don’t need expensive gym equipment to get a CrossFit workout in, but it certainly does help. One aspect of a good box to join is an abundance of equipment, in addition to a large, clean workout space. Because CrossFit is designed around HIIT, the equipment you typically find is used for this purpose. A well-stocked box will often offer the following equipment.
- Heavy Ropes
- Horizontal Bars
- Jump Ropes
- Medicine Balls
- Olympic Weights
- Parallel Bars
- Plyometric Boxes
- Stationary Bikes
- Yoga / Exercise Mats
There are a host of good reasons to join a CrossFit gym; however, doing strenuous workout routines does take its toll on your body. If you have preexisting medical issues, you should certainly discuss doing CrossFit with your doctor. Due to the high-intensity of CrossFit workouts, you should also consider scheduling days throughout the week to rest your body’s muscles and ligaments. Remember: if you want to know for sure if CrossFit is right for you, you can always stop by your local box to check it out first. More often than not, CrossFit gyms allow new participants to try a class for free. So take advantage of this and try CrossFit for yourself!