It seems like just about every workout program and lifestyle choice is branded these days.
There’s Pilates, Barre, P90x, South Beach, and more, but the one that might be the most talked about, the most beloved, and the most Instagrammed is CrossFit.
Heralded by celebrities, professional athletes, and regular folks alike for its versatility, accessibility ,and especially its focus on overall health, CrossFit has seen explosive growth since it was first founded in 2000.
According to the CrossFit website, there are over 15,000 CrossFit affiliate gyms on six continents, making it a truly worldwide movement.
But what is CrossFit, and why has it been able to remain so incredibly popular after two decades?
CrossFit Has The Everything To Everyone Approach
A big part of CrossFit’s appeal is that it really can be everything to everyone. It’s not just diet, it’s not just exercise, and it’s not just mindset.
Instead, it’s all three, and it’s totally scalable, meaning people can start at any weight and fitness level and build up as they go.
It’s an effective and healthy way to lose weight and feel stronger, whether you’re starting on an exercise regimen for the first time, you’re in prime physical shape, or (like most of us) you’re somewhere in between.
CrossFit isn’t just cardio exercises, nor is it just weight training. Instead, the CrossFit website proclaims that workouts involve constant variation, functional movements, and high intensity, all designed to push participants to train at their own personal maximum capacity.
There are no casual jogs or light weights here — this is pushing your body to do the most it can do, with the end goal of getting you and keeping you in a state of peak conditioning.
And CrossFit borrows from lots of disciplines, so yes, there’s weightlifting, and yes, there’s running, but there’s also stretching and flexibility work that resembles yoga or gymnastics, upper body workouts reminiscent of how crew teams train, and more.
The constant variation aspect is also key, as you won’t be doing the same hour-long workout every time.
CrossFit incorporates a wide variety of activities so it stays fresh and interesting.
Each session has its own unique WOD, or workout of the day, in which the goal is for participants to work on their metabolic conditioning, or their metcon.
(Like any other group, CrossFit has a lot of its own proprietary lingo and acronyms that make little sense to anyone outside the group.)
What Is Inside a CrossFit Gym
Step inside a CrossFit gym, and you’ll find some small equipment and set-ups, such as weighted training balls, kettlebells, and even jump ropes, but you certainly won’t find a sprawling cavern filled with rows of training machines.
Instead, CrossFit relies largely on your body’s own resistance to build strength. The whole idea is to move in ways similar to how you’d move in your day-to-day life, only with more focus, intensity, and intention.
CrossFit Is A Lifestyle Choice
CrossFit isn’t a diet or a temporary fix. Devotees will tell you that it’s a lifestyle choice that incorporates both good nutrition and targeted workouts to yield a healthier, fitter, more confident you.
As you progress, you realize what your body is capable of, which can lead to increased resilience and more bold goal-setting.
CrossFitters are also part of an incredibly supportive community, all of whom cheer you on in earnest and truly want to help you reach your fitness goals.
There’s also a competition aspect within CrossFit groups, though really, all participants are ultimately competing with themselves as they work to get fitter and stronger.
This kind of friendly competitiveness provides the motivation that lots of people need to push themselves and stick with a program like CrossFit.
The team atmosphere is one of the things CrossFitters like the best about the program, as it provides accountability, camaraderie, and friendship as the team pushes together to reach individual goals.
Is Crossfit Aerobic or Anaerobic?
Briefly, the key differentiator between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is the presence of oxygen.
With aerobic exercise, oxygen is used to burn fat as you take part in longer exercises that require moderate amounts of energy, like a half hour bike ride or a jog around the park, or the gym-based full-body exercises popular in the 1980s and commonly referred to as “aerobics.”
Aerobic exercises also improve cardiovascular health, which can lead to increased endurance.
This is why new runners have a hard time running long distances, but more experienced runners can complete a five mile run with no breaks.
Anaerobic exercise, on the other hand, is the opposite: there’s no oxygen being used in these shorter-term exercises, like push ups or lifting weights, and while these workouts burn fat as well, they also build strength and muscle.
Over time, those who follow an anaerobic exercise routine can usually lift heavier weights for more reps.
CrossFit workouts are unique in that they combine both aerobic and anaerobic exercises in every workout.
The end result is that participants burn fat and build muscle, both of which are crucial in improving overall fitness.
Is CrossFit Bad For Joints?
Inherently, no: when done properly, the exercises that are part of the CrossFit workouts are no worse for joints than any other workout.
However, when the topic of CrossFit comes up, the question of its safety also arises, and so it must be addressed.
Part of the CrossFit workout is the acronym AMRAP, which stands for “as many reps as possible” in a given amount of time.
The concern with a workout that prioritizes quantity is that it can lead participants to lose focus on their form, or the quality of their repetitions, and poor form can lead to injury.
There’s also the concern about new CrossFitters pushing themselves too hard too soon.
The program’s ethos is largely about intensity and drive, and for people who aren’t in proper physical shape to train that hard, especially with heavy weights, joints can be overstressed and overworked.
The best approach to keeping joints healthy while doing CrossFit, then, is to know your limits, pay attention to your form, and build up your conditioning incrementally.
A 2013 study titled “The Nature and Prevalence of Injury During CrossFit Training” supports this advice, as it concluded that CrossFit injuries were no more common than injuries in activities like weightlifting and gymnastics.
Which is Better For Weight Loss: CrossFit or Running?
CrossFit is all metabolic conditioning (again, metcon), and it’s super high intensity workouts burn a lot of calories.
If you’re doing your workouts as instructed, it’s likely that you’ll burn more calories than you would with just a run of the same duration.
If you do interval training as part of your runs, however, then the calories burned may be more comparable, but you don’t get the strength training that you get with CrossFit.
That strength training improves your muscle mass and, by extension, your metabolism, so you’ll continue to burn more calories, even at rest.
Plus, with CrossFit, you have a group to help you stay accountable.
Unless you have a supportive running group, the accountability for running is all on you.
Finally, CrossFit’s focus is on overall health, so you’re likely to be more mindful of what you eat – a key component of weight loss.
Many runners do pay attention to how they fuel their bodies, but it’s not always their focus or an inherent part of their training.
And, runners can often overindulge at meals after a long run, wiping out any calories they may have burned.
Is CrossFit the Same as Circuit Training?
Elements of circuit training, mainly the movement from one exercise to the next, are definitely present in CrossFit workouts. However, there are a few key differences.
First, there’s more variety in CrossFit, thanks to its WOD model. With circuit training, once the circuit of exercises is complete, participants start right back at the beginning.
CrossFit varies its exercises to keep the flow fresh.
Modifications are also a hallmark of the CrossFit program, as exercises are adapted to fit all participants, regardless of ability or fitness level; circuit training does not have this adaptability built in.
The level of intensity in a CrossFit workout — that harder, better, faster, stronger attitude — is not always a part of circuit training.
And again, the built-in support network of CrossFit usually isn’t there with circuit training, and as with running, that lack of team accountability can, for many people, make the difference between sticking with it and giving up.
Is CrossFit A Cult?
There’s no doubt that devoted CrossFitters are passionate about their activity, and that’s led lots of runners and non-CrossFit athletes to suggest their behavior is a bit, shall we say, cultish.
It’s not an unjustified comparison! But no, CrossFit isn’t a cult.
Like any product or service that requires a commitment, hits all of a person’s high points, and makes them feel good about themselves and good about life, CrossFit inspires excitement in those who do it.
The group aspect is also a factor here, since each WOD is an intense experience, and when you go through something like that with comrades, it helps to create a strong emotional bond and confidence in your abilities.
When you feel good, you want to tell everyone about it, and while more than a few jokes have been made about this phenomenon
Q: How do you know if someone does CrossFit?
A: Oh don’t worry,, they’ll tell you!,
It can seem a little like a cult to those on the outside.
Getting Started With Crossfit
One of the most appealing things about CrossFit is that you can get started for free. The CrossFit website posts the WOD for free, so if you’re motivated and want to give it a shot, you can follow along by yourself.
You won’t get the supportive group aspect that way, but if you find that you like CrossFit and want to do it in earnest, it’s easy to find an affiliate gym near you.