CrossFit is a fitness regime that has been trending for a while now, but many people are still unenlightened as to what it is. Founded in the year 2000, CrossFit has a large following and is practiced at more than 13,000 affiliated gyms – about 50% of which can be found in the US.
Many people take on new exercise routines or try fad diets and find that it gets them nowhere. CrossFit is different because it’s not just a set of rules or exercises – it’s a philosophy, a way of life, and there is a clear social element to joining a CrossFit group.
If you’ve not tried it yet and would like to know more, read on to find out what CrossFit actually is, and if this hot workout choice could be the perfect option for getting you into shape.
What is CrossFit?
Much more than just a fitness regime, when you take part in CrossFit you are also buying into their whole fitness philosophy, and many people are attracted to the competitive element of the sport, though of course you can always practice by yourself and at your own pace.
CrossFit has a variety of components and isn’t a simple routine of set exercises. Different gyms will provide programs that incorporate some or all of these elements into their sessions. Here are some of the elements that CrossFit revolves around:
This element of the sport is traditionally more popular with men, but these days it’s accepted that women can and will take part in competitive weight training and are able to compete in strongwomen competitions
Another element using weights, this exercise doesn’t require you to lift a heavy weight once, but to repeatedly lift a lighter weight over a longer period of time
This is the opposite of kettlebell lifting – you will lift one heavy weight for a shorter period of time
For this High Intensity Interval Training, you complete anaerobic exercises at high intensity for short periods of time, with resting periods in between. HIIT is a cardiovascular exercise routine that includes things like running, cycling, jumping and heavy weight training
These are exercises that don’t just focus on one area of your body, but engage your entire body in the workout. Examples include squat jumps, pull ups, planks, chin ups, push-ups, burpees and shuttle runs
This might seem like a ‘gentle’ sport alongside those previously listed, but like yoga or tai chi, you need a good level of core strength to execute gymnastics correctly and it can still be a demanding workout
These are exercises that are designs to make your muscles put out maximum force for a short period of time, and are great for training purposes
The CrossFit training program is described as “constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity across broad time and modal domains.” This demonstrates the varied nature of the CrossFit program:
- it’s flexible, and
- has lots of variety to keep you interested, as doing a multitude of exercises is more engaging than just jogging on a treadmill for an hour!
Why is CrossFit so popular with Women?
We’re social creatures, and while men might be less likely to admit it, they like a chatter with their mates just as much us as girls do. For men, exercising alone doesn’t hold the same stigma as it does for women – a man is unlikely to be nervous about jogging alone in the dark in the same way a woman might be.
CrossFit has an enduring popularity because of the social element of the routine. It’s not just going through boring motions by yourself, spending time on a treadmill with your earphones plugged in. CrossFit is all about the community spirt, the ‘box’ you’re in, and the joint experience you have together.
It’s not uncommon for gym classes to be made up primarily of women, rather than men. Women understand the need for companionship when working out, whether it’s in a yoga class or joining a running club. CrossFit is perfect for women who want social interaction as well as exercise – the camaraderie of a CrossFit gym is unbeatable.
Something else that women love about CrossFit are the benefits to their mental health as well as to their physical health. Being part of a supportive group can really aid your motivation, encouraging you to push yourself further, work out harder, release more endorphins and, ultimately, feel better.
Benefits for health
There are numerous benefits to your health when you decide to try CrossFit. Here are a few of our favorites:
How many of us put off going to the gym because we don’t have the time for it? Jogging along on the treadmill or cycling machine isn’t worth the bother unless you do it for at least an hour, right?
Well, that’s what’s different about CrossFit – because the exercises are high intensity, you can burn as many calories in a 20-minute session of CrossFit than you would if you spent an unmotivated hour in the gym.
Many gyms offer one-hour CrossFit sessions which will include a warm-up at the start and a relaxed stretching session at the end as well as the core practice, known as the Workout of the Day. Taking part in a structured CrossFit program is a great way to get the most from your workout and manage your time efficiently.
When you train in a half-hearted manner, your heart rate will go up and down. However, the intensive nature of CrossFit means that your heart rate will be kept up constantly, which is great at improving your cardio endurance. Get those muscles pumping and your heart rate thumping!
Many people say that it’s much easier to keep motivated when doing CrossFit compared to regular exercise. Unless you have a personal trainer breathing down your neck, it’s all too tempting to take it easy at the gym and not really give it your best, particularly if you aren’t training for a certain goal.
With CrossFit, the idea is that you’re working at maximum capacity for the entire time and really giving it your all.
With exercises changing regularly and the overall session lasting a shorter period of time, it’s easier to push yourself for those final 20 seconds, rather than looking at the treadmill and seeing you’ve got another 20 minutes of ambling along!
Improved Overall Health
It’s not just calorie burning and a healthy heart that you’ll gain from CrossFit! The variety of exercises included means that you’re working out all different areas of your body.
Expect to see improvement in your speed, accuracy, agility, joint movements, stamina, flexibility, power, endurance, strength, coordination and balance.
Unlike doing the same exercise over and over, CrossFit provides the variety your body needs to have great overall health. The ‘workout of the day’ element is fun as well as good for your body – remember, variety is the spice of life!
Benefits for social communication
When you’re just starting out with a new fitness regime, this is the peak drop-out time.
If you don’t have people by your side, egging you on, encouraging you to keep going, it’s easy to give up. But with CrossFit, the nature of the sport is such that it encourages social interaction and camaraderie, and so you’re much more likely to keep it up!
In your box
a CrossFit gym is called a ‘box’ – it describes not just the space, but the community within it. When you start CrossFit, you’ll become part of this box, and build relationships with others who are training alongside you.
Participating in physically challenging exercises can be an enlightening experience, and those who experience it alongside you will know what you’re going through, and be there to encourage you and give you a high-five when you finish.
All CrossFit sessions are overseen by a coach, who is there to offer guidance, support and encouragement.
Your trainer will help point you in the right direction if you need nutritional advice or if certain exercises need a bit more practice.
This element of the CrossFit ethos is key – if you’re just exercising by yourself in a big, faceless gym, you miss out on all this social interaction.
The social element of CrossFit is one of the reasons why the regime has an enduring popularity. You make friends, people who notice when you don’t turn up and drop you a message to say ‘hey, what’s up?’.
If you just go to the gym by yourself, there will be no-one breathing down your neck if you decide to have a week or two off. CrossFit is geared towards making you keep it up!
Can I CrossFit while pregnant?
Like all exercise regimes, expectant Moms should use caution when considering CrossFit. Of course, exercise is important for pregnant women – a healthy Mom makes for a healthy baby.
But this is also a time of transition in your body and there are certain limitations. Here are a few pointers on how to approach CrossFit as a pregnant woman:
Six Month Rule
If you’re already pregnant and have never done CrossFit before, stop right there! Doctors don’t recommend starting a new intensive sport in pregnancy, and it’s best to have been practicing the sport for at least six months before falling pregnant if you want to practice the sport during pregnancy.
If you’re already pregnant and are considering taking up CrossFit for the first time, it might be better to consider a less intense sport for the duration of your pregnancy. If you’re really keen, find a personal trainer who can introduce you to CrossFit in tailored one-on-one sessions.
Entering a CrossFit box (with its fast pace and highly competitive nature) isn’t a great choice for those who haven’t done it before! Once baby is born, speak to your doctor about when it’s a good time for you to start training with your peers.
Listen to your body
This is a rule that applies whether you are pregnant or not! We all have good days, days when we’re on top form. And we have bad days – days when we’ve slept badly, or overdone it on the previous workout, or just need a bit of a rest.
During pregnancy, these signals from your body are more important than ever. If you’re finding something a real struggle, don’t push yourself as it could result in injury.
Particularly as your body changes change during pregnancy, you’ll find that certain exercises are more difficult than before because of restricted mobility and movement.
Some exercises might just feel strange or awkward when you’re carrying an extra weight around. For example, weight lifting is tricky for a woman who is quite far along in her pregnancy, because the bump will obstruct the path of the bar.
Also, things will change as the pregnancy progresses. While the baby bump will be non-existent in the first trimester, this is a time to be careful regarding balance.
Breathe and Rest
People sometimes wonder if high intensity workouts can harm an unborn child. The answer to that is that harm is unlikely to occur apart from in the case of an accident – for example, a serious fall while weight lifting.
As long as Mom is breathing well, oxygen to the baby will be at optimal levels.
Also, Mom needs to remember to take a rest more frequently, especially if she’s feeling short of breath. To minimalize the chance of any sort of risk to your baby while exercising, listen to your body and don’t push yourself too hard – save the pushing for the birthing day!
Also, while there is a prevailing myth that exercise can cause miscarriage, the general professional consensus is that the opposite is true. A healthy, exercising Mom is less likely to miscarry than a Mom who doesn’t work out.
Speak to those who know
If you’re still worried about doing CrossFit while pregnant, speak to people in your box and find out if anyone can share personal experiences. Failing that, this website has interviewed six women who all continued on their CrossFit journey while pregnant, and they share their personal stories and advice.
Can I CrossFit during my period?
Big buckets of ice-cream, boxes of chocolates, a girly movie and a box of tissues… right? Well, if you’d like to break that gender stereotype, go right ahead, because there is nothing wrong with continuing to exercise during your period.
As you probably know, exercising is a great way to beat period pains, and taking part in intensive exercise such as CrossFit is fine too.
Did you know that during your period (and also during the week after your period) both your estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest?
As such, when you exercise at this time, you’ll be able to recover faster during rest times and also have a higher pain threshold, enabling you to tolerate the pain and push yourself harder and longer.
The CrossFit Infinitum website has a details guide on the various stages of your menstrual cycle, what that means in relation to your body and the best times for certain types of exercise.
By the way, if you don’t feel like exercising on your period, don’t feel guilty about it! Many women have days where they just can’t face their usual exercise regime, and that’s totally fine.
Listen to your body, but don’t let it turn into a convenient excuse. Be really honest with yourself about whether or not you feel able to work out.
Some women decide to take it easier during their periods, despite the fact that their estrogen and progesterone levels mean they could easily do the opposite.
That’s not a problem – lift lighter weights, take a gentle walk or a short swim, rather than busting a gut over your usual routine. Just go with the flow – excuse the pun.
Also, our diet plans can go out the window when we’re menstruating, right? If you’re the kinda gal who needs sweet treats to get through your period, just make it part of your routine.
Try and cut down on sweet things the week before so that it balances out if you overindulge on your period. Also, if you know you’re going to want to consume sweets more frequently, how about cutting the portion sizes? ‘Fun packs’ of chocolate bars are great for a naughty nibble.
By the way, if you want to get some exercise in at that time of the month but don’t feel like going to your box, there are loads of YouTube videos you can follow that are specially designed for working out while on your period. Do some research depending on what type of exercise you want to do.
Another top tip is looking into purchasing a menstrual cup. An alternative to pads and tampons, this cup will hold more liquid and be less likely to cause mess (and embarrassment) if you’re working out at this time. They’re a great investment too, and good for the environment!
Should I be on a diet while doing CrossFit?
Like all people trying to lose weight or get healthy, simply exercising alone isn’t going to do the trick – the same as simply being on a diet isn’t enough, either.
To reach your goals, it’s important to take both your diet and your exercise regime seriously. Both are working towards keeping you healthy, and they work best when working together.
The diet you should be on while practicing CrossFit will be individual to you, and there are few hard and fast rules. In general, the most important thing is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, protein, and not too much sugar or bad fats.
On the CrossFit website, they recommend this basic advice: Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.
They also recommend signing up to Zone Diet, which will help you to monitor your intake and work out what sort of diets work for you. However, you can also record data yourself to track trends and work out what approach to take.
For example, if after four weeks of tracking what you’ve been eating you can see that you regularly have only 3 portions of fruit and vegetable per day, this is something you need to address.
Similarly, if you look back over your notes and discover that unhealthy snacks feature far more regularly than you’d first realized, this is a signal that it’s time to change.
Some people choose to undertake days of fasting, such as the 5:2 diet. However, fasting and other dramatic diet choices can have adverse effects on your body, such as causing dizziness.
If you’re concerned about what diet choice is best for you, talk to your GP or a nutritionist. In general, it’s better to introduce a new diet slowly and get used to it at a good pace, rather than diving straight in and struggling to keep up with it.
You can discover a great way to plan your meals using the ‘block’ method, outlined on the CrossFit Journal. Using these blocks, you can make sure the calories you consume are divided between protein, fat and carbohydrate, to make for a balanced diet.
Work out how many blocks you need per meal based on your gender and body type, then scroll down through the food lists to see what sized portion of each ingredient makes up a block.
At the bottom, there are suggested meal plans tailored to your daily block allowance. If you’d like to read up on the diet plans of three die hard CrossFit athletes, This is probably what you are looking for.
Once you’ve decided to try out CrossFit, you’ll need to find a ‘box’ near you that you can be a part of. Look at the map on the CrossFit website to determine where the nearest ones to you are. While many of the locations are in the US, and there are plenty in Europe too, you can find boxes all over the world. If you don’t find one nearby, how about looking into starting your own? There is also a trainer directory you can make enquiries on.
This beginner’s guide to CrossFit is a great resource if you’re just starting out.