Greetings all! It’s been almost 3 months since I posted in this blog. I could write a long entry just about what is going on in my life that kept me from writing, but I will save that for another today. I’m writing this post because in the past week, I’ve had several people in various locations ask me a lot of question about CrossFit – what it is, whether I think they can do it, and so forth. Now, that is another topic I could write a book about and still not be done, but I did write a post on another forum recently outlining some key principles. I decided it would be easier to just post pretty much the same info on my blog so it’s available to the seven people who read this thing whenever they want to know something about this crazy Kool-Aid drinking cult I belong to. So here’s my version of an intro to CrossFit. I don’t work at CrossFit HQ, and I’ve only been doing this sport for a year, and hell – I’m not even very good at it. But if you have no clue WTF the weirdos in the tall socks who were climbing ropes without even using their legs on ESPN3 last weekend, this might help you just a tiny bit.
CrossFit is typically defined as “constantly varied functional movement performed at a high intensity”. This breaks down as follows:
Constantly Varied: We don’t do the same darn thing all the time. We do gymnastics/body weight, Olympic lifts, power lifts, barbell, dumbbell, and kettlebell work, cardiovascular work (which is often called metabolic conditioning) and plyometrics. Some workouts you may only repeat every few months, some workouts you may never repeat.
Functional Movements: We mostly focus on things that will help you in day to day life. Granted, a lot of them aren’t necessary when you are a cube dweller in the modern world, but most of what we do are things that you would either need to do in the real world, or that help you handle scenarios the real world. For example, we get in and out of chairs a million times a day, so squats are huge in our workouts. We pick things up off the floor every day, so we train deadlifts. At no point in my life have I ever had the need to strap 50 pounds to my ankle and move it around, so we do *not* hang around anything remotely resembling a hamstring curl machine.
High Intensity: This is the “go big or go home” part of CrossFit, and it’s also one of the most misunderstood things about CrossFit. High intensity means high intensity FOR YOU, the athlete working out. It does not mean high intensity for the athlete next to you. There are 2 key points here. First, CrossFit is intended for people who want to WORK HARD. The crowd who likes to go to the gym and spend 90 minutes visiting with friends while doing 2 sets of 15 curls using the pink vinyl covered weights doesn’t typically enjoy CrossFit much. Second, intensity can be manipulated a number of ways. The most common are speed an exercise is performed and weight lifted, though sometimes a complete switch of an exercise is appropriate. Last night, I did a prime example of a workout where an untrained observer might not have thought I was working with much intensity, because there was a lot of waiting around going on. But I was bumping up intensity by lifting more weight, because I was lifting 95% of my 1 rep Max on Push Presses. An example of where I completely switch an exercise is with running. Sometimes I can’t run without pain, so I have to choose between running and hurting like hell, walking, and rowing machine. I pick whichever one seems appropriate for the intensity I’m trying to achieve.
There are a few terms CrossFitters use a lot that it’s helpful to know when talking to them.
*Box: This is a CrossFit gym. They got started being called boxes primarily because so many of them are in industrial parks or warehouse type spaces that are basically big rectangular boxes
*AMRAP: As many rounds a possible (method described below)
*WOD: This means Workout Of The Day. This is the final component of any CrossFit class.
*Benchmark WOD: This is a standard WOD that is known throughout the CrossFit community and that is performed by CrossFitters around the world. It’s used to compare athletes across gyms, and is also used to measure performance improvements.
*Hero WOD: This is a special set of WODs that are named in honor of fallen soldiers. There are quite a few of them, and they all are hard. Not as hard as trying to complete a in the middle of the mountains of Afghanistan when there are a zillion and four jihadists trying to hunt you down, but hard for the average American.
*RX’d: This means “as prescribed”. Most workouts have standard weights or other attributes assigned to them.
*Scaling: This means changing the workout to suit your ability level.
There is a lot of talk among CrossFitters about RXing workouts. It’s a matter of pride and honor to athletes when they can do a difficult workout exactly as prescribed by the person who concocted it. The reason it’s such a matter of pride is because most workouts, as prescribed, are freaking hard. They have hard movements, or heavy weight, or a long duration. That said, I don’t think I have ever RX’d a workout in my life, and I don’t let it bother me because I’m getting better at stuff. And when people tell me that they don’t want to do CrossFit because it’s too hard, I try my best to explain scaling to them. Since the purpose of CrossFit is to work at a high intensity FOR YOU, scaling is totally acceptable and encouraged for any athlete.
Some examples of scaling that I do.
*Rowing machine instead of running (to save my tweaky knee)
*Step ups instead of box jumps
*Lifting less weight that suggested
*Doing fewer reps or fewer rounds of a workout than prescribed
*Ring rows instead of pullups
*Situps instead of toes-to-bar
When determining how I’m going to scale a workout, I look at what movements and weights I can and can’t do, and also think about whether there are any movements or weights I shouldn’t do that day, even if I could physically do them. I also think about what the purpose of the workout is. In some cases, the purpose of a workout is to show you can lift heavy weight. When that is the case, I will lift the heaviest weight I can do safely. In other cases the purpose of a workout is metabolic/cardiovascular conditioning. When that is the case, I will pick weights and movements that will allow me to keep moving for the duration of the WOD.
As one of those analytical types, one of my favorite things about CrossFit is that all our programming is designed in a way that we can *measure* performance and progress. Even though we don’t do the same workouts very often, we find that our overall strength and conditioning improves a ton over time, and that we can return to a workout we did a few months ago and never touched again and show significant improvements. There are a few methods we use to measure.
AMRAP – As Many Rounds (or Reps) as Possible
When you do an AMRAP, you pick an exercise or set of exercises and try to do as many rounds as possible during that timeframe. Then you record your score.
Some examples of AMRAP workouts are:
1) Fight Gone Bad – one of the most popular benchmark workouts. It is 3 rounds of the following.
*Sumo Deadlift High Pull
*Rowing Machine (scored for calories burned)
*Rest one minute
2) Super fun WOD I did this week
AMRAP of the following in 7 minutes
*5 touch and go clean and jerks
You can put together anything that floats your boat into an AMRAP workout – pick some exercises that make sense for your goals, pick a timeframe, and go. Sometimes I get asked to do workouts that have lighter weights or mostly bodyweight stuff and where people tend to get a ton of reps in the timecap. Sometimes I get asked to lift heavier weights so the reps are fewer. Doesn’t matter.
Another common method is to a prescribed amount of work and measure the amount of time it takes. The purpose of this is to see if we are becoming more efficient at doing the same amount of work as we get fitter. Some example workouts that are For Time
1) Fran – probably the most popular/well known CrossFit workouts
21 pullups, 21 thrusters
15 pullups, 15 thrusters
9 pullups, 9 thrusters
Measure how long it takes you to do this work, and keep track of how much weight you lift and how you progress.
You also see this written up as 21-15-9 pullups and thrusters, to reflect the number of reps of each exercise in each round
2) Murph* – one of the most popular/well known CrossFit Hero WODs
Run 1 mile
Run 1 mile
For this workout, you can break up the pullups, pushups, and squats any way you want as long as you do all of them before you run the 2nd mile.
3) Modified Fight Gone Bad
Do the following work and measure how long it takes you
20 Wall Balls
20 Sumo High Pulls
20 Box Jumps
20 Push Press
10 Calories on the Rower
Rest 1-2 minutes
Repeat 2 more times
This is basically the same workout as Fight Gone Bad, but forces the athlete to work on things they are weak at. I had to do this workout a little while ago, and I am terrible at Box Jumps. Usually I only get about 12 or so when I do regular FGB, but this makes me work on them more. On the flipside, I am great at rowing, so I fly through that.
This is not used nearly as much, but sometimes you will see a workout where the score is based on volume, or number of reps times weight moved. I saw this at a competition last fall, where they had people work up to a 1 Rep Max on the snatch, then they got a five minute rest, then they got 5 minutes to do as many reps as they could at 80% of their 1 Rep Max. They were scored on volume. This wasn’t very popular in competition because some of the athletes did not use their true 1 rep Max – they lifted WAY less weight than they knew they could and blew the volume out of the water. It sucks in competition, but it can be an interesting measure when you are training and adding strength
This is kind of a duh – we measure how much weight we can move on various lifts. Right now, my gym is doing a very specific strength training program. We establish 1 rep Maxes on several lifts, and then over the course of several weeks, we work on a program that is designed to build our strength so that our 1 rep maxes increase and we get overall stronger. In competitions, this is useful because you see a lot of events called <Insert Lift> ladders, where the objective is to lift the most weight for either 1 or 3 reps.
If you are interested in seeing examples of these types of workouts, particularly For Time or AMRAP workouts, I’d encourage you to check out www.crossfit.com, which posts at least one new workout every day. You can also look at the facebook page for my gym, where you will see info on warmup, strength/skill, and WODs posted.
There is a ton more I could write about the methods to the CrossFit madness, but I’ll stop for now. Please feel free to ask any question and I will try to help.
*Murph is named after Michael Murphy, who was a Navy Seal killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2005. This guy took action that saved his team even though he knew he would die as a result. Marcus Luttrell, who was part of Murph’s seal team, wrote a book called Lone Survivor about the experience. I highly encourage everyone to read it.