CrossFit is a fitness system designed by trainer Greg Glassman. Workouts are very high intensity and include a variety of maximal strength work, endurance and fitness training, muscular endurance exercises and cardiovascular drills, all with the aim of improving functional fitness. CrossFit isn't a set workout, but rather a series of principles and guidelines; however, there are certain types of exercises that are staples in CrossFit programs and routines.
CrossFit places heavy emphasis on the Olympic lifts -- the snatch and the clean and jerk, as well as their variations -- high pulls, power cleans, push jerks and power snatches. Traditional Olympic lifting emphasizes speed, power and perfect technique, with exercises performed in the one to five repetition range. CrossFit, however, often utilizes high-rep Olympic lifting. This can become an issue as it's easy for your form to break down and you have to use light weights, which goes against the idea of using Olympic lifts to increase speed and power. Performing high-rep Olympic lifting when already fatigued is a recipe for injury, notes strength coach Keir Wenham-Flatt, writer at Elite Fitness. CrossFit also uses the powerlifts -- squats, bench presses and deadlifts, though not nearly as frequently as Olympic lifts.
Plyometric exercises involve jumping, bounding and explosive movements. Common CrossFit plyometrics are box jumps and medicine ball slams and throws. Like Olympic lifting, CrossFit routines often involve high rep plyometrics. For advanced athletes this isn't an issue, but beginners may struggle. Beginners should keep their total rep count per plyometric session to no more than 40, according to UK Athletics coach Brian Mackenzie, as jumps can be stressful on the joints. If you're new to CrossFit you may wish to reduce the number of high-impact plyometric exercises you do, although high rep medicine ball throws shouldn't be problematic, as these create little stress on your joints.
CrossFit gyms don't have lots of fancy equipment or resistance machines. They are primarily based around barbells, medicine balls and kettlebells, meaning that you sometimes have to get inventive with your workouts. Body-weight exercises play a major role in CrossFit. You can do basic exercises such as squats and pushups, along with more advanced ones such as dips and pullups. One of the most popular body-weight CrossFit exercises is the kipping pullup. This is performed in a similar way to a normal pullup, but you use a lot more body momentum and hip swing, making it more of a full-body movement, rather than just working your back and arms. Using momentum allows you to do extra reps.
While CrossFit mainly uses body-weight and free-weight movements, which aren't usually considered cardiovascular, because of the intensity and speed of the workouts, you'll find your cardiovascular system gets worked too. Some CrossFit sessions do include more traditional forms of cardio though. Circuits will often end with a run -- usually anywhere between 400 meters and 1 mile -- and rowing machines and jumping rope.
Mike Samuels started writing for his own fitness website and local publications in 2008. He graduated from Peter Symonds College in the UK with A Levels in law, business and sports science, and is a fully qualified personal trainer, sports massage therapist and corrective exercise specialist with accreditations from Premier Global International.