CrossFit is growing in popularity. There seems to be a gym on every corner, but what is the difference between it and any other exercise? And did you know, they’ve turned this workout into a hugely popular sport where athletes compete for the title ‘Fittest on Earth’? You may have a host of questions and hopefully all of them are answered below, but there is one burning question I can answer right now: No, it’s not in the rules the men have to take part topless. They do it out of choice, for some reason.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a workout routine. It started in 2000, in California. It aims to encourage ‘functional’ movements. This means, movements you are likely to replicate in real life, like jumping, reaching, squatting or lifting your own body weight.

Lifting your own body weight, like pull-ups or press-ups, is a key component of CrossFit. Photo: Handout

What are the CrossFit Games?

For some of the fittest, CrossFit is a competition. The Games began in 2007 and have grown into a huge tournament. There are numerous competitions around the world, but this is the ultimate. The best from each country qualifies via the Open, a five-week competition with a workout released each week. Competitors video themselves completing the tasks and uploading them online to get a score. The best score from each country goes through. Others qualify via a sanctional event, which are small competitions around the world, like in Dubai or Miami.

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The CrossFit Games take place every summer, in the US. In 2019, they are in Madison. Because CrossFit puts emphasis on being functional to the point that competitors are ready for anything, the competition changes every year. Athletes are not told what the event will involve until the last minute. In the past, competitors have had to run 10km, open water swim, cycle, perform their maximum weight lifts in various movements, handstand race, carry sandbags, complete obstacle courses, short rows, marathon rows, stationary watt bikes and everything in between.

Do I need to be fit to start CrossFit?

No. For most people, it’s a way to stay in shape. It also serves as a community and participants refer fondly to their gym as their ‘box’. The community is very supportive and non-judgmental, the exercises can all be tailored to your strength, fitness and ability.

Olympic weight movements set you up for a healthy life because several joints move at once, replicating most normal, everyday tasks. Photo: Handout

One of the main components of CrossFit is Olympic weight movements, such as clean and snatch, as well as squats and pull-ups. It is scalable so anyone can take part, but as they are complex movements you will not be asked to do them until you have built up your strength and fitness.

Will it make me too bulky?

Many people are worried they will end up too hench. As the exercises are scalable, you will only get as big as you want. If you see the Games athletes and worry you’ll end up like them, it’s unlikely because they dedicate their whole lives to the sport and nutrition surrounding it. If you want to get bigger though, it is the perfect sport to tailor to build lean, functional muscle mass.

Some of the terms you need to know to get yourself started:

  • WOD – Workout of the day. Everyday, there is a different series of exercises to develop your whole strength and fitness, be it flexibility, core, power, cardiovascular or any other component. You will be given your WOD by your instructor, or online via the official CrossFit website.
  • AMRAP – As many rounds as possible of a workout in a given amount of time, using the number of reps or times completing the WOD as a score.
  • Bear Complex – a five-lift complex consisting of a power clean, a front squat, a push press, a back squat and another push press.
  • Chipper – A WOD that consists of a series of movements that are not repeated. In addition, the participant must complete all of the reps for the exercise before moving on to the next. One of the classic chippers in CrossFit is the Filthy Fifty that consists of doing 50 reps of box jumps, jumping pull-ups, kettlebell swings, walking lunges, knees to elbows, push presses, back extensions, wall balls, burpees and double unders.
  • Couplet – a WOD consisting of two exercises. An example of a couplet is Fran, which includes thrusters and pull-ups.
  • EMOM – Every minute on the minute. For example, to complete 10 press-ups EMOM, you would start your press-ups, if you finished them in 25 seconds you would have 35 seconds until you have to start 10 more press-ups on the next minute.
  • Fight Gone Bad – a particular WOD that consists of three rounds of five exercises. Each exercise lasts for a minute and you have to complete AMRAP in that minute: One minute of throwing a medicine ball up against a wall (Wall balls), sumo-dead lifts, box jumps, push press, rowing and one-minute rest.
  • For Time – Complete the workout as quickly as possible, using the time it takes to complete it as your score.
  • Metcon – Short for metabolic conditioning, a metcon usually features a set of movements repeated for a certain time period, like what you would see in an AMRAP. Metcons are usually short, intense, and require constant movement and muscle use.
  • Tabata – High-intensity interval training system that requires four minutes per exercise. For each exercise, you will do 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, resulting in 8 rounds in 4 minutes. The BIG key to Tabata workouts, at least as they relate to CrossFit, is that only the lowest score is counted, so you don’t want to go all out in the first round only to end up fizzling out later.
  • Triplet – a WOD consisting of three exercises. An example of a triplet is Helen, which includes running, kettlebell swings and pull-ups.
  • Ladder – a workout where the reps increase each round. For example, you start with one swing of a kettlebell and one burpee, then you do two of each, then three reps, four reps and so one.