CrossFit: A Fitness Phenomenon

Dangerous, obsessive, unhealthy, and—my personal favorite—cult-like: these are all adjectives commonly associated with CrossFit. Established in 2000, CrossFit gyms reached a total of 13 gyms around 2005, and today has a range of more than 13,000 across the country. Since its establishment, CrossFit has remained one of the most talked-about and controversial fitness programs known today.

April Garner, a CrossFit owner and trainer, attributes this to its exponential growth within the fitness industry in such a short amount of time. She suggests that the stereotypes of CrossFit are not a reflection of the program itself, but of the athletes with a desire to succeed faster and consequently do not do so in a healthy manner. Most everyone is familiar with the swirling cloud of rumors constantly surrounding CrossFit programs, making it difficult to tune them out and form a personal opinion of CrossFit. 

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a fitness program that combines Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, plyometric, and gymnastic exercises. Normally, there are two chunks to every workout: a high-intensity cardio section and a heavy weightlifting section. No matter your fitness level—yes, even you fitness beginners—CrossFit is a program for men and women of all ages who are constantly striving to push their bodies to new limits. If you are looking for a new fitness challenge, congratulations, you fit the bill!

In order to perform most of these exercises specific equipment is needed, like bumper plates, Olympic bars, and kettle-bells. Most members are lacking this necessary equipment, and let’s be frank, the YMCA and Planet Fitness are no longer cutting it. To be honest, I was severely put off by the "Lunk Alarm" during my tour of Planet Fitness. I heavy weight-lift; I'm going to sometimes yell or grunt. Building a personal home gym is always an option, if you have the money, which many often don’t. I believe this is why so many fitness gurus find themselves standing outside CrossFit doors. It eliminates the footwork and monotony out of your daily sweat; all you have to do is show up for a killer workout. One of the final deciding factors to joining CrossFit includes the environment. Working out alone can often be relaxing and some much-needed "me time," however, we all have those days where just showing up is all the motivation we have left. One of the biggest fitness battles in general is within your own head, the constant decision to push past the pain and push harder: because your mind quits way before your body. 

Ask any CrossFit member and they'll tell you this internal battle is fought together at CrossFit—we’re much stronger working out as a group than apart. This is what caused Garner to fall in love with the program. After years of instructing classes including aerobics, boot camps, even Silver Sneakers programs, Garner decided to focus solely on CrossFit stating, "Personally, I noticed more results with CrossFit because it keeps your body guessing with the different types of workouts daily; I found it to be a better fit for my sort of lifestyle." 

What is a WOD?

The term "WOD" is used because these workouts are one giant wad of fun—if you're the one watching. No, in all seriousness, a WOD is the “workout of the day” that can be performed individually on your own time, or there are scheduled group WODs throughout the day: early in the morning or early at night, for those who prefer the group environment, as most do. As these workouts pull from a large pool of movements, every single workout is a challenge year after year. A typical WOD may look like this:


Squat Clean – Front Squat – Jerk

Complex (10 min EMOM – 1 rep)

Metcon (Time)

2 RFT (Rounds for time)

29 Box Jumps 24”/20”

4 Thrusters 135/95

29 Ball Slams 40/25

A photo posted by CrossFit (@crossfit) on

... Translation, please?

Typical WODs include two separate sections for heavy weightlifting and cardio. The first is usually not intended to be cardio-intensive and is used to lift heavy weights while still practicing proper form—personal records are often achieved in this section. EMOM stands for “every minute on the minute,” which means for the complex above, CrossFitters will do one squat clean, then one front squat, and finally one jerk—that’s one rep and you have one minute to complete it. You would repeat this 10 times, at the top of every minute. Now for the cardio intensive section of the workout. There are often two different kinds: an AMRAP (As Many Reps As Possible) in the given amount of time, and the second is a MetCon (Metabolic Conditioning) for time, where you complete the given amount of rounds and reps for the fastest time.

Isn’t CrossFit Dangerous?

CrossFit becomes dangerous the moment a CrossFitter sacrifices form to lift more weight. When your body is not yet properly prepared to deal with a heavier weight, form is sacrificed, which ultimately results in injuries because the weight is distributed incorrectly. To combat this, trainers are always present during WODs in order to critique and correct even the most experienced CrossFitter's form. Once a trainer feels your form is stable enough, then will they encourage you to lift heavier weights. To protect new athletes, beginners are given an introductory course over all CrossFit movements and are taught how to properly execute these moves before being allowed to lift heavier weight. Everyone has their limits and it’s important to put aside pride and be familiar with them. 

All MetCon or AMRAP sections include a prescribed weight ("Rx”) for both men and women: as seen above in the example WOD. The first number is the prescribed weight for men while the second is for women. However, this is simply a suggested weight and while there are CrossFit athletes who Rx or Rx+, there are many who scale to a weight they feel more comfortable lifting. It is highly common to look to your left to see a sixty-five-year-old doing an Olympic powerlifting move with less weight, and then look to your right to see a thirty-two-year-old performing the same power move with heavier weight. As she is not just an owner and trainer, but an athlete herself, Garner says this is her favorite aspect of CrossFit. "It's not just going to Anytime Fitness, getting in a workout and leaving, there is camaraderie built between all members," she says. CrossFit is one of the most universal and adaptable programs; it's home to pro-athletes, older athletes, adaptive athletes, military trainees, and even kids. 

I encourage any and all fitness gurus who are looking to push themselves harder than ever before to simply try out a local CrossFit gym. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it's a sanctuary for those looking for that new and unique fitness challenge. Just as every fitness activity and program comes with its own risks, CrossFit does too, but don’t let that become an intimidation. It’s very important you decide your limits until you are ready to overcome them. 


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Photos from The CrossFit Games and CrossFit Facebook pages unless otherwise stated.