CrossFit: Is This the Workout for You?

Imagine this: You enter a windowless garage. The air is saturated with the must of sweat and the sound of barbells clamoring to the floor. While this may sound more like a scene from Rocky or Arnold Schwarzenegger's Pumping Iron, for many Americans, it is a recurring image. Welcome to the CrossFit gym—or tenderly known by regulars as "the box."

What Is CrossFit?

Growing in popularity as evidenced by its over 2,000 affiliates worldwide,

CrossFit is a class-based gym, in which members workout together rather than independently. According to the flagship website,, the CrossFit gym's aim "is to forge a broad, general, and inclusive fitness." For CrossFitters, however, fitness isn't necessarily about having washboard abs or bulging biceps. Instead, fitness is an "increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains," meaning it's more about function, strength, and movement more than visual aesthetics.

At a CrossFit gym, you'll be performing squats instead of leg extensions, pull-ups instead of curls. These functional movements, according to, are more natural to our physiology, thus more true to everyday life.

Who Can Be a CrossFit Athlete?

According to Gilaad Cohen, coach and owner of CrossFit Newton in Waltham, MA and who, along with his wife Jodie Cohen, coauthored The Everything Paleolithic Diet Cookbook, "[b]ecause CrossFit is movement based, anyone can join."

Sylvia Frerk, a 42-year-old independent insurance agent and member of CrossFit Newton joined her gym in 2010. "I always led an active life, but I became bored with my regular cardio and weight program at my local gym. A new workout [at CrossFit] each day keeps me totally interested, challenged, and the strength program let's me track my progress to see improvements."

But what if you've never trained with such high impact movements? At CrossFit Newton, as well as most CrossFit affiliates, a new member must go through a beginner program known as OnRamp. According to Cohen, you'll learn proper movement and what to expect in regular classes. He goes on to say that because CrossFit is movement based, "once [an exercise] is perfected and becomes easy, weight is added to increase intensity and strength."

What Are the Benefits of CrossFit?

1. Improved overall fitness. H. Marie Williams, NSCA-CPT, a personal trainer at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York says the benefits of CrossFit are both physiological and mental. "Everyone wants to feel the burn [during a workout]. The high intensity intervals that CrossFit is based-upon provide this. Additionally, athletes will experience an improved body composition—more lean muscle and less fat—and weight loss."

2. Increased mental toughness. What may be even more significant are the emotional benefits. Cohen believes that people are drawn to CrossFit because it provides members with "a sense of accomplishment and overall self worth. CrossFit gives [its athletes] a confident feeling like you're ready for anything that comes your way. The mental battle each time you go during a training session helps get you through the struggles of daily life."

3. A sense of community. Walk into most CrossFit gyms and not only will you see members pushing themselves to the limit, but you'll see coaches and other members cheering them on. Classes are not only instructor-led but peer-driven as well.

"The physical part of CrossFit is only half of why I love it. The other half is the positive atmosphere and the camaraderie you find at the gym. The support is tremendous and the friendly competition during the workout of the day pushes me daily," says Frerk.

4. Variation and programming. CrossFit hinges upon the notion that no two workouts will be the same. Each day is something new. This variation doesn't necessarily mean you're going into each class blindly, however. "Most CrossFit gyms will post the workout of the day on their websites. This way the member will know exactly what the day's workout will entail and how to prepare," says Williams.

What Are the Risks Associated With CrossFit?

Such high intensity workouts and multi-faceted movements don't come without their potential risks. "The very nature of CrossFit, with its advanced movements and emphasis on pushing muscles to the limit, puts athletes at a heightened risk of injury," says Williams. Moreover, anyone can access the workouts online; however, not everyone is trained.

Cohen agrees. "I don't blame [the critics of CrossFit]. There are many unqualified coaches out there that have no place training themselves, let alone anyone else. It's dependent on the coach, his education, experience, and willingness to constantly better himself as a coach."

Should You Join a CrossFit Gym?

Joining a CrossFit gym is wholly dependent on your comfort level and drive to try something new and challenging. However, before you start a program, do your homework. Research different gyms in your area. If a local gym has a free introductory class, take it. Ask questions. No two CrossFit gyms are the same. If you decide to join an affiliate, choose one that you feel comfortable with and that suits your needs.



The Continuum Center for Health and Healing