CrossFit - What is it and is it for you?

Woman deadlifting in crossfit class

You've probably heard of CrossFit but you might not be sure what it is, let alone whether you'd enjoy giving it a go. A brand name that is often used to refer to a whole category of cross-discipline, multi-activity workout programmes, CrossFit was funded in the US in 2000 and now licences itself to gyms around the globe.

So what does it involve?
It's a mixture of weightlifting, high-intensity interval training, bodyweight exercises and gymnastics – among other things. Originally conceived as an approach to physical activity and all-round conditioning, it has also developed into a competitive sport – with TV coverage and six-figure prizes on offer. But for most adherents it's simply a means to getting and staying fit, combining personal challenges and new activities with a social aspect.

And what does that mean in real life?
Affiliated gyms hold hour-long classes each day, during which participants warm up before a spot of training on a new activity. They then perform the "workout of the day" or "WOD" - an exercise set on the CrossFit website which (as you might expect) changes every day. This could be running or rowing intervals, kettlebell exercises, weightlifting or a gymnastics exercise. The class then finishes up with a warm down or stretching.

Sounds demanding, do I need to be fit already then?
The public image of CrossFit is all ripped abs, bulging biceps and painful-looking gymnastics postures – so it can seem a bit intimidating if you're not in tip-top physical condition yourself. Don't worry though, the workouts are all designed to be scaled up or down in difficulty to suit each individual – so although you might be lifting next to a bloke who can clean lift 70kg, you might only have to tackle 20kg yourself. Similar variations will be made in the speed, intensity, difficulty or duration of exercises depending on each individual's ability and current fitness – although the objective is to progress week-by-week obviously.

So it's not all musclemen shouting "beefcake" all the time then?
Far from it, the activity attracts a good mix of men and women and the classes have a friendly and supportive atmosphere – the idea being that participants set themselves personal challenges rather than competing with one another (most of the time anyway). It's a good "way in" to weight training if you get intimidated by the free weights when in the gym – and the social atmosphere and bonding over the exercises has been compared by some to that experienced in team sports.

How often do I need to do it?
That's entirely up to you and will depend on your current fitness, your targets and – of course – how much time you have available. The general formula for serious devotees of CrossFit is three days on and one day off.

Haven't I read something controversial about it?
There has been criticism that CrossFit sometimes prioritises speed over proper form when undertaking weightlifting exercises – and that this can lead to injury. It has also been associated with a severe illness called rhabdomyolysis which sees damaged muscle tissue breaking down into the bloodstream. It should be emphasised that this is very rare and is even less likely if exercises are performed under supervision by a qualified coach – and in sensible moderation.

OK I'm in, where do I sign up?
There are hundreds of officially affiliated gyms in the UK. The best way to find a local one is to search for "CrossFit" and your preferred location or even a particular gym.

Have you tried CrossFit? Leave a comment below...

Benefits of Crossfit