If you’ve spent any time around fitness junkies, chances are that CrossFit has come up at least once. And chances are, the topic has been extremely polarizing.
Having been around for two decades now and enjoying widespread popularity, people tend to either hate it or love it—there is rarely an in-between.
We’re not here to dive into the criticisms or spend too long on the benefits: it works for many individuals and that’s all that matters. And if you’re looking to spice things up a little in the weight room, CrossFit might work for you as well.
Further below we’ve collected several of the most popular workouts that beginners can do. And if going to the gym isn’t much of an option, many of these will only require minimal equipment or simple bodyweight. But first, let’s examine CrossFit a little under the hood.
The brains behind the original CrossFit was Gregg Glassman—a gymnast who used varied workouts in order to supplement his regular gymnastics training. Through this mix of training (a cross-training, if you will), Glassman realized that his athletic development was better than others he was training with.
This was the basis for CrossFit, and you can see it in the types of movements involved. For example, gymnastics, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), plyometrics, powerlifting, calisthenics, and Olympic weightlifting are all featured within CrossFit.
From this variety comes the Workout of the Day, known as WODs. These WODs, along with the comradery that is characteristic of CrossFit training, make up the basis for much of this training regime—and is a large reason why people are into it.
The WOD changes every day, as the name would suggest, and is built from a very wide range of movements that scale in difficulty and movement pattern. Anything from simple bodyweight exercises such as push-ups, to Olympic lifts, are on the table.
The thinking behind this is that the body is constantly challenged in new and interesting ways, so there’s no way to fall into a “rut”, so to speak. Furthermore, plateaus can more easily be avoided due to all of this variety in the workouts.
And while a lot of CrossFit may seem challenging, the workouts are designed to be scalable to different fitness levels. First-time beginners can jump into things as well—maybe not to the level of a more advanced trainee—but they can jump in nonetheless and experience CrossFit. This makes starting CrossFit relatively accessible.
There are, of course, some movements that are best avoided by beginners. Things such as complex Olympic lifts or heavy kettlebell exercises aren’t that well suited for those not already comfortable with the movements to some extent.
CrossFit fundamentals are a series of workouts that are designed to get beginners into the swing of things. Avoiding heavy weights or dangerous movements, these workouts are aimed at people who need to first learn proper form and safety when working out.
These initial stages should be done until a personal trainer or CrossFit coach feel like you’re confident enough to move into doing the CrossFit WODs. But even once you get to the WODs, they’re very scalable for many levels.
Take pull-ups, for example. A WOD may call for a complex variation of pull-ups, but that doesn’t mean you have to do them as prescribed. For example, just jumping up and hanging onto the bar for a few seconds can be a good start. It’s all about finding the level you’re comfortable at, but also pushing yourself to surpass that level.
So, what exactly do these WODs contain? As we mentioned above, it is all about variety and putting disparate training systems together into one system. However, there are some exercises that come up more often than others. These include:
In terms of equipment, all types are used. Anything from conventional barbells, to dumbbells, kettlebells, and Medicine balls makes a prominent appearance. CrossFit is also very big on calisthenics, or bodyweight exercise. These are especially useful if you’re having to manage working out from home.
Cardio is also important in the CrossFit repertoire. This doesn’t have to take the form of running, however, as many WODs feature the jump rope as a good way to get your heart rate up. And because of all of the complex movements that stem from gymnastics, it’s also important to properly stretch beforehand—as always.
With the variety of training systems being part of CrossFit, it’s not hard to see why it attracts such a wide following with different goals.
For example, those who are trying to lose weight, get stronger, or hit a new PR on their 5k time, can all find success by using CrossFit. Even though CrossFit does paint a broad stroke when it comes to its target audience and its aims, it does do some things particularly well.
Because of the variety of exercises, their complexity, and the constant state of switching things up with WODs, CrossFit utilizes the entire body and all of its movement patterns to an impressive degree. Not only does this help when it comes to functional fitness, but you’ll also be developing your strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. And depending on how much cardio you add in, your cardiovascular health should see improvements as well.
It’s clear that there are benefits to CrossFit for pretty much anyone unless they’re already in a highly specialized training routine for a specific sport. Otherwise, the amateur or intermediate will see benefits aplenty by sticking to a CrossFit routine. It’s all in the variation, the complexity of the movements, and how much you have to push yourself.
Let’s take a look at some common methods for organizing training in CrossFit.
“Every minute on the minute”, also known as EMOM for short, is when you perform a predetermined number of reps of an exercise at the beginning of a minute. If you finish early during that minute, you get the remaining time to rest before your next exercise in the routine.
This makes you find a balance between going fast enough to get some rest, but also going slow enough not to tire yourself out too early. An example of an EMOM routine would be to set a timer for 15 minutes and then do 5 burpees followed by 5 toes-to-bar. In the beginning, you would do 3 burpees and rest for the remainder of the minute. At minute two, you would do the toes-to-bar exercise where you hang off a bar and bring your toes up to it.
AMRAP stands for “as many reps as possible,” or, “as many rounds as possible,” depending on how the routine is organized. As the name suggests, you have a set amount of time where you try to complete as many reps (or rounds) of an exercise or a series of exercises.
If we were doing rounds, a routine could look like this:
Now, give yourself 15 minutes and try to complete as many rounds as possible, going from one exercise to the next with as little break time as possible.
These high-tempo, high-intensity routines are typical of CrossFit workouts and it’s not difficult to see why they get people results. As always, however, form is important and speed shouldn’t supplant safety and proper movement patterns.
Another important aspect of CrossFit routines—especially for those just starting CrossFit—is creating a baseline in order to gauge your development.
This is a personal baseline in that you choose a series of exercises and you time yourself to see how long it takes to go through them all. The idea is that as you progress and develop in CrossFit and athletics in general, you’ll get better and faster at completing this baseline workout.
Even if one isn’t inclined towards doing CrossFit, incorporating a baseline workout into your fitness journey is a good way to go. Not only does this give you a benchmark for which to surpass that’s completely unique to you, but it’s also a powerful tool when it comes to motivation.
That’s part of the reason why people advise to take pictures before you get serious about fitness since it provides a good perspective on where you came from. The baseline workout is very similar to that and might work even better than photos which mainly look at the aesthetic, for the most part.
So, an example baseline workout could look similar to this:
Of course, you would need to time yourself to see where you’re at. Then, every few weeks or months you can come back to see how much your time has improved. Feel free to personalize the baseline for your own interests and needs as well.
The number of CrossFit workouts is almost as expansive as the number of movements and exercises they involve. Like we mentioned above, they employ a variety of techniques, methods, and equipment in order to test your body bring it up to the next level.
We’ve collected some workouts below—some are more beginner-friendly and simpler than others. Just keep in mind that everything can be scaled to your fitness level and your needs as they relate to your goals. Just remember to warm-up before jumping into things.
While joining a CrossFit class or CrossFit gym might be a good experience, it’s not necessary to do the same workouts. But who knows—maybe the CrossFitter lifestyle is the one for you.
Keeping things simple to start, you’ll want to perform 3 rounds of the exercises below, with as much intensity as you’re able to. This means going fast and hard.
Feel free to scale the rows to something more difficult (such as ring rows), or something easier depending on your comfort level.
This workout only consists of two different exercises—the kettlebell swing and dumbbell thrusters. Thrusters are popular in CrossFit, and they’re performed by holding a dumbbell to your chest as you squat down. Make sure you’re holding the dumbbell with both hands, and then stand straight up while raising the dumbbell above you.
This workout is done by starting with 10 kettlebell swings, followed by 10 dumbbell thrusters, followed by 9 kettlebell swings, followed by 9 thrusters—get it? After each cycle, you lower the rep count by one until you get down to 1 of each.
This next workout utilizes the jump rope, medicine balls, and a barbell. You want to begin by doing about 75 to 100 rotations of the jump rope. The wall balls and sumo deadlifts will follow the “10 to 1” pattern outlined above, in terms of the rep scheme.
For wall balls, you’ll want to do squats with a medicine ball around your arm’s length away from the wall. At the bottom of the squat, rise up explosively and bounce the ball against the wall in a way that you can catch it. The “proper” way to do this exercise is to aim for a spot 10 feet above you but do what feels comfortable when you’re starting out.
The sumo deadlifts should be done with high pulls at the top of the movement. Begin with your feet wider than should-width apart, which is what puts “sumo” into “sumo deadlift.” Go down into a deadlift stance and grab the barbell using a narrow grip. Straighten up as you would in a regular deadlift and then pull the bar up to your collarbone, with your elbows above the bar at the top of the lift.
Many of the CrossFit workouts have girl names, and Cindy is the first one that we’ll be looking at. Cindy is also the first workout we’ll be looking at that conforms to the AMRAP method, where you do as many rounds as possible in the allotted timeframe.
What makes this particularly scalable is that you can easily adjust the timeframe to what suits you, and then work from there. As long as you’re pushing yourself, there’s really no way to go wrong.
This workout is also relatively simple, with only three exercises. Once you get to the end of the third exercise, go back and begin the next round to try to fit in as many as possible in your time constraint. The exercises are:
Easy to remember, easily scalable, and will get you results if you stick to it.
Continuing on with the naming convention, we have the Annie workout. Differing slightly from the AMRAP and EMOM standards we looked at before, Annie has you completing the entire workout as fast as you’re able to.
This routine is also built like an inverted pyramid, similar to the 10 to 1 workout above. While the Annie is relatively simple with only two exercises, it will definitely leave your heart pounding.
You can also substitute the movements for your own, as long as you’re keeping to the spirit of the workout—the spirit being intensity and a high tempo. For example, you might want to use an alternative to the double under if you’re not able to do one yet.
This is the rep scheme to the Annie:
For our final workout, we’ll look at the Helen WOD. This workout, once again, incorporates a fair amount of cardiovascular exertion because of the 400 meter run at the beginning.
This is meant to build up your lactic acid and deplete your body’s energy stores. Once you’ve completed the run, the remaining two exercises are supposed to use up your remaining energy and get your heart rate up again.
Once again, you’ll want to complete this as fast as you can:
The workouts above are a fantastic way to get you moving and started on your fitness journey—whatever your goals may be. They’ll help you become more mobile, stronger, flexible, and functionally fit. However, between all of this working out you’ll also want to make time to rest because that’s when your muscles actually grow and develop.
Always make sure you’re pushing yourself to become the best version of yourself, but an important part of that is to take the rest your body needs. CrossFit will help you reach your goals, but it’s going to take a fit lifestyle to really take it home.