17 Practical Reasons to Start Doing CrossFit
Last Updated: Nov 25, 2014
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With more than 10,000 affiliated gyms worldwide and the number of active CrossFit athletes growing with them, CrossFit is no longer a cult workout program for the superfit. These days, no matter where you live, you’re likely to have a CrossFit gym -- or “box” -- nearby, where you’ll find everyone from elite athletes to stay-at-home moms engaging in the high-intensity exercise program that’s taken the fitness industry by storm. Why do they do it? There are as many reasons for doing CrossFit as there are boxes in most major cities. If you’re thinking about jumping on the bandwagon, read on for even more reasons to check out your local CrossFit box.
CROSSFIT OFFERS COMMUNITY.
One of the first things you’ll probably notice when you walk into a box is that it’s a social environment. People often talk before and after class, offer encouragement during workouts, stay after to stretch together and participate in social events outside of the gym. If you’ve ever been a member at a standard gym, where people mostly work out independently and may never talk to other gym members, this is a big change. “I think [the community] really is the biggest attraction for people to continue to come and continue to be engaged,” says Yuri Feito, assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University.
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CROSSFIT BUILDS CARDIOVASCULAR FITNESS.
While you could spend hours running at a steady pace in the hopes of improving your cardiovascular endurance, research shows that may not be the most effective way to generally improve aerobic fitness. A study published in the November 2013 issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research examined the effects of CrossFit-based high-intensity power-training workouts on maximal oxygen uptake, or VO2 max, a standard method used to measure aerobic capacity. After the 10-week program, which consisted of Olympic lifts performed at high intensity as well as skills-building work and gymnastics, all participants were observed to have achieved significant improvements in VO2 max. The researchers also noted that compared with traditional endurance training, high-intensity training requires less of a time commitment, making it a more efficient method of training.
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CROSSFIT KEEPS BODY AND BRAIN GUESSING.
Doing the same exercises every time you go to the gym without ever changing your routine won’t provide the necessary stimulus to keep getting faster, stronger and better. Over time, your body adapts to exercise, so you can do the same amount and type of work more efficiently. This is why your fitness gains may plateau after doing the same routine for several weeks or months. Although there are a number of benchmark workouts used to measure progress that remain consistent, almost every time you visit a CrossFit class, you’ll be doing different exercises at different speeds and different intensities. This stimulates your body to keep adapting and growing, and it keeps your brain engaged so you don’t get bored with your workout.
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CROSSFIT OFFERS RESULTS IN LESS TIME.
High-intensity training, which forms the foundation of the CrossFit program, is more effective than low- or moderate-intensity exercise at improving cardiovascular fitness and body composition. This means you can spend less time at the gym and still get the same -- or better -- results than you would have gotten during your previous workout regimen. And according to a 2014 study published in the journal BMC Public Health, you’re more likely to enjoy a high-intensity workout and stick with it. In the study, participants who engaged in group-based, high-intensity functional training like CrossFit reported higher enjoyment, and more of them said they planned to continue the program compared with participants who engaged in a moderate-intensity training program. In addition, high-intensity exercisers spent significantly less time exercising while seeing the same results in body composition.
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CROSSFIT BUILDS CONFIDENCE.
Challenging yourself day after day at the gym and continuing to surpass your previous personal records gives you a great sense of accomplishment that can improve the way you feel about yourself. Experienced CrossFit athletes often recall with great pride the first time they were able to execute certain challenging movements. “For people who have never been able to do a pull-up, doing their first pull-up is exciting. It’s a big moment for people,” says Jonathan Ross, ACE-certified personal trainer. This kind of positive reinforcement of your skills and strength naturally makes you feel more self-confident -- a feeling you can take with you into other areas of your life.
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CROSSFIT IMPROVES MUSCULAR ENDURANCE.
Muscular endurance is the ability of your muscles to perform over an extended period of time without becoming fatigued. This is crucial for participants in endurance sports like running and cycling, but it’s an important part of performing well in any activity in your daily life. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Sport and Human Performance looked at the effects of two different exercise modalities -- CrossFit and a traditional training program -- on muscular endurance. The researchers found that CrossFit participants increased muscular endurance by 22 percent and their aerobic capacity by 6 percent.
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CROSSFIT GIVES MEASURABLE RESULTS.
Using benchmark workouts -- called “the girls” because they all have names like Fran, Barbara and Angie -- you can easily measure your progress from day one to day 101. Take the benchmark workout called Cindy, for example, which involves doing as many rounds as possible of five pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats in 20 minutes. How many rounds were you able to do when you started CrossFit? How many rounds can you do three months later? If you’ve been going regularly, the answer is most likely considerably more. You can also clearly see your gains in strength by testing your one-rep max, or the heaviest weight you’re able to lift with proper form for one rep of a particular exercise. These tests are built into CrossFit sessions, so you’re periodically able to see your gains in fitness and feel good about them.
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CROSSFIT INSPIRES CHANGE.
You may start out on day one thinking you’re just trying out a new workout at a new gym, but you’ll soon realize that it’s not just your workout that’s getting an overhaul. Maybe it’s the sense of community, the new friends, the confidence engendered by achievements in strength or speed and flexibility, but slowly and surely, many CrossFitters notice shifts in various areas of their lives -- they’re eating healthier, sleeping better, more focused at work and even happier. Once you’ve caught the CrossFit bug, you’ll likely start making healthier choices in your daily life. Instead of skipping your workout to go to happy hour, you’ll probably make sure to fit in your workout beforehand. You might even skip happy hour altogether!
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CROSSFIT IMPROVES BODY COMPOSITION.
According to authors of a 2011 review published in the Journal of Obesity, regular aerobic exercise has little effect on body fat. “Most people just don’t work out intensely enough to make progress, and then they wonder why they’re not making progress,” explains Jonathan Ross, ACE-certified personal trainer. But in a CrossFit program, the emphasis is on intensity. In each workout, you push yourself to your maximum capacity, either going all out for the entire workout or working hard for a period of time and then resting for a period of time. This type of high-intensity exercise has the ability to reduce body fat more effectively and in less time than steady-state low- or moderate-intensity exercises, the authors of the review concluded.
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CROSSFIT CAN IMPROVE PERFORMANCE IN OTHER SPORTS.
Many recreational athletes think that training in their chosen sport is all they need to improve performance. But a well-rounded cross-training program, such as CrossFit, can help build your body’s overall work capacity in a way that sports-specific training alone may not be able to. On the Breaking Muscle website, FINA World Masters record holder Hannah Caldas writes that CrossFit helped make her a better swimmer, both physically and mentally. The same is true for other sports. “A general increase in your endurance would help you on the tennis court if you get into a longer rally,” says Jonathan Ross, ACE-certified personal trainer. “If you live in a body that is fit in general, almost anything you’re going to do will get better.”
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CROSSFIT IMPROVES FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY.
CrossFit isn’t just about pushing your limits in high-intensity workouts and heavy lifts. Every class also includes exercises and drills to increase flexibility and mobility -- the ability of your joints to move through their full range of motion -- and students are encouraged to work on both outside of class. This focused work helps CrossFitters and athletes in other sports move better and more efficiently -- both during training and in their everyday lives -- and maintain balance in their bodies. It also helps prevent injury.
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CROSSFIT PROVIDES PERSONALIZED TRAINING.
At many CrossFit boxes, the coach-to-student ratio is often less than one to 10. Typical group exercise classes may have 20 or more students per instructor, and when you’re working out at the gym on your own, well, you’re on your own. “I think one of the inherent benefits of going to a CrossFit gym is you have a coach with you every time you go in,” says assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University Yuri Feito. Such small class sizes mean your CrossFit coach is able to give you individualized feedback on your form and technique and potentially prevent you from making mistakes that could cause injury.
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CROSSFIT FORCES YOU OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE.
When you’re working out at the gym on your own, you can pick and choose the exercises you want to do. This means you can easily avoid the exercises you like the least. But avoiding the exercises that are most challenging for you is not helping; it’s keeping you in your comfort zone. CrossFit will not let you stay there. It will push you to your limits and make you do things you’ve never done nor ever thought you could do. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. You will be sore in places you didn’t know you had muscles. You may even shed some tears. But you will get stronger, faster and better.
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CROSSFIT PROMOTES CLEAN EATING.
Very few exercise programs come with a diet plan, which doesn’t make sense considering the role diet plays in weight loss, sports performance and overall health and longevity. Many CrossFit boxes offer nutritional guidance to help you learn about the Paleo diet, also called the caveman diet, which is the dietary pattern prescribed by the CrossFit organization. The plan involves eating whole, unprocessed foods consisting of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. The diet limits sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrates, which can spike your blood sugar. Paleo competitions in which members compete to see who can stick to their diet most rigidly, potluck Paleo events, seminars and recipe sharing give you the push you need to stop eating junk food and feel better.
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CROSSFIT IS FUN.
CrossFit isn’t your boring gym routine. When was the last time you did a handstand or climbed a rope to the ceiling? If you’re like most adults, probably not since grade school. In each session, you’ll find yourself jumping rope, doing box jumps, throwing medicine balls, running and climbing -- it’s a bit like recess for grown-ups. This is a large part of what makes the program so popular and keeps people coming back over and over again, says Jonathan Ross, ACE-certified personal trainer. “You can do things that just make you lose yourself in the experience,” he says. That’s not something most people can claim about their treadmill workout.
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CROSSFIT IS SCALABLE.
Just because you can’t deadlift 300 pounds doesn’t mean you can’t do CrossFit. In fact, even if you can’t do a single push-up, you can start CrossFit. For any exercise in a CrossFit workout, there is at least one modification (but often many) to scale the exercise to your level of fitness. If you can’t do a pull-up, you can use a band for support or do ring rows; if you can’t do a full snatch with a loaded bar, you can do just the first part of the movement with an empty bar or even a PVC pipe until you’re ready to move on to the next part of the movement or add weight.
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CROSSFIT HELPS YOU IF YOU HELP YOURSELF.
Getting the results you want from CrossFit depends on how motivated you are to attend classes regularly as well as on the quality of the box you choose and the coaching you receive. Do your homework before signing up to make sure the trainers are at least CrossFit Level 1 certified. Ask for referrals from friends and family, and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions when you first visit a box. Make sure the box you choose provides an introductory (or on-ramp) program for beginners that teaches you how to perform the movements correctly before you are asked to perform them with intensity, advises Jonathan Ross, ACE-certified personal trainer. A CrossFit box that emphasizes intensity over quality of movement does not have their members’ best interests in mind, Ross warns.
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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Still not sure if CrossFit is right for you? Or are you pumped to get to your first class? Have you already tried CrossFit? What did you think? What advice would you give to beginners and people who are considering CrossFit? What keeps you motivated to keep going? Share your thoughts in the comment section below so the rest of the community can benefit from your experience.
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