You could say a lot of things about the popular CrossFit workouts: They're hard. They're trendy. They're injury-prone. However, studies show that you can also say this: They work.
Truthfully, any routine that follows the no-nonsense rule of "calories in vs. calories out" — i.e. expending more calories via physical activity than you consume through food and drink — will cause you to lose weight.
However, CrossFit, a workout designed by Greg Glassman and launched in 2000, aims to get you there via high-intensity, functional movements and a constantly varied approach to training.
A Typical CrossFit Workout
CrossFit workouts are completed at specialty facilities, known as boxes, rather than a standard gym. Each class lasts one hour and consists of the following:
- A dynamic workout with jumps, jump rope, squats, push-ups, lunges and pull-ups
- Skill or strength work, such as one-legged squats or deadlifts
- The workout of the day, or WOD, as it's known, which prescribes a certain number of exercises to be done as quickly as possible
- A cool down and stretching
A study sponsored by the American Council on Exercise looked at the average caloric expenditure of a CrossFit session, finding that men burned an average of 20.5 calories per minute and females burned 12.3 cals per minute.
In just 12 minutes, the study shows, participants burns an average of 115.8 calories. Additionally, CrossFit workouts elevated the heart rate of participants to 90 percent of the maximum.
CrossFit + Weight Loss
In 2013, researchers examined the effects of a CrossFit workout on aerobic fitness and body composition, the results of which were published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.
After 10 weeks of training, participants showed significant improvement in VO2 max, as well as a decrease in body fat percentage. The results were similar in all study participants, regardless of their original fitness level.
In addition to exercise, though, successful weight loss relies heavily on proper diet, which CrossFit trainers also promote. According to the CrossFit website, participants are encouraged to eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, a little starch and no sugar. It also recommends that those in training measure and record their food, evaluating their results and tweaking until desired results are earned.
Risk of Injuries
CrossFit's critics cite the high risk of injury during such an intense workout. A study published in 2013 in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research aimed to determine the prevalence of injuries in CrossFit participants, finding a total of 3.1 injuries per 1,000 hours trained.
This, according to the research, is similar to sports such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting and gymnastics, but lower than contacts sports such as rugby.
To avoid injury during a CrossFit workout — as being sidelined will certainly derail your weight-loss efforts — practice good form during every rep of each exercise. If you don't feel like you can safely perform a movement during the WOD, modify the exercise through strategies such as selecting a lighter weight. These modifications are often taught during an introductory CrossFit course and learned by working closely with your facility's coaches.