How to Create a Crossfit Workout

Young athletic brunette working out in the gymnastic rings at a gym gym
Ring dips are one of the harder CrossFit exercises. (Image: Antonio_Diaz/iStock/Getty Images)

Rigidly pre-planning workouts almost seems blasphemous in the world of CrossFit, an ever-changing and broadening world of fitness. From gymnastics to powerlifting, distance running to sled pushing, CrossFit borrows from other fitness niches to create workouts.

In one CrossFit workout, you might find a bodyweight exercise from gymnastics, a strength exercise with a barbell and a long bike ride or run. This variety makes piecing together a CrossFit workout incredibly fun.

Structure of a Week

The first challenge to creating a workout is creating context. That means that you have to be able to think about what workout you will be doing on each day of the week, to avoid overworking one particular movement or muscle. Thankfully, CrossFit has a template already in place.

Ideally, you will train for three days in a row, with the workouts going in order from easiest to hardest. On day four, you will rest, and then workout for three more days. CrossFit also offers a workout template for people who exercise five days per week: Five days in a row of workouts and then two rest days on Saturday and Sunday.

Styles of Workout

Once you have a template down you can start building the workouts that you do on each day. There are three main styles of CrossFit workouts to choose from: metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and weightlifting.

1. Metabolic Conditioning

For metabolic conditioning workouts, you can choose between running, biking, rowing or jumping rope. The goal for these exercises is not to do short bursts of activity like a sprint, but to do the exercises for a longer duration. For example, you might run a 10k (6.2 miles) for your metabolic conditioning workout.

2. Gymnastics

Gymnastics workouts use bodyweight exercises, ropes, and pull-up bars or gymnastics rings for a cross between a metabolic workout and a strength workout. Exercises in a gymnastics workout range from a simple push-up to rope climbs and muscle-ups.

3. Weightlifting

Weightlifting workouts combine powerlifting and Olympic weightlifting to create an intense strength training regime. These are mostly barbell exercises like deadlifts, squats, cleans and presses. They also incorporate medicine ball drills and kettlebell swings into the weightlifting workouts for a hybrid between strength training and metabolic conditioning.

Three strong athletes doing hammer strike on a truck tire during gym exercise outside on beach. Muscular active people in 20s training to maintain healthy lifestyle.
Take your CrossFit workout to the beach. (Image: jacoblund/iStock/Getty Images)

Combining Workouts

Metabolic conditioning, gymnastics, and strength workouts are all challenging enough by themselves, but CrossFit takes their workouts up a level by combining two of these styles of workout together or even all three.

In the three days on, one day off workout structure you do one of those three styles of workout on the first day, two on the second day, and all three on the first day. In the five days on, two days off plan you do one type of workout the first day, two the second day, three the third day, then back down to two on the fourth day and one on the fifth day.

After you've decided whether you'll do three days on and one off or five days on and two off, you can build the type of workout you will do on each day. For example, on day one, you would do a metabolic conditioning workout. The next day, you would do gymnastics and weightlifting. The next day, you would do all three. Each workout you change, so that you're not doing the same type of exercise multiple days in a row.

One Style of Workout

The workouts change depending on how many styles of workout you're doing on that particular day. For example, if you're only doing metabolic conditioning, you'll pick one exercise and do it continuously for a while, like running a 10K.

An article on workout design for CrossFit from Juggernaut Training System recommends doing the bulk of your metabolic conditioning workouts for 8 to 12 minutes.

If you're just doing gymnastics, you're supposed to pick one of the more complicated exercises that you have trouble with (e.g. the muscle-up) and practice that. On weightlifting-only days, you pick one lift, such as a barbell back squat, and do a few sets with high weight and low repetitions.

Two Styles Combined

When you combine two workouts, like metabolic conditioning and weightlifting, they each become more abbreviated and the focus becomes speed. For example, instead of doing a 10K, you might just run 200 meters.

Then, instead of doing a heavy weightlifting exercise for a few repetitions, you would choose something lighter like a clean with 50 percent of your bodyweight and do more repetitions.

An article from the American Council on Exercise suggests doing 21, 15 and finally nine repetitions of your weightlifting exercise. You then pair these two exercises together, so you would run 200 meters and then perform 10 cleans right after. You would repeat this sequence three, four or five times, trying to complete it as quickly as possible.

Three Styles Combined

If you combine all three workouts into one day, you do them back to back, like you would when combining two types of workout into one. You would choose one exercise from each style of workout and do them in a row.

However, if you are combining all three, you have a set time — say, 20 minutes — to complete as many rounds of the three exercises as possible.

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