Walk into any well-equipped gym and you'll find a trove of strength training machines, each designed to work one or several muscle groups — but none designed to give you an entire-body workout. In the other corner of the room you'll find the treadmill runners who trek along endlessly. And then you'll hear the buzz of ESPN sports in the background. The general atmosphere is sweaty, and, well, a little boring.
These are problems that the booming workout regime called CrossFit is designed to solve. CrossFit is a workout regimen, a national competition, a social activity, a magazine, a community, and more. But at its most basic, CrossFit involves a series of short-interval exercises that, done day after day, will result in an overall stronger, fitter you. It is designed to improve 10 physical attributes: cardiovascular/respiratory resistance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, coordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
These activities can be done at a CrossFit gym (there are around 3,400 locations across the country that are affiliated with CrossFit) or in the comfort of your home. CrossFit in a gym setting is conducted in groups, which more often than not creates a sense of camaraderie and the impetus of competition.
The key to CrossFit activities is intensity. The exercises are short in duration, but require maximum effort. They're also designed to target muscle groups throughout your whole body at once. Cyclists, football players, and other athletes can benefit from supplementing their sport-specific training with these whole-body exercises.
One of the best things about CrossFit is that you don't do the same exercises day after day. For example, one day you might climb ropes and do squats; then you'll lift weights and do a series of sprints; another day may involve tossing the medicine ball against the wall, then jumping onto and off of a pylometric box. Other exercises could include: using a rowing machine, bike riding, swimming, still rings maneuvers, and jumping rope.
Each day, the workout of the day (WOD) is listed on CrossFit website, and those completing it are invited to add their comments about the workout. There are modified programs for people of all fitness level including those who are rehabilitating injuries or are not as fit. The CrossFit video library contains a great number of exercise demonstrations of exercises and workouts, too. Some of the highlights include: the Waiter's Walk (holding a heavy object, like a medicine ball, over your head and, well, walking); the Farmer's Walk (holding a heavy dumbbell and going for a little walk); and our Copy Editor's favorite: the Burpee (pictured), a cardio and strength exercise. In one continuous motion you drop to the floor (in a squatting position), kick your legs back, do a pushup, then spring into a frog-like position and jump straight up with your hands over your head. And you don't do this once, but a series of times.
CrossFit has evolved beyond a set of exercises meant to increase your core fitness. It has become the primary competition wherein men and women can gauge their fitness levels against others. Thanks to ESPN and corporate sponsorship of companies like Reebok, there is now an annual worldwide fitness competition open to anyone: the CrossFit Games. More than 26,000 people took part in the open competition in 2011, and this years games were held July 11 to July 15.
If you're intrigued by CrossFit, check out a teaser class before you get started. You'll also then want to find a trainer who can suggest a starting fitness plan and offer modifications, if needed. Trying to jump into exercises beyond your ability is a good way to get injured or discouraged. Your instructor can show you how to do each exercise safely, too. And if you join a group, you'll find the competition and mutual encouragement can make the workouts less onerous, and the decision to hit the gym each day a bit easier.
If, however, the gym is not for you, there are CrossFit devotees who set up their own home gyms. While the cost might seem a bit daunting, there's no need to buy all your equipment at once. Some equipment, such as pull-up bars, could be constructed yourself. But you will need the following types of items:
The Troy VTX Olympic 300-lb. Weight Set ($399 with free shipping, a low by $19) features wide-flanged grip plates, spring collars, and an Olympic bar.
The XMarkFitness Pair of 25-lb. Adjustable Dumbbells ($156.99 with free shipping, a low by $8) replace the need for multiple dumbbell sets. This all-in-one can adjust from 5 to 25 lbs. with the twist of a knob. It's constructed from chrome-plated steel and comes complete with storage trays.
The Best Fitness Olympic Bench ($164.78 with free shipping, a low by $13) has multiple back pad adjustments, height adjustments, and a leg curl extension. Plus, it collapses for storage.
The pictured Champion 12" Pylometric Box ($97.89 with free shipping, a low by $1) is made of 15-gauge welded tubular steel. It's 12" high and has a 13" base for stability.
The Sunny 25-lb. Fitness Kettlebell ($44 with free shipping, a low by $4) is made from cast iron and has a vinyl coat, while its smooth handle offers a good grip.
The AeroMat Deluxe 20-lb. Medicine Ball ($64.99 with $5.29 s&h, a low by $2) has a textured surface for a good grip and is made of Latex-free material.
For those who have grown tired of repetitive workouts or don't have the luxury of time to spend on fitness, CrossFit is a total body workout that produces great results. It's varied and intense, and doing it with others adds additional motivation.