Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Shut-Ins Can CrossFit, Too

More than a few readers have mentioned that they can’t do CrossFit workouts because they don’t live near a CrossFit affiliate. But worry not, folks: CrossFit can be done at home.

For those who aren’t familiar with CrossFit, here's a quick introduction:
At its core, CrossFit is a fitness approach that incorporates – among other things – Olympic weightlifting, plyometrics, bodyweight resistance exercises, kettlebell training, gymnastics, running, rowing, and jumping/climbing rope. It focuses on improving each of ten fitness “domains”: endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination and accuracy. The point is not to specialize (i.e., perform off-the-charts in one or two of these areas but suck at others), but to become a well-rounded athlete. CrossFit is "open-source" in that it freely incorporates user modifications and feedback, and allows anyone to modify its recommended workouts.

From Wikipedia:
CrossFit has been "variously portrayed as a fitness company, a grassroots health movement, a nascent sport, a fad, a publishing business and sometimes, disparagingly, a cult." Classes at affiliated gyms typically include a warm-up, a skill development segment, and a high-intensity workout that lasts around ten to twenty minutes. Affiliates create a new workout each day called the "Workout of the Day" or "WOD". Affiliates often use scoring and ranking systems to transform workouts into sport. Some CrossFit athletes use the free workouts and instructional videos available at the CrossFit, Inc. website, in lieu of attending an affiliate.

There are two ways for a beginner to get started with CrossFit:
  • Go work out in a licensed affiliate gym with a certified CrossFit trainer; or
  • Go work out on your own.
When I started CrossFit last month, I had the luxury of choosing between three different CrossFit affiliates, all located within a 3-mile radius of my house. There's a fourth opening soon in the neighborhood, and there are three other affiliates near my office. But I live in Northern California – the birthplace of CrossFit – so the glut of CrossFit affiliates in this area isn’t surprising.

But what do you do if you’re flying solo? CrossFit’s HQ recommends “three distinctive approaches, depending on your fitness experience and available facilities:”
(1) If you are largely familiar with the stable of CrossFit exercises, then start with the WOD (Workout of the Day) [which is posted daily on]. If you've had exposure to Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics, jump right in. If an exercise is unfamiliar, acquaint yourself with the movement through the video clip for the movement on the exercises section of the site. This option is for those athletes with an extensive experience in athletic strength and conditioning -- jump right in.
(2) If some or many of the exercises are unfamiliar to you and you are only modestly acquainted with elite athletic training, we recommend that you follow the WOD and substitute other exercises for those where you don't have either the equipment or skill and then devise a plan for acquisition of the necessary skills or equipment needed to participate completely. We are developing a Substitution Chart in the FAQ for replacing exercises for which you've not developed the skills or don't have the equipment.

(3) If many or most of the exercises are relatively or completely unknown to you, then we recommend that you begin learning the movements for a month or two until you can either perform our common exercises or have substitutions worked out for those movements under development. This is a great place to begin for anyone with little or no experience with serious weightlifting or gymnastics.
So if you want to do CrossFit but don't have an affiliate nearby (or don't want to pay the fees), do it at home.

There's lots of great information available online about how to get started. Each CrossFit affiliate maintains its own blog, and the main CrossFit site contains a lengthy FAQ as well as a link to the CrossFit Journal, which offers to subscribers a ton of information about the program's training methodology. And check out the CrossFit Message Boards, too.

If you’re reading this blog, it’s probably because you’ve done (or are doing) P90X, Insanity, or one of the other Beachbody home workout programs. You’re likely in better shape than you used to be, and able to do lots of things you didn’t or couldn’t before, like pull-ups (assisted or not) and intense bursts of lung-busting interval work. If you decide to do CrossFit at home, your Beachbody experience will no doubt help you get through a bunch of the WODs.

But you’ll still be shocked by the new challenges presented by CrossFit. The WODs don’t look so bad when you see them on the website, but they are a whole new level of crazy when you attempt them “as RX’ed” (prescribed) by CrossFit HQ. Trust me: They are fucking hard.

So scale down the workouts. Lift lighter loads, reduce your reps and sets, or go for a shorter duration. The goal isn’t to commit suicide by slavishly throwing yourself into the WODs without modification. Work hard, but don’t hurt yourself trying to match or beat the firebreathers who post their results on the CrossFit site. Be safe, do progressions, and learn how to do the moves properly before maxing yourself out. This is particularly true for those who are working out at home, without the benefit of feedback from a trainer or coach. In order to give ourselves a fighting chance at improvement, us rookies need to keep our asses out of the hospital.

For information on how to outfit your home gym for CrossFit workouts, check this out.