In June of 2010, after months of hemming and hawing about trying CrossFit, I visited a local affiliate and signed up. I haven't looked back since. CrossFit isn't without its faults, but I'm a junkie nonetheless.
(Photo: Amber Karnes)
So: What is CrossFit?
Frankly, CrossFit HQ's answer to this question is vague and less than satisfactory. And while this old CrossFit Journal article goes deeper, it's a bit outdated. In fact, two of the featured affiliate owners in the article, Robb Wolf and Mark Twight, were later excommunicated (unfairly, IMHO) by CrossFit HQ -- Wolf for preaching Paleo over Zone nutrition, and Twight for not crediting CrossFit or its controversial founder, Greg Glassman, after Twight used a CF-like approach to whip the cast of "300" into Spartan shape.
In a nutshell, CrossFit is an open-source general physical preparedness ("GPP") program that aims to use “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movements” to get folks ready for just about any and every physical challenge they may encounter. It calls itself "the sport of fitness," using competition (with yourself as well as with others) as a training tool to heighten intensity, forge camaraderie and measure progress. You'll find yourself doing a whole crapload of different stuff: Olympic weightlifting, running, gymnastics, rowing, kettlebell training, plyometrics, tire-flipping, rope-climbing, you name it.
If you know little-to-nothing about CrossFit, the basics are well-covered in the FAQs on CrossFit HQ's site. You can also read one of a number of news articles about the program -- fawning ones, flattering ones, balanced ones, critical ones, and just plain stupid, libelous and poorly-researched ones.
To really get into the weeds, you can scour the limited number of free articles in the CrossFit Journal for more detailed information. Better yet, if you're leaning towards trying CrossFit on for size, subscribe to the Journal. For me, just having access to the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide made the subscription well worth the $25 per year.
As an "open-source" program, there is no singular approach to CrossFit. You can join a local affiliate and work out under the watchful eye of a trainer/coach, or you can CrossFit at home, following the main site's Workouts of the Day ("WODs") or the programming of any one of the numerous affiliates that post their own WODs online. There are CrossFit programs that emphasize strength and power (like CrossFit Football and the Max Effort Black Box model), programs that focus on endurance (CrossFit Endurance -- with specialty certifications for swimming and cycling), programs that emphasize mobility (MobilityWOD), and everything in between.
Regardless of whether you choose to work out at home or at an affiliate, be prepared to shell out some money. It's cheaper (and a much better investment) than a membership at a big chain globo-gym, but working out at home means stocking up your garage with a bunch of equipment. And joining an affiliate isn't exactly free of charge, either.
But in the end, it's all worth it. Check out my workouts on the blog to get a taste of the flavor of CrossFit I'm doing (my affiliate favors the strength-biased Max Effort Black Box model, and we practice Olympic lifts a lot). If it looks like something you'd like to do, and you want to join a CrossFit gym, start shopping around, and do some research on your local affiliates. And if you prefer to try CrossFit at home, do yourself a favor and do some reading (especially about proper Olympic lifting form) before you throw out your back with an ugly power clean.
(By the way, once you've started CrossFit, you should definitely read this and this.)