May 29, 2020

Is CrossFit Right For Me? The Basics Explained

The old gym routine isn’t cutting it anymore. We’ve teamed up with functional fitness experts KITBOX, to cover the bare bones of CrossFit, so that you can decide whether it’s for you.

Use the code ‘WINGMAN’ to get 10% off everything at KITBOX.

Forging Elite Fitness

Known for its tight community, if you’re a CrossFitter, whether you’re on holiday or out on business, the Box is never far away.

There are over 11,000 CrossFit gyms – or ‘Boxes’ – worldwide as of January 2016. Each one pays an affiliate fee in return for the right to call themselves CrossFit ‘Whatever you like.’ The names are as diverse as the people who own them, but what these places – often nothing more than a warehouse on an industrial estate – offer, is some variation on a programme that’s been successful for over 15 years.

Constantly varied, functional movement. That’s CrossFit in short. No two daily workouts are ever the same, barring the occasional repetition of a ‘benchmark’, to measure progress and identify weaknesses.

Imagine spending the first 30 minutes of your one hour workout drilling clean and jerk like a real Olympic weightlifter. The other half an hour is spent on burpees, pull-ups, handstands, running and maybe even some monkeying around on the gymnastics rings. That’s CrossFit. That, and a pair of Stance socks.

Power jerk and squat snatch

Let’s start with the absolute basics. Walk into any Box as a beginner and you’ll see a whiteboard covered in words you probably won’t understand. ‘Clean and jerk’ and ‘snatch’ are just the start. When the abbreviations come out, it’s a whole different kettle of fish, and while you might be ready to grab your bag and split, don’t. Stick around, you might enjoy yourself.

Wingman-sponsored athlete Alec Harwood wearing a KITBOX t-shirt

Wingman athlete Alec Harwood wearing a KITBOX t-shirt


Here are some of the most common words and phrases you’ll hear, and what they mean:

Clean – Taking a weighted barbell from the floor to across the front of the shoulders. It’s worth mentioning, that while all gyms will have PVC pipes and training bars for drilling, the standard men’s bar weighs 20kg, and the women’s weighs 15kg.

Variations on the clean include the ‘Power Clean,’ in which you catch the bar without squatting.

Squat – With or without weight, with the bar resting on either the front of the shoulders or the traps (that’s the fleshy bit below the back of your neck.) Squats are always below parallel, with the crease of the hip below 90 degrees.

Clean and jerk – Clean the bar to the shoulders and then press it overhead. Jerking is different to the strict or military press you might be used to. In a jerk, you use your legs to violently jump the bar up, before catching it in a semi-lunge position. The jerk is an advanced movement, used for moving heavy loads.

Push press – Similar to a standard overhead press, only you get a short dip and drive with your legs, to help the bar launch from your shoulders. Used for medium loads, or light loads done for volume.

Snatch – Taking the bar from the floor to overhead in one smooth movement. This is a very advanced movement, which your coach will likely introduce in good time.

Kipping/Butterfly – Strict pull-ups do exist in CrossFit, but when it comes to high-volume, creating drive and rhythm with either a kipping or butterfly technique is more efficient. Both take practice, so don’t get pissed if you don’t nail it first time. You might need to buy JAW wraps to protect your hands if you’re kipping.

Double-unders/DU – Jump rope. Pass the rope under your feet twice on every jump.

Toes to bar/T2B – Starting in a hanging position on a pull-up bar, create momentum with your hips and touch the bar between your hands, with your toes.

AMRAP – As Many Rounds/Reps As Possible

RX – Using the ‘prescribed’ load. If the workout says use 45kg, and you use 45kg, that’s RX. If you use 30kg, that’s not RX. It’s purely for recording progress purposes (but also bragging rights.)

The list goes on and on, but if you can remember these few basics, you’re well on your way to becoming a great CrossFitter.

What does a typical CrossFit week look like?

It’s not unusual, once you get into the swing of things, to be hitting up CrossFit five or even six days a week. Every once in a while, you’ll repeat a benchmark workout to measure your progress, but most of the time it’s something different every day.

Most Boxes work on an hourly class basis, with some portion of the session dedicated to a technique, skill or strength movement. The rest is dedicated to the WOD (Workout of the Day.)

Let’s say you work pressing on a Monday; you might do front and then back squat Tuesday/Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday spent working clean and jerk technique. Your WODs for the week could include everything from 7-minute sprints, to 30-minute slow burners.

The result? Strength, speed, coordination and endurance.

Wingman athlete Alec Harwood at Wild West Fitness. Photo credit: Pete Williamson Photography

Addressing some common concerns

  • Is CrossFit dangerous?
    CrossFit is dangerous in the same way that skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking or any other high-intensity sport is dangerous. Start slowly and never attempt anything you’re not comfortable with, without the careful coaching of an instructor. If you try and put 100kg overhead because you saw Alec Harwood do it and he made it look easy, you could get hurt.
  • Why is it so expensive?
    There are a few reasons why CrossFit memberships are seen as expensive. Firstly, it’s easy to charge £80+ a month for something that’s branded to the eyeballs by Reebok and CrossFit HQ. Secondly, you’re paying for your coach’s programming time and expertise, which would normally be extra anyway at a regular gym.
  • Will I turn into some kind of cult weirdo?
    To your family and non-fitness friends, maybe, but honestly, probably not. You might spend an above-average time talking about your snatch, but you won’t be committing suicide en masse with your buddies.

Is CrossFit for me?

In short, if you’re wondering whether CrossFit is right for you, get in touch with your local box and have a chat. Almost all Boxes offer a trial or drop-in session. There’s usually a small fee (£10 is the going rate), although some will let you try it out for free.

This post is sponsored by KITBOX.