You may have noticed a growing craze over the last decade to participate in functional fitness and particularly CrossFit. The concept of functional fitness is to train your body to better perform daily tasks by simulating the movements you might do while working or in sports. A key element is movements that use muscles in the upper and lower body at the same time while emphasizing core strength and stability.
CrossFit is a workout formed of varied functional movements performed at a high intensity. It’s built on the foundation of strength and conditioning workouts that challenge your fitness in many ways. With good coaching and proper scaling of intensity to the individual, it can be a form of exercise that anyone can participate in.
Like any structured workout program, whether it is Pilates, Orange Theory or yoga with goats (yes, it is a real thing), there will be those who love CrossFit and see great success doing the workouts and those who are less enthusiastic and achieve less success. We will highlight some of the positives and some of the things to watch for if you are interested in CrossFit.
What you want to see
- Coaches who know that they are doing – There are four levels to CrossFit Coaches, and the higher the level the more experience and expertise the coach will have. If you are a beginner, you want coaching assistance to help you scale the work out to your abilities. Look for coaches and programs that offer introductory classes or training sessions to teach the basics. Since the workout is based on heavy lifts and high intensity you’ll want to know what you are doing, and have expert help to ensure proper form and safety to minimize your risk of injury.
- Supportive Environment – Unlike the typical gym, members of CrossFit gyms aren’t putting in head phones and trying not to be distracted by other people. There is a great sense of community, and you’ll get to know the people working out around you. While there are competitive aspects, the competition is mostly with yourself as you try to get the next personal record, and your fellow members will be encouraging you along the way.
What you do not want to see
- Coaches with little experience or expertise – CrossFit is a popular workout and many gyms are offering it hoping to catch onto the craze and make a little money. A Level 1 coach only takes a weekend course, so if all the coaches at the gym are Level 1, there may not be a lot of knowledge between them to help with the tailoring piece. If coaches encourage you to do something you’re not comfortable with, it might not be the place for you.
- Sacrificing speed for form – Many times the goal of the workout is to finish first (or as fast as you can) or complete as many movements as possible in a given time. With speed can come a sacrifice in form, which increases risk of injury. This ties back to the importance of good coaching and getting the proper training to ensure your safety.
- Hitting the box gym 7 days a week – High intensity workouts of any kind are not encouraged seven days a week. Overtraining is a real problem, and the body requires rest. The recovery time is when adaption to the high intensity stimulus occurs, so without recovery you won’t see the improvements. And if the point is to get faster and stronger, doing it every day is actually counter to goal.
It’s impossible to predict who will become a CrossFit convert and who won’t, but those who may love it include workout fanatics, former athletes or competitive people, or those looking to get into weight lifting. Conversely, it may not appeal to people specializing in a particular sport, those who like to work out alone, and those dealing with a chronic condition that need more tailoring. Before you start, interview the owner and trainers of the facility, asking about their background, experience and coaching philosophy. Every place has its own unique clientele and culture – make sure you find the one that fits your goals and expectations.
Kimberly Burke is the director of the Adult Fitness Program at Colorado State University, an outreach program through the Department of Health and Exercise Science. Adult Fitness offers exercise opportunities for employees of CSU as well as community members, while providing hands-on learning experiences for health promotion students. To learn more see http://hes.chhs.colostate.edu/outreach/adultfitness/
Barry Braun, Ph.D. is the Head of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University.
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