One big family: The CrossFit community
CrossFit co-founder Greg Glassman realized early in his training career when he started doubling up on his exercise classes, that people love sharing the pains and pleasures of an intense workout. (1)
That simple realization eventually morphed into the well-known, well-loved and often dreaded, physical exercise philosophy known as CrossFit which today has somewhere around four million devotees. (2)
“CrossFit has 13,000 gyms in more than 120 countries, up from just 13 in 2005. That's more than the 12,521 Starbucks locations in the United States. Its direct rival, Planet Fitness, has just 1,124 locations,” points out an article in Rally Fitness. (3)
Community “is CrossFit’s secret sauce. We’re social beings, and we need social involvement,’ writes Jesse McMeekin at the Personal Trainer Development Center. (4)
Dr. Allison Belger, licensed psychologist, lifelong athlete, and CrossFit box owner was so impressed by the CrossFit community she wrote a book about it: The Power of Community: CrossFit and the Force of Human Connection.
“As our gym started becoming successful in terms of the fitness program, actually about a year into it, it became clear that there was this whole aspect of other things going on, and that was the psychological, emotional piece. Individual clients who were making changes in their lives because of the fitness program and the support they were getting, and then there was kind of this whole new group phenomenon emerging so clearly in front of our eyes.” (5)
Studies show that group support boosts motivation
“A 2014 study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning collected questionnaires from a total of 144 members (88 females and 56 males) to assess participants’ perceptions of CrossFit goal structures and the motivational climate encouraged by the trainer and fellow athletes. They found that although goals differed depending on gender, all members generally felt motivation to stick with the program and changes in their fitness-related goals as their membership time went on.” (6)
Athletes often get better results by training with others. They push themselves harder. On their own, an athlete might do a strenuous workout and feel exhausted, but only in a box being lovingly supported by cheering supporters will they push themselves to the point of collapse leaving a trail of sweat when they crawl away to a corner to throw up after eking out a PR.
In summary: The CrossFit community, enthusiastic and supportive, is a big reason for CrossFit’s popularity around the world. Research shows working out in a group setting improves mood and motivation.
Sometimes, you have to go your own way.
For many, the cost of a CrossFit membership is prohibitive.
CrossFit fees are higher than at a globo gyms. Because CrossFit boxes are individually owned, membership in one doesn’t get you free admission to others. That can put CrossFit out of range for those on a limited budget. (7)
But for many CrossFitters the real question is how much are you willing to pay for fitness and health?
It is unfair to compare a CrossFit box to globo gyms, they argue. Globo gyms basically rent equipment and rely on members paying, but not showing up. A CrossFit membership, on the other hand, offers individual care, professional coaching, different kinds of classes and equipment, and workouts that are done in a uniquely supportive atmosphere. (8)
“So is CrossFit expensive? It’s more expensive than a far inferior product, sure. But many CrossFit gyms are priced correctly in terms of economic realities and product value, and many are actually priced far too low,” writes Mike Warkentin, the managing editor of the CrossFit Journal and the founder of CrossFit 204. (9)
In summary: A CrossFit membership typically costs more than a gym membership, but you are also getting more for the money. How much are you willing to pay for health and fitness?
Sometimes, there’s no choice in the matter
Many people are willing to pay for a CrossFit membership but have nowhere to go.
They may live in an area where there are no CrossFit gyms. That is happening more frequently as CrossFit becomes more popular around the world, says Jon Gibson, coach at Only Training, an online company that provides personalized training and coaching. (10)
Or sometimes your government has shut down all gyms and is enforcing a mandatory stay at home order.
Sometimes it is possible for people in areas without CrossFit gym’s to make an arrangement with the owner of the local gym to do the CrossFit workout there, he says.
Finding the necessary equipment in a typical gym which usually focuses on equipment like elliptical trainers, treadmills and cable weights can be a problem for a CrossFitter used to high-intensity functional exercises built around barbells, pull-up rigs and wallballs.
One dedicated CrossFitter actually bought rings to be installed in his local gym so he could do his CrossFit routine, he says.
You can do CrossFit in a traditional gym but . . .
CrossFitters workout out in a regular gym should be prepared to deal with space shortages, as well as stares and comments from non-CrossFit gym members.
“The gym is full in the afternoons of high school kids that want to do 1/4 squats or curl in the power rack. The only straight bar for chins is on the power rack. When I do get to do some crossfit training I get a lot of weird stairs or kids deriding my training to each other... So my only advice would be to save up and start a gym in the garage or basement.” (11,12)
Sometimes there are just no places to go
Some CrossFitters live in areas where there are no training facilities of any kind nearby.
In those cases, they can build their own box at home or move to an area where there are boxes and coaches.
“This is a question that a serious athlete might have to ask themselves: Are you willing to make the sacrifice?” says Gibson.
In Summary: Often CrossFitters live in areas where there are no boxes. They can sometimes make training arrangement with a local gym, build their own box in their basement or garage or, if they are really serious about the sport, move to another location which has boxes and coaches.
Generalized WODs just won't do.
Sometimes CrossFitters outgrow their affiliate.
There may be a lack of members at their skill level, which can inhibit training and progress.
The athlete may be planning on competing at higher levels and the assigned WODs don’t address their particular fitness needs or the trainer lacks the knowledge and experience to properly guide someone competing at higher levels.
“They may be training above and beyond what the class can provide for them,” notes Gibson.
Athletes intent on competing at a high level who need to work on strength, will not be helped very much by a WOD focusing on health and wellness, he says.
Competitive athletes need a specialized program that identifies their unique strengths and weaknesses and provides individualized workouts that will help them reach their goals more efficiently and safely.
Sometimes there are injuries that require special attention.
And sometimes, unfortunately coaching can be suspect.
A level one certificate is all that is required to coach at a CrossFit box. Critics say this isn’t enough, especially when CrossFit exercises require complex weight movements at high rates of speed.
“You don’t have to have a background in training or coaching. In fact, even if you’ve never picked up a weight in your whole life, you can be certified as a CrossFit Trainer.” (13)
Also often coaches are excellent at working with general populations but lack the skillset for high level competitors at no fault of their own.
In Summary: Competitive CrossFitters training for elite competitions, might require dedicated programming that their local box can’t provide. Some CrossFit affiliates might lack good coaches.
Not all boxes measure up
Maybe your box isn’t very well run. That happens. There are a lot of boxes out there these days, so it’s no surprise that some might fall below the mark.
All that’s required to open a box is a level one certificate, a few thousand dollars for the affiliate fee and enough cash for, equipment, rent, utilities, insurance, marketing, and salaries.
You might not like the atmosphere. You may have a personality conflict with the owners or fellow members. CrossFitters are notoriously friendly and supportive, but it can happen.
Maybe it’s too dirty. CrossFitters don’t expect gleaming chrome and sparkling floors, but neither should they accept filthy workout conditions.
“How clean and organized is the box? What do the floors look like? The bathrooms? If there are little things around the box that you are not happy with and you don’t like what you see, chances are that sooner or later, this lack of attention will show up in other aspects of your gym experience too.” (14)
There are other reasons people leave their boxes. Inattentive, poorly trained coaches who might even be part-time, classes run late or end early, or the programming is ineffectual. (15)
In Summary. Training on your own could be a wise alternative to spending your money at a poorly-run box that might end up turning you off of the sport.
Going at it alone requires dedication
There are difficulties facing someone wanting to do CrossFit on their own, but they can be overcome, says Gibson who has first-hand experience, having done CrossFit on his own for nine years.
You have to be committed, he says. “You have to make sure this is something you want to do.”
A huge advantage of belonging to a box is the camaraderie, he says. Membership gives you a sense of belonging, provides social support, and a place to share common interests and goals with others.
“Having other people share your same interests, urging you on, having a coach yelling at you . . . those are powerful motivating tools.”
Once you’ve made the commitment to CrossFit, the hard part is sticking to it, says Gibson.
“Internal motivation becomes extremely important if you’re training yourself.”
“And that can be harder when you’re on your own without coaches and other members pushing and demanding accountability.”
There are key questions a person should ask themselves before trying to do CrossFit on their own, says Jerred Moon at EO3 Fitness (16)
- Do you have the discipline to stick with working out with no system of accountability?
- Do you have the time and ability to teach yourself a lot of new and unfamiliar movements?
- Can you truly push yourself without anyone around and no one to give you “in your face” intensity?
In summary: Doing CrossFit training on your own will require extra dedication and motivation to make up the loss of support you will face by not belonging to a box.
Beware the destructive power of negative thinking.
A lurking danger that comes with training alone is negative thinking, warns Gibson.
Without the support of a coach or fellow CrossFitters, it is easy to get down on yourself. “I’m not strong enough. My form is crap. That workout was garbage,” he says.
“That kind of self-talk is dangerous. It really, really is. Eventually, you might start to believe it.”
Positivity is always better, he says.
“I feel awesome. I’m gonna crush this WOD. I did great today.’ That’s the kind of thing you need to be telling yourself.”
A good policy is to stay away from negative people who are always complaining, he says.
“That stuff can bring you down as well.”
Keep in touch with the CrossFit community
Even if you are training on your own, it is helpful to stay attached to the CrossFit community just for the support it provides. If that’s not possible, you should occasionally seek out a training partner, even if they aren’t doing CrossFit, just for the support and motivation they can provide, he suggests.
Being successful at CrossFit requires a positive mindset. It is important to focus on creating an environment that is conducive to setting goals. This includes things like being around others who have healthy goals, eating well, watching inspirational videos or reading biographies like David Goggins, You Can’t Hurt Me, he says.
“The first step to developing a strong CrossFit mindset is to become aware of the content of your self-talk. Many people aren’t even aware that they are being negative. If you start to feel either bored or anxious, then you’re already too late. Recognize what you say to yourself as soon as possible,” advises Adam Dehaty at BoxRox. (17)
“Actions can aid ‘thought stopping’ and it’s common for athletes to wear bands around their wrist to snap when a negative thought arises,” he says. “This behavior reminds you to ‘snap out of it’.”
In summary: Don’t give in to negative thoughts that might arise when training without supporters. Creating a positive environment for yourself will benefit your CrossFit training and your life in general.
Have you established your goals? Have you put them in writing?
Keeping a workout journal is one of the most important learning and motivational tools in the CrossFit arsenal. It becomes even more critical when you are on your own, says Gibson.
A journal helps you learn terminology, remember movement tips and cues, keep track of weights and times, tracks progress and over time identifies areas where progress is lacking.
Making your goals visible by writing them down is a powerful way to stay focused ” advises CrossFit Invictus.
“This is very helpful because when you don’t write a goal down, it tends to become obtuse. The goal suddenly shifts depending on your circumstances at the time, gets pushed to the side if it is inconvenient and can change from its original purpose. If your goal is written down and shared with someone then you can be held accountable for your goal. Your goal now becomes real and not just an idea that never comes to fruition.” (21)
How, exactly, are you going to achieve your goals?
Be explicit, urges Gibson. Deadlines should include goals, dates, amounts and times so that they can be objectively measured.
“Set short and long-term goals. Write a list of things you want to accomplish this week, this month and stay consistent with those goals.”
“This is important. Anyone can set a goal but not everyone can accomplish a goal. You must identify how you are going to reach your goal. Are you not drinking alcohol for the next 30 days? Then write out how you will stay on track for those 30 days.
“Although it might not be as fun or sexy as a 500-lb. deadlift or a two-minute Fran, taking time to log workout details can go a long way in helping you become a better CrossFitter,” writes Glen Harrison at CrossFit.com. (23)
(On the other hand: Don’t get too obsessed about goal setting, cautions Patrick Vellner, twice-times silver medalist at the CrossFit Games. “It’s important to relax and have some while attaining our goals. Stop and smell the flowers. Celebrate small victories. Take on new and different challenges and share moments with friends. Make time for fun. It applies to all areas of life.”) (24)
In summary: Goal setting and record-keeping are vital to progress in CrossFit. They become even more important when you are training on your own.
Setting up your own box
“Clear out your garage and turn it into a gym. There’s no home improvement you can make that’ll benefit you more.” Greg Glassman. (25)
Glassman is a big supporter of home gyms.
“When you look at the sea of worthless machines that make up a commercial facility, the idea of developing a garage gym may seem daunting. Just remember, we’re building a strength and conditioning facility, not a bodybuilding gym. The garage gym tradition is revered and respected. The number of athletes training in garages, barns, and abandoned buildings is legion. Many of these are world dominant in their sport,” he wrote in an early CrossFit journal. (26)
“One of the best things I ever did for my own personal fitness (besides quitting smoking) was to abandon the global-gym and invest in my own weight-training equipment,” says JBurgeson at garage-gyms. (27)
“I don’t wait in line to use the power rack at the gym anymore; I don’t have to drive to and from the gym, and the best part is that my initial garage gym equipment is already paid for itself in saved gym dues.”
A home CrossFit box differs from the usual garage gym
The requirements of a CrossFit gym can be a bit different from a typical gym with its obligatory elliptical machine or treadmill. A good CrossFit workout space may require a little more swinging, jumping and pulling-up space.
And you should probably have some knowledge of CrossFit before creating your space.
The best laid-out and best-equipped gym will not help athletes who don’t know what they are doing. Form is crucial to getting full benefits from all CrossFit exercises.
“Don’t paint a dirty car,” is another famous Glassman quote.
If you’re new to CrossFit, it would be wise to work with a trained fitness professional that can show you some of the exercises and teach you about the equipment before setting out on your own.” (28)
In summary: A home gym is a popular alternative to paying for a box membership. However, you should know a bit about training before setting up your own box.
How much room do I need?
A functional and appealing box with the right equipment will make it that much easier to get excited about your WOD.
Very small spaces have been repurposed to satisfy the training needs of desperate CrossFitters, but a space that is too small can create a cluttered and unsafe environment. It can also discourage you from continuing your workout program.
The minimal functional space for a functional gym is probably around 10 feet by 10 feet. This provides the necessary width for items like a squat rack and free weight systems. It gives enough space to load and unload weight plate from a bar easily and away from walls.
The higher your ceilings are the better. Take some measurements by extending your arms straight overhead and add 8-10 inches for the top diameter of the plate on the bar. Depending on how tall you are, you might get away with an eight-foot ceiling, but you need room to hold a barbell over your head or to do double unders.
Most basements have seven-foot standard height ceilings and most main floor rooms have eight feet of clearance. (29)
According to the American Council on Exercise, free weights require 20 to 50 square feet of space to use properly. (30)
If you are building a CrossFit gym you won’t need to worry about space hogs like cable machines, elliptical machines, and treadmills, but you will need room to move freely. If your gym has an outdoor exit that will be a bonus when you want to go for a jog around the neighborhood.
In summary: Make sure you have enough space in your home gym for the equipment you want and the kind of exercising you will do.
Planning your layout will increase functionality
Time spent designing layout could affect how much you actually use your gym. If it requires careful maneuvering to do a squat, or you have to shift equipment in order to deadlift, it might interrupt the flow of your WOD and dampen your enthusiasm for working out.
One of the first steps is to determine where you will place your equipment. You can figure this out on your own or you can download an app that will look at your space and your equipment and advise on where to put what.
You want a flat surface on which to lift. Garage floors, concrete patios, hard ground, etc. are the best.
A full room rubber floor will protect the underlying floor from weights being dropped, and will also save weights and accessories from undue wear and tear. Quarter-inch rubber mats provide a comfortable surface.
Matting can be hugely expensive. Avoid buying them from fitness vendors, says Glassman who suggests shopping at a feed-and-tack store for the kind of mats used in horse-stalls. (31)
Don't forget noise, light, and flooring
Don’t create a dark and dingy space. This is a gym, not a home movie theatre where you’re going to be in the dark most of the time anyway. A well-lit space for exercising is more inviting and safer.
Make sure you make allowances for noise. You don’t want your workout space above your kids’ bedroom, for example. Exercise equipment is noisy. Huffing and puffing and collapsing on the floor also cause vibrations which may disrupt their sleep when you workout at four in the morning.
In summary: Take some time to plan how you will use your space and where the equipment will go before beginning construction. It will pay off later on when you start using it.
Buying your equipment
“If you’re considering canceling your gym membership in order to build out your own garage gym, I think that’s great; you’ll absolutely love the convenience of it. It can take a little bit of cash upfront to get things started, but maybe not as much as you may think. Don’t assume that because your global gym had equipment x that you need that as well. The list of things necessary for a home gym is not very long and doesn’t include gym ‘machines.’ (32)
CrossFit WODS demand varied movements performed at a high-intensity. Equipment, therefore, should be high-quality due to inevitable wear and tear.
Equipment can be purchased brand new at fitness stores, off the Internet and can often be purchased second-hand.
“The #1 tip for finding great CrossFit equipment is to search everywhere,” says CrossFit blogger Sadie Jane. She and her husband outfitted their entire gym with second-hand equipment, including an Airdyne bike they bought at a garage sale for ten dollars. (33)
Don’t buy cheap equipment, warns Glassman. (34)
For example, he recommends an Olympic weight set which is more expensive, but worth the price. “These have the rotating sleeves and accept plates with the 2-inch holes. You’ll never regret buying a quality bar. It will set you back several hundred dollars but provide a lifetime of service.”
In summary: You can look for used equipment and save money that way, but stay away from low-quality merchandise.
What equipment do I need?
“You’ll want an Olympic Bar and Olympic Bumper Plate holder,” says Glassman.” The bar holders that hold the bars on end take up little space. If you only had a bar and a place to do pull-ups you could do an acceptable variant of the CrossFit Program. With this minimal amount of equipment you could do deadlifts, squats, push-press, push-ups, cleans, and pull-ups. A squat rack would be next on the priority list. Also desirable are benches, dumbbells, kettlebells, jump ropes, and a C2 rower. (36)
If you have more room and more money here is a more extensive list you can consider: (37)
- Garage Gym Power Rack
- Olympic Barbell and Weight Plates
- Glute Ham Developer
- Weight Bench
- Medicine Ball or Slam Ball
- Gymnastic Rings
- A Rope Climbing Kit
- Squat Box Plyometric Jump Box
- Cardio: Rowing Machine or Air bike
- Pull Up Bar
- Rogue CrossFit Package
- A Good Foundation: Safety Floor Mats
- CrossFit Odds and Ends
Another key piece of equipment is some sort of recording device - a video camera or a good smartphone. CrossFit movements are complicated. You have to see yourself, after-the-fact, doing the exercise to really appreciate whether you are doing it correctly.
I’ve got my own personal workout space. Now, how do I find a WOD that works for me?
If you belong to a gym you can take your pick from the daily WODs posted on the board.
If you’re training on your own, there is no lack of alternatives if you want something different. Many online training sites post daily free WODs such as Only Training’s Free Blog. Or you can pay a small fee and get access to more in-depth programming through apps like SugarWod.(38,39) For those who are truly committed to their fitness you can start working with a coach one on one. This is incredibly effective as the coach can craft the workout to your specific goals taking into account the setup available to you.
Gibson recommends that CrossFitters working out on their own, especially if they are new to the sport, carefully research movements and educate themselves on proper form before attempting any moves for time or at a high intensity. If you feel uncomfortable judging your own movements try to find someone who can help review the video or work with a coach, for only a small fee you can have a professional review your videos and give you detailed feedback.
Some basic CrossFit movements include:
- Bench press
- Power cleans
(Don’t forget rest days: On your own, the temptation is often to push harder and faster to get quicker results which is always a mistake, cautions Gibson. Rest days are critical for building muscle and avoiding burnout or injury.)
Be critical when it comes to programming
CrossFitters designing their own WODs have to be careful they are hitting all the bases. The natural temptation is to schedule exercises at which you excel and avoid the ones that bore you or at which you suck.
The best way around this is to set up a solid, objective outline of your program making sure you are touching on all areas and then stick to it, says Gibson.
The various CrossFit domains should always be kept in mind when programming WODs, says Dr. Axe. (41) Those domains include:
- Cardiovascular and Respiratory
Regardless of which approach you take to structuring your WOD, establishing proper joint stability and mobility through effective exercises such as glute bridges, hip hinges, lying figure-4 rotations, kneeling prisoner rotations, shoulder stabilization series, and side lunges is key. (42)
“Using these moves and others as part of a dynamic warm-up is essential to developing efficient movement patterns, which ultimately will ensure your safety and success as you break a sweat, especially as you considering adding load to movements by using equipment,” says Adam Stevenson, head trainer at Stay Classy CrossFit in San Diego. (43)
It is critical to mix-up the type of WODs you are selecting every day.
“Different WOD’s will place different demands on the body and the energy systems our bodies use to get us through a workout. It’s important to do a wide variety of WOD’s and not do the same type of WOD over and over again to allow our bodies to get fitter and stronger over a wide range of tasks.” (44)
In summary: If you are picking and choosing WODs or programming your own, make sure you are hitting all fitness domains.
Competitive CrossFitters need expert coaching
Quality coaching and programming are indispensable for the serious athlete, says Only Training’s Gibson.
“If you can find a coach that can help you with how you move you’re going to get a jump start over everybody trying to figure it out themselves. The lack of good coaching was certainly detrimental early in my career.”
For many people, especially those athletes interested in competing at a high level, finding a good coach could be even more difficult than finding a good CrossFit gym, he warns.
The quality of CrossFit coaching has come under fire as the number of gyms has increased.
“The role of a fitness certification is to provide a standardized base level of expertise needed to teach the skills associated with the workout. Yet there’s an argument to be made that CrossFit certifications aren’t stringent or comprehensive enough to ensure coaches are proficient in the technical lifts and exercises that are part of CrossFit’s repertoire,” reported the Montreal Gazette. (45)
“If you’re interested in trying out CrossFit, take the time to find the best coach possible looking beyond their propriety certification for additional expertise, experience, and certifications. CrossFit has the potential to be a great workout, but only when taught by a great coach”.
“Specialized programming, specific attention to movement & technique, competition preparation & strategy, etc. are all things necessary to increase your level of fitness past a certain point. This is also the point where one hour/day in the gym becomes unrealistic and working on specific weaknesses comes with time constraints that may not fit the typical class times.”
Finding a personal CrossFit coach can be difficult and is an investment. The growing demand for individual training is being met by coaches who are going online to offer their services, communicating via email and video and tailoring their support to the exact needs of the client.
Take time to find your perfect online trainer
Still, finding a good coach online still needs research. Training programs can vary dramatically in quality.
What makes good CrossFit coaching so scarce is that the CrossFit requirements are not easily transferable from other sports, says Gibson.
“There are so many variables and the movements can be so complex and nuanced. If coaches haven’t been involved in the sport, they won’t understand what is required.”
People need to do their research, he warns.
“They should look for coaches who have training and experience with the sport. Look at the people who they are training. What is their progress?”
“If it feels right, go for it. But don’t be afraid to change if it doesn’t work out.”
Only Training’s coaches have proven track records as both athletes and coaches. They have succeeded in taking athletes of all types to the next level. For those athletes looking to get into competing and get serious about fitness they need to look into individualized programming and coaching. “Starting to work one on one with a coach is when my fitness started to improve in leaps and bounds. General programs and haphazard training just won’t cut it if you are looking to be a real competitor” explains Gibson.
In summary: Good coaching is indispensable for those CrossFitters wanting to compete at high levels. Do your research when looking for coaches. Look for credential and experience. You want someone who has actually trained and competed in the sport.
Getting fit with CrossFit on your own presents some challenges, especially for those newer to the sport. The power of community when it comes to support and motivation is critical, especially for those who thrive in a group environment. If you can’t make it to a gym try to find an online community to help support you, apps like SugarWod can make this much easier. Being your own trainer means you need to do all those things that would be done for you in a box, programming WODs, supporting yourself, pushing yourself, being critical of your movements, but it is also convenient and allows you to move at your own speed and to progress beyond average expectations. Most elite CrossFitters, the ones competing at the games, are training on their own, but they are doing it with a coach and a personalized plan. In the end, what’s important is getting in shape no matter how you do it. Says Glassman: “We believe that where you train is less important than how you train and that who you train with matters more than what gear you have.” (46)