Corporate Wellness

What is CrossFit?

7 Aug 2017
Last updated on 1 Jun 2023

Typically the world’s best athletes are minimalists when it comes to their training. They work hard and fast with few exercises. They master the fundamentals and work with them for years. This is the secret that no one wants to hear.

—Greg Glassman, Founder of CrossFit

Everyone has heard of CrossFit. Friends post about it on Facebook. Advertisements come up about it on Instagram. Walk into just about any fitness retail outlet and there will be a CrossFit clothing and shoe section. But while everyone has heard of CrossFit and is somewhat familiar with the basics, the finer details are elusive. Normally it takes going to a CrossFit gym and trying out a CrossFit class to really begin to understand the sport. Maybe you will like it, maybe you won’t. To help you make up your mind before buying the outfit and paying for a class, here is a breakdown of what is Crossfit, where it came from, and what it is all about:

History Of CrossFit

The idea of CrossFit was born long ago, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Greg Glassman was pursuing gymnastics in his teenage years. He realized that while he could be the strongest gymnast by simply using dumbbells and barbells, the same techniques would not make him the best in other sporting endeavors, such as cycling. And this is when he began developing a workout technique for himself that would enable him to be a very strong athlete in whichever sport he played.

Greg Glassman smiling with arms crossed

Glassman began applying this theory to others when he opened his own gym in Santa Cruz, California in 1995. His methods were extremely popular, not only with civilians but also with law enforcement. They were so popular in fact that he was quickly fully booked. This full schedule sparked an idea to do group classes. Not only could he make more money and help more people, but most people enjoyed working out in a group.

In 2000, Glassman decided to incorporate the idea behind the group classes, the type of gym, and the workout method. He called it CrossFit. Within 5 years, CrossFit had 13 affiliates. By 2012, this number had grown to an astounding 3,400 affiliates around the world.

Inside a CrossFit box - that´s how they call their Gyms.

Benefits Of CrossFit

CrossFit has a number of benefits to it. The biggest benefit that it offers is that it accomplishes the goal that Glassman set out to accomplish in the first place: A workout that conditions the individual to do just about anything. This means that if you want to prepare the body for a challenging competition, if you want to just mow the lawn without getting exhausted, or if you want to look better in your swimsuit, CrossFit allows for this. It uses functional exercises to improve everything from the athlete’s balance, strength, and flexibility to their posture and overall health.

Beyond this, CrossFit offers much more. Because there are such a wide variety of exercises and ways of combining those exercises, it allows athletes to do something different every time they go for a CrossFit workout. This means they never get bored, they achieve results very quickly, and they do not suffer from the problem that comes with many other types of exercise: plateaus. There are also the benefits of losing weight very fast, spending less time in a workout while still getting all the great results, as well as support and motivation from the rest of the CrossFit community.

CrossFit Workouts

The idea behind every CrossFit workout is that it should be short, intense and engaging. There is no time to stop and think. There is barely enough time to breathe. The reason for this is that they are meant to emulate competition intensity.

As previously mentioned, every CrossFit workout is different. This is why the term WODunders, squats, pushups, thrusters, poods, pistols, and so on.

A workout generally consists of several circuits where coaches will tell participants that it is AMRAP or as many rounds as possible. For example, the coach might give a time limit of 5 minutes and tell athletes to first do 5 pushups, then 10 thrusters, and then 5 deadlifts. This round of exercises should be completed as many times as possible within the five minutes. Alternatively, a coach may instruct participants to do 20 pull-ups as fast as possible. As the time each participant takes on an exercise is reduced, or the amount of rounds is increased, over a matter of weeks or months, improvement is much more visibly realized. Many participants will keep journals so that they can track their improvement.

CrossFit Gyms

CrossFit gyms do not look like other gyms. Due to the popularity of the sport, many general purpose gyms are beginning to create sections totally dedicated to CrossFit workouts. However, the gyms dedicated to CrossFit are a very open plan. They do not have stationary machines, besides rowing machines, and they are covered with padded flooring and mats. Most of the equipment includes bars for pull-ups and other exercises, as well as jump ropes, gymnastics rings, dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, plyo boxes, and medicine balls.very open plan.

Interior of empty CrossFit box

CrossFit Apparel

For those who are just trying CrossFit out for the first time to see if they even like it, pretty much any athletic wear will work just fine. A pair of workout shorts or leggings and a tank top or t-shirt, along with a good pair of athletic shoes will serve you perfectly. However, for those who really want to become immersed in the CrossFit world, it can be a good idea to invest in more specialized gear.

To start off with, a pair of workout shoes with a flat sole is ideal—running shoes are not a good choice because the heel and sole are just too cushioned. Most athletic shoe brands have a specialized CrossFit shoe that will work just too cushioned. It is also a good idea to invest in high socks. This will protect your shins during certain exercises, such as rope climbs, deadlifts, and box jumps. Some socks, that are specially made for CrossFit, are covered in gripping pads to allow the foot to more effectively grip the inside of the shoe as the individual runs, turns, jumps, and so on.

It is also a good idea to invest in high socks. This will protect your shins during certain exercises, such as rope climbs, deadlifts, and box jumps. Some socks, that are specially made for CrossFit, are covered in gripping pads to allow the foot to more effectively grip the inside of the shoe as the individual runs, turns, jumps, and so on.

Runners wearing socks and running shoes on a track

Hand protection is also smart. This could be as basic as gymnast tape or a pair of workout gloves. It will help to protect your hand from blisters and callouses that could prevent you from working out for a few days. Alternatively, you can be more precise with hand coverage than tape or gloves provide. There are thumb coverings available so that CrossFit athletes can maintain all of their power and grip, while also protecting themselves from pesky blisters.

Finally, a good pair of leggings is probably the best CrossFit option for pants. This allows the athlete to get complete coverage, while also having enormous flexibility potential. Most of the muscles are covered and protected. The sweat wicking material in many leggings will allow comfort on hot and cold days, and many have reflectors built-in so night workouts can be completed.

CrossFit Games

Due to its rapid popularity, CrossFit decided to begin hosting a CrossFit competition. The first one was held in 2007. Essentially, there are regional qualifiers where CrossFit athletes compete in surprise workouts. The top qualifiers then go on to compete in the national championship, which now even includes CrossFit athletes from overseas.

Audience watching the CrossFit Games

The competition workouts include a mixture of exercises that are seen in a typical CrossFit workout, as well as some surprise elements like pegboard climbs, softball throws, and swimming in rough water.

Rich Froning lifting and competing at CrossFit Games

There are separate games for men and women, as well as coed teams, teenage competitions and masters groups. And all of these events, in every group, are sponsored by CrossFit Inc. and Reebok and held in venues like the StubHub Center and the Allianz Energy Center. In 2016, the big winners of the event were Katrin Tanja Daviosdottir, who also won the previous year, and Mathew Fraser. However, in past years, Rich Froning Jr. and Annie Thorisdottir saw consecutive victories.

CrossFit is a great workout option for many individuals looking to improve their physical condition in any number of ways. To hear about other workout alternatives, please check out our blog.



Wellhub Editorial Team

The Wellhub Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.