CrossFit, Examined

A beginner’s guide to the craze.

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The Concept

“Functional fitness”—movements you do every day without thinking about them. The workouts not only make you stronger, faster, more agile, and cut; they should help you more easily carry groceries, pick up your child, and outrun a mugger.

The Cost  

Around $15 for a drop-in, less per class with a membership.

The LingoCrossFIt2

Attending a class can sound like visiting a foreign country. A CrossFit gym is called a box, the instructor is a coach, and the WOD (workout of the day) might include DLs (deadlifts) and AMRAPs (as many reps as possible). Pretty soon you start talking like that, and your friends make fun of you.

The Starting Point

A CrossFit-certified instructor takes all new trainees through a free assessment. Be prepared for push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and squats, and to offer a personal fitness goal—six-pack abs for some, entertaining a 6-year-old without getting winded for others. You’re more likely to hate it and not return than be denied entry into the class.

Crossfit3The Box

Imagine Rocky’s garage: gymnastics rings, pull-up bars, jump ropes, tractor tires, a sledgehammer. Who needs elliptical machines when you’re walking on your hands and running 400 meters in spurts?

The WOD

A timed circuit with challenges like completing, in 20 minutes, AMRAPs of 11 pull-ups, three DLs, and 10 handstand push-ups. There are famous WODs, including the Nancy (five rounds of 400-meter runs and 15 squats with simultaneous weightlifting) and others named for soldiers, firefighters, and police officers.

The Coaches

CrossFit leaders are encouraging, but they exist to challenge you. Most are nice about it and prioritize correcting your form. It’s like having a semi-personal trainer.

The RecoveryCrossFit4

Devotees trend toward a paleo diet: greens, lean meats, nuts, and seeds.

The Result

Better cardiovascular fitness, core strength, and posture—and a self-esteem boost when you finish the same workout as the immortal-looking athlete next to you.

The Fun

The best CrossFit classes gel like a team. Old pros encourage the rookies, and those who finish first often stick around to cheer on their comrades (usually the last to complete the WOD gets the biggest ovation). At session’s end, everyone helps put away the equipment. If you liked the spirit of team-sport practices in high school, try CrossFit.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 issue.

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