Hacking Crossfit: How to Use CrossFit.com to Get Fit For Free
CrossFit defines itself as “varied, functional movement executed at a high intensity.” If you were looking to criticize, you’d say that CrossFit is nothing more than a brandname slapped on circuit training. But what CrossFit has done undeniably well is to go beyond just the workouts to build a community, both in their gyms and online. Over the last fifteen or so years they’ve taken a time-efficient workout program with good science behind the results and built it into a program, franchise, and community. It’s skyrocketing in popularity. I’ve heard it called “the next bubble” (implying it will soon pop). Speaking as someone who has watched skateboarding ebb/flow over the past 30 years I’m sure CrossFit popularity will indeed self-correct, but like skateboarding there’s something very real at the core of CrossFit and I predict a steadily growing base for many years to come, particularly as it grows as a competitive sport.
There are many reasons I love the Crossfit approach personally, but one of them is the amount of value you can get from the online community absolutely free. Crossfit’s network of official and unofficial sites reminds me of the early days of the Internet when Usenet could connect you to like-minded weirdos across the globe. Anyone who lived in Usenet newsgroups in 1991 remembers reaping big rewards from being connected to similarly-obsessed peers, despite the need to wade through piles of lame questions from n00bz who should really read the FAQ and vitriol from self-appointed “experts”, fingers on keyboards, poised to critique every question. If you dive into the online Crossfit community you may feel a rush of nostalgia for logging into the VAX or Unix servers in your college days. It’s not high-tech, it’s not perfect, but the breadth and depth of resources and community are vast. On the surface lies a free, daily workout program, complete with video examples from Crossfit gyms (known as “boxes”) around the world. The workouts can be scaled to any fitness level, are varied enough to prevent boredom, and most importantly deliver results better than anything I’ve personally experienced. Underneath lies a treasure trove of collective knowledge from aggregate centuries of training and self-experimentation from a huge group of functional fitness geeks. It’s a community of people willing to work REALLY hard at self-improvement and personally I’ve found it inspiring, instructive, and supportive.
But they don’t make it easy or obvious to dive in and get started. It takes some digging and a willingness to refer to an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) over and over until you become familiar with the terms, culture, and practices. It wasn’t until years after knowing CrossFit existed I decided to try my hand at the workouts provided on CrossFit.com. It’s been a rewarding journey, though. After trying to explain the basics to folks many times in person I decided to document a brief guide to how to use the free, online CrossFit resources in a blog post. Here ya go. Enjoy. But first….
DISCLAIMER: I am not a coach. I have zero training in physical education. I am in no way affiliated with CrossFit. My sincere belief is that CrossFit is best done in the gym where someone can watch what you’re doing, make sure you have form that will minimize injury, and prescribe the appropriate movement/weight. If you have time, money, and inclination, I highly recommend you find a CrossFit gym in your area (they are EVERYWHERE now, as you can see from this map) and get into an introductory class. Personally, I’ve become a regular at Golden State CrossFit in Los Angeles (after a few months of tinkering on my own in the way described below). At my urging, my 22 year-old daughter became a member at Amity CrossFit (after a couple months of tinkering below with a bit of guidance from me). I wrote this article because one of the coolest things about CrossFit is its open source nature. I wanted to share with folks who were interested in learning more but didn’t know where to find the resources. Practice CrossFit alone at your own risk, of course.
I’ve tried a number of workout programs over the past five or six years starting as a goof; my first consisted of following the LL Cool J Platinum Workout Book front-to-back. Surprisingly, I dug it. So I ordered another book on Amazon. And another. And one more.
I knew about CrossFit via Andy Petranek at (LA’s first and finest!) CrossFit LA, but with my schedule it’s very hard for me to make it to the gym for a class. I used to have a regular yoga practice, but that went out the window when Lucinda (who now wants to go to CrossFit Kids every Saturday) was born six years ago. Most of my workouts were done with Lucinda hanging in the shared gym/playroom with me. She’d watch a movie on the computer or draw, I’d get the workout done as quickly as possible. She’d sit in the Baby Jogger, I’d run. That’s how I found/made the time. So going to a CrossFit gym (“box”) wasn’t really in the cards. Over time I accumulated enough gear to have a small gym in my house: weight machine, barbell and plates, a bench, a squat/bench press rack, dumbbells, medicine ball, abmat, and pullup/dip rig.
My favorite at-home workouts came from the Power Training book from Men’s Health. It prescribed a functional, full-body workout featuring all complex movements (no curls, no machine-assisted movements). It had a few ways to approach the workouts, stringing them together into multi-week programs with different areas of focus. I spent well over a year running through these, practicing the moves, using some of the awareness I took from yoga to guess at what good form would look/feel like. Eventually I started doing the workouts from the Power Training book 4 days/week and ones from Cardio Strength Training on the other days (which it turns out is not a far throw from CrossFit in some ways). But eventually I got bored and was ready to move on.
Friends were doing CrossFit. I was jealous. I was jealous of the motivation I knew having a room full of people doing the same thing would give me. But still, it wasn’t in the cards for me. So I started reading CrossFit.com.
With the online CrossFit resources you can:
…get a workout daily, for free. They’re challenging, but nearly all of them take less than 30 minutes to complete. Add on the official CrossFit warmup (or similar) and you’ve got a FREE workout plan you will see results from and can easily get done in less than an hour a day, warmup to completion.
…get a video of the workout, so you can see the movements done by athletes around the world. Some are the top athletes in the world, some less so. But every day you will get a 3-10 minute video of the workout so you can see the movements performed and receive some basic instruction. For free. Example:
…find resources to help you scale the workouts to your ability level. Serious athletes will find the workouts challenging, but even if you’re unable to do a pushup there are ways to scale the workouts to whatever is appropriate for the level you’re at. And you’ll soon find yourself leveling up if you do the workouts daily.
…find resources to help you complete the workouts even when you don’t have the equipment prescribed. Some things are pretty damn hard to approximate, but there are “substitutions” for pretty much everything.
Here’s a simple guide to getting started with these online resources:
- READ THE FAQ. Do not skip this step. Don’t try to commit it to memory the first time through, but read it all so you know what’s in there. You’ll come back to it many times if you use the online resources to build your workout program.
- Check CrossFit.com for Today’s Workout Of The Day (WOD). It’s at the top of the page. If it says “REST DAY” then you rest today (or take a brisk walk, go for an easy jog, etc).
- Not a rest day? Jump over to the CrossFit Brand X forums for another view of Today’s WOD. Metric posts the workout + YouTube video, and Garddawg posts the “scalings” (aka “easier versions of Today’s Workout for folks from whom Today’s WOD is impossible/not a good idea”). Watch the video. Read the scalings. Just getting started with CrossFit? Skip straight to the workout scaled to “Buttercups” or “Puppies”.
- Head back to CrossFit.com and read the comments. The commenters there often comment on the form in the videos. Are they taking issue with how some of the movements in the video are performed? If so, watch the video again and see if you can see what they mean. Bring awareness of these comments to mind when executing the workout on your own.
- Read the quotes in Metric’s signature in the CrossFit Brand X forum: “Being unable to workout tomorrow because you were pigheaded today is not in line with our goals.” “CrossFit is not dangerous. Bad coaching is dangerous, poor movement is dangerous. Ego is dangerous. CrossFit, properly scaled to the individual is the safest and most efficient program available” Think about how today’s workout fits to your fitness level. Use your judgement and scale accordingly. Focus on getting the movements correct and good form, protecting your back, joints, etc. Take your time.
- Don’t have the equipment needed to do today’s workout? Read the FAQ for substitutions. You’ll likely want to accumulate the basics over time, but you can do most workouts with very little equipment, a trip to a local park with a pull-up bar (many also have climbing ropes and more — research the public parks in your area), or an inexpensive YMCA membership. I’ve done the WODs from CrossFit.com at parks, hotel gyms and YMCAs worldwide. Many times I’ve been on my phone in the dark searching “seattle park pull-up bar” on the Internet before bed, planning the next day’s workout.
- Make working out the #1 thing on your todo list tomorrow and every day. A friend lost a hundred pounds, down to a weight he hadn’t been since before college. I asked him how he did it. He said, “I made taking care of my body the most important thing on my list every day. Everything else falls into place after that.” This simple statement changed my life. It sounds selfish but try it and I think you’ll find you’re more available mentally and physically to both work and family if you make sure you’re fit first.
- Subscribe to CrossFit Journal and read it instead of Men’s Fitness or similar.
Now you only need to do the most important thing:
Give it a go. Let me know what you learn. Feedback and criticism is welcome.