What Is CrossFit? Here's What You Need to Know

what is crossfit
Photo: @bandier

CrossFit is one of the buzziest fitness programs to emerge in recent years and has appealed to both fitness lovers and less-than-enthused gym-goers. Even noteworthy celebrities like Cameron Diaz, Channing Tatum, and Jessica Biel swear by CrossFit. With a slew of intriguingly sparse training spaces known as “boxes”—and a reputation for eschewing brand partnerships—CrossFit has achieved an almost mythic appeal. But what is it exactly? Before you sign up for it at your local gym or dismiss it as the latest fad, here’s everything you need to know about the fitness program.

Read on to learn what CrossFit is, how it works, and if it’s right for you.

Founded by Greg Glassman, a former gymnast, CrossFit is essentially a fitness regimen that combines practical physical training with a high-protein, low-carb diet. At its core, one of the major features that sets CrossFit apart from others is its emphasis on functional movement. This refers to movements that a human being might be reasonably expected to perform in real life, such as running, rowing, lifting heavy objects, and pulling oneself upward.

Unlike training programs that rely on specialized equipment, CrossFit utilizes basic weightlifting tools and the surrounding environment, which is why it’s not uncommon to see a group of CrossFitters running sprints outside the gym. In addition to functional movement, CrossFit places a major emphasis on constant variation. This strategy not only keeps gym-goers on their toes but is ideal for those who get bored with their workout routines quickly. The program runs off the idea of diversification being key to a successful workout plan.

Anyone who’s ever bailed on a gym membership knows that working out alone can make it challenging to stick to personal fitness goals. Having an accountability structure in place can play an important role in sustaining ongoing health and wellness efforts. This is another key aspect of the CrossFit program: Individuals work out in sessions together, making the workout experience both social and communal. Accompanied by a clear and rigorous system of tracking progress through data, participants are encouraged to push themselves further and to celebrate their individual achievements as a group.

Part of the appeal of CrossFit is that virtually anyone can dive in, regardless of age or experience. As the program itself notes, “We scale load and intensity; we don’t change the program. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.” To get a better sense of what the program entails, view a sampling of foundational CrossFit exercises.

Up next, discover the best workout for alleviating anxiety, according to a neurologist.