If you follow fitness-related topics on Instagram, you’ve probably seen a lot of posts about CrossFit. You might have seen some viral videos of someone swinging kettle bells around and thought “I can do that!” Now your local gym is offering classes. Before you sign up, though, you decided to check in and see what Melle has to say about it. Well, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick breakdown of what CrossFit is, what it isn’t, and what I think about it.
The Theory Behind CrossFit
The theory behind CrossFit is that full-body, high-intensity workouts are the best way to get in shape. The focus is on what the CrossFit community calls “functional movements”, like compound lifts, aerobics and calisthenics, rather than on isolation exercises. Nothing about this is new.
Back in the days of the space race, Soviet cosmonauts did kettlebell workouts and other full-body techniques to prepare for life in zero-gravity. Compound lifts like the clean and jerk have been in the Olympics for decades. Then, in the year 2000, a bodybuilding couple named Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai started a company called CrossFit in Santa Cruz, California. They combined many of these existing techniques into a single program and started selling certifications for people to train others in their workout method. Nowadays, almost every gym offers CrossFit training.
Types of Compound Lifts
One major part of CrossFit training is the compound lift – any type of lifting that works several muscle groups at once. These techniques have been around for a long time, and as I mentioned, a couple are even Olympic events. There are enough different types of compound lift to fill a book, so I’ve listed three of the most popular exercises.
1) The Clean-Jerk
The clean-jerk, or clean and jerk, is a barbell exercise that works your quads, biceps, triceps, forearms, back, chest, abs, calves and hamstrings. It’s performed by squatting and lifting the barbell above your knees. From there, you flex your knees while simultaneously lifting the barbell to rest on the front of your shoulders and come to a fully upright position. This position is called a clean, and is used in several compound lifts. Following the clean, in a single motion, you flex your knees again while raising the barbell overhead, arms extended, then straightening your knees to come back to a fully upright position. This motion is called the jerk. The barbell is then lowered in two steps – first to your shoulders, then to the ground.
2) The Muscle-up
The muscle-up is a bodyweight exercise that starts out similar to an overhand pull-up. You hang from a bar, holding on with an overhand grip, then pull yourself up until your chin is above the bar. In the muscle-up, you continue past that point until the bar is level with your chest, then rotate your hands to push down, while leaning forward to lift yourself over the bar until your arms are fully extended. After that, you lower yourself back down by flexing your arms, maintaining full control of your body weight until you are again hanging from the bar. This exercise works your biceps, triceps, and lats.
3) The Clean-Press
The clean-press, or clean and press, is a barbell exercise that starts out with a lift to the clean position just like the clean-jerk. Once you’re standing upright with the barbell on the front of your shoulders, you extend the bar overhead until your arms are fully extended. This exercise works the same muscle groups as the clean-jerk, with more emphasis on your shoulders and triceps since you don’t have the momentum of your legs to help lift the bar overhead.
The Benefits and Dangers of CrossFit
Unlike traditional weightlifting, CrossFit training is a full-body workout, so it can be a good choice for people who want general strength and conditioning. It’s popular with professional athletes, firefighters, and other people whose jobs require them to be in peak physical condition. It combines cardio, calisthenics and weight training into a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all workout.
On the other hand, there are some serious downsides as well. Many of the exercises in CrossFit training, like the compound lifts I mentioned, can be dangerous for beginners, or for anyone who’s not properly trained. These lifts are complicated, and a small error in technique can lead to a sprain, a pulled muscle, or dropping the barbell on your foot. If you’re new to weightlifting, I wouldn’t recommend doing these exercises without a trainer. These kinds of high-intensity workouts can also cause your muscles to break down in a condition called exertional rhabdomyolysis (ER). This muscle breakdown can release toxic chemicals which damage your kidneys. Now, CrossFit isn’t the only kind of workout that can cause ER. Any type of high-intensity workout, combined with dehydration, can cause ER. So, whether you’re doing CrossFit or more traditional training, it’s always a good idea to stay hydrated.
Melle’s Final Thoughts
If you follow my blog or my Instagram, you know I’m a strong supporter of traditional weightlifting methods. I spend a lot of time understanding different body shapes and types, so I know that a one-size-fits-all workout isn’t usually the best choice for everyone. For example, if you are an ectomorph body type and you want to grow your butt, you’ll need to bulk, which means you’ll need to train accordingly to gain mass. If you gain muscle easily but have trouble cutting fat, you’ll want to adjust your workout to compensate for that as well. The same goes for many other people’s individual goals, which is why I favor more traditional methods. That said, if you’re looking for an intense, full-body workout, CrossFit may be right for you. Everyone has their own needs, which is why I wanted to get this information out there.
See you in the gym!