Crossfit Demystified

Posted September 26, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in Life After Five

These days, you can’t swing a pair of LuluLemon pants without hitting someone who is on the Crossfit bandwagon.

Crossfit received some extra attention this week when photos of an eight-months-pregnant Crossfitter went viral. The photos were met with a lot of controversy. I followed the story with interest, perhaps because I’m also a little more than eight months pregnant and have been Crossfitting* the whole time (albeit at a lower intensity and with lighter weights than I did before pregnancy). My doctor gave me the green light to do so, but I still earn funny looks in the gym. I’m not here to weigh in on the controversy or defend my own decisions — just to share some information.

Crossfit is sweeping the nation.

I’ve been hooked for quite a while. I keep trying to draw friends in, but too often, I find that people are intimidated by what they see as a “cultish freakshow full of scary ripped people heaving massive weights in unnatural positions” — or something like that.

So here’s a brief primer on Crossfit:

  • Crossfit is a blend of intervals, plyometrics, gymnastics, olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, and cardio/endurance.
  • The general idea is to improve strength and conditioning via very strategic, efficient, challenging, compact workouts. (In other words, you’ll never spend 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer.)
  • A Crossfit gym is called a “Box.” There are boxes in most metropolitan areas. You pay for a membership, or for drop-in sessions.
  • If you go to a Box, trainers will guide you through a workout. Workouts are called “WODs,” which stands for “Workout of the Day.”
  • You do not have to go to a Box to do Crossfit. Many people are too intimidated to go to a Box, but you can get a good Crossfit workout done at your regular gym. Magical Crossfit gurus post WODs on, so you can get the “prescribed” workout for free. They’re posted on a three-day-on-one-day-off cycle. There are an insane number of potential WODs, so you can go a year before you repeat a workout. You may have to modify some of the moves if your gym doesn’t have all of the Crossfit equipment, but I’ve learned a lot of modifications and I do my workouts almost exclusively at my regular gym or in my basement.
  • The WODs on are designed for the level of athletes who compete at the Crossfit Games. I am not one of those athletes, so I (along with just about everyone else) “scale” the workouts to something more my style. For example, if the posted WOD wants me to do squat cleans with 135 pounds, I might do 45 pounds instead.
  • Anyone can do Crossfit. There is a perception that Crossfit is for beefy super-athletes, but that’s simply not true. Before I started Crossfitting, my idea of a strength workout was the “8 minute abs” video. I am an endurance athlete, through and through, and I thought that workouts didn’t count unless you ran at least four miles. I started by checking out the WODs on I didn’t have any clue what most of the exercises were (let alone how to do them properly), so I started watching demonstration videos on YouTube. Then I’d ask trainers or more savvy friends to double-check my form at the gym.
  • The main criticism against Crossfit is that people are certainly susceptible to injury if they do the moves with poor form or using weight that is too heavy for them. Take the time to learn the moves. Start with light (or no) weight, especially if you’ve never lifted weights before. Can’t do a pull-up? No problem. Use bands or one of those pull-up machines at the gym. There are a million substitute exercises you can use, and many of those recommended substitutions are posted right there on the Crossfit website. (Don’t forget: Always check with your doctor before starting any new workout regimen!

I don’t have any financial stake in Crossfit whatsoever — and, in fact, since I don’t go to a Box, I don’t really give THEM any money, either — I’m just a fan and I know a lot of people would try it if it didn’t seem so scary.

Happy Crossfitting!

*Throughout my pregnancy, I’ve used, which scales the “main” WODs to make them suitable for pregnancy. If you’re a beginner, you might find that the Crossfitmom workouts are more your speed — even if you’re not expecting.

About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at, and her business website is at