You must have come across gyms in your neighbourhood with a massive tyre propped up against the glass wall, or a pair of ropes snaking along the length of the floor, or even giant soft weighted balls wrapped up in leather (or leatherette) lying around. You might also have observed the increasing number of people taking to burpees rather than the routine multiple sets of push-ups to get the juices flowing before a workout.

Breaking away from the straight-jacketed format of lifting weights to build muscles, full-body workouts have become a more-accepted as well as a more-rounded approach towards fitness. One of the pioneers of promoting athletic fitness with explosive strength is CrossFit: it turns 20 years old in 2020.

Fitness entrepreneurs Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai founded CrossFit as a strength and conditioning programme that has grown exponentially around the world - they have also been hosting its own event, the Crossfit Games, annually since 2007.

By combining aerobic movements, callisthenics (bodyweight exercises) and Olympic weightlifting techniques, and conceptualising Workout of the Day (WOD), CrossFit repackaged fitness as a lifestyle. A typical workout takes less time than your routine in the neighbourhood gym but it can be more intense. The reason: constant change of exercises that have an element of interval training at their core.

  1. Benefits of CrossFit
  2. Equipment for CrossFit
  3. CrossFit exercises and how to do them
  4. Squat jump steps
  5. Burpees steps
  6. Clean and jerk steps
  7. Thrusters steps
  8. Battle rope steps
  9. Precautions before doing CrossFit

Well-known for calling their community members “athletes”, CrossFit employs every muscle of the body during a majority of the workouts and has a number of advantages, thanks to its intensity.

  • Strength: Due to the intense work rate during a CrossFit workout, you will be required to perform bodyweight exercises as well as lift weights - this boosts your strength.
  • Speed and agility: Because of the variety and range of movements involved in CrossFit, you are likely to become more flexible with this workout as compared to strength training in the gym alone. CrossFit workouts challenge you to do athletic movements within a set time; this allows you to incorporate speed into your workouts.
  • Weight loss: CrossFit aids weight loss, thanks to its intense regimen, varied movements and use of all muscle groups in a workout.
  • Variety: Because there is no single type of workout every day of the week, CrossFit is going to keep your interest levels up.
  • Improved heart health: Fast athletic movements coupled with strength-building exercises keep your heart pumping throughout the exercise, keeping your average heart rate up.
  • Functional: A majority of the movements performed in CrossFit can be beneficial for performing day-to-day tasks that involve lifting heavy objects.
  • Time-efficient: CrossFit workouts typically take about 45 minutes.

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Because CrossFit borrows exercises from sports such as gymnastics, bodybuilding, rowing as well as athletics and swimming, the equipment in a typical CrossFit gym tends to be quite varied. This may include:

  • Gymnastic rings
  • Climbing ropes
  • Pull-up bars
  • Jump ropes
  • Dumbbells
  • Barbells
  • Kettlebells
  • Rowing machines
  • Battle ropes

CrossFit exercises are varied and can be modified to fit the kind of equipment one has access to. A lot of CrossFit exercises can be performed without the use of machines as it involves bodyweight and running exercises as well.

Depending on the level of your athletic abilities or exposure to a range of exercises, you can tailor a typical CrossFit WOD to suit your talents. It is always advisable to begin your exercising journey with low-intensity routines, and level up as you become conditioned to the movements.

There are a variety of exercises that can be mixed and matched to create new workouts, but some of the exercises that are constant members of most Crossfit routines are:

  • Squat jumps
  • Burpees
  • Clean and jerk (a type of Olympic lifting)
  • Thrusters
  • Battle ropes

You’ve performed enough free squats at the park or a gym to get your body warmed up before more serious exercising, but air squats add a bit of more power. These squats work out the glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps, hamstrings, back and abs. How many calories you burn will depend on how much power you put into each jump, of course. But most experts agree that you can burn 100 calories by doing just 30 squat jumps.

Here's how to do squat jumps:

  • Stand with your feet slightly more than hip-width apart.
  • Bend your knees and push your hips back to come into a squat.
  • Straighten your legs and jump as high as you can in one smooth movement - you can use your arms for momentum here.
  • As you land softly, go straight into the squat. Repeat.

Try to do 10 squat jumps and work your way up to more. Squat jumps are also a great cardio exercise, so expect to be slightly out of breath in the beginning. As with any other workout, make sure you warm-up beforehand and practice with a trained instructor who can help you achieve the correct form.

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A bodyweight exercise that works on all the major muscle groups, the burpee is a favourite among CrossFitters and fitness enthusiasts alike. It is a combination of a push-up, squat and a jump, and can help you burn about 10 calories per minute.

Here's how to do it:

  • Stand on a mat with your feet slightly apart.
  • Place your hands on the mat, about shoulder-width apart.
  • Come into the push-up position by taking your legs back - you can choose between taking your legs back one by one or jumping to take both legs back together, depending on your skill and comfort.
  • Bend your arms to bring your chest close to the ground.
  • Extend the arms to push your chest away from the mat.
  • As you bring your legs forward - either one foot at a time or by jumping forward - come into a squat, with your knees bent and butt pushed back as if you are about to sit in a chair. Check your posture to make sure your knees don't extend beyond your toes and your back is as straight as possible. 
  • Jump up and land softly. This is one repetition.

Try to do about 20 repetitions in a minute. If you are beginner, take it slow as you get used to the movement and then pick up speed.

The clean and jerk is a popular type of Olympic lift in CrossFit. It exercises the abs, obliques, lower back, spine, hamstrings, quadriceps, shoulders, triceps, biceps and forearms

You will need a barbell and weights to do this exercise.

The number of calories you burn will depend on how much weight you lift. As with all CrossFit exercises, it is important to focus on form and workout with a trained instructor who can correct your posture and movement.

Here's how to do the clean and jerk:

  • Stand in front of a barbell with your feet apart.
  • Bend from the knees to grab the barbell with an overhand grip - your wrist should be in line with your shoulder.
  • Keeping the barbell as close to your body as possible, pull it up to your chest. Your elbows should be above your shoulder level at this point.
  • As you turn your hands to get an underhand grip on the barbell, jump a little to get power from the legs and push the up barbell up overhead.
  • Bring the barbell down to shoulder level and change your grip to overhand before dropping the weight (gently) to the mat or ground. This is one repetition.
  • Start with four to six repetitions and work your way up to 10-12, as you gain strength and more confidence in your movement.

Even the most seasoned gym-rat used to working their legs with squats may find these an extremely difficult variation, as this includes having to balance yourself. The thruster is unique as it requires you to keep the barbell above your head with both your arms straight, and then performing the squat.

You will need a barbell and weights to do this workout.

Here's how to do the thruster:

  • Stand with your feet apart, and the barbell rested on the front of your chest at shoulder level. You should have an underhand grip on the barbell, hands shoulder-width apart and elbows bent but slightly raised in front of you.
  • Straighten your arms to take the barbell overhead. Make sure you don't arch your back, though you can bend your knees a little to draw power from your legs for the lift.
  • As you bring the barbell down to your chest again, go into a squat - bend your knees, push your hips back as if you're about to sit in a chair and try to keep your back as straight as possible.
  • Now, in one fluid movement, straighten your legs to come out of the squat and lift your arms overhead.

Start with four to six repetitions, paying special attention to your form. Adjust the weights as your skill and comfort levels improve.

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They are a favourite among CrossFit and HIIT programmes, everywhere thanks to the versatile nature of exercises you can perform using the ropes. HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training.

One of the common variations of this workout is trying to smash the ropes down into the ground with both hands, either alternatively or together at the same time, while keeping yourself anchored to one spot. It's another core-crunching exercise that works the arms, shoulders as well as side muscles.

You will need battling ropes (anchored at one end) to do this exercise.

Here's how to do it:

  • Stand with your feet apart. Take the ends of the battle ropes in each hand.
  • Pull your belly button in as you bend the knees to come into a comfortable squat. Check your position to make sure your knees don't go beyond your toes and your back is as upright as possible.
  • Now, keeping your elbows close to your side waist, lift and drop your forearms - the idea is to make waves in the ropes.
  • Try to do this as fast as you can for 30 seconds. Increase your speed and duration to one minute as you get stronger.

While CrossFit remains a favourite among fitness enthusiasts to this day, thanks to an entire lifestyle that has been built around it, its high-intensity nature usually attracts those who are already into sports or fitness. The high-impact nature of the exercises also tends to become daunting for many, so it is ideal to keep a few things in mind before starting out:

  • Warm-up: The age-old maxim of warming up before any kind of exercise applies in CrossFit as well, as it will be putting intense pressure on the muscles and joints during a workout.
  • Patience: Not everybody will have been acquainted with Olympic lifting movements or the techniques borrowed from other sports. Hence, it is important to have reserves of patience to be able to match up to more seasoned CrossFit athletes.
  • Limitations: It is important for someone new to CrossFit to be aware of their body’s limitations and not jump into an exercise routine. Take it slow, and focus on getting the form and movements right.
  • Risk of injury: CrossFit exercises are high-intensity and high-impact, and the athletes are prone to injuries as a result. Some of the common injuries people can experience are back pain or tendon injuries in joints like the rotator cuff (shoulder), Achilles tendonitis, knee as well as the elbows.

The high-intensity, high-impact range of exercises in Crossfit are designed for quick results, but finding coaches who can understand your body’s limitations and movements is difficult as it is still coming up in countries like India. CrossFit gyms are typically expensive as well, which means that a majority of the people cannot have access to such facilities.

Despite the drawbacks, CrossFit exercises are fun to do. In many cities, there are thriving communities of fitness enthusiasts that promise to introduce you to like-minded people working towards a higher standard of fitness.

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