How Does CrossFit Work? Find Out Here.

This is a common question among those that haven’t watched the documentaries on Netflix or maybe tried a class. It’s still a relatively new sport. Let’s break it down.

CrossFit works by drawing on numerous sports, exercises and movements, creating workouts by moulding them into a succinct and digestible format, pre-programmed for its members. It operates using a vast array of movements, all of which are infinitely scalable, to allow any member to take part in what’s known as the WOD, or Workout Of the Day.

CrossFit gyms are simple and not equipment-heavy

It takes a vast array of constantly growing exercises and putting them into sometimes specific, sometimes random order and varying weights, combined in such as way as to create what’s known as the WOD (Workout Of the Day).

Block training

Many CrossFit gyms follow 3, 4, 6 or 8 weekly strength or skill blocks. They are designed to improve strenth and skill over the block period, whilst being continually engaging for the end-user.

For example, in a 6-week block, Jane would look to improve her Hang Clean. Jane can do this easily by seeing what her lift is on week one. With appropriate coaching and technique refining throughout the 6 weeks, the end result should be a higher lift in weight and percentage points at test week (week 6).

Accessory lifts

Another benefit of improving the Hang Clean is that it should theoretically improve the Olympic lift the Clean (also known as Squat Clean) too. The Hang Clean is an accessory movement. With less leverage from a high postion above the knees – as opposed to the taken from the floor – more power is needed in order to make the lift successfully. By constricting the available leverage, you improve strength and efficiency in the lift. Just simple physics, really.

Not only does Olympic lifting improve strength, but with it comes an improvement in balance, coordination, flexibility, power, speed, agility and a high degree of accuracy. Your self-disciple also improves significantly as it’s a lot to learn, so it takes solid self-application in order to learn and improve the lift.

Unique Data From My Two CrossFit Affiliates.

A logical extension of how CrossFit Works would be why people do it.

We recently carried out a survey in the 2 CrossFit Affiliates which I co-own and we got some really interesting feedback from members. We asked 31 questions of membership to help us improve the gyms. The responses were all anonymous (which helped with honesty) and they were thoroughly interesting to read and action.

We polled things like: Why do you do CrossFit? With tickable answers as follows:

  1. To get fitter
  2. To look better
  3. To learn skills
  4. To make friends
  5. To have fun
  6. To compete
  7. To get stronger

The results were interesting. Selecting 1 meant it was least important; selecting 5 meant it was most important.

Having fun was singlehandedly the most important bias for our members. The bias was 62.2%.

Having fun was is most important at our CrossFit gyms.

Predictably, Fitness was more important than Strength to our members.

We have a near 50/50 ratio of men and women. It’s possible that more men cared about the strength element, but we were unable to analyse that, given we made the survey anonymous.

Competing was the least important element for why our members do CrossFit, although it was still important to some, and not entirely dismissed.

Learning Skills was also pretty important, althugh some felt indifferent about that. For me personally, it would be important as I love to learn new things.

Looking Better played a part in why some do CrossFit.

So the point of how does CrossFit work directly correlates to a number of different things, each important to different people for different reasons.

In summary, all the elements in our survey as to why our members do CrossFit is clearly influenced by how CrossFit works.

It works by using the geeky science stuff. It encourages a healthy lifetsyle which in turn shuns bad diet and bad addiction.

It keeps the gym interesting, by constantly varied movements, which also allows people to learn new skills, compete at competitions and change in body-shape.

But most importantly, it has a very strong community base that fosters social expansion and friendships, meaning motivation to go an exercise is unparralled compared to a standard gym.

What Are The 10 Domains Of CrossFit?

There are 10 fitness domains which CrossFit seeks to develop and improve:

1. Cardiovascular / Respiratory Endurance
2. Stamina
3. Strength
4. Flexibility
5. Power
6. Speed
7. Agility
8. Balance
9. Coordination
10. Accuracy

These are also known as physiological developments.

Improvement of all of these is carried out by using high intensity and constantly varied movements, with many workouts covering a wide number of these domains just by the nature of the exercise and manner it is executed.

One of the reasons CrossFit experiences such rapid growth and a high retention rate is that there’s a significant amount to learn and improve upon. Members enjoy the process of continual self-improvement – whatever age they may be.

What Sports Does CrossFit Use? Here are some examples and their applications

  • Olympic weightlifting (Clean and Jerk, Snatch)
  • Powerlifting (Squat, Deadlift, Bench Press)
  • Gymnastics (Muscle Ups, Iron Cross, Handstands)
  • Rowing (distance for time, speed/sprint, endurance)
  • Running (distance for time, speed/sprint, weighted vest)
  • Kettlebells (Swings, Snatch, Turkish Get Up)
  • Swimming and Paddleboarding (CrossFit Games workouts and CrossFit gyms adjacent to the sea)

CrossFit Benchmark WODs

An example of what’s known as a Benchmark workout utilising these spots would be something like:


Repetitions: 9-7-5

Muscle Ups & Snatches 135 / 95lbs (61 / 43kg)

This is a quick and feisty workout. It draws on gymnastics and Olympic weightlifting. The intent is fast, and where possible unbroken, or rapid singles.

What that means in simple terms is you should scale the Muscle Up appropriately using resistance bands, and pull the weight back for the Snatch to something manageable for you.

Another example would be a Hero workout such as Murph:


1-mile Run

100 Pull Ups

200 Press Ups

300 Squats

1-mile Run

RX (Prescribed) Weighted vest 20lbs

This workout is named after the soldier Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy “Murph”. He was the first US serviceman to (posthumously) receive the Medal of Honour in Afghanistan in 2005, after he exposed himself to enemy fire in order to call in communication.

Navy Lt. Michael P. Murphy

Why Are CrossFit Hero Workouts Named After People?

The CrossFit community compiles Hero workouts and dedicates them to real-life fallen soldiers or servicemen and women. The movements sometimes revolve around an exercise the person liked, was good at, or has some connotation to them in some way. They are often known for being harder to complete or carry out RX than traditional or normal CrossFit workouts.

How long does a CrossFit workout take?

A CrossFit workout can vary from 1.5 minutes to over 1 hour.

Each workout is designed with a particular intent in mind and this can dictate the time domain in which it’s operating. Some workouts will be sprints; others may be strength-based. Intervals are common, which aim to foster consistency within each set.

Having done thousands of CrossFit workouts, I can say with some assertiveness I prefer long over short!

Best Gym Hacks

“Chippers” are invariably longer and grindy. I’ve heard 2 reasons for the name chipper:

1. Because you chip away at the reps until it’s done

2. Because it feels like you’ve been put through a wood chipper head first.

I can confirm both definitions are accurate!

How Long Are Short CrossFit Workouts?

Short workouts that are under 2 minutes can actually be as quick and savage as a 40-minute chipper. In fact, they can be worse.

Something like “Fran” 21-15-9, Pull Ups and Thrusters has left me much worse off than a 12 Days of Xmas long chipper, for example.

World record Benchmarks

Dan Bailey set a time of 1 min 35 seconds for benchmark WOD Diane (21-15-9 Deadlifts and Handstand Push-Ups).

The feeling after a short WOD is different to a longer chipper. In my opinion, far worse. I would rather do ‘The Seven’ than ‘Fran’ any day of the week.

Having done thousands of CrossFit workouts, I can say with some assertiveness I prefer long over short!

A post 1-hour workout is very rare but I’ve done them in the past. Something along the lines of a backwards 12 Days of Christmas WOD:

For Time. Start on 12, then do 12, 11, then do 12, 11, 10 etc….

12 Pull-Ups
11 Burpees
10 Squat Cleans at 60/40kg
9 Toes to Bar
8 Kettlebell Swings 32/24kg
7 Deadlifts 110/80kg
6 Box Jumps
5 Shoulder to Overhead 60/40kg
4 Wall Balls
3 Thrusters 60/40kg
2 Muscle Ups
1 Snatch 75/55kg

Something like this is not advised for the everyday CrossFitter and should absolutely not be done on the regular. It’s fun for a rare beasting (as I’m a glutton for punishment).

Another example or a 1-hour+ workout would be a Marathon Row, as seen at the 2018 CrossFit Games.

In fact, that was a ridiculous 3 hour+ workout! Seeing this inspired a number of other people to do the same.

Not for me, thank you! I’d rather lay down on hot coals.

We recently completed a survey at the 2 CrossFit Affiliates I co-own and got some really interesting feedback from members.

Workout length and desired stimulus

We also asked questions about the workout lengths. This was very telling what came back.

A number of them requested more workouts to be longer and heavier. The conclusion we ascertained is that generally, our members really want to walk away from a class feeling like they’ve worked hard.

A balanced program

Although this is useful information, it’s not always how the programming should be. There should be a balance overall. Too much beasting is not good, not to mention unsafe.

So programming for any CrossFit gym – where the ability and age range is so very broad – is pretty difficult as you’re catering for the masses.

In a way actually, that’s a good analogy. Imagine cooking for 250+ people, every day, and making sure they are all well ‘nourished’, enjoying themselves, and putting on gains with empirical results. It’s a tall order.

Real feedback to improve our gyms

In the survey, we also allowed open questions with unlimited character answer boxes.

This was great as all of them could write freely and anonymously exactly what they liked and didn’t like, which helped us improve the gyms in a multitude of ways.

How often should I do CrossFit?

This question is not a one size fits all. You need to listen to your body.

I am a fan of constructive criticism. Sometimes it can be slightly uncomfortable, but this overall was a great experiment to anonymously open up the floor, which overall, made our gyms a better place with enhanced user-experience. There is always room for improvement in anything.

Powerlifting: the Deadlift.

How many days a week should you do CrossFit to see results?

We answer this question in more depth in this article, but here is a shorter answer here for you.

To see results, you need to be going at least 2 or 3 times per week, regularly.

This provides ample time to pick up the skills being taught, have a crack at the strength/skill block or overall programming, and it keeps up your motivation.

Less than 2 is difficult to see recognisable improvements.

Starting out

In the beginning and up to 6 months at 2-4 times per week, you should be seeing very regular PB’s (Personal Bests), as you’re learning so many new things, much of it will be the first time. As you pass the 6-9 months mark, PB’s will slow but still be regular.

You’ve likely already established your benchmarks and covered many exercises. After 9-12 months, the wealth of movements you’ve had a go at (depending on your CrossFit gym) will be vast. You probably know many of your stats by heart such as max lift weights, Row times and splits, that kind of thing.

Recovery key

A useful metric for you personally is how well you recover.

It is unhealthy to overtrain. You can pick up injury, fatigue and regression when you go to hard in the gym – CrossFit, Snap Fitness or College gyms – it matters not.

So the number of days partly depends on your age, recovery time, diet, chronic and acute injury, aptitude, and lifestyle, among many other things.

This question is not a one size fits all. You need to listen to your body. In the survey of our gyms, we got some interesting data when askign this question. Below is a pie chart showing us the percentages of how many days per week our members train.

We asked: How often do you train per week?

The poll from our 2 CrossFit Gyms showed most members trained 3x per week

What does the number of days of training per week say about members?

We are all different. We all have different aims too, as we’ve seen on why our members train with us. But there appears to be some sort of noticeable trends, substantiated by our in-house survey.

Having watched hundreds of people come and go through our gyms via natural churn, and having done CrossFit myself for 12+ years, my analysis would be as below:

How many days per week summary:

1 Day. The recreational CrossFitter who enjoys the atmosphere. Doesn’t particulary care about gains, meeting new people, or learning new things. May use CrossFit to supplment Running or something else. If only there for CrossFit, they sometimes don’t last as a member for long as dont grasp many of the exercises too well. Don’t mind exercise, but happy to not bother too.
2 DaysEnjoys the process. Likes seeing improvements and hanging out with new / other people. Often does other sports too. Sometimes have children so can only make 2 classes per week. Likes exercise.
3 DaysReally likes exercise. Feel an affinity with the sport and / or community. Care about stats and PB’s more than 2 day-ers. Feel a little bit competitive (in a friendly way) with their peers. Often log their stats in Apps.
4 DaysLove exercise, particularly CrossFit. Will put other things aside to get to a class. Love laying in a pool of their own sweat. Will try and get other friends involved in it too. Wear MetCons, NoBulls or Nanos.
5 DaysIt’s an important part of their life. Like friendly competitions and very into the Sport side of CrossFit. Addicted to smashing the WOD. Chase numbers and love continual self improvement.
6 DaysCompetive athletes, or those who feel they need to workout to normal. Sub 30 years old is a common demograpic. Proabaly addicted. Better than binge drinking though! Owed multiple pairs of CrossFit footwear. Drinks Noccos.
7 DaysElite athletes, or those who work fulltime in the industry, who’s nutrition is dialled, body recovers excetionally well and are very experieced in CrossFit. This category would often do multiple workouts in one day. Rest days are still advised! Drinks Nocco with their muslei.
Based on 12 years of observing members – my take on a typical CrossFit gym

So there we have it. CrossFit works for a number of different reasons, and in a variety of ways.

It’s a hugely multilayered sport, with a relatively simple philosophy.

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