Having been doing the sport well over 12 years, along with co-owning 2 CrossFit affiliate gyms, I’ve been asked this question countless times by people that haven’t tried it.
So, what is the honest answer?
CrossFit can be made harder or easier by ‘scaling’, depending on your desired outcome and effect. The difficulty (or how hard it is) cannot be defined under CrossFit as a whole, but more so by the individual techniques encompassed within. For example, a Snatch (Olympic lift) is one of the hardest skills to learn and master; whereas a sit-up can be done by almost anyone. Both are elements used within CrossFit. So the answer is not a straight yes or no as this article will further break down for you.
Is CrossFit hard?
First off, we need to define the word “hard “.
Often, people looking into starting CrossFit think of shirtless, ripped, grunting super-humans, defying physics as we know it, followed by a session of rolling on the floor writhing in good-pain. This BGH article explains what to expect.
Although this can be true, this is a much smaller percentage of what CrossFit actually looks like. If I were to put an estimate, this would approximate to 5-10% of normal CrossFit gym members that might look that way.
For the other 90-95%, they are every day, shirt-wearing men and women simply exercising at a pace and weight that suits them. They go as hard as they want to….or don’t want to.
The sport prides itself on being infinitely scalable. In other words, you can tailor the weights, repetitions or movements down from RX (prescribed), to something that suits you.
This is also known as adapted – a term commonly used and preferred by previous Games champion and CrossFit pioneer Chris Spealler. Not to be confused with Adaptive CrossFit, which this BGH article explains.
But Is CrossFit Difficult? And Should I Try It?
Hard compared to what. A walk in the park? Another piece of chocolate cake?
Yes, it is more intense than traditional gym-bunnying, and you are working hard. A spin class is hard and a half marathon is also hard, in my opinion, having done both.
No mirrors you say?! Check this article out for why not.
One reason CrossFit has such high retention rates is the addictive feeling of pure elation, after a workout. A ubiquitous sense of accomplishment fills the warm air as you roll about the floor questioning your existence.
Some workouts are definitely harder than others.
That could be down to RX weight or the length of the WOD. Maybe it contains a very technical movement – or something else which you may struggle with.
For instance, the Olympic lift the ‘Snatch’ is highly technical, and therefore difficult to master.
If you’re wondering whether you should give it a try, I’ve made a flow chart decision maker to help you decide whether to try it.
But we also shouldn’t forget, the word hard is also subjective, as we’ll see below.
So How Should We Define Hard? Or Difficult?
Here’s a short list of 5 that might pop into your head when asking, is CrossFit hard.
- Hard on your body?
- Hard to grasp the many techniques and skills?
- Hard to be motivated?
- Hard work?
- Hard to not overtrain because you get stupidly addicted?
Well, all of those apply some way or another.
Is CrossFit Hard On Your Body?
It’s hard on your body if you overtrain. If you don’t stretch properly, or just ignore the coaching advice going go off-piste when he/she isn’t looking – it can be hard on you.
Swimming, cycling and squash can be hard on your body if you do it too much. As can eating too much hairbo, or doing too much yoga.
Everything in moderation is a simple and effective rule we all should apply here.
Listen to your body
Like many sports, it contains repetitive movements of certain joints and muscles in certain ways, and with this comes an element of risk to any human body.
The same as many other sports, however. Ever heard of tennis elbow, or golfers elbow?
When doing CrossFit – or any exercise for that matter – any times per week, you should listen to your body. Scale a movement down, or sub it out if it’s doing you no good.
For instance, I have an annoyingly tight posterior chain and hip flexors, so often struggle with a bad back. Therefore, I scale or completely substitute Deadlifts out for something else when they come up in the strength block or WOD.
Some awesome wearable tech by WHOOP tells you about your recovery, day strain, sleep amount and quality – all of which tie in to how “hard” you’re going at it!
For more info on that, read this Best Gym Hacks article here.
Many people will train around injuries, doing what I do.
In fact, I’ve seen many members over the years using CrossFit to actually remediate physiological issues or injuries post-operation – injuries not picked up during CrossFit.
They will scale the WOD to suit their issues. So, it’s very much an arguable case that it’s the opposite of bad for your body, often doing it a whole lot of good.
This good is compounded by the good your doing your cardiovascular system, respiratory endurance, muscle endurance, balance and coordination to name a new, by getting fitter.
Not to mention the good it does for your mental health.
The give-away is partly in the name CrossFit.
Is It Hard to Grasp the Many Techniques and Skills in CrossFit?
There are many techniques and skills to learn in CrossFit. A LOT. This is the beauty of it.
I can sometimes have the attention span of a caffeinated 5 year old at Christmas. Yet I’ve been doing CrossFit more than 12 years…and still love it like I did on day 1.
Much to learn
One of the biggest reasons is that I am still – even now – learning new techniques, mobility stretches, names of movements and how to improve what I already know how to do pretty well.
There’s always room to get better.
We all love to learn new things. You’d struggle to get bored of learning how to do CrossFit, just based on the sheer amount there is to learn.
Ever-growing list of tekkers
New movements or skills appear in the sport all the time. Think Handstand Walking assault course, Peg Board, The Pig, marathon Row or Wall Walks.
These work their way into affiliates and small local competitions. Dumbbells were not used early on; now they’re a staple in any CrossFit gym.
Question: if you’ve not done CrossFit yet, when did you last do a handstand? Chances are, unless it was with your daughter in the garden after her Saturday gymnastics class, I would hazard a guess and say not since secondary, or even primary school!
At a CrossFit gym, a common sight might be seeing Darren (the 55 year old tree surgeon), or Anne (the 22 year old receptionist), practising standing upside down on their hands against a wall. And having a tonne of fun doing so.
Then comes all the skills a myriad of names and technical jargon to wrap your head around.
It becomes 2nd nature soon enough, and you may actually recognise some movements from school PE lessons (think burpees, press ups etc).
Other times it might feel like you’re listening to modern day latin.
Part of the fun is learning this new language!
Top Tip: you can find good resources to quickly that decipher the long list of CrossFit acronyms. See a great example at CrossFit Tonbridge’s site here.
They also provide an excellent concise summary of what CrossFit is, that you might find useful.
Is It Hard to Get Motivated For CrossFit?
One unique selling point of CrossFit is the community and friends you make in the gym, so this makes motivation stimulus a natural phenomenon.
Most would say they don’t need motivation to go to CrossFit compared to say a globo gym, or a run on their own.
What does the class structure look like?
A normal class is 1 hour.
You get round the board and review what’s in store. Then warm up together. Normal format is a strength or skill element. Followed by the WOD (Workout Of the Day).
Then you stretch off and go home.
No thinking about what you need to do. It’s all organised for you.
Plus you get a coach, sort of like a semi-PT that coaches the entire class, providing pointers, encouragement and leadership.
Workout and socialise
You’re with a group of people that, like you, want to get or stay fit. All walks of life pulse through the memberships.
I’ve often said you’d be hard struck to find another place where you regularly hang out with such a wide diversity of people, ages and personalities on a regular basis, than you do in a CrossFit gym.
These people become your friends, closest allies, new friendship circle, even spouse!
I can vouch for that – I met my own wife at my CrossFit gym! As did many of members in our gym.
So using our affiliates as a metric, you can bet this happens a lot all over.
Mr or Mrs Motivator
The best thing about this (possibly inadvertent) social enterprise is that it does wonders for your motivation.
The camaraderie keeps you pinging back for more. Gone are the days meandering around a globo gym on your Larry, trying to work out what a machine is, or does.
Yes, But Is CrossFit Hard Work?
Like we explored earlier, “hard” is subjective, and anything can be scaled to make it less hard.
Some workouts can feel like a slog. Others a rapid burn. But after it all, invariably there is a smile behind those post-workout grunts.
That’s because the endorphins are always in full force, coursing through your freshly oxygenated veins.
The smile is because you worked hard. And absolutely loved it. It’s why you’re willing to come back the next day and work hard again. Maybe even harder…
Leading nicely onto the last point.
Is It Hard to not Overtrain Because You Get Stupidly Addicted?
Or simply put, can I overtrain?
Yes, you can. And that does take its toll on your body. It is hard on you physiologically. That’s why you need to listen to your body.
With all that fun you’re having, its easy to get carried away on the gravy train, by the newest NoBull or Nike MetCons, and have CrossFit generally throw up on you.
But be careful. Do not overtrain as it might just come back to hurt you. You might pick up injuries or unwanted niggles.
I know this having been a 6 day week CrossFitter for a protracted period. Then a 5 day. Then 4. Nowadays, I’m at 3-4 days per week.
Trust the process
Be patient, learning techniques the proper way. Slowly and surely, and with good form. That will inevitably make things easier in the long run.
When I reached my 30’s I realised one is no longer made of rubber. Hangovers and snow sport aches lasted longer. So I curtailed the amount I was training.
I listened to my body…and responded.
Things will change as I approach 40, so I’ll adapt again.
Same with anything physical; I cannot surf or snowboard for the same durations that I used to – and that’s OK. Enjoyment is what matters.
Check out on certain movements
This morning I opted out of Straight Leg Deadlifts to save my backside from unnecessary aggravation.
Then the partner WOD I found hard. A comfortable hard.
Then, I went about and enjoyed the rest of my Bank Holiday Monday with my wife and young baby, safe in the knowledge I got my exercise in for the day at a level that suited me.
Today was not a hard day. Today was a good day.