Your Complete Guide to CrossFit: Including How to Start and The Best WODs to Try

Since its founding in 200o and the opening of the first gym in Santa Cruz, California, USA a year later, CrossFit has gone from a counter-culture fitness fad done in garages, to a global training phenomenon with well over 15,000 affiliated gyms. CrossFit gyms – or ‘boxes’ to the initiated – are available all over the UK, so finding a space to try it for yourself has never been easier. According to CrossFit’s own interactive affiliate map, there are currently 663 boxes in operation across the UK and Ireland.

Not convinced that a CrossFit gym is the right place for you to train? We totally get that – boxes can be intimidating to newcomers, but for those willing to give it a go, the benefits of CrossFit are undeniable.

Don’t believe us? Check out this study, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, which found that after ten weeks of CrossFit, men with all levels of aerobic fitness and body composition were able to increase their VO2 max and decrease their body fat percentage.

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Given that CrossFit can make you stronger, leaner and fitter then, why does it have it’s fair share of critics? The accusations that CrossFit training can leave you open to injury that were especially rife during its early expansion still puts some people off. Others get confused between CrossFit as a daily training methodology and CrossFit as a competitive sport, the pinnacle of which is the annular marquee event that is the CrossFit Games.

So, if you’re not sure what CrossFit is, we’ve compiled a complete guide to the fitness regime. Stick with this and you’ll be kipping (a variation on pull-ups, not having a nap) like a pro in no time.

uk top crossfitter reggie fasa handstand walking

What Is CrossFit, Actually?

CrossFit is both a way of training and a competitive sport that incorporates strength training, mobility exercises, high-intensity workouts and a balanced diet plan.

The Training Methodology

As a way to train and improve your fitness, it is guided by a set of five principles designed by founder and former CEO, Greg Glassman. They are:

  1. Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
  2. Practice and train major lifts: deadlift, clean, squat, presses, clean and jerk, and snatch.
  3. Master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits and holds.
  4. Bike, run, swim, row, etc, hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense.
  5. Regularly learn and play new sports.

    an athlete performs ring muscle ups at strength in depth 2022

    The CrossFit Games

    The CrossFit Games is a sporting event where some of the world’s most well-rounded athletes come together to compete to be crowned the Fittest Man, Woman or Team on Earth.

    “The Games were created to fill a void,” reads “No other true test of fitness existed. From Ironman triathlons to the NFL, all other athletic events neglected to accurately test fitness. Even decathlons, while testing a relatively wide range of abilities, missed vital components of physical fitness.”

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    The competitive season is split into three stages. The first stage is the CrossFit Open, which is a three-week, online competition held in late February and early March every year. Workouts are announced on Thursday evenings GMT, with scores needing to be submitted by 1am on Tuesday. In order for you score to be valid and appear on the global leaderboard, you have to do the workout at a CrossFit affiliate with registered judge (normally one of the coaches) and/or video yourself according to their guidelines.

    After the Open has been completed, the top 10% of athletes in each of their seven regions advance to the Quarterfinals. The regions are Africa, Asia, Europe, North America East, North America West, Oceania, and South America. Although also an online format, this filtered field of higher-performing athletes are set more challenging workouts, requiring advanced skills, better conditioning and superior strength.

    The top 30 individual athletes and 20 teams from each region go onto the Semifinals- live, in-person events held in May and early June. These are three-day events, normally with two or three workouts per day, designed to filter for the most elite athletes, with 40 qualifying for the CrossFit Games.

    What Are The Dates Of The 2023 CrossFit Games?

    The 2023 NOBULL CrossFit Games will take place from 1st-6th August. As of the 2023 season, a ‘strength of field’ calculation will be applied . Based on the top 100 of athletes in the Quarterfinals, extra spots to The Games are made available by region to the Semifinals, with 17 additional places on top of the 23 automatic berths by finishing in the top positions bringing the total number of qualifiers to The Games to 40 individual men and women. 38 four-person teams, comprising of two male and two female athletes, will qualify.

    Where Will The 2023 CrossFit Games Be Held?

    The competition will take place in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. After seven years at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, USA, the CrossFit Games moved to The Alliant Energy Center in Madison for the 2017 competition. It was recently announced that they will be staying in Madison for the 2024 season.

    elite athlete zack george does toes to bar

    Is 65 Too Old For CrossFit?

    Emphatically, no. Certified coaches at affiliated gyms should be able to provide safe scaling options for members of any age, allowing you to get the same stimulus from the day’s workout as everyone else. They are so committed, that there are masters divisions for those 35-65+, as well those for teenagers from 14-17.

    As of the 2022 NOBULL Crossfit Games, adaptive divisions – vision, intellectual, seated with hip functions, seated without hip function, short stature, multi extremity, lower extremity and upper extremity – all compete to be crowned the Fittest on Earth.

    Will CrossFit Help You Lose Weight?

    Yes, but with the usual caveat – if you regularly burn more calories in any activity than you consume, you will lose weight. The varied and intense nature or CrossFit will help you land on the desired side of that inescapable equation.

    A study published in the International Journal of Sports and Exercise Medicine saw 27 normal CrossFit athletes (not the competitors you see at the Games) randomly assigned to either train CrossFit for 6 weeks while restricted to a low-carb keto diet or to train 6 weeks of CrossFit while sticking to their regular diet. They found that people who combined CrossFit with a keto diet significantly decreased weight, body fat percentage and fat mass.

    People who combined CrossFit and the keto diet significantly decreased weight, body fat percentage and fat mass

    But don’t let that study make you think that you have to adopt the keto diet to see results from CrossFit. Remember, the diet suggested by CrossFit is to “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar,” or in other words, a balanced diet.

    “People need to learn to balance their energy balance first,” says Josh Schouten, founder and trainer at Hackney-based CrossFit gym, Momentum Training. “So not necessarily worry about any type of diet, it’s literally just trying to get the energy expenditure and the energy consumed balance right first, rather than trying to go down the line of one particular diet.”

    Fit and handsome fitness athlete doing explosive squat jumps

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    How Much Muscle Can You Build with CrossFit?

    According to American strength training coach Mark Rippetoe, “CrossFit has provided more people with access to barbells and the motivation to lift them than any other single factor in the past hundred years.”

    Clearly, if you pick up a barbell often enough then you’re going to build muscle, but can you build more muscle with CrossFit than you can with a traditional bodybuilding regime?

    A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy, which looked at the benefits of both functional and traditional strength training, found that in men “there were no differences in improvement between the training protocols”.

    If you’re looking to build muscle, it doesn’t really matter whether you pick up a barbell in a traditional gym or in a CrossFit box. You can build muscle in both.

    Still, if you’re worried that all that conditioning work in CrossFit will hurt your gains, don’t worry, it won’t. Research conducted at the Department of Health Sciences at Mid Sweden University showed that adding cardio to a leg-strengthening programme actually increased muscle size, rather than reducing it.

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    Does CrossFit Cause Injury?

    Many commentators, including renowned martial arts trainer Firas Zahabi, have noted that CrossFit is fatigue seeking, which some say can leave you open to injury.

    How likely you are to get injured though essentially depends on how hard you’re hitting it and, naturally, your form. You can’t work at full throttle day in day out, whatever your training method, so to avoid injuries a considered training programme is key.

    It’s OK to work hard at some point, but you can’t work at 90 per cent, 4 days in a row

    “What we do here is we educate the clients and say if you come in and work really hard on this day, the next day you can still come to the gym, but we have to then back it off, so it might just be an easier day. Let’s say, on Monday you might work really hard, 90 per cent, so then if you come in on a Tuesday you might only be working at 60 to 70 per cent, so that you’re not smashing yourself on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday,” says Schouten.

    “You’re taught to have a day off here and there. We teach them that it’s OK to work hard at some point, but you can’t work at 90 per cent, 4 days in a row.”

    zack george competing at sid origins 2023 with crossfit bfg

    Research published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research concluded that “injury rates with CrossFit training are similar to that reported in the literature for sports such as Olympic weight-lifting, power-lifting and gymnastics and lower than competitive contact sports such as rugby union and rugby league.”

    Men’s Health’s CrossFit Dictionary

    CrossFit gyms are friendly places, but sometimes it can seem like the CrossFit community is speaking a different language, and if you’re not familiar with the sport’s various acronyms and words it can quickly get confusing. So you can talk the part – even if you don’t look the part just yet – we’ve broken some of the most common and popular terms down for you.

    One read of this and you’ll never have to ask what a WOD is ever again.

    • WOD: A workout of the day. These workouts are posted daily on and can be practised at affiliate CrossFit gyms. Usually though your local box will choose something that fits with their programme. Wondering why the WODs have women’s names? Well according to the CrossFit journal “anything that leaves you flat on your back and incapacitated only to lure you back for more at a later date certainly deserves naming.”
    • EMOM: A type of interval workout where you perform a certain number of reps at the start of every minute for a set amount of time. Once your reps are done you rest for the remainder of the minute.
    • AMRAP: A circuit of exercises completed as many times as possible within a specific period of time.
    • Metcon: Metabolic conditioning or ‘metcon’ is typically an example of an AMRAP workout, or two to three exercises repeated for a given time. A classic example from CrossFit is a workout called “Cindy”, which is one round consisting of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups and 15 squats repeated for 20 minutes.
    • Kipping: A pull-up variation that allows CrossFitters to complete more reps in less time by utilising momentum.
    • RX: When a WOD is performed RX it means that it is completed exactly as written.
    • DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. To be avoided.
    • Rhabdo: Short for Rhabdomyolysis, which is a condition that occurs when muscle cells burst and leak their contents into the bloodstream. To be avoided at all costs.

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      How to Choose the Right CrossFit Gym for You

      Firstly, you need to choose the right CrossFit box, and that can be a little more complicated than it seems.

      Because CrossFit is a community not just a gym, you’ll find it hard to make a decision about whether a box is right for you by just looking it up online. The internet has given us many wonderful things, but the ability to know what a community of CrossFitters is actually like isn’t one of them, yet, so to pick the correct box you actually need to visit it, speak to the owners, and maybe even other members of the gym.

      Best CrossFit Gyms

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      “I think the best way to get the feeling of what the gym is actually like and the ethos of the gym is actually to walk through the front door, even though it might be a little bit intimidating, just to step through the front door, make an appointment and see one of the coaches that works at your local CrossFit gym and go from there,” says Schouten.

      Remember that you’re not just joining a gym, but a community, so the people you train with are going to be as important as the facility itself.

      Training CrossFit at Home

      If it doesn’t sound like the box is for you, there’s still no reason to miss out. You can train CrossFit the old-fashioned way and do it at home, with minimal equipment, but this option comes with its own risks, so if you’re new to the training programme you may want to graduate to working from home, rather than beginning your CrossFit training there.

      “I would say is it’s probably not a great place to start. [I’d advise] starting at a CrossFit gym or with a trainer so you can get the education and the information first.” says Schouten.

      Attending a CrossFit box, even for a short period of time, is an easier way of introducing yourself to the training programme, its movements and proper technique. Remember that without correct form some of CrossFit’s heavier moves can put you at risk of injury, so it’s always better to have someone there who knows what they’re doing.

      The Best CrossFit Workouts

      Here are a few of our favourite CrossFit workouts and WODs.


      This is an AMRAP workout, so complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:

      • 5 pull-ups
      • 10 push-ups
      • 15 squats


        Another AMRAP workout. Complete as many rounds as possible in 20 minutes of:

        • 5 handstand push-ups
        • 10 one-legged squats, alternating
        • 15 pull-ups


          This is an EMOM workout, so perform the sequence of exercises every minute on the minute for 30 minutes:

          • 5 pull-ups
          • 10 push-ups
          • 15 squats


            Complete the following two exercises five times taking rests where necessary. Your time is determined by how quickly you can complete five rounds:

            • 400-metre run
            • 15 overhead squats


              An example of CrossFit’s hero WODs, which are name after fallen military personnel. Warning, this one isn’t for the faint-hearted. Complete the following 5 moves for time, taking breaks or breaking each exercise up as necessary:

              • 1-mile run
              • 100 pull-ups
              • 200 push-ups
              • 300 squats
              • 1-mile run

                The Biggest Misconception about CrossFit is…

                Speaking on the Nike Trained podcast, three-time CrossFit games champion, Mat Fraser said the biggest misconception about CrossFit is that you have to be at his level to give it a go. This is plain wrong. “You can scale it for any ability,” said Fraser. “I think that’s a big thing to make known.”

                CrossFit can be done with just your bodyweight, or with lighter weights, so everyone is able to do something right from their very first class.

                “It’s not necessarily a place where you have to be of a decent level of fitness before you come,” says Schouten.

                “We tailor the sessions, so just because the programme is written on the board, doesn’t mean we expect that person to come in the first time and complete the whole thing. They might not complete all of the work and they’ll get done what they can, and it depends on the individual, so the coach will generally go through and try and prescribe something that’s suitable for them on the day, whether it’s their first session or they’ve been here for three, six or nine months. The more someone comes, the more the coaches will know the level that they’re at.”

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                Daniel Davies Daniel is Men’s Health UK’s deputy digital editor. David Morton David Morton is Deputy Editor at Men’s Health, where he has written, worked, edited and sweated for 12 years.

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