It’s nearly impossible to talk about fitness trends without CrossFit entering the conversation. This high-intensity type workout program of constantly varying functional movements has swept the nation, and doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. “The great thing about CrossFit is that it can work for anyone,” says Nick Lobotsky, CrossFit Level 1 trainer and full-time coach at CrossFit NYC. “We have everyone from ex-football players to ballerinas to grandmothers who come in.” And for good reason. All CrossFit workouts, or WODs (Workout Of the Day), are scalable to each individual’s fitness ability.
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From bodyweight-only routines to workouts with weights, your first WOD doesn’t have to be scary. But it should challenge — and change — you. And the workouts below will do just that — without putting you on your back. But before we get into some of these heart-pumping beginner WODs, let’s get familiar with the CrossFit lingo.
- Box: A CrossFit gym
- WOD: Workout Of the Day, as posted on CrossFit.com or determined by your coach/box (typically only about 20 minutes). If you’re wondering why many WODs have names, it’s because these are workouts that come up over and over again: It makes them easier to remember.
- AMRAP: As Many Reps/Rounds As Possible, in regards to number of reps or round in a timed workout, you want to complete as many as you can
- For Time: Your goal is to finish the prescribed workout as quickly as you can
- Score: The total number of reps/rounds completed in a workout; If you’re scoring rounds, you’ll tack on the additional reps you completed if you were into the next round but didn’t complete it (i.e., 8R + 12 would mean 8 rounds complete and 12 reps into the 9th round when time expired)
- Rx’d: This is written after your score if you did each exercise of the workout without any modifications, meaning you completed it as prescribed (i.e., 7R +16 Rx)
- CrossFit Games: The Superbowl of CrossFit (July 19-24, 2016), where the most elite in the sport compete to be crowned the World’s Fittest Man and Woman. Current title holders are Ben Smith and Katrin Tanja Davidsdottir (though never discount previous champs Rich Froning, Annie Thorisdottir and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet).
- CrossFit Open: CrossFitters can register online, then compete in a form of CrossFit Games alone or at their box.
While the true CrossFit experience will take place at your local box with a team of athletes sweating right alongside you, it’s possible to get in on the action just about anywhere on your own — even at home. These beginner-friendly yet challenging CrossFit workouts will get your feet wet, and might just inspire you to commit to the program.
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CrossFit WOD #1: Half Cindy
While the full Cindy is 20 minutes, you’ll be happy you’re only starting with 10. Because your body isn’t used to the endurance needed for many WODs, you may find yourself completely unable to rise from the ground to do a push-ups after one round. “By only doing half the time, you’re diminishing returns,” says Lobotsky. “You’ll quickly learn exactly what your body is able to do and how soon you hit exhaustion.” And with that comes the importance of form.
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As you start to get tired, your form may begin to deteriorate, so don’t be ashamed to use modifications (if you don’t, especially at the beginning, you may be a superhero). To modify this WOD, use a resistance band, wrapped around the bar for assisted pull-ups. Push-ups can be done on your knees (even that will become difficult). Keep count of your rounds and record it so you can track your progress.
CrossFit WOD #2: CrossFit Total
Do not let these heavy lifts intimidate you; they will only make you stronger. This WOD focuses on getting newbies accustomed the heavy lifting element of the sport. The workout isn’t timed; it’s about learning how the weight affects your body and how much weight you can move safely. “Don’t try to max out intensity,” says Lobotsky. “I prescribe five back squats as opposed to the usual three so you get used to feeling that weight on your shoulders if you’ve never done it before.”
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Form is key for this WOD. If you’re not sure how to do the lift, ask a trainer or someone who is well-versed in lifting for help. Lobotsky also recommends taking a video of yourself and posting it to social media or sending it to a fellow CrossFitter for pointers and suggestions. Staying safe is the number one priority.
NOTE: Because you’re new to these lifts, this WOD is about becoming familiar with the feel and form. Once you’re comfortable, you’ll perform the CrossFit Total as it’s done in the Games — three attempts to successfully lift the heaviest load on each movement. Your heaviest lifts, which are usually the third attempt on each, get combined to generate your “Total.” And while there is still no time limit, you must complete all three attempts for one lift before moving onto the next.
CrossFit WOD #3: Helen
Sure, anyone can run. But don’t underestimate this one. “Don’t go as fast as you can on the first run because you’ll exhaust yourself,” Lobotsky warns. “You’ll die after one round.” Endurance is important, and while it takes time to build, doing CrossFit will teach you a lot about how much your body can handle. To modify this WOD, try Russian kettlebell swings (the weight only comes up to parallel with your shoulders, as opposed to American where it comes overhead) if you’re unable to safely swing the weight overhead. For pull-ups, wrap a resistance band around the bar for assistance, or you can do ring rows if your strength isn’t there yet.
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CrossFit WOD #4: Wall Ball, Burpees
Why the 21, 15, 9 rep scheme? There isn’t a definitive reason why, but by the time you get to 9 reps, it’s guaranteed to feel as hard as 21 did. Plus, it’s worth noting that all 21, 15, and 9 can be broken down into rounds of 3, (21 would be 3 rounds of 7 reps, 15 would be 3 rounds of 5, and 9 would be 3 of 3). This helps if you need to break up the reps and take a breather — which is allowed and encouraged!
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“Wall ball-burpees is a good combination in the worst way possible,” says Lobotsky. “If you do it once, it feels like the wall ball would be all leg, and the burpee all arms, but both actually work all shoulder muscles, too, for a total-body effect.” A few tips to help you get started: Be sure to use your hips to throw the ball as opposed to your shoulders — they won’t last. And both catch and throw the ball at the highest point your hands can reach to help minimize exhaustion. As for burpees, try not to stop as much as possible. “As soon as you stop, it’s hard to start again,” warns Lobotsky.
CrossFit WOD #5: Sit-ups, Lunges
This is an interval style WOD, demanding you to push as hard as you can for three minutes, followed by two minutes of rest. “While this does help build up cardio, we use it more for training and endurance, so you can push back to fatigue in each interval,” says Lobotsky. And while you won’t fully be able to recover in the two-minutes (don’t be alarmed… it’s not supposed to happen), you should come close to matching your numbers each round. If this starts to feel too easy, scale it up by adding weight to the lunge or add another two rounds to make five rounds total.
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One of the best features of CrossFit is that every workout that comes up can be modified. Rep schemes, weight and time can all be altered for beginners. You have to work your way up in this sport. “You’re not going to walk in and say ‘hey I’m going to lift 500 pounds,’ and do it,” says Lobotsky. (That’s a good way to get hurt!) CrossFitters come in all shapes and sizes, and improvements all depend on the person. So don’t be discouraged at first. Instead, focus on getting better each and every time you score that next WOD.
Not ready to commit to a box? Try Daily Burn Black Fire, a gritty, high-intensity workout program led by Bob Harper, free for 30 days.
Originally posted March 2014. Updated July 2016.