A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

CrossFit: Take it slow, focus on form

Girl doing Cross Fit

CrossFit combines circuit training, cardio and strength exercises. It can be performed safely if you focus on good form and know your physical limits.

With more than 13,000 gyms worldwide, CrossFit® is the biggest fitness trend around. Millions of people call it their workout out of choice, but is this type of training for you?

Depending who you talk to, you should have signed up yesterday, or you should skip the sport to avoid injury.

Sam Joswiak, an athletic trainer at Marshfield Clinic, said CrossFit can be safe and fun if you start slowly, know your physical limits and use good form when performing the exercises.

“There is risk involved with some of the complex strength movements, but there are also health risks involved with other types of exercise and being sedentary,” he said.

What’s CrossFit?

CrossFit combines strength training, cardio exercise and circuit training. Participants complete high-intensity workouts of the day, which are ranked or scored to encourage them to track their progress.

Workouts usually are performed in a group setting with coaches at affiliated gyms set up with specific equipment for CrossFit. Affiliated gyms offer basic skills classes for beginners and more advanced classes.

Prepare for an intense workout

If you’re new to CrossFit, be ready for a challenge. Building a base of fitness through strength training performed correctly and cardio exercise may help you feel more prepared for your first class. Talk to your doctor before starting a new workout program.

Classes usually include a warm-up. Do a dynamic warm-up first if you’re practicing exercises on your own or need more time to prepare for class. You should work up a light sweat during a dynamic warm-up, Joswiak said. Your muscles and joints should feel looser and more comfortable.

Know your limits

Be mindful of previous injuries, mobility limitations and other health concerns that can limit your ability to do some exercises.

Let your coach know your limitations. He or she should take your current ability level into account when guiding you through a workout.

“Most people won’t be able to do complex strength movements right away,” Joswiak said. “Take things slowly and progress to doing more complicated exercises.”

You may be able to do more difficult exercises as you build strength and improve range of motion.

Don’t play the numbers game

CrossFit workouts often include a recommended amount of weight to use for certain movements. Instead of focusing on how much weight you can lift or how many repetitions you can complete, focus on performing the movements with good form.

“People get in trouble trying to use weight they aren’t ready for,” Joswiak said. “Scale the workouts to your level.”

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