“I could never do CrossFit.”
Trainers often hear this statement from people who don’t do CrossFit, and I want to apologize for giving you the wrong impression.
I’m here to tell you CrossFit is not a sink-or-swim fitness program, and no minimum level of fitness is required.
You can do CrossFit—but I know why you doubt that.
We often say CrossFit is “infinitely scalable,” but I realize many people have no idea what that means. I’m sorry about that.
The truth is that trainers get excited when we describe a program we love, and we take some shortcuts when we try to explain things. In doing so, we actually break one of CrossFit’s fundamental principles: Define your terms.
CrossFit Inc. Founder Greg Glassman talked about “scalability” of the program in the third edition of the CrossFit Journal, published way back in 2002. The word made perfect sense in the context of the article “What Is Fitness?” Glassman defined his terms and clearly explained that loads and intensity can be modified—or scaled—so the same program can improve fitness with Olympians, grandparents and everyone in between. The principles of the program stay the same, but the application is 100 percent individualized.
As gym owners and trainers, we’ve talked about scaling regularly over the last 16 years, and in many cases we haven’t given enough context for people like you—people who might want to try CrossFit for the first time but don't understand the program or are intimidated by workouts that look impossible. We need to fix that.
Modifying a movement so it's appropriate for a client is often referred to as "scaling." (Dave Re/CrossFit Journal)
I was reminded of this a few weeks back when I asked a new member of our gym if he had hit a “PR”—personal record—on deadlift day.
“What’s a PR?” he asked, and I immediately realized that I had not done my job as a CrossFit trainer.
Instead of using language that would help a new person access our program, I used jargon. I accidentally spoke in code. I’m glad he asked the question, but if he hadn’t, he would have left feeling confused and excluded. He might have even thought that CrossFit just isn’t for him. And it would have been my fault.
So let me explain why you can do CrossFit:
Every workout can be adjusted so every single person can do a version of that workout. This is true whether the person is under 5 or over 100. It’s true whether the person is fit or overweight. It’s true whether the person is healthy or sick. It’s true whether the person is right as rain or dealing with significant injuries.
CrossFit coaches tailor training for individuals by modifying workouts. Trainers might change the movements in the workout, or they might change its length. They might ask an athlete to lift more or less weight. They might ask an athlete to move faster or slower. This process is often referred to as “scaling.”
By adjusting workouts, trainers allow the fittest people and first-timers to train side by side—and both groups become healthier. The best part: The experienced athlete and the new person will bump fists at the end of the workout, each knowing the other just overcame a challenge.
Here’s an example. The workout below is called Murph. It’s a signature “Hero workout” named in tribute to a fallen Navy SEAL. It’s meant to be difficult, even for the best athletes in the world.
Run 1 mile
Run 1 mile
Some people make this workout even harder by wearing a weighted vest. This is often called “scaling up.”
If you turn on the TV and see someone performing this workout at the CrossFit Games, you might be inclined to say, “I could never do CrossFit.”
It’s correct that you might not be able to do that version of the workout. Many people can’t—even experienced CrossFit athletes. But if we make some adjustments, you’ll be just fine.
Below, we’ll modify Murph for someone who’s never gone to a gym—perhaps someone like you.
Walk 100 ft. at a brisk pace
10 modified pull-ups (Stand facing something that won’t move, like a signpost. Place your feet about 6 inches from the post, grab the post firmly and use your arms for control as you lean back until your arms are straight. Then pull yourself back to vertical. Rest when you need to.)
10 modified push-ups (Stand at arm’s length from a wall, with your hands flat on the wall at shoulder height. Bend your elbows to bring your chest and face to the wall, then push on the wall to go back to vertical. Rest when you need to.)
20 modified squats (Sit down in a chair and stand up. Rest when you need to.)
Walk 100 ft. at a brisk pace
The second workout is still Murph. And it would be challenging for the right person. It could also be modified further. You could walk fewer than or more than 100 ft., and you could choose to use a walker or to jog. You could move your feet closer to or farther from the post or wall. You could lower yourself to a tall bar stool or watch this video and learn how to perform squats without a support. You could do fewer or more reps of each movement. You could rest more or less. And so on.
Think of it like this: The medicine is the same, but the dose is different.
Every single workout in CrossFit can be modified like this, and skilled CrossFit trainers quickly make adjustments for clients in every class. We’ve seen creative trainers adjust workouts for kids, teens, people over 100, people with congenital conditions, people with combat injuries, people with no fitness experience, people over 600 lb., people with chronic diseases—the list goes on.
To make this aspect of the program clearer, CrossFit recently started posting modifications for CrossFit.com’s Workout of the Day—or the “WOD.” As originally written, these workouts are designed to challenge very fit people. You’ll now see two more-accessible variations of the workout—but many more are possible.
A skilled CrossFit trainer can help you learn how to move properly, and he or she will modify all movements so they're appropriate for your current level of fitness. (Tai Randall/CrossFit Journal)
If you want to start CrossFit today, try the workout above, Modified Murph. If it’s too hard, make it a little easier. If it’s easy, walk a bit farther or do a few more squats. Or consider the beginner option for CrossFit’s Workout of the Day. If that still looks too challenging, modify it until it works for you.
Better yet, remove the guesswork and have an expert create workouts that are tailored to your current abilities. Find a CrossFit trainer or CrossFit affiliate. A qualified CrossFit trainer will skillfully modify the workouts for you and help you perform each movement correctly.
And now, if you ever hear the word “scaling,” you’ll know exactly what it means.
It means you can—and should—do CrossFit.
About the Author: Mike Warkentin is the managing editor of the CrossFit Journal and the founder of CrossFit 204.