THE SIMPLE (TECHNICAL) ANSWER
Constantly varied, functional movements, performed at high intensity in order to increase work capacity over broad time and modal domain
It might be simple, but it also might have put you to sleep.
CROSSFIT: THE STUDY OF INCREASING FITNESS
As our primary goal is to increase fitness levels, you must first understand what “fitness” is before you can understand what CrossFit is. If you haven’t read “What Is Fitness?” yet, do that now and come back. We’ll wait…
Great! Now that you understand that fitness to CrossFit is more than just “The condition of being physically fit and healthy” we can start to break down the definition of CrossFit.
THE TENANTS OF CROSSFIT
Let’s break down the key words in that definition to really key into what CrossFit is:
CrossFit workouts will be purposefully random and varied. The purpose for this is to keep your body adjusting to the demands we’re placing upon it. The human body is a wonderfully efficient machine, with the ability to adapt to whatever environmental stress is placed upon it. Variations can include the length of the work out, the rep scheme, the relative intensity, the amount of weight used, and variations of movements performed in infinite combinations.
However when you’re trying to increase your fitness levels, this is something we need to actually overcome. By varying every aspect of the workout, we can keep the body adapting at higher rates. Further, in order to become proficient at everything, we have to do everything.
CrossFit focuses on functional movements. Our bodies were made to move in certain bio-mechanical ways. By moving in manners our bodies were made to move, we can increase the intensity of the activity. Functional movements typically include most gymnastic abilities (moving your body thru space and time) as well as weightlifting abilities (ability to move a foreign weight thru space and time) as well as combinations of both gymnastic and weightlifting.
These multi joint, full body movements are called functional movements and they are the crux of our fitness program.
We touched on the concept that the body is fast to adapt to stress. The more stressful of an environment you put your body in, the quicker it will seek to make that environment comfortable. If you move from Adelaide to Townsville, you likely will have a hard time for the first week. However, after living there for a few months, you’ll notice your body has adapted to the humid climate.
Similarly, the fastest way you can achieve the most physiological adaptations is by putting your body thru the most stress as you can. This is achieved primarily thru high intensity. CrossFit seeks to complete each workout, with integrity and safety, in as much intensity as possible.
Using physics (and to simplify this into a short paragraph) we define Intensity as (Weight Moved * Reps * Distance) / Time. Therefore the only way to increase your intensity is to increase your weight moved, increase the distance moved, increase reps, or decrease time.
As a result every CrossFit workout focuses on completing the workout as fast as possible, with as many reps as possible, or by using the most weight possible. All three of these components will increase your intensity and cause your body to adapt fastest.
INCREASED WORK CAPACITY
Over the course of time, our test for increased fitness is simply the ability to do more work. This is a common measure of fitness, as often runners will try to keep certain milestone run times decreasing ( meaning they are working harder and running faster).
As a result, we design benchmark workouts meant to test our overall work capacity. The goal is over time, the results of these benchmark workouts should be ever increasing – representing an overall increase in fitness levels.
BROAD TIME AND MODAL DOMAIN
Going back to the definition of fitness, we want to ensure that we’re not single-tracked into becoming super fit at any one attribute, sacrificing a good general overall level of fitness.
A great example of this would be to compare a marathon runner with a powerlifter. One can run a long distance over a long time, but cannot move any weight. The other can lift a tremendous amount of weight but cannot do any sustained amount of exercise.
CrossFit seeks to find great fitness across all variants.