What Is CrossFit?

By Greg Glassman

Video Article

Simple question: What is CrossFit?

Can you answer it?

Many people struggle to define CrossFit, and many others don’t know the rationale behind the program. They know there’s magic in the movements, and they know it works—but why?

Captured on tape at an internal seminar staff meeting, CrossFit CEO and founder Greg Glassman talks about the basis of his program. With directors of training Nicole Carroll and Dave Castro in attendance, plus “flowmasters” Chuck Carswell, Greg Amundson, Andy Stumpf, Todd Widman, Adrian Bozman, Pat Sherwood, Drew Thompson and Josh Everett, Coach Glassman explains that the essence of CrossFit is nicely contained within our definition of functional movement, and our commitment to their exclusive use.

The CrossFit movements are safe, natural and compound in nature—and they’re efficient. They express power and lend themselves to precise measurement. That measurement is key, because it takes fitness out of the realm of ethereal guesswork and makes it concrete and quantifiable. When something can be defined and measured, ideas can be tested and improvement can be tracked, allowing athletes and trainers alike to find the best way to achieve fitness.

“What we are doing collectively—what CrossFit is doing—is we are building a technology of advancing human performance,” Coach asserts.

23min 01sec

Additional reading: What Is Fitness? by Greg Glassman, published Oct. 1, 2002.

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32 Comments on “What Is CrossFit?”

1

wrote …

I just got home from my second Crossfit 101 with Coach. Imagine a gathering where Greg Glassman stands up, introduces himself (Hi...thanks for coming...I'm Greg Glassman), and then says "so, anyone have any questions?" While I imagine this meeting with Coach and all of our finest CF instructors must have been simply epic, it's hard for me to imagine that it was, or could be, any better than what I witnessed today at Crossfit Legacy (thanks for the invite, Brian Yoak).

If you are a Crossfit Affiliate gym owner (I am not, BTW) how good must it feel to have Greg Glassman stand in front of you and boldly state that his remaining mission as the leader of Crossfit is to do whatever it takes to support Affiliates? It's good to be a Crossfitter, man...

--bingo

2

wrote …

I usually go into 20 minute explanations about what crossfit is too, an im 16 so I usually loose my 16 year old audiance in about 2 minutes lol frikin sweet stuff thanks Coach hope to meet you someday.

M/16/5'11"/172

3

wrote …

CrossFit builds workers, Oly Lifting builds athletes.

4

replied to comment from Andrew Wilson

Hmmmmmm....

Think that depends on your definition of 'Worker' and 'Athlete' or perhaps Crossfitters are 'Working Athletes'?

5

replied to comment from Andrew Wilson

Here we go again...

6

wrote …

Great stuff. "crossfit is the science of improving human performance." Excellent definitions of what fitness means. So we can have common language and those who choose to can debate in a meaningful way about what actually increases performance.

thanx coach

7

Dane Thomas wrote …

Post the notes that Coach was reading from!

8

wrote …

You will not do a handstand pushup outside the CrossFit gym either, in Real Life(tm) movements but that doesn't mean that movement isn't a good exercise to exercise the muscles it does.

Another example is a deadlift. A great exercise, but for picking someone off the ground in Real Life(tm) you'd probably crouch down behind them and put your supinated arms under their armpits, and basically curl + drag them. You wouldn't deadlift them up as practiced in the gym.


Justin

9

wrote …

Hmm Justin ^^ I think you have missed the point. It would be worth your while to watch this video again and pay special attention to the definition of "core strength" and the importance of leverage and effectiveness of movement. For picking someone up off the ground, you would be much better prepared by training in the dead lift than by doing bicep curls, because the dead lift uses more of the same muscular and neurological pathways required for this compound movement. It may look like "curl and drag" to you, but as I said earlier, you have missed the point.

btw, as a martial artist, capoeira and MMA practitioner, I use the neurological pathways and specific muscular capacity associated with the hand stand push up every day in my "Real Life (tm)"!!

10

replied to comment from Justin Smith

Yeah your right... the best way to pick someone up off the ground would definitely be to bicep curl them...

11

wrote …

Justin,

you have got a trademark on the term Real Life? Hmmm.

12

wrote …

In my understanding the jerk does not constitute a press, as the bar movement is achieved by the explosive opening of the hip and not by pressing the weight - although the movement pattern is similar, the force generation is different.
Actually, in olympic weightlifting, pressing a weight (called a pressout) constitutes a no-lift - the weight has to be caught in a fully extended position.
Any comments on this?

13

Dane Thomas wrote …

Roland,

Both the standing press and the O-lifting jerk are artificially constrained versions of the key functional "real-life" reference motion that Coach was talking about. Seated military press is an even more constrained version, and seated overhead triceps press takes it even a step further.

I think his point was that getting a significant load from any variation of the racked position to any variation of the overhead position is most efficiently done by involving the entire body to create and take advantage of momentum. We use standardized tools and rules in order to simplify and standardize training and the measurement of progress. Real life would be stacking sandbags over head height before the floodwaters hit, or lifting cannonballs from the courtyard level up to the ramparts where the guns are mounted. The bars and plates and rules and all just came about because, as Eddie Murphy stated: "White guys are into measuring." ;-)

14

replied to comment from Daniel Wickham

We can put the tired 'we don't do this in real life so we shouldn't do this in the gym' argument to bed.


One can of course talk about using "muscular and neurological pathways" developed from the standard gym deadlift, and that is the entire point- that the exercise practiced in Gym Life(tm) helps develop muscles and movements which are then used in Real Life(tm). No one is out there in Real Lifetm doing handstand pushups or jumping while passing a rope under their feet once or twice either, but those are good Gym Life(tm) movements for developing what you'll use in Real Life(tm). Just like a leg extension can be decent for developing quads which are useful for moving, even if we never sit in chairs and move weights with our legs like that in Real Life(tm).


The first few steps of a Fireman's Drag/Carry (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1a/Firemans_carry.jpg , safe for family/work) would lift the person with arms supinated and bent. People are also more like sandbags than like barbells, which necessitates a technique different than the standard gym deadlift, which is often claimed to be what you'd use to pick something off the ground.


Of course, most "bodybuilders" I am aware of also squat and deadlift. That is, the same group doing curls and leg extensions is also probably deadlifting and squatting. I am also certain that at least a few people in the world have bucked hay quite expertly without doing clean and jerks.


Justin

15

Maury Birdwell wrote …

I agree with the overall doctrine of using functional, full ROM movements. But I also agree that some movements done in a Crossfit gym are fairly specific to a gym setting. The epitomy of this for me are GHD situps and back extensions. Without that very specific piece of equipment I don't see those movements being replicated in real life. I'm curious what the defense for these movements is? (Obviously they help develop core strength and the full anterior/posterior chain)

16

replied to comment from Dane Thomas

Whether or not the term 'jerk' is artificial or not doesn't really make a difference (I am pretty sure that all terms are artificial anyway ;) ). The fact is that we are talking about a jerk and that has some set of "rules" to it and it does not include a press - therefore it doesn't make sense that coach is using the term as a more inclusive term for "press".

So either coach was not talking about a (olympic) jerk, in which case I would ask for his definition of "jerk" or the word is used out of context, which I also would like to know.

17

replied to comment from Roland Jungwirth

Roland,
You are right and wrong. Your facts are correct about momentum generated by the hips and pressing out in Oly competitions, but there is still a violent pressing action in the jerk. The hips definitely initiate the force violently and finish the movement to standing with the arms locked out.

But make no mistake about it. When you get anywhere near max loads, you are pressing the weight up (and your hips down) with supreme effort. The shoulder and arm musculature involved and mechanical actions performed are virtually identical with the press. The movement of the bar may come primarily from the actions of the hips, but there is still substantial action in the upper body.

In other words, the jerk is an evolution of the press, not a different species.

18

replied to comment from Justin Smith

19

wrote …

The jerk is also the third derivative of position with respect to time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerk_(physics)

On a separate note, I'm trying to reconcile how the Zone/nutrition in general is so important (on the bottom of the pyramid of Nutrition > Metcon > Gymnastics > Weightlifting > Sport). I've taken from this video the following (as an answer to "What is CrossFit?"): A mechanical (not biochemical/molecular) approach to measuring and optimizing fitness.

Is it simply that the Zone is the biochemical/molecular path (as opposed to mechanical) to optimize our genetic potential or advance human performance (and we measure the effects of this mechanically)?

Any thoughts?

20

replied to comment from Maury Birdwell

Maury...Fair point about some exercises being more "gym like" than cavemanish.

However, you see back flexion/extension all the time in a normal day of people watching at, say...the mall. Check out how most people pickup a shopping bag and determine if it's with a static trunk + dynamic hip OR fixed hip and rolling extension of the back.

To address the GHD Machine specifically, one of the best benefits is it's use as a teaching tool to establish what is and is not a stable midline (and develop progressions for improving midline stability). Back extensions deliberately block the hip and force the trunk to work dynamically (one of the rare movements in CF to do so). Done smartly, it's a great "don't do this in a deadlift" conversation to have with athletes, and trains the erectors dynamically, which happens in day to day life all the time.

The GHD Situp has a ton of functionality, since it primarily uses the abdominals statically to keep the trunk locked in as the hips forcefully close. Check out any hard throwing pitcher, or someone good at splitting wood. Hips generate the majority of the force while the abs fight like hell to hold everything together and transfer that force into the extremities.

It does take up a ton of space, but a pair of 'em will go a long way for building new athletes from the middle out.

21

replied to comment from Maury Birdwell

There is an excellent explanation of the GHD sit up from Coach Glassman on the exercises and demos page, here: http://media.crossfit.com/cf-video/CrossFit_GHDSitupElements.mov

It's a fair question as to where the "face down" movements on the GHD (hip extension, back extension, hip and back extension) would apply in real life, Maury. Two applications come to mind immediately: coaching less experienced athletes and strengthening the core dynamically with an insignificant load.

In the case of the deconditioned client or athlete we are sidestepping functionality slightly to create a common language and spacial orientation for that individual. More often than not, clients entering your facility will lack the crucial body awareness that makes functional movements safe. Most notably the ability to maintain a static trunk while moving dynamically around the hip escapes them to some degree. The hip extension and back extension are invaluable assets to teach this skill. Additionally, as a coach you can create a common language with clients that will transfer directly into the more complex movements, sports and life. There is obvious utility in your athletes comprehension of flexion versus extension, midline stability and hip flexion for example.

For athletes of any caliber, core strength is arguably of paramount importance. CrossFit's definition of the core includes not only the abdominals, but also the hip flexors and spinal erectors. Midline stability is the ability of these groups to work in concert to protect the spine (keep it neutral) through all manner of dynamic movement. The exercises we practice on the GHD (mostly hip extension and GHD sit up) allow athletes to practice this skill with a relatively small load (your body weight) as opposed to the more complex movements (OHS or Deadlift... and other "real life" scenarios) in which deviation from a stable midline offers an opportunity for injury.

22

wrote …

Again an interesting discussion going on.

On a side note, there's something I fail to understand here. In this video I see Coach giving a lecture he's given many, many times before. The audience seems to consist solely of people who have been at the forefront of HQ's activities since like forever. Why is coach giving this lecture to them? They surely have given it themselves more than once? I've read and heard this information multiple times on the Journal, heard it during the Level 1 Cert I attended, even tried to pass it on to others (not so eloquently, and not very successfully). So why is Coach lecturing the likes of Nicole Carrol, Dave Castro, Gregg A, Josh Everett, and so on? I fail to see the point of it. Or maybe I'm failing to see the message of this particular lecture, and someone can point it out to me. Personally I would very much like to hear this all being said by Coach Glassmann, with all of his eloquence and charisma, were I ever in the possibility to hear him speak in person. And if I were a member of HQ's inner circle of co-workers, I would probably want to discuss stuff, new stuff, not hear all this repeated once more. Then again, maybe that's precisely what happened, and we were presented with just a snapshot or an introductory part of what was a much broader discussion? I'm just a bit confused I think.

23

wrote …

Hi Rafael,

Thanks for the questions.

In explaining why we present things like this, I'll quote from your last post:

"I've read and heard this information multiple times on the Journal, heard it during the Level 1 Cert I attended, even tried to pass it on to others (not so eloquently, and not very successfully)."

"What is CrossFit?" is indeed a hard question to answer, even if you've gone to a Level 1 cert or read the Journal since its inception. Having Coach answer the question is valuable for any CrossFitter, and it serves as a great refresher for the elite coaches who represent Coach in the community.

And you are correct: this video is but a small piece of a larger topic.

Mike
CrossFit Journal

24

wrote …

Thanks Mike.

25

replied to comment from Tony Budding

Thank you for clearing it up.

26

replied to comment from Michael Warkentin

Adding to what Mike said, there is a significant piece here that is new. Not new in the sense of changing what we're doing, but rather a new appreciation for the elegant simplicity of functional movements as we define them.

CrossFit programming has always been defined as constantly varied, functional movements at high intensity. We defined the goal (fitness) as increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains. This doesn't change.

What's new, or perhaps novel is a better word, is that all of this is really contained within the functional movements themselves. The intensity and efficacy are there. Competency in the full spectrum of functional movements (again as we define it) is a very good predictor of real world capacity.

It is noteworthy that the term functional is widely (and variously) used, usually without any definition. Technically, our definition is logically tautological, but fortunately this doesn't diminish the efficacy of either the definition or the program. Movements that are natural, essential, safe, efficient, effective, compound yet elemental, universal motor recruitment patterns, maximizing load and distance while minimizing time are the keys to fitness. We talk about variety, intensity, time and modal domains, but in the end, these are just elements of functional movement.

27

replied to comment from Justin Bergh

This is good to know. I don't have a GHD but I do split a fair amount of wood.

28

wrote …

This is one of my favorite videos of Coach explaining what we do and why we do it.

29

wrote …

Tony,

I agree with you that training functional movements implies improving work capacity across broad modal domains.

On the other hand, I don't see how this concept also implies the "broad time domain" aspect of CrossFit's definition of fitness.

For example, I could train exclusively in low rep lifting, 100m and down sprints, and short-duration gymnastics. This training would exclusively consist of varied, and functional movements, performed at high intensity.

I think we can both agree that while effective, such a program would cause my performance to suffer whenever I was exposed to a time domain longer than a minute or so.

30

Russ,

You are probably right to assume that a training regime of short-duration functional movement would leave you ill-prepared for longer duration functional movement. You've asked a good question, and one that I spent some time pondering myself, but I think you also answered it yourself. This sort of hypothetical program wouldn't qualifty as "Constantly Varied" without also varying the time domains in which all functional movements can occur.

In other words, it would be a program of somewhat varied functional movement performed at high-intensity.

31

replied to comment from Joshua Marker

Hi Josh,

I am so happy to see someone make a point and follow-up with an amazingly good question!

I think you're analysis of Crossfit as a purely mechanical approach to optimizing human performance is spot on. As to whether Zone if "simply" the bio-chemical route to said goal, I guess I'd have to say that it is the layman's version of it. Obviously we all know that there will be one or two, or maybe hundreds, of gastro-enterologists and biochemical engineers that will debate the perfection of Zone, but I think for most clients of Crossfit, it approximates a good system easy enough. The same could be said of Weight Watchers, or anything that gets someone to stop looking at food as something they LOVE, and turns it into units of energy, as it should be seen. On the bio-chemical front, yes, your nutrition is they key to hormonal production. If Zone is your nutrition, then yes, that means it is the primary variable in your personal bio-chemical equation.

Personally, I don't use Zone, simply because I am blessed with a great metabolism, and especially when Crossfitting, simply have to eat more. On the other hand, my insane girlfriend (who always need to lose weight, WTF), has done Weight Watchers, and by proxy, that means that I have done it also. So I would make her portion, and I would just eat double.

Cheers,

Josh

32

wrote …

Hi Everybody!

I think it is important again to state that Crossfit is, simply, an information system. An information system provides tools with which one can make informed choices and develop their own system which if perfected (in theory) for them specifically. This is what I have always held to, and I think that comes from my background in strength & conditioning, and performance nutrition. Every person is different and obviously, not everyone in Crossfit, on the Crossfit Journal, in the Communities, or on the Forums are "Pure Bred" Crossfiters. Some like bodybuilding, some like powerlifting, some like rugby, some like running, etc, etc, etc. This colors our view of what Crossfit is, and should be.

It is also imperative to remember that all things are inteconnected. Beyond that Zen-like statement is the truth of seated presses being linked to military presses, to to push-presses, to jerks, to split jerks. That was probably one of the best (if not only) lessons I learned from my Crossfit certification. The lessons on progressions MUST be taken in and valued by everyone living any type of fitness lifestyle.

Thanks Y'all,

Josh

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