CrossFit for Beginners: The Complete Guide

Almost every avid CrossFitter knows someone (or was someone) who didn’t understand or felt intimidated by CrossFit at first.

There’s a lot to know about the sport. Between the dozens of acronyms you’ll hear coaches use to the extensive list of exercises and pieces of equipment you must learn, the whole process can feel overwhelming.

But one big misconception is that there’s no way to ramp up slowly or do CrossFit for beginners.

There definitely is, although it might look different than you’d expect. But basically anyone can get fit, add strength, or lose weight with CrossFit by just getting started.

This CrossFit for beginners guide will teach you everything you need to know.

*You should always consult a doctor before starting any new fitness regimen. The information in this article should not be used as a substitute for medical advice. We’ll explain why CrossFit is safer than some believe later on, but be sure to speak with a doctor first if you have movement, limitations, suffer from chronic disease(s), or have an extended history of injuries.

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit is a high-intensity exercise regimen designed to help people get fit, strong, lean, and healthy. It was created by Greg Glassman and Lauren Jenai in 2000 but has soared in popularity in the last decade-plus.

CrossFit HQ defines it like this:

Constantly varied highly functional movements performed at high (or relatively high) intensity.

  • Constantly varied refers to the fact that individual workouts change every day. One day might be cardio-centric while the next day could focus solely on strength or gymnastics. Or it could be some combination of the three!
  • Highly functional means CrossFit emphasizes movement patterns we use outside the gym. Squats, running, pressing overhead, picking up heavy weights, and building stability in our core are just a few examples.
  • High intensity means many CrossFit workouts involve a timed component. Your goal is to not only be good at the exercises, but to be able to perform them under duress when your heart rate is elevated.

The term ‘GPP’, or general physical preparedness, pretty much sums up these three components. CrossFit aims to prepare you for the physical requirements of life.

Can Beginners Do CrossFit?

Absolutely. Although as a beginner, your workouts may look different. You may need to scale some movements or avoid some exercises until you build up the prerequisite strength and skill. 

Beginner WODs follow the same principals and use the same movement patterns as regular CrossFit workouts. They are just modified for people who are new to the sport.

Here are some ways a coach might modify a CrossFit workout (with an example):

  • Reduce time. Cutting a workout’s length from 20 minutes to 10, from 30 to 15, etc.
  • Reduce the number of repetitions
  • Reduce the number of rounds. Cutting a workout from 5 rounds to 3.
  • Reduce weight. Scaling a barbell weight from 95lbs to 65lbs or reducing dumbbell weights from 35lbs to 20lbs
  • Simplify the difficulty of an exercise. Substituting a dumbbell ground to overhead press instead of a dumbbell snatch.
  • Reduce impact. Taking out box jumps if you have joint pain or a history of knee injuries.

Most CrossFit coaches scale workouts as little as possible (while still keeping you safe). They do this because the goal is to eventually get you to do the WOD as prescribed (or “as RX’d”).

How to Start CrossFit

It may sound cliche or even unhelpful to an outsider, but the best way to start CrossFit is, truly, to just start. The longer you wait, the longer it will take you to start changing your life and fitness.

It’s a common misconception about CrossFit that it’s only for advanced athletes. 

If you’ve ever watched the CrossFit games, it’s clear why people feel this way. CrossFit Games athletes lift heavy weights, perform complicated gymnastics exercises, and run blistering-fast speeds. They’re almost superhuman!

But keep in mind, only a small percentage (less than 1 percent) of CrossFit athletes compete in the games. 

The vast majority are everyday people simply looking to stay healthy and fit. So the sooner you get those first few workouts under your belt, the better!

How to Find a CrossFit Gym

It’s easy to find a CrossFit gym in your area. Because the sport has grown so much, you’ll have a number of options to choose from. As of 2019, there are more than 15,000 CrossFit affiliates in more than 150 countries.

You can use the CrossFit affiliate map to find a local gym. Or try google, Yelp, or social media to see what’s in your area. Most gyms offer the first class/week for free so you can try it before signing up.

Some gyms require total newbies to take an onboarding class where you learn the movements in a safe, controlled environment with a dedicated coach and one or two other new athletes. Only after you complete this on-ramping can you take classes.

Just a heads up, CrossFit gyms can be pretty expensive, at least when compared to the cost of a monthly fitness pass at a chain facility or rec center.

In a major city, it’s not uncommon to pay between $150 and $300 a month for a gym membership. Rural areas will still cost you about $100/month at minimum.

What Is a CrossFit Class Like?

CrossFit classes are generally 60 minutes in length and held at a CrossFit facility (commonly referred to as a ‘box’).

While each class is unique, a common template many gyms follow looks like this:

  • 10 to 15 minute warmup. Light cardio, followed by stretches and movements that prepare your body to lift weights and exercise vigorously.
  • 20 minute strength training. 1 or 2 strength exercises for the day. This session typically isn’t timed. If it is, you usually have several minutes in between sets.
  • 20 to 30 minute WOD (workout of the day). A high-intensity workout incorporating several exercises. WODs can be as short as 5 minutes and as long as 40.
  • ~5 minutes of Cool down/stretch. Some gyms also do a strength/skill “cash out” where you drill one exercise at a light intensity to make minor improvements, boost core strength, and reinforce technique.

CrossFit gyms sometimes have unique class offerings, like gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, or cardio bootcamps. The structure/goal of those classes differ from regular CrossFit WODs. 

Can I Do CrossFit At Home?

Definitely! Many CrossFit athletes train at home. 

You’ll need a bunch of equipment to do all the workouts. But if you have some basic fitness equipment (barbell, a pull-up bar, a kettlebell, a jump rope, and a road to run down), you can do tons of CrossFit workouts at home.

However, you may need to invest in equipment in order to do all the CrossFit workouts at your house. 

One reason CrossFit gym memberships are expensive is because of the large amount of equipment necessary to hold group glasses.

What Equipment Do I Need for Crossfit?

CrossFitters need lots of equipment to be able to do the wide range of exercises included in the sport.

Here are some examples of equipment you need to do CrossFit:

You also might need:

This list is obviously long and can become expensive. Purchasing new equipment to do all the WODs usually costs between $3000 and $4000. 

But you can save money by shopping for second hand equipment. You also don’t need everything at once, so you can outfit your gym over time.

CrossFit workouts can also be adjusted. For example, many kettlebell exercises can be subbed for dumbbell exercises and many ring exercises can be done on a pull-up bar.

What Are Beginner CrossFit Workouts?

Beginner CrossFit workouts are scaled back versions of normal “WODs,” or workouts of the day.

For example, below are two popular CrossFit “Girls” workouts. They are some of the oldest repeatable WODs that CrossFit athletes still do today:


“Cindy” WOD

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:
5 pull-ups
10 push-ups
15 air squats

The “Cindy” WOD scaled might look like:

As many rounds as possible in 20 minutes:
5 ring rows
10 push-ups (5 full, 5 on your knees)
15 air squats with limited range of motion

"Nancy" CrossFit Benchmark WOD | Running + Overhead Squats

The “Nancy” WOD

5 rounds for time:
400m run
15 overhead squats, 95lbs

The “Nancy” Wod scaled might look like:

400m run
15 overhead squats using a PVC pipe


3 rounds for time:

400m run
15 overhead squats using a PVC pipe

A coach at the gym will scale the workout for you based on need. If you’re writing your own CrossFit for beginners workouts, do a google search to see how others have modified the session.

Is Crossfit Dangerous?

Some early studies have shown that CrossFit is dangerous. This has become like a label that makes some beginners think they should avoid CrossFit altogether.

These citings come from the link CrossFit has to exercise-induced rhabdomyolysis (‘rhabdo’), a very serious ailment where your body’s muscle tissue begins to break down and gets digested. 

Serious cases of rhabdo can lead to kidney failure and even death if left untreated.

Rhabdo is possible in any type of physical activity setting where you exert yourself. Starting slow, working with a coach, and building up over time will help prevent this fairly rare problem from happening.

Of course, there are other inherent injury risks to participating in any type of fitness activity—muscle injuries, bone breaks, etc. 

But a 2018 study concluded injuries in CrossFit are just as common as they are in Olympic weightlifting, distance running, track and field, and other sports. 

*Remember to consult your physician before starting CrossFit for beginners. These guidelines should not be used as a substitute for medical advice.

FAQ on CrossFit

To wrap up, let’s answer a few questions beginner athletes often ask about CrossFit.

What Should My Nutrition Be When I Do CrossFit?

Like other forms of fitness training, CrossFit is considered a lifestyle as much as it is a fitness routine. Many CrossFitters also follow a specific nutritional approach to enhance their performance during workouts. Others surround themselves with community by joining a local CrossFit gym.

Historically, CrossFit athletes traditionally follow a whole-food, low-sugar diet. In the earliest days of CrossFit, the paleolithic and Zone diet were quite popular.

CrossFit’s website advocates for you to “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”

Speak to your doctor if you have type 2 diabetes or other medical concerns before altering your diet.

Should I Build a Home Gym or Go To a CrossFit affiliate?

It’s really up to you. CrossFit gyms are great for building community and making new friends.

Building a home gym gives you flexibility to workout anytime you want. And even though equipment is expensive, you don’t have to pay the high monthly fees.

Either way, it’s an investment in your health. The question is: do you want to spend a lot of money to outfit your own home gym once, or pay a monthly fee spread out over time?

How Do You Become a CrossFit Coach?

CrossFit coaches hold a Level-1 Certification.

To obtain this cert, athletes attend a 2-day seminar and must also pass a test. This makes them a CrossFit L-1 trainer and allows them to work at local gyms under the CrossFit name.

There Are So Many Workout Programs! Which Should I Follow?

That’s a tricky question to answer. Every CrossFit program you find online is a little different. Look for something that fits your fitness goals or just follow the main site programming to begin.

This is a benefit to joining a gym. You don’t have to worry about writing your own workouts. You simply follow the programming they write for you!

Which Styles of Fitness Training Are Closest To Crossfit?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), Orange Theory, circuit training, and strength sports like powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting are the closest methodologies to CrossFit.