The 10 best CrossFit exercises for beginners, according to two professional CrossFit trainers
- The best CrossFit exercises for beginners include air squats, deadlifts, and burpees.
- You don't need a specific gym to do them, either, as many can be done wherever there's equipment.
Even though CrossFit may bring to mind images of tire flips, rope climbs, and sled pushes, most CrossFit exercises are far less intense and dangerous. There are basic CrossFit exercises that anyone, regardless of fitness level, can do.
CrossFit is one of the most popular fitness methods in the United States, as there are more than 5,000 CrossFit-affiliated gyms across the country. But if you've never done the workout yourself, you might be wondering where to start.
Below are 10 of the best CrossFit exercises for beginners, including insight from two CrossFit trainers on how to properly do each one.
1. Barbell deadlift
Equipment needed: A barbell and weight plates
The barbell deadlift involves a hip hinge while holding onto a barbell. Deadlifts are a full-body exercise that allows you to practice hauling things from the ground (i.e. packages on the porch).
1. Stand with feet hips-width apart and a loaded barbell pressed to your shins.
2. Keeping a flat back and tight core, bend at your waist and press butt back to hinge towards the bar.
3. Grab the bar with straight arms and your hands shoulder-width apart.
4. Screw your pinkies into the bar to engage lats, then drive the middle part of your foot through the floor to pull the bar up along your legs to return to standing.
5. Squeeze your glutes while standing.
6. Repeat for 8 to 12 reps.
Equipment needed: A mat or none
"People love to hate the burpee because they're hard," says Golden Goose CrossFit founder and CrossFit Level 1 trainer, Kyle Baughman. Indeed, even a set of three is likely to leave you out of breath. But as a full-body exercise, the burpee is an excellent way to improve the strength and efficiency of a variety of muscles in your body.
1. Start in a standing position with your feet hips-width apart.
2. Bend knees and press your butt back into a squat position.
3. From the bottom of the squat, press palms into the ground so they're directly under your shoulders.
4. Keeping your arms straight, hop your feet back into a high plank.
5. Lower your body to the ground, then press back up into a plank.
6. Jump your feet to either side of your hands then stand back up.
7. Clap your hands over your head when you're in the air to complete one rep.
8. Do as many reps as you can in 1 minutes. Rest 1 minutes. Then, repeat 4 to 5 times.
3. Air squat
Equipment needed: A mat or none
There's no shortage of weighted squat movements in CrossFit. "Learning the air squat is fundamental for learning all other loaded squat movements in the sport," says Baughman.
1. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hips-width, toes turned out at 15 to 30 degrees.
2. Keeping chest upright, simultaneously bend knees and bump butt back behind you.
3. Continue lowering until your butt is lower than your knees, or until your form alters.
4. Press through your feet to return to standing, squeezing your glutes at the top.
5. Repeat for a cycle of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for four total minutes.
4. Wall ball
Equipment needed: Medicine ball and a sturdy, open wall
"From the arches of your feet to the tips of your fingers, this basic movement uses every muscle in your body," says Golden Goose assistant coach and CrossFit Level 1 trainer, Andrew Girard.
The wall ball is a compound movement combining a squat and press into one move.
1. Stand an arm's length away from a wall with a medicine ball between your feet.
2. Position your feet at squats distance with your toes pointed out.
3. Pick the ball up and hold it chest high, elbows angled into your sides.
4. With your core tight and chest tall, squat down.
5. Drive through your heels, explode back to standing, and throw the ball at the wall above you.
6. Keep your arms outreached to catch the ball on its return, then lower it to your sternum.
7. Immediately lower back into a squat to initiate your next rep.
8. Continue until you've completed 10 to 20 reps. Rest as needed, then repeat another 10 to 20 reps. You can add more reps in future exercises as you start to progress.
5. Hollow hold
Equipment needed: A mat
The hollow hold is a foundational movement that teaches body control and core activation. It also gives you the baseline strength and body awareness you need to try higher-level movements.
1. Lie on the floor, with your legs outstretched, facing up and press your lower back into the ground to engage your core.
2. Bring your arms overhead into a dive position with your biceps pressed against your ears.
3. Lift your legs and upper back up a few inches off the ground.
4. Hold this position as long as you can without bending your knees or lowering your back to the ground
Equipment needed: Running shoes
Running is pretty straightforward, but to make sure you have the right form which can help prevent injury, here's a basic guide:
1. Start by striding one leg in front of the other.
2. Keep your midline (your spine and core) activated and gaze forward to protect your lower back.
3. As your arms swing, focus on keeping your hands loose and elbows angled.
Equipment needed: A rowing machine
Rowing machines are commonly used in CrossFit and according to Girard, they efficiently work your entire body, including your cardiovascular system.
It's important to know how to properly row to get the most out of the exercise.
1. Sit on the seat with bent knees and strap your feet into its foot pedals.
2. Grab the handle with straight arms with your palms facing down.
3. Slide forward on the seat until your knees are fully bent with your arms outstretched and back straight. (Make sure your heels are not raised and in contact with the foot pedals.)
4. Keeping your back straight and arms outstretched, push your heels into the pedals until your legs are straight.
5. With your legs straight, use your lats to pull the handle to your sternum.
6. Hinge forward at your waist and release your arms back out in front of you.
7. Then, bend your knees to return to the starting position.
8. Repeat that movement to continue rowing.
8. Strict pull-up
Equipment needed: A pull-up bar
Strict pull-ups increase your stability, according to Baughman. "It also increases strength throughout the entire midline and upper body," he says.
1. Grab a pull-up bar with your palms facing away from your body and shoulder-width apart.
2. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes and quads to create tension in your body.
3. Screw your pinkies into the bar to activate your lats and pull your elbows straight down until your chest touches the bar.
4. While maintaining a tight position, lower back down to a hanging position and repeat.
QTB: If you can't do a strict pull-up, swap it out for a ring row (explained below). Or, switch to a banded strict pull-up, which offers the same benefits, according to Baughman.
9. Standing ring row
Equipment needed: A set of hanging rings
"The ring row is a great beginner's alternative to the strict pull-up," says Baughman. Why? Because it works the same muscle-groups. But since your feet remain planted on the ground, you don't have to pull quite the same load horizontally as you do during a pull-up.
You do need to have access to a set of hanging rings, however.
1. Set rings at shoulder-width.
2. Grip each ring so your palms face each other.
3. Hang under the rings with your feet planted on the ground and your hands (and rings) chest height.
4. Walk your feet out as much as your current fitness level allows. (The more horizontal your body, the more difficult the exercise will be).
5. Flatten your back by engaging your core.
6. With your feet set, pull down on the rings with your lats and pull your chest to the rings, letting your elbows go behind your body as you do.
7. Keep a rigid body as you lower back to start and repeat the movement.
10. Barbell clean and jerk
Equipment needed: A barbell and weight plates
The barbell clean and jerk is a technical lift involving taking something from the ground and bringing it overhead in two separate movements.
"The clean and jerk takes a lot of practice to perfect but learning it helps develop power, strength and speed," says Baughman.
1. Stand with feet hips-width apart and a loaded barbell pressed against your shins.
2. Maintain a neutral spine and hinge forward with straight arms to grab the barbell with an overhand grip, hands shoulder-width.
3. Screw pinkies into the bar and think about squeezing a lemon between your shoulder blades to activate your lats.
4. In one movement, straighten your legs and pull up on the bar.
5. When the bar passes your mid-thigh, use the momentum from your hips to get the bar to your shoulders.
6. Shrug your shoulders and rotate your elbows under the bar as it passes your midline to get the bar in a front rack position.
7. Straighten your legs to complete the lift.
8. Keeping a tall chest, push your knees out slightly and sit into an 1/8th of a squat.
9. Immediately change directions, using the momentum to press the bar from shoulder height overhead.
The footage of CrossFit you might see on TV often tricks people into thinking its exercises aren't beginner-friendly. But CrossFit is accessible to all fitness levels.
"Every CrossFit exercise can be scaled to a variation that takes your current skill and strength into account," says Baughman.
Ranging from the complex clean and jerk to the basic air squat, the 10 CrossFit exercises above highlight just how true that is.
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