What Is CrossFit?

Constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. This is the definition of CrossFit.  As a CrossFitter I am sure you have heard this more than once. This description is very accurate and precise and even though it says everything, it satisfies no one, as quoted by the CrossFit Founder, Greg Glassman.  As a trainer, I say this phrase all of the time, but I never truly understood what it meant until recently. For this week’s Skyline CrossFit blog I am going to break down the definition of CrossFit so that we can all understand exactly what we were doing. The why of what we do is not just important, it is everything.

We will start piece by piece.

Constantly Varied. This can broken down into one word: variance. Why variance? To be blunt, if you tell me that you have a routine, a leg day and a chest day for example, I can immediately tell you what you suck at. If there is a pattern or routine to your fitness “plan,” there is a deficiency. Deficiency is the space in between your patterns of movement; the things we do not do. We as humans and athletes require a pattern that has no pattern. Routine is the enemy.

Intensity. This is such a great buzz word.  Intensity gets tossed around more in the fitness world more than the words protein powder and gainz.

Some branches of the fitness community measure intensity as how red your face gets and how loud you grunt next to your buddies. I do not have to explain why this is a bad measure of intensity.

Other areas of the fitness community measure intensity based on their heart rate. This is far from accurate. Increased heart rate is a correlate to intensity, but a terrible measure of it. For example, if I ride a roller coaster or get pulled over by the police, my heart rate will rise, but am I becoming more fit from this? No. My rapid heart rate did not suddenly turn my speeding ticket into a work out simply based on the “intensity” of its beat.

Intensity is defined by power. What is power? The true definition of Power is Force times Distance over Time.


How much did you move? How far did you move it? How long did it take?
That is power.
How fast and how hard? 
That is intensity.

Intensity is the best answer to all of our fitness goals because it is measurable and relative to the person performing the work.

If intensity is the best answer to all your fitness goals then why don’t most people do it? Because it sucks. It’s hard. That’s why people choose the tambourine instead of the violin. Why they major is sociology not physics. That’s the difference between successful people and and unsuccessful people. Successful people pursue hard things, unsuccessful avoid them. Running long slow distances will make you good at just that, long slow distances but nothing else. Just like playing the tambourine will only get better at the tambourine, that doesn’t make you a musician.
— Greg Glassman

Functional Movement. A lot of people have a hard time articulating what function movement is. They theoretically understand it, but have a hard time expressing it verbally.  I myself have been stumped trying to explain functional movement to athletes. I often over think it, but then remind myself that there is indeed a very simple answer. Functional Movement is defined by Greg Glassman as “movements that are categorically unique in their ability to express power.”  Now that we know how to measure power, we can express these functional movements on paper; it is quantifiable. These movements decidedly have the advantage of moving large loads for long distances and doing it quickly. Bicep curls, lateral raises, and skull crushers do not move heavy loads for a long distance very fast. Think of the distance between your elbow moving from the extended position, to bent during a bicep curl. This is not very far, the weight is exponentially low, and the weight does not go anywhere anytime quickly. Squats, cleans, and deadlifts move a heavy load, a long distance (floor to end position), and do so extremely fast. They get the most work done in the least amount of time, as they are more powerful movements. They are efficient and effective and are seen everywhere. They are on a construction site, on the football field, and in combat. Functional movements are built into our DNA, they are a part of who we are.

In light of all of this information, do not be so quick to consider getting “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” tattooed across your forehead. As trainers and athletes we say these words until we are blue in the face, but as I explained earlier, while this definition says everything, it does not mean anything to the person who does not define variation, intensity, and functional properly. My goal is that by breaking down the definition of CrossFit into definable terms, meaning they can be found in any dictionary, we may be able to give you the tools to also define CrossFit to yourself and to those who may be curious as to what CrossFit is.  In a nutshell, we do more work than anyone else and that is our objective.

Dylan experiencing "intensity."

Dylan experiencing "intensity."