How to Create a Crossfit Routine for Women

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CrossFit is varied enough to keep you from getting bored and tough enough to peel a few pounds off -- along with your ego -- as you lose fat and gain fitness. You can adapt the Workouts of the Day concept to your home exercise routine, although reviewing proper form and experiencing the program in a community of fellow sufferers led by a certified trainer provides a motivating and low-risk way to start.

The What and Why of CrossFit

  • CrossFit is a program to follow solo or with a trainer, as part of a regular class in a gym space or "box." The routines are designed to build strength and conditioning. CrossFit uses a variety of physical challenges, from pull-ups, to kettlebell swings and plyometric box jumping for a total body workout.

    WODs, or workouts of the day, isolate movements used in daily life, in timed repetitions that push you to track -- and improve -- your personal best. Benefits from a CrossFit program include:

    • a constant variety of moves to keep you motivated;
    • improved cardio fitness, muscle endurance, flexibility, and range of motion;
    • efficient fat burning;
    • more fitness in less time due to bursts of high-intensity training;
    • exercises that adapt to your level;
    • and increased confidence as you master new skills and see the difference in your daily activities and sports performances.

Scaling for Women

  • CrossFit benchmark workouts specify weights to be used for the exercises, and the weights are the same for men and women. This unisex weight prescription is the subject of an ongoing debate in the CrossFit community.

    Proponents argue that lowering weight for women undervalues their potential strength. The counter argument, that women are physically slighter -- in general -- than men and should scale the exercises to a more realistic weight, has gained traction in some training centers. Coaches who scale tend to use about 65 to 70 percent of the prescribed men's weight as a benchmark for women.

    So, a male might do Fran with a 95-pound barbell and a female might do the same WOD, using a 65-pound barbell. Working at a rough scale of about 68 percent of CrossFit weights may provide more women with motivation to stick with the program.

Foundational Moves

  • CrossFit's Nine Foundational Moves entail increasingly complex exercises that progress from bodyweight strength training to weightlifting, in three levels.

    • Level one includes the air squat, front squat and overhead squat.
    • Level two is the shoulder press, push press and push jerk.
    • Level three is the deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull and medicine ball clean.

    Mastering good form for foundational moves is the key to increasing intensity in safe workouts -- or being able to follow the program at all. Before starting a CrossFit program it's a good idea to take a few classes that emphasize form -- and work up from there. If you have trouble with barbells, learn correct form with a length of PVC pipe or unloaded bar. Ultimately, you build the strength and muscle memory to nail the workouts of the day, and establish an effective CrossFit practice at home.

Build a WOD Routine

  • CrossFit suggests a three-days on, one-day off schedule for efficient high-intensity workouts with a recovery day. Exercises mix M, metabolic conditioning or cardio, with G -- gymnastics and W -- weightlifting.

    M exercises include running, biking, rowing and jumping rope.
    G exercises include bodyweight work, such as squats, pull-ups, pushups, sit-ups, jumps, lunges, dips and rope climbs.
    W exercises include deadlifts, cleans, jerks, kettlebell swings, medicine ball drills, presses and snatches.

    Set up a schedule with single, couplet and triplet exercises -- just one from each group designated for that day. So, your 12-day progression would be: days 1, 5 and 9 -- a single exercise; days 2, 6, and 10 -- one exercise from each of two groups; days 3, 7, and 11 -- one exercise from each of the three groups. Days 4, 8 and 12 are recovery days. (see reference 4)

Sample Days 1, 2 and 3

  • The first day, work deliberately to perfect your form in a longer, slow repetition to solidify a skill. An M day 1 might be a 10K run; a G day might be 45 minutes of handstand practice. A W day could be a single lift, like a deadlift, using a high weight and low reps.

    On day 2, repeat a couplet of two moves three to five times or more, for time. An example of a G/W, two-exercise day might be a set number of handstand pushups and kettlebell swings, repeated and timed. Score yourself on how long it takes to complete the predetermined number of reps.

    A day 3 M/G/W workout could be a 400-meter run, 10 pull-ups and 15 thrusters with a barbell performed in rotation for 20 minutes. Your day three score is the number of reps you can complete in that 20 minutes.

Do Two -- The Couplet

  • It might sound like a cakewalk to do just two exercises in your workout, but once you do them 10 times apiece, you'll develop some respect. Start with a 25-yard Farmer's Walk, using free weights or kettlebells -- any weight with a handle you can grip -- one for each hand. Place the weights shoulder-width apart next to you, stand between them, reach down and grab the weights and walk quickly for 25 yards.

    Next do 10 basic burpees: stand with feet shoulder-width apart; squat; place hands on the floor and kick your feet back for pushup position; lower your chest to the floor; back to pushup; kick your feet to squat; stand, jump and clap your hands over your head. That was one. Do 10, then go back to Farmer's Walks. Time yourself for 10 reps of both exercises. Next session, beat your own time.

The Benchmarks

  • Benchmark WODs are called "The Girls" because, for simplicity, these standard WODs each have a female name. Benchmarks come up frequently in class schedules; they are a handy way to measure progress and track your improvement in time and form.

    "Fran" is a perennial favorite that is fairly brutal -- er, challenging. Do one round of two consecutive exercises -- thrusters and pull-ups -- for time. The recommended barbell weight for women is 65 pounds, but weight should match your ability. A certified CrossFit trainer can help you to find the appropriate weight to work safely. Fran is 21 thrusters with a barbell -- stand with the barbell cleaned to your shoulders, squat and stand again, thrusting the barbell overhead for one rep. Follow thrusters with 21 pull-ups, then 15 thrusters, 15 pull-ups, nine thrusters and nine pull-ups. Do just the one round and time it -- 90 moves, no mercy.

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