11 Ways to Make CrossFit Less Intimidating
You don't have to be superhuman to do CrossFit.
CrossFit can be intimidating. It’s easy to think that “normal human beings” don’t belong in a CrossFit box (that’s what CrossFitters call their gyms). But there’s far more to CrossFit than the competition. In CrossFit you can build strength, endurance and, most importantly, a community.
The best part of all is that every single move in CrossFit can be modified for beginners. This means that the soccer mom, the grandmother, the weekend warrior and the teen athlete can all work out together.
So lace up your shoes and head to the box, because whether you’re a beginner or an advanced athlete, these CrossFit modifications will help you prevent injury and achieve your goals!
Start With General Modifications
Though there are plenty of specific moves you can modify (see below), it’s important to start with the basics. Here are some easy ways to modify every CrossFit workout to your ability level:
1. Lessen the Weight
In every CrossFit box, there’s an RX (or prescribed) weight. This weight is a baseline for a seasoned CrossFit athlete, but it’s not the necessary weight you must lift to join a workout.
Starting off, you’ll want to modify the weight so that you can perform it with perfect form, but it should still be somewhat difficult. If you’re new to CrossFit, this may mean you’re completing movements without weight (e.g., an air squat instead of a back squat) or that you’re performing movements with just an unloaded barbell.
2. Lower the Reps
Just as there’s a prescribed weight, there are also prescribed reps. If a workout calls for 150 wall balls and it’s only your second week of CrossFit, lower the repetitions so that your body can adjust to the volume. Try starting with 30 to 50 reps and increasing that number week by week.
3. Modify the Range of Motion
Many CrossFit movements require a certain level of mobility. Overhead movements, such as the overhead squat and the snatch, require a high level of shoulder mobility. If your mobility doesn’t allow for proper form, don’t do the exercise.
It sounds simple, but when the adrenaline is pumping through the box, you may want to do what everyone else is doing. However, this can result in injury. Learn proper movement patterns in the beginning and add weight and movements as your fitness level and mobility progress.
If you’re strong enough to do a movement, but your mobility is the limiting factor, focus on mobility movements and then revisit the strength movement. Remember, practice makes perfect. If you practice moves with improper form, you’ll perfect improper form.
11 Modified CrossFit Exercises
Haven’t mastered a specific move yet? Try one of these 11 modifications/swaps to get the most out of your CrossFit workout.
Do ring rows until you've mastered the pull-up.
1. INSTEAD OF: Pull-Ups, DO: Ring Rows
The pull-up is one of the most challenging upper-body movements, and it’s a staple in CrossFit. There are various ways to modify this move, but one of the best ways is with a ring row. If you want to make this move less challenging, take away the box and place your feet on the ground.
HOW TO DO IT: Hold the rings in your hands with your feet straight out in front of you, resting on a box. The lower your body is to the ground, the more difficult this movement will be. Tighten your abs and glutes and pull your body up to the rings, squeezing your lat muscles like you are trying to pinch a penny between your shoulder blades. Slowly lower back to the starting position and repeat.
A resistance band helps with ring rows.
2. INSTEAD OF: Ring Dips, DO: Banded Dips
Ring dips are an extremely challenging upper-body movement, but, fortunately, banded dips are an easy way to get the hang of them. For greater assistance, use a heavier band. If you need less assistance, use a lighter band.
HOW TO DO IT: Loop a band around one of the rings and place the other side of the band on the other ring. Place a hand on each ring, securing the band in place. Place one knee into the looped band to support your body weight. Slowly lower yourself into a dip so that your biceps touch the rings. Push away from the rings to return to the starting position.
Don't be intimidated! Work your way up to a muscle-up.
3. INSTEAD OF: Muscle-Ups, DO: Rowing Muscle-Ups
For this modification, while you’re mimicking the muscle-up movement, the weight of your body is placed against your legs, allowing your leg muscles to assist you.
HOW TO DO IT: Hold on to the rings like you would when performing a ring row. Place your feet on top of a box close to the rings so that your knees are bent and most of your weight can be placed on your feet. Hang from the rings so that your upper body is lower than your hips. Pull your chest up to the rings like a ring row, and then transition your body into the start of the dip position and press up out of the rings.
Yes! You can learn to do pistol squats.
4. INSTEAD OF: Pistols, DO: Pistols With a Band
The pistol, or one-legged squat, is an extremely advanced gymnastics move that’s a staple of CrossFit. If you don’t have a band, you can replicate this by holding on to a rig or sturdy object.
HOW TO DO IT: To modify a pistol squat, loop a band over a pull-up bar so that it hangs down. Wrap the band under your armpits and grab the band above you. Slowly lower down into a one-legged squat by raising your nonworking leg up to a parallel position to the ground.
Just a small tweak can help you master the kettlebell swing.
5. INSTEAD OF: American Kettlebell Swings, DO: Russian Kettlebell Swings
American kettlebell swings are overhead kettlebell swings. For someone with limited shoulder mobility or poor core activation, raising the weight overhead can put your shoulder in a dangerous position. To modify this and prevent injury, perform Russian kettlebell swings.
HOW TO DO IT: Begin with the kettlebell in both hands and knees slightly bent. Hinge at the hips and bring the kettlebell between your legs. Squeeze your glutes as you thrust your hips forward and drive the kettlebell up in front of you to eye height. Hinge back at the hip, allowing the kettlebell to come back between your legs.
It's OK to sit down on the job for this one.
6. INSTEAD OF: Overhead Squats, DO: Overhead Box Squats
Overhead squats can be a difficult movement for some due to the extreme level of mobility needed to complete this movement safely. If you have limited hip mobility, place a box behind you.
HOW TO DO IT: With a wide grip, lift the barbell overhead and place your feet a little wider than shoulder width. Send your glutes back and down as you squat onto the box. Once your glutes touch the box, rise back up to standing.
Start with this modification until you build upper body strength.
7. INSTEAD OF: Handstand Push-Ups, DO: Inverted Box Push-Ups
Handstand push-ups are a favorite move of CrossFitters, but they require immense shoulder strength. Luckily, this move can be modified with inverted box push-ups. Placing your feet on the box takes away a great deal of weight from your upper body. If you need to modify further, take the box away and perform this movement with your feet on the ground in a pike position.
HOW TO DO IT: Start by placing a box on the ground with a mat in front of it. Place your feet on top of the box with your hands on the ground on either side of the mat, and keep your legs as straight as possible in a pike position. Lower your head down to the mat and press yourself back up to the starting position.
This one will take you back to elementary school gym class.
8. INSTEAD OF: Rope Climbs, DO: Seated Rope Climbs
Rope climbs are a favorite movement of CrossFitter’s, but they require a ton of upper-body strength. To begin working toward a rope climb, start with seated rope climbs.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on the ground in front of a rope with your legs straight out in front of you. Place your hands straight up and grip the rope with one hand stacked over the other. Pull your body up the rope while keeping your feet on the floor. Support your legs with your feet on the floor. Hand over hand, walk your way up the rope until you’re standing. Lower back down with control and repeat.
Save the plyo for when you've built up a good base of strength.
Box jumps are a fantastic plyometric workout, but the impact can take a toll on your joints and Achilles tendon. A great way to modify these is by stepping up to a box instead of jumping.
HOW TO DO IT: Place one foot on a box in front of you and step up onto it, keeping your knee behind your toes. Raise your opposite knee up to hip height. Step back down and repeat.
Each rep is easier, so you'll do twice as many reps.
10. INSTEAD OF: Double Unders, DO: Single Unders
Double unders are a signature CrossFit move in which the jump rope passes underneath your body twice in one jump. The perfect way to modify this movement is by completing single unders, aka basic rope jumping.
HOW TO DO IT: Begin with the handle of the rope in each hand. As you jump up, rotate the rope under your feet and over your head. If a workout requires 20 double unders, you should complete 40 single unders to match the energy output of the double unders.
Your abs will be on fire after this one!
11. INSTEAD OF: Toes to Bar, DO: Knees to Elbows
Toes to bar require grip strength, shoulder mobility and hamstring flexibility. To modify this exercise, you can do knees to elbows.
HOW TO DO IT: Hang on a pull-up bar in a hollow-body position. Kip your body backward to gain momentum and pull your knees up to your elbows (or as high as possible), then return back down to the starting position. If you don’t have a kip yet, you can perform it without, but lower the prescribed reps because your time under tension will be greater.
Collette Stohler is the author of Passport to Fitness. She is also the creative director and co-founder of the travel blog, Roamaroo. She was an All-American Track and Field athlete & Olympic trials qualifier in Olympic Weightlifting. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and received a master's degree from the University of Miami.