How To Build a CrossFit Home Gym
World-Class Fitness at Home
What do you need - and how much will it cost - to start doing CrossFit at home? This article will help you sort through the myriad home fitness products out there, and prioritize which is most important.
Image used under Creative Commons from Amber Karnes
Building Your Own Minimalist Gym
So you've looked at the CrossFit program, and how it can benefit you, and decided to get started. You might want to join a local CrossFit gym - at least for a few months - so that the coaches can make sure your technique is good. You'll be a lot safer if you know what you're doing. Once you're ready to go on your own, what do you need?
Here is the bare minimum you need for your CrossFit program:
1. A good Olympic barbell and bumper plates. Powerlifting, Olympic lifting, and other weightlifting movements are a key component of CrossFit. (I'll get into specifics below.)
2. Something to do pullups on. I recommend a good set of rings, but you can use a bar, tree branch, or even the edge of a porch. Just make sure whatever it is is sturdy.
That will get you through about half of the CrossFit workouts as prescribed, and you can use this equipment to substitute for most of the rest.
Image used under Creative Commons from drewgstephens.
Just Starting Out
Inexpensive and essential.
Great way to do pullups without taking up too much space.
On Barbells and Bumper Plates
What's the difference between barbell types, and what type should you get? If you're only getting one bar, make sure it is an Olympic bar of good quality. Olympic bars' sleeves rotate, which means that the weight plates will stay in the same position when you rotate the bar during cleans, snatches, and some overhead movements. They also flex, which helps you build momentum to complete the movement. Powerlifting bars are a little thicker, and are designed for the slower movements like deadlifts and squats. Standard bars are the least expensive, but they're really not built for heavy lifting, and believe me, your deadlift will be heavy soon enough. I wouldn't waste time with a standard bar.
Bars also feature different patterns of grips (knurling) and finishes. For most beginners, the knurling won't make a big difference - just find something you're comfortable with. As for the finish, just keep in mind that bare steel will need to be treated with oil every so often, especially if you store the bar outside.
Be sure to get bumper plates that are all rubber, with a steel insert. If you ever need to drop a weight while working out, you don't want your equipment to break on impact. Brass inserts are usually cheaper, but can bend when dropped.
Image used under Creative Commons from Athletic Trainer Academy.
These plates can take a beating and keep working. NOTE: the picture shows 15- and 35-pound plates, which DO NOT come with this set. Those weights are available separately, though.
As mentioned above, your barbell and rings will get you through most workouts on their own. Below is a quick list of some other stuff to outfit your home gym. The order is how I would prioritize, based on a not-at-all scientific combination of how often they're used, price, and how much space they take up.
1. Medicine Balls
You'll be throwing and catching these things, so go with a soft surface. In standard CrossFit workouts, men generally use 20 pounds, women use 14. Alternatively, cut two sides of a small triangle into a basketball, creating a "valve." Using a funnel, fill the ball with sand. This is kind of a tricky process, so be patient with it. Finally, cover the valve with tape, then cover the entire outside of the ball with grippy tape.
The soft leather shell is ideal if you plan to throw and catch the ball.
2. Kettle Bells
Try to find kettlebells that have no moving parts or seams in the handle (which can cause blisters). In CrossFit workouts, kettlebell weights are often prescribed in terms of a "pood." To save you a headache, a pood is equal to 36 pounds. The most common weights in CrossFit are 36, 54, and 72 pounds. If you are a beginner, you might want to start lighter, then add to your collection as you advance.
Kettlebells are versatile and effective for all types of conditioning and mobility work.
Depending on where you are dropping your weights, some 3/4-inch rubber mats or horse stall mats can save your floors. These are surprisingly expensive, though. If you'd rather not cover the entire floor with mats, here is a guide for a do-it-yourself weightlifting platform that measures 8-feet x 8-feet square.
4. Plyo Boxes
Just like flooring, plyo boxes can be a little pricey. But they're handy for scaling different workouts, like pushups or dips. Plus, you can make your own with some 2x4 boards and a sheet of plywood. Common height for men is 24 inches, and 20 for women. Again, if you're just starting out, there's no shame in working on 12 or 16 inches for a while.
Adjustable to three different heights.
Just like the bumper plates, you're better off going with the rubber "hex" dumbbells. Iron is the next best choice. Use removable dumbbell plates as a last resort, since the collars are notoriously prone to sliding off.
The rubber coating protects your walls and floors.
6. Squat Stand or Cage
Cages are nice, since they also give you a pull-up bar, and maybe even some plate storage. But they're expensive and take up a lot of space. Plus, they're often too small to do Olympic lifts inside - especially anything overhead. I would go with some simple stands to hold my bar.
Not essential, but a squat stand can certainly be convenient.
One last thing...
Make sure someone is there to get your score in case you pass out.
Okay, readers, let me know if you prioritize differently, or have had success with different equipment.