CrossFit is one of the most popular types of group fitness training, and although most people associate CrossFit training as being extremely intense, there are ways to scale CrossFit workouts for beginners.
That said, it is not uncommon for people to join a CrossFit gym and then only participate in CrossFit workouts at the exclusion of other types of training.
Indeed, studies have found that the risk of injuries with CrossFit may be higher than with traditional weightlifting due not only to the high-intensity nature of CrossFit but also the competitive atmosphere that can cause participants to potentially push themselves too hard.1Elkin, J. L., Kammerman, J. S., Kunselman, A. R., & Gallo, R. A. (2019). Likelihood of Injury and Medical Care Between CrossFit and Traditional Weightlifting Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 7(5), 232596711984334. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967119843348
So, how many CrossFit sessions per week should you do? How many CrossFit sessions per week should beginners do? What is the best way to structure CrossFit training plans?
In this guide, we will discuss the different types of CrossFit workouts and what CrossFit training entails, the pros and cons of CrossFit training, and recommendations for how many CrossFit sessions per week you should do based on your fitness level and training goals.
Let’s dive in!
What Are CrossFit Workouts Like?
CrossFit classes are group fitness classes that often feature barbells, strength training platforms, plyo boxes, squat racks, kettlebells, medicine balls, and dumbbells, along with more specialized and unique weight training implements like tires, weight sleds, and battle ropes.
There is also cardio equipment such as rowing machines, jump ropes, and fan bikes used for high-intensity sprints.
Some or all of the equipment may be used in a given class, depending on the style of the CrossFit class and the instructor.Morit Summers, an NSCA-Certified Personal Trainer, CrossFit Athlete, and Founder of FORM Fitness in Brooklyn, New York, says that CrossFit classes are typically one hour long, but within that fairly standardized workout duration, there are many different CrossFit classes.
Different CrossFit gyms will offer different CrossFit classes, and even within a given CrossFit training facility, there will be numerous types of workouts offered throughout the week.
“There are so many different options for what classes might be, from a Strength-based class to a Metcon or a gymnastics-based class,” explains Summers.
“Generally speaking, many times, there is a little bit of everything [in any CrossFit class]: starting off with a warm-up, doing a strength-based movement, and then going into a metcon.“
If you are new to CrossFit training, it may feel like there’s a whole new CrossFit language to learn to understand what type of workout you will be doing.
Although this can feel intimidating, it’s important to have a basic understanding of the different types of CrossFit exercises and CrossFit classes so that you can pick the ones that best meet your fitness goals and current fitness level.
How Many CrossFit Sessions Per Week Should Beginners Do?
Although beginners have to start somewhere, most CrossFit classes are quite intense. Look at the schedule at your local CrossFit facility and choose introductory classes or consider working one-on-one with a CrossFit coach before jumping into advanced CrossFit workouts.
If you do not have a good understanding of the proper technique, and you have not received instruction about crucial form cues to prevent injury, you can get hurt.
Indeed, studies have found that improper form increases the risk of CrossFit injuries.2Summitt, R. J., Cotton, R. A., Kays, A. C., & Slaven, E. J. (2016). Shoulder Injuries in Individuals Who Participate in CrossFit Training. Sports Health, 8(6), 541–546. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738116666073
In addition to choosing intro CrossFit classes for beginners, you also need to think about scaling gradually with the number of CrossFit sessions per week you wish to do.
While you might eventually work up to 4 to 5 CrossFit sessions per week, begin with just two, especially if you have not been doing other types of exercise.
Give your body at least 48 to 72 hours of rest in between your first several CrossFit classes so that your muscles have time to recover and you can assess how your body is feeling and adapting to your training.
If you are new to CrossFit but not new to working out, meaning that you are doing some other type of exercise on a consistent basis, you might be able to start with three CrossFit sessions per week.
This is provided that you scale back your other type of exercise accordingly to make room for your CrossFit training.
For example, if you have been going to the gym 4 to 5 days per week doing some cardio and weightlifting but decide you want to join CrossFit, start with three days a week of CrossFit instead of immediately transitioning to replacing all of your gym workouts to a one to one ratio with CrossFit.
CrossFit tends to be more intense than what many people do on their own, and you will likely encounter many new exercises that you haven’t been specifically doing in your training.
CrossFit workouts incorporate a lot of gymnastics exercises and some Olympic lifts, along with other metabolically demanding but rather unusual exercises for regular gym goers such as tire flips, Airdyne bike sprints, and kipping pull-ups.
You need to give your body time to adapt to these different movement patterns and metabolic/muscular demands.
How Many CrossFit Sessions Per Week Is Ideal?
As with any type of exercise, the number of CrossFit sessions per week that you should do depends on your fitness goals and the type of CrossFit classes you are going to.
Summers suggests that 3 to 4 times a week is a good target for most athletes who want to prioritize CrossFit training in their overall fitness plan.
She says that many CrossFit gyms offer five days a week of programming, giving participants two days off.
Summers provides some questions you should ask yourself when deciding how many CrossFit workouts to do per week:
- What is your goal, and are the classes you are taking going to help you reach your goal?
- How is your body feeling?
- What is your schedule like?
- How much sleep are you getting?
- How long have you been doing CrossFit?
Many CrossFit exercises are inherently associated with a higher risk of injury due to the magnitude of the impact forces, the speed of force generation necessary to perform the exercise, the weights or loads used, and the dynamic nature of the movements, which requires tremendous coordination, core strength, body control, and kinesthetic awareness.
While it can be great to do CrossFit a couple of times per week, studies have found that people who train more frequently with CrossFit workouts are at an increased risk of injury.
For example, one four-year study examined the incidence of CrossFit injuries and found that 30% of CrossFit participants dealt with some sort of musculoskeletal injury in the previous 12 months.3Feito, Y., Burrows, E. K., & Tabb, L. P. (2018). A 4-Year Analysis of the Incidence of Injuries Among CrossFit-Trained Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(10), 2325967118803100. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967118803100
The study found that CrossFit athletes who trained between three and five days a week were at the highest risk of injury compared to those who did fewer CrossFit workouts per week.
Aside from your current fitness level, the other types of workouts that you are doing per week are one of the most important factors to consider when deciding how many CrossFit sessions per week you should do.
In other words, are you only doing CrossFit workouts as your primary source of planned exercise, or are you incorporating other types of exercise such as running, cycling, yoga, Pilates, hiking, swimming, rowing, sports, or even weightlifting?
Within this consideration, you also have to think about the broader context of your fitness goal.
This is because synthesizing the best training plan with CrossFit workouts is dependent upon choosing the correct number of CrossFit sessions per week, and picking the right CrossFit classes and other types of workouts outside of CrossFit accordingly.
Summers provides a few real-life examples of why deciding how many CrossFit sessions you are going to do per week and which CrossFit classes are best for you is so important for reaching your fitness goals:
“If my goal is to lift as heavy as possible and I decide to take four CrossFit classes a week that are all metcon based, I may have a hard time getting much stronger or vice versa,” she warns.
“If I want to get better at metcons—meaning I want to improve my cardio—if I only go to strength classes, that won’t help my goals.”
As Summers says, “Figuring out what classes will help you reach your goals will help determine how many classes you should take.”
Of course, this makes sense.
Even though most CrossFit classes do include some exercises for all of your energy systems and that target muscle strengthening as well as cardio, there are definitely CrossFit classes that lean significantly more towards building power or strength versus CrossFit cardio workouts that have more of a high-intensity interval training type of approach.
While the best well-rounded fitness plans should include all types of training, if you are doing workouts outside of CrossFit, such as running, indoor cycling workouts, or other cardio, you might be best served to focus your CrossFit sessions on the strength classes rather than CrossFit metcon workouts.
On the other hand, if you are trying to lose weight and get back into some cardio conditioning and CrossFit is the primary type of exercise you are doing, you might be best served prioritizing the metabolic training CrossFit classes in your training week.
How Many CrossFit Sessions Per Week Should Runners and Endurance Athletes Do?
Summers advises that the number of CrossFit classes a week that runners should do depends on their running goals and where they are in their training plan.
“CrossFit is awesome and has a ton of benefits,4Smith, M. M., Sommer, A. J., Starkoff, B. E., & Devor, S. T. (2013). Crossfit-Based High-Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition [RETRACTED]. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(11), 3159–3172. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e318289e59f but it can be pretty high-impact and high endurance already.”
“Therefore, if someone is training for endurance running and already running a lot as they are ramping up their mileage, I’m not sure doing CrossFit classes would help them reach their goals,” warns Summers.
“It would be great in their off-season training, but if CrossFit does work for them, then probably 2-3 times per week.”
If you are interested in doing CrossFit as a runner, it probably makes the most sense to prioritize CrossFit strength workouts. Running is a great cardio workout, so metcon CrossFit workouts can be too much of the same type of conditioning on top of that.
In this way, you can use CrossFit in place of traditional strength training workouts in the gym (which would normally be recommended at a frequency of about 2-3 times per week.
You can learn more about CrossFit for beginners here.
- 1Elkin, J. L., Kammerman, J. S., Kunselman, A. R., & Gallo, R. A. (2019). Likelihood of Injury and Medical Care Between CrossFit and Traditional Weightlifting Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 7(5), 232596711984334. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967119843348
- 2Summitt, R. J., Cotton, R. A., Kays, A. C., & Slaven, E. J. (2016). Shoulder Injuries in Individuals Who Participate in CrossFit Training. Sports Health, 8(6), 541–546. https://doi.org/10.1177/1941738116666073
- 3Feito, Y., Burrows, E. K., & Tabb, L. P. (2018). A 4-Year Analysis of the Incidence of Injuries Among CrossFit-Trained Participants. Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, 6(10), 2325967118803100. https://doi.org/10.1177/2325967118803100
- 4Smith, M. M., Sommer, A. J., Starkoff, B. E., & Devor, S. T. (2013). Crossfit-Based High-Intensity Power Training Improves Maximal Aerobic Fitness and Body Composition [RETRACTED]. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27(11), 3159–3172. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0b013e318289e59f