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The Truth About Cross Fit

Millions of CrossFit fanatics around the world—nearly 10 million to be exact—profess the body benefits of the trendy high-intensity training program, and a new study commissioned by the American Council on Exercise put some science behind their claims.

A team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse monitored a group of active adults as they sweated through two official CrossFit workuts, and found that the vigorous strength-and-conditioning workouts burned major calories and raised participants’ heart rates to levels ideal for cardio fitness.

The scientists recruited 16 fit men and women ages 20-47 to complete two different CrossFit WOD (Workout of the Day) routines, and they discovered that the caloric expenditure for both routines averaged 20.5 calories per minute for men and 12.3 calories per minute for women. During both workouts, the participants also reached 90 percent of their maximum heart rate (HRmax), which falls near the top of fitness-industry guidelines that suggest a training range of 64 to 94 percent HRmax in order to improve cardio endurance.

The bottom line: like other high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts, CrossFit is effective in terms of improving aerobic fitness and burning a substantial number of calories in a short amount of time, but the fast-fitness approach also comes with some risks, and may not be appropriate for everyone. “The thing we’ve seen with a lot of these workouts is you go flat-out as fast as you can, but then your form falls apart,” says lead study author John Pocari, PhD. “You really need to be technically correct with a lot of these exercises or else you’re going to get hurt.”

So if you’re planning to hit the “box”—CrossFitter speak for their gyms—stay safe by being mindful of your form, and consider working with a personal trainer to help you perfect the moves before throwing yourself into a full-on session.