I remember my first Crossfit class vividly: an alleyway in Bethnal Green, a possibly rabid but definitely unfriendly neighbouring Rottweiler and poking my head into a space filled with the clanging of barbells, agonised cries and what I thought at the time were seriously intimidating individuals (who turned out to be some of the friendliest and most supportive people I’ve ever met) throwing weights around.
This was eight years ago, before Crossfit and the high intensity interval training movement exploded, definitely before the Crossfit Games started filling football stadiums, and when it was still cool to wear Vibram toe shoes. These days Crossfit has hit the mainstream in a big way and inspired a slew of imitators, as well as some seriously big-name companies producing specialist gear just for Crossfitters. But even with the array of Crossfit gear now on offer one of the questions I still get asked in the box is “where did you get that?”, and friends who are thinking of hitting a Crossfit class for the first time always ask what they should bring, and which are the pieces of equipment they really need.
So here’s my guide to what’s in my Crossfit bag: (I’m currently coveting a Balsa201 Bag, in a dark enough colour that it might survive the box floor).
Box t-shirts and slogan tanks are mega-popular - who doesn’t want to shout about the cool box they trained at while on holiday? - but they tend to be made from cotton, making them lightweight and breathable but not moisture-managing. My do-anything basic is a moisture-wicking, stretchy racerback that will move with me. Close-fitting cuts are good, as it means your shirt won’t flip up or flap around during pikes or handstands.
I still love my “Barbell Please” cotton tank which I wore through the 2014 Crossfit Open (WOD 14.5 - I went to a dark place!), and I wear it whenever I need that extra luck or confidence factor in a workout or when I’m going for a PB.
You’ll need a decent sports bra, as the WODs can involve anything from running intervals, to box jumps, to skipping.
Because Crossfit tends to be a hyper-sweaty workout, I switch between crops or shorts depending on the weather. I rarely reach for full-length leggings, as I tend to find them too hot. The exception would be if I know there are a lot of rope climbs programmed into a class (shin protection? Yes please), or if the WOD is a long run (#cherrypicking). I personally like a higher rise (see above re: shirt flipping) and a lightweight stretchy fabric.
There are tons of amazing patterns out there in the crop world at the moment, but don’t forget you may be rolling around on a grimy box floor, so your crops need to be able to take a beating. My beautiful new space-print leggings are staying safely at home.
Look for a neutral all-round shoe with a low sole. Highly cushioned trainers can throw your weight forward and leave you off balance under heavy weights. I use Strike Movement Intervals, but there are a whole raft of options available, from Reebok to adidas and more. I also see a lot of Converse about, as a cheap and relatively flat option. Running shoes will do in a pinch when you’re starting out. This is the Nano 8.0 from adidas which offers a compression moulded EVA midsole and a new heel bootie construction and sockliner. It's engineered to keep your foot in place whilst lifting.
I have a pair of Olympic lifting shoes as well, which aren’t necessary but help with stability during lifts. Plus they are pink, hence make me lift 20% more. Lifting shoes are more useful for dedicated oly sessions than WODs which mix cardio activities with lifts as they’re heavier and less flexible, although I do run short intervals in my lifters. The upside is that you really feel glued to the floor when lifting, which can be particularly useful in moves like the split jerk or even the front squat. Pack for PR days.
A Notebook or App
You need something to write down your WOD time, new PR lift, or sprint interval time in. Knowing your numbers (particularly the last amount you lifted, as many strength sessions are built around you knowing your 1-rep max, 80% of max, etc) is a big part of coming to a WOD prepared. Dedicated apps do the trick, but I still roll around with an old-school notepad, because otherwise my iPhone gradually descends into a chalky, sweaty mess as I poke at it post-WOD.
The Technical Stuff
Invest in these bits and bobs once you’re sure Crossfit is for you. There’s nothing worse than seeing fitness gear languishing in your cupboard with a fine layer of dust on it (enter my enthusiastically purchased but little-used foam roller…)
These are personal preference, but as someone with past knee injuries I find both the support and warmth (most are made of neoprene) to be helpful, particularly in the front and back squats. I use Rehbands, which give moderate support and help keep my wonky knees tracking right.
Your Own Skipping Rope
I’d only ever strung together 3-5 double unders in a row until I got my own rope. For one thing, the fact that I’d paid for it drove me to actually take it to the park to practice out of sheer guilt, and for another you also get used to the weight and length of your own rope. Everyone has a personal preference on weight, handles and length; if there’s someone in your gym of similar height with a rope you like the look of, ask if you can have a go and test theirs out.
That’s how I discovered my beloved RX Jump Rope. I still consider myself a double under beginner and I like that the weight gives good feedback, so I always feel as if I know where the rope is in the air. On the flipside, this makes for a slightly slower rope and the length isn’t adjustable. Bad luck if you get a growth spurt or decide you ordered too short.
Again, personal preference as to whether you want to wear these or figure out callus management in your downtime. My hands were inspiring lots of comments when shaking hands in the business environment I was working in at the time, so I picked a pair of grips up. There are all sorts of “proper” grips made especially for Crossfit, but I’ve used these cheap’n’cheerful grips [seen above] from Manique, aimed at gymnasts, for years.
Benefits: Protect your shins when box jumping or deadlifting. Look awesome.
Running from work to a workout can leave you starving after a WOD, where you expend a great deal of energy. Bring your favourite fuel with you to avoid wanting to lurch into a McDonalds on the way home. I pack a shaker cup with protein powder and a banana or handful of almonds.