5 best CrossFit workouts for beginners to build strength, power, and muscle

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CrossFit has quickly become one of the most sought-after workout classes in recent years. But if you haven’t done a CrossFit workout before, stepping into a class for the first time could be intimidating (I know I was nervous).

If you’re unfamiliar with CrossFit, it’s pretty much an umbrella term for various fitness concepts like Olympic lifting, gymnastics, and strength and conditioning. Workouts change daily and adopt functional training methods — everyday movements like pushing, climbing, and pulling — and compound exercises that recruit multiple major muscle groups. Then, they're all ramped up with spicy intensity. 

We spoke with five CrossFit athletes and trainers to develop five CrossFit workouts for beginners who want to build strength and muscle, burn calories, and work the entire body hard without previous experience. Grab the best fitness trackers to measure your workout progress, and read on.  

What is CrossFit?

CrossFit has developed a mass, and yes, sometimes cult-like, following with its variety of team workouts, competitions — the CrossFit Open and CrossFit Games —- and competitive community focus. 

Each day, a new workout follows the same format: warm-up, strength or skill practice, WOD (that means Workout of the Day), and cool-down. Everyone follows the same workout, and you can log your scores via the in-app leaderboard. 

During the hour-long classes, expect to improve stamina and endurance, build strength and power, develop mobility, and accelerate calorie burn using metabolic conditioning — moving between high and low intensities. Classes are designed to improve all aspects of fitness to build a more powerful, robust, and balanced body — just like an athlete. And those that make it to the CrossFit athlete level are some of the fittest people around. 

CrossFit for beginners: 5 best CrossFit workouts for beginners to build strength and muscle  

Here are the five best workouts to try if you're new to CrossFit. Remember to not over-exert yourself, and contact your doctor if you experience any prolonged pain or injury. You might need some equipment or a gym for some workouts, so ensure you check each workout beforehand.

1. AMRAP 12

Lucy Campbell with sandbag on her shoulder during CrossFit competition
Lucy Campbell

Lucy Campbell is a CrossFit athlete and coach at CrossFit Nottingham. She was also dubbed the UK's fittest woman in 2022. She attended the CrossFit Games this year as the second-ever British elite female to do so and finished 16th Fittest Woman in the World.  

Complete as many rounds as possible in 12 minutes:

5 Ring Rows

10 Push Ups

15 Bodyweight squats

Lucy Campbell designed the AMRAP 12 as a bodyweight workout with everything in it — upper body pushing and pulling, and lower body. 

“You will rack up a lot of push-ups in the workout, which can be a limiting factor for many,” says Campbell. “You don’t have to do 10 unbroken. Break them up into smaller sets if needed to keep things moving better. If you cannot perform a full push-up, try doing them on an elevated surface, such as a bench or a box, so you can still maintain a full range of motion. It will help you work towards the full movement.”

Ring rows are bodyweight rows holding onto gymnastic rings. You could swap this out for bent-over rows or single-arm rows with weights. 

Tips:

  • During ring rows, position your body more upright to make it less taxing or with your head closer to the ground to make it more challenging
  • Keep a straight line in your body for the ring rows without letting your hips drop
  • Hold the rings in both hands and use your core to stabilize yourself by squeezing your glutes and tucking your pelvis under, activating your lower abdominals. 
  • Row your chest toward the rings with elbows tucked in, then lower back down. 

2. For time: 21-15-9

Image of Emma McQuaid against black background
Emma McQuaid

For time (in the quickest time you can achieve):

Calories on the rowing machine

Burpees over Rower

Emma McQuaid designed this as out-and-out cardio. Hit 21 calories on the rower, then 21 burpees jumping over the rower, then 15, then 9. 

“This workout will be tough no matter what,” she says. “The classic 21-15-9 CrossFit rep scheme is always a mental challenge, with the set of 15 typically the trickiest part. Make sure you persevere and try and give the round of 9 everything you’ve got.”

Tips:

  • Before starting your burpees, place your rower seat where you’d put your feet when you row. Jump laterally over the rower to get straight into the burpee when you land.
  • To make things less taxing, you can step up from each burpee instead of jump.
  • You don’t need to stand up after each burpee. You can jump straight over the rower, which allows you to move quickly.  

3. 5RFT

Image of Zack George
Zack George

Zack George is one of the world’s top CrossFit athletes, a fitness influencer, and officially the UK’s Fittest Man 2020. 

5 RFT (Rounds For Time)

10 Calorie assault bike (or another cardio machine)

10 Goblet squats

10 Burpees

“Keep a maintainable but challenging pace so you can transition from one move to the next without rest,” Zack George says. You can use a dumbbell (we love using these best adjustable dumbbells) or a kettlebell. “Goblet squats are a great exercise that helps to teach core engagement while squatting due to the position you hold the weight,” he adds. 

Tips

  • In your squat, keep your chest up and put your weight into your heels while ensuring your hips go below parallel each rep
  • Scale your burpees if you can't go chest-to-floor. Step or jump back instead. 

4. Bodyweight WOD

image of Jordan with his arms crossed over his chest against pale background
Jordan Shelley

WIT-Fitness head coach Jordan Shelley has 10 years of experience as a Coach, with an expertise in Strength & Conditioning and CrossFit. He's a former competitive sprinter and martial artist turned CrossFitter, with a passion for coaching. 

EMOM20: (Every minute on the minute for 20 minutes):

8-12 Burpees (min 1)

12-15 Sit-ups (min 2)

8-12 Pike push-ups (min 3)

12-20 Jump lunges (min 4)

Jordan Shelley says, “not everything has to be with weights in CrossFit. Try this simple bodyweight workout for a good sweat!” Aim for between 8-12 burpees in minute one, and move through each exercise on a new minute for 20 minutes (five rounds). 

Tips:

  • For sit-ups, keep your core engaged and lift your shoulders off the ground
  • On the pike push-ups, ensure your hips stay high and your core tight. Keep weight over the hands and aim for a vertical press pattern as you bend your elbows
  • The jump lunges can switch to step lunges to reduce impact. Try to keep these reps fast
  • Simplify burpees by stepping in and out from a high plank.

5. Beginners Murph WOD

For time:

Run ½ mile

10 Rounds Of:

Ring Rows: 5 reps

Push-Up: 10 reps

Bodyweight squat: 15 reps 

Run ½ mile

“Murph is one of CrossFit’s most famous workouts,” says Shelley. “A mixture of strength and endurance, this is a beginner's variation which lowers the reps and scales the exercises.”

Tips:

  • Pace yourself on the run (you could push to one mile if you’re a confident runner, which is the Murph run standard).
  • During ring rows, you can alter the intensity however horizontal you go, have a play around with height when you warm up (see workout one). 
  • On the push-ups, ensure you tuck your elbows and the core is tight. Use your knees if that works better.
  • Place your feet slightly wider than your shoulders during bodyweight squats, push your knees out on the drive-up, and squeeze your glutes. 

Can anyone do CrossFit? 

High reps, heavy weights, explosive movement,  long distances, and punishing time caps push CrossFitters to their absolute maximum capacity every class, but anyone can do it. 

Sessions are open to every level and workouts come with scaling options based on your ability. But crucially, the functional workouts help you learn skills that translate to daily life — to make you move better.

If you’re still not convinced, these five beginner CrossFit workouts are the only intro you need to target most of your muscles, build strength, muscle mass, and power, and improve stamina. 

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Sam Hopes
Senior Staff Writer - Fitness

Sam Hopes is a level III qualified fitness trainer, level II reiki practitioner, and senior fitness writer at Future PLC, the publisher of Tom's Guide. She is also about to undertake her Yoga For Athletes training course. Having trained to work with mind and body, Sam is a big advocate of using mindfulness techniques in sport and fitness, and their impact on performance. She’s also passionate about the fundamentals of training and building sustainable training methods.  When she's not writing up her experiences with the latest fitness tech and workouts, you’ll find her writing about nutrition, sleep, recovery, and wellness.