CrossFit’s variety of demands and types of exercise – all rolled into one – means that there are some big benefits to being properly prepared. This means having all the essential kit, as well as a few things that add real ‘bang for your buck’ to your training experience.
Today, we’re going to provide a run-down of all the essential kit – as well as the “should haves” that can really improve your training and add value. Stick with us, and you’ll learn the most important purchases that can help you make the most of your CrossFit journey.
- What Do You Need for CrossFit?
- Essential – Stuff Everyone Needs
- Essential for Competitors/Serious Athletes
- Final Notes
What Do You Need for CrossFit?
There is a lot to do in CrossFit – from weightlifting to gymnastics to brutal chippers, it’s a type of exercise that pulls in aspects of lots of sports. There’s a lot to learn, a lot to re-learn, and plenty of exercises that require special equipment.
If you want to be perfectly prepared, you need to start with the essentials and build a full kit of high-quality gear. Beginners and casual athletes don’t need much: basic footwear, a rope, and some clothes. Easy enough.
By the time you’re getting serious about it, however, there are a whole bunch of purchases that aren’t essential, but they keep you competitive. These range from specific equipment for certain skills to recovery techniques and basic dietary support.
The needs of CrossFit are all about being pretty well prepared for a wide variety of exercise. It’s not just about wearing the top of the line for one specific area – you need to be decently-equipped for everything all at once. This is why we are going to discuss needs, wants, and the competitive edge.
Essential – Stuff Everyone Needs
There’s some stuff that’s so foundational to the CrossFit experience that even recreational enthusiasts will want to have it available. This starts with some of the basic necessities for CrossFit, as well as some gym essentials that you’d need anywhere.
We’re going to take you on a quick tour of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of these essentials, what you should consider when buying them, and any relevant recommendations you might benefit from.
The shoe problem is one that many new CrossFit enthusiasts face: with so many competing demands, what should you wear?
The main question is how to balance the opposite demands of running and weightlifting, rope climbing and rowing. The CrossFit shoe – either the Nano or the MetCon – is a hybrid and jack of all trades.
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These hybrid shoes are designed to be decent at everything – they include great foot support, a relatively solid sole, strong upper, and a variety of reinforced points for climbing ropes.
These two main brands – Nike’s MetCon and Reebok’s Nano series – are the main place to look for a high-quality CrossFit shoe. You can train CrossFit without them, but you’re going to see serious problems with any alternatives. Look for durability, comfort, and a design that clings to your foot while you move.
This is essential in any gym – good hygiene and common courtesy dictate that you don’t leave a puddle of sweat lying around on the gym floor!
This is even more important in CrossFit where you’re going to be working incredibly hard, dripping with sweat, and surrounded by other people. This is a recipe for disaster or general gross-ness if you don’t mop up after yourself and stay dry.
If you sit in your sweat, you increase your risk of poor skin condition and risk of infection. Deal with it before it’s a problem – dry off and stay clean.
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It’s not as simple as using a towel and throwing it in your gym bag. Have 2-3 towels that you regularly rotate through the wash to ensure that you always have something clean and dry on-hand. It doesn’t count if it’s still damp and sweaty from your last session!
3. Water bottle
This is another universal rule of gym etiquette: stay hydrated and make sure that your water bottle is always nearby.
Unless your gym has a water fountain on the gym floor (not something we see at many CrossFit boxes), you’ll want to make sure you’re bringing your own water bottle. This is an easy way to stay hydrated during a long, tough workout.
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It’s not just important to cool down: hydration is essential for recovery, health, and performance. Becoming dehydrated during a workout is generally unhealthy, but can specifically lead to muscle cramps or reduced strength/power output.
It’s as simple as getting a cheap, BPA-free water bottle and keeping it with you at all times. Whether you’re at home or in the gym, you can benefit from staying hydrated.
4. Speed Rope
While many CrossFit boxes provide their own basic ropes, they’re usually a cheap plastic rope designed to tide you over until you buy your own. Alternatively, they’re ropes of shame for those who leave their own speed rope at home.
Buying your own speed rope isn’t essential, as a result, but it may as well be. The opportunity to work on double unders at home, as well as making sure that you’ve always got a high-quality rope at-and, is a serious benefit.
There are many great speed ropes on the market. European readers should head to the SGF speed rope site for top-quality, custom ropes. Meanwhile, the best choice for most Americans will be the Rogue SR 2 – an upper-mid tier rope with great reviews, a cool design, and great functionality.
A small initial investment here will stop you from being caught without a rope or having to use the low-quality ones that many gyms tend to provide.
We’ve dedicated a whole article to gymnastic/CrossFit grips and with good reason – they’re crucial if you’re planning on getting really good at the gymnastic side of CrossFit.
They’re also going to be useful for dealing with all those kipping pull-ups and other hand-shredding exercises. Keeping your hands healthy is important for everything you do and failure to do so will definitely show up in the form of damaged, torn hands.
The basic idea of a CrossFit grip is a simple, easy to use design. It’s not supposed to impede movement of the wrist so grip/wrist support products are a no-go. The best way to choose correctly is with our complete guide to CrossFit grips.
6. Shorts/Lower Wear
CrossFit is known for a particular approach to shorts and legwear – just look at the games. What you see is a bit shorter than a board short, and usually made of technical fibers to allow for movement.
In reality, there are plenty of different lower-body clothing options that will do just fine. During the summer months, you may want to choose a lighter material to keep breathability and stay comfortable. On the other hand, you can wear compression leggings in the winter on those cold runs.
Legwear just needs to do a few simple things:
- Protect your legs from snatches/cleans
- Allow for total mobility (to an ass-to-grass squat, for example)
- Keep you at a comfortable temperature
If it does all 3 of these things, it’s going to be a good choice. It’s easy to get caught up with the brand names and funky patterns, but the function comes first, and you don’t need a Reebok logo on your shorts to lift or run!
7. T-shirt/upper wear
This is very similar to the way we discussed clothing for the lower body. While there are countless reebok-brand CrossFit t-shirts, they’re just t-shirts. You’ll have a similar experience with any other tee made from similar materials.
There are some benefits to using technical fibers – they’re breathable, light, and they’ll feel comfortable during almost all movements. They also wash and dry rapidly, and they can be re-used countless times with a quick hand-wash.
The obvious downside of using technical fibers is the price: they’re more expensive than most clothes you’ll own, and they definitely aren’t as versatile as a plain black tee. The latter is another reasonable choice for your workout, but cotton can hold sweat.
We recommend using a normal, breathable, plain tee if you can shower immediately after training. If you’re likely to be in the same t-shirt for a walk or cycle home, it’s best to bring a replacement for after your session or wear a technical fiber.
The same ideas apply here that we discussed for the lower body: it has to be mobile, breathable, and keep you comfortable in whatever temperature. When the winter months come around, a thermal under-/over-layer is a great choice.
Socks are essential but only in the sense that you have to wear them. They’re not crucial for performance, but if you’re working out without socks, that’s pretty gross.
Socks are pretty difficult to get wrong: they have to cover your feet, not smell gross, and be comfortable to move around in. This means no baggy socks, or anything that compromises balance in your shoes. This means that almost any regular-length sock made of cotton or a synthetic blend will do.
If you’re carving up your shins with Olympic lifts or deadlifts, however, you can use longer socks. These are often sport socks – in Europe, football socks are a common choice. In the U.S., look for any shin-knee length sock that is made from a slightly thicker material than your usual socks.
However, protecting the shins shouldn’t be a serious concern – if you have to change your clothes because you’re damaging the shins, there’s more likely something wrong with your movements than your clothing.
Essential for Competitors/Serious Athletes
If you’re looking to take your performance to the next level, a whole new set of purchases become “essential”. You don’t need them to take part in CrossFit classes, but you do need them to get better at the various aspects of CrossFit that make you a high-level competitor.
These are investments in getting good at the specifics – the skill aspects of CrossFit or the general progress-boosts that can make a big difference. These are going to be high-quality, great value purchases that you’ll find in the gym bag (or trunk) of any high-level CrossFit competitor.
1. Weightlifting Shoes
Weightlifting shoes are essential for getting good at weightlifting – and we don’t mean the “good” where you aren’t hurting yourself. weightlifting is a hugely-technical sport and the weightlifting shoe is a piece of equipment that the best, strongest, most mobile humans in the world use to perform better in weightlifting.
Simply put, if you want to get good at weightlifting then a good weightlifting shoe is essential. It’s not enough to get good, but it is absolutely necessary.
CrossFit enthusiasts won’t need to spend huge amounts of money on these shoes. The standard of weightlifting at even the games is not high enough to require most competitors to buy more than an entry-level shoe.
The Adidas Power Perfect 3 is a great choice at a low cost, while the Reebok Legacy Lifter is a great mid-tier shoe that is both affordable and stable. You’re not a weightlifter – you don’t need the most expensive, cutting-edge weightlifting shoes. Remember what we said before: the CrossFit athlete needs to be good (not perfect) at everything.
There are some cult-alternatives like the Position or NoBull weightlifting shoe, but these are either far less effective or unjustifiably expensive, respectively!
2. Foam roller
This should be a part of your home recovery kit. You should have a bunch of these at the gym, but having your own is a key way of getting in high-quality mobility work when you can’t get into the gym.
Foam rolling is a great way of making recovery days count – with a pro-recovery effort that will aid you in performing better when you next step foot in the gym. These are ridiculously cheap, and you really don’t need anything fancy: buy a simple, untextured, hard foam roller. The knobs and patterns don’t matter – that’s what a massage ball is for.
There are many great options on the market available very cheaply. The only real criteria you need for a foam roller are firmness and durability. Firmness ensures that it’s going to do its job without compromising for your weight – molded plastic is great for this. Durability is simple: you don’t want it to break!
3. Massage ball
Once you’ve gotten familiar with the foam roller, the massage ball is the next step in recreational pain and mobility!
It’s a much smaller surface area and sinks much deeper into the muscle tissues to provide a more effective stimulus. These are great for trigger point therapy, provide a huge amount of relief from tightness/stiffness, and are great for reaching small muscles that the foam roller can’t get.
One trend that’s currently hitting the market – and with huge results – is the vibrating massage ball. We’ve worked with a few of these and the results are a great shift up from the regular massage ball or peanut.
The vibrations reduce pain and stiffness in the muscles, as well as increasing the benefits to trigger points and excessive tightness in smaller muscles. You should look for a selection of vibration settings, powerful motor, and firmness as the main factors in making your choice.
4. Weightlifting Belt
The weightlifting belt is a key piece of equipment that you should use to increase core-activation, get stronger in the abdominal region, and ensure safety during heavy weights.
The belt is there to provide resistance to your core when you’re performing heavy squats or cleans. There are a number of belts on the market, but you’re looking for either a nylon/neoprene Velcro-attached belt, or a tapered leather belt.
You should avoid the powerlifting belts that have a lever or are the same width all the way around. While these are common, they reduce mobility in the front of the torso, bite into your skin, and they are totally inappropriate for cleans/power cleans.
The main focus for a weightlifting belt should be comfort, sizing, and durability. Whether you go for a fabric (nylon/neoprene) or leather belt, these are key factors. The fastening mechanism should be stable, the belt should feel sturdy, and it should be able to provide a moderate amount of resistance when you brace for a squat.
If you feel like stamping your personality on your weightlifting belt, Wallis weightlifting belts are great for custom-designed and crafted leather weightlifting belts.
5. Lifting Straps
If you want to practice weightlifting effectively – and actually be any good – you’re going to want to acquire lifting straps. These are essential for performing high-rep weightlifting movements, they protect the hands, and they can be useful for cueing certain aspects of technique.
They are also a great help when performing assistance exercises that load unusual positions (such as the snatch grip deadlift) and can be used for other heavy exercises such as the deadlift.
While many people worry about losing grip strength, this isn’t a concern in Olympic weightlifting where hookgrip secures the bar. When deadlifting, it is important to ensure that you’re not limited by grip strength, however.
The best way to get around this is to ensure that you’re not always using straps for powerlifting-style deadlifts. If you perform deadlifts with straps when your grip is fatigued, you’ll be totally fine and the grip work in many other aspects of CrossFit will ensure that you’re not lagging behind.
Straps are a great tool to have. Aim to get open-loop weightlifting straps. These are effectively just circles of cotton or other materials that are sewn at one end. They ensure that you’re never tied to the bar – as a closed loop strap might – and thus you can miss Olympic lifts without the risk of serious shoulder/elbow/wrist injury.
The IronMind sew-easy straps are a great open, single-loop strap that are time-tested by weightlifters, powerlifters and strongmen alike. They can deal with the heaviest punishment by some of the very best in the world and have decades of a world-class reputation behind them.
6. Wrist wraps
Wrist wraps are useful for protecting the wrists and can be used for movements from the press to the jerk. They’re all about stability and alignment in the wrists and are a great way to protect your wrists during any compressive loading.
While the weight of the barbell or other implements can create compressive forces – where the weight squishes the wrist outwards – wrist wraps counter this. They equalize the pressure on the wrist, keeping it safe and ensuring that you’re going to remain safe when performing with heavy weights.
These are especially useful in CrossFit where time is of the essence and moving through various exercises like burpees and presses can put strain on the wrist. This is no excuse for strengthening, however, and should only be used when they are absolutely essential – when dealing with heavy weights or lots of reps with impact exercises.
Wrist wraps for CrossFit should be short – avoid the wrist wraps often seen in powerlifting that can be 18” long and incredibly thick. Go for the 9” wraps as they allow for greater mobility – a real concern in gymnastics and weightlifting movements where impeding the wrist can rapidly lead to injury.
As ever, you should be shopping for durability and quality (Read our wrist wraps buying guide for Crossfit). When it comes to wrist wraps, almost anything works – it’s just about finding something that feels comfortable, provides support to the wrist without blocking movement, and fastens securely. Nothing is worse than losing your wrist wrap during a set of heavy overhead lifts!
7. Heart rate/ Workout tracker
If you’ve ever worked with a full iron-distance triathlete, you’ll know just how much difference you can make by working your cardio within specific heart-rate zones. These are a great way to measure the intensity and ensure you’re working the right system.
If you want to be a good CrossFitter, you’ll want to train with your heart rate in mind. It might not be at the front of your mind for your during a brutal, short-duration WOD where you’re sprinting constantly. However, this shouldn’t be the only type of cardio/endurance you perform.
Long-haul running, cycling, rowing and other endurance exercise is key to the CrossFit approach to fitness. There’s no excuse for being bad at running in this sport! You can get a high-quality Garmin heart rate monitor that syncs up with your smartphone or Garmin workout-monitor watch.
This type of technology is relatively cheap for what it is, and is widely-accessible for any serious endurance or CrossFit athlete. It’s an area of training that doesn’t get much attention, but this one change can make a big difference to round out your training and make sure you’re strong over any distance, or any time.
There are 3 major supplements that we believe every CrossFit enthusiast should be taking to support health, recovery, and performance during workouts. They are Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and Cod Liver Oil.
For more of my top recommendations, read our complete guide to the best Crossfit supplements.
The king of strength supplements, this cheap white powder can be stirred into any drink to improve your overall strength-endurance. This is a measure of how many times you can repeat a movement at high intensity before fatigue sets in and ruins your performance.
In CrossFit, where you’re performing a variety of high-intensity movements from weightlifting to gymnastics, this supplement is key. There’s nothing fancy about it: find a simple, cheap, honest brand that provides creatine monohydrate at a good price.
Beta-alanine is to endurance what creatine is to strength. It’s the most reliably effective and widely-tested supplement for boosting your fatigue-resistance. Supplementing this simple powder is an easy way to increase your time to exhaustion – key to inching down your time on those long workouts.
As with creatine, there’s nothing special about this supplement. You only need to find a cheap, reliable source that doesn’t stuff their products with unnecessary bunk. Beta-alanine can be purchased by itself relatively cheaply and most products on the market have the same effects.
o Cod Liver Oil
There are 3 reasons you should take cod liver oil: omega-3 fats, vitamin A, and Vitamin D.
- Omega-3 fats are essential for cognitive performance, recovery, and mental health.
- Vitamin A is a powerful antioxidant that improves skin, hair and eye health.
- Vitamin D is a key player in regulating hormones, protecting your brain, and combatting aging.
Overall, this is a great supplement to kill 3 birds (or fish) with one stone. It’s also cheap and widely available. Look for cod liver oil capsules that have the highest levels of DHA (most important) and Vitamin D3 (second priority).
9. Barbell Pad
This is a controversial choice, as many in the fitness community believe that this is a pad for wimps.
That’s actually totally true – if you use it for squats. However, that’s not what we suggest using it for.
The barbell pad is a great piece of equipment to have because it allows you to perform heavy barbell hip thrusts without any pain or discomfort. These are a great exercise for developing the glutes and core – two essential muscles for any form of sport or exercise.
If you want to get good at CrossFit, you have to have powerful hips. Strong glutes aren’t just for show – they’re a key part of the force-production engine that is the knee-hip extension chain. Weak glutes are also a contributing factor in lower back pain and long-term postural problems.
You need a strong butt – the barbell pad makes this a little easier. When shopping, look for something relatively cheap as it’s primarily just a cushion. Ensure that it’s made from a high-density foam. This will ensure that it’s durable, but also comfortable and not so firm that it will bruise your hips. (Read our barbell pad buying guide)
CrossFit’s variety is a great way of staying engaged, but it means that you need a corresponding variety of equipment.
This article has been dedicated to figuring out what’s essential, and what’s beneficial. There are a lot of high-quality products on the market that are going to be useful and many of them are down to your individual needs. However, we see trends of durability, ease of use, and basic effectiveness popping up again and again.
These are the very basics, and there’s a reason they’re so important: they determine if it something actually works and they ensure that it’s good enough for CrossFit. If gymnastics makes up 25% of your sport, you don’t need 100% perfect gymnastic gear – especially if it limits your other exercises.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: CrossFit equipment and training is about being well-prepared for many different things, rather than being perfect at a specific exercise or having cutting-edge tech in any piece of kit.