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For exercises that call for a barbell, simply switch to dumbbells.
Barbells are the tool of choice for CrossFitters around the world. Exercises like the snatch, clean and jerk, push press, thruster and deadlift form the foundation of many CrossFit workouts -- along with body weight moves, medicine ball exercises and cardio drills. In fact, you probably won't even find a single set of dumbbells in most CrossFit gyms. That being said, there's no reason why you can't change to dumbbells for your CrossFit workouts.
As a bare minimum, your CrossFit facility should have an Olympic bar with weight plates and a pull-up bar, according to "CrossFit Journal." Next up you need benches, racks and a piece of cardio equipment such as a rowing machine, then any miscellaneous extras such as ropes, gymnastic rings and kettlebells. Dumbbells aren't essential, but do make a handy addition. Barbells though, should be your priority and first on your list of things to look for when picking a gym.
Following it to the Letter
If you're a staunch CrossFitter, most of the workouts you perform will be WODs -- workouts of the day that are posted on the CrossFit website. These rarely involve dumbbell moves and generally focus on barbells, body weight and kettlebells. When strictly following CrossFit, there's no room for substitution, so when a workout calls for barbell deadlifts and barbell cleans, you'll have to do barbell deadlifts and barbell cleans -- no exceptions.
Bending the Rules
Sometimes it isn't always possible to follow the CrossFit WODs or benchmark workouts exactly as written. You might train in a busy commercial gym, be on vacation or frequently work away from home and have to bend the workouts to fit your surroundings. In this case, switching to dumbbells is fine. Craig Parcells of CrossFit Hoboken in New Jersey recommends the Dumbbell Hell workout, which involves deadlifts, cleans, push presses and squats all performed with dumbbells for five reps each. Alternatively, he also advises tweaking set CrossFit workouts so they work with dumbbells. A good example of this is changing the popular CrossFit benchmark workout of Fran so that you do your burpees while holding dumbbells.
The Dumbbell Advantage
Rather than seeing switching to dumbbells as a last resort, look at it as an opportunity to advance your training. Dumbbells have a few advantages over barbells as they take up less space, are better for joint stability and still increase strength, notes CrossFit coach Michael Ruthordford. Additionally, CrossFit workouts often include Olympic lifts, which can be difficult to learn, particularly if you're not working with a qualified coach. The dumbbell versions of these are much easier to grasp and potentially safer too, so beginners may actually be better off sticking to dumbbells when starting CrossFit.