Forget the gym — this 3-move CrossFit workout for beginners builds full-body strength

Man performing a burpee holding two dumbbells during outdoor workout
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Whether you’re a seasoned CrossFit athlete or a CrossFit beginner, check out the three-move dumbbell workout below for a fiery full-body workout.

Courtesy of guest programmer Rob Lawson and recently posted to CrossFit, this workout can bring anyone to their knees. Thankfully, the scaling options below mean anyone can give it a go. 

I headed to my local gym to try it for myself. Below, I’ve included the workout, ways to scale according to Lawson and my thoughts on the workout post-session. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What is the 3-move CrossFit workout?

Writer Sam performing a dumbbell snatch in a gym using the Bowflex SelectTech 552i adjustable dumbbell raised in the air overhead with right arm raised

(Image credit: Future owns/ Sam Hopes)

Here’s a breakdown of the full CrossFit WOD.

5 sets for maximum repetitions. On a 3-minute clock, complete:

  • 400/500 meter row
  • 8 burpees over rower

In the remaining time, perform:

  • Max reps alternating dumbbell snatches
  • Rest for 3 minutes between sets.

The recommended weights are 35 lbs for women and 50 lbs for men, but scale to a weight suitable for you. Rowing distance noted on the left is for women (400m) and on the right for men (500m).

This interval workout is about pushing hard for 3 minutes, then maximizing your recovery to maintain your output across all sets,” the team writes. Aim to finish the row within 2 minutes (or around 1:45 for advanced athletes), then complete 8 burpees and finish by doing as many alternating dumbbell snatches as you can.

As a guideline, 45 to 60 seconds is a solid amount of time to perform snatches. Rest, repeat and complete 5 sets. Find a maximum rowing pace that allows you to go into burpees without rest, transitioning between moves quickly so that you can work for the full 3 minutes. 

Your work-rest ratio is 1:1, so the team advises maintaining output throughout, dialing into your recovery periods when you reach them. Basically, avoid taking your foot off the pedal too early. If you can, build toward bigger sets of snatches. 

It’s worth noting that the workout is positioned at top level. If you’re going into this session using the intermediate option, reduce your row to 350 or 400 meters (female and male, respectively) and choose weights of 20 or 35 lbs, keeping everything else the same. For beginners, reduce the 5 sets to 4, the row to 200 or 250 meters and weights to 10 or 15 lbs.

I just tried this 3-move dumbbell CrossFit workout — here's my verdict

I went in at the intermediate level, but beginners can confidently access this workout by adjusting the weights and rowing distance — you might not need to reduce the sets but see how you feel. You’ll need a dumbbell and one rowing machine to complete it, and I recommend one of the best adjustable dumbbells to scale on the go. 

Consider this your warning; the pace will cook you through. You haven’t got time to take stock, so you must stay accountable to get the work done in time. I used the first round to get used to how the minutes felt (they flew) and noticed I went slightly too hard on the rowing pace, to begin with. There are 5 sets to get through, so finding a maintainable pace is key.

As Lawson writes, you ideally want a maximum pace that allows you to tear through the meters in good time without running out of gas or taking a rest between the row and burpees.

I also recommend a consistent and measured pace for snatches (here’s how to snatch correctly) to help accumulate those reps, exchanging the weight midair or at the bottom of the snatch.

Beginners might find it easier to exchange from the floor instead until the movement feels more familiar. Lawson mentions increasing the rep count per round, but if that's unreachable, just try to reach the same reps, or as close to.

Burpees over the rower require lateral movement — jumping sideways with both feet over the rail. Aim for chest to floor, keeping it fluid as you jump and lower straight into the burpee.

If you're new to these moves or the training style, you might prefer to step or jump back into a half burpee, or step or hop over the rower rather than jump. If you’re still fairly new to them, we dissect how to do a burpee in more detail. 

It’s going to get uncomfortable and you’ll have moments when you need to dig deep to fit the work in, especially during the burpees; 8 reps seems low until you’ve just come off the rower and you’re staring down the barrel of a 3-minute timer. Do what you can — the modifications are there for a reason, so use them.

I found the burpees the most challenging part, but once they're done, remember you only have snatches left until you get rest, so buckle down and stick at it.

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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.