CrossFit as a sport has received its fair share of press. From Netflix documentaries to televised global competitions to serious allegations of steroid abuse, people have a lot to say about CrossFit. The sport has a reputation of being extreme, competitive, and sometimes dangerous. All of this can make CrossFit seem somewhat intimidating for someone looking to start a fitness routine. But having walked into a box with the strength of an undernourished toddler a decade ago, I want to set the record straight. CrossFit is not only for elite athletes with tree trunk quads and 8-pack abs. To make the box a little less daunting, I’ve gathered some incredibly useful CrossFit tips for beginners.
CrossFit For Beginners
Tip 1 – Check Out Multiple Boxes
While CrossFit principles should be applied to every box with an affiliate (the right to call themselves a CrossFit establishment), that is not always the case. Every single gym, or box, is different. With a different culture, atmosphere, and coaching style. Some boxes are highly focused on training athletes preparing for high-level competition, while other boxes are catered more towards building a family friendly environment.
Most CrossFit boxes do come at a premium price (for the premium coaching and programming), so it’s definitely worth your time to check out a few local boxes in your area. Some things to consider are the class sizes, the ratio of available equipment to members, the number of class times, and what (if any) other amenities are available.
You want to find a place that offers classes that are convenient for you and in line with your personal goals. Are you someone who wants to develop gymnastics skills? Learn how to perform olympic lifting? Want to increase endurance? Or do you want to improve overall fitness and strength? Look for a box that offers classes that are in line with these goals and makes you feel somewhat comfortable.
This should go without saying, but if you are new to olympic lifting (like I was when I started), you want to find a box that has coaches who will actually coach you on appropriate lifting form. Most boxes will have some sort of an onboarding or foundations program, and while it may come at an additional cost, it can be absolutely invaluable in preventing injury. Ask if you can observe or participate in an foundations class and pay attention to the level of involvement between coaches and clients. It can really set the tone and provide you with a great baseline from which to make your decision.
Tip 2 – Ask Questions
Once you’ve found a box that you feel good about, and you’ve started attending classes, do not hesitate to ask a lot of questions. It is uncomfortable. It will showcase your level of inexperience. You might feel like an idiot. Let it all go, and ask the damn questions. Better to look like a person who doesn’t know how to lift and asks “dumb” questions than to look like someone who can’t work out for 6 weeks because they injured themselves.
Here are times when you should speak up and ask the potentially uncomfortable questions. When you don’t understand the jargon. Don’t know what an AMRAP is? That’s because it’s not a thing that anyone says outside the box. So ask. When you don’t know what a movement is. Can’t remember the difference between a snatch and a clean? Don’t know what the whole “power” in front of the movement means? Ask. We’ve all started and had to learn. These aren’t ordinary words, so don’t feel like you should know them.
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Most importantly, when you read a workout and think “hmmmm, handstand pushups seem a little outside my current repertoire of fitness movements,” ask for scaling options. Don’t hold yourself back from trying new movements, even when you’re a little nervous. But do this intelligently. Ask a coach to help you before the workout begins. And if you’re a normal human being who isn’t ready to tackle ring muscle ups on week 6 of CrossFit training, ask for scaling options. You can still get in a great workout, and you won’t be sacrificing your physical safety.
Tip 3 – Respect Your Boundaries
Similarly, don’t do things you are just flat uncomfortable with. There are a lot of interesting movements in the CrossFit lexicon, and some of these movements involve throwing weights over your head or jumping on top of tall things. There’s a healthy level of caution and reservation that needs to be exercised here.
Don’t load up a barbell with weights that are way heavier than you’ve ever lifted in you life without working up in a reasonable manner. Don’t toss yourself into a handstand without a coach to spot you for the first time. If there’s a movement that makes you a little nervous, trust that instinct, let go of any ego you may be holding on to, and ask a coach to work with you the first time you try any movement. Even if it seems simple.
Tip 4 – Don’t Set Limits Before Trying
This might seem slightly contrary to the previous point, but just like you do not want to approach CrossFit without any abandon and find yourself in the ER or unable to get up off the toilet on day 2, you also don’t want to discount your bodies ability to do new things. Just because a movement looks complicated or difficult does not mean that you shouldn’t give it a shot. I’ve been amazed, and angered quite frankly, to see brand new CrossFitters like my husband who are inexplicably able to nail a bar muscle up after a month.
Workouts and new movements will probably feel intimidating. Lean into that feeling, especially once you’ve learned the basic movements. One of the greatest benefits of CrossFit and running that I have experienced has been learning to tolerate physical fatigue without panicking. Your body is often times much more capable than you might realize it. So, if a workout or movement seems scary, ask for assistance and try it out. If you try it out, and it’s a no go, ask for a scaling option and keep working on it.
Tip 5 – Don’t Be Afraid to Breathe Hard and Sweat
CrossFit is designed to be a fairly intense sport. Do you need to redline every single workout? No. In fact, not every workout is meant to be a sprint. But every workout should be challenging. If the weights seem light, you should be going fast. If the workout isn’t long, you should be pushing hard the entire time. You’re shortchanging your progress and fitness gains if you’re showing up and just casually moving through the movements.
There is no room for vanity in the box. Burpees will make you dirty. The cardio will make you sweaty. The weights will make your face red. If that’s embarrassing to you, try to remember that people tear their hands open and pee their pants in the box more than occasionally. We’re not there to look pretty or play things safe. We’re there to push our limits and keep proving that our bodies are stronger than our minds.
Tip 6 – Do Not Compare Yourself
My final, and arguably most important piece of advice is to fight the urge to compare yourself to others with as much force as a teacher running out of a classroom on the last day of school. Everyone begins CrossFit at different points in their lives, with varying fitness levels, and completely different strengths.
CrossFit coach, Kait does an excellent job of sharing what it was like for her to finish her first CrossFit class six years ago. Even as a beginning CrossFitter, I was pretty comfortable with any WOD that involved running. My husband on the other hand, walked in with a confusing ability to excel in any gymnastic movement. It just goes to show how different everyone’s beginning can be.
You will workout next to seemingly superhero-level athletes and adults enjoying an active retirement in the same class. It can be tempting to want to finish a workout with a “good” time, or using prescribed weights. But remember, the moment your ego walks into the box with you, you are 47.657% more likely to get hurt.
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So try to accept that there will always be someone who finishes last, and it’s no big deal. We are all here, showing up day after day, when rationality would tell us to stay safely planted on the couch. Just coming back in is an achievement that should be celebrated. And if you start to feel intimidated or inferior, just remember that no one else is watching you. We are all too busy dying right next to you to notice.
If you can keep these beginner tips in mind, and give yourself some grace, there’s a good chance you might just find that you enjoy the camaraderie and intensity of CrossFit. Don’t worry about figuring out the movements or how to get “good” at CrossFit, all of those things will come with time. Focus on showing up, celebrating the PR’s, and asking the questions. And don’t drop anything on your head. That’s important too.