Every year after the CrossFit games, I notice an influx in people wanting to try CrossFit. This is great & hopefully this post will be a help to some of you who are just starting out your CrossFit journey. Love it or hate, it's here to stay & if you want to try it, here are my top tips to keep you safe & make your experience better.
First of all, you are going to suck in some (or many) aspect of CrossFit (even if you are a naturally athletic person). Don’t get frustrated with yourself! Don't expect more from yourself right away. You won’t be perfect at everything all at once. CrossFit covers A LOT of different areas of movement. Have patience. Stay calm. It won't be this frustrating forever. I promise you!
A big tip I can give you is to educate yourself and learn a bit about the history of CrossFit, the movements and the terminology.. Dig a little deeper. Watch the DVD “Every Second Counts” from the early days (its on Netflix now and has been one of my favourites for years). Learn what the Hero WODs are, what the girl WODs are, the names of lifts etc. Doing a little research yourself will make CrossFit so much easier for you to grasp and will give you a deeper respect, appreciation and understanding for it, which I think is important. Also it will make classes easier for you and your coach as things will make sense to you.
I’ll just put this out here to prepare you, and say that CrossFit is going to be pretty rough on your hands for the first few months. It was like that for everyone. If you can get through a few months, build up some callouses and keep them under control it will get better. But ditch the gloves. You need to build up grip strength and a bit of callouses and that’s harder to do when wearing gloves. You’ll thank me in the long run.
Being strong is AWESOME. The stronger you are, the easier everything will be. Doing CrossFit will feel better when you are stronger. In saying that, CrossFit rewards efficiency, which is why kipping and momentum is used in workouts. But often beginners who don’t yet have the strength to accomplish strict movements will often bypass the process of growing strength in the strict fashion and will learn to kip their movements first, but with that comes a higher potential for injury. Common injuries are injuries to the shoulder joint, like rotator-cuff and labrum tears. It’s a good idea to build up your strict strength on these movements before kipping too much. Learning the proper gymnastic kip as well is an important thing for a beginner.
Double unders are so awkward and frustrating at first but this is a movement that needs a lot of practice to perfect. And it's something you can do in your own time anywhere as long as you have a rope. You don't need to be at the gym to practice them. Practice them often & you’ll improve quickly and it will make for a much better experience when double unders pop up in a WOD.
Your training is only as good as your recovery. CrossFitters often joke around about training “hardcore”, talking about how much they train, how sore they are, etc. But the truth is, lack of recovery is not really a joking matter. More is not always better, and too much could be holding you back from getting better results.
Lack of sleep, too many junk (empty) calories, not enough food, no mobility work, not enough water (dehydration), too much stress in your life, all of these things are stressors that can affect your recovery and lower your immune system.. If you add to that, daily full-on training sessions in which you are taxing all the energy systems, you are pretty much a ticking injury/burn out time bomb waiting to blow. Remember, you are only as good as how well you can recover.
Don’t skimp on your technique work, core stability and mobility work, especially if you are a beginner. I’ve seen so many people try to jump straight into the heavy weights and the crazy conditioning without building a foundation of good movement first. I know you love the feeling of a hardcore CrossFit workout, that’s why you are doing CrossFit in the first place. There’s nothing wrong with that; I love it too. But just make sure to start with the important things like posture, activating the glutes, mobility, core stability, proper breathing & using good technique. Don’t rush things (not everything needs to be for time lol); build a solid base first and you will thank yourself down the track when you can move efficiently, produce so much more power and stay injury free while doing it.
As for gear, there really isn’t anything you need to do CrossFit. There is absolutely no special clothing you need to get an awesome workout and start seeing improvements. Your CF gym will have the equipment needed to complete the workouts and from there, it’s all just extras and accessories you can discover as you progress in your CrossFit journey. So don't feel the pressure to get all the gear the day you join up. You can get them if you want, but it's optional.
One of the hardest things for may beginners is simply hanging off a bar. This makes pull-ups and toes to bar really difficult because their grip was so weak that they can only hold on for a few seconds. It takes a bit of work to build those muscles up if you haven’t done it much before. Depending on your level of fitness, start practicing a dead hang off the bar for about 10 seconds and then build up from there. Try building up to a few sets of 30-60 seconds before or after classes. This is something easy that you can do as an extra & if you practice often you’ll be surprised how quickly your grip strength, shoulders and lats will adapt to supporting your bodyweight. It will make a huge difference as you begin to progress into pull-ups and other gymnastic-based movements, as well as gripping the bar during Olympic lifts.
When you first join a CrossFit gym you'll be getting all sorts of PBs.This will be exciting but after a few months the gains will slow down a little. This is completely normal. When this happens try to find little victories and accomplishments that you can celebrate just as much as the bigger victories. Find a way to make a small win every day. Things like improved technique, decreased rest times, perfect reps, greater movement efficiency, increased skill under fatigue, etc. All these things ARE progress and they are just as important as the big milestones. Remember that strength is relative, as is progress. It comes in many different ways. Take notice and celebrate these tiny wins too!
Once you learn how to properly fail a squat, snatch, clean and jerk etc. you will feel more confident about increasing the weight on your bar. If you are unsure how to "bail" out of a missed lift correctly, ask your coach, and even practice failing a squat or lift with them. This is very important, both for safety reasons, and for developing more confidence with the weights.
I’m not sure how things will be at your CF gym, but many of them can be intimidating at times. Especially if you’re new to that type of gym and style of working out. You won’t know anybody, people will be crashing and banging on the platforms, women and men doing muscle-ups, with chalk, sweat & 6-packs all over the place. Yes, it can be a little intense sometimes. But there will be other beginners, you’ll get to know people and make friends, the coaches and other members will help you out if you need it. Before you know it you’ll be part of a positive, inspiring community that will help you grow.
Scaling or starting out lighter with weights is a very important aspect of CrossFit if you are just starting out. When you are a beginner, you need to focus on the technique of the lifts and how to move efficiently under fatigue before worrying about the weight. Apart from the safety aspect of it, one of the other big reasons it's important to scale when needed is because workouts are programmed to target specific energy systems in your body to deliver specific results. If a workout is supposed to be fast moving and you are stuck with a weight you can only lift one at a time, you won’t be getting the effect out of that workout that you should be, and this will hinder your overall results.
As you improve, you will be able to start going heavier/faster and your coaches will initially help you decide what weights and movements to scale. If you’ve been at CrossFit for several months however, you should start to get a feel for what you need to achieve in a particular workout, and hopefully you will know how proficient you are at different movements and when and how much to scale. Most people should be able to pick their own weights after a while. Use the time in the warm-up to think about what weights you will use for the workout.
Realistically, you’re probably not going to be the next Games competitor so don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day or week, that happens. Just keep things in persecutive and just move on. It’s supposed to be a challenge and something that makes you happy! Spend as much or as little time with as you want too & the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise there isn’t really much point, is there?
Remember that things will get easier. Beginners always ask me when it gets easier. Well Crossfit is always going to be challenging as long as you keep progressing, but it does get better because you get stronger and more confident. You won't always be so sore after every session. You will start to build a greater aerobic capacity, and become mentally tough; this will make the conditioning easier. All of these aspects, combined with experience, will enable you to know how to pace your training better, how to listen to your body, when to push yourself and when to back off, so that you can attack each workout to the best of your ability. You will get better no matter what level you start at!
“Respect the training, honour the commitment, cherish the results.”
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