Since I’ve gotten so into CrossFit (and post about it all the time) a bunch of people have told me they are interested in trying it out. After telling people the same thing again and again I decided to write out some basic stuff that I tell everyone before they try CrossFit for the first time. I know you can Google stuff about CrossFit, but I think it helps people to hear things from someone they know. I’m not a coach or trainer, and I’m not even that good at CrossFit, but this is my personal experience and advice after doing CrossFit for about nine months and traveling to a dozen or so different gyms all around the world.
This is me hanging mid-pull up at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, CA. (September 2013 – Photo by Gabe Grobben.)
The idea behind CrossFit is to combine strength and cardio workouts that include functional movements that change all the time, and to do them at high intensity.
A good way to think about this is to picture bicep curls like you see people do in a traditional gym. You’ll pretty much never replicate that movement in your everyday life. On the flip side, in a CrossFit gym you’ll do a barbell lift called a thruster where you squat, pick up a barbell, raise it to your chest, then thrust it over your head. This is the same kind of movement you’d do if you were lifting a heavy box and putting it on a high shelf, or putting your suitcase into the overhead compartment on an airplane. That’s functional movement. While some of the CrossFit workouts will be repeated every so often, this is only to track and measure your progress. For the most part the workouts will be different every day. The high intensity part is pretty-self explanatory, but keep in mind that you regulate yourself, so it’ll only be as intense as you make it.
Find the Right Gym:
This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when you start out…finding the right gym for you can make you or break you! Every CrossFit gym will let you try a class for free, so find all the CrossFit gyms in your area by going to www.map.crossfit.com and visit every one that is a convenient drive for you. Each gym is different in terms of size, equipment, the coaches/trainers, how they program workouts, how they run the classes, and of course the community and vibe of the place.
I’ve been to some gyms that I absolutely hated and some that I absolutely loved. The longer you do CrossFit, the more you’ll understand what you like and don’t like based on your goals and personality, but in the beginning you are looking for a gym that you feel comfortable at and somewhere that makes you feel confident the coaches will help you safely reach your goals.
The first gym I ever went to had me lifting insanely heavy weights. I didn’t know what I was doing and wasn’t strong enough to do what they were trying to get me to do, but I didn’t know any better. If I had never gone to another gym, I would have signed up for a membership at that place and would have probably gotten hurt or burnt out pretty quickly and never went back.
Don’t Be Intimidated:
I can see where people may be intimidated to try out CrossFit for the first time, but if you know what you are getting into ahead of time and a little of what to expect at the gym it will help keep you calm. I suggest looking at the gym’s Web site to get a feel for the place as much as possible, but in general each gym will be fairly similar, so here’s what you can expect:
Every class is run by a coach, so everyone does the same thing together. Normally the class will start out with some kind of stretching and/or a warm up to get your blood flowing and get you loosened up. Many gyms will do some kind of weight lifting before the workout. For example, you might do a few sets of squats with a barbell on your back and a few sets of bench presses after your warm up. Then the class will do the WOD (workout of the day) together. This is the intense part that is the heart of CrossFit. The workouts always change and are always scored in some way or another. The coaches will go over the workouts and explain everything to show you exactly how it is done so you can do it safely. If something is too difficult for you, there will always be a way to scale it back so you can still do the workout. And that brings me to my next point…
CrossFit is for All Skill and Fitness Levels:
Everything in CrossFit is scaleable, and the coaches are there to make sure you are challenging yourself, getting a good workout, and most importantly, staying safe. Don’t ever be afraid of not being able to do something. Everyone starts off with their own strengths and weaknesses, and there are people of all ages, shapes, and sizes at every CrossFit gym. If a workout calls for a bunch of pull ups and you can’t do a single one, then there are rubber bands you can use to help you do pull ups. If that’s still too difficult for you, then no worries, you can do something called ring rows. Don’t let your own preconceived notions of what your skill level is get in the way of trying CrossFit.
A Personal Trainer Every Day:
One of the great things about CrossFit is that you have a coach leading the class every day, so not only do you have the gym programming your workouts for you, you have a trainer with you at all times to make sure you are getting the most out of your workout and staying safe.
You Will Not Get Bored:
For me, the thought of lifting weights in a traditional gym by myself just seemed boring. With CrossFit, the workout changes all the time, so it’s impossible to get bored. I used to mix in running and road bike riding with my CrossFit workouts, but now even those activities seem boring to me because CrossFit is so exciting and stimulating. The bottom line is that it is impossible to get bored with CrossFit.
Competitive and Goal Oriented:
I’m a goal-oriented person who loves to see progress, and everything in CrossFit is measurable. Whether it’s learning a new skill like rope climbs or kipping pull ups, adding five or 10 pounds to a specific lift, improving my time on a repeated workout, or just learning how to pace myself better, I can always set small goals and track my progress in the gym. I’ve been training for about nine months now, and I hit a new milestone almost every time I walk into the gym. Even small advances are enough to keep me excited and motivated, and once I reach a goal it opens the doors for more.
Also, being a competitive person by nature, I can compete against myself and other people in the gym every day. If there isn’t anyone around my skill level in the class I’m working out with to compare myself to, then I set goals for myself for that day and compete against myself. All CrossFit workouts are ranked, timed, or scored in some way or another, so every day is like a friendly mini competition that keeps things exciting and fun.
A Supportive Community:
The community that is built in a CrossFit gym is priceless. There’s a good chance you’ll meet new friends by going to CrossFit, but even if you never hang out with anyone outside of the gym, at least you’ll always have supportive, like-minded people working out with you. This helps keep you motivated and helps you reach your goals faster.
This is an extreme example, but remember the movie “Speed”? Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves shared an intense experience together that gave them a strong bond. CrossFit does the same kind of thing on a daily basis. Once you’ve done an intense WOD with a group of people, it somehow manages to bring you all together in a weird way, and it’s a really cool experience. As an adult who is self-employed, going to a CrossFit gym is a key component to my social life, which I think is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle.
It Is Addictive:
I’ve heard CrossFit referred to as a cult, and I’ve heard many people say that it is addictive. Are these things true? Probably so, but don’t view that as a bad thing. I’ve also heard people say that CrossFit is one of the fastest ways to reach a “runner’s high”. Maybe that’s part of the reason why it’s so addictive. There’s probably some science behind that, but I ain’t no scientist. All I know is that I really love CrossFit and think it’s doing great things for my body and mind.
Feel free to hit me up with any specific questions you have. Good luck, and have fun!