10 Tips for CrossFit Beginners

Let’s just get this out of the way: CrossFit is intimidating. Even after 9 years of doing CrossFit and dropping into 50+ boxes around the world, I still get butterflies when I walk into a CrossFit box. HOWEVER, there’s a difference between nervous excitement and being too petrified to even walk in. And after those initial fears (usually about being “the worst one” or not wanting to get “bulky”) people realize just how great CrossFit can be. So here are some tips to CrossFit beginners or people thinking about doing CrossFit to address the latter.

“Why don’t you start CrossFit?” “Because I have to get in shape first!”
This conversation happens more than I like, but I understand it. You see the CrossFit Games on TV, see pictures of ripped bodies lifting heavy weights, and think “how the heck am I going to do that??” So by some twisted logic, people recognize that what they’ve been doing on the treadmill hasn’t worked, but continue to do it to get in shape. Huh? Yes, the first few days, weeks, or even months will be tough at CrossFit, but that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I tell people that what they see on TV is equivalent to the NFL, but we stick with flag football on a local level. Soccer moms, regular college kids, and 50-something-year-olds who have had enough with the globo gym routine – these make up the majority of CrossFit members around the world.

I hate that this is a real thing, but I’ve heard plenty of first or second-hand accounts of females hesitating or never trying CrossFit for fear of getting “bulky” from lifting weights. While I have enough to say about this for an entire blog post series, basically those fears are unfounded. While I don’t know what their exact definition of “bulky” is (and they probably don’t either), I imagine them thinking about professional bodybuilders and bulging veins. Let’s just say if it was THAT easy to look like a professional bodybuilder, then why do actual bodybuilders say it’s took a lot of hard work and dedication to get to that point? Ladies, I can’t say your bodies won’t change, but I bet you’ll come to appreciate what your body can do and care less about what it looks like. Also keep in mind that genetics, hormones, and nutrition play huge roles in how you look. Simply doing CrossFit 3-5 times a week will not make you dramatically bulk up overnight.

Loud music, barbells with big weights dropping on the ground, yelling/screaming, people doing crazy movements that you’ve never seen at an LA Fitness – CrossFit boxes are intimidating places….at first! Then you realize that the plates are not all 45 pound plates – some are just 10 pounds! And that the people screaming are actually cheering each other on to do their best and they give each other fist bumps after the workout. And that those crazy movements are actually just effective gymnastic and weightlifting movements proven over the course of time. As for the loud music – well, we can always turn down the music. The fact is that change is scary, but good change is exciting!

There’s a saying that people “come for the workout, but stay for the community.” I know it’s weird to think about becoming friends with people you workout with, but it happens. This isn’t a regular gym where you can just come in with your headphones and do your own thing. We’re all in it together. You’ll meet some of the nicest and personable people in your life at a CrossFit box. How often do people at work come up to you with a smile and introduce themselves with no intention other than to get to know you? At CrossFit, it happens all the time! Use these fellow members to ask questions and draw on their wisdom from being newbies at some point. It’s not just the coach you should be learning from!

CrossFit works, but not if you go 1-2 times a week. You have to show up. Even if you go 3-5 times a week, but stop after a month or two, you’ll regress fairly quickly and start back at ground zero. From coaching hundreds of members, I can tell you that you will make amazing progress just by showing up consistently for the first year. You will be ASTOUNDED by what you can do in a year’s time. Then you will hit some sort of plateau after 1-2 years simply because improvement is not linear. And this is another time to just keep showing up consistently and put in the work. Again, from my own experience and coaching hundreds of others, I can tell you that even though your workout results might flatten out, you will have breakthrough moments and they will be sweet. But only if you show up.

What should be your first goal? Most will think to say “lose weight,” or “get a pull-up” or “deadlift double bodyweight.” These are all admirable goals for sure, but if I had it my way, all of you would say “move beautifully.” Does that sound weird? That’s ok. Just watch any world-class performer (gymnast, weightlifter, singer, dancer, etc) and they make their craft look effortless. Your goal is to focus on technique first, then add a little bit of weight over the course of months, years, decades. If you were learning a new language, you would want to learn vocabulary, grammar, etc. first aka the “mechanics.” Learn the mechanics of CrossFit, then slowly add intensity.

CrossFit is great at getting you fit – but what are you getting fit for?? Each of you has a different answer: to pick up your kids; to run an adventure race; to prevent disease and decrepitude; and yes, to look good naked. And while we can get caught up with the awesome people and workouts at CrossFit, we need to see the bigger picture to stay in this for the long haul. You need to use your fitness outside of the gym whether that’s hiking, doing a race of some sort, or playing intramural sports or anything in between.

Your box will probably have events, socials, volunteering, competitions, etc. Get involved and help out. Starbucks ceo Howard Schultz wants the coffee icon to be your “third place” – the place you hang out the most besides work and home. From years of coaching and seeing members change their lives, I know for a fact that your CrossFit box will be your third place – but only if you put in the time to workout and get to know other people.

A typical workout is one hour. One hour is 4% of your day. What are you doing with the other 96%? Whether your goal is to be better athletically, be healthy, look good naked, or all of the above, your lifestyle outside of the gym will impact you more than the workout inside the gym. One of the reasons I love CrossFit is because we can teach you the right habits and tools to use outside the gym (particularly when it comes to nutrition and sleep) and soon we find people forgoing a late Friday night bar hop so they can go to bed at 9pm and hit a hard workout the next morning. Not that there’s anything wrong with socializing (CrossFitters are notorious for working hard and playing hard), but I do find people’s priorities change once they start CrossFit and being around like-minded health conscious people is a positive influence.
If you sit at a desk, mobilize every hour. When you go to the bathroom, do 20 air squats (I wouldn’t recommend burpees on that floor and in those clothes) Pack your lunch so you can keep food quality high. Go to bed early. You might get teased by your non-CrossFit friends, but if you’re doing it for health, for longevity, for YOUR reasons, then it doesn’t matter.

I once had a private client whose sole goal was to fit in a bikini for a wedding anniversary trip that she had in two months. I kept things simple with squats, deadlifts, KB swings, and sprints because that’s all I could really teach her in such a short amount of time. Although we got her to her goal, I never saw her again. Will you see results in the first few months of starting CrossFit? Probably. But given the plethora of movements to learn, the thousands of repetitions needed to actually get good at those movements, and the goals of being stronger and healthier FOR LIFE, you probably should play the long game. In other words, don’t get frustrated that you don’t know how to do a full snatch by the 8th minute you’ve touched a bar (true story). Don’t envy the girl banging out butterfly chest-to-bar pull ups while you are doing your ring rows. Don’t look at the lean girl with 8 pack abs and want to starve yourself to get like her. Instead, change your nutrition, but make them habits instead of crash diets. Learn the movements at light weight to move beautifully.  Play the long game.

-Coach Chris

If you are thinking about starting CrossFit, what are some of your concerns? If you have been doing CrossFit, what would you tell your newbie self?

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