CrossFit has a reputation for being REALLY HARD. It can have a steep learning curve. Lucky for you, I’ve created this little guide to help make your life easier.
I admit it. I’ve drank the CrossFit kool-aid. I think it's has been highly beneficial to my life and as a result, I’ve recommended it to many friends.
Many said “no thanks.”
There are many reasons, but the common theme is that CrossFit has a reputation for being REALLY HARD. It can have a steep learning curve. Lucky for you, I’ve created this little guide to help make your life easier if you are CrossFit beginner, so that you too can reap the rewards.
#1 Understand your WHY first.
Understanding WHY you want to start anything, especially something as rigorous as CrossFit, is important. Your WHY is what's going to keep you coming back on the days when "you just don't feel like it". Understanding your WHY is going to be the compass that guides you through your CrossFit Journey.
Is it to improve your health and longevity?
Do you want to get really fit and physically attractive?
Is your 'why' that you want to be stronger?
Or are you looking to challenge yourself and maybe compete in the sport of CrossFit?
Your WHY is unique to you and thus should have some deeper meaning. It's okay if you keep that to yourself.
CrossFit is for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that everyone does it the same. Should a 50-something-year-old person with goals relating to health and wellness be training 6 days per week for hours on end and running themselves into the ground day in and day out? Probably not.
Is CrossFit hard? Yes. But should it push you to breaking point if you’re not competing in the sport? Probably not. CrossFit for Fitness should be challenging but enjoyable, sustainable, and most importantly, FUN! The sport of CrossFit is another monster in its entirety.
At the end of the day–whatever your goals– your why will keep you focussed.
#2 There’s a lot of unique terminology and acronyms used, but it’s not a big deal.
The WOD means the “Workout Of the Day,” which literally means what you’ll be doing for that particular workout. Usually comprised of a warm up, some strength or skill work and a metcon (conditioning workout).
Other acronyms that really threw me off at first were EMOM, AMRAP, AFAP. You should not require a PhD to workout, but here we are...
EMOM means “Every Minute On the Minute,” which means if the coach has identified the workout as EMOM 5 pull-ups, it means you’ll be doing 5 pull-ups at the start of every minute. (And it can also get modified to E2MOM or similar, which would be every 2 minutes on the minute, for example.)
AMRAP means “As Many Rounds/Reps As Possible,” which means you keep repeating the sequence of activities until the time runs out. You can breathe a sigh of relief when time runs out.
AFAP means “As Fast As Possible,” which means you’re done once you’ve completed the required activities, no matter how long it takes. Usually your coach will be kind enough to include a timecap, which means that no one will be left on the floor struggling through solo burpees while the rest of the class are already home and eating their dinner.
There are some easy acronyms like DB = dumbbell and BB = barbell.
1RM means “One Rep Max,” which means the most weight you could lift for one rep on any particular movement (very useful to know, more on this shortly).
Many workouts have specific names (girl names), like Fran or Karen. There’s a super long list of them, so don’t worry about trying to memorize them all or anything. The workout should always be on the whiteboard and explained to you by a coach at the beginning of every class.
Lastly, for some reason, a CrossFit gym is often referred to as a ‘Box’.
So if you’re just starting out, hope this quick rundown is enough to keep you going until you learn the lingo!
#3 Track your performance numbers as soon as possible, even as a CrossFit beginner
It’s a really good idea to keep a journal, a log, or use an app to track your performance. I use a free app called “Workout Tracker” but there are many available. Many boxes have invested in software that all of their members can use, like Wodify.
You get an immediate benchmark to see where your baseline is and how far you progress over time, which can help reward and reinforce your behaviour.
But more importantly, this information will help you plan your workouts. For example, it’s very common that workouts will call for you to complete reps at a percentage of your 1RM. And so for you to be able to know how much weight to lift, you have to know what your one rep max is. Then you can do the math to figure out your 60%. By following the program properly, you have the best chance of reaching your goals and improving your performance over time.
Similarly, if a specific workout is timed, it may help you to know how you felt while doing it. Did you start off too fast and then slow down drastically at the end? This will give you useful feedback to use next time, helping you to learn how to modify or break up reps to ensure a more sustainable pace, if that is the desired stimulus of the workout. Or perhaps you paced it a little too much, and noting that will help you remember to push harder next time.
As a CrossFit beginner, you’re probably not going to have an idea of where your max is, so you do it by feel. Then log that number and use it as a baseline next time you need to perform the same activity. Don’t get frazzled if you don’t know your number for something! Your coach will be able to advise you on what weight to use if you’re unsure.
Tracking becomes most useful over time, so the earlier you start, the better!
#4 Stretch, warm-up, cool down, be flexible, and pace yourself.
When I told a friend I was starting CrossFit. He replied: “Call me when you’ve hurt yourself.” I didn’t understand what he meant at the time.
Fast forward a few months.
Now I get it.
CrossFit inherently pushes you to your physical limits. Lift the most weight you’ve ever lifted? A recipe for disaster and injury if not done right. Complete the workout as fast as possible? You might sacrifice on safety to obtain more speed or to get in a few more reps.
And if you have a type A personality, or you’re very highly driven, pushing yourself is your default. It might be hard to apply some much needed brakes.
So how do you prevent the potential injuries?
You can start by never skipping the warm-up (most classes will automatically incorporate this).
When the workout is over, consider a very light cooling down workout. For example, if you just did a bunch of sprinting, consider doing a little walking after.
Also, if you go into a workout with a strategy, be prepared to abandon that strategy if it’s not working. If you try to stick to something that was unrealistic, you are at a risk of hurting yourself. You should never try to do anything that’s not safe.
Finally, pace yourself according to the stimulus of the workout, which your coach should be able to advise you of. The pace you set for a 5 minute workout will be completely different to a 30 minute workout. This will probably take some time to learn so don’t stress if you mess it up… several times over!
While we’re at it, make sure you’re sleeping well and working on your mobility. Don’t let injuries get worse and try to deal with them as soon as possible when they show up. If you’re in persistent pain, there’s no prizes for struggling through - see a physio before it gets any worse! Preferably one who is familiar with CrossFit.
When you first start CrossFit, you’ll probably be very sore for several days. This is normal at first. When I began, I only did 1 class per week until my recovery improved and then I slowly escalated it.
#5 You can’t out-train a bad diet
With regards to eating, here’s a great post if you want to do a deeper dive into diet and nutrition. But if you’re new to CrossFit and have body composition goals, here are a few truths;
- No matter how hard and how often you train, if your goal is fat loss; you will not reach it without being in a calorie deficit.
- Again, no matter how big your muscles get, you won’t see them if you have excess fat on top of them.
- Supplements should be thought of as the cherry on top of a strong nutritional foundation. Try to get your nutrients from quality food sources if you can.
#6 Take care of your hands, especially as a CrossFit beginner!
CrossFit can be hard on your hands at first. It can hurt to hold a pullup bar or a barbell, especially if your hands aren’t used to it! If you want to do a deep dive into hand care, check out this article or this video.
Otherwise, make sure to take breaks and keep an eye out for blister formation. If you see a blister is forming, take it easy and let it heal. I found that swinging (or kipping) on the pull up bar is what always put me at the highest risk.
I always carry some kind of sports tape and second skin squares with me, just in case my hands tear. These items can also be used for prevention.
Hand care gets much easier over time as you form calluses in common areas of friction, so just hang in there (literally).
#7 You can start without equipment, but recommend a jump rope.
Who knew a jump rope was such a personal thing? Not me.
As you’ll quickly learn when you are asked to perform double unders (jumping over the rope while it swings under you twice), a good jump rope makes a difference.
But perhaps more importantly, a jump rope of the appropriate length makes a HUGE DIFFERENCE. It can be the difference between being able to perform the movement and not performing the movement.
I had a rope that I shortened by a couple of inches and I lost the ability to perform double unders for months, until I figured out what the problem was. I got the exact same rope (but longer) and they were back!
Here’s a guide to finding yourself a good jump rope.
#8 Anticipate that CrossFit is going to be hard.
Yes, I know I talked about understanding your WHY. So hopefully you realize how important this part of preparation is if I’ve explicitly chosen to mention some version of it twice on the list.
When I first started CrossFit, I thought that it would get easier over time…
I’ll get stronger, I’ll understand the technical movements, I’ll know what I’m doing and it’ll be easy. YEAH RIGHT. Although many of those things are true, what I didn’t realize is that the way CrossFit is structured is that it is always different. It doesn’t let your body adapt to any particular set of circumstances. Translation: It’s always going to be challenging. Always.
I found that for many people, it’s not the physical part that’s the hardest to overcome. Your brain thinks your muscles are done working far before they are actually done working. That’s been tested and proven to be true (ask any marathon runner when they feel tired, hint: it’s way before the marathon is over). That means your biggest challenge is your mind.
You will need to be prepared to face the worst parts of your mind in a duel. Or as David Goggins suggests in his book Can’t Hurt Me, be prepared to callus your mind. Expose it to pain. Expose it to struggle. Help it understand that these things make you stronger. Help it understand that this is the path to reaching your goals and becoming better.
So don’t be surprised: it’s going to be hard, and you’ll be awesome.
#9 Don’t compare yourself to others.
It’s a normal tendency for us to compare ourselves to others. In CrossFit, much like in life, it can be detrimental.
We all have different genetics, heights, weights, histories, strengths, and weaknesses. We all have good days and bad days. We all eat differently. We all have different goals.
Basically, it’s pointless to compare yourselves to others. It almost always just leads to envy or misery in some capacity.
In my experience, I’ve found only 2 comparisons are actually helpful.
First, if you see someone else do something awesome, be inspired! Get motivated. Be happy for them. Avoid envy, instead admire and respect their success. Use it to your advantage. Use it as motivation for how great you can be too.
Second, if you want an accurate representation of your own progress, compare yourself to your past self. Look how far you’ve come. Try to do better than THAT PERSON. You are better than that person already because you’ve grown and learned from their experiences.
Other than in these circumstances, I’ve found it’s best for your mental health to focus on yourself and avoid comparisons.
#10 Fitness is a Lifelong Endeavour
Try not to be in a rush and take shortcuts. If you want your fitness journey to be sustainable, take your time. Master the fundamentals and don’t worry about not being able to Rx every workout. Taking shortcuts will only lead to poor form and injury.
Often when athletes rush ahead too quickly, they have to go back at a later date to undo bad habits and relearn movements entirely. When you understand and accept that there’s no hurry, the whole experience becomes much more enjoyable and rewarding as you celebrate all the small wins!
#10 What are you waiting for?
I recognize that CrossFit isn’t for everyone. Just kidding.
I hope some of these suggestions end up serving you well as a CrossFit beginner, and make your journey a little more smooth.
What are you waiting for? Come drink the kool-aid.
Are You Tired of Tripping on Double Unders?
Enter your email below to get the Ultimate Guide to Double Unders at no cost, straight to your inbox
Comment below with any questions or issues you might have... we're here to help!