Ever since I could remember, I’d been an athlete. I played a bunch of sports, volleyball through college, and had been comfortable in various gym settings since about age 14.
So why was I sitting in my car, outside of this CrossFit gym, so terrified to go inside?
It was supposed to be my first day of CrossFit. But I had no idea what to expect… if I was ready… or what CrossFit for beginners even entailed.
I had heard horror stories, that the workouts would leave me on my hands and knees, wanting to throw up. That I wouldn’t be able to walk right the next day, and so on.
Eventually, I turned off my car and shuffled through the doors. It was a decision I’ll never regret, which is why I’m writing about it today.If you’re considering CrossFit… brand new to CrossFit… or not sure if you’re ready to start… then this article is for you.
Maybe you’re here because you’re not even sure what CrossFit is, or what the workouts might look like. Let’s start with the very basics - what is CrossFit?
According to CrossFit HQ, “CrossFit is a lifestyle characterized by safe, effective exercise and sound nutrition. CrossFit can be used to accomplish any goal, from improved health to weight loss to better performance. The program works for everyone—people who are just starting out and people who have trained for years.”
Take a second to note the wording above: “The program works for everyone - people who are just starting out, and people who have trained for years.”
But how is that?
Everyone’s fitness journey is going to look different - that’s one of the beauties of CrossFit. You could see a pro athlete walk into the gym - or someone who has never lifted a barbell in their entire life - and they’re both going to get their asses kicked - just the right amount.
The key to CrossFit workouts is scaling to all athletes’ abilities. Affiliated CrossFit Gyms use trained, certified coaches - all who should know how to correctly help athletes scale movements as necessary.
When I was first starting CrossFit, I had minimal muscle. I was tall and lanky, and I was most comfortable with the just weight of the barbell (35 lbs) - maybe 10 lbs on each side at best. Pull-ups were completely out of the question, and even air squats were challenging for the first few months….
Yet I had great coaches who always helped me modify the workout to my beginner abilities.
To dig in a little further, here’s an example of how a coach could scale a workout for a CrossFit beginner:
Benchmark WOD Cindy:
20 minute AMRAP (as many rounds and reps as possible)
Many CrossFit beginners might not be able to do the above movements to standard when they first start, and that’s perfectly fine. Depending on the athlete’s ability level, the coach might suggest the athlete scale pull-ups to ring rows, and change push ups to knee push ups. Air squats could even be performed to a more shallow depth, if necessary.
When it comes to scaling movements, the possibilities are endless. At the end of the day, what matters is that the athlete is moving and challenging themselves.
I’ll never forget one of my first CrossFit workouts/struggles. I just so happened to start my membership during the 2014 CrossFit Open - and I walked into the gym on a Friday, when 14.3 was programmed.
The workout was…
Complete as many reps as possible in 8 minutes of:
As a former vball player, box jumps weren’t a problem. It was the deadlifts that I had little experience with - and little knowledge of what a comfortable, reasonable weight was for me.
My coach at the time happened to be Coach Ben, who walked me through the workout ahead of time:
“Let’s start with 95 lbs and you can keep working up. I’ll keep an eye on you and if your form starts to go, we can scale the weight with something you can comfortably finish at.”
If memory serves, my form started to go at 155 lbs and we capped it right around there. Man, did those deadlifts feel heavy... and I thought the 8 minutes would never end. But man, did I feel proud afterwards.
If some of the above terms confused you, don’t sweat it. The CrossFit community uses a good amount of acronyms and abbreviations when it comes to the movements and styles of workouts, but you’ll pick up on them quickly.
It took awhile - and I consistently confused the difference between AMRAPs and METCONS - not to mention those EMOM things...
Remember, everyone comes into CrossFit new, so everyone has had the learning curve of remembering these new acronyms. If you’re confused, just pull a coach or another member aside for help.
Here are a few common acronyms that you might see on the whiteboard:
If you’re still feeling intimidated - fear not. Many gyms have specific ‘Onramp’ or onboarding classes for new CrossFit athletes. At the very least, all coaches will know when an athlete is new to the gym, and needs some extra help and direction. You won’t just be thrown to the wolves and expected to know everything.
Most classes are 60 minutes long, and will follow a flow something like this:
Here are a few more CrossFit tips for beginners from our very own Coach Ben:
This is going to vary depending on your fitness level. When I first started CrossFit, 3 days per week was the sweet spot for me to avoid excessive soreness, and allow my body to adapt.
After a few months, I increased to 4 times per week, and after 5+ years I vary between 5-6 days per week. Because I’m now much stronger than when I first started, my body can handle back to back days of strength training and weights - where that wouldn’t have been possible in the beginning.
The key is to listen to your body, and do what you’re comfortable with. To see results as a beginner going to CrossFit, you’ll need to go more than once a week.
I speak from experience when I say that it can be easy to get caught up trying to hang with some of the more experienced members. Don't fall for that trap - your body might not be ready for it yet. Your best bet is to focus on one thing: consistency.
While you won't immediately be able to do all of the movements, and you might not be able to keep up with the CrossFit veterans... you are doing the most important thing for your health - taking action! Rain, Shine, or Snow - keep up your 3 times per week until your body feels ready for more. You’ll know when it’s time to ramp it up.
If you’re still reading this and wondering, “Ok… this all makes sense… but am I ready to start CrossFit?”
CrossFit is a community that welcomes all shapes, ages, backgrounds - you name it. The coaches WANT to work with you to help you get comfortable, and make progress.
Heck, when I first started off, I could barely hang from the pull-up bar. It hurt my hands to simply do a dead hang, and pull-ups were completely out of the question.
Fast forward 6 months, and after consistent practice, I managed my first pull-up.
Fast forward 6 years, and just the other day I hit an all-time record of 10 strict pull-ups in a row. Something that my 24-year-old self would have never dreamed of.
The moral of the story? If you’re ready to change your life, put in the time, and the work - you’re ready to start CrossFit.
Kait is the Editor-in-Chief for the WODprep blog, a long-time CrossFit athlete, and lover of pretty much all things fitness. She's been on the WODprep team now for 4 years, and has her CF-L1. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her husband and two huskies.
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