Stepping into a CrossFit gym for the first time can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. You might see a bunch of half-naked hard bodies showing off their ink and abs, ripping out butterfly kip after butterfly kip. You might ask yourself, “Is that person having a seizure or doing pull-ups? What’s with all the Chuck Taylors? Do they get a group rate? What’s with the guy in the corner wearing only sweatpants, shirt off, all tatted up and muttering to himself? Is he on a work-release program?” Fear not newbie; these people won’t bite. They’re actually pretty darn friendly and overly supportive once you get to know them. It can be a lot to take in at first glance, especially if you’ve had limited exposure to CrossFit prior to stepping into a gym. But don’t worry; we’ve got your back. The following are 10 things to keep in mind as you begin your CrossFit journey.
1.) You’re Competing Against Yourself, Not Others
When it comes time to throw down in a wod, don’t feel like you have to do everything RX’d or be able to complete 20 rounds of “Cindy” right off the bat. Go at your own pace. Let the intensity find you. You need a solid foundation of strength and flexibility in order to progress into more demanding workouts. Start light, get your form down, and don’t worry about the mother of three who is deadlifting 250 as you struggle with the bar. Chase your own capacity before chasing the person next to you. Which brings me to my next point…
2.) Don’t Be Too Proud To Scale
Sing it with me now:
Ain’t too proud to scale, sweet darling.
Please don’t leave the wod. Don’t you go.
Ain’t too proud to scale, baby baby.
Please don’t leave the wod. Don’t you go.
Tony Budding (of CrossFit HQ) describes scaling as another form of programming. Scaling is such an individualized topic that it’s hard to make sweeping generalized statements. You have to know your own body and its limits. But most importantly, there’s no substitute for common sense.
3.) What You Eat Is More Important Than What You Lift
Nutrition is the key to every aspect of your life. It affects your energy levels, your recovery, and your overall defense against disease. To quote the late Jack Lalanne, “You put junk in, junk comes out. You put good in, good comes out.” When you’re first starting out, the quality of your food is far more important than the quantity. Call it whatever you want: Zone, Paleo, Primal, Hunter-Gatherer; just eat clean. You are a Ferrari. You wouldn’t put regular unleaded fuel in a Ferrari, would you?
4.) Don’t Be Afraid To Ask For Clarification, Over and Over Again
It’s your time, money, and most importantly, health. If you don’t fully understand something, ask. If you still don’t get it, ask again. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t fully grasp the concept, or you think others in the class will get frustrated with you for taking up too much time. We were all newbies at one point. We’ve all been there. Learning the mechanics of certain movements like the kip, squat, deadlift, or any of the olympic lifts takes lots of practice and critique from a trained eye. If you need help, just ask.
5.) CrossFit Isn’t Everything
CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on building general physical preparedness (GPP). It is quickly evolving into a sport of its own, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be your sport or your lifeblood. I CrossFit so that I can do whatever I want: Go out, play sports, learn new things. Having that GPP allows me to take on new challenges. CrossFit is not my life. I CrossFit so that I can have a life…and be awesome at it.
6.) It Doesn’t Get Easier, It Just Sucks Less
The longer you immerse yourself in the suck, the less it sucks. You get stronger, build a greater aerobic capacity, and become mentally tough. All of these aspects, combined with experience, allow you to know when to push yourself and when to back off, so that you can attack each workout to the best of your ability. Soon, you’ll come to love the beatdowns. Much like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, you’ll be screaming, “Thank you sir! May I have another?” Well, maybe not. But you get the point.
7.) You Won’t PR Every Day
Don’t mistake intensity for hard work. Even if you’re having a bad day and the intensity just isn’t there, you can still get a lot out of your time in the gym through hard work. Intensity and hard work are not the same thing. Don’t skip a planned session just because you don’t think you’re going to kill it and leave everything out on the table. Not feeling too strong that day? That’s fine; scale the weights and/or rounds or time domain back. Something is better than nothing.
8.) Have Fun!!
Let’s face it, some of the workouts are not fun. Frankly, some of them just plain suck. I’m looking at you, Hero wods. But when it’s over, you feel a sense of accomplishment and maybe a little queasy. You shouldn’t be pissed that you didn’t get as many reps as the person next to you. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Smile. Laugh. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know. If you’re not having fun, why are you here? Do you enjoy your overall time spent at the gym? Do you enjoy the people, the community, the knowledge and support that it provides? If so, then don’t be too concerned with your competitive nature until you have a strong grasp on the 9 Foundational Movements.
The things you’ll learn in a CrossFit gym are fun: gymnastics, olympic lifts, new swear words. You can’t do this stuff in a globo gym. The attitude is different too; no one is going to get in your face and cheer you on as you knock out those last five minutes on the elliptical. And the feeling you’ll have the first time you get an unassisted dead hang pull-up or full squat snatch is an amazing sense of power and accomplishment.
9.) You Are All Firebreathers
The term “Firebreather” comes from CrossFit legend and bad ass Greg Amundson, and he defines it as such:
Firebreather –Fie-r-bre’-th-er: (n) 1. One who faces the triumphs and tribulations of great physical opposition with an indomitable spirit. 2. An optimistic energy associated with the heart of an athlete.
You don’t have to be an “elite” CrossFitter to embody the essence of a true Firebreather. It’s not your“Fran” time, it’s the spirit you bring to “Fran” that makes you a Firebreather. Don’t forget that.
10.) Respect Rest and Recovery
Too many newbies (and even those of us who have been doing this a while) get caught up in overtraining. Don’t be afraid to schedule in a deload day once per week, or a deload week every 4-6 weeks where you cut the weight, rounds, and intensity in half. You have to think about this from a longevity standpoint. If you’re killing yourself every time you step foot in the gym, week after week, month after month, year after year, you’re going to eventually break down. You need to respect your time outside of the gym. There’s an old weightlifting adage that goes something like: “You don’t get bigger and stronger from lifting weights, you get bigger and stronger from recovering from lifting weights.”
Proper nutrition, hydration and sleep all play their part in recovery, but you also need to listen to your body. If you continuously beat yourself down, you’re going to get hurt, injured or worse. Stay on top of your mobility work. If you haven’t done so yet, pay a daily visit to Kelly Starrett’s Mobility WOD. The information there is invaluable.