Most new CrossFitters have some fitness goal in mind, whether it’s to “be in the greatest condition of [their] life,” “become stronger,” or “reduce weight.” CrossFit appeals to those who are already physically fit because it provides them with a structured, quantifiable outlet to push themselves farther and exhibit their abilities in front of a peer group daily.
I was bored in 2013 and decided to join CrossFit. I had just switched from working irregular hours in a New York City restaurant kitchen to a 9-to-5 office job. I found myself with much time on my hands and the emotional and physical money to engage in activities. Other than eating, sleeping, and watching television. My sister recommended we check out a free CrossFit beginning class at a gym. Near both of our workplaces, I was game since I had realized after just a few months that my body and pocketbook account could only handle so many happy hours a week. It was the social equivalent of committing to attend a boot camp, a picnic, or a brunch for me. I could get it done quickly, enjoy it, and move on.
CrossFit is not something you can merely dabble in now and then; if it sticks, it sticks for good.
Some of the changes I’ve made since 2013 are due to CrossFit, but many others are due to time and experience. What I would advise someone new to CrossFit or considering giving it a try is what I wish I had known when I first began.
1. You need time to find out what you’re doing. Perhaps a whole calendar year.
Most facilities require new CrossFitters to take multiple “on-ramp” courses before joining regular classes. My six-week course covered everything from the squat and deadlift to the Olympic lifts (clean and jerk and snatch) and fundamental bodyweight exercises (pull-ups, push-ups, and burpees). We completed simplified versions of the day’s Workout of the Day (WOD). We talked about the meanings of some of the many CrossFit acronyms, such as “AMRAP,” which means “as many rounds as possible,” and “EMOM,” which means “every minute on the minute.”
Despite taking these introductory courses, I still felt like a complete novice whenever I entered the fitness center. A hang snatch is different from a power snatch. Which is different from a standard snatch, which is different from a hang snatch. Which is different from a power snatch, which is different from a clean. I only partially grasped at least one aspect of every session for months.
Although CrossFit’s self-description, “constantly changing functional motions executed at high intensity,” may seem simple, it is rather subtle and complex. People like it because there are so many opportunities for variety. Yet, this also means that there is a great deal to master. Your first few months will likely be spent feeling a little bewildered. Always doing new things and attempting to go through the motions unless you have a significant lifting and college sports history. Of course, that’s OK, since…
2. Second, just going through the motions for the first year or two will be enough to improve. (You should hire a competent trainer, however.)
At any CrossFit facility, you’ll likely see members engaging in a wide variety of pre-and post-workout activities, such as advanced squat cycles, rowing machine endurance workouts, and strength accessory work. Those things may benefit advanced CrossFit athletes, but you don’t have to perform them. Undeniably not at this time. You may expect to grow stronger and fitter rapidly without burning yourself out in a well-programmed CrossFit facility. You may expect a professional coach to fix your form and explain everything you need help understanding every day.
3. Third, you’ll have to take more days off of work than you’d want
Two essential factors must occur for strength training to be practical: First, you destroy muscle fibers by working them so hard (with weights, your body weight, etc.) that they fatigue. Second, when you sleep, your muscles heal damage and get stronger. You read it correctly; your muscles repair and strengthen when you sleep. Before starting CrossFit, I used to work out at the gym five or six times a week, focusing on cardio by switching between machines and courses. When I first began CrossFit, I maintained that routine.
Because it was so exciting, I typically went six days a week. Six hours of exercise each week seemed reasonable to me since each session only lasted an hour (including the warm-up). However, I would have become stronger more quickly if I had committed to only four (maybe five) days a week and given my body the time it required to recuperate between sets of high weights and difficult intervals rather than training six days a week.
4. Workouts that focus on building muscle are challenging even if you don’t sweat much.
It’s common for a CrossFit WOD to consist of five quick rounds of hardback squats, followed by light barbell exercises designed to improve Olympic lifting form. The discussion is over. You can spend a whole hour on such tasks without feeling breathless.
If I’m being sincere, one of the reasons I went so often at first was because I had gotten into the habit of measuring the quality of my workouts by how out of breath, weary, and sweaty I felt at their conclusion. Many CrossFit routines are guaranteed to have that effect, while others may not. Some days, the exercise aims merely to lift oversized items and become stronger or to concentrate on technique for more intricate barbell motions so that you can ultimately add more weight and get stronger. The transition to strength training may seem effortless if your fitness history consists mainly of cardiovascular exercises. It’s important to remember that lifting hefty objects, followed by rest, is the best approach to building muscle.
5. Don’t adopt a Paleo lifestyle
When I first began doing CrossFit in 2013, many of my fellow athletes were adhering to the Paleo diet, which calls for a diet high in lean protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, with only limited amounts of fruit and carbohydrate. This includes no cereals or dairy items. The Paleo diet has been routinely classified as one of the worst overall diets in recent years, despite its concentration on the whole, unprocessed foods. Also, taking out all grains and added sugars frequently means that individuals consume fewer carbohydrates. Carbs are crucial when exercising consistently, which everyone who does CrossFit is likely to do.
6. You don’t need to purchase a particular diet plan. Start counting macros or start taking supplements, either.
Before it was globally trendy to count macros (the amount of protein, carbohydrates, and fat you consume daily), CrossFitters and bodybuilders were doing it. Until I joined CrossFit, I didn’t understand that there was an entire industry for tailored, performance-driven food programs that claim to fuel performance while controlling body fat. I also didn’t know what BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) were or that people habitually placed pre-workout supplements into their water bottles to be better at exercising. I’ve subsequently dipped my toes in the waters of all of these things, and I always come out thinking the same thing: They’re not worth it to me, and they probably aren’t worth it to you.
If you’re trying to achieve specific body-composition objectives (more muscle, less fat, etc.), counting macros may help you get there more quickly, following a personalized template that details precisely what to eat and when. The problem is that doing so usually requires much additional work (and money). Then what about nutritional supplements? Most of them are supported more by advertising than by hard evidence. Just because it seems like everybody else is doing it doesn’t mean you have to.
7. Seven, watch what you consume. Almost certainly, you are not
This has been said to you before, and I can attest that it is true: Getting stronger and feeling better via exercise has been the most significant, healthiest, most eye-opening thing that has occurred to me since I joined CrossFit. One thing you should know is that this happens slowly. The process took a long time.
You may increase your strength by engaging in heavy lifting and taking enough rest. Still, I should have added the importance of eating regularly and in sufficient quantities. And to be truthful, “enough” is probably more than you believe. The standard recommendation is 2,000 calories per day. Still, everyone is different, so it’s essential to figure out how much you need to eat daily to achieve your specific goals, whether to gain strength or lose weight. The USDA highly suggests this calculator. Based on my current level of exercise, it recommends that I consume 2,500 calories each day. This is a far cry from the conventional wisdom-recommended 2,000 calories a day and likely from the amount many women down in their seemingly universal effort to shed pounds.
Trust me when I say that appropriate nutrition is essential if you want to see gains in strength, speed, and overall performance in your CrossFit endeavors.
8. As a result of number eight, you will begin socializing with gym-goers even though you have never had a conversation with a stranger before.
Despite common misconceptions, CrossFit is not a cult. However, its communal nature is robust. Most people go to the gym at the same time every day, so you’ll probably see the same 20 faces several times a week. There are many chances to talk when everyone is in the same boat during a workout. I bet you’ll wind up going to at least one happy hour, party, or post-workout brunch, even if you went out to make zero new friends. This is not strange (at first, I found it quite odd), but rather a perfectly natural and ordinary approach to meeting people.
9. Improvement in CrossFit is entertaining but ultimately unimportant
If you start CrossFit, you become very dedicated to the sport. Just like that, actually. It could be because you can see your progress so quickly (in terms of how long it takes you to complete a workout or how much weight you can lift). CrossFit gyms often have strong communities, so you’ll spend more time with people who share your interest in the sport. As a result, you’ll inevitably find yourself talking more and more about CrossFit, and it won’t be long before it becomes a regular conversation topic. While these are natural human tendencies, becoming overly engrossed in CrossFit can make you feel like nothing else matters.
The aspiration to better oneself is admirable, and so is the pursuit of strength, which is fantastic, beneficial, and worthwhile. Unfortunately, this is a straightforward trap to fall into with CrossFit. Be careful to avoid becoming someone whose thoughts are preoccupied with their next workout. To exercise more, you might, for example, decline social invitations to do something you would otherwise enjoy doing but which would not be conducive to fitness.
Or making any significant lifestyle adjustment to improve at something that is not, and should not be, who you are. The longer you do CrossFit, the more your performance in the CrossFit Open (or how much you can snatch or how fast your Fran time is) may begin to matter to you. Maintain a daily (or more frequent) self-reminder that CrossFit is just exercise, something to look forward to and enjoy doing, rather than something that should consume every waking moment.