4 Tips for CrossFit Beginners

Winter is coming…

Exercising outdoors will soon be on hold as the New Zealand winter kicks in. Time to find something that can be done indoors and out of the cold, rainy, windy (Wellington) weather. While some brave souls will still battle the winter chill many will find shelter in warmer places such as commercial gyms, CrossFit boxes, or in bed for hibernation.

If you’ve been thinking about starting CrossFit but feel overwhelmed, confused, or simply afraid then you are not alone. It feels like being the new kid at school who gets picked last for lunchtime soccer and doesn’t even know what the rules are – you may be digging up old wounds that never really healed. But that is your irrational mind conjuring up fears that likely never occur.

Navigating your way through the first 6 weeks of CrossFit is a minefield that many don’t dare to cross and few make it through alive and intact. So here are 4 Tips for beginners that will help you find the kind of enjoyment that leads to staying up late watching hours of CrossFit videos on youtube and eventually becoming fitter and stronger than you ever thought possible.

1. Leave Your Ego At The Door

Many CrossFit boxes will have this written on the walls and even if it isn’t it is an unspoken rule that you will learn about very quickly. CrossFit exposes everyone’s greatest weakness by constantly challenging you with new movements and varying lengths of workouts. From short sprints to long runs, bodyweight workouts to heavy barbells. Common traps people fall into include: comparing themselves to others, not appreciating how much work it takes to learn new skills, trying a new skill without following progressions, or loading up a barbell too heavy and getting crushed 2 minutes into the workout.

There’s nowhere to hide and the only way you will survive is to make peace with the fact that you can only work your hardest and hope for the best. Ego has no place in this setting because a CrossFit class is not a competition between the participants, it’s a test of your current capacity in the given task. Whatever is on the whiteboard needs to be done to your best ability and unless you made a severe tactical error then your score is simply a mark in the sand for you to push past next time. 

2. Follow Proper Progressions

Learning a new skill requires progression. You cannot run before you walk, you cannot walk before you crawl. In every skill we would currently call ourselves “proficient” there was once a time where we were a novice. To get there it took hours of hard work, thousands of repetitions, and slow steady progression.

Any good CrossFit box will provide you with proper progressions to learn a skill. The more complex the skill the more progressions involved. There is always a required level of mobility, and strength is often an underlying requirement for anything we do whether it be a gymnastics skill like pull-ups or a barbell skill like squat snatches. Once you can move through good range and have the appropriate level of skill then you can start to practice it. Always abide by the following doctrine: “Technique before Consistency before Intensity.”

Technique is everything, you must be able to perform the skill properly with minimal intensity, fatigue, or mental pressure. Take All Blacks’ first five Beauden Barrett for example. Everyone has seen him slice through teams, chip kick over defenders, and run in 60m tries against the best opposition in the world. But he doesn’t just turn up on the day hoping it’ll magically happen. He goes through hours of practice against tackle pads, running through cones, kicking and chasing on empty fields until his movements become almost automatic. And when the intensity is poured on with the Springboks openside flanker sprinting full pace at him wanting to take his head off he can go into autopilot and pull off some of the greatest plays in rugby. That’s why he is one of the greatest players in the world.

So when you step in the box don’t forget about Beaudy; remember that despite being a freakish human being he still works on the basics and practices progression. Over and over again.

3. Listen To Your Body

How familiar does this sound? Time to make a change. You get super excited and sign up for an unlimited CrossFit membership. You do a class Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Thursday rolls around and everything hurts but you still show up for class. By Friday you can barely get out of bed and stairs are out of the question. The weekend is a write-off. Monday it all starts over again for a week or two before you decide “CrossFit’s not for me” and you walk away with your tail between your legs.

This happens all the time. CrossFit is hard, pushing yourself to the limit to create some kind of change will cause fatigue and soreness. It’s a normal response to exercise and it never goes away. The best you can hope for is that your body becomes better at tolerating the amount of exercise you can normally do in an hour class and your recovery time gets a little better so you are sore for one day instead of 5. We always recommend newbies start with 3 sessions a week and come in on alternating days. The first few weeks will be tough but the body will adapt quickly if it has adequate rest.

If your goal is to be able to workout every day then treat it just like any other progression – one step at a time. If your shoulder is sore then stretch, foam roll, and warm it up before the session. If the pain doesn’t go away then stay off it for a couple of days. If you feel a cold coming on then take a couple days off and come back healthy. Listen to your body and make sure you are getting proper recovery in between workouts. As the saying goes “We don’t get strong by lifting heavy weights, we get strong by recovering from lifting heavy weights”.

4. Celebrate Small Wins, Always

CrossFit is full of reminders that we aren’t as fit as we’d like to be. Whether it’s being in a class full of firebreathers or seeing the females at the CrossFit Games beat our open workout scores (guys, you know the feeling). Sometimes we repeat a workout and get a slower time. Or we lift a weight that feels like it will crush us when only last week we were pumping it out for 10 reps. Humans naturally have a tendency to focus on these moments and then actively avoid them. New Zealanders have this other psychological mechanism where we talk down our achievements and rarely celebrate big wins, nevermind the small ones.

But you should celebrate every win possible. This keeps the motivation high and the keeps us progressing. Whether it’s with your coach, your workout buddy, or your significant other (be careful here, too much unwarranted CrossFit talk can damage a relationship). Share high fives, fist bumps, and celebration dances whenever it seems appropriate. It doesn’t matter if it’s 10kg or 1kg, 10 unbroken ring muscle ups or one strict pull up. Every milestone should be celebrated. If you hit a 2kg personal best but get upset because you missed the 5kg PB or it’s 10kg off what you really wanted then you’re missing the point. The journey is more important than the destination and in CrossFit, the destination often moves further ahead as we progress. So have fun and always remember:

We don’t HAVE to do this, we GET to do this.