CrossFit beginner? Here's what you need to know

So it's finally time to get serious about getting fit and strong? You're taking action to get into shape and you have decided to take up CrossFit?

That's awesome! Congratulations!

I'm sure you have lots and lots of questions. Chances are there's even more things you don't even know you should know.

But don't worry, I got your back. Here's the ultimate guide for CrossFit beginners – just the tips and tricks that I wish I had myself when I started.

CrossFit beginner? Here's what you need to know

First of all – you don't have to be fit to do CrossFit. In fact, the more out of shape you are, the more insane results you'll be able to get from CrossFit.

Perhaps you've seen a video of some CrossFit monster going all out at the CrossFit Games and you thought to yourself that you could never do the kind of things that this beast is doing.

But CrossFit is really for everyone (yes, that includes you). Everyone pushes themselves to their 100%, whatever that happens to be.

There's even a built-in system for this in CrossFit, called scaling. It's a way to tailor the challenge of each workout to you specifically.

Can't do a complex exercise like muscle-ups yet? Then you'll do pull-ups and ring dips. Are they too hard as well? Don't worry, ring rows and box dips it is. Everything can be made to work for everyone else and this is normal practice in CrossFit.

There's really no excuse to postpone it. Get started NOW!

What is CrossFit?

People who misunderstand CrossFit often don't know what it's about. The basic principle is about getting fit – it's the sport of fitness, after all.

Being fit by CrossFit's definition means being balanced in terms of the ten fitness skills: strength, balance, flexibility, power, endurance, coordination, speed, agility, stamina, and accuracy.

Someone who can lift a car but not run 5 kilometer is not fit. Someone who can run a marathon but not even squat their body weight is not fit. The fit person is prepared for any challenge.

In order to achieve this fitness, CrossFit takes inspiration from several strength sports, like kettlebell lifting, gymnastics, weightlifting, strongman, etc. These are then all mixed together into one varied (not random, but deliberately diverse) form of training.

CrossFit HQ describes it like this:

CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time.

The community that spontaneously arises when people do these workouts together is a key component of why CrossFit is so effective. Harnessing the natural camaraderie, competition and fun of sport or game yields an intensity that cannot be matched by other means.

While CrossFit challenges the world’s fittest, the program is designed for universal scalability, making it the perfect application for any committed individual, regardless of experience. We scale load and intensity; we don’t change the program. The needs of Olympic athletes and our grandparents differ by degree, not kind.

Who is CrossFit for?

You might have seen the athletes from CrossFit Games? Absolute monsters pushing the human body to its absolute maximum.

They are the tip of the huge CrossFit iceberg and there's a lot of others: old women with hip replacements, obese men, young boys, and people in wheelchairs.

In short, CrossFit is for everyone.

Why do CrossFit?

There are four primary reasons why I recommend CrossFit:

  • You will get results. How many people do you know go to the gym month after month, year after year, but are still not happy with their progress? I have never met someone who have stuck with CrossFit for two-three months and not been blown away by what they achieved.

  • It's actually a lot of fun! You'll learn to throw heavy weights over head, walk on your hands, jump double-unders, and perform toes-to-bar. Imagine looking forward to your training.

  • CrossFit is very social and you'll probably make a lot of friends. It forms a special bond with other people, when you push yourself to your limits together and overcome the intense challenges that CrossFit workouts can be.

  • It's such a difference having a professional coach at hand, teaching your proper technique, keeping you safe and secure, and pushing you when needed.

How do I start CrossFit?

Joining is simple. You just have to find a box and sign up for fundamentals.

"A box" is CrossFit lingo for a gym. You'll see a lot of weird terms like this, so we might as well begin.

CrossFit HQ helps us find boxes easily, with their handy affiliates map you can use to browse and find boxes near you. If you're in a bigger city you'll probably see a bunch of them, so start taking noting them down.

Next, do some stalking! One box can differ hugely to another, so keep looking until you find one that's right for you. Look up their websites, find their Facebook page, Instagram account, maybe look up their YouTube channel. See what kind of tone they use and if it looks like you'd fit in.

Normally boxes offer a free trial class but if you've never done CrossFit before you'll usually have to do a fundamentals (or on-ramp) program. In it you'll learn the basic movements, how to keep yourself safe, and lots of other useful things.

This is also a great opportunity to meet and make friends with other beginners just starting out.

What do I need?

There's definitely a CrossFit style of clothes and equipment. Long socks, branded t-shirts, booty shorts, speciality shoes, etc.

But you're a beginner, so there's absolutely no need to invest money in expensive attire. Just go with what you probably already have: a t-shirt, a pair of shorts, some shoes, and possibly a water bottle.

That's it, you're ready!

Your first CrossFit WOD

Normally a WOD – Workout Of the Day – is around sixty minutes long. Its structure can vary a lot from box to box but it's often broken down into warmup, strength/skill training, and metcon (metabolic conditioning – the gruesome workouts that's come to be synonymous with CrossFit).

Some boxes do stretching and/or cooldown to finish it off.

To understand what it can be like, let's have a look at a fictional beginner's first WOD:

Shoes, check, t-shirt, check, shorts, check. Oh right, the water bottle! Better also run and pee one last time before you head out. Don't want to have to go in the middle of the workout, do you?

You walk up to the box, towering big and ominous before you. What the hell have you gotten yourself into? Inside you see your friend Karen, that you met in fundamentals and she waves to you. Crap, no turning back now.

The clock strikes seven and it's time. Let's do this! Your coach gathers everyone up and explains the movements. Pushups, lunges, burpees, and some running. Not too bad. I got this.

You push through it all, heart beating and sweat starts breaking. But you manage it! Pride is swelling and you can't help but smile. That's when you realize it was just the warmup. The worst is yet to come; the WOD – Workout Of the Day – still remains.

Again your coach gathers people up and you all form a circle, heavy breaths joining together in a kind of sweaty chant. Wonder what the actual workout is? First is the strength training though and today, your coach instructs, you'll be doing heavy deadlifts.

The class is packed at this hour and there aren't enough barbells for everyone, so you team up with Karen to share yours. Coach comes over to make sure you keep your back straight, head down, shoulders back, hips down, knees out. Is this strength training or a game of twister?

Twenty kilos goes up, easy. Twenty five kilos, thirty, thirty five. That's it for Karen, she can't lift that heavy. Just how strong are you though? You put on another five and pull for god and kaiser – forty kilos goes up! That's how strong!

Strength training is over and you put away the weight. Half an hour into the hour long workout, it's finally time for the WOD! Better go pee one last time.

Today you're doing Karen. Not that Karen, you perv, but Karen the WOD. All the CrossFit terminology is still foreign to you but you've learned that some WODs (the nastier ones) have women's names – The Girls.

Coach tells you this is a simple one. Karen's only one single exercise: wall balls. You squat down with a medicine ball and then stand up again before throwing it up against a wall. Wall balls. Simple.

Except with Karen you're doing that 150 times.

Prepare! Things happens too fast now for you to stop and think about just how many repetitions that is. You fetch a medicine ball, pick a spot by the wall, and wait for the timer to start.

10, 9, 8, should have peed one last time, 7, 6, 5, 4, can't be that bad, 3, 2, 1, or can it? Go!

The first five wall balls are easy. You got this. Ten reps out of the way. Maybe you'll break a box record! Fifteen reps. Better rest a little.

Okay, coach, sorry! Why does he have to shout? Sixteen, seventeen. Twenty. This is getting heavy. But only … one hundred and thirty left! What the hell kind of sick sport is this?

Tired, happy CrossFiter

We'll leave our heroine here. Rest assure she survived the WOD and while she had never experienced so much pain as she did the following days, she went back. And kept coming back.

Today she's deadlifting sixty kilos and clocks in at just under nine minutes doing Karen.

That's just the thing – it'll be awful, you'll feel terrible, and will want to quit. But if you keep at it you will become better, stronger and more fit than ever before. Guaranteed. So do the WOD and then immediately book your next session.

Just make sure to give yourself a rest day or two to overcome the initial pain.

Tips and tricks

  • Keep a CrossFit journal and write down your times, reps, and weights. This way you can look back and see just how much you've improved.

  • Don't focus on where you are but where you're going. You should never feel bad about being weak or out of shape, when you're evidently doing something about it. Progress is the only measurement you should care about.

  • Related, leave your ego by the door. The prescribed weight (RX) is only a guide – it's up to you to scale it to your level. If you can only lift half, that's what you'll do.

  • Training is important but so is fuel. Make sure you eat properly – enough quantity and good quality, like these vegan breakfasts.

  • Try different boxes so you know where you feel the most at home. They can vary a lot, so try them out.

  • It might sound expensive but it's a value versus cost kind of thing. Think about what you'll get: definite results, meet healthy friends, have lots of fun, and be coached by professionals.

  • Speaking of coaches – use them. They're there to help you and most of them would love it if you can to them with a problem they might help you solve.

CrossFit is like smoking

It'll be tough in the beginning but it'll be equally worth it in the long run. I really like this explanation of CrossFit by redditor @aaronkz.

It's like cigarettes. The first one, you cough and hack and wheeze and maybe even turn a little green. It's awful. But then you have another. And it feels kind of good. Still lots of donwsides. But enough to try again. It goes on like this for a while, till pretty soon the day just doesn't feel right without one. And once the addiction really sets in it becomes as much a part of your life as eating.

Except you become beautiful instead of getting lung cancer.