So, you’ve decided to finally do something about your sad state of fitness, and you keep hearing from CrossFit disciples how effective it is for whipping people into shape. Fast.
But you’ve also heard all the CrossFit horror stories: people puking in the corner, passing out on the floor, being made to work out way past their abilities, suffering constant injuries. And given the choice, you’d rather stay fat and flabby than end up puking and hurt.
The fact is, CrossFit has evolved. It has a new, long-term partnership with Reebok. Its instructors have to pass stricter certifications. It’s working hard to shed its reputation as a puke-inducing, injury-ridden, no-place-for-pansies, gym. And its strength and conditioning program, featuring “constantly varied, high intensity, functional movement” can help you lose that spare tire and build the lean muscle you’re looking for, faster than you could by hitting the treadmill and dumbbells a few days a week on your own.
So I spoke to some CrossFit trainers and “box” owners (CrossFit refers to its gyms as “boxes”), to find out the best way to break into CrossFit, see how in shape you need to be before you can actually participate in the workouts, and what else you need to know before you attempt your first of their infamous Workouts of the Day, or WODs.
The 5 Best Ways to Break Into CrossFit
1. Forget Everything You’ve Heard
All the puking, passing out, and being forced to compete are things of the past. And those lingering negative images are making it tough for box owners to get new people like you to give CrossFit a try.
“Some of the people in the CrossFit community have been our own worst enemy,” Fernando David, owner of SF CrossFit in Davie, Florida, told me. “That’s because of all the pictures you see them posting on Facebook and the videos on YouTube of people passed out on the floor or puking after workouts.”
David told me they will certainly push you to your limits, but not beyond them. And definitely not to where you’d injure yourself or lose consciousness. “I tell people all the time to only lift as heavy as you can maintain proper form. And sometimes clients will get mad at me because I tell them ‘Stop, you’re done for the day’ and they still want to do more,” David says. “We as coaches are here to stop you from overdoing it and getting hurt.”
2. Don’t Get in Shape to Get in Shape
The thing that drives box owners crazy is when prospective clients tell them, “I’ll join when I get in better shape.”
That’s one of the biggest misconceptions of CrossFit — that you need to be fit enough to make it through those intense workouts from the first day you join. Not true.
“It’s actually better if you have no training experience and no fitness at all,” says Gary Roberts, owner of CrossFit Predators in Oakland Park, Florida. “That way we don’t have to break any bad habits that are ingrained.”
When anyone new steps into Roberts’ gym, he does a fitness evaluation. Everyone, regardless of experience must go through a series of three one-on-one training sessions with a coach to learn proper form for the exercises CrossFit is known for, like Olympic lifts, as well as simple things like learning how to move, squat, and even run, without sustaining injuries.
“If someone has no athletic background, I tell them they are going to work on form and technique for a while before we move on to speed and strength,” Roberts says. “And if they do have athletic ability, they’re still going to get the same speech. We need to put aside ego, step back, and try and learn techniques properly before you can move on.”
And when you do get to move into the workouts? Both David and Roberts tell me they average between 20-30 minutes long, or last only as long as you can handle.
3. Pick the Box That’s Right for You
Not all boxes are created equal. Even though CrossFit is supposed to be run the same throughout all its locations, some boxes do have different focuses. Some focus on building endurance. Some on strength. Some just focus on the WODs. And others like to train for the purpose of competing.
The good thing is, there are a lot of CrossFit boxes to choose from. In my area alone there are nearly two dozen within a 30 minute driving radius. Use CrossFit’s affiliate finder to see where boxes are located in your area. Then visit them, ask questions, and find the one that fits your fitness goals best.
4. Get in the Right Frame of Mind
Do you know what group is the biggest demographic in many CrossFit gyms? Not thick powerlifting men, or even ultra-fit triathletes. It’s soccer moms.
“Most of my early clients were women,” David says, “and they just exploded it. They love to train, and they will push themselves to the utmost. They’re not afraid to sweat.”
David also told me he has clients that range in age from as young as 12 up to as old as 67.
Gary Roberts told me when he first started in CrossFit, he was petrified of running. He thought his knees wouldn’t take the running and power lifts. He was wrong. “If you’re knees are bad, like mine were,” he says, “we will start you at much shorter distances, or do some rowing until your knees can handle it, building strength as you can go further. Soon, 400 meter runs become easier.”
If soccer moms and senior citizens and people with bad joints can all make it through CrossFit workouts, you can too. And like Roberts tells his clients, “Just leave your ego at the door.”
5. Don’t Give Up Too Soon
CrossFit may have a reputation for whipping people into shape, but that’s only if you stick with it. “You’ve got to give it at least 90 days,” David tells me. “The first 90 days are critical.”
That’s where you’ll see a lot of progress, especially if you are extremely out of shape. But don’t expect overnight results. Sure you may be sore and wiped out after your first few WODs, and feel like you’re not making fast enough gains, but look back to tip #4, and stick it out for those 3 months. Both David and Roberts agree after that time you’ll become a CrossFit disciple.
“There’s no middle ground,” David says. “You’ll either love it or hate it. And those that love it, can’t get enough of it.”