Starting The CrossFit Journey

What’s it like when you’re a new athlete? How do you go about finding a gym, finding a program that fits for you? And once you get there, what’s it like, and how should you go about your first few months of doing a CrossFit program?
So you want to do CrossFit or you’ve got a crazy friend that is doing CrossFit that won’t stop talking about it. This does happen. So what do you do first?
Google “CrossFit” or “CrossFit near me”. Look for a cool web page or go to a free class at your friend’s gym, but maybe you still don’t know much about it.
So upon entering a CrossFit gym, you’re going to see a little bit different layout than a normal gym, what we call a global gym or a large box gym. This could be like Planet Fitness or Gold’s Gym. at these types of gyms you walk in, there’s a front desk, and then there’s an array of equipment. You’re kind of left to your own devices at these gyms unless they have personal training options or a salesman that walks you around and then tries to get you into a contract.

At a CrossFit gym, this is a little bit different. Walking in, it’s usually a little less emphasis on the front desk, but there still may be one. If it’s a gym like ours, we run a no-sweat intro where you come in and meet with a coach first. They walk you around the gym, talk to you, and try and find out what it is that you want to improve. What are your goals? What are you trying to do? Health and wellness, gain some strength, get faster, train for a sport or for an event like a Spartan Race, and what the best way to get there would be. CrossFit gyms of sit in between the personal training one-on-one world and the kind of giant group classes, left to your own devices. It’s a mix of some instruction and personal training and in a group setting.

At our gym, before you get to the group classes, you need to go through private training, three to five sessions with a coach that gets you up to speed. We call this our on-ramp process, or at our gym it’s called base camp. In these base camp sessions, you’re learning how to lift properly. Maybe there are modifications that need to be made for you that’s not relevant to anyone else except for yourself, and then what a CrossFit workout looks like. We get to go through and test that out and make sure that you understand how to tailor the workout for yourself rather than just doing the workout as written.
Most gyms have one of these on-ramp processes. If they don’t, this is something that you want to look for. You want to look for a gym that doesn’t just throw you into a class and says, “Here, try it out.” Even though that option is great to get a feel for it, you still want a little on boarding process before you get into classes, be it in a group setting or in a one-on-one setting.

So once you get into classes after that on-ramp process, what is it like?
Most classes will start with a talk at the whiteboard, what they’re going to do today, how we’re going to do it, what the goal and stimulus is, what the why behind the workout is. There’s lots and lots of resources for getting workouts these days with the internet, getting out there, Instagram. But having a coach explained to you the purpose of the workout, this is what we’re looking for. This is how hard and fast we want you to go. Or today we’re just going to take it back. We’re going to focus a lot on form and skill development today. These are some important things that you want to be paying attention to, a coach that cares, a coach that is taking you through progressions, that is trying to make you better, and has an eye on detail and form.

Now, that being said, we all want a really good workout. We want to sometimes get our sweat on, but it is good to know that form and mechanics come first, that we are working on the basics, and working and ramping up towards intensity or to a hard workout. So once that whiteboard talk gets done, there is usually a warm up going through, a full body warm up, that involves some light stretching, some movement, getting the heart rate up, getting things moving so you get a little bit of a sweat on before we get to the real workout.

Now, CrossFit, in the past, was always kind of famous for saying, “Our warm up is your workout.” Well, those days have slightly shifted. We are really looking for a good warm up that is going to be holistic and get everybody ready to start moving some weight, if there’s weight lifting in the workout, or getting the joints loose, if there’s running or jumping, so everybody’s ready to go. We’re not just throwing your right into the workout. That’s the second thing to look at after the coach, seeing how classes are organized, and how they’re going to bring you through the progressions, making sure that the warm up is appropriate for what you’re about to do, and then getting into some skill or strength development.

Some classes will have dedicated strength. Sometimes they’ll have dedicated skill time. A skill could be anything from learning how to run better to learning how to do a handstand, or gymnastics skill, or progressing a skill like a pull-up. Maybe you get an active hang from the bar but you can’t get that elusive pull-up, working on skills and drills that will get you there, and then progressing to more advanced things like handstand walking.
Now, you may say, “I never want to do a handstand walk,” but the progressions to get to these higher gymnastic skills can still benefit a lot of people, even yourself, just working on static holds, and positions, and just thinking through what a proper progression is. That way, if you’re on your own trying to work on something, you have an idea of where you should start and how a progression should feel. You should never feel like you’re just trying and failing working on something.

Now, I always see these people that are starting to work on handstands. They try on their own, they’re like, “I just can’t kick up. I just can’t get my feet up on the wall,” or, “I can’t stabilize myself.” Well, this is where a coach will show you in the class. Here’s a progression to get to that safely. So if you should want to do it on your own, you now have some instructions on how to.
After the skill or strength development, go into a review of what the workout is. Sometimes these workouts may be short and fast, or long and hard, or somewhere in between the two. This may involve one, two, three, sometimes up to four or five movements. The most intense workouts are just two, two movements where you’re bouncing back and forth with little rest. Generally, it can take about 7 to 10 minutes. That workout can be crazy on the amount of oxygen that you need and on the muscle fatigue.

But some other days the workout may be nice and easy, working on foundation movements, working on body weight stuff, building your engine, building your ability to work up into harder workouts. So it’s good to see that. Though if the workout is hard, see if the coach is progressing people differently if some people may be able to do a little bit of the progression, or changing the weights, or changing inappropriate movement. Say someone has like a sore shoulder or maybe they pulled the hamstring recently and changing up the movement saying, “Okay, maybe we can’t do a kettlebell swing, but maybe we can do a deadlift today.” Something a little bit slower but still working the same muscle groups, still getting the same stimulus, still hitting the same why, not just randomly changing it to any old movement, but making sure that the movements are still fitting within the why and the how of the workout so you are still getting the same why ,the same stimulus that the rest of the class is doing no matter what speed you’re doing it at or what level you’re doing it at.
Most workouts should be tailored to the individual slightly. Maybe not completely changed, like we just said, just making sure that, hey, we’re still part of the class. We’re still doing this workout. But there is a spectrum that this workout can be done on from slow and easy, or from basic movement, up to advanced movement, or hard and fast, or maybe the load is a little bit heavier for advanced athletes. Seeing if there’s a spectrum in class at the gym or how the coach is adjusting everybody is important to see.

Then, usually the workout will go on. You go at your own pace or as something that fits for that workout. Then, finishing, there’s usually about 5 to 10 minutes left in the class where you’re going through some cool-down stretches or some accessory movements to try and bring up some lagging areas. Accessory movements could be anything from banded pulls to working on some gymnastics movements to just getting on the bike and pedaling for five minutes to get your heart rate down while still moving. Those are some things to look at in a class.

After that, what’s the next few months like? This is usually what I call my three, three, and three. This is what we’re looking for. The first three weeks, I’m sorry, but you’re going to be sore. It’s a lot of new movements. But for the first three weeks, it’s just going to be about consistency, about just showing up, and recovering. Your body is going to slowly adapt to the workouts, and a lot of it’s going to be new. So just making sure that in the first three weeks that you’re showing up to three or more classes a week and going at an easy pace and not overdoing it.

After that, it’s the first three months. In those first three months, you’re going to be hitting just about everything you need to see in CrossFit. You’re going to be seeing some squatting, some pressing, some weight lifting, like the clean and the snatch. You’re going to be working on a lot of different skills. So for the first three months, there’s a lot of skill acquisition that’s happening. So you’ve gotten over the first hump of the three weeks of soreness. Now you’re getting your body to say, “Hey, we’re doing something. Let’s keep it going.” You’re producing a little bit more hormones. You’re feeling less sore. You got a good idea of the recovery process. So you’re moving on to trying new things.

Still within the first three months or 90 days, you’re working on skill acquisition. Your brain’s still trying to catch up to all the new things that you’re learning. And maybe you’re not seeing them as often enough to create adaption, so you should be picking up a few things to practice on your own, things like double unders. Or if pull-ups are your goal, well, we should be working on pull-ups at least every other day, at least trying a few of them. So after those first three months, skill acquisition starts to come, you start to begin to recognize patterns and start to see, oh, how I feel after doing this movement or I’m starting to improve on these movements.

After the first three weeks, the first three months, then we start talking about the first three years. The first three years, the first year, you’re making lots of gains. Everything is new, so everything is a personal record or we call a PR. You’re making lots of gains. You’re gathering strength. After that first year, things might start to slow down, or what we call the newbie gain start to flat line. This is when we should be looking at, okay, where are my weaknesses? What do I need to really dial in and work on? Maybe at this point it’s nutrition for a lot of people. I need to dial in what I’m eating or be a little bit more cognizant of what I’m doing on the weekends or the days I’m not working out.

Then next year, higher level skill acquisition. So usually in year two, we’re working on, oh, I’ve got my pull-ups. I’ve got my handstands. Now let’s start working on the next levels, Kipping pull-ups and maybe Kipping handstand push ups or muscle ups. Or maybe I want to really hone in on my Olympic lifts, the snatch, and the clean, and the jerk. So year two, we’re looking at the higher level skill.

By year three, you’ve seen just about everything, and everything’s coalesced together where you can put these workouts together. You know about pacing a workout. You know about what your one-rep maxes are and how that applies to all your other lifts and what working at 70% versus 100% feels like. You’re an old pro now. You starting to maybe give some advice to some newer people and help them along.

This is usually by the end of three years. You’re pretty good to go. You’ve got a lot under your belt. You’ve got a lot of gains, and maybe you got some goals that you’re working towards. Maybe you’re starting to enter competitions, or start racing, or start hybridizing it where you’re working on, okay, half the year I know I have … I’m going to be doing six Spartan Races this year, so I’m going to be working more on my endurance here. So how does you know my strength and conditioning and endurance go together? Or maybe a weightlifting meet where you’re working on increasing just your Olympic lifts. So you’re backing off on endurance and working on strength or adding an extra accessory work. Or perhaps CrossFit competitions. There are local competitions around everywhere now, and so you’re seeing like, “Oh, what’s my benchmark times? What’s my Fran time? What’s my Grace? These are all CrossFit benchmark workouts that are out on the internet though is released by CrossFit HQ that you can start to benchmark yourself against people around the world and see where you are.

But coming back to the beginning, the beginning should be nice and slow. You should be working with a coach modifying and tailoring workouts to where you are at that point and then layering things on top of it as time goes on. This is very important. Back in the old days, I’ve been doing CrossFit for over 12 years now, and in the beginning, in my late 20s, it was just jumping into the workout. Really didn’t give a care about warming up and just let’s get ready to go. Let’s lift some weight and move fast.

Now in my 40s, a while after, this has changed. Now I’m really focused in on my warm up, really focusing on what feels tight and what I can improve my range of motion and then staying very moderate with my workouts, moving well and quickly, but not fatiguing or going 100% and devastating myself for the rest of the day or even the rest of the week. Knowing that I can dial this in, and consistency becomes the actual key to performance, not what I’m doing in each individual workout. It’s about having the long game in mind. What am I doing this week? What am I doing this month? What am I doing this year? Not what I’m doing today.

Today needs to fit into the larger idea of what I’m doing to work out. Am I working out for my son’s wedding in a few years? Maybe I am. Maybe that’s going to drive what I do today, and this month, and this year to make sure that I’ll be there for that wedding. Or I’m competing. I have three races this year, and I want to peak for those races and do my best. That’s going to color what I’m doing today. Rather than just thinking of it every day, showing up and giving 100% today, give 100% of what is appropriate for that day. That might actually mean 70% of what you can do so you can come back tomorrow and work out again and stay consistent.

That’s all I have to say about the starting of a CrossFit journey and how to do it intelligently and not blow yourself up in the first month. These are also some things to give you an idea of when you’re looking for a new CrossFit gym, or you’re changing gyms, or moving to other places. There’s a lot of them out there. Take some time to evaluate and set some standards for yourself as to what you’re really looking for and what does it mean to have a good gym or a good program.