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A Beginner’s Guide to CrossFit By The Box Magazine, with a touch of personal content from Courtney Shepherd
We are quickly approaching the start of the new year, 2016 is in our sites. And as we approach new years, in pretty standard fashion, we begin to think about the idea of a “new me” to go along with the new year. Whether 2015 was kick ass or kicked our ass, the start of a new year is the perfect time to start something new. Maybe we decide we want a new hair do, we decide to play with a new style, we get a new job, a new lover, a new home. . . . the list goes on. I’m certain though that none of these items are nearly as popular as the idea of a new physical me, a new diet to go along with a new exercise regime to be the newest, most bootylicious, most hottest, most toned, most buff, most skinny version of myself. The month of January is the busiest time of the year in any gym across the world. But how many of us started a new diet and a new workout routine and it didn’t last too long, perhaps that is, until we found CrossFit? Because once we started CrossFit we stopped thinking about the most bootylicious version of ourselves and we started thinking about the strongest version of ourselves. And when we felt like we weren’t getting any stronger, we started changing the way we ate to harness more strength. We stopped thinking about being “toned” and started thinking about PRs, next thing we knew we looked in the mirror and saw these lines around our arms, we had visible biceps and triceps.
When I was in college I wanted to be skinny and have a flat stomach. All the cool, happy, and popular girls were skinny with flat stomachs, these would be the keys to my social success. When I entered my thirties, and had been doing CrossFit for several years, I looked in the mirror and finally loved what I saw. I thought back to the last time I was actually working on the goal of being skinny with a flat stomach. . . . these were 2 things I had not thought about in years. The last several years all I thought about was how do I move faster? How do I lift more weight? How do I work longer? What do I need to eat to make these things happen? Turns out, the answer to all of these questions, the physical work needed to reach these goals. . . caused me to loose weight and have a fairly flat stomach. The even funnier part is that I don’t look in the mirror and find pride in my weight or my stomach, I look in the mirror and I’m like “check out those traps”, or “hey girl, I think you got some hamstrings growing all up in there”. I look in the mirror and I love the strong, happy, healthy woman I see. Thank you CrossFit.
It’s cliche to say this, and it turns out I say it a lot, but CrossFit changes lives. To making us more functional, to giving us physical strength, to giving us confidence, to eliminating disease, to giving us a sense of belonging. . . the list goes on. I probably don’t have to tell many of you this, you already drank the Kool-aid, so why am I saying this? Because it’s a new year and you probably know someone who wants a “new me”, perhaps you can point them in the direction of where to get it.
Today and tomorrow’s blog posts are aimed at the person new to CrossFit. They are aimed at helping anyone that walks through our doors for the first time to start their journey on the right foot. Here is your beginner’s guide to the “new you”, or as I like to now refer to it personally for myself, the most “badass you”:
CrossFit is full of its own lingo, and none is more important than or as simple as the “WOD” (Workout of the Day). Scribbled on whiteboards in CrossFit boxes across the country every morning, the WOD is likely the first thing you’ll look for when you walk into your new gym, and it’s what your body will remember on your way out. That workout will involve “constantly varied, high-intensity, functional movement” — the theory underpinning CrossFit that makes athletes better, faster and stronger — and will be the focus of your training that day.
Other CrossFit words to live by:
The Girls: a series of iconic WODs, each given a girl’s name. When asked the reason, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman reportedly said: “Any workout that leaves you flat on your back, staring up at the sky, wondering what the hell happened deserves a girl’s name.”
Paleo: the favored diet of CrossFitters.; entails eating the way our cave-man ancestors did, so lots of meat and vegetables; no dairy, legumes or grains
Kipping: a small but powerful full-body movement originating in the hips; used to create momentum particularly as part of a pull-up
AMRAP: acronym for as many rounds (or reps) as possible; a common directive in WODs
Rx’d: prescribed; means that a workout was completed exactly as written
Mobility: distinct from flexibility; training to improve motor control and movement of the joints, enabling the body to reach full range of motion on all exercises.
Up the Intensity
Athletes new to CrossFit might be initially alarmed at the intensity level box members bring to workouts. As many WODs are a race against the clock and other members — it is the “sport of fitness,” after all — you’ll be asked to perform them at a high rate of speed and a high heart rate. Fostering this friendly competition between gym members will have you performing at a higher level than you thought possible.
Keep in mind, however, CrossFit is almost infinitely scalable, so that WOD designed for some of the top performers in your gym can and should be altered to fit your needs and current abilities.
In the 2009 CrossFit Games, the men’s snatch event topped out at 240 pounds. This year, athletes reached 295 pounds in a Regional event. The lesson? Even CrossFit’s elite continue to learn and improve. Complex Olympic lifts and gymnastics moves aren’t mastered quickly, and many of the elite athletes are learning alongside or coaching the newest CrossFit members in local boxes all over the world.
CrossFit’s approach fosters a unique sense of community, so don’t be intimidated by the bulk, speed or beauty at your new box. They were all beginners at one time.
Because of the intensity and volume associated with CrossFit WODs, one big adjustment for new members is dealing with muscle soreness. Even those with an athletic or training background can take several weeks to acclimate to the new workload. Basic maintenance like ice packs, ibuprofen, fish oil and foam rollers (the latter two found in every CrossFit gym) will help get you through the early days.
Choosing Your Box
No CrossFit box is created equal,” says Zach Forrest, co-owner of CrossFit Max Effort, located just off the Strip in Las Vegas. “No CrossFit affiliate is alike.”
That can make choosing your box a difficult decision. Forrest, a former Navy SEAL operator, believes his coaching staff is the best in Las Vegas, but he still insists those interested in joining his gym try out as many of the six other CrossFit gyms in the area first. “If a coach has a good technical background but you don’t respond to his style, it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable that coach is,” says Forest. Put simply, you’ll get the best results from the coach you like the best.
You should also schedule time to talk with the coaches or owners about your own fitness goals and find out whether that gym is able to help you meet those goals. Some coaches, like Forrest, encourage members to focus on performing CrossFit WODs well and improving every day. “All the markers for health follow that improved performance,” Forrest says. “My goal is to get you as fit as possible, and how you look and feel will follow that.” If you’re looking for a classic CrossFit experience, with competition, speed and intensity, these are the types of programs you’ll enjoy.
There are other approaches, as well. Robb Wolf, co-owner of NorCal Strength & Conditioning in Chico, Calif., and author of The Paleo Solution, believes the most successful gyms offer a range of CrossFit-inspired classes, Olympic or powerlifting, and even personal training, to meet specific client needs.
Regardless of your own athletic background or ability, be sure your gym offers a dedicated introductory class so you’re not immediately thrown into that intense CrossFit fire.
Rather than throwing you right into CrossFit classes the very day you sign up at your box, your coaches will likely get you started in introductory classes to make sure you know how to safely execute the many CrossFit movements regularly seen in WODs. These include the more basic, yet critical, exercises like the squat, deadlift and press, as well as more complex Olympic weightlifting movements, including the clean and jerk and the snatch.
Most of these introductory offerings prepare you to perform these lifts through standard “On Ramp” classes lasting anywhere from four to 12 sessions. The movements get more complex as the sessions roll on, and they are typically incorporated into a short WOD at the end of each day. These WODs also increase in intensity and requirements as the introductory classes progress in an attempt to prepare you for standard CrossFit classes.
Do No Harm
Performing any intense activity three to six times each week will certainly increase the odds of injury — 90 percent of marathon runners, for example, are sidelined at some point. But if you’re smart about your CrossFit training and the preparation you and your coaches put in before and after workouts, you’ll dodge a dreaded injury that could set training back for weeks.
First, be smart about scaling your daily workout to your abilities. Coaches will initially help you decide what weights and movements to alter, but after several months, you should be able to determine what you need to achieve in a particular WOD and how proficient you are at different movements. Most gyms offer warm-ups that work on movements found in the WOD, so use that time to hone your skills and begin thinking about what weight you will use rather than blindly following the weight posted for the day.
A second, more amorphous suggestion is to listen to your body. In other words, if something doesn’t feel right or normal, it could be an injury waiting to happen. Though it can be incredibly difficult to slow down or stop in the middle of a competitive WOD, it’s often best for your long-term health to take a moment to evaluate your movement and your pain, determining whether it’s a serious threat or simply part of the everyday pain of a WOD.
Finally, and most important, you should perform mobility drills and exercises to help in recovery, range of motion and preparation for WODs. You should be responsible for your own business. Spend about 10 minutes each day working on mobility drills to take care of yourself, and CrossFit will take care of you.
Rule #1: Be Nice: One of CrossFit’s most enticing selling points is the sense of community and camaraderie inherent in the type of work being done in your local box. By fostering competition, cooperation and a network of support within a gym, CrossFit adherents believe they’ve found a recipe for improving athletes beyond typical means. They’ve also created an incredibly fun place to work out.
Of course, no gym — CrossFit or otherwise — is completely free of idiots, muscleheads or giant egos, but by following a simple set of rules we’ve culled from affiliates across the country, you’ll ensure you won’t be one of them:
Keep it clean: CrossFit gyms are often big, open, Spartan areas, but they’re also very clean. Help keep them that way. Sweat, blood, gear, chalk and vomit may fly around the gym during a given WOD. If it’s coming from you, be sure to clean up after yourself and return equipment you were using to the racks. Bumper plates (rubber weights put on barbells) are admittedly fun to drop, but don’t make a habit of it because they won’t last forever and drops can still damage the expensive barbell.
Check your ego at the door: No matter what kind of shape you’re in, with its high intensity, complex movements and heavy loads, CrossFit will be difficult. Don’t get angry if the soccer mom or 16-year-old in your class posts a better time or heavier weight because the competition is also against yourself. Remember what you did and then smile while congratulating others on their spectacular performance. You might “win” next time.
Push yourself: You can only get stronger, faster and healthier if you continually add weight to your lifts and speed to your movements. Don’t compromise safety, but if you can perform a lift correctly, you can make that lift heavier. This can inspire others to push themselves, as well. Listen to your coaches, who will watch the form on your lifts and make corrections where necessary. If you’ve missed a rep because of bad form, repeat it.
Show support: Group classes create competition, but they shouldn’t create rivalries. Those in your class are struggling against the same weights and movements you are, so they’ll need as much help as you to get through the WOD. If you finish before someone, cheer him or her on or run a final leg with that person. Gather around if someone is going for a heavy personal record because the extra cheer can be the difference between making a lift or dropping the weight.
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**Tomorrow and Friday Verve has abbreviated schedules. Please check MBO.