How do you start Crossfit?

When answering questions from the Hybrid contact form and responding to messages on Facebook and Twitter, a couple things come up time after time.  One way or another people are asking “What is CrossFit?” “Are you a CF trainer?” and “How do you start CrossFit?”  Beyond that, supplementation is also a hot topic.  “Should I take this or that, and when?”  I figured since so many people were looking for answers to these questions I would devote a post to giving you my take on both of these things.  With the CrossFit Games coming up this weekend, and the fact that I am going to The Games, there was no better time than now to do it.

So, today in Part One I will tackle your burning CrossFit questions and then later this week I will follow up with some supplement talk in Part 2. 

Part 1: How To Start CrossFit

How Do I Start CrossFit

What a CrossFit “box” looks like

First, to address the “What is CrossFit?”  In the most basic sense, CrossFit is a workout program that combines a variety of exercises and techniques into high intensity training sessions or “WOD’s” (workout of the day).  Workouts are structured around functional, total body movements that are intended to improve overall conditioning not isolated results.  Think athlete, not bodybuilder. 

CrossFit main site describes it this way:

Our program delivers a fitness that is, by design, broad, general, and inclusive. Our specialty is not specializing…CrossFit contends that a person is as fit as they are proficient in each of ten general physical skills: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy

I am a CrossFit Level 1 Instructor.  I have previously owned a CrossFit “box” or affiliate.   I include CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance techniques in my own workouts, although my personal workouts are more periodized, and not as random, as the typical CrossFit protocol.  CrossFit is not an all or nothing buy in for me, but is a tool in my training toolbox that can be called upon as needed.  The benefits and results that come with CrossFit are undeniable, but I believe in a structured and progressive type of programming.  When working with clients I pair CrossFit techniques with elements of injury prevention, corrective exercise and form development based on that individual’s ability level, training experience and past injuries. 

Keeping all of that in mind, let’s look at “How do I start CrossFit?”  

  • Do your research:  Talk with friends and others who have experience with CrossFit.  Ask for their recommendations about facilities and trainers.  Schedule a time to attend the different facilities in your area, meet the trainers and members, and chat them up.  What are they like?  Do you feel comfortable/accepted?  Are they helpful?  Use this time to become acquainted with the people and space, trying to get a feel for how things operate. 

If there is not a CrossFit gym in your area, I am hesitant to recommend that you jump right into things on your own.  It would be my suggestion to slowing integrate CrossFit type movements and workouts into your own training.  Better yet, get a coach, preferably a personal trainer to help you perfect the techniques before trying to do an AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) with power cleans and muscle ups

  •  Ask questions:  You should be your own advocate by asking any and all questions that you have.  If you are going to let someone teach you to press loads of weight over your head, you are entitled to get some questions answered first. 

Beyond a CrossFit Level 1 Certification look for someone who is also a USA-Weightlifting Coach specializing in Olympic lifting, an NSCA Strength and Conditioning Specialist, NASM Performance Enhancement Specialist or someone who has a Degree in Exercise Science.  CrossFit Specialty Certs are also important for things like Olympic lifting and kettlebells.  Because CrossFit as a program does not specialize in any one technique or practice, the same is true of the Level 1 Certification.   There is a solid baseline of knowledge created, but some could lack significant experience and comprehension.  So, when starting you should be looking for someone with an inclusive and diverse background that also has experience working with athletes and CrossFitters.  Think about it, do you really want someone who doesn’t Olympic lift or who just got certified last weekend taking you through a snatch progression?  

You will also want to know how workouts are programmed, if at all.  Do they use phases or cycles of strength, conditioning, and skill work or it completely random.  An inexperience coach can create programming that does more harm than good.  Workouts can be random, broad and inclusive without being redundant and potentially harmful.  

  • Know thyself and be honest:  If you have never worked out in your life or have little experience with weight training, specifically using a barbell, you might want to go with some one-on-one training before jumping into a CrossFit class setting.  When you join a box you will be expected to complete some type of introduction to CrossFit, commonly referred to as an On-Ramp or Fundamentals.  You will learn the basic exercise, progression, techniques and terminology of CrossFit.  If done correctly, you should also be expected to demonstrate some level of proficiency with each move before participating in actual WOD’s. 

Here again, it’s on you to know if and when you are ready to jump into a full on class.  Yes, it looks like fun and the competition creates an amazing environment, but if you have not taken the time to perfect the basic movements and techniques you are asking to get hurt.  Don’t let anyone push you before you are ready.  Once you get started, don’t feel pressure to use weights or complete exercises you are not comfortable with.  A good trainer will be willing and able to modify any workout for you altering exercises, weights, time, etc. 

A Few Words of Caution:

CrossFit, or any workout for that matter, can be dangerous if done incorrectly.  With regards to CrossFit this is especially true because workouts are done at a high intensity, for time or reps.  While this type of environment breeds competition that can produce a personal best performance, it can also result in the too much, too soon injury.   When getting started there are a few things to keep in mind. You do not have to do workouts exactly as they are written or prescribed.  By design, CrossFit workouts are created with elite level or experienced athletes in mind.  The workouts are then adjusted to meet the needs of others by scaling the weight, reps and time or modifying exercises.  When in doubt, error on the side of caution and listen to your body.  Don’t read that the wrong way.  You should be working hard, pushing yourself and stepping outside of your comfort zone.  After all that is the only way you will improve. I am simply saying that you can push yourself without risking an injury that will keep you from achieving your goals. 

So, now that we have covered the basics what other CrossFit questions do you have?  Let me know by leaving a comment below.  Then, don’t forget to check back for some supplement talk in Part Two.