10 tips for starting CrossFit

Stepping into a CrossFit gym for the first time can be a bit intimidating and overwhelming.

1. You are competing against yourself, not others.

When it comes time to throw down in a WOD, don't feel like you have to do everything or be able to complete 20 rounds of "Cindy" right off the bat. Go at your own pace. Let the intensity find you. You need a solid foundation of strength and flexibility in order to progress into more demanding workouts. Start light, get your form right, and don't worry about the mother of three who is deadlifting 250lbs as you struggle with the bar. Chase your own capacity before chasing the person next to you.

2. Don't Be Too Proud To Scale.

Tony Budding (of CrossFit HQ) describes scaling as another form of programming. Scaling is such an individualised topic that it's hard to make sweeping generalized statements. You have to know your own body and its limits. But most importantly, there's no substitute for common sense.

3. What You Eat Is More Important Than What You Lift.

Nutrition is the key to every aspect of your life. It affects your energy levels, your recovery, and your overall defense against disease. To quote the late Jack Lalanne, "You put junk in, junk comes out. You put good in, good comes out." When you're first starting out, the quality of your food is far more important than the quantity. Call it whatever you want: Zone, Paleo, Primal, Hunter-Gatherer; just eat clean. You are a Ferrari. You wouldn't put regular unleaded fuel in a Ferrari, would you?

4. Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help, Over and Over Again.

It's your time, money, and most importantly, health. If you don't fully understand something, ask. If you still don't get it, ask again. Don't be afraid to ask for clarification if you don't fully grasp the concept, or you think others in the class will get frustrated with you for taking up too much time. We were all newbies at one point. We've all been there. Learning the mechanics of certain movements like the kip, squat, deadlift, or any of the olympic lifts takes lots of practice and critique from a trained eye. If you need help, just ask.

5. CrossFit Isn't Everything.

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on building general physical preparedness (GPP). It is quickly evolving into a sport of its own, but that doesn't mean that it has to be your sport or your lifeblood. I CrossFit so that I can do whatever I want: Go out, play sports, learn new things. Having that GPP allows me to take on new challenges. CrossFit is not my life. I CrossFit so that I can have a life…and be awesome at it.

6. It Doesn't Get Easier, It Just Sucks Less.

The longer you immerse yourself in the suck, the less it sucks. You get stronger, build a greater aerobic capacity, and become mentally tough. All of these aspects, combined with experience, allow you to know when to push yourself and when to back off, so that you can attack each workout to the best of your ability. Soon, you'll come to love the beatdowns. Much like Kevin Bacon in Animal House, you'll be screaming, "Thank you sir! May I have another?" Well, maybe not. But you get the point.

7. You Won't PR Every Day.

Don't mistake intensity for hard work. Even if you're having a bad day and the intensity just isn't there, you can still get a lot out of your time in the gym through hard work. Intensity and hard work are not the same thing. Don't skip a planned session just because you don't think you're going to kill it and leave everything out on the table. Not feeling too strong that day? That's fine; scale the weights and/or rounds or time domain back. Something is better than nothing.

8. Have Fun!!

Let's face it, some of the workouts are not fun. Frankly, some of them just plain suck. I'm looking at you, Hero wods. But when it's over, you feel a sense of accomplishment and maybe a little queasy. You shouldn't be pissed that you didn't get as many reps as the person next to you. Don't take yourself too seriously. Smile. Laugh. Introduce yourself to people you don't know. If you're not having fun, why are you here? Do you enjoy your overall time spent at the gym? Do you enjoy the people, the community, the knowledge and support that it provides? If so, then don't be too concerned with your competitive nature until you have a strong grasp on the 9 Foundational Movements.

9. You Are All Firebreathers.

The term "Firebreather" comes from CrossFit legend and bad ass Greg Amundson, and he defines it as such:

Firebreather –Fie-r-bre'-th-er: (n) 1. One who faces the triumphs and tribulations of great physical opposition with an indomitable spirit. 2. An optimistic energy associated with the heart of an athlete.
You don't have to be an "elite" CrossFitter to embody the essence of a true Firebreather. It's not your "Fran" time, it's the spirit you bring to "Fran" that makes you a Firebreather. Don't forget that.

10. Respect Rest and Recovery.

Too many new comers (and even those of us who have been doing this a while) get caught up in overtraining. Don't be afraid to schedule in a down day once per week, or a down week every 4-6 weeks where you cut the weight, rounds, and intensity in half. You have to think about this from a longevity standpoint. If you're killing yourself every time you step foot in the gym, week after week, month after month, year after year, you're going to eventually break down. You need to respect your time outside of the gym. There's an old weightlifting adage that goes something like: "You don't get bigger and stronger from lifting weights, you get bigger and stronger from recovering from lifting weights."

Written by Larry Palazzolo of CrossFit Delaware Valley

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