You’re thinking about joining, but I get it, it’s intimidating as hell.
Crossfit can be that way. You come to your first class and watch as the previous class finishes up; everyone seems like an expert and nobody seems like you. People are doing things you don’t think you’ll ever be able to do! But, you will do those things, too, and sooner than you think.
Now remember – I’m not an expert, or a coach! Rather, I’m mostly like you, so I’m here to make you feel comfortable about this crazy new thing from one beginner to another. Below, are the things I wish I knew (and learned) going into my very first week of Crossfit – from the training classes, to the actual first real WOD (workout of the day – don’t worry, I’ll give you a vocab list too!)
First up – that thing in the middle, in the picture? That’s a rig. It’s bolted to the floor in the center of the gym, and you’ll spend a lot of time there – in it, around it, hanging from it – you name it! The rig has vertical beams with holes for adding racks (so you can place a barbell on the rig for easy access squatting, benching, and more). It also has horizontal bars for doing pull-ups, hanging rings for rows and dips, or just looping bands over it for mobility work. Think of it as the downtown of your Crossfit gym (or box, as we call it!) If some of those words were new to you, just keep reading.
Crossfit is, in the simplest terms, functional movements, constantly varied. Expect a mix of HIIT, weightlifting, olympic lifting, gymnastics, and calisthenics.
First steps & movements
As soon as you decide to take the plunge, don’t worry – you won’t be thrown into a class and have to figure out what to do! No – that would be very dangerous to you and irresponsible of the coaches. Instead, all boxes offer a fundamentals class that is typically 3 sessions long (an hour each) within a week period. Mine were Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, consecutively, and at the end of that week I could decide whether or not to sign the contract. The classes are designed to give you the basic movements and terminology that make up Crossfit, and to give you a preview into class structure. You will then do a mini-workout involving your newly learned movements at the end of each class session. Movements include:
- Bodyweight exercises – air squats, lunges, push-ups, kipping and kipping pull-ups (a special type of pull-up that uses the body’s momentum while hanging on the bar), sit-ups, and ring rows or dips.
- Olympic lifting – cleans, snatches, and jerks, as well as front squats
- Power lifting – deadlifts (my class didn’t cover bench or back squats since they are used less frequently, but some might)
- Other key movements – burpees, box jumps, kettlebell swings, single and double unders (jump rope)
There are obviously a ton more movements that make up Crossfit – but those cover a good bit of it! At the beginning of every class, each movement is gone over in detail so you will NEVER be unsure of what you are doing. If you are, just ask the coach! They want you to be safe and use proper technique, so they will be happy to help you.
Side note: Will Crossfit make you big and beefy? It depends. If you eat for size gain, then yes. If you don’t, then no. But be sure you are fueling yourself to get through the workouts! They require a lot of energy and recovery. But please, don’t worry about getting “big” as a girl. You will develop muscles, and they will be sexy as hell.
What should I wear?!
Dress practically and comfortably! What I mean by that is, wear something you can move freely in with a full range of motion, and don’t wear anything too complicated or drapy that may get caught in equipment or expose you while you move around. (I wore an open back top once and every time I bent forward my shirt fell all the way up!) I like to wear compression shorts (I get too hot in leggings) and a slightly loose or fitted tank, and then a sports bra I’d be comfortable jumping rope in.
Side note: I make sure ALL of my leggings and compression shorts have a gusset. Why? It’s a zillion times nicer to squat in. I told you I would be an open book, right? This is important, from me to you. Squatting ass to grass in tight shorts with a seam down the middle will NOT be pleasant.
The shoes of choice for many Crossfitters are the Nike Metcon (pictured above!) and the Reebok Crossfit Nano. These shoes have special areas built in to give assistance when rope climbing, a flatter heel and extra width for weight lifting, and just enough support and breathability for jumping, running or anything else where you need to move quickly. Of course, just wear what you feel comfortable in! Don’t invest in the above until you’ve had the chance to learn the movements and see what type of shoe is right for you and your needs.
Olympic weightlifting shoes are also popular for WODs that center around just that – olympic lifting! These shoes have a wider fit (so your foot has space to flatten out under heavy loads) and a slight heel made of a dense material to help shift your weight forward on your foot for the right body alignment. I just ordered a pair of these yesterday – so I’m excited to see how different things feel once they arrive and I get to try them out!
Before heading in for your first class (or any class!)
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! You will be sweating up a STORM and your body will feel like you’ve run through a rainforest by the end of it. Be sure you are hydrating throughout the day and not just immediately before class. And bring your water bottle to class, also!
Eat some easily digestible carbs and a bit of protein around an hour or more before class starts, to give you some easy energy – nothing too heavy or big. But don’t make it complicated! I usually workout at 7:30 (hence “deadlifts for dinner”) so I have a few snacks throughout the afternoon while I’m at work, which usually include a piece of fruit or two and a handful of nuts (brazil and macadamia are my favorites!) Recently I’ve been having fig bars, which are a great easy carb source that doesn’t give me a sugar crash.
What to expect in a class
You’re going to be very sore from your fundamentals week! But that’s how you know you’re using your body in new ways – and growing. But what are the actual classes themselves like? There are a few different formats for class structure, and there are different formats for WODs as well (remember: workout of the day!)
My gym has two different class formats: technique drill + WOD or just WOD. A technique drill + WOD structure focuses on a specific lift or movement for the first part of the class, which will likely be used in the WOD itself afterwards. If there is no technique built into the class, you warm up then launch into the WOD – the complete workout. Your class will always warm up as a group, incorporating movements or stretches to help loosen up the muscles and joints being targeted in the WOD. Some warm ups are harder than others, and really get you breathing! Others may be more mobility based, meaning they focus on joints and flexibility.
WODs (WOD are they?!)
Within the WOD, there are several formats as well. Check out the infographic below for an idea of how these can be organized!
When you arrive to class, your WOD will be clearly posted on a large screen or board at an easily accessible location in the box. You can read it over before class begins and start amping yourself up! Additionally, you will be able to look up the WOD at 5:00 pm the previous evening, on your box’s website or Wodify app (you will get access to this after you sign up, and you will post your scores here). However – don’t fall into the trap of letting what the WOD is dictate when you go! Stick to a schedule, and just look up your next day’s workout for your own educational sake.
How I like to use Wodify
I like to peek the night before to give myself an idea mentally of what I’m in store for – and then throughout the day I peek at the “whiteboard” (where everyone’s posted scores show up) to give myself a general idea of how long it’s taking my friends (or people I admire!) or how many reps they get in. I don’t use that as an end-all for my performance – more of a “reach goal”. If someone I look up to does the WOD in 15 minutes, I try and make that my goal, or use that as a gauge for my own pace.
Most people submit their WOD scores right at the gym, as soon as class is over. You can also do this on your phone if you download the Wodify app. You can add notes to your performances (such as “getting over a cold, not as fast as I usually go” or “pushed myself and I’m proud!”) and track if you did the WOD as RX or made modifications. During technique drills, the app will also keep track of your 1RM (one rep max, or the heaviest single rep of a weight lifting movement you’ve done) and help calculate other weights you can use (as in, sometimes the technique drill specifies to do 3 reps of something at 85% of your 1RM). It is a VERY helpful tool!
After class … practice a little self care!
Good job – you just did your first Crossfit class! Now, listen to your body – make sure you are hydrating and cooling down, stretching, and doing any needed mobility work to help your body recover. A lot of people will hit the foam roller after a workout, which is a dense cylinder of foam for deep tissue massage. You place your body over the roller and use your bodyweight to apply gentle pressure onto different ares of the body – some spots really hurt! Some foam rollers have soft or hard bumps for further pressure; you can also use a lacrosse ball to target specific trouble areas. I will do a more detailed post on mobility – it’s a lot to cover!
DON’T leave the gym until you’ve cooled down and done some stretching or rolling. Chances are, if you go home you won’t get around to doing those things, and you will feel it the next day!
Fuel up and get some ZZZ’s!
Since I work out in the evening, I have dinner once I get home. I try and put together a balanced plate with complex carbs, veggies, lean protein, and healthy fats (this week, we are having brown rice with crispy roasted kale, sweet potatoes, and baked salmon, with a coconut sriracha dressing drizzled over everything!) Eating healthy does NOT have to be boring, plain chicken breasts and broccoli all the time – get a good variety of foods in to cover all your nutritional micronutrient needs. Have a donut.
And get some SLEEP! Sleep is when the body repairs itself, and it’s imperative to good recovery.