Five months ago, I dove into my career as a CrossFitter head first… and yes, I do mean “career”. Two-weeks after purchasing my one-month “trial” membership, I starting working at the box I now call my office, gym, and even home. Forty to 45 hours a week I am surrounded by CrossFit® classes, CrossFit athletes, and CrossFit coaches. Three to 5 hours a week I am in the midst of a WOD, and 60% of the time I find myself talking about the workouts and throwing around the lingo I was oblivious to six months ago.
In my view, the reasons people start CrossFit are about 50/50: to lose weight and get into the best shape of their lives OR because they’re already in great shape and are looking for a way to continue sweating as an athlete. I started because after living in New York for just short of six months, it dawned on me: I had been living in the city for almost half a year, working 40+ hours a week, and hitting the weight room 6 days a week… but I still didn’t have any friends.
To me, deciding to go to my first CrossFit class was like agreeing to go on a date with someone from Bumble, go to the bar alone, or or message a friend of a friend of a friend on Facebook: it would probably be awkward at first, I’d probably regret my decision for the first five minutes, I might make a friend, and I’d probably leave the occasion a little exhausted from the social interaction but proud of myself for putting my ego no the line and saying “yes”.
Turns out, CrossFit isn’t like sliding into someones Instagram DM’s or swiping yes on Tinder. If it sticks, it sticks like gum to the bottom of a lifting shoe. Five months later, I’ve stopped trying to scrape the goop off my sole and have embraced the identity as an athlete (and still-newbie-CrossFitter). Here’s what I wish I had known when I stepped into a box for the first time, and what I tell people when they walk in the doors of ICE NYC, the box I work at, now:
1. You Don’t Have Anything To Prove
I started CrossFit at peak season for athletes well-versed in the lingo and culture of the sport: Open Season. The Open is the first step to The CrossFit Games for some, and a way to test improvement for others. The open is a five-week, five-workout competition that is held in the late winter/ early spring in boxes and garage gyms around the world. The workouts are released online each Thursday, and athletes everywhere have until the following Monday to submit their scores.
As a well-muscled woman (though, granted, nothing close to what you see in athletes from The CrossFit Games) and woman with a weight-training, rugby, and running background (I had run a marathon, played rugby in college, and weight-trained in the two years since graduating) I was in good shape when I first walked into the box. So I didn’t think much of it when two-weeks into my stunt as a CrossFitter I learned I’d be doing one “more competitive and challenging” workout a week for five weeks.
My relaxed attitude for the Open paid off the first two weeks; those first two workouts were good ones for me and proved the value of my previous training. Dumbbells? Perfect! Burpees? No problem! Muscle-Ups? I’ll do them strict! Dumbbell cleans? That’s basically a reverse bicep curl, right?! I ended up finishing in the top 2 spots for women for the first two workouts.
When after the second week a leaderboard was written on the whiteboard of my gym, I suddenly felt a need to stay in spot one! Suddenly, what was supposed to be fun became an event where I felt I had something to prove. The following 3 weeks of workouts were a mixed bag for me. Snatches? No frickin’ way. Double unders? I’ll give them a try… Wallballs? What do you mean I need to break parallel before throwing the medicine ball!?? Once the 3rd workout of the 2017 CrossFit Open was announced, I realized that there were literally movements I had never done before. I stopped trying to prove that I belonged, that I hadn’t been wasting my time strength-training, and let myself LEARN and have FUN.
2. Patience Is a Muscle
Because CrossFit is defined as “constantly varied functional movements performed at relatively high intensity,” once I’d finally learned how to do one of the Olympic lifts, I might not see it again in a WOD for two or three weeks! Which meant that for the first few weeks I felt like I was starting from scratch when I walked into the gym. One of the reasons people love it is because the constant variation promises that you will never ever get bored. But that also means that there’s a learning curve.
As someone with an athletic background, it was hard coming into a new sport and feeling like a “baby-athlete”. I had to let my ego go (or at least partially) and realize that all I really needed to do for the first few months to get better was to go through the motions, listen to my coach, and if I had time, watch some YoutTube or Instagram videos about form and technique. That being said…
3. You’ll Learn the Lingo Faster Than You’d Expect
Lots of fitness and wellness worlds come with their own complex languages. If you’ve ever walked into a box and wished you brought a dictionary along with your wrist wraps and shoes, you’re not alone. The muscle-building workout has its own special language that only those who frequent the classes fully understand (a bit like in barre or boxing). What’s more, the lexicon goes way beyond “crunch” or “squat”, no surprise, considering that CrossFit class incorporates not just bodyweight movements, but components of olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, and cardio, too! But slowly, by reading the WODs, watching videos, doing them myself, and asking lots of questions, the terms began coming naturally.
4. Don’t Over-Do the Accessory Work on the Side
Prior to CrossFit, my typical workout might include bicep curls, tricep dips, bench press (normal, decline, incline), tricep extensions, hammer curls, supination curls, preacher curls, dumbbell shoulder press, etc. But in the community all those things are considered “accessory work” to The Main Show which includes Olympic lifting, gymnastics movements, rowing, running, and body-weight movements. After two years of working on bicep, chest, tricep, and shoulders muscles, I didn’t want to lose my #gains… So I started doing “accessory work” after class. And surprise, surprise, I got an overtraining injury… A good CrossFit gym will program workouts in a smart way that will get you stronger and fitter pretty quickly, without overdoing it. Which brings me to my next point…
5. Learn to Love Rest Days
The truth is, you don’t have to be a logging 100 miles or 10+ hours in the gym a week to get slapped in the face with overtraining. When you train you are essentially causing trauma to your body; every time you exercise you are creating micro-tears in your muscles, which grow back stronger when they repair. Without proper rest, there is not enough time for the muscles to grow back stronger. Yes, what I am saying is that REST will literally make you stronger and will help prevent overtraining and injury.
If you have a hard time taking time off, reframe “rest day” as “recovery day”. A rest day doesn’t mean staying in your Scooby PJ’s and watching reruns of The Bachelor while eating soup and drinking boxed wine. A rest day doesn’t mean Netflix & chill, or pizza & beer. Rather, a rest day should be all about yoga, pilates, a light jog, a short swim, or even meditation. At low intensity for a short period of time, these activities will help get the blood bumping to your muscles, which helps recovery, without tearing it further. Remember, even CrossFit Games Athletes know the golden rule: train smarter, not more.
6. Getting a Flatter Stomach Doesn’t Necessarily Mean You’re Training Harder
… It could mean that you’re not eating enough. Four weeks into my stunt as a CrossFitter, I had the flattest stomach I’ve ever had. I had a new-found confidence to strut around the gym in my sports bra post sweat-sesh. But I was getting tired four hours into my work-day, felt sluggish during the tail end of my shift, and didn’t have the energy levels I was used to. Why is was this happening?
Yep, you guessed it, I was under-eating! I wasn’t giving myself the fuel I needed to power through, and then recover from, the high-intensity workouts. So with a little guidance from the coaches in my gym, I revved up my breakfasts to include more protein and complex carbohydrates (wahoo for sweet and nutty overnight oats) and suddenly my energy levels shot back up. And guess what, now not only do I have a flatter stomach, I have visible abs!
7. You Don’t Have To Count Your Macros
Before it was hip, CrossFitters were counting their macros, but recently “#IIFYM” (“if it fits into your macros”) has flooded the captions of Instagram pics touting chocolate donuts with sprinkles, entire pints of ice cream and Chipotle galore. The hashtag had become the buzzword of flexible dieting, and the concept is pretty simple: you can eat whatever you want it, as long as it fits into your caloric and macronutrient allowances (i.e. carbohydrates, protein, fat). The IIFYM breakdown of carbohydrates-protein-fat can be altered based on a person’s body and gym goals, for example an athlete working for the #gains will have a breakdown that emphases protein and carbohydrates. (At least that’s the theory — in this piece, I’m not supporting or denouncing any particular dietary framework.)
Yet, while, counting macros might help if you have very specific body-composition goals (more muscle, less fat, etc.), the thing is, all of that takes a lot of extra effort, and usually a deep base of knowledge of macros (or an obsession with an app that does it for you). When I learned that all of my new fit-friends were counting their macros, I thought that maybe I should try it too. But after a few weeks of just thinking about it, I realized that it’s just not worth it for me.
8. You Will Finally Make The Friends You’ve Been Looking For
What’s unique about CrossFit isn’t just the high intensity, unique language, and functionality but also the high level of camaraderie that grows from something as common as working out (which is why people joke that it’s a cult). While the concept of breaking a sweat with someone as relationship-building is not unique to CrossFit, in this community “working out” really means something much more specific: it means changing your life and the lives of those you sweat alongside, it means being pushed physically harder than you’ve ever been pushed with a group, it means calloused high-fives, fist-pumps, and even sweaty group-hugs.
The methodology gives us the tools to unveil ourselves and then forces us to show that authentic self to a room of sweaty, shirtless, loving, athletes. Since this process requires vulnerability, it connects and creates relationships, tribes, and squads fairly quickly. Simply put: CrossFit is the way I made friends in a city of go-go-go and anonymity, and while there are things I wish I had known before I started, I wouldn’t change anything about the last five months (yes, even the neck injury) because it helped me make friends with a similar interest in health and fitness.
Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.