CrossFit Advice For Newbies

CrossFit Advice For Beginners

I am long overdue on answering some emails on CrossFit advice for beginners, so I thought I would finally get my act together and put my thoughts all in one post. You can find a lot of advice on the internet, but I wanted to speak from my perspective specifically.

I was SCARED TO DEATH to head into a CrossFit gym when I started in 2010. I was more than 100lbs overweight, not in the best shape of my life, and wasn’t sure it would even be right for me based on the crazy videos I had seen on You Tube. But I also knew what I had been doing wasn’t getting me to my goals and I wanted to try something new.

I really had to work up the courage to set foot in the gym, and I really regret all that time lost hemming and hawing about whether or not I should go. If I could give advice to anyone considering checking out a CrossFit gym, here is what I would say:

1. Don’t Wait Until You Get Yourself in “Better Shape”

Starting my day off on a good note. Also on a stack of truck tires. Same diff...

I wish I had a dollar for every person who has told me that they are going to wait until they are more fit to try CrossFit — I’d be blogging from a giant pile of money right now! No matter what shape you are in, you can do the workouts effectively. CrossFit is based on functional movements done at high intensity. What is high intensity for YOU may differ from high intensity for the person next to you. This doesn’t mean you should wait until you are in better shape.

Everyone is at various different phases in their fitness and the workouts are scaled according to your level of fitness. The workout isn’t meant to be easy for anyone! I waited almost 2 years to start and worked on “getting in shape” by myself that whole time and I still couldn’t run 200 meters comfortable on my first day. Two months of CrossFit later, not only could I run a 5k comfortably but I was 30 lbs lighter.

2. Remember Everyone In Your Gym Had a “Day One”


The most intimidating part of starting CrossFit is that you will talk yourself into believing that everyone inside that gym is awesome, and the record is going to skip when you walk in. But keep in mind — everyone in there had to start at their beginning. We all had to show up and put one foot in front of the other and learn the ropes. Everyone you’ll see had to learn the foundational movements. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has workouts they are good at and workouts that just leave their ego crushed.

Remember that we are all there there to work towards becoming our best selves, and it is both a mental and a physical task. Walking in there on that first day is that first courageous step toward saying “I believe in myself and my ability to get better.” No one is going to watch you take that step and be unsupportive.

3. Just Say No to You Tube Videos

Checking out CrossFit workouts on YouTube is like looking at a celebrity’s Instagram feed to see what they look like right when they wake up in the morning. It’s not reality, and when you are brand new I think it can be intimidating and make you feel like you aren’t good enough to do the workouts. CrossFit is universally scalable, which means a good coach will help you modify ANY exercise so that the version you do gives you a GREAT workout. Stay away from the exhibitionists grunting on You Tube when you start out and just lean on your coaches to explain any movements you’ve never heard of.

Of course, once you start, if you want to watch the silly CrossFit videos – be my guest!

4. Start By Building Skill, Then Strength

March 2012

Most gyms will make you complete an introductory course that teaches you the foundational movements of CrossFit before you can just dive in and complete a workout. If your gym doesn’t do that, personally, I’d run the other direction. This isn’t to make you feel like a goober, it’s to make sure you have a chance to be exposed to many of the skills you will use in everyday workouts. Take as much time as you need to build skill!

There are a lot of the movements you’ve probably heard of and done in the past (sit ups, pushups, running, rowing) but some things will be new and require technical skill like the olympic and power lifting as well as some of the gymnastic skills. It’s important to build a foundation before you try and test the limits of your strength. You will learn a lot about how your body works, how to increase mobility, and your beginning months will be where you develop a lot of muscle memory, so make sure you are doing it correctly. It will take time, so don’t feel the need to rush it. In the long run, it will be so much better than just carelessly throwing some weight over your head or flailing to get up and over a bar.

5. Focus on Responsible Recovery


Speaking of learning about your body, if you take anything from this post, let it be this: Rest and recovery are just as important to your body as showing up to work out. Early on in my training I read a random rule that I have followed pretty religiously since I started CrossFit. That rule is: if you don’t sleep 6 hours the night before, you don’t earn a workout.

You can’t increase the intensity of your workouts and not take some time to think about how you will recover from that intensity. Sleeping and good nutrition are something you will hear a ton about, and while I don’t think you need to be overwhelmed by all of it on your first day, keep it in the back of your head. If you are making all these efforts while you are at the gym, don’t throw it away by acting nutty outside of the gym.

Also, make sure you are continually working on your mobility — it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes! Your body needs TLC so don’t just beat it up in the gym, help it out! If you have a few minutes before class, take time to foam roll or stretch.

6. Track Your Progress (And Cheer On The Progress of Others)

Wod Book

The whole point of CrossFit is to help YOU make YOURSELF better, not to keep up with the person next to you. But how will you know if you are getting better? You gotta keep track! There are a lot of helpful Benchmark Workouts that you will do over time, so making sure you write down your times/weights for those. You will probably also have lots of opportunities to find One Rep Maxes for the different lifts, which can be another fun thing to track.

But I also like to look at random things like:

*500m/100m row times
*400m sprint times
*1 mile run times
*Consecutive Double Unders
*What pull up bands I use in workouts
*Moving from scaled versions of movements to prescribed versions (like pushups, etc)

Tracking your daily workouts, performance, and how you feel may seem tedious; however, over time it can really enlighten you to all of the things you have gotten better at — and that will be SUPER MOTIVATING.

You know what else is super motivating? Seeing other people, day in and day out, put in their best efforts to to reach their goals — so make sure to encourage others. And then of course, once you feel settled in your gym and you see a new person walk in for the first time, don’t forget to introduce yourself and say hi. We all remember what Day One felt like, right? But everybody has to muster up the courage to do it at one point.


Ok, fellow CrossFitters — what advice would YOU give to someone considering trying CrossFit for the first time?

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10 Responses to CrossFit Advice For Newbies

  1. Stephanie says:

    Great advice Holly. Although I used to do cross fit back when I was in the military it has been a while. I finally got set up with a cross fit group here and I am super excited. I was nervous about starting again but so glad I did! I have never watched the you tube videos, sounds entertaining.

  2. Danelle says:

    Thanks! This is great. I finally joined a box on Saturday. My on-ramp starts this week. Can’t wait!

  3. Serrorserror says:

    Good advice! I have been off and on with CF for the past two years, and have taken 3 months off for an injury. I need to get back in the game and your post is a good reminder of why I shouldn’t hesitate to get back in the box!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for this post Holly! Exactly what I was looking for:) I am going to go to a taster session next week to see what it is is like!

  5. Kendra says:

    How do you ask to sale down a hard workout that is for time? I love amrap workouts, I love weightlifting, I love the group workouts and learning skills— but some of these workouts leave me either vomiting or in tears they take me so long to complete. I don’t have a major health issue and I want to push myself, but I really don’t want to get hurt. Or puke. I hate puking!

    Should I ask for a timecap on those workouts? Or any other advice? I just find it awkward to have to ask for special treatment and am not sure how to go about it best.

    Thanks for any help!

    • Holly says:

      Oh no! No puking! Definitely don’t be puking. Definitely chat with a coach!

      So generally your coaches should have an idea about whether the metcons are programmed to have a longer or shorter time domain. For example – Fran is supposed to be a super short sprint and should be scaled to a level that you can’t sprint through the workout. But a workout like the Filthy Fifty has a longer time domain, so you will usually see a time cap on that around 45 minutes or so. Both workouts have different purposes, so perhaps just asking whether the workout is supposed to be a sprint type workout or a longer workout can help you scale. For me, in a workout like Fran, I use a way thicker band for pullups than I normally would because the reps should be mostly unbroken (ie: sprint.) Also, I tend to scale movements like pushups in workouts where there are high rep schemes because even though I can *do* a regular pushup, it would take me a ridiculously long amount of time to do, say 50 pushups unscaled. So I think part of it is knowing the expectation of the workout, and then part of it is judging your own skill set and scaling accordingly. Does that help? If not I can clarify or give you other examples, just let me know.

      • Kendra says:

        Well, for example we did half of Murph the other day. I did scale the 100 push ups and the 50 pull ups so that they were as easy as possible, and the sit ups and squats were just fine, but by the second half mile run I couldn’t breathe properly and tripped and fell. (Just a few scrapes, not a big deal, but kind of symbolic of my experience of that workout: I was a mess.)

        And I would *love* to be able to do a whole Murph eventually, and I think it’s great to challenge myself, I’m just sort of “OMG what do I do if the workout is like that???”

        I think part of my problem is that it’s hard for me to quit before a workout like that is “done” and it’s very difficult to say “I can’t do this … YET.”

        I think I just need to get my nerve up and talk to my coach more.

  6. LOVE THIS! Great advice for people who want to try CrossFit or are new to it. Thank you! 🙂

  7. Beth says:

    That Day One is totally the hardest step. I went to my first CF workout 5 weeks ago and then started going regularly 3 weeks ago. I am amazed by what my body can do already with the movements I have become familiar with. That first week sucked. But the people at y box are the most encouraging.