CrossFit clueless? CrossFit curious? CrossFit confused? No worries, so are many people! But, CrossFit is as popular as ever right now, so I want to give you the low down on my experience and what to expect for yourself. Three months ago with a little push from Groupon, I took the plunge and joined the craze. I signed up for an introductory month at my local box, CrossFit My Town in Plymouth, Minnesota, and only one week into my newfound fitness adventure, CrossFit became my new favorite hour of the day (Sorry, Happy Hour!).
If you’re completely new to this term, CrossFit is high intensity functional fitness. You train to live healthier and perform everyday, natural movements in a more functional and efficient way. CrossFitters want to excel in all 10 areas of fitness (cardio, respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, power, flexibility, speed, agility, coordination, balance, and accuracy) instead of, for example, just being able to lift something really heavy and set it down. The workouts are constantly varied, never boring, and just plain fun.
CrossFit convinced or CrossFit still on the fence? Here’s what you need to know before you go to your first class:
1. I don’t think we’re in Kansas in anymore
A CrossFit gym is called a “box.” Basically four walls filled with ropes, weights, pull-up bars, giant tires (my favorite!), and sweaty humans. No treadmills, personal TVs, or “Free tanning with three month membership!” in sight. Very warehousey. The first time I pulled into the parking lot, I was pretty confident my GPS had lead me to a mafia hideout instead of the CrossFit box. When I climbed the stairs of the loading dock/entrance, I was very relieved to only find smiling people ready to workout.
2. Weird jargon and lots of acronyms
CrossFitters have their own language, and at first you feel like it’s a secret club with code words. However, after a session or two, you’ll be fluent in CrossFitese and soon will be tossing WODs, Frans, and AMRAPs into your every day conversations and confusing others.
A small sampling of CrossFit terms:
WOD: Pronounced like a wad of gum. The “Workout of the Day” is the workout scheduled for that day at your box. Right when I get to class, I check out the WOD written on the whiteboard. Sometimes your favorite exercises are in the WOD, and you have a little more swagger in your step during warm-ups. Or sometimes your least favorite exercise is basically the entire WOD (looking at you, push-ups), and you check to see if anybody saw you enter the building, so you can run back to your car.
AMRAP: “As many reps/rounds as possible” is a workout where you try to get through as many rounds of a series of movements in an allotted time period. Sometimes the time is 10 minutes. Sometimes the time is 35 minutes. It’s all in the hands of the WOD Gods (the coaches).
EMOTM: “Every minute on the minute” is another workout style where you do a series of movements each minute. So the faster you get done, the more rest time you have before the next minute starts up again. This guy seems easy at first but as the time ticks on, your rest time magically seems to get shorter and shorter.
(Note: Either pronounce this “Every minute on the minute” or “E-M-O-T-M.” I thought it was an actual word at first, so I kept telling my coaches, “I can’t wait for my next Imodium!” Moral of the story; if you’re unsure of what something means, ask someone. The one thing CrossFitters like more then CrossFit is talking about CrossFit.)
Fran: Fran is one of CrossFit’s most famous workouts. A bunch of pull-ups and a bunch of thrusters (a barbell movement). Lots of CrossFit workouts are actually named after girls—Grace, Karen, Isabelle, Angie, as started by the founder, Greg Glassman. Some of these “girls” may or may not be your friends depending if they kicked your butt that day or not. Karen is currently my BFF. Fran…not so much.
3. Safety and Credible Coaches
If you’ve heard anything about this sport before, from a blog, from your neighbor, Bob, who knows a guy who knows a guy, from whatever, the words unsafe and dangerous are sometimes paired with CrossFit. YouTube is often a source used to label CrossFit as “harmful.” Like many sport videos posted online, it’s often for shock value. Search any type of fitness class on YouTube, and you’re sure to find snippets of poor form and extreme movements. However, CrossFit coaches are certified coaches and have your well-being in mind at all times. These are not some beefcakes off the street telling you to pick up that 200-pound bar and whip it around haphazardly. So much emphasis is put on form and safety, especially for beginners like me. My coaches are like flies in my ear constantly buzzing, “Drive your knees out on your squats, Hannah.” Sometimes I want to break out the fly swatter and do my workout in peace, but I know that their advice will keep me safe and ultimately, make me a better athlete.
4. Badass Atmosphere
One of my favorite aspects of CrossFit is the atmosphere. My box opens the side garage doors so sunlight and fresh air stream in, the music is loud and bumpin’, and everyone is psyched to be there. Okay, who am I kidding? I live in Minnesota. We have three months of open doors and nine months of brutality. Doors up or down, the energy is still absolutely incredible. I swear they must pump something through the vents. I’m far from a badass in real life, but whenever I’m done with a WOD, I feel like I should make a pit stop at a tattoo parlor on the way home and get a sleeve.
5. 66-Year-Olds Kicking Your Butt
If you’ve been reading this and have thought, “But Hannah, I have three kids, and I’m twice your age. I could never possibly do CrossFit. Pull-ups? Puh-lease.” I totally, totally get where you are coming from. I personally couldn’t do a pull-up when I first started even if a marriage proposal from Ryan Gosling was waiting at the top of the bar. But here’s the beauty about CrossFit: everybody can do it! All ages, my box ranges from 12-66 years old, and all abilities, every single movement can be modified. Instead of doing box jumps on a 30 inch box, you can do step-ups on a 10 inch box. Instead of 95-pound front squats, you can start with air squats holding a weight free PVC pipe. And instead of pull-ups, you can use these lifesaving resistance bands under one foot (known as Super Bands), and they will assist you. Eventually use less and less resistance until you do your first real pull-up (Month three for me. Marry me, Gosling!). If you think CrossFit just isn’t for you, give it a month. Most boxes have (or require) a month long introductory CrossFit class, so you can learn proper form for all the movements. Not up to committing to a whole month? Take a free intro class. Almost every box offers one!
6. A Giant Timer Staring You In The Face
Almost everything is timed in CrossFit. Yes, you are technically trying to finish first or get the most reps in a certain time period, but the real competition is against yourself. Ignore that looming timer, ignore the other people and just work your hardest. Did you just climb your first rope ever? WINNING! Did you just do 10 push-ups in a row? WINNING! Did you slash your time in half from three months ago but still came in last? WINNING! Lots of CrossFitters keep a journal at the box and record their workout each day. It is so rewarding to look back at your improvements over time. WINNING!
7. A Built-In Cheering Section
At your first CrossFit class, you most likely will be at the bottom of the pack. No offense. But it’s true, and it’s completely A-OK. Why? No one gives a rip if you finish dead last or first. There is an unwritten rule of support: Nobody leaves the box until everybody is finished and everybody cheers everybody on. When I’m struggling on my last few clean and jerks, I get motivated when I hear “C’mon, Hannah. Finish strong!” The camaraderie at CrossFit is amazing. The people you compete with on a daily basis are also your biggest supporters and friends.
8. An Awesome Community
Along the same lines, I’m a huge fan of group fitness classes and will do them my whole life, but after I’m done shaking it in the corner during Zumba, I reel in my inner-J.Lo and go home. Many clubs and instructors do a wonderful job making you feel like you belong and friendships are formed, but CrossFit just offers something a little different. It’s hard to understand without witnessing it for yourself, but I’ll do my best to explain. I think because class sizes are so small (the average class size at my box is about 6-10) that you end up knowing everybody by first and last name, you hang out on the weekends, and you get sad when someone moves away. For example, I was barely a member for one month and they designed a WOD completely around me on my birthday! 5 rounds for time (for my birthday month) of 23 weighted sit-ups (for my age), 22 box jumps (for my birthday day and one of favorite movements), and a 100-yard sprint (running is my strength!). It was a very hard WOD and people probably cursed my name when they got home.
9. Post-WOD Victory
No sugar coating from me. At the end of your first WOD, you’re going to feel it. I usually lay on the ground for a minute or two, do really unattractive things with my face (there will be no chance of a CrossFit romance for me), and then pop up and say, “I can’t wait to do that again!” I don’t know how it happens. Magic. Your mind has a blast during the workout (how can you not have fun when “Hot In Herre” is blaring?) and your heart and body love the challenge. The good news that comes with all that sweat? You just finished your first CrossFit workout, champ!
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