5 Essential Things to Know When Starting CrossFit For the First Time

Hannah Overhiser
May 17, 2023
5 Essential Things to Know When Starting CrossFit For the First Time

Starting a new exercise regimen can be hard. Especially if that new routine includes a type of workout that is new to you like yoga, HIIT, or pilates. But perhaps one of the exercises that seems the most difficult to pick-up is CrossFit.

If you’re interested in getting started with any sort of intense training, like CrossFit, there are steps you can take to familiarize yourself with the philosophy and properly prepare for your first class.

Is It Hard to Start CrossFit?

CrossFit’s intensity has earned it a reputation (and perhaps a misconception) for being too hard for the layperson to pick up. Ironically, what CrossFit values as its “sex appeal”—barbells slamming into the ground, athletes covered in sweat, copious amounts of pullups, etc—might actually be a bit of a repellent. Not everyone wants to gain visible muscle. Not everyone wants to lose weight. And therein lies the beauty and the answer to the question, “is it hard to start CrossFit?” In a word, no.

Very much like setting an intention before a yoga class, Crossfit can serve whatever purpose the practitioner needs. Some athletes will choose to focus on their skill work, becoming enthusiasts for gymnastics movements. Others will enjoy learning to lift weight and dig into form. Others will lean into the social aspect of CrossFit, getting to know someone new or even simply reconnecting with themselves after a long day.

Like any new exercise, many gyms will require novices to attend a foundations class to learn the basics of every movement. But think of this as more of a safety precaution rather than a barrier!

5 Things to Know Before Starting CrossFit

1. The philosophy.

You may be asking yourself, “What is CrossFit’s philosophy?” Well, the answer might depend on who you ask—as we’ve mentioned, CrossFit means many things to different people! Generally speaking however, CrossFit’s philosophy is accessibility. And if that’s too broad, think about it in terms of these three pillars: constant variation, functional movement, and high intensity. Taking this philosophy to heart doesn’t mean jumping into your first class with expert-level intensity and expectations. Try to think about three pillars like this, instead::

Variation:  The daily prescribed workout is different every day. Approach every new CrossFit class with openness.

Function: The foundation of every movement is rooted in natural movement. Each time you deadlift, think about the last time you lifted a heavy box or storage container off the floor. This will help the movements feel more functional than frivolous.

Intensity: Intensity is relative. What feels intense to you today might not feel as intense tomorrow and vice versa. Intensity is more of a stand-in for listening to your body, knowing when to push yourself, when to back off, and feeling confident.

2. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.

I actually didn’t hear about this concept (or took it to heart) until I had been doing CrossFit for about five years. If I could go back, I think this would have really helped me through some of the tougher workouts I experienced when I was a beginner.

The saying, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast”, essentially reminds athletes to seek consistency rather than speed. When does this saying really come in handy? For instance, when you’re jumping rope and you’ve tripped for the 12th time in a row. You may feel exasperated and start trying to go faster to catch up, but really the secret is to take a breath, pick up your rope with intention, and go at a slower, consistent pace.

Why is this piece of advice particularly critical for beginners? Doing anything for the first time can be intimidating and frustrating—especially if you feel like you’re struggling. By discovering a smooth, consistent pace it allows you to get that many more reps in, improve, and enjoy.

3. Scaling is always an option. Always.

Along with different programming everyday, CrossFit workouts have another accessibility factor: scaling. Every CrossFit workout comes in two categories, RX and Scaled.

RX simply means the athlete is doing the workout movements at the “prescribed” weight, rep scheme, etc. For instance, the prescribed weight for a workout like Fran is 65 lbs for women, 95 lbs for men. That doesn’t mean however, that you have to put 65 or 95 lbs on your barbell to do Fran. You can “scale it” down to a weight that works for your level of experience, mobility, and so on.

So, if you ever walk into the gym and are confronted with a workout that feels intimidating or impossible (even the most seasoned athletes still have those workouts that they need to scale) your coach will help you substitute reps or movements to ensure you get a great workout in and leave the gym feeling accomplished!

Scaling appropriately is also a very smart approach to your fitness. If you overexert yourself and leave the gym feeling defeated, the bad kind of exhausted, or, God forbid, injured, convincing yourself to come back to the gym the next day is going to be unenjoyable or, at worst, impossible. 

Archetype in fact has taken scaling options to a new level, designing its programming around the Level Method so every athlete knows how to approach every single workout based on their comfort level with movements and weight. 

4. You might start to feel differently.

You will get sore. You will feel tired. But you will also start to feel different. Whether that “difference” shows up when you climb a flight of stairs, lift a heavy box, run to catch the bus, or bend over to pet the dog, you will start to experience your body a little bit differently.

Speaking from personal experience, I noticed after about two months doing CrossFit that I felt stronger and I really liked that feeling! Learning functional movements and proper form when lifting weights, thanks to the personable nature of every class, not only created an environment where I felt encouraged to push myself, I was able to learn and practice movements safely.

In addition to feeling stronger, I was able to rehab knee pain I was experiencing from running on pavement for so many years. This combination of recovery and strengthening hooked me to the sport and I continue to feel the health benefits in different ways—five years later!

5. Don’t forget to check-in.

Check in with your coaches, your fellow athletes, friends, but most importantly, yourself! Anytime we step out of our comfort zones it’s important to check in to gauge and stay in touch with the way we feel. This skill allows us to approach unfamiliar challenges with a level of awareness that is critical for knowing when to push ourselves harder and knowing when to back off so every workout and every new experience feels rewarding and safe.

There are many athletes that started CrossFit for the first time at Archetype. You can see some of their testimonials on our Instagram and follow along with their progress as they pop up periodically at competitions, gym events like Murph and our annual Beach WOD, and of course posting their scores during the CrossFit Open.

If you have any questions about the nitty-gritty or CrossFit, or you would like to talk one-on-one with an Archetype coach, feel free to reach out! We are always excited to facilitate a conversation over the phone or schedule an in-person meeting at the gym.

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