Making The Most Out of Your First Year in CrossFit

The beginning of January 2015 tied off my first true year of CrossFit. I say “true”, because I had been doing CrossFit off and on for about a year prior to that. My attendance record was so cyclical, that my whiteboard nick name evolved into “Here-Today-Gone-Tomorrow”. This tongue-and-cheek moniker came in part since 4 of my really close friends since grade school owned and operated the affiliate I went to. So, not only did I bear the nickname at the gym, I also got flak every time I would see them outside the gym.
However, at the beginning of 2014, I decided I would take a deep dive into getting into shape and doing CrossFit for reals. As a meta learner myself, whenever I take on a new pastime, I go for full immersion, full understanding, and full throttle engagement.
I’m that guy who fully geeks out on everything. I spend as much time figuring out what it is I don’t know as I do figuring out things I know I don’t know. So, in turn, I wanted to write this article to help other CrossFit newbies jump the curve and start asking the questions, finding answers, and accelerate their fitness faster than I did.

Find Your Reasons, Pick Fights With Your Demons

For me, the biggest factors in starting CrossFit and, more importantly, sticking with CrossFit is figuring out why you’re doing it. Sure, you can be the type of person that will just sign up and start going. That’s fine, be daring. But, you’ll need something to fuel that fire after weeks of soreness and frustration from not being able to perform certain movements. 
OCN CrossFit - Open 14.3-16
Spend some time figuring out what it is that will keep you going. This isn’t so much a measurable goal at this point, like a 300-lb deadlift. This is something deep, something biting, something primal. If you’ve got inner demons, now’s the time to line ’em up and announce the fight card.
This is the reason you turn to when you’re in the 2nd round of Fran when your cognitive mind is shutting down and tell you to stop. This is a mantra. A keystone you fall back on when you want to quit.
 Whether it’s that decision to go to the 6pm class or go home and watch House of Cards. That decision

Get Comfortable With The Uncomfortable

This is a classic Navy SEAL saying and I’ve applied it to pretty much everything in life. While the SEALs tend to direct this toward the physical uncomfort of training, which there is plenty of in CrossFit (it was first adopted by the SEALs afterall), there is just as much, if not more, psychological discomfort that comes with it. One of the biggest obstacles for CrossFit, as a whole, is the immensely intimidating feel for newcomers. You swing by your local box to check things out, and see 20-something year old women clearly back squatting more than you ever have, and huge herculean sized dudes holding more weight over their heads than you’ve ever seen stacked on a bar. Immediately, the inferiority complex from highschool comes alive and you contemplate backing away slowly if no one’s seen you yet.
Relax. It’s normal. And if you didn’t feel it then, you’ll feel something like it on your first day when that 100 pound school teacher does more pull ups than you. Get comfortable with it. Check your ego at the door.
You’re going to look awkward. Especially when trying to do your first clean or kipping pull up. Everyone did, so nobody has the right to judge. You remember that first, and people give you shit, remind them second.
Newcomer’s quickly learn that the sizing up games that people play in the weight room at the local Planet Fitness are no where to be found in a CrossFit gym. It’s not about how much weight you can put up or how fast you are. It’s whether you tried and didn’t quit. It’s a feeling that doesn’t quite take meaning until you’ve experienced it, when the people that finish before you limp over to cheer you on through your last round rather than leave.

Set Near Term and Long Term Goals

One of my previous CEO’s taught me this idea to help me with my career, and I applied it to my fitness progression. Set realistic and firm near, mid, and long term goals to keep yourself on track. While CrossFit gyms are all about metrics and recording your progress on the whiteboard, it’s also powerful to keep personal goals beyond the whiteboard. Once you’ve got your bearing after a few weeks, establish realistic 1 month, 3 month, 6 month, and 1 year milestones.
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To get you started, here are some examples of ones that I set up for myself. Obviously your own goals may vary depending on your strength and skill level:
  • +10 unbroken pullups (<1 month)
  • First Rx WOD (<3 months)
  • 1:10 or less 400m time (<6 months)
  • Sub 7 minute Fran (Rx) (<9 months)
  • First muscle up (<12 months)
  • Compete in Affiliate Games Event as a “real” competitor (within the year)
I’m proud to say I hit all those goals within the last year, even if they weren’t exactly on time. But when you realize you’re approaching that milestone date, it puts some fire under your ass to start pushing and working on your skills.

Invest In Yourself

Without partaking in too much of the Kool-Aid,  invest in some proper CrossFit specific equipment to get advantages where you can. One thing you should invest in is a pair of Olympic style weight lifting shoes. I made the mistake of the thinking that I didn’t need these for a long time, since I wasn’t putting up heavy weight (I only weigh 155 lbs). I finally bought a pair after 2 months in, and I never looked back. They really did change my game. They will reduce your learning curve dramaaatically when it comes to learning properly foot positioning and creating a stable platform for performing Olympic lifts. Cross trainers, or even worse, running shoes, will constantly fight back while you try to develop correct form. Lifters range from $100-$150 but are worth every, single, rigid heeled penny. Here’s a link to the pair I used, but mind you, just like everything else, a new pair comes out with minor tweaks to the design every year or so. So keep an eye out for deals on last year’s “model”.
OCN CrossFit - Open 14.3-1
A few other things I would suggest investing in are a pair of wrist wraps and your own speed rope, two things than you can probably get for under $40 bucks. Wrist wraps will prevent wrist pain from relatively new wrist positioning in the front rack position or overhead squat, and a speed rope that you can properly size to your height or preference will give you the best chance at stringing double-unders.
While Reebok CrossFit apparel is severely overpriced unless you get them on clearance or at an outlet, they are very well made and custom made for CrossFit. The board shorts hold very well and have features that really do lend themselves to CrossFit, such as reinforced fabric on the thighs to hold up during cleans/snatches, to stretch material in the crotch that don’t restrict you in a deep squat. You can definitely get away with any sort of gym shorts and sweat pants, the Reebok apparel works very well once you can stomach the price tag.

Think Outside The Box

Ever take music lessons as a kid? Did your music teacher ever rip on you for never practicing outside of the lesson? They could always tell. The same goes with CrossFit.  Yes, you can get away with just thinking about CrossFit during CrossFit, but if you’re struggling with proper form, body mechanics, mobility, or muscle soreness, then take to the internet to learn while you’re not at the gym. CrossFit is a huge movement and fortunately has some very smart people out there teaching this stuff online too. Then again, there are also quite a few idiots out there too.
My personal recommendations would be to pickup Kelly Starret’s Becoming a Supple Leopard. In my opinion, this is THE primer for CrossFit. He explains the physiological foundation of correct form, creating power and torque through movements, and explains how all these are linked in every major exercise and lift, all with step by step photos.  Best of all, the entire back of the book is dedicated to stretching and mobility, with sections on each muscle group. That alone is worth is the $30 for the hardcover, especially in your first few months when you will be absolutely crippled with soreness. You can find more resources and videos on Kelly’s website, mobilitywod.com
Along with Kelly, I would also digest as much information as you can from Carl Paoli at gymnasticswod.com. As the website suggests, Carl focuses on the gymnastic body weight movements, like handstands, muscle ups, and the daunting kip and butterfly. I learned how to kip and butterfly from this guy from just following his progression video series. You’ll also notice he works closely with Kelly Starret, he’s the model for many diagrams in his book.
Beyond those, I would also check out the podcast, Barbell Shrugged. These guys have a lot of great videos on YouTube and articles on their website which carries over to their podcast where they interview CrossFit athletes and trainers.

Be Coachable

Be willing to learn, adapt, and improve. This tenet goes hand in hand with the one above, but carries back to the gym. Respect your affiliate coaches and take criticism and adjustments to your technique and performance willingly. Your trainers want you to succeed just as much as you do, but safely. After all, it’s their insurance riders that are on the line if you’re rounding your back on every dead lift, or pointing your knees in on every squat. I’ve seen a lot of people who just don’t take to being coached. Maybe it’s ego, or they just don’t have a sense of how their body moves, but they appear uncoachable. If it’s ego, well, that’s on you. If it’s a sense of body control, develop some by slowing down, decreasing the weight, studying others, and learning more. Do this and you’ll watch the gains come rolling in, I guarantee it.

Be Humble, Be Proud

CrossFit already has a huge stigma and haters out there. For some, it’s just lack of knowledge. For others, it’s just something to hate on. CrossFit is a great way to get in shape, build athleticism, and get strong as hell. But remember, there are different strokes for different folks. Don’t fall into the stereotype of the new CrossFitter Preacher. It’s the fitness equivalent of a vegan. (Mind you, I grew up a vegetarian).
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How’s the joke go?
How do you know if someone is vegan?
Don’t worry, they’ll tell you in the first 5 minutes.
The same stereotype has developed for CrossFitters. You don’t need to sell CrossFit, let the movement do that. Not everyone needs to be saved, or see the light. Be proud that you do it and you’re getting into the best shape of your life. If you know people who are interested in trying it, help them sign up. Offer to go to classes with them. But you’re not working off commission. Remember that.
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