All about CrossFit: A Beginner's Journey

4.12.2017

One year at CrossFit: From the Beginning
Like most Americans, I made a New Year's Resolution January 2016 that's so cliche I could cry: loose weight and 'get healthy.' I've never been a super athletic person and no exercise routine has ever really clicked for me. When I turned 25 I started to really notice that my body had changed and my sedentary lifestyle wasn't doing me any favors. I was also kind of lonely. After quitting my full time job in August 2015 to pursue blogging full-time I felt so disconnected during the day. I didn't have anyone to talk to and I felt cooped up in my apartment all day. I talked to my friend Noelle about how I was feeling about my body and she said she was feeling the same way. She told me back when she lived in Louisiana she was a member at CrossFit. I was shocked. I'd only heard bad things about CrossFit and it seemed like the farthest thing from "the workout for me." Somehow she convinced me to go to the free intro class to learn more about CF. One brave, chilly night in early January we dragged our asses to CrossFit Virtuosity in Greenpoint, near our apartments. I will never forget that night. The trainer first explained the basics of Crossfit. It's a mix of gymnastics, weight training and HIIT (high intensity interval training). He explained that the daily workouts (coined WOD for workout of the day) are highly varied to work every part of the body, and keep it interesting. The trainer gave us a sample WOD to try that, and I remember this very clearly, was only 8 minutes. I was surprised. Only 8 minutes? How hard could that be. The answer is f***ing hard. Noelle and I joked that for the next 3 or four days we could barely walk up the stairs and would literally "fall" onto the toilet. I decided then and there I wanted to make a change in my life. My parents are both incredibly active and have always pushed me to find an exercise that spoke to me. But it had to be my decision. You have to make the choice and really believe in yourself. So we started Level 1 CrossFit. The Level 1 training program helps beginners joining the program avoid injury and learn the correct form for CF movements. I won't lie to you, the beginning was hard. So hard. Having a workout buddy was crucial especially in the freezing NYC winter because we kept each other accountable. Some days I felt embarrassed by my lack of knowledge and misunderstanding of basic fitness concepts. I didn't even know what a barbell or kettlebell was. I couldn't get myself to a full 'squat' position. But I kept going. I was sore, yes, but I felt so good about myself. Even before the weight started to come off I felt fitter, happier and more fulfilled. Most 'athletes' as everyone is referred to in CrossFit finish Level 1 in a few weeks maybe a few months. But Noelle and I were in Level 1 for almost 7 months. To 'test out' you have to complete a physical fitness test (here's the requirements if you're curious). In July we did it, we passed and started a whole new phase of our CrossFit experience - Level 2. It has now been a full year (and change) since I joined and I couldn't be happier. I have lost a total of 15lbs but much more importantly I feel so great about myself, I'm strong, I'm happy and I have a great community around me. I do mix in other exercises into my routine because I like to keep it interesting and refine smaller muscles with different workouts. In the winter I often attend barre, yoga and spin classes. In the warmer months I'll do road cycling, running & long walks on rest days. CrossFit has absolutely made me stronger in all those activities and in my day to day life (lifting packages, cleaning, going up and down long flights of stairs & running as fast as humanly possible before they close the gate on a flight - true story!) I was honestly amazed when in November after very little running training I was able to complete a 10k in 1 hour and 6 minutes. CrossFit has definitely helped with my stamina, cardio endurance and giving me the confidence to try things I'd never even considered a year ago (like that 6 mile run, aerial yoga or Stand up paddleboarding yoga)




Average Workout at CrossFit
Here's an example of an average WOD (coincidentally the one I did today)
1000m Rowing
30 Push Ups 
50 Weighted Lunges (using a kettle bell) // RX for women was 16kg but I scaled to 8kg
150 Double Unders // I scaled to 300 single unders
1000m Rowing
This workout was pretty brutal! It took me around 20 minutes while most of the women at my 'box' finished between 15-17m. For me I try not to focus too much energy on my 'ranking' and simply do the best I can every single day. That was one of the hardest things for me to get used to at CrossFit. It's essential not to compare yourself too closely with others I like to remember the phrase "Don't compare your week one to someone else's week 100." While I like to look at the 'whiteboard' (which lists everyone's completion times) to gauge my performance or give myself a goal before the workout I try to never let it tear me down. I know how far I've come already in a year and I'm proud of that.

FAQ's

  • Did you change your diet? Many CrossFit athletes adhere to a strict Paleo or 'Whole 30' diet which is brutal; no bread/grains, no dairy, no legumes (like beans or nuts), no alcohol. I did try out the Paleo diet for about 2 weeks but it just wasn't for me. I would say I eat healthier than I did before I started CrossFit bit I have not significantly changed my diet. When I work out, however, I do feel more inclined to make better food choices. I think it's because in the back of my mind I know that I don't want to undo all the very hard work I've done. 
  • Don't women get really bulky if they lift weights? It's funny because I get this question a lot and in total fairness it was one of my biggest questions when I started CrossFit. The answer is no. Yes, you will see muscle and muscle definition. Think of the different between a waifish fashion model and an athletic woman. I do prefer to look strong and toned but in no way to I feel bulky. To clarify, you cannot lose fat in one spot at a time, you will only reduce your overall body fat percentage to see results in areas where you want it. I wish that wasn't the case, my friends, but it is. Here is a really great article that explains this 'bulky' myth in detail. That being said CrossFit has shown me to look at my body differently. When I first started all I cared about was the number on the scale or extra fat on my tummy/hips. Now that I've been able to reduce my overall body fat percentage I focus on different things on having lean but muscular thighs and strong toned arms. I've always looked to actresses like Jennifer Lawrence or Jessica Biel who have great muscle definition but are not 'super skinny' and that's the body type I'm personally aiming for. 
  • Don't you get injured if you do CrossFit? This is a hotly debated argument in the fitness world. I can say that I have yet to sustain an injury at CrossFit (except soreness!) While I don't believe CrossFit is inherently dangerous, I do think that it can evoke an unhealthy level of competition especially from highly competitive individuals. I think people often push themselves too hard and, in not listening to their body and their physical limitations, can easily get injured in CrossFit. For me I am very cautious even sometimes maybe to a sight detriment to my progress. I am careful to scale my workouts appropriately according to my own strength and stamina and the advice of my coaches. I discuss this later in the 'tips' section below but I want to stress that it's very important to listen to your coaches and listen to your body. 
  • Isn't CrossFit an intimidating 'boys club'? This was one of the misconceptions I had when I first considered joining CrossFit. However, according to 2014 research CrossFit participation is almost exactly 50/50 among men and women. The classes I attend usually have slightly more men than women but of course every 'box' is different. I won't lie, sometimes class can get a little 'bro'-ish but I feel as thought the men actually help motivate the women. For example the guys in my class are always really encouraging, "go Rachel, you can do it!" As for being intimidating, yes CrossFit can be a little intimidating at first especially for someone like me who had ZERO fitness background. But I think like anything you have to just go for it! Listen to your coaches, listen to your body and just do your best.
  • How much does CrossFit cost? CrossFit can be expensive. My gym costs $250/month for an unlimited monthly membership. Because of my flexible schedule I take advantage of an off-peak membership meaning I can only go to classes that are not during busy times (I can attend M-F 9a, 12p, 8p classes) CrossFit is a franchise, however, so every gym has a different pricing model. I have seen gyms in smaller cities that cost as little as $100/month to big city boxes charging $330 in L.A. It is 100% a financial commitment. CrossFit gyms generally pay their employees well because you are being coached. Unlike other fitness classes where you might just be following lead in my experience CrossFit is highly personalized and coaches work hard to truly train the members. For me it's an incredible worthwhile investment in my health, my wellbeing and my confidence! It could help save tons on medical costs in the future as well. Being overweight or obese can contribute to strokes, including high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease.
  • What's your exact workout routine? I don't have a workout routine 100% set in stone but on a weekly basis my routine is something like this:
    • Monday: CrossFit, 1 hour
    • Tuesday: Run, Cycle outdoors or Spinning Class ~45m
    • Wednesday: CrossFit 1 hour
    • Thursday: CrossFit 1 hour
    • Friday: Barre Class 50m
    • Saturday: Rest day (no exercise OR long walk or cycling around the City with my boyfriend)
    • Sunday: Long bike ride (20-50 miles) or CycleCore Class (45m cycle, 30m strength training)
Tips for Beginners Starting CrossFit
  • Be prepared. Bring a water bottle & be ready to sweat! I usually wear leggings (I like Lululemon, Beyond Yoga & Athleta) a supportive sports bra and a tank top. 
  • Listen and ask questions. At the beginning I was so scared coming to class and not being able to do the workout. That's okay! You don't have to do the workout exactly how it is written (also known as doing the workout 'RX') Coaches can provide appropriate scaling but be sure to ask and don't overextend and end up hurting yourself. Also it's imperative to listen carefully as the coaches explain the warm ups and workouts. CrossFit is not a 'hand-holding' gym experience. 
  • Go with a friend. This is without a doubt the best advice I feel I can personally give. It's not easy at first and having someone to workout with and keep you accountable for actually showing up to class is very important. Noelle is my workout buddy and we definitely prefer to go together but we also do go on our own if the other isn't able to make it. If you don't have someone to go with you make friends in the class! We're all suffering together may as well make some acquaintances or even friends. 
I hope you guys enjoyed this post! All my fitness posts here. If you have specific questions write them below! 

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