Congratulations! The hardest part of trying anything new is working up the courage just to walk in the door. You made it, so what is next? That first year starting CrossFit can be pretty confus- ing. Getting used to the Workout of the Day (WOD), acronyms (like WOD, AMRAP, RFT, etc), and for most beginners, many of the movements will be new and challenging, especially if they do not have a weightlifting background. It is easy to see how the first year could be a confusing time for anyone new to CrossFit, so to simplify this period, what should your focus be on as an athlete during the first year?
Fundamentals and Form
Many athletes hit the ground running without much real understanding of what their focus should be on as an athlete. The mindset is to simply show up and listen to what the coach says to do, give it your all, sweat a lot and go home. Having a deeper understanding of the “why” can help motivate an athlete to perform the “what” with so much more focus. Especially when the “what” is not particularly glamorous and fun.
One of the most important things that an athlete should focus on when starting out which will carry overlater as they become more advanced is learning the movements and practicing them using good form. Learning good
form as a beginner cannot be stressed enough. Good form is what keeps you safe! Safe keeps you healthy and injury free so that you can keep coming back.
Coaches will be hounding you on this, but don’t let it discourage you. Learning good form is something that can be learned relatively quickly but may take a long period of time for your body to be able to do what you want it to do without you having to think too much about it. This is a part of fitness that CrossFit directly addresses with your neurological connections commonly referred to as “muscle memory”. To get your body to really know what a good position feels like and to do it instinctively we need to practice hundreds of repetitions doing the movement. However, it is very important do these high volume of the movements with good body mechanics and form.
With the large volume of repetitions your body will remember what you taught it. If you do a thousand reps the wrong way, your bodywill remember that also. Many athletes will skip over this critical beginning period to concentrate and drive home good form and fundamentals in the pursuit of heavier weights. While they may get away with this initially, there will come a point where they are no longer able to go up in weight even though they seem to have the muscle to lift it. This is the critical point where form andtechnique become as crucial as strength. Whereas the physiological aspects of fitness are usually what people initially think of when they want to get fit (strength, endurance, stamina, and flexibility), the neurological aspects (balance, coordination, accuracy, and agility) need to be practiced repeatedly to develop good form.
Only together with the physical and neurological aspects can the body achieve the speed and power needed to move large loads over long distances and doing so quickly. It is very hard to go back and change bad habits once they have become muscle memory, so take the time when you are beginning to learn the correct form and technique of the fundamental movements (squat, press, deadlift, clean, thruster, and snatch). Using light loads such as a PVC pipe or a wooden dowel will allow you to slowly walk through the progressions without fatiguing your muscles to practice good form over and over and over…. and over. This will allow you to really concentrate on your bodies positioning and motion. When you think you have done enough, repeat what you just did.
You cannot repeat good mechanics enough. Grab that PVC pipe and practice. If you are at a Box have a coach watch you and give you pointers. If you have to do it at home alone, use a device to record your movement from multiple angles if possible, and watch your movements. You will learn a lot about what you are doing if you can visualize it. Especially when you are still getting used to how good form should feel. Even the best lifters still warm up with multiple rounds with a PVC pipe just to get their body familiarized with the movements theyare about to perform.
The Right Intensity
We all have gone into a workout full steam ahead and then only on our second round of five we have felt like we have run out of gas. This is about that time of the workout where you get that look on your face that says “I messed up”. On the other side of that, sometimes the workout looks absolutely horrible on the board so you went a little too easy with it and feel regret after knowing you probably could have/should have gone harder or faster.
Probably the most common mistake is the desire to have that glorious “RX” next to your name on the board after the workout. In chasing that Rx athletes will load up more weight on the bar than they can handle throughout the duration of the workout. While there may be self-in-duced pressure to go faster and heavier to try keeping up with other athletes, fight that temptation. Check your ego at the door. Everyone understands that we all had to start somewhere
We all crawled before we walked… with exception of maybe Rich Froning [This wouldn’t really be a
CrossFit article without mentioning RF at least once, would it? (rhetorical, of course not)]. It is important that you learn that your only competition is your fitness when you walked in the door, compared to when you walked out. Sure, we all can get a little competitive and no one wants to be perceived as the slowest or weakest. Friendly competition helps motivate us to push hard and that is ok.
Being first or last shouldn’t matter for the vast majority of us who are just trying to be fitter, bet- ter humans. There is
a lot of thought in developing a program not only to work different muscle groups but also to train at different intensities. Different intensities can be achieved in a variety of ways.
By increasing the load, or adjusting the time of a workout are just two examples of variables that can be changed to target a specific intensity. Different intensities of training will work your metabolic systems differently, and as CrossFitter, our goal is to be well rounded in all areas of fitness.
Some workouts are designed to be absolute max effort, but your body can only sustain that work capacity for a short duration. These workouts utilize your anaerobic systems; phosphagen (phosphocreatine) pathway, which gives you very high intensity but for a short duration (10-30 seconds), and glycolytic (lactic) pathway, which gives you high to medium intensi- ty for a medium duration (2-3 minutes).
During these workouts you really should be pushing yourself to the limits. A common mistake for these types of workouts would be when an athlete over loads the weight on the bar and turn a workout that should have been finished in 3-6 minutes into a 20 minute grinder. Hopefully your coach will catch this before get started, but don’t hesitate to ask your coach for guidance before you get started with the WOD.
Even if you are huffing and puffing at the end because you were struggling with your Rx weight the entire time, it is not the same effect on your body as you would have had if you went with a lighter weight that would allow a higher intensity workout and finish it in 6 minutes. This concept is called “scaling”; adjusting a variable or exercise for the individual athlete which allows them reach the desired intensity while striving to use the same range of motion as utilized in the Rx workout.
Some workouts on the other hand are meant to last up to thirty minutes long where pacing yourself becomes incredibly important. This type of workout utilizes and develops a different metabolic pathway known as the aerobic (oxidative) pathway which kicks in around 3-4 minutes and is sustainable for very long periods (hours). If you finish this type of workout feeling the same as you finished the shorter, more intense workout, you are missing out on training that system.
Remember, not every workout needs to have you laying on the floor after. Workouts such as this are great opportunities to learn how to pace yourself for a longer duration of work capacity. Understanding this will help you to decide when you need to scale a movement in order to per- form the workout with the right intensity. We want you to get through the workout safely, and we want you to get the most out of it.
Remember how important good form is. During a WOD it is ok if your form is not absolutely perfect, but if you feel that your form is starting to get further and further away from perfect, let that be an indicator that you should either slow down a little, or even if needed reduce the load (weight). Sometimes reducing the load could mean changing from doing pushups from the standard position, to dropping down to your knees and continuing.
The important thing to remember is to never go faster, or heavier than good form allows. Whenever you are unsure of how you should scale for a specific WOD, ask your coach not just what movement, or load you should scale to (if any), but also ask them to explain to you what your desired intensity should be. This should ensure you have the desired effect from the workout as it was programmed.
Fuel for Fitness
Now that we have discussed the importance of some of the things you should be focusing on in the box, it is important to cover the things you should be focusing on outside the box.
Diet and sleep are probably the most overlooked factors in health and fitness. Ignoring these two factors and expecting your body to perform at its peak is like fueling the space shuttle with unrefined petrol and expecting to get to the moon. Your Diet provides the fuel source for your body to build lean muscle while your rest cycle is the prime time for your body to get to work building and repairing muscle. The two factors combined are the foundation of everything you do in the box.
When talking about diet it is not something you do for 30 days and then go back to what you were doing before. Diet is a life style, as cliché as that sounds, however, jumping into full on meal prep mood, accompanied with weighing and measuring your food can be intimidating, frustrating, and discouraging. Just as in a WOD, scale. You don’t show up for your first WOD and throw on the Rx weight and smash out the workout.
Like most of us, you probably have to scale. Scale your diet plan as well. What I mean by this is, don’t jump head first into measuring and meal prepping, but take a good honest look at what you are eating. Getting to Healthy foods is a simple and manageable first step. Staying on the outsides of the shopping isles, avoiding processed foods.
One of the hardest parts is cutting out sugar. This also happens to be one of the most important things you can do for your health. Find snacks that replace your sugar cravings. Fruits are a great go-to for this. While fruits are high in natural sugars, it is a lot better than the processed sugars. Use tricks like this to ween yourself off sugars and eventually cut back your fruit intake as well.
Your goal should be a diet of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruits, little starches, and no sugar. Don’t worry about weighing and measuring at first. Scaled remember? At some point you will not even have to think about eating healthy foods. It will just become your natural choices because they make you feel better and you will become used to eating healthy foods.
That’s when you can try to scale it up, and perhaps start taking a looking at your portion sizes. Maybe measuring and meal prepping is still a little too daunting for you, but understanding how to eye-ball portion sizes, and eating your meals at the appropriate times could be the next step for you. Whatever works for you, but the bottom line here is to tackle your diet in a manageable way so that it doesn’t feel like such an overwhelming task that you break away from it.
If you approach it the same as you do to a workout in the box, slowly getting better and better, you will find a manageable way to get your diet in check. Remember, this is the base of everything you do. So it should be a focus just as important as what you do in the Box. Write down short and long term diet goals, and share with friends so they will keep you motivated to stick with it.
For so many, diet is harder to do than the workouts. Give it just as much focus, planning, and attention and tracking your improvements. Keep a log of what you are eating. You should be able to just as easily identify what your meal plan for the day is as you are able to track what your WOD for the day was. Do this and you will have more energy to attack your work- outs, your body will recover better, and you will see results.
Starting off CrossFit can feel like trying to drink from a firehose. It is a lot of information and new things being thrown at you at once and it can easily feel a bit overwhelming. Keeping focused on these key aspects will assist you on your path.
By identifying these points to focus on you will be getting a head start on increasing your performance down the line. Even if it feels like it is starting off slowly, remember taking the time to understand the movements, and perfect them through lots of practice reputations will make all the difference down the road. Stick with it, and don’t get discouraged.
Remember you are there to improve yourself so don’t worry about what others are doing. Scale your workouts to ensure you are getting the most out of them. Take a serious interest in your diet and getting the rest your body needs.
Creating a foundation of a solid diet should always be the first thing you focus on. Without fueling our bodies properly all your effort in the gym will feel like you are just spinning your tires and not getting anywhere. If you have questions, never hesitate to ask your coach. They have a lot of knowledge that they would love to share with you. That’s why they are there. Good luck, and 3…2…1…