Walk into any box (that’s CrossFit speak for the gym itself) and you’ll be greeted by clanging weights, clouds of chalk and whiteboards scribbled with acronyms like “AMRAP” and “EMOM.” With insider speak that almost qualifies as its own language and raw, rough-around-the-edges spaces, CrossFit can definitely be intimidating to try. And even though many of the 10,000 affiliate gyms offer your first workout free, beginners may still feel overwhelmed by the culture of the popular strength and conditioning program.
So what should you really expect if and when you dive into the world of CrossFit? We turned to five athletes who’ve sweated through years of WODs (aka workouts of the day) for the advice they wish they’d gotten when they first started.
12 CrossFit Tips Top Athletes Wish They Knew Before Starting
1. No two boxes are alike.
“Each culture, coach and [workout] space is very different,” says Anna Willard, a CrossFit athlete at CrossFit Merrimack in Lowell, MA, as well as a former professional middle-distance runner. (She snagged a world record in the steeplechase in 2008, but no longer competes.) She recommends trying out a couple of different boxes before committing yourself — and your credit card — to one. “Don’t necessarily go to the place that is the most ‘convenient,’” Willard says. Look for that one gym that’ll keep you coming back — so take note of each box’s programming (aka the structure of workouts) and study the overall vibe of the community before ponying up for a package.
2. Don’t believe the stereotypes.
Tina Haupert, a CrossFit Level 1 trainer, thought all boxes were dark, dingy rooms with super-chiseled athletes grunting and yelling. However, she was pleased to realize just how wrong all of her assumptions were: “My first class was full of women just like me,” she says. They weren’t all crazy-ripped — just casual exercisers looking for a challenge. So don’t let that gritty rep get to you.
“No matter your past athletic achievements, you’ve got to have a beginner mindset.”
3. Confidence is key.
Real talk: Even professional CrossFitters weren’t snatching tons of weight during their first WODs. Christmas Abbott, a CrossFit pro herself and author of The Badass Body Diet, wishes she was more self-assured when she first started out. “The intensity can shock you and make you believe that you can’t do it, or that it’s too hard,” says Abbott, so she took on the mindset of faking it ‘til you make it. “Hush that self-doubt in the back of your head,” she advises. “Know that you’ve accomplished so much already from just your willingness to do the workout.”
4. But make sure to keep your ego in check.
Leave any previous athletic accomplishments at the door: No matter your past athletic achievements, you’ve got to have a beginner mindset. Even though Willard was a professional runner, she wasn’t ready to bust out thrusters and squats like a CrossFit vet when she first stepped in a box. “I was decently strong and very aerobically fit,” she says, “but I was a very specialized athlete.” And since CrossFit requires all kind of athleticism, Willard had to swallow her pride, have patience and put in a lot of hard work. “There were (and are!) a lot of gaps in my abilities and it took me nearly six months before I could complete a workout as prescribed,” she says. So if a former Olympic runner can check herself, you should, too.
5. The day’s Rx isn’t a must-follow prescription.
“The Rx, or prescribed weights, reps and time for a workout, are very challenging and should not be attempted until you’ve been CrossFitting for a while,” says Brett Hoebel, celebrity trainer and author of The 20-Minute Body. It’s OK to go slow to really focus on the quality of your movements, notes Abbott. “Everyone is different; take what you need out of the workout for yourself,” she says. Prefer to modify push-ups or burpees? Do it. ‘Cause you do you.
6. In fact, the whole experience is customizable.
Haupert swears you don’t need to be elite status to jump right in once you’ve completed your foundation coursework. “All of the movements are scalable, so even someone just starting out can work out alongside someone who has done it for years…and both people will get an awesome workout,” she says. Just like the day’s Rx, your entire CrossFit experience can be adjusted to whatever fitness level you’re currently at — no judgments.
7. Prioritize mobility before every WOD.
Don’t shirk the dynamic mobility warm-up at the top of each workout. In fact, your performance depends on it: Many of the foundational movements in CrossFit, like squats and pull-ups, require good form, which in turn requires superior ankle, hips and shoulder mobility. “I grew up competing and playing a variety of sports, but still never gave mobility the respect it deserved until I started CrossFit,” says Shane Winsor, an athlete at CrossFit Cadence in Los Gatos, CA and the current world record holder for the most double unders performed in 60 seconds. “The ‘stretchier’ I become, the better my form gets, and the more I can lift.” If that’s not a win-win-win, we don’t know what is.
“Sometimes when I get into a rut, I will pull out my training log from years ago to see how far I’ve come.”
8. Write everything down.
“I didn’t initially keep a [training] log because I didn’t want to show how slow or weak I was,” admits Abbott. But as a newbie, “it’s the best time to log, since it’ll show your true growth,” she says. If you’re still reluctant to put your record for pull-ups on the gym whiteboard, input into a tracking app like Wodify instead. Because when you’re tracking, you can reflect on your accomplishments — giving you that extra oomph if you’re feeling discouraged. “Sometimes when I get into a rut, I will pull out my training log from years ago to see how far I’ve come,” says Abbott.
9. Your pants might get tighter — but that’s because baby, you’ll have back.
“During my first year of doing CrossFit, I ripped through four or five pairs of jeans because my legs and butt wouldn’t stop growing!” says Winsor. No stranger to glute work either (check our his eight-minute booty workout), Hoebel also admits that CrossFit has done a number on his butt. “My skinny jeans are getting a little tight,” he confesses. Point being: All those back squats — definitely not for squat. (Sorry, we had to.)
10. Bonus: There will be major running gainz.
If you’re a casual (or more serious) runner who’s looking to run your first or fastest half-marathon, CrossFit could help you get there — fewer tedious long runs necessary. Willard says WODs have helped her maintain endurance and speed even though she’s not hitting the track nearly as much as she used to. “Doing CrossFit actually benefits my running more than ramping up mileage does,” she says.
11. But your appetite will spike, too.
Good news for food lovers: Take up CrossFit and you’ll need more fuel in the tank to power through the high-intensity workouts. “I get to indulge my food junkie tendencies more frequently than I did when I was just a bicep curler at Gold’s Gym,” jokes Winsor. Plus, more muscle, greater calorie burn, right? Just remember: Indulge in moderation.
12. Most importantly, never say never.
“Rope climbs, pull-ups and handstand push-ups all seemed so out of reach,” says Haupert of first starting. But after nine months of training, plus a solid dose of grit and determination, she can now do all of those movements with ease. Lofty goals might be more achievable than you expect — just keep working at it!