How to Survive the CrossFit Plunge

Googling CrossFit before going to your first class is probably one of the worst things you can do. It also happens to be exactly what I did. All I saw was the “Lebron James” of CrossFit,huge muscles, heavyweights, and well nothing like me or anyone I knew.

In reality, the most common crossfitter you’ll see in a box is a middle-aged mom laying her all on the line every workout. A real Crossfitter is an everyday person, your coworker going through a divorce, your grandma suffering from cancer, or your wheelchair-bound bagger at the store. They all show up and do the same workout, whether it be scaled to their ability or exactly how it’s written, and they all leave with the same feeling of accomplishment.

Stepping foot into a box (the term used for a Crossfit gym) is really intimidating. CrossFit boxes are not your average gym. There aren’t rows of treadmills, stair steppers, and ellipticals placed in front of TVs. In a CrossFit gym chalk dust covers everything. The walls are typically decorated with quotes or banners, well-used kettlebells are scattered throughout, pull-up bars are screwed to almost every wall, and there are all these random gymnastic rings hanging around. Everyone feels out of place during their first visit, but going in with an open mind is key. If you don’t, what happens is you’ll miss out on a partner workout with Greg, the 53yr old accountant who is trying to reverse his heart disease, and Linda the 35yr old mom of four who wants to set a good example of a healthy lifestyle for her kids, and Kathy the 50-year-old school teacher who’s looking to show her students you can do anything no matter your age.

Now you may think working out is an individual thing, but that’s simply not true. CrossFit gives that “team” feeling us humans chase. Being social and with others is in our DNA, there is something about pushing yourself to the very edge with others who are all enduring with you, going through the exact same pain you are, it’s like nothing else. CrossFit offers that “something” that can’t be found in a typical gym. Most people and probably you too, go buy a gym membership, consistently go walk on the treadmill and mess around with some of the cable weight machines for about 2 weeks and feel good about themselves. The problem with that is it becomes almost a chore. It’s boring. You’re doing it alone, and getting little to no results.

That gym you bought a membership from is counting on you and 1⁄3 of all the other members to not show up because they don’t actually have enough space for all of you. They don’t care if you get results, they aren’t there helping you along the way of answering your questions. What ends up happening is you stop going, fall into old habits, and start beating yourself up and write yourself off as unlucky or not good enough. Neither of those are true. Being healthy is something everyone deserves. Crossfit was created for us humans to do things we were literally built to do. If you are sick of feeling like nothing works and like you are doing it on your own, this paper is for you.

The first step in surviving the CrossFit plunge is to well, just show up. It sounds simple enough, but there is a lot of fear when committing to pretty much be broken by a workout. Sign up for the morning class, the AM crew is a very consistent and a great group to help introduce you to the CrossFit community. They are prime examples of a real CrossFitter. Wake up about an hour before your class so you have time to have a light and healthy breakfast. You're gonna want to have gas in the tank for the workout, so having a small bowl of oatmeal with almond butter and some fruit is a great way to go. Bring a water bottle and maybe some pre-workout if you feel the need. Arrive about 15 mins early to your class. Getting out of the car and actually walking in is the hardest part. Finding a quote or mantra is really helpful when you need to push aside those fears. Once you go inside, your ears will be greeted by loud music, it may be obnoxious at the early hour but during your workout when you're breathing like a freight train you’ll be grateful.

There will be some light banter between gym-goers while everyone is warming up. You’ll be introduced by the coach somewhat awkwardly and a few middle school flashbacks may occur. After 10 mins of warming up and getting to know the morning crew, the coach will begin to explain the workout. It’s going to sound like a foreign language being spoken but soon enough you’ll understand. Once the workout is explained, you’ll all get whatever is needed and the coach will set the timer. The clock will count down from ten and beep at 3, 2, 1 and here comes the part where you rethink why you showed up.

The second step to surviving the CrossFit plunge is embracing the suck. This is commonly heard throughout the world of CrossFit, and it means exactly what it says: You go to the gym, put in work and think “my god this is terrible, I’ll be back tomorrow.” Not because you want to, but because you know it’s good for you. You will soon find that being a crossfitter means you will sweat, hurt, and complain, but most importantly you keep asking for more. TheCrossfit workouts are hard, physically and mentally, but they are like that so you get results. You’re going to be nervous when the clock counts down from ten. Remember a mantra, maybe the one from your car in the morning. Replay it in your head until you believe it. Dig deep during a workout, it’s easier said than done but if you bring yourself to embrace the suck you’ll find this sense of being unstoppable. Keep pushing through the lactic acid that fills your legs and keep breathing your face off, one rep at a time. Learn that the phrase “don’t think, just do” is now very applicable to your life. You’ll see that’s what sets crossfitters apart from any other person who works out. That little bit of craziness that enjoys the sucky part of hard work. Now you may think “That’s not me I hate hard work,” and that's totally fine. Ask any crossfitter if they ever thought they’d see themselves enjoying this, and I promise you they’d tell you “never in a million years”, but yet they all still come and empty the tank every time. Embracing the suck may seem like a learned behavior, but you’ll see it’s not. You’ve got it. It might be buried deep, but it’s there.

The third step in surviving CrossFit is to stop thinking you’re being judged. The Crossfit community is one built off of this “we’re-in-it-together” idea. There isn't a me .vs. you aspect of it. So if you're uncomfortable in your clothes, you’re bad at running, or Olympic lifting is harder than Algebra for you, THAT'S OKAY! Accept that you are at a different level and not where you want to be yet. Everyone is on a journey at their own speed and doesn't care that Sally’s shirt is tight or Jeff can’t figure out how to do a Clean and Jerk. Accept that reaching your goals is a process and a long one at that. Know you’ve got a team cheering you on. Don’t get upset when results don’t come after a week. Keep showing up, what other gym members do notice is when you stop coming to class. The gym won’t give up on you, even when you might’ve given up on yourself. Don’t feel obligated or bad that you can’t do the weight or advanced movement written for the workout. Know that what’s written is the goal, one day you will be able to do it RX’d (how the workout is written, same weights, same advanced movements.) Or maybe you wont’ but it doesn’t matter. We wanna be healthy, not go to the CrossFit Games. Do what you know you can but still push yourself. No one sees you as “less than” for scaling the workout to what you can do, what people do care about is if you’re actually trying. No one likes working super hard while the person next to them doesn’t try. Don’t sandbag a workout, breaking a sweat is a badge of honor saying “I put my all into that”. Respect that a CrossFit class during a workout works the same way a sports team does, everyone is giving their all, only instead of a game being on the line, it’s your health, and everyone on your new team is ready to pour whatever ounce of being they have to win.

The fourth and final step to surviving CrossFit is to listen to and respect your body. Know that you are going to be sore. Your first week or so is going to leave you a little wrecked. How to help that is by getting ample rest. Go to bed earlier. Sleep is the best natural recovery tool we have, so use it to your advantage. Eat better. Eating healthy not only helps you reach your goals faster but also fuels and restores your body. Don’t try to be all macho and go to the gym every single day available. Why? Because your body is gonna need a break. CrossFit workouts are meant to challenge you physically and mentally. Maybe your muscles feel fine, but sometimes it’s your mind that needs a break. The ratio Crossfit recommends a 3 on 1 off program. Meaning go to class for three days and take a day off. Acknowledge you aren’t a superhero and your body needs to recharge before asking more out of it. Most importantly realize injuries are possible. Whenever you demand a lot from your body, there's a risk. Just be aware, and if you do get hurt, don’t try asking for more. Tell the coach. They will more than likely have a bag full of tips to help you recover and nurse you back to health. Lose the pride and tough guy attitude every high school coach told you to have when you got hurt during a game because doing more while you're hurt WILL NOT, and I repeat WILL NOT help anyone.

Picture this. It’s April 8th, 2030, 6am. You step inside the door of the chalk-covered gym with music blasting in the background. Greetings flood your ears with good mornings from you some of your best friends and a high five from your favorite coach. You grab a foam roller and plop yourself down with the group and invest some time rolling out your quad that got worked yesterday during front squats. Glancing at the whiteboard brings a smirk to your face. The board reads “Karen” 150 wall balls for time. Your favorite workout. The class moves along, and it’s time to start “Karen,” You grab your wall ball and wait for the timer to start. The mantra you live by plays in your head “I do today what others won’t, so tomorrow I can do what others can't.” For you, this came true. The clock starts counting down from 10 and time seems to slow. Looking around, you remember where you started. Years ago this workout scared the crap out of you, mostly because squatting was near to impossible then but now the only concern is to beat your previous time. Catching a glimpse of yourself in the mirror makes you beam with pride. You kept showing up, embracing the suck, knew you weren’t being judged and listened to your body and it lead you to today. A happier and healthier version of your best self staring back you in the mirror. The clock beeping to tell you to start brings you back to reality. You pick up the wall ball and your off. Make your dreams a reality.