Advice for Getting Started

A brother of mine asked me the other day if I had any advice for someone just getting started with CrossFit. The answer is yes… ohhhhh yes:

TRAINING

You need to be aware that part of the CrossFit culture is checking your ego at the door. Please don’t watch the CrossFit Games on ESPN and expect to come into our gym to do everything you saw on TV.  Those athletes have been in CrossFit for years (most of them anyway) and have committed countless hours to training. Don’t listen to your buddy’s stories of how utterly smoked he was after his latest CrossFit WOD- your day to recount your “hardest WOD ever” will come, but it shouldn’t be in the first week.

CrossFit works, but it is not an overnight, miracle program. It’s a process. It takes time. Go slow.

Regardless of your current level of fitness, the ONLY thing you should be concerned about for your first few weeks of CrossFit is mechanics. Don’t worry about your weights, or your strength, or howfast you get the workout completed– concentrate on performing each movement correctly. It takes a long time to master a lot of these movements, and it is quite likely that we are going to have to break some of your bad habits in order to rebuild your technique. Finding the proper range of motion for a squat is far more important than learning how to butterfly your pull-ups. I’d rather you finish 5 minutes after everyone else because you’re taking your time on the push press to make sure you get it right. This might mean you leave class not feeling totally exhausted- that is perfectly fine!! If your form got better, you accomplished the goal for the day. Once we get your mechanics dialed in, and you are consistently performing the movements correctly, then we can crank up the intensity.

If you’re sitting there thinking “Oh, he’s not talking to me… I’m in great shape. I work out all the time!” or “I’m a former collegiate athlete… I’m pretty sure I know what I’m doing” then you are EXACTLY the type of athlete who needs this advice. I don’t really care how “fit” you think you are- I care about making sure your technique is flawless. The people who ignore this advice and come in to hit the workoutsHARD the first two weeks usually end up crumpled up by the door, injured, by the end of the second week. The people who come in and focus on their form first, and intensity later, are the ones who see their strength and conditioning sky rocket (and they stick with it). It seems backwards, but going slower is how you get better faster.

Heavy weights don’t impress me. Workout times don’t impress me. Perfect form impresses me.

RECOVERY

Recovery is often the first thing people overlook when they start CrossFit. Everyone gets excited and wants to come in as much as possible. Here is what you need to understand about high intensity training: we are literally tearing your body down during the workout. Your body needs time to recover and repair itself (besides, if you’re coming off the couch, you won’t be able to move after the first week). Over time, your body will adapt to the intensity we’re applying to the workouts, and you’ll start to recover faster. Starting out, three days a week is plenty, preferably with a rest day in between each day of training (although back to back training days are perfectly acceptable, schedule and soreness permitting). I should note that “rest” day means “rest from intensity,” not “sit on the couch and eat potato chips.” You should be out moving- playing tennis, swimming, running, walking the dog, whatever gets you active (we call this “active recovery”).

Once you notice that you aren’t quite as sore the next morning, we can increase the frequency if you’d like. Usually 3 days a week of CrossFit (plus active recovery) is enough to achieve and maintain a certain level of fitness for an individual- if your goal is to continually improve your fitness level, additional training days will be necessary. By doctrine, CrossFit calls for “3 days on, 1 day off.” For those of us in the real world, this can be a scheduling nightmare (especially if your box isn’t open on Sundays). Try 4 WODs a week (Wednesday or Thursday being an active recovery day) and see how your body reacts. If, after several weeks of this, you want more, try adding a Saturday class in. Just remember to listen to your body– if you need to rest, don’t be stubborn. That barbell isn’t going anywhere… it will still be there tomorrow.

If training is the engine that drives the bus, recovery would be the lug nuts- a seemingly small and inconsequential piece in relation to the engine, but without which the wheels will fall off. Recovery is important- don’t neglect it.

NUTRITION

It seems appropriate to address the fuel that we’re burning in this bus engine. Nutrition is also extremely important, but just like training, we need to take baby steps. When I get people coming to me saying “Hey, I want to try [insert diet plan here]” my first response is “Okay… what are you eatingnow?” If you are eating lots of fast food, processed food, sugary substances, soft drinks, or just plain junk food… we probably need to establish some healthy habits before jumping to a strict diet.

For example- if you are currently drinking 6-10 soft drinks a day and eating fast food more than 4 times a week, you’re probably going to go through sugar or caffeine withdrawals by quitting cold turkey. I’m not saying it can’t or shouldn’t be done overnight, I’m just saying the food companies have quite cleverly gone out of their way to ensure your addiction to their products.

Let’s focus on cleaning up your daily diet, teaching you what proper nutrition looks like (and WHY foods are healthy or unhealthy), and getting these habits ingrained in your life. Once we’ve gotten you eating clean, then we can talk about the pros and cons of different diets- the goals (and food preferences) of an athlete can often determine which diet will be most effective for that individual. We are looking for a diet that is sustainable for the rest of your life.

SUPPLEMENTS, CLEANSES, FASTS

Let me make this easy to understand: NO.

Generally speaking, these “cleanses” are nothing more than marketing gimmicks. These products usually lack independent scientific data to back up their claims. They are being sold to people looking for a quick fix- a “24 day cleanse” that is supposed to make you “lose weight faster.” Shockingly, if you stop putting crap in your body for 24 straight daysyou’ll lose weight. You don’t need to be sold any special product for to accomplish this- you just have to stop eating processed, nasty, greasy foods. Fasts- such as the juice fast craze we’ve seen recently- can be healthy (under proper medical supervision). The reason I have you steer clear of them is because they are not sustainable (it’s a fast…). I’d rather you focus you efforts on establishing and maintaining a healthy diet for the rest of your life.

Supplements can be a little controversial. Again, a large percentage of them are nothing more than marketing gimmicks with no scientific data to back up their claims- any perceived performance enhancements are essentially the products of the placebo effect (if you scoff at this, by all means, send me the peer reviewed journal article in which the data is published and we can have a scholarly discussion about it). There are a few products that are worthwhile (high quality fish oil being one of them). But think about the name… “supplements.” They are supplements to your training andnutrition– they don’t replace either. Take your time and get your training dialed in… at the same time, clean up your diet and start eating clean. THEN we can start talking about how to supplement both of these. The truth is all you really need is good, hard training and healthy, clean eating. That’s it. That’s all you need.

Stop looking for a magic pill or miracle diet. They don’t exist. No 30 day cleanse or pre-work out powder is going to improve your fitness. No one can sell you “health in a bottle.” You can’t buy fitness- it’s earned. Accept that.

ODDS AND ENDS

In summary, go slow and trust the process. Just because we’re pushing to complete a workout as fast as we can doesn’t mean we expect you to improve your fitness as fast as you can… this isn’t a race for who can “get fitter faster.” This is a lifelong journey. Work hard, eat clean, and don’t let anyone sell you anything. No special pills, no special shoes, no fancy clothes… give it some time and let the results speak for themselves.

Check these articles out for more advice (yeah, right, like this wasn’t enough…)

Everyone has to Start Somewhere

Getting Better Every Day