With countless YouTube videos of bulky athletes slamming Olympic weights from overhead and a reputation for a highly demanding physical challenges, CrossFit intimidates even seasoned athletes. But once you learn the basics of this dynamic sport, you’ll reap countless benefits, like increased stamina, strength and flexibility. Here’s what you need to know before you step into the box (more on that term later).
How to prepare
As a core strength and conditioning program, CrossFit does not require you to stretch, hydrate and prepare differently than any other high-impact class. However, the workout is practically a maze of acronyms and terminology that are worth learning before your first class. Workouts occur at the box, the CrossFit name for studio or gym. Each class will feature a different WOD (workout of the day), which might include exercises like lifts, burpees, jump-roping and kettle-bell swings. There are also AMRAP (as many reps/rounds as possible) workouts, in which CrossFitters see how many reps of a movement they can complete in a given time. These are the basics, and of course, your instructor can provide reminders. For a more complete list of lingo, check out this guide.
What to wear
Both men and women might find themselves most comfortable in breathable apparel that offers extra coverage, like knee-length leggings and T-shirts, along with high-quality sneakers with good traction. A pair of weight-lifting gloves might also come in handy for the strength-building exercises, which can involve barbells and ropes. If you fall in love with CrossFit, you can invest in gear designed specifically for the activity. For example, Reebok has designed a collection of CrossFit sneakers with high-tech materials made specifically for rope climbing, flat soles for maximum stability when weightlifting and a multi-surface outsole for traction on any surface.
What to bring
The CrossFit box will have all the props you need for the WOD, including jump ropes, weights and gymnastic rings. You’ll want to bring a large water bottle to keep you hydrated throughout the intense exercise. As mentioned above, lifting gloves will help protect your hands during rope workouts and lifting sessions. The only thing you might want to bring that’s not already in your gym bag is a set of earplugs. CrossFit can be a loud sport, and drowning out the thuds of heavy weights slamming the ground might help you focus.
When you arrive
Newbies should plan to arrive at the box 10-15 minutes before their class to introduce themselves to the instructor and get preliminary demos on any aspects of the WOD they might not be familiar with. This also gives ample time to stretch out and loosen up any tight muscles. CrossFit boxes tend to be pretty basic, so you’ll be able to acclimate quickly.
What to expect
One of the most distinctive aspects of CrossFit is the focus on community. CrossFitters connect not only at the box, but online as well. Expect regulars at the box to be social, supportive and even slightly competitive (in a friendly way). As for class structure, every box and instructor runs their own show, but most classes start with a 10-minute group warm-up, followed by strength and skill training (usually involving squats, lifts, pull-ups, etc.). Then you’ll get to the core of the class: the WOD. It’s quite similar to high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and changes every day to keep the workouts fresh and challenging.
The final portion of the class includes a recovery period with group stretching. Some boxes also encourage the use of foam rollers, bands and mobility tools during this time. The best part is that every section of the workout is scalable to your abilities. CrossFit experts say newbies should strive to do about half the weights and reps of more advanced CrossFitters during their first few classes and work up from there. It might look hard at first, but anyone can do it.
What to do next
CrossFit is a powerful sport incorporating the most challenging aspects of gymnastics, powerlifting, calisthenics and interval training—you’ll likely be sore and tired after your first class. Remember to drink lots of water and stretch frequently. Your body will probably benefit from yoga or low-impact workout the day after, but you can step into the box again in a day or two. Don’t give up if you felt discouraged during your first class. The workouts get easier with time, and soon, you’ll be going to the box to try to outlift your CrossFit friends and hit new personal records.