A Beginner's Guide to Joining a CrossFit Gym and Not Looking Foolish

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.


So, you’ve heard about this CrossFit thing and decided that you want to give it a shot. But, you might be a little worried. You've heard the stories of people going too hard, getting sick, and passing out.

Who wants that to happen?

Or, you’ve watched a few videos of the elite athletes doing crazy workouts that no mere mortal could complete. You know that you aren't that strong, fast, or fit yet!

Don’t worry about it.

Seriously. The nice thing about CrossFit is that everything is scaled appropriately for your capabilities and experience.

So, everyone starts light if they aren’t familiar with weightlifting. Heck, for the Overhead Squat, I spent weeks using nothing but a wooden dowel until I became more flexible and skilled enough to use a real barbell.

One of the most important things to focus on when you are just starting is to take the time to perfect your form and technique before trying to go heavy. Don’t be shy about scaling the lifts and WODs (i.e., workout of the day) using less weight or scaling the technique (e.g., doing burpees without the push-up component).

When you are new, a good coach will give you recommendations for scaling workouts because he or she wants you to get the most out of the program and not get injured. So, focus on learning in the first few months — and it does take months — to become competent at the lifts and exercises.

Then, once you feel comfortable and have worked through the adaptation (you will be sore a lot), you can start adding more weight. Your coach will help you program that.

Be patient

You have to leave your ego at the door and only compare you against you. Don’t get caught up in comparing yourself against the other athletes that have been doing this for a long time. Too many people do that and get discouraged.

As long as you can see that you are making progress, that is all that matters. It does take time.

For example, I felt foolish and very sore during most of the first 2-3 months. I scaled the WODs by using less weight on the barbell and bands to assist my pull-ups.

It took months before I could really do full pull-ups for the WODs, and now I can rock them. It took about 1 1/2 years before I did every WOD fully as prescribed!

It requires patience and being happy that you are getting stronger and faster. Take your time, and you will experience progress without injury. That is what you want!

Just make it part of your lifestyle. It is what you do every day, every week. It isn’t a race to some imaginary finish line.

Useful resources

Be prepared

Everyone is the new person at some point. No one expects you to be an immediate pro. But, there are some things you can do to prepare for your first week at a CrossFit box and avoid making obvious mistakes.

Familiarize yourself with the lingo (e.g., names of lifts and exercises, weightlifting terms, CrossFit references) to know what people are talking about once you are there. Read up and watch videos on the techniques for the exercises and lifts.

Since CrossFit mixes activities like running, jumping, climbing, lifting, etc., you may want to have two different types of shoes ready: One for lifting and one for the WOD if you will be running, jumping, etc.

I wear Olympic shoes for lifting, but any flat shoe that doesn’t have a lot of cushioning will work (e.g., Chuck Taylors, barefoot shoes, CrossFit training shoes, etc.). I always have a pair of shoes that I lift in and another pair that I feel comfortable running in. 

Bring a water bottle and a towel!

Some rules of etiquette

  • Show up 5-10 mins early. This gives you time to warm up a bit, get settled in, etc. You never want to be late.
  • Always stop what you are doing, stop talking, and listen when the trainer is talking.
  • Leave your ego at the door and scale appropriately. Train hard, but don’t get injured by lifting more than you should for any given workout.
  • Be safe. Your trainer will talk with you about safety during different types of lifts. Listen, learn, and do.
  • Stay clear of others when they are lifting. You never know when someone might need to bail (i.e., unexpectedly drop the fully-loaded barbell). Don’t ever walk close behind or in front of someone who is lifting. Ever.
  • Don’t talk to people while they are lifting. It breaks their concentration. Yes, you can cheer people on during WODs and such. But that’s different than trying to have a conversation with someone who is lifting and expecting them to respond.
  • Never complain or whine during a WOD. Yes, they are hard. They are supposed to be hard. Everyone knows they are hard. No one wants to hear about it.
  • Don’t go crazy with chalk. A little bit on your hands helps with grip. Coating your hands usually leads to blisters and tears. Using the correct grip on the bar helps.
  • Clean up after yourself (e.g., wipe your sweat off), put your equipment and weights away, etc. Everything has a place, so ask if you don’t know where something goes.
  • Push yourself and go hard. Don’t go beyond your personal edge and get sick or pass out. I’ve seen it happen. But, you should push yourself just beyond your comfort zone.
  • Don’t drop barbells loaded with metal plates on the floor or platform. That’s what the rubber bumpers are for. Even then, don’t go crazy with dropping weights from a height and out of control. Control the bar down and control the bounce. Again, be safe and don’t injure yourself or others.
  • Don’t drop kettlebells on the floor.
  • If you finish before others during a WOD, stick around and cheer them on.

Good luck and enjoy yourself!

It is hard, but it is so exciting to see what your body can do. You will surprise yourself.

You are much stronger than you think you are.

You are more capable than you know.

You’ll find out!

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Larry Cornett is a leadership coach, career advisor, and business advisor at Invincible Career® in Northern California. He spent more than two decades in the tech industry launching new businesses, products, and services. He was a Product and Design executive at several tech companies in Silicon Valley; including his own startup, a product strategy and design consultancy, Apple Computer, Yahoo, eBay, and IBM.

Palo Alto, CA

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