With the New Year typically come a plethora of declarations related to increased activity in the gym. For many, it’s also viewed as an opportunity to try new things we’re afraid of. I consistently hear that Crossfit is one of these activities, and it once was for me, so I’m sharing common fears, why I decided to finally join a Crossfit gym over three years ago, and the reasons I continue to show up today.
After hearing about Crossfit from my older brother after graduating college, sometime after 2011, I was intrigued due to the challenge. I had always opted for high intensity internal training (HIIT) over steady-state cardio, and my workouts usually included some form of weight training. However, I hadn’t ever focused on increasing strength, and I certainly hadn’t been exposed to gymnastics skills. The concept sounded right up my alley, but I was still afraid of walking into a gym with an established community and without any previous barbell training. It wasn’t until I came back from backpacking abroad with a newfound desire to pursue goals/activities I had been afraid of that I decided to finally take the leap.
I completed the “elements” course, designed to introduce new members to the barbell movements, at a gym in Albuquerque, New Mexico and stayed there for a total of three months before moving back to Denver. I had a great experience at that gym, so I decided to join Crossfit Broadway after a close friend had recently joined and was raving about it. He continued to talk about the owner’s Kiwi accent, so I was solidly convinced. Taking the first step into a new gym is the hardest part, and if you’re in the right place, you’ll be motivated to keep coming back. That first step can be intimidating though, and here are some of the most common reasons:
1. I don’t know anyone and there’s already an established community – This can bring back memories of grade school for some people due to the presence of cliques at some gyms. The reality is that humans will be humans, and some cliques are inevitable regardless of the activity, group, gym, etc. However, that doesn’t mean that new members aren’t welcome, and if the overall vibe to the gym isn’t welcoming, then you’re in the wrong one. When I started at both of the Crossfit gyms I’ve been a member of, people of course had strong bonds and relationships already, but they were very open to getting to know me too. Additionally, there are always new members joining, so you’ll never feel like the only new person (at least for long).
2. I’ve never used a barbell before – I had ZERO clue what to do what a barbell aside from back squats when I joined. And even then, I discovered that my form was incorrect for many reasons. Don’t let this be your barrier to entry! Consider it a challenge, and keep in mind that the majority of other new members haven’t used one before either. The gym you join should have an introduction class, or “Elements” as it’s called at my gym, that provides more personalized attention on the barbell movements. You’ll likely be meeting other new members in this class too, and you can all laugh together about how awkward you feel with these new-to-you movements. We’ve all been there!
3. I don’t want to get too bulky – this is a common sentiment among many women, but this is largely due to misinformation. It’s physiologically impossible for the vast majority of women to gain muscle mass at a rapid rate, and even then, it won’t come close to a man’s. “Toning” has become a popular topic in the fitness industry, and it’s tailored to women. But what does that even mean? In order to look “toned”, you have to gain muscle, and heavy weight training is the way to get there. It’s worth noting that everyone’s body responds differently to weight training and Crossfit, but you can always adjust the weights you’re using if needed.
4. I hear it’s easy to get hurt – Crossfit does involve some highly technical movements, such as the snatch and clean & jerk, and we can certainly injure ourselves if we’re not careful. This is where personal responsibility and solid coaching comes into play. We have a personal responsibility to articulate when a movement or weight doesn’t feel right to us, when we’re injured, when we’re sick, etc. It’s easy to let our egos take over and use a weight that is too heavy to execute a movement with proper form.
Knowledgeable and responsible coaching is also extremely important. I have excellent coaches at my gym who are closely watching our form, and they know our strengths and weaknesses very well. They are often telling us to strip weight when it’s too heavy, and they’ll also tell us to add more when they know we can handle it. Joining a gym where the coaches take the time to really know their athletes, their capabilities, and their limitations is key.
5. All crossfitters do is talk about Crossfit – this can certainly be true, and I find that this is more common amongst serious competitors and those who are just starting. However, for the average gym goer like myself who has been doing it for a few years, it’s rarely a topic of conversation, even amongst my friends from the gym. While there is nothing wrong with doing a deep-dive into the movements, workouts, goals, etc., constantly talking about it is less common than non-crossfitters think. We’ve just gotten a bad rap!
Now that we’ve discussed some of the most common barriers to entry, we can focus on why I love Crossfit and the reasons it has become my go-to form of training.
1. I’m never bored – there are so many movements, lifts, and endless combinations of these, so every workout is different. There is such a thing as too much variation in an effective program, but with the right programming, you’ll see consistent progress while still being able to experience variety. Most of my classes and standard Crossfit classes consist of a strength element at the beginning, followed by a “metcon,” or metabolic conditioning (i.e. high-intensity portion designed to improve our energy systems), so we’re always being challenged via multiple modalities in one class.
2. Increased strength – I have a tough time putting on muscle due to my genetics and body type, and I’m not naturally strong. Like, at all. So strength training is important to me, as it should be for all women! Experiencing the increase in weights of my lifts over the last few years has been amazing, and I feel the difference in my daily activities. Whenever my hip pain starts to resurface, I know I haven’t been doing enough strength training, and within just one session it begins to subside. Plus, it’s just a badass feeling to be able to do a pull-up and throw heavy weight around.
3. Knowledgeable coaches – I started doing modified Crossfit workouts in globo-gyms and at home before I joined a gym, and while I wasn’t using a barbell (mostly dumbbells), having knowledgeable coaches has made a world of a difference. Not only do they identify improper form, subsequently make adjustments, and actually provide a progressive structure to follow (rather than piecing together random movements and workouts), they push me beyond what I think I’m capable of. Think of them as accountability buddies, and ones you love to hate in the middle of a hard workout.
4. Short(er) cardio – long, steady-state cardio is quite popular for many, especially women. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with this, but it can become quite stressful on our bodies if we’re not also combing it with strength training and adequate fuel. I used to partake in long runs, and my body simply didn’t feel well after. My joints were always hurting, I was STARVING, and I was so bored. Most Crossfit metcons (the cardio portion) at my gym are typically between 5 and 15 minutes, and the coaches here plenty of groaning if it’s over 20 minutes. The difference is in the level of intensity, so don’t let the short length fool you! I’m the type that would rather go balls-out for a shorter amount of time than decrease my intensity and drag it out for an hour. My body appreciates the shorter duration too.
5. Customization – My gym is top-notch at this. The goal of most gyms is to keep their members coming back for years, and this can only be done with some customization due to changes in capabilities, goals, priorities, health, and injuries. At my gym, we all use different weights in our workouts based on our unique capabilities and goals, and we’re able to modify any movements due to injuries or health after communicating the circumstances to the coaches. This gives me the reassurance to know that I can continue to show up despite any physical changes or limitations I may have.
6. Being challenged & the competition – I participated in sports all throughout my childhood and high school, and the competition and challenge is something I missed once those days had come and gone. While our scores are written on the board for everyone to see, as cliché as it sounds, most of the competition is with myself by beating former workout times, adding weight to the bar, learning a new movement, and by simply pushing through when I want to stop (almost every class). I firmly believe that physical challenges lead to increased mental and emotional strength, and this is one of my favorite aspects of Crossfit.
7. People/Community – I can really only speak for the gyms I have been a member of; mostly my current gym after being a member for over three years. Firstly, I previously labeled myself as someone who would never workout in a group setting. I was happy as a clam waltzing into a globo-gym, doing my own thing with my headphones in, and then getting the hell out of there. I now realize that the group classes bring a new level of competition and camaraderie to each workout, and I’m able to push myself much harder than I am when working out alone. Secondly, I honestly had no intention of making new friends when I joined my current gym, as I just wanted to get a good workout in and get out. Much to my coaches’ dismay, I’m sure, the social aspect is now one of my favorite parts about the gym. I’ve met some amazing people who have become dear friends, and we all experience a sense of community that is difficult to find for most adults in our modern world.
So there you have it! Crossfit isn’t for everyone, I get that, but if you’re on the fence or even have a slight interest, then I encourage you to give it a solid chance for one month. And don’t be afraid to try a few gyms until you find the one that feels best to you, as every gym has a different vibe. You can always reach out to me directly via email too if you have any questions!