The Top 11 things a Crossfit virgin should know

My wife, Holly, lands a box jump during a Crossfit competition in Murfreesboro in April, 2011.  It was her first competition and her 40th birthday, too.

My wife, Holly, lands a box jump during a Crossfit competition in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in April 2011. It was her first competition and her 40th birthday, too.

So you’ve got a buddy at work who began doing some crazy fitness fad called “Crossfit” last year, and now, it’s all he can talk about. He keeps encouraging you to give it a try and swears you’ll enjoy it. “You’ll be hooked after a week,” he claims.

You look at him like he’s got antlers growing out of his head.  The last time you actually sprinted was during the final game of your 4th-grade soccer team, which was roughly 4,000 years ago.  When your doctor asks you how much you exercise each week, you ask him if cutting the grass with a riding mower counts.  Your idea of weight-lifting involves moving a case of Diet Mt. Dew onto that giant metal shopping-cart thing at Sam’s Club.

Problem is, your work friend — who is older than you and also a non-athlete — has dropped more than 50 pounds since starting Crossfit.  He’s got more energy than anyone in the building, his shoulders seem broader, his acne is gone, and he never appears to get sick.  Most annoying of all is the fact that he always seems upbeat and happy.

You make snarky “health nut” comments about him when he leaves the room, but secretly, you’re thinking, “I want some of what he’s got.”

If the above scenario describes you somewhat accurately, and you’re tinkering with the idea of visiting your local Crossfit affiliate, congratulations — you’re moving in the right direction.  But it always helps to be prepared before entering unchartered territory, so here are my top 11 things that you — as a novice athlete and Crossfit virgin — should know:

    1. Welcome to the WOD.  When you first visit a Crossfit, you will immediately hear reference to the “WOD.”  This stands for workout of the day.  The WOD is programmed by the owner or trainer of the Crossfit affiliate.  Everybody in your class is doing roughly the same WOD at the same time.
    2. It’s a “box.” Don’t call it a gym.  Calling it a gym will provoke disapproving stares from the veterans, and one might even correct you, which would prove embarrassing.
    3. Embrace the sore.  The morning after your first WOD, you will be sore.  Like, can’t-lift-your-hands-to-shampoo-your-hair-sore.  Come back anyway.  You’ll work through the pain and stiffness after a few minutes.
    4. Don’t worry about what you look like exercising.  Nobody is watching.  They’re all too busy with their own issues.
    5. Normal people do Crossfit.  Not everyone in the box is a former collegiate athlete.  In fact, there will probably be someone in there who looks just like you.  And when you start asking around, you’ll find that many of the most advanced Crossfitters in the box used to be just like you.
    6. Don’t be intimidated by the big dogs.  You’re not expected to do what they’re doing.  Your trainer will scale the exercise for you.  That way, you’re getting the same benefits that the big dogs are getting.  This is what makes Crossfit doable for anybody.  (Check out “The Top 11 Reasons to Deadlift in Crosstraining.“)
    7. There’s a language.  Crossfit uses a lot of jargon and acronyms, like WOD and AMRAP — as many rounds as possible.  It’s kind of like the military, and just like a bootcamp grunt, you’ll pick up the language quickly.
    8. Folks want you to succeed.  Don’t be surprised if people cheer for you, high-five you as they run past, or otherwise encourage you as you complete the WOD.  Within days, you’ll find yourself doing the same to some other newbie.  Crossfitters are extremely social and supportive of one another.
    9. It takes time.  You won’t immediately look like Rich Froning or Annie Thorisdottir, the Crossfit Games champs for the past two years.  (UPDATE for 2013: Make that three years for Rich.  The new women’s champ is Samantha Briggs.)  Crossfitters will tell you that 80-percent of your success in reshaping your body is related to diet.  That’s a subject for another blog…
    10. Yes, it’s a cult.  It’s pretty much true.  Crossfitters often become obsessed and slightly annoying — like your friend at work.  But honestly, there are far worse things to be obsessed about, aren’t there?
    11. You can do it.  The human body — even your out-of-shape one —is an incredible, resilient machine.  You’ll be amazed at what it can do.

(Author’s note:  I wrote this article in 2012 for, which is why I kept myself out of the story.  I’ve been doing Crossfit 3-4 times per week now for two years.  In light of the fact that I had lower-back surgery 10 years ago and never thought I’d do anything athletic again, Crossfit has been somewhat of a miracle for me.  Since I began, I’ve lost nearly 50 pounds and gained a substantial amount of strength and endurance.  Could I’ve achieved these things using other athletic programs?  Maybe.  But I doubt I could sustain anything else, because the support system inherent in Crossfit is over the top.  If you’re looking to get in good, functional shape, I can’t recommend it highly enough.)

Also see: “Top 12 Reasons why this 47-year-old HATES Crossfit,”  “Top 10 Lame-Ass Reasons Not to Exercise”, “Top 11 Things a Warrior Dash Virgin Should Know,” and “I Know You’re Trying to Be Nice. Don’t.”

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6 Responses to “The Top 11 things a Crossfit virgin should know”

  1. Gene Purdy says:

    Great article, I was lucky I joined the cult opening day and never looked back, Iberia crossfit, best thing I have done for myself and my family… And I’m just like that crazy guy, but I gained 7 # since I started but loss plenty body fat and now have a 4 pack and more popping out nicely, that said since the beginning of the 2nd week doing crossfit I have had NO more lower back pain.. If just for that I would keep it up

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Gene, thanks for your comment! Glad to hear from another “brother” in the war on lower back pain. Congrats on your success and gains. Adding desirable weight is tough for me. I have an ectomorphic body type, which means I’m a tall, lean “hard-gainer” who has difficulty adding muscle mass. At my age, though, it’s not difficult to put on fat! It’s a slow road, but as you say, I’d keep it up just for the back benefits alone! Best of luck with your future Crossfit endeavors.

  2. Megan says:

    Ya know…I have people in my Brazilian jiu jitsu class trying to convince me to start crossfit as a supplement. Reading your blog reminds me of the pains of starting BJJ. No way I’m walking into that torture chamber again. Love your blog!

    • Mark Johnson says:

      Hey, I understand. Very cool, Brazilian jiu jitsu. My kids are in taekwondo, and that’s about the extent of my martial arts knowledge. Amazing stuff. Thanks for reading and commenting, Megan!

      • Lloyd says:

        Wow! Can’t believe I am writing this. Joined in January 2013. Always exercised but had slacked through the years. Lower back surgery, bad shoulder, hated pullups and I was skeptical. One year later, I have dropped 20 pounds, did 10 rounds of 10 this week on pullups without my friend the big green band. At 53 years old I never would have imagined.

  3. jimmie gabel says:

    I’ve been doing crossfit for 2 1/2 years and I still have that cult mentality. For some reason, I can’t imagine that anyone who tries it won’t love it. Crazy, I know.


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