7 pieces of advice for new crossfitters
Charles here. Many of you don’t know me, but you may have seen me around the Clinton Hill gym. I look like this:
My wife Kathi and I have been crossfitting together for nearly four years. Shimi and Adam asked us help out with the blog, and we agreed that a worthy topic would be advice for new crossfitters.
Unsurprisingly, there is an enormous amount of crossfit advice available online. Lots of it is helpful. But lots of it is either obvious (e.g., if the exercise hurts really bad, stop) or vague (e.g., make sure to take a rest day when you need it.) So, to help ease your transition into crossfitting, I’ve collected seven tips that are both non-obvious and reasonably specific. Here they are.
1. Watch videos online.
Many of the movements in crossfit are both complex and dynamic. Kipping pull-ups and squat snatches are good examples. Movements like that are not only difficult to learn, they are also difficult to improve. Watching technique videos online helps build up a visual memory of the proper technique.
Watching videos will also expand the range of cues you can use to coach yourself. Since different people conceptualize their own movements differently, some cues will work better than others. For example, when I teach people kipping pull-ups, I tell them to let their feet hang out in front of their body for two seconds before they allow the backswing to begin. Sometimes that cue really helps. Other times it doesn’t. Since you can’t know ahead of time which cues will help, it is a good idea to collect a bunch of them so that you can experiment. Online videos are an excellent source for those additional cues. Here are two good ones about the aforementioned movements.
2. Get yourself on video.
You’ve seen the pros on youtube. By comparing a video of your own movement to theirs, you’ll have a more accurate and well-rounded understanding of what your coaches are talking about when they say, for example, that you’re pulling the bar “too early.” Moreover, seeing yourself on video will make it much easier for you to exploit mental imagery as a training technique. Spending just a couple of minutes a day imagining yourself going through the snatch in detail will hone your kinesthetic intuition, and eventually make you a better at whatever movement you want to work on. Here is a two-year old New York Times article on the topic, with a cool video about the use of visualization in freestyle ski jumping.
Seeing yourself in a normal video is great. But seeing yourself in slow motion is even better. There are excellent apps available that help you do this. I’ve used one called Hudl, which you can find here.
There are lots of others. I really don’t know which is best, but I highly recommend experimenting with one of them.
3. Memorize your scores.
People often say that crossfit is more about competing with yourself than it is about competing with other people. That’s certainly a good way to think about it. But a competition isn’t really a competition if there is no way to find out who won. Was it you-today, or you-yesterday? To compete with yourself, you certainly need to write down your data in Wodify. But I want to suggest that even meticulous data entry in Wodify isn’t enough to compete with yourself. In addition, it really helps to memorize at least some of your lifts and benchmark WOD scores. One benefit of memorization is just knowing, without having to dig out a phone, how much weight should be on the bar. But, equally importantly, knowing your times on a variety of metcon benchmarks will help you make reliable estimates of your performance capacity on new and untested workouts. Those estimates, in turn, will help you determine an appropriate pace, which is essential for improving your scores on longer workouts.
4. Don’t worry about your clothes
Lots of people have fancy lifting shoes. They certainly can help, but they won’t dramatically improve your technique. If you want to get better at lifting, the best thing you can do is practice lifting. Besides, people can lift a whole lot of weight in non-lifting shoes. For example, check out Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, and pay attention to his feet!
That said, olympic lifting does require you to generate explosive force against the ground on the way up, and to land with an unwavering stomp on the way down, so it is wise to avoid shoes with soles that are unusually squishy or thick.
Lots of people also have fancy workout clothes. Fancy workout clothes are nice, but don’t feel like you’ve got to go shopping before you can show up to class! Workout in whatever clothes you want. For inspiration, check out this video at the 8 minute 50 second mark. It’s strongman Rob Orlando (owner of a box where Kathi and worked out for a few months) doing his thing in blue jeans and chuck taylors.
That said, it is wise to avoid clothes that you refuse to get dirty. Unlike regular gym-goers, crossfitters are encouraged to roll around on the ground after their workouts.
5. Warmup before the warmup.
Warming up is important for many reasons. It helps prevent injury, it helps you achieve the positions needed to perform exercises properly, and it puts you in position to mobilize effectively. Thankfully, group warmups are built in to standard crossfit programming. However, group warmups may not always address your problem areas. For me, it’s the lower back. That’s why you’ll often see me doing good mornings and scorpions before warmup begins. For you it may be hips, in which case you might try some squat walking, or leg swings.
6. Work on mobility at home.
For many beginners, mobility is a greater barrier to performance than strength. The group mobility exercises we perform during class are hugely important. But they may not address your problem areas as much as those areas deserve to be addressed. So I highly recommend spending 10 minutes of your day working on mobility at home. By addressing your tightest tissues outside the box, you’ll have more success in achieving demanding positions inside the box. Moreover, by exploring your mobility at home, you’ll develop a much better understanding of exactly where your problem areas are. Besides, mobility master Kelly Starrett is clearly on to something when he insists that “all humans should be able to perform basic maintenance on themselves.” Kelly Starrett’s website, MobilityWOD, is a great resource for ideas about how to improve your mobility outside of class. Check it out here:
7. Have a party, and invite me.
The best part about crossfit is that you do it with a group of motivated people. Get to know them! I suppose it isn’t strictly necessary to invite me, or even to have a party. But you should definitely introduce yourself at the box, and learn the names of your fellow crossfitters.
But seriously, consider the party. CrossTrainingters are really good at it!