Five Common CrossFit Questions Answered

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Being fitter makes taking on outdoor challenges easier!
Though it might not seem like barbells and burpees relate directly to the outdoors, when I started CrossFit, it was because I wanted to be fit enough to take on any outdoor challenge.

Whether it was staying on my feet for an entire day of skiing, biking 160 miles in a weekend, or backpacking 27 miles in two days, I wanted to be ready for anything. When one of my outdoor idols mentioned having used CrossFit to train for mountain guiding, I knew I needed to check it out, and I haven't looked back.

I shared some of the ways CrossFit training directly translates to the outdoor activities I love on the Sierra Trading Post blog, but if you've heard of CrossFit, odds are you've heard or asked questions about it. As a long-time advocate of the sport, here are some of the most common questions I've heard, and my answers.

Don’t I have to be in shape and (relatively) young to start?

Though I'd like to say "no" and leave it at that, I've heard this question over and over, and "no" never seems to be enough.

It's easy to be intimidated by the elite CrossFit athletes we see in the CrossFit Games on ESPN. But using them as a benchmark for what everyone who sets foot in a CrossFit gym looks like is akin to using an NFL player as a benchmark. You can start playing football without being an NFL-caliber athlete. You can start rock climbing without looking like Chris Sharma. When I started my on-ramp program at Fearless Athletics in 2011, there were as many things I couldn't do as there were things I could do. I was terrified that not being able to do more than a pullup or two meant I wasn't good enough to start. It's just not true.

Workout scalability is a universal concept in CrossFit. If you're not proficient in a movement like pullups, for example, there are alternatives you can use and still get the same benefit from a workout. If a workout includes a weight that's too heavy for you, or too light, you can modify it. There's no base level of fitness necessary; just keep an open mind, be willing to learn, be willing to ask questions, and know your limits.

With respect to age, CrossFit programs utilize functional movements like squats and deadlifts that are part of our lives regardless of our age and fitness goals. I need to be able to bend down and pick something up as much as a 70 or 80-year old version of myself will. Fitness and wellness are for everyone; they're not concepts exclusive to younger people. Just look at CrossFit Games Masters athletes like Mary Schwing or Scott Olson as evidence that age really is just a number.

Don't people get injured all the time doing CrossFit?

As people who enjoy using our bodies to do things that are fun and challenging, we take on risk in everything we do. Sports can be dangerous, and anyone who pushes their body to its limit assumes risk. But that's a big part of what makes sports fun - the risk and the reward.

My teammates and the CrossFit community mean the world to me.
A study by The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research cited in an article about CrossFit myths shows the injury rate among CrossFit athletes is similar to sports like weightlifting and gymnastics, but less than some contact sports like rugby. We get injured when we do things with improper technique and when we push ourselves further than we should. Good coaching is key to injury prevention, as is listening to your body, learning correct form, using correct form, and not lifting too much weight.

Accidents happen, but in my experience, taking personal responsibility for injury prevention is the best method. Make smart choices and choose appropriate weights. Don't do movements you're not comfortable with, and ask questions of your coaches to ensure you're doing things correctly. But also accept and embrace the intensity of CrossFit workouts - it's a big part of what makes them effective - and be self-aware enough to take a break or slow down when you need to.

How do I know which gym to choose? Aren't all CrossFit gyms the same?

All CrossFit gyms are not the same. Every affiliate is independently owned. Though there are a ton of different things to consider when choosing a gym, but I'd look at a few essentials: the community, the gym itself, the classes, and the programming.

First, the community. Most sports have tight knit groups; people who run together, cycle together, climb mountains together. It's more fun that way. CrossFit is no different, and the community makes working out significantly more fun. But every community is different. If you're interested in getting in shape and having fun, a gym with a full social calendar is a good option. If you're like me and want an intense, competitive atmosphere, that's a good criterion to look for too.

I'm part of a community that celebrates strength, pushing personal limits, and being the best version of ourselves we can be.
Then, take a look at the gym itself. Does it look like a place you'll want to come to? Does it look like a place you'll have fun? When you're shopping for a gym, drop by and watch a workout, or a portion of a workout. See how the gym feels. Are athletes helping each other? Are the coaches engaged and helpful to everyone? Imagine yourself there, and as if the vibe doesn't feel right, move on.

Next, make sure the gym offers an on-ramp, elements, or similar course to introduce new athletes to the sport. Just like you wouldn't head out climbing without knowing basic knots or how to belay, you don't want to start a CrossFit program without basic foundational skills. It's a recipe for disaster. Also, look to see what other types of classes (gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, mobility, etc.) are offered. The more you can learn, the better.

Finally, take a look at the programming. Most gyms will post daily workouts online; take a look at past days. Be cautious of programs that frequently involve "girl" and "hero" workouts, only pull workouts from CrossFit.com, and programs that have similar workouts every day. It shows a lack of creativity and programming knowledge. When you visit, ask the coach about their methodology. There should be a method to the madness. Read more about choosing an affiliate on CrossFit.com.

How do I know what a good CrossFit coach looks like?

Coaches who are passionate and who know what they're doing are essential to a safe and successful CrossFit program. In my experience, the qualities that make a good CrossFit coach are similar to the qualities you'll find in any revered coach in any sport. Your coach doesn't have to be a star CrossFit athlete to be an expert at catching mistakes and teaching movement patterns. It does help if they have a long history in the sport; experience is a great teacher, and odds are the longer a coach they've been at it, the more they know.

A good coach will help you work on your weaknesses, even if you don't want to. Running is one of mine!
I'd look for a coach with a passion for continuous learning. Technically, all you need to apply to open your own CrossFit affiliate is the completion of a weekend-long basic certification course and a website. Having the Level 1 Certification from CrossFit is not enough to be a good coach. Find a gym with at least one coach who has multiple certifications from CrossFit Inc. or sport-specific governing bodies like from USAW, who regularly studies methodologies of experts in nutrition, mobility, weightlifting, gymnastics and more. When you visit, talk to them and quiz them about things that are important to you.

And last, but not least, they don't have to be your best friend, but they do have to have your best interest and your goals in mind. Look for a coach who is constantly watching, always engaged, pushes athletes hard enough, but not too hard, and is passionate about helping each and every one of their athletes succeed.

Isn't it super expensive to join a CrossFit gym?

It's all relative, and as with any investment you make, it's about value.In the past, I used personal trainers who charged $40-80 per session. I've also paid for gym memberships that cost anywhere from $30 to $65 per month. At CrossFit Love, I pay $160 per month for unlimited classes and generally work out six days each week.  So, essentially, it costs me $7 per class.

For $7 per class, I get a coach who writes my workouts, teaches me how to lift, corrects my technique, pushes me, and creates an environment where I can be the best version of myself around other people interested in doing the same thing. Being at CrossFit Love has changed how I perceive strength, how I perceive beauty, and how I see myself. I'm stronger than I've ever been, and I've achieved a level of fitness that allows me to accomplish my goals in and out of the gym.

The value I get for my money is enough motivation for me to rearrange things in my budget to make room for CrossFit. Some affiliates offer student, military, fire and police discounts as well as packages and payment plans, but the cost is still nothing to take lightly. If you have a gym with the necessary equipment that's a better fit for you, following any gym's online programming or looking at CrossFit.com for free daily workouts is also an option.

After four years as a competitive CrossFit athlete, I could go on about CrossFit-related questions I've heard, but given this post is already beginning to resemble a novel, I'll stop here! What other questions do you have, or have you heard, about the sport? Thoughts on how CrossFit relates or doesn't relate to outdoor pursuits? I'd love to hear from you!

6 comments :

Renze said...

Hi! Great blog, great post! I'm thinking about going into crossfit as well (just signed up). So far, I just looked for WOD's online and then tried them on my own in my gym. I'm guessing that's not the way crossfit works, though: you need other people to do it with you, right? What do you think?

Katie L said...

Hey, thanks for the kind words! You can technically do CrossFit workouts anywhere if you have the right equipment, you're right. Workouts are posted daily on CrossFit.com. But if you do them on your own, you'll miss out on some of the most important aspects of joining a CrossFit affiliate, specifically the community (other awesome people to work out with) and the coaching. I can't imagine trying to learn how to snatch and clean and jerk without a coach. I'd definitely join a gym if you can, but I know a lot of people who've started out doing workouts on their own. Excited to hear what you decide!

Renze said...

I signed up and will start onramp thursday :-)
Seems lot of outdoorsy people are doing crossfit nowadays!

David Sandel said...

As a non-crossfitter and someone that semi-regularly speaks out against crossfit, this is a most excellent post! You hit all the nails on the head for what makes a GOOD gym/coach. Almost turned me into a believer. ;)

Katie L said...

DANG, Dave, that might be the best compliment I could've gotten on this article! Really appreciate your taking the time to read it and I'm glad you found value in it too :)

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