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9 things I'm learning as a crossfit newbie...

Posted Jun 18 2013 10:40am
Almost two months ago I decided to try out crossfit.  Never one for doing enough strength training in addition to my running, I knew crossfit was a tough workout but I thought it might be fun way to add more strength work in.

Going in, I had all kinds of preconceived ideas about crossfit
  • You gotta be tough to do it;
  • You gotta be strong to do it; and
  • It might be too hard for my post-accident body and all it's ongoing problems.
But now that's its been a couple months, I realize I'm learning quite a few big lessons.  Not just about crossfit but about myself at the same time. Since I'm still a newbie, I thought sharing these might help out other newbies too...

1.  Crossfit is functional fitness.

My biggest fear going in was that crossfit would be too much for me and my poor messed-up back.  But as we worked through the classes I started to realize that crossfit is actually all about functional fitness - everyday movements like lifting, pulling, reaching.  You can strengthen a muscle but using it in practise is a totally different thing - using a muscle functionally is what will ultimately condition it for everyday use.  And when I think of where my greatest weaknesses are since getting hurt, it's in the everyday movements of dealing with the kids, taking care of the house etc.  I feel like crossfit might be exactly what I need to finally gain some of my mobility and functionality back.

This idea all fell into place yesterday when I read an article posted by Dai Manuel (a local FitFluential Ambassador and all round fitness and crossfit guru).  In his "What is Crossfit?" post he pointed out the functional aspect of it and for me it just clicked.  

2.  You need to know your limitations.

So in saying all that above, I know that I have to be super mindful of my body's mobility limitations.  We're all different and past injuries and weaknesses change the way our bodies function going forward.  For me, I have major mobility issues in my thoracic spine and shoulders - the gnarled-up, scar-tissue-ridden muscles don't move smoothly or in the correct range of motion they should.  In short, my shoulders probably can't move the same way yours do.  

So in order to still be strengthening properly, I need to be aware of those limitations so that I can work with them.  For me, that means adjusting my grip at times, lessening the width of my stance and doing lots of extra stretching and flexibility work.  

3.  Don't be afraid (or too proud) to modify.

We all have to start somewhere and especially with all of my mobility issues and weak muscles, that 'somewhere' is pretty low on the food chain!  It doesn't just mean lifting less weight than everyone else but in many cases, it means modifying the exercise completely.  Sometimes it's a strength issue and sometimes it's because my mobility limits me from doing the exercise properly.  At first I was kind of embarrassed but now I realize it's more important to do crossfit right than it is to keep up with how much everyone else is lifting.  

4.  Don't be afraid (or too proud) to be last.

Let's face it, if you're starting out like me, you're going to be the last one finishing at some point.  Just like with running, I'm starting from scratch and there's been many days where I'm the last one finishing my WOD.  It's not fun being last but don't be afraid to be last.  Don't rush through it and lose your form, just stay focused and know that you won't always be last.

5.  Do it right to avoid injury.

The instructors at our gym are awesome for making sure we are all doing everything correctly.  They are constantly watching our form to make sure we're not going to get hurt.  I can see that it would be easy to get caught up in progressing quickly and lifting bigger and bigger weights, but if you're not doing it right, you're more likely to get hurt than get stronger.  I've spent lots of classes working more on my technique than on progressing my weights.  I think as newbies we need to be willing to strip the weight down to make sure we're getting the motions right first.

6.  Consider your other activities.

One thing I'm starting think about however, is how crossfit fits in with all of my running.  There's no doubt the strength training will benefit my running (heck and my whole life in general) but I have to be mindful of what training I have going on any given week.  Crossfit is hard and your muscles will no doubt be sore which can drastically affect the quality of your runs.  I'm not saying they're not compatible, but I'm learning how to pick which days make sense and what intensity is safe for crossfit given what training runs I have planned.

7.  You don't have to BE tough, you just need to think tough!

I always thought that the kind of people who did crossfit were totally hardcore, big-muscled and generally just tough.  I was totally worried I'd be out of place because I am neither hardcore, muscled (at all) or tough in any way.  Our gym is awesome for this because we have young, old, new, seasoned, big, little, pregnant - you name it.  I haven't seen any egos, just tons of hard work and that inspires me to not be afraid of being tough enough.  It doesn't matter if I AM tough, it just matters if I can think tough when trying each of the exercises - not be afraid, focus and try my hardest.  That sounds pretty tough to me.

8.  You are stronger than you think.

At crossfit I laugh at myself quite a bit and sometimes feel like I need to apologize for being weaker or needing to modify but I'm realizing I shouldn't feel the need to do that.  I'm not strong (yet) but even my little weights are hard work for me and that's all that matters.  I'm challenging myself and even though I'm starting at a much lower level (than pretty much everyone!) I'm realizing that strength isn't defined by how much weight you are lifting but by how hard you work at it.  

9.  Above all else, have fun!

I spent a lot of my first few classes worrying about doing things right, being too wimpy and fitting in with the tough guys.  I've thankfully gained some crossfit confidence and feel like I'm finally starting to enjoy the fun of it.  They are right when they say crossfit is like a family - even the toughest of guys at our gym have cheered me on or said "Good job! You can do it!" when I'm the last one struggling with a workout.  Let yourself enjoy the atmosphere and your confidence will skyrocket.

Are you into crossfit too?  What did you learn as a newbie?  What tips or advice would you pass on to someone new like me?
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