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11 Ways to Make the Most of Your First CrossFit Workout

author image Jody Braverman
Jody Braverman is a professional writer and editor based in Atlanta. She studied creative writing at the American University of Paris and received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland. She also received personal trainer certification from NASM and her 200-hour yoga teacher certification from YogaWorks.

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11 Ways to Make the Most of Your First CrossFit Workout
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Chances are you know someone who’s doing CrossFit. Maybe you’ve heard him talking about the “WOD” he did that day or seen his tweet about a “PR” for some workout named Cindy, Angie or Fran. While you may be perplexed by your friend’s strange new vernacular, it’s hard to ignore that he’s lost weight and gained muscle mass -- and seems to be having fun in the process. Curious to see what the buzz is about? Before jumping into a class, hold up just a second. As beneficial as CrossFit can be, there are hazards to rushing into the regimen without having taken the time to learn the proper techniques. Peruse the following slides for some know-before-you-go details.

What Is CrossFit?
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The CrossFit program was developed by Greg Glassman, a longtime athlete and trainer. The program was designed to improve general fitness levels rather than emphasizing sports-specific training. Glassman defines fitness as “increased work capacity across broad time and modal domains,” meaning a CrossFit athlete can perform at a higher level in various activities for both short and long durations. Workouts typically last one hour and involve flexibility and mobility training; Olympic lifts such as deadlifts and snatches; and timed high-intensity workouts that include Olympic lifts, body-weight exercises, sprints, gymnastics and other exercises. Community is a large part of the CrossFit workout. The group aspect of CrossFit enhances the program’s effectiveness, says the company’s website.

Related: 10 CrossFit Myths Debunked

1. Find the Right Gym.
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As a beginner, it’s especially important to find the right CrossFit gym. In order to legally use the brand’s name, a CrossFit gym, or “box” as they’re often called, must be affiliated with the CrossFit organization. You can visit the CrossFit website to find an affiliate near you, which is a good first step to ensure you’re choosing the right gym. As of publication, there are more than 10,000 affiliates worldwide, from the U.S. to Qatar. Some people choose to do CrossFit on their own by setting up a home gym and accessing the daily workouts on the CrossFit website, but those new to this type of workout will benefit from the coaching of CrossFit-certified trainers at an affiliate.

Related: The 10 Most Common CrossFit Mistakes

2. Go In for a Free Workout.
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Most CrossFit boxes offer free first workouts to potential new members. At this initial session, you’ll meet with a coach -- either one-on-one or in a group with other people who are new to CrossFit. The coach will provide information about the box and the program and take you through a brief, introductory workout. The coach may also ask you questions about your health history and assess your fitness level, goals and any injuries you may have. They’ll most likely also explain pricing and membership options, but don’t jump the gun. Go to a few boxes in your area and see which one you like best. “Take advantage of those free classes, and really look for good coaching and good communities,” recommends Yuri Feito, assistant professor of exercise science at Kennesaw State University. Ultimately, choose the gym where you feel most comfortable.

Related: Top 15 CrossFit Body-Weight Exercises You Can Do at Home

3. Evaluate the Gyms You Visit.
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Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you know what you’re getting into. ACE-certified personal trainer Jonathan Ross recommends asking plenty of questions. Find out if the trainers are certified CrossFit coaches, and ask about the process for getting beginners on board. Avoid gyms that put the beginners in with the experienced CrossFitters. Ross urges potential members to ask about the gym’s philosophy on quality of movement versus intensity. Although intensity is a foundation of the CrossFit workout, it’s important that novices learn how to do the movements correctly before adding intensity. “All of the criticism and problems with CrossFit come from people who put intensity ahead of everything else, and that’s a massive mistake,” Ross says.

Related: CrossFit for Beginners

4. Enroll in an On-Ramp Program.
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As a beginner, it’s crucial that you learn the basic movements involved in a CrossFit workout, including the air squat, front squat, overhead squat, push press, push jerk, deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull and medicine-ball clean. Ideally, you should learn the movements before you add any weight or intensity. Quality CrossFit gyms will offer an on-ramp program that includes a series of classes that teaches the foundational movements. You must take this class before you are allowed to join the regularly scheduled workouts. This gives you a chance to practice the exercises in a safe environment with other newbies and build a foundation of strength and endurance before the real fun begins.

Related: 16 Essential CrossFit Moves

5. Get the Right Gear.
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Some CrossFitters do like to make fashion statements, but your first 30 days in the gym isn’t the time to worry about how you look. For now, focus on wearing comfortable exercise clothing that allows for freedom of movement. Any clothing made specifically for exercise is a good bet. Guys can wear a pair of comfortable athletic shorts and a T-shirt, while women can wear athletic leggings or shorts and a tank or tee. And a supportive sports bra is a must. Probably the most important part of your outfit is your shoes: Athletes usually wear flat-soled athletic shoes without a lot of extra support. CrossFit-specific shoes offer just the right amount of stability for weightlifting but enough flexibility for running and jumping.

Related: The 30 Best Fitness Accessories & Equipment You Should Have in Your Gym Bag

6. Learn the Lingo.
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CrossFitters may appear at first to speak their own language, but you’ll catch on in no time. Here’s a crash course: The WOD is the workout of the day, usually programmed by the gym’s head coach or owner. AMRAP stands for “as many rounds/reps as possible” -- you’ll often hear this during the timed-workout portion of the class. Tracking how many rounds of the exercises you’re able to complete in the allotted time allows you to score your workout. You’ll set a PR, or personal record, if you beat your highest score in that particular workout. You’ll often see acronyms on the board where the WOD is written: FS, DL, C&J, BS, HSPU, OHS, PC, PP, SDHP and T2B. These stand for front squat, deadlift, clean and jerk, back squat, handstand push-up, overhead squat, power clean, push press, sumo deadlift high pull and toes-to-bar, respectively.

Related: 11 Unusual Workouts You Probably Haven’t Tried

7. Meet “The Girls.”
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While CrossFit defines itself by its constantly varying workouts, it provides participants with several benchmark workouts to measure progress. You can recognize these workouts because they’re given female names, such as Barbara, Angie and Grace. Fran is a particularly grueling benchmark workout that consists of doing thrusters and pull-ups back to back with the rep scheme 21-15-9. This is a timed workout using either the prescribed weight or a weight of your own choosing. Beating your last time using the same weight means you’ve improved parameters of strength, speed and endurance.

Related: The Best CrossFit Routines

8. Emphasize Quality Over Intensity.
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Although you’ve hopefully asked the right questions and joined a gym that puts quality of movement before intensity, your coach isn’t going to do any handholding. After you complete the on-ramp program, it’s your job to keep a close eye on your form and not sacrifice it -- potentially injuring yourself -- to shave time off your workout or lift a heavier weight than the person next to you. “You have to be your own health advocate,” says ACE-certified personal trainer Jonathan Ross. That means reining in your ego and being mindful during your workouts.

Related: How to Get Big Arms in CrossFit

9. Scale Your Workouts.
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Very few people will start CrossFit being able to do all the workouts as prescribed. When you see weights listed next to the exercises on the board, think of them as goals for the future. You might not be able to do all the body-weight exercises either, but don’t worry. CrossFit was developed to be scaled to any level of fitness. Even if you can’t do a single push-up, you can modify the movement by resting on your knees to complete the workout. If you don’t know how to modify an exercise, ask your coach. Scaling the workout to your fitness level is an important part of preventing injury so you can stay in the game and keep getting better.

Related: 10 Medicine-Ball Moves to Whittle Your Waistline

10. Get Involved in the Community.
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What sets CrossFit apart from many other fitness programs is its emphasis on community. The encouragement you get from your coaches and fellow CrossFitters keeps you motivated and coming back to the gym week after week. So if you’re outgoing and like to work out in groups, you should have no problem making friends and getting involved. But even shyer types and people who typically like to work out solo will find it easy and fun to become part of the community. Try to go into the gym every day with a positive attitude, say hello to your coaches and fellow CrossFitters, offer encouragement to others during the workouts and attend social events inside and outside of the gym. If you do this, you’ll find that going to the gym is no longer a chore but something to look forward to.

Related: How to Find a Gym Buddy

11. Devote Time to Your Warm-Up, Flexibility and Mobility.
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Arriving at class late, leaving immediately at the end of the workout or doing other things when you’re supposed to be working on flexibility or mobility will not benefit you in the long run and may lead to injury. Remember that CrossFit isn’t just about doing the WOD; it’s also about the things you do outside of the WOD that will help you perform better. A quality CrossFit gym will emphasize this by programming a warm-up and flexibility and mobility work for members to do each day when they come in and before they leave. In some cases, a coach will lead you through the exercises; in others, the exercises will be written on the board and you’ll need to do them on your own. Think of it as mandatory extra credit.

Related: The Top 15 Moves to Tone Your Glutes

What Do YOU Think?
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It’s not unusual to hear someone say that CrossFit changed her life. Starting a CrossFit program gives you the opportunity to challenge yourself, get stronger, lose weight, make new friends, boost your self-confidence and have fun. But since there’s also the potential for injury, it’s important to start off on the right foot. So are you ready for your first WOD, or have you already started your CrossFit journey? What was your first CrossFit experience like? What do you like about CrossFit? Share your experiences as a rookie with the rest of the community by leaving a comment in the space below.

Related: 17 Practical Reasons to Start Doing CrossFit

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