Advice for Crossfit newbies, by Stephanie Bales

26 Jun

The following post is by awesome Crossfit Londoner Stephanie Bales. She offers some reflections and advice to newbie graduates of the Beginners Classes:

What next?

So you’ve graduated from Crossfit London’s beginners’ sessions and are ready to wade your way into an open WOD. Congrats! Here’s a couple words to the wise from a fellow relative newbie on what to expect and what to keep in mind those first few weeks.

First off, take a couple minutes to have a read over your coaching notes from the beginners’ sessions and take note of any points your coach asked you to work on. For me, it was the good old front squat, so I kept it in mind to keep an eagle eye out for front squat demos, and ask for some extra coaching tips if I felt unsure.

Second, what to expect on the day. Chances are your beginners’ sessions involved a ‘mini-WOD’, where you got a taste of what the workouts in the open classes look like. These change every day (it’s part of the fun), so you never know quite what you’ll get when you walk in. However, most open sessions break down like this:

warm up
strength and/or skill practice
afterparty (sometimes, if there’s any gas left in the tank!)

Third, some tips to keep in mind when you’re lying on the floor making an attractive sweat angel after your first real WOD:

1) Leave your ego at the door. If you are a type-A kind of person like me, a competitive sort, or  someone who’s used to being reasonably good at their sport, it’s easy to get frustrated fast. Because of the huge variety of movements and exercises you’ll encounter in Crossfit, something that turns up in a WOD will school you, regardless of how good you are. All you have to do is try your hardest to do the workout cleanly and with a decent, challenging weight, and if that means you fail to finish, no problem. Failing to finish is part of Crossfit! Next time, fail it better.

2) Take the little victories. These will be specific to you and your training. There is no one progression ramp for everybody. Last week I finally managed to do some proper box jumps using a technique I’d like to call “the angry frog”. That’s a huge win for me and a lot more important to take away than “Oh my god, I still can’t front squat as much as so-and-so!”. Some bits of your training will get stuck and stay in first gear for ages; others will progress quickly (unless you are a Secret Olympia). Set goals for your training that are small and measurable. Then buy yourself a freakin’ cupcake when you achieve them.

3) Be honest about your limitations and dial your coach into what they are. There is a difference between being completely unable to lift something and being a bit lazy about what you lift, or a bit freaked out about what you may not be able to lift. I am still learning to trust that our coaches will not let me drop stuff on my head, but it’s also on me to recognize what is a stretch for me and what is Mission Impossible.

4) Don’t mind the jargon. Paleo, thermal loading, nu-skin, Vibrams, it’s all flying around. The Crossfit community is basically a huge bunch of nerds in disguise and as a result, there’s a lot of tech talk flying around. If you’re interested, fantastic. Someone will be happy to talk your ear off about shoes with toes. If not, no worries. You don’t have to sign up to the diet, the special shoes, the lifestyle, all at once.

5) No need to be intimidated. I have a vivid memory of the first open WOD I attended. It involved the clean and jerk. I could not clean and jerk to save my life, and was horribly embarrassed. I felt marooned in a sea of verbal cues, grunts, and crashing bars. But I also remember people saying hi, introducing themselves, and offering bits of help and guidance along the way. We’re a friendly bunch, and we’re generally more worried about what we’re doing than what you’re doing.

6) Ask, but also take responsibility. If you are not sure what on earth you are supposed to be doing, ask before you attempt it! On the flipside, take responsibility for knowing what you can lift. Carry a little notepad around, and make notes of weights used in each WOD, until you get the numbers down. I also write down time, state of mind, and any particular sticking points, because you may not come back to a movement for some time. I think of this as my travel insurance, because if I ever show up at another Crossfit affiliate where they just let you loose on stuff, I’d want to know if I should be rushing for the red plates.

7) Last but not least, ladies: Crossfit changes your body, but it doesn’t change you into a bodybuilder. You’ll be surprised by how fast bits of your body start to look and feel different; muscles you’ve never thought about may start to pop out and say hello. I still have occasional shoulder-shock when I look in the mirror. It doesn’t mean you’re going to wake up looking like the Michelin Man. And if you want an awesome introduction to training with other fantastic Crossfit ladies, Monday night’s women’s-only class is a great place to start.

7 thoughts on “Advice for Crossfit newbies, by Stephanie Bales

  1. Thanks Steph, a very good beginner’s guide. You must have put a lot of time and effort into that piece. A great intro for those who are finding their way.

  2. nice one Stephanie. CF London is such a friendly place that it can be easy to forget how nerve wracking it can be as a newbie.

  3. steph i loved this. i second colm’s rec for it to go on the back of your beginner’s checklist thingy.

  4. Wow! Thanks everyone for your kind words. And Craig, I’m really glad it was helpful. Hope to see you in a WOD soon! 🙂

  5. Hi Stephanie, thanks for this!
    I had my first ever Crossfit class yesterday and loved it. Definitely needed this; I can’t wait for my next class and to see/feel my body change and get stronger!

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