They were beginners once

04 Nov

Moving from the Level 1 programme to Level 2 can be a daunting prospect. So much so that I consciously try to intercept the Level 1 attendees as they are on their way out of the gym and see how things are going. I want to know what they are thinking and how they feel about joining our Level 2 classes. It’s never as bad as some may think given the screams, panting, grunting, you name it that accompanies these classes – in fact, I’m stuck to think of any who haven’t enjoyed themselves once they kicked things off.

Every person who goes through our beginners programme will have a different attitude towards the Level 2 classes, I asked a few different characters some questions on their experiences and progress. I categorised them into enthusiasts, petrifieds, converts and newbies:

The Enthusiast: Maggie

Maggie couldn’t wait to get to the Level 2 classes hence her ‘enthusiast’ tag, as soon as she had done a few Level 1’s she knew she would be in the Level 2 classes too. She knew she would get along with CrossFit given that she is competitive with herself and a bit of nerd in keeping track of her progress on weights and workouts. After having seen some Level 2 classes going hard she wasn’t put off by what she saw:

“The Level 2 classes were so intimidating! Because you only usually see the last five minutes. However I am the type of person that disregards being nervous or intimidated by things and does them anyway, so seeing everyone looking super strong and awesome really made me want to do it too and become one of those super awesome people.”

All that said when it finally came to doing her first Level 2 class she did have some anxiety. Saying she found it more scary than her first Tough Mudder. She gave me a few reasons why this was: wasn’t fit enough; would be clumsy; wouldn’t be able to lift much; mind block on an exercise. But mainly she thought wouldn’t be able to keep up and collapse in a pile of shame.

The reality has been that none of this was an issue and that she’s felt welcomed and supported through her Level 2 journey, appreciating that it’s not about other people but about improving yourself. In fact after her first session she describes how she felt ‘pretty awesome’ and couldn’t wait for the next class.

The Petrified: Ben

All the trainers know Ben well, he’s one of easiest people to talk to you’ll ever meet. One of the very few times I chatted with Ben he told me how petrified he was to join Level 2. It was hard to believe given he’s 6″2, boxing experience, lived in a martial arts school in Tokyo for a year, works in events/TV production so used to lots of pressure and dealing with difficult people but indeed even he had a few nerves before his first main class.

Ben’s anxiety was due to the reputation of CrossFit, how fit the people who were doing the classes already looked, and the intensity of the programme.

“When it came to it, my step up to level 2 was pretty comfortable. After spending a month trying not to listen to the Level 2 lot as I was learning and trying not to look at the board, it was my turn to get on with it… the factors that initially intimidated about CrossFit have all pretty much disappeared. Now the focus is internal – get that form right, can I lift a little more, and please: not wall balls again!”

Ben has noticed improvements in strength, flexibility and overall fitness. Does that mean that the nerves have gone? Not at all. Every workout is something new, and Ben equates ‘The Fear’ to never knowing what you’re going to face and knowing it will never be easy.

“Perversely, that’s also why I keep coming back because if it was easy then why bother in the first place?”

The Converts: Anayah and Sophie

Anayah started out with us only thinking she would do just 2 classes a week and now trains four to five times after getting addicted.

After her first Level 1 class she was pretty sore but very keen to keep learning. Like many people, she had some misconceptions about what awaited her in Level 2:

“At first I thought the conditioning element would be for the whole hour, I’m so glad that it isn’t. I also thought that there would be very little coaching after you finish Level 1 but you always get loads of coaching and get a chance to drill all the movements before the timed workout.”

Like everyone does, Anayah was quite apprehensive before her first Level 2 class, thinking she would do everything wrong, perhaps dropping a barbell on herself or someone else but found that it wasn’t scary at all. The coaches are there to make sure everyone knows what they are doing.

Now Anayah is addicted she has found that she spends a little less time watching rubbish television programmes and has cut back a little on social activities but still makes sure she gets time away from us when she rests and eats whatever she wants.

Another convert is Sophie. I remember noticing that I only ever saw Sophie on Monday nights at CrossFit SE11. Then she started popping up on other nights too. She started at CrossFit SE11 because she wanted a change from running and to build up some strength ahead of a Tough Mudder event.

During the Level 1 processes she did get to see a few of the Level 2 classes in motion:

“I remember looking at those people lifting really heavy weights and feeling a little bit scared. Well I was mostly impressed to be honest and thought it would take me ages to get to that level”.

Once Sophie made it to the main classes, she soon realised there wasn’t anything to be nervous about:

“It was a bit of shock when the workout at the end started, I found it quite tough but I left feeling like I’d got a good workout in a short amount of time and I was looking forward to the next class.”

Since starting her training with us Sophie has seen lots of improvements in her strength helping her as a baker and cake decorator for Crumbs and Doilies, carrying heavy bags of sugar and flour is noticeably easier! She attributes her progress largely to the class environment (and also mentions how great and enthusiastic the trainers are too).

The Newbie: Laura

Laura is relatively new to us here at CrossFit SE11, so I figured she would have a good perspective given she’s still finding her feet. Her fitness background beforehand was made up of bootcamp style training and cycling.


The first Level 1 class for Laura was a great experience, quickly having her nerves settled by the trainer and then leaving having felt she had picked up a lot of new skills and knowledge. The size of the classes was also very reassuring:

“I was expecting a much bigger class in terms of amount of people. The small Level 1 classes are so much more effective than standard gyms classes, and this also applies to Level 2. This allows the trainers to have plenty of time with everyone, new or experienced.”

Again, Laura had the impression that once she was in Level 2 that she would be expected to remember everything that she was previously taught. But soon found that the movements are continuously drilled before the workouts and that she is given continuous reminders and cues to help perfect and cement her technique.

So far so good for Laura:

“Each class has been challenging but fun and totally different to the last. The recordings on the whiteboard in the gym is good and I have started to record my times and lifts on my phone too as I know that in a couple of weeks I will be able to track and see my progress, which will help motivate me.”

Hopefully the above accounts will demonstrate that most people go through a similar pattern when they start out training CrossFit. The general misconception is that you’re thrown to the lions, which simply isn’t the case given that no crossfitter has mastered everything, like any discipline everyone is continually learning, improving and we all started somewhere.

Level 1 Advice

I asked each of my interviewees to give some advice to aspiring Level 2 members:

1.  Don’t be put off when you see other people lifting insanely heavy weights or doing things like weighted pull ups. They were beginners once two (Anayah)

2.  Don’t think about being competitive. The board is there for YOU to keep a record of YOUR progress, it’s not a race and coach will not be handing out cupcakes to the ‘top’ scores of the day. Actually, the board really helps if you’re scaling – most people who RX are in a narrow time window – if you finish the metcon ridiculously faster and you’ve scaled down, it’s time to add more weight. (Ben)

3. Basically, don’t give up because Level 2 is awesome (Sophie).

4. Obviously you strive to be great, amazing and/or perfect, but what is the rush? Take your time and enjoy it (Laura).

5. Try and not leave too much time between Level 1 and 2. The extra time gives you space to get nervous, over think it and for the doubt to set it. So just power through it, and see that it’s really not as terrifying as it might seem (Maggie).

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