As an avid fitness enthusiast and former fitness professional, I have explored so many areas of fitness:
Bikini competition training (aka: bodybuilding)
But I had yet to explore crossfit. For many reasons......
I had been CRAVING something different for months. I LOVE powerlifting and the sheer confidence that lifting for performance (rather than aesthetics) has brought me in what my body can do and not what it looks like. This way of training helped me in my journey to overcome negative body image and disordered eating.
Thus my thought process on entering the world of crossfit - perhaps focusing on overall strength and performance would continue that journey AND get me a hell of a lot stronger.
Well, it has.....and here are 6 things I have learned after just one month of crossfit style training:
1. Crossfit is not 'All Cardio
If you listen to the hype, you believe the hype. Stop listening to the hype! SO much of crossfit is strength based! The gym we go to (shoutout to Evolution Athletics NC!) is a crossfit affiliated gym but focused on the conjugate training method (a la Westside Barbell) and is All. About. Strength.
Workouts typically start with strength movements AND movements to improve those strength movements. We don't just squat - we box squat at various heights, pause at the bottom, front squat, resistance squat, pistol squat, etc. We don't just bench - we floor bench, do rack lockouts, tricep work, etc. We don't go max effort all the time: we do heavy, light, max and deloads. Everything we do is to improve our strength.
A lot of naysayers like to point out that crossfit's style of 'constantly varied' training will never lead to strength and skill due to infrequent exposure. That has not been my experience as we are hitting strength training every single day of the week and working our technique on squats, deadlifts, front squats, overhead squats, bench, push press, strict press, cleans and snatches.
My strength is increasing like crazy as I am watching my PR's improve by the month!
The metcon or conditioning is at the end. The beauty of the conditioning is that it is all ANAEROBIC which helps to:
Increase power, speed, agility and strength
Improve cardiovascular endurance
Bottom line? If you think crossfit is all cardio, think again!
2. not everyone is advanced
I rarely get intimidated - But I will admit, I was intimidated by the crossfit 'beasts' of social media who can do movements I have never heard of using weights that seem other worldly.
But the reality is - crossfit is full of people of ALL levels. There are 45+ year old individuals who may need to modify certain movements and 65+ year old individuals that can do 20+ pull ups! There are pregnant women, women and men who have never picked up a weight in their life, avid fitness-goers, soccer Mom's, runners and yes, even a few of those beasts. MANY people need to modify movements. MOST of us fail lifts. We get frustrated when we cannot do something. Each of us has our strengths and weaknesses. Working side by side with those that are stronger in certain areas can only make YOU improve!
I actually walked away from my first class feeling strong! We did deadlifts (something I am accustomed to), kettlebell work and rowing on day 1 and I was pretty impressed with my performance.
Lesson learned: Don't fear your fitness level. You will get better with time! Even experienced athletes started somewhere.
3. I Was not that Cross-functionally strong
Sure I can Lift several hundred pounds off the ground and squat it on my back. I may be able to press heavy loads over head - and all of that is GREAT! But there are many things I cannot do that are part of functional strength - aka: strength we use in daily life.
When I started crossfit, I couldn't climb a rope, I gassed out doing wall balls, squatting with weight overhead, running with something over my shoulder and walking distances with weights (among many other things).
I had a desire to gain more overall strength across multiple functions: strength, speed, agility, endurance and skill.
After one month, it has been INCREDIBLE to see my progress in these areas:
I can climb a rope (just ask my shins)
I can do long distance weighted walks (I love to hate it)
I can do a half pull-up
I can do a snatch in GOOD form
I can overhead squat more than just the bar
I can do a handstand
What does all this even mean? It's FUN and such a confidence booster feeling strong like this!
4. I wasn't Ever Really Doing Hiit
I have been incorporating HIIT cardio in to my workouts for going on about 3 years now. I always did my lift, then did my HIIT or sustained cardio (or no cardio) immediately after. My HIIT of choice was usually something like 6 sets of 20 seconds of all out intensity followed by 1:20 of rest doing:
Deadmills (treadmill turned off)
Sure I got my heart rate up and got a great workout, but the workouts above were NOTHING compared to the short duration, high power output workouts I have done in crossfit. Workouts like wall balls, double unders and toes to bar for reps with a 1:1 rest or anything with 21-15-9 reps for time are KILLER. There have been days I didn't think I would push through but the people, the coaches, the music and the energy absolutely DO get you through.
Bottom line? I thought I had some cardiovascular endurance.....WRONG! And now that I know it is a weakness - I am determined to make it a strength.
5. I actually love working out with other people
I am admittedly a solo-workout fan. I have always loved to rage out with my noise cancelling headphones, hat low and grind after the weights. I thought I could NEVER workout to someone else's music (confession: this one is still hard for me! I need my metal), with someone else talking to me or telling me what to do.
But the interesting thing I have found is that I LOVE working out with people at the gym! I love cheering and being cheered for! I love pushing people and letting them push me. I love that someone is watching me and helping me push myself just that small bit further and helping me to not give up. It's MOTIVATING!
Now, don't get me wrong......I still can't workout with chatty cathy's - BUT - I have yet to meet anyone at my gym that doesn't want to put in the work, grind out the workout and help each other out.
Lesson Learned: you might find the different type of accountability at crossfit style gyms pushes you further!
6. I am not going to get rhabdo
I have heard numerous horror stories and I personally know two people who have had a Rhabdo (Rhabdomyolysis). One was under extreme conditions in military training and another was from over-exerting during workouts. Rhabdo is a very serious and life threatening condition and should not be taken lightly.
Because of rhabdo being tied to some cases within the crossfit community, I had yet another reason to not join the ranks of crossfit.
However, lots of research and experience in my gym have helped ease my mind. I now know that I will NOT get rhabdo working out the way I am currently.
Some detail: Rhabdo is typically caused by working out at very high intensities without adequate breaks. It can cause your muscle to break down and enter in to your bloodstream and cannot be processed by your kidneys. This is where the danger lies: renal failure.
However, most experienced and quality coaches know how to program workouts with high intensity for short durations with proper rest to ensure your body is not under stress long enough to be dangerous. Workouts should always be SCALED to your level and recovery should be a big focus.
My gym has prescribed rest days and focuses MUCH energy on rest, recovery and mobility using bands, body tempering, etc.
Bottom line? Make sure you find a gym that is experienced with programming and well-versed on and champions of recovery methods. ALWAYS listen to your body. If you feel like you are being pushed too hard, are past your max effort or feel terrible after a workout, ease up.
I am all about workouts that make you feel empowered in what your body can DO and not what it looks like after years of battling body dysmorphia and an eating disorder. Crossfit is just that. If you do it right and find a good gym, good coaches and a great community - you will reap the rewards....mentally AND physically!
All in all, I am impressed with crossfit styles of workouts for improving my strength, stamina, speed, power and agility. I finally feel like an ATHLETE again!