Life Begins When You Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone: Ten Tips for CrossFit Beginners

I was not lucky enough to start CrossFit at a young age and so time is of the essence in order to peak quickly. Having tis attitude, I’ve made a lot of mistakes, but these have allowed me to reflect and learn. I’m now just over 18 months into my CrossFit journey and I’m still coming across new things. I’m always finding new and better ways of moving and generally thinking ‘I wish I knew that before’. I’m bigger, faster and stronger than I’ve ever been. I feel great, so CrossFit must be the best thing ever, right? Yes and no. Both physically and mentally CrossFit has been a life changer. But the downside is that there is no guidebook through this journey. I have made countless mistakes that at times have caused injury or illness. There was no one to point out my blatant errors.

Here are a few things which I wish someone would have told me to do sooner in order to enable me to train smarter:

  1. Boss the basics

Until you have mastered the basics you should hold off from progressing onto more technical movements and lifts. The basic lifts I am referring to are back squat, deadlift, bench press and shoulder press. If you’re not moving correctly through these four fundamental lifts, your body is unlikely to be strong enough in the correct positions to be able to move onto more technical movements like a front squat and clean and jerk. For me personally, I had to take a step back and correct old habits before progressing onto the more technical movements.

October 2015 – nine months into CrossFit

If your progress in the basic movements and lifts plateaus, then this is more likely than not down to your technique, a lack of programming or not working your weak points (see later on in blog). As a beginner, I would often also think the more equipment aids you use the more your body will develop…”all the gear no idea” springs to mind. Now, I tend to ask myself ‘why am I doing band resistance deadlifts extra accessory work?’ and if I can’t answer that question then there is no room for it in my programme.

  1. Wear the right shoes

I’ve seen people train in Converse, Nike free-run shoes, Dr Martens and even flip flops! How the coach let them get away with this is beyond me. This is asking for injury and wearing these will no doubt restrict your movement. This is a no. I recommend getting a ‘proper’ pair of gym/training shoes that support your ankles when lifting and also allow you the flexibility and range of motion to run, jump and rope climb. There are a select few brands out there that offer this type of shoe and I have had the pleasure of wearing; inov-8 F-Lite 250 (see my review), Nike Metcon 2 and Reebok Nano 6 (review coming soon). All have their strengths. At the moment I’m wearing my inov-8s more often as they are a middle ground between weightlifting shoes and running shoes. This makes them perfect for CrossFit.

Inov8 F-Lite 250
  1. Track your progress

The easiest thing to do! Most programmes will refer to your one rep max (1RM) and then the weight you use in a workout is a percentage of your 1RM. This means that tracking and knowing your progress is vital to ensure you keep progressing and do not plateau through lifting too light or too heavy weights.  Everyone remembers a few big PBs, but your training should possess the purpose of improving your strength, technique or fitness. For example, increasing the load you lifted by 2kg or adding one rep each week you can make massive progress.

It feels great to look back through your records and see how far you have come. It doesn’t only give you confidence, but you can also see what works for you and possibly workout why you have plateaued or indeed, why things are going so well.

A little progress every day adds up to big results
  1. Celebrate Success

This is simple but different for everyone, and I find this important. This might be treating yourself to ‘cheat meal’ after a PB or posting a video of your first muscle up in your local CrossFit affiliate’s Facebook group. I have done both, as I find it helps me mentally and increases my confidence to move onto more difficult movements or bigger lifts. What it is important to remember is to keep your feet on the ground and not get carried away, as that is how injuries happen. You may think I’m a hypocrite from looking at my Instagram, as I’m always doing new and fun movements that could lead to injury, but what most people don’t realise is that we can often practice these for some time before being able to pull them off and celebrate with gym buddies.

Autumn 2015 Black and Blue Games podium
  1. Listen to your coach

Coaches aren’t there to make you fat and useless, they have a purpose. The sooner you realise this, the better. Unlike a Gym Instructor or a Personal Trainer, they will see you daily and know what you’re capable of. If they say take it easy or correct your form then this is for your own benefit. They will have seen 100s of people before you make the same mistakes and have corrected them too. Believe it or not, no one starts CrossFit being good at everything. These guys will ensure you move through and develop at the right pace for you.

Coach Rawlo watching on at Rep it Out 2015
  1. Surround yourself with stronger, faster and fitter athletes

It’s good to be the best in your gym or training group but this won’t push you to get better. You want to be able to pace yourself on someone who is better than you at a particular movement or workout to overload your muscles or cardiovascular system. This will give your body no alternative but to adapt, improve and become fitter. There’s nothing better than getting a PB and this is a sure way to ensure you don’t plateau and continue to develop. Train with other people always and try to train with someone who will push you.

“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The “hard” is what makes it great.”

  1. Take time off from heavy

Even the Rich Froning’s who can handle an unbelievable amount of volume and capacity in training don’t go heavy (90%+ of 1RM) every day. If the programme says 60% of your 1RM, then there’s usually a good reason for this. It’s usually because there are more reps or the lifts are part of a workout. Your coach will also tell you that it’s always good at the end of a training cycle to have a de-load week. This doesn’t make you lose your gains produced through the cycle but allows your body’s muscles time to repair and recover before starting the next block of training hard.

Rainhill Trials 2016, 140kg deadlifts
  1. Work those weaknesses

No matter what you think you definitely have movements that are worse than others. The chances are you avoid training these movements. For me, until recently these were pullups and snatches. Now because I have finally worked on these movements tirelessly I look forward to attacking them in training and competitions. However, I still suck at toes to bar and know I have a lot of work to do on those. Admitting these and training them alongside your normal training should encourage progress. But remember you can’t train everything you’re not amazing at all at once. My top tip here would be to get to the gym half an hour before class to work on your weaknesses or complete accessory exercises that will help.

Chest to bar pull-up practice paying off at Rainhill Trials, February 2016
  1. Don’t try and do everything at once

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Like the construction of Rome, your CrossFit journey will be a long one. It takes time and patience, especially to learn gymnastics movements. Unfortunately, a handstand hold doesn’t happen in one session. It takes weeks or even months to get a ten-second hold from scratch. If (or when) you do fail, it’s important to not beat yourself up! Failure is good and allows you to develop different training methods as an athlete to find out your best ways to learn. In my early days what I found is that I wanted to handstand walk so bad that this is all I ended up doing for hours. I forgot about other elements of CrossFit I had learned and my body almost forgot how to double under and kip my pullups. Being an effective athlete involves being consistent across a platform of gymnastics, weightlifting and fitness and so it is important to try and train everything in proportion.

Don’t do everything at once
  1. REAL food is better than supplements

Winging it with your nutrition will not work. Trust me – I tried and failed. If you’re training and wanting gains, then you need protein. A historically recommended way of ensuring you’re eating enough protein is to have 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. This worked for me. However, I found that logging what I ate for a few weeks allowed me to get a feel of how much food I really needed. Food logging has allowed me to lose and gain weight as well as allowing me to work out which foods work best for me pre and post training. Just because one food source is good for someone’s training doesn’t necessarily mean your body will react in the same way. Logging is also a powerful tool to work out how long before sessions you should eat to achieve your maximum output. Working out these fundamental tracking things will also mean that you should never get into calorie deficit. Should you have a calorie deficit you’ll be tired all of the time and not make any gains. Don’t be this person. I have recently been on the Gold Standard Nutrition (GSN) 30 day CrossFit Challenge and noticed some big results. GSN create you a bespoke nutrition plan to ensure you are getting the right calories, right food at the right times to maximise performance results (use JT10 to get 10% off all GSN products). Since finishing the challenge I have then used MyFitnessPal to track my carbs, fats and protein intake to ensure my ‘macros’ are still spot on. This works really well for me and isn’t too time constraining or confusing once I had my intake goals set by GSN.

Taking my Gold Standard Nutrition with me everywhere

BONUS TIP – Slow down and enjoy the journey!

If you’ve seen my Instagram videos you will often see me and other people at my box trying to replicate funny, innovative and interesting CrossFit videos we see online. These are often big failures, but again if we manage to replicate the funny videos then the shared celebration of success feels good. Success and PBs should also be celebrated with your gym buddies. Slow down enjoy the process and celebrate successes, as may not come thick and fast or may all come at once (usually at the end of a training cycle). Enjoy what you do, or you won’t do it for long. I found it important to also recognise everyone has their own pace. Like at school people develop things faster than others. Don’t get mad if your gym buddy gets a muscle up before you. Celebrate it and ask them how the hell they did it. Own your journey and keep your eyes in your own lane. This relates back to one of my previous blog posts; Together Everyone Achieves More.

The journey continued in Cyprus

BONUS TIP – Mobility is key!

Only genetic mutants come into CrossFit with the mobility to be able to snatch instantly. For most of us, mobility is a frustrating. Until you start CrossFit you don’t realise how fundamental this is to perform weightlifting and gymnastics movements. Years of playing rugby and sitting behind a desk haven’t helped my case. It was my shoulders and getting the bar in a secure position overhead which was the biggest problem for me. Through the help of coaches at my box and amazing physiotherapists at Coach House Physio, my mobility has improved drastically. But be warned I have worked for my mobility. This has to be worked at daily like your strength training – recognise the areas you’re mobility is rusty in and ask for help from your coach. Mobility will allow you to reach your full potential, so be willing to put in the additional work and as I said above, get to the gym early before class and make sure you have a good stretch before and after.

Mobility is key!

BONUS TIP – Compete!

Healthy competition is good for everyone. If you’re starting to become a regular at the top of the class leaderboard or even if you’re just seeking the thrill of adrenaline, I recommend competing. For me I was lucky in that CrossFit Leeds has its own in-house competition that is a great starting point for anyone that wants their first taste of competing.  This showed me that you can push yourself so much more and ultimately surprise yourself with the results.

Fair enough, I don’t think many of us will be looking to compete at CrossFit Games standard, but most competitions usually have qualifiers to determine the standard of athletes at each one. If it’s your first competition I would avoid one like this, as these are full on affairs where people may have been doing the sport for a number of years and are very competitive. I would look to do a competition based on ballot entry, like Rainhill Trials. Still one of the best competitions I have ever done, this one ensures that if your name gets drawn you will be guaranteed a spot. The competition has four categories for which athletes are placed in based on ability after four qualifiers. I recommend this one and competing to get out meet new people and go outside of your comfort zone.

I hope at least one of my tips above is relevant. I wish I had worked out all of the above instantly. Hopefully, these tips will pass on some wisdom so you don’t make as many mistakes as I have in my CrossFit journey.


8 thoughts on “Life Begins When You Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone: Ten Tips for CrossFit Beginners

  1. I love this post, such a good way to help those who don’t know or have a fear in trying CrossFit for the first time. I used to be one of those people with the fear of not knowing what to expect, etc, but it all worked out for the most part. I loved the challenge and the everyday risk I took at having to get to used others performing the same task as me while watching me perform mine as well .



  2. I’ve had a chance to re-read this post, and it is great advice for almost any endeavor. Have a terrific Christmas! I’m sure you’ll advance even further in your field in the New Year. You’re an inspiration, even to couch potatoes like me. 🙂


  3. Great tips! I have been Crossfitting for 2 years and even though my mobility has progressed SO Much, I still struggle when I attempt OHS if I haven’t warmed up correctly.
    PS : T2B are the devil!!


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