You know the problem with all the “beginners guide to CrossFit” articles on the web? They’re all written by people who don’t do CrossFit. Instead, they’re telling you what it’s like based on a handful of free trial visits, hearsay, opinions, interviewing people, myths, and assumptions.
It’s been over a year since I started doing CrossFit. During that time, I went on four or five times a week to classes (they call them WODs, work-outs-of-the-day). What can I say, I’m a cheap Asian who wants to get his money’s worth.
I want to document my progress so far, and for once, you’re going to hear it from someone who is skeptical, actually experienced it, and hasn’t “drank the cult Koolaid.” There are definitely myths that need shattering. I want to share with you the truth about CrossFit.
What is CrossFit?
Here’s a brief primer on what it is for the unaware. CrossFit is a training program that focuses on increasing your general athletic fitness across numerous cross-training areas, including cardiovascular, stamina, strength, flexibility, speed, agility and so on.
It started by focusing on training police and military. Since then, it has branched out to train everyone, including the average middle-aged mother.
In simple terms, it is cross fitness training. Your goal is to become healthy and fit across numerous areas. Think decathlon versus sprinting.
You’re more of a generalist than a specialist. You may not lift the most weight in a specific lift or run the farthest or fastest in another. But on average across all these metrics, you score higher than most others. And technically, you can be a specialist at CrossFit by competing in the Crossfit Games, which throws a wide variety of tests each year to test you in all these areas.
Imagine sprinting your guts out as if a man with a knife was chasing you. Then, as you’re gasping for air, you’re forced to life heavy weights as fast as you can. That’s how CrossFit is different. Often, the HIIT is paired with weight lifting.
If you’ve ever experienced this, it’s a bizarre feeling because you’re choking for more air just to breathe but you’re also telling your body to keep pushing to lift weights. The first time I experienced this feeling was in a CrossFit class. I had never had to deal with a lack of air while lifting, so it was a strange feeling, nor was I ever focused on completing reps as fast as possible.
As you can tell, CrossFit isn’t ideally designed for bodybuilding (building the most muscle size to look aesthetically pleasing). Any advanced bodybuilder will tell you that you want to have a rested body to get more sustained reps in rather than a oxygen-deprived exhausted body. They may even recommend slow reps to “feel the pump.”
A Scientific, Objective Measurement of My Fitness Journey (with Pictures)
This is not a before-after transformation piece. This is my documented experiment on my tests before CrossFit and the results with this fitness modality. Let’s see what happened:
The Day I Learned You Could Still Be Skinny and Unhealthy
Around 2008, I ran a mile at school against my classmates and they timed me. I was many minutes behind the last person. It was embarrassing watching everyone wait for me. I sprinted the whole thing to keep pace with everyone but it was not enough. That was when I learned that I could look skinny on the outside but still be completely unhealthy on the inside. All those years of stuffing my face with junk food and relying on my blessed metabolism had clogged my blood system and heart.
I did track-and-field for two years and pushed myself harder than I have ever pushed physically (until CrossFit). People are different, but I found that I’m someone who is motivated more when I’m with others.
I shaved off many minutes to my mile time during this period. I was healthier than ever before, but still skinny and unmuscular.
My Nutrition Was Whack
At this time point, I did not care about nutrition. I ate what I wanted to, which was often fast food. I did not think I was that skinny, but two people I had known for several years said I was scrawny during that time.
My knowledge of nutrition was way off during this time of my life. I sometimes got angry after a workout because the food my family served was not tasty and I thought I needed fast food but they wouldn’t buy it. My tongue was telling me I needed the taste and substance of fast food for nourishment. I went on gut instinct; surely, my body couldn’t be wrong? It was screaming for Burger King and Chick Fil A. It turns out I was wrong. Looking back, I was simply craving unhealthy foods that did me no good.
In 2017, I started tracking my macro-nutrient intake and found out two important insights. First, I was right that I did eat a lot. Second, I learned that I ate a lot of the wrong macros: way too much fat and not nearly enough protein.
2007 to 2014 (The Sporadic Era)
During this period, I was a fool with my fitness routine (if there even was one). Looking back, I wish I taken bodybuilding a lot more seriously in this time because I could’ve been so much farther ahead by now and my classmates saw gains but I didn’t.
For the first three years of this period, I was introduced to the idea of lifting weights but rarely ever did it. Once in a couple months, I may have been inspired to do curls or shoulder presses but I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I did what looked cool.
This was the sporadic era because I may have decided to “train” for two weeks over the Summer consistently because I was bored. But then, I would take off for months to focus on school. Luckily, I was blessed to have randomly picked up track-and-field from 2009 to 2010, which helped me from a fitness standpoint.
From 2010 to 2014, my workouts were still on-and-off but with bit more consistency and seriousness. I would go to the gym when I had time, which usually meant one to three times a week, but I’d stay for at least an hour, sometimes two or three. But I’d also burn out mentally from staying too long and take one to three weeks off as well. I thought it was cool to stay longer but it ended up backfiring.
The workouts would mainly consist of a good amount of running on a treadmill and whichever machine looked coolest that day. I’d do as many reps and sets “felt right.” I had no understanding of hypertrophy or the right number of reps and sets for your goals at the time.
Because I was not consistently going every day and there was no structured workout, I saw minimal results.
My nutrition was sometimes bad and sometimes alright. I would sometimes eat three cheeseburgers with fries. Other times, I would enough of a sense to eat wheat pasta instead of white and Pesto sauce instead of Alfredo. Whenever I was offered free food, I would eat two normal people’s servings worth.
The biggest problem was not understanding how many reps and sets you need to do. I did not know that different amounts of reps and sets produce different results. For example, reps from the five to twelve range are great for hypotrophy (muscle size), while reps below five means you care about strength (this means you could lift more but there could be no size difference).
The picture below was after many weeks of not working out. I took this picture shortly stuffing my face at a buffet. In fact, it was a cruise, so I had been stuffing my face for half a week already.
I’m blessed with a ridiculous metabolism. I have always been known as the guy who can eat more than a fat person. If you don’t know that about me, you quickly find out. Strangers often see me eat and say, “Where does it all go?”
Having said that, I know my metabolism will slow with age, so I’ve been cutting back slowly over time.
Setting Realistic Expectations: It’s a Marathon, not a Sprint
Around this time, I was at a pool and I saw a guy laying there reading a book. This guy could have been a model. He had brown hair, a perfectly chiseled face, huge shoulder muscles, and the perfect physique.
After a while, I summoned up the courage to ask him how he got his body. He revealed that he was a lot older than he looked (he was almost 30) and that he had spent over 10 years consistently working out (he started around the age of 15).
He surprised me by saying that he would workout every one or two days, but he would only spend 30 to 45 minutes max in the gym lifting weights. Then, he would spend 20 to 30 minutes doing cardio, biking or running when cold and swimming when warm.
I thought ripped, muscular people had to spend hours every day at the gym. I learned an important lesson which is that consistency matters more in the long run. It’s the classic tortoise and the hare parable.
If you want more detail on the story, I did a video of it shortly after the event happened:
Simply put, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. One of the bodybuilders I follow on YouTube is GokuFlex. He looks incredible. In one video, he revealed that he gained 3.5 pounds of muscle on average per year on his 14 year fitness journey. And most of that came in his first year from newbie gains. That’s not a lot. That’s only 0.29 pounds a month and 0.07 pounds per week.
If you set realistic expectations, you’ll be far ahead of the crowd. I’ve met many people who set crazy goals like 30 pounds of muscle in a year and quit when they don’t get anywhere. By understanding this, you’ll persevere and look more shredded in the long run.
September 2016 (Right Before CrossFit)
At the end of 2015, I bought a gym membership once again and started to go. 2016 was really about actually going to the gym consistently rather than just having a gym membership but never going. It was about turning it into a habit.
Over a few months, I was able to turn going to the gym into a daily habit by using habit-formation principles from Dr. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habit process and the Power of Habit book. Later on, I applied this to CrossFit, which was instrumental. I also see plenty of people who only go to CrossFit once a week or even less and that’s not going to help much. Just because you pay more doesn’t mean you’re just granted gains.
The TLDR of the habit process that worked for me is to start by going for such a short time that it’s almost too easy. Slowly, scale up the time when you’re confident it’s become a habit. Then, rinse and repeat.
I had been noticing growth in my arms after focusing on triceps and biceps exercises like pull-up’s, dips, rope pull-down’s and curls for months. There was growth but it was far from as thick and jacked as I would like.
Looking at yourself with your shirt off really gives an honest showcase of where you are at. But be careful. There are plenty of bodybuilders who get too muscular (just like women who get too skinny or get crazy plastic surgery) because they get distorted perspectives of a “perfect body.” Make sure you do not get obsessive about this stuff. Surveys show that men overestimate how muscular they have to be to be most attractive.
October 2016 (A Couple Weeks Into CrossFit)
At this point, I was watching hundreds of bodybuilding videos and finally had a consistent workout routine that I went through almost every day. I really starting taking exercise more seriously.
One of my biggest problems is staying for too long at the gym and burning out mentally. But sometimes, I could not resist.
I started doing a lot of research on the different diets out there (Atkins, Paleo, etc.) and nutrition plans (Weight Watchers for example) to see if they were legit. I concluded that Paleo and Low-Carb diets were not optimal for your body and are more “trendy.”
One big reason is that the whole idea that we eat “like our cavemen ancestors” is flawed since most ingredients we have is completely different from that of our cavemen ancestors. The way we raise, nurture, genetically breed, and package our vegetables and meats are completely different. Not everything we have developed is bad. Avoiding all grains is stupid just because cavemen didn’t have access to them. Rather, I prefer avoiding junk food grains like white bread and go for brown rice instead.
I decided that Weight Watchers is a great program for me to get into one day when I am rich based on research and a free nutrition analysis quiz I took.
This was also the month where I started doing Crossfit for the first time. You will not see any results from it in the photos. It’s too soon.
These photos were taken December 3rd, 2016. This is a little over a month into my CrossFit journey.
March 2017 (5 Months In)
One Entire Year Before and After – October 2017
Here’s my objective one year progress (before on the left) without any Photoshop trickery to make myself look better or other shenanigans. Looking back, the lighting, location, and posing could have been more consistent in the photos for better comparison.
It has been officially one year since I started Crossfit. Here is the before and after. I went to class on average of four times a week. It seems Ive gained a little with lats, shoulders, and arms. Not much chest difference. And a bit of a decrease in belly fat. What do you think? See my blog for a full article on my crossfit experience. Go to willyoulaugh.com and search Crossfit.
Your initial reaction may be “waste of time — no difference” or “you didn’t put in the work” based on previous feedback from others. Yes, nutrition was the one area where I put in work, but clearly could have put in more. I could have eaten more protein and less fat and calories. But overall, I was doing better than the average person.
IAnd definitely put in the work at the gym because:
- I often stayed after to do some extra bodybuilding work after classes that lasted 1 hour and 15 minutes.
- I often did extra stretching before and after when most people (or everyone) skipped it.
- I often pushed the limits of my willpower, endurance, and strength in workouts, seeing just how far I can go despite enormous pain and seeing others take it easy.
- I went every day of the week on weekdays when most others went once or twice a week.
I feel like I made substantial progress based on my own day-to-day experience with my physique, while brushing teeth or changing clothes. This may be bias or partially truth given that one photo of one angle of my body may not do it justice. Another objective measure were several unsolicited compliments I’ve gotten from friends, coworkers, gym mates, acquaintances, and relatives on my physique gains.
Regardless, my gains have not been enormous since if they were, you’d be able to tell with a quick glance even if the selfie was with the most horrible angle or lighting. Sorry, I can’t go Tim Ferriss here and make claims of 50 pound muscular gain in 4 hours a week! Having read Four Hour Body, I’d attribute Tim and my gains to being in the newbie gains stage, where progress is easiest early on with diminishing returns as you advance.
Plus, Tim is skinny again if you look at his videos, so for some reason, he couldn’t maintain what he gained and couldn’t build off of it, so be careful of claims of “massive progress with little effort.” As mentioned earlier, massive gains take a long time — sometimes, over year or a decade. That’s not what people want to hear because they’re short-sighted, but that’s how success is built.
Thanks to Dr. BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habit methodology (he’s a researcher at Stanford), I already managed to maintain a steady habit of going to the gym five to six times a week for over a year before I started Crossfit. Therefore, when I started Crossfit, it wasn’t too hard to maintain the consistency.
There were hiccups though. A core part of the Tiny Habits process is starting with tiny incremental improvement very gradually. The problem with Crossfit is that the classes are set at an hour and it’s definitely not really made for you to leave in the middle of the workout. Therefore, if an hour is a lot of time for you, it’s harder to get up and running with a consistent gym routine.
For me, it was tough to stay for that long. I eventually realized that there’s nothing stopping me from leaving in the middle of a WOD. And I also saw others do it too. If you have an important meeting or event, it has to be done, don’t worry about it, they will understand if you excuse yourself politely, and you should pat yourself on the back for coming for some amount of time even if it wasn’t the full WOD.
Bodybuilding Versus CrossFit Criticism
There are bodybuilders who have large social media followings who hate on CrossFit. They argue that top CrossFitters have a leaner body because of all the metabolic conditioning they do. Sure, they’re muscular, but not nearly as big as bodybuilders. I agree.
A YouTuber by the name of Richey transitioned from competitor bodybuilder to CrossFitter and gave his one and two year body transformation update. Many people assume CrossFit leads to less muscle mass in the long run because it’s so much more cardio-focused. Here’s what he has to share with you:
CrossFit Beginner’s Guide
The rest of this article details information and tips for beginners new to CrossFit based on my experiences. I will debunk myths and dive into the in’s and out’s of CrossFit to see if it is for you based on your goals whether they are fitness, meeting people, making friends, or something else.
What’s A Typical CrossFit Class Like? (A.k.a. How to CrossFit)
Classes can range from lasting 45 minutes to 1 hour and 15 minutes. You show up to the class with other attendees (like a SoulCycle, Zumba, Yoga, or PowerPump class). A coach is there to walk you through warm up and then, the work out.
The coach will demonstrate the movements and then you’ll get started. They will point out issues in your form while you’re doing it. Depending on the programming at a gym, which can vary, there may be multiple work outs or just one long work out after the warm up.
After the workout, there is usually a stretch period when everyone does the static stretches that the coach shows you. Then, you’re done and you can leave!
CrossFit Myths Debunked
There are a lot of false assumptions about the people you will find at CrossFit. No doubt some of it has come about from grains of truth. Others have been blown out of proportion by the Internet parodying it. A lot of my assumptions were disproved when I actually experienced it. Here are some truths about CrossFit you may not have thought:
It’s Not Like What You’ll See on Social Media
The popular stars you see on Instagram usually workout with only the best of the best. So of course, you will see a bunch of jacked men and women behind them in their pictures.
In a real class, you get people of all shapes and sizes. There are men and women of all ages and ethnicities. Some are pregnant mothers who take their children as well. Some are grandpas. Others are middle-aged women who are going to retire in the next decade and want to stay fit.
Class sizes and demographics can fluctuate. I’ve had a class with five guys. I’ve had another class with two middle-aged white women. I’ve also had a class with a mixture of twenty overweight and in-shape individuals of all ethnicities and age ranges.
Most of Us Don’t Give Care About the CrossFit Games
I figured that if I’m going to commit to this, I might as well study up on the CrossFit Games and learn from the best of the best. I did a lot of research over the course of a week and even read Rich Froning’s book (he’s considered by some to be like the Michael Jordan of the sport).
To my surprise, only a fraction of my classmates could even name a single athlete from the Games. In a week, I had learned more about the sport than most of them.
You may assume that most of the people at a typical CrossFit gym (they call them boxes instead of gyms) are bonded like a cult and worship the athletes of the Games. I’ve heard many references to this idea from articles online (ironically from anonymous content writers who probably haven’t taken CrossFit themselves).
But it turns out that most of the people there aren’t super fans or vocal extremists for the CrossFit Games, the huge annual competition that pits the best of the best head-to-head and built up followings of hundreds of thousands on Instagram for the champions (like the Dottirs or Rich Froning).
My CrossFit box is huge. On a good day, you will have fifteen to twenty people a class, which is larger than the average Crossfit class. On many occasions, we end the workout by stretching in front of a TV that airs a broadcast of a previous CrossFit Games continuously. Whenever the conversation turns to what’s on the screen, most of the people tune out. Some don’t recognize the top athletes.
They’re mainly there to get fit; it’s not about competing (or even watching the competitions to be entertained). The type of people there can range all across the board. This may fluctuate depending on what state you live in, but I’ve seen black, white, hispanic, and Asian men of all ages there. There’s a Crossfit class for children once a week, there’s working middle-aged moms, there are pregnant young professionals, overweight men, and grandpas.
Now, I’m not saying there aren’t superfans of the sport. And I’m not saying it doesn’t draw a huge audience either. There are thousands of athletes who compete and watch the games; all of them display superhuman levels of strength and cardiovascular agility. Watch a clip on YouTube to see for yourself.
If you see any of these “I tried Crossfit for X weeks” BuzzFeed-style videos, articles, or books out there, people assume Crossfit is a cult. Honestly, most people take it half-assed and the extent of their enthusiasm is showing up for class. Don’t expect classes to be filled with people who live and drink CrossFit ever moment of the day. They do exist, but they’re not the average person.
Also, people assume all CrossFitters show up for the early 6am class, do Paleo, and wear stereotypical Crossfit outfits and equipment. Why? Crossfit offers noon, evening, afternoon, and sometimes even night classes. Our 5pm and 6:45 pm classes are the most crowded. Why do those who try it out force themselves to go to a deserted 6 am classes?
Lately, I’ve become a bit of a superfan for CrossFit. I like the idea that I’m doing the movements and workouts (though modified to beginner levels) that athletes are competing with. It has the same appeal as when I was a huge esports fan and played League of Legends.
This is not to say at all that the top athletes of the CrossFit Games don’t have huge social media followings. They’re all huge on Instagram. I love watching the Dottirs and Brooke Ence vlog their life and their training. They truly spend their lives training and work really hard. They also have the added benefit of looking really attractive too, which doesn’t hurt. CrossFit women have a distinctive style in real life and on Instagram. They often have intricate Lululemon bras and jacked bodies.
OnlySome Of Us Are Paleo
The same thing goes with Paleo. While you will find more people at the Box who follow this diet, many of the people here just eat normally (or may not even have a nutrition plan). Yes, they are generally more nutrition-conscious (and fitness-conscious) than the general public, but isn’t that obvious?
I think it’s actually a bit of a letdown for me. I’m always looking to make friends and connect with people, but when I try to form a connection by talking about Paleo or the Games (both of which I am simply a dabbler), I’m shocked to find out that the people I’m working out with aren’t familiar with either!
It’s Not An Extreme Sport Reserved For Extreme People
To some people, CrossFit is an extremely dangerous sport and workout routine reserved for extreme, athletic individuals. Therefore, they’re too scared to even try it. But in reality, there are plenty of tame, average mothers I’ve seen in classes.
I hadn’t gotten over assumptions like this and gone to try out a free class, I would probably be sitting in my room playing video games alone. I’ve always tried to push my comfort zone and I encourage you to do the same if you want to live a more an abundant, interesting life. As mentioned, there is a wide variety of different people who work out at a CrossFit box, including super skinny bony individuals. Is there a bit of truth to the stereotype of CrossFit people being super muscular, Bandanna wearing juice heads who’s Liam barbells onto the ground? Yes. I’m sure you will see someone who fits that stereotype eventually and probably fairly quickly if you do CrossFit consistently. But they don’t make up even a quarter of the actual demographic. Most of the people who walk in are trying to get better and starting somewhat near Ground Zero.
Nonetheless, it may seem too extreme for you. To many people, that is how it is still perceived. Perhaps this can work to your advantage. You can show off a little bit that you do Crossfit and people will believe that you are some super cool extreme, athe, when in reality, you are usually just doing standard movements with modest weights on a daily basis.
Similarly, I’ve had similar reservations when I first started lifting weights at a regular gym. I thought I would stick out like a sore thumb being a super skinny guy in a room full of perfectly sculpted muscular men.
In reality, you get a mix of the entire demographic of all body shapes add a typical gym; it’s a standard bell curve. Get over your false assumptions and just get started. And maybe you’ll even start to realize that some of these muscular individuals aren’t bad people after all. Some of them can be quite friendly.
On the Importance of Consistency
This leads me to my main point, which is that consistency is incredibly important. Crossfit on its own won’t magically make you consistent. It can help by making the workouts more fun and varied though. You rarely ever repeat a workout and there’s usually new exercises you’ve never done before (if the instructors planning the WODs are good and creative).
Having said that, I still met a lot of people in Crossfit who were not very consistent. Some would show up for once a week. Others would disappear for an entire month. And some would be sporadic: they would go two times a week and then, four times a week the next week.
I’m not going to harp too much on consistency because there are plenty of videos and articles out there with good advice on how to stay consistent (which includes my content and BJ Fogg’s). Just know how important it is.
Many of the excuses that the people I’ve met have used can be addressed. For example, just because your family is visiting for a week doesn’t mean you completely cut off exercise. Exercise should be a priority investment that you can’t cut out no matter what because it’s scientifically proven through many experiments (see the book Authentic Happiness) to improve your longevity, happiness, productivity, focus, attractiveness, energy, relationships, and many other areas of your life.
On Gains and Fundamentals
After a year, I definitely saw slow, gradual gains in my muscularity and body shape towards how I want to look aesthetically. I have technically been weight lifting and exercising for around nine years. But in truth, it’s really been just two since I was severely inconsistent and unregimented the first seven years.
I would choose a random machine or set of weights and then do whatever exercise I felt like. I had no understanding of rep range, the number of sets, protein intake, or consistency (all very vital parts to your gains). Like the people I mentioned, I would take off for a week or a month because school got in the way (but I was really just lazy). I had no workout program.
It was only after watching hundreds of informative online videos (and some articles and books) on bodybuilding that I really started getting a handle for what to do.
It’s hard to say if the gains were due to “newbie gains” because of my background. Overall, I would say yes. My progression with pull-up’s is a clear example. Before Crossfit, I would never do pull-up’s consistently on a weekly basis. But it’s very common for most WODs to have some variation of pull-up’s.
When you do these exercises every week, you build consistency and see progress. And since pull-up’s are a fundamental exercise for upper body strength and mass, it was no surprise I saw gains.
On Speed of Gains
One of the bodybuilders I follow is called Gokuflex. He’s Asian so I figured he’s closer to my genetic make-up and may have slight variations in his workout that may be more suitable to me. He’s also has the most ripped, shredded physique I’ve seen. On top of that, he really seems like a genuinely caring individual; he always talks about how everything he does is about helping others because he gets more buzz out of it than his own selfish pursuits.
You get diminishing returns but it pays off if you’re consistent day-in-and-day out for a decade. That’s why it’s important to make it fun. If it’s a chore to you, you will burn out eventually.
How Crossfit WODs Are Made To Be Fun
How are CrossFit WODs fun? Well, they involve the group. When you’re doing a workout, you’re doing it together with your classmates. The coach guides your movement and adjusts form while you’re doing practicing.
Also, some WODs turn the workout into a competitive game with a time cap or a specific amount of sets you have to complete before you’re done. An RX weight (this stands for a Par weight, to use a Golf analogy) is set for each movement you’re doing (e.g. deadlifts or thrusters) and you’re measured by how fast you can finish the whole WOd.
Exercises are scaled based on the RX if you aren’t strong enough to do them yet. For instance, you can do push-up’s on your knees, use banded pull-up’s instead of regular pull-up’s, or lift less weight.
The main appeal is that you end up competing against your classmates, which makes it more fun. Plus, the exercises you’re doing are often new every day so they never get boring. We’ve done some weird ones at my box, including grasshopper push-up’s and a weird form of ring pull-up’s where you twist sideways when coming upwards.
Does this actually work? I think it depends on the individual. Some people prefer a competitive atmosphere, while others prefer working out alone and in peace.
I’ve found that it’s not always good to compare yourself with your classmates. There are bound to be classmates who are five times stronger and faster than you. I’ve seen people beat themselves or get jealous because of it, which has lead to injury from overexertion. One person I know was out for six months and had to go to physical therapy. He lost some gains in this time.
In this way, the competition may not be good. You can injure yourself or sacrifice muscle gains by cheating movements with poor form to complete the workout faster.
It’s important to remind yourself that you don’t know how long others have been working out for before you compare yourself to them. Maybe they’ve been doing this for ten years longer than you and that’s why they’re so much better.
I see people who are worse than me and many who are better than me in a typical WOD. You see a wide range of strength and fitness in class, but most people are usually beginners or moderately fit. I try focus on myself, but I sometimes can’t resist the competitive vibe. I get excitement, energy, and enjoyment when I hear all the thumps of metal around me.
Sometimes, everyone will gather around the people who are the slowest and cheer them on to finish. The cheering naturally encourages and motivates them to keep going rather than give up.
It really depends on the group and the culture that is built from the Crossfit box you go to. Sometimes, no one will cheer for you. Other times, you will have a whole group of people around you.
One of my favorite parts about Crossfit is the accountability. It’s tough for me to walk out of a WOD in the middle of it because it’s a class with people (though I’m willing to when I need to or feel I truly need a break). More importantly, I definitely feel a strong, good form of pressure to finish the workout when everyone around me is doing it.
When I used to workout alone at Planet Fitness, it was much easier for me to skip out on a extra set of reps that I should have done. When I’m here, I’ve almost never skipped out. If anything, I do more sets. And it’s not even because anyone is keeping track.
You’re responsible for counting your own amount of sets and reps. Arguably, you may get called out if you skip out and finish suspiciously early. But overall, it’s just the overall sense that most of the people there aren’t cheating themselves and I’m doing it in this group environment that somehow pushes me to get it all done.
People are different so you may have a different fuel for what motivates you to do what you’re supposed to. For me, there is a weird energy that I get when I’m doing the workout there with others. I’m definitely more motivated to do it.
Do I get more energy and push harder when there’s a real attractive girl in the class? I’m sure I do. It obviously has some motivation on a primal, evolutionary biology level. But I wouldn’t say it is the main or only driver to why I push harder in group dynamics.
I still do it when the class is all men. I also just get a general fuel from seeing others doing the same workout and knowing I’m not alone. When I was alone, there was no one really there who even noticed what I was doing. I can’t be certain why I do it but if I had to say, it’s partially because there’s girls there but also because there’s other people who are pushing just as hard and enjoying it.
Some of the people there really enjoy working out and doing Crossfit. They see it as a competitive sport. When you hang around these people, it rubs off on you.
When I look back on my life, I was most fit (measured by how fast and long I can run) when I was part of my school track team.
It is no surprise that this was also a group environment. I looked forward to showing up to each practice and seeing other people there. It excited me when I knew that there were people I knew who I could see on a regular basis when I showed up. It wasn’t a chore and I rarely missed a workout.
I even showed up during the optional holiday practices. looking back, I also realize that I slacked off and became less fit when the practices ended. When summer started and there was no practice to attend, I rarely Ran and by the time Autumn arrived, I was super out of shape and severely slower than I was before.
I gave the excuse that I didn’t have time to work out because I had to study for the SAT, but it wasn’t true. I could have made time if I prioritized exercise. But for many years after that, I didn’t realize the importance of group exercise settings for me. I just kept trying to train and work out on my own yet it is clear to me now that I pushed less hard when I work out alone.
People are different. You may be the opposite of me. You may prefer alone time when working out and excel when you don’t have others around you. For people like this, we also have powerlifting and weightlifting programming at our box (and many other boxes do the same). These programs are more “do it at your own pace” and don’t involve nearly as much as social interaction.
For me, I have a strange motivation to push harder when there are others around me that are involved or aware of my workout. I can’t tell you why — maybe I’m an undercover show-off or I’m secretly competitive — I don’t know. Plus, workouts are less intimidating because everyone around me is doing it with me and it becomes a fun, semi social event rather than a lonely grind.
I’m still playing around and see what works best for me. I’m still new at all of this and maybe this light gains from doing it this way aren’t as good as another method I have yet to discover.
If you ask me based on my opinion, I would have told you for many years that there was little difference between where do I work out alone or with the group. But my actions speak otherwise. Well I still do all right when I work out alone, I clearly give up sooner.
It’s harder to quit the workout once you’ve showed up for the class because of everyone around you.
On Meeting New People and Commitment Trends
On a higher level, I’ve noticed a few big trends:
- Class sizes are larger in the first few months of the year, probably due to New Years Resolutions being made.
- During the Winter, when it’s colder, class sizes shrink quite a lot.
- Class sizes are largest around 5pm to 8pm, after work on the weekdays. They’re smaller after 8pm or during noon or in the mornings.
- There are more people at the start of the week.
On Community, General Friendliness, and Sociability
I’ll be honest and admit that a huge reason I wanted to do CrossFit was to be part of a community where I could meet new people, make friends with fit people, and do it while improving something useful (fitness).
The hurdles that I had to get over included the massive monthly price and the focus on athletic fitness over bodybuilding (there’s a huge difference). If you’re looking to move as much weight as you can (weightlifting or powerlifting), you’re going to have different workouts and procedures than if your goal is general fitness or bodybuilding (increasing the size of your muscles without caring how much you can lift). It’s an important profound difference that many CrossFit newbies don’t understand.
And not realizing these goals and aligning with the right procedure can cause you to take twice or three times as long to get to your result.
On top of that, I wasn’t initially bought into the social aspect of the Crossfit community. I did a free trial with another box (before I found the box I’m currently at). The only time periods where you could really chat where the ten minutes before and after a WOD. It was moderately better than yoga classes (the people in yoga class literally bolt out of the room right after the class, and I’ve been to many different company’s yoga classes to make sure). But overall, they do move quickly. So it wasn’t ideal for me because I was already pretty shy.
Over the last year, I’ve realized that part of it is just due to general sociability. I’ve seen people who have good conversations before, during, and after the WOD with someone else. So it’s not entirely the process there; sometimes, you just have to break out of your shell a bit and talk to someone you think will be friendly.
What really drew me to my current box was that during my trial period, I had a severe Charlie horse when I was stretching with everyone else after the WOD on the floor. My leg muscle was spasming like crazy (probably due to not having the right nutrients or water in my body and overstretching after the workout). I writhed in pain on the floor and the coach ignored me (I think she was just unsure what to do). But the some of the guys there asked me if something was wrong and one rushed to my leg to immediately start massaging it (he seemed to know what to do). It won me over to the fact that there truly were people who cared for me and I could make actual friends here.
I’ll admit that I’ve been a bit self-conscious about the fact that I’m Asian. It didn’t hurt that they were white and yet so friendly.
Too Long Didn’t Read: It’s a friendly supportive community. You have to step out of your comfort zone and initiate with other guys and girls there sometimes though. Otherwise, they will just come and leave a WOD without talking to you. Overall, most people are pretty friendly. It is a tribe of people you will see again and again, so don’t come off too strong with any girls too early on and you should be fine.
On Cookouts and Community-Bonding Events
My favorite parts of Crossfit are the holiday events. So far, we’ve had a holiday-themed WOD and potluck for the Crossfit Open, Memorial Day, Super Bowl, Halloween, and a random Poker event. I like these because they’re the easiest for me to actually meet people and make friends. I’m not constrained with trying to catch someone on their way out right after a WOD. You have a couple hours to talk to people.
It’s nonetheless intimidating for me because I am a shy introvert. I’m not too socially skilled too and being an Asian minority in my area makes me stick out and self-conscious. I just try my best and talk to who I feel the most comfortable with and I have ended up meeting friendly people. In fact, no one I have initiated has really been blatantly rude to me. Overall, they’ve been really friendly.
I’ve also been surprised how some people never show up to these events. Some of the fittest, most ripped people at my Gym, who I’d assume to be extroverts, don’t show up at all to these events. They seem to prefer to workout on their alone and enjoy their quiet time.
It’s pricey. In fact, it’s one of the most expensive monthly gym memberships out there (up to $100 a month or more). I was curious what type of rich people attend CrossFit. It turned out to be a surprising crowd of people who aren’t necessarily rich. There are pharmacists and elementary school teachers.
I don’t think CrossFit is for everyone and I’m not trying to convince you that it is. I’m just airing out the truth of my experience.
I already know how to work out and lift weights. I do CrossFit mainly for its community and since I’m the type of person who pushes harder with others around me. Maybe you’re motivated differently or don’t care about meeting new people.
I prioritized my goals so highly that I was willing to shell out the cash even though I’m on a budget. It turns out I’m not alone. Classes are often more packed than something you’ll find at Gold’s Gym.
Could you accomplish your fitness goals for a lot less based on where you live? For sure, if you live in a city. Even premium gyms with saunas and steam rooms are cheaper than CrossFit and probably have better facilities. And some people can even get gains working out at home with calisthenics for free.
There may even be a point where my budget-consciousness, shift in life goals, and focus on bodybuilding pushes me to leave CrossFit for a better, cheaper alternative. But for now, I like where I’m at.
How to get Cheaper or Free CrossFit
If you’re on the fence, I recommend free trials, Groupons, or punch-passes so you don’t have to commit to a yearly or monthly fee yet. It’s a good way to try it out for cheaper.
Almost all Crossfit gyms will give you some sort of free trial. I suggest you take it because it’s literally anywhere from a day to a full week of classes that you would typically have to pay a ton for. On top of that, I suggest chaining it with a good Groupon coupon, which often gives you a full month of classes at a fraction of the regular price.
On Progress of All My Goals (Fitness and Beyond)
My form for many movements has improved a lot thanks to the coaches seeing me move in real-time and correcting me constantly. It’s a huge benefit but I don’t think that alone would have made me do it.
A combination of the lack of social events to do in my area (compared to someone living in New York City, for example), my yearning to make friends and meet new people, and my loneliness brought me to CrossFit. Humans are social creatures and I didn’t like spending every night after 5 pm alone (going to the gym, eating dinner, getting on the computer, and sleeping) without much social contact or relationship.
Has CrossFit solved everything entirely? I can’t say that it has. But it’s a huge step in the right direction for me.
What I Love and Hate About CrossFit
Before I get to the top things I don’t like, I think it’s important to start with the things I do like. I’ve already mentioned tons of them throughout this article so I’ll try to keep this section to the point:
What I Like
1) The community
I’ve already beaten this point to death but the community is huge. I’ve talked to a few people who have moved to different gyms but still do CrossFit and there reason for moving is usually to find a better or different community.
My box is probably the only box in the area that has an informal weekly dance class. It started as just something for fun. It’s evolved from Hip Hop to Latin partner dances. It’s been a great addition and huge benefit for me. I get to meet new people and the girl:guy ratio is great. Again, I suffer from the same problem of being too shy to talk to people and rushing out right after class (partially out of fear). But overall, I’ve still met and interacted with a lot of people and formed some great bonds. It’s been a great experience, change of pace, and I’ve had a lot of fun.
Lately, it’s even incorporated a Game of Thrones viewing party. I know another nearby CrossFit has had formal social events where the members have to dress up completely formally for dancing and photos. It’s really about what each specific CrossFit affiliate box decides to orchestrate. Some are likely lazier and more boring. Therefore, they lack these extra activities.
2) The extra motivation
Another point I’ve emphasized throughout this article. For my personality type, I’m motivated to push harder in workouts when others are around me doing the same workout. I don’t know why. But it’s there.
3) The variety of workouts
You don’t get bored as quickly because you do a different workout every day. It’s almost never the same thing. Sure, there are fundamentals that remain, like squats and deadlifts, but I don’t mind those.
3) The co-ed community
I think there’s a lot of value to having an all-men tribe to learn from. But when I think of a real community, I think of one that has people of both genders.
It’s tough to find a fitness group or class outside of CrossFit that a lot of people of both genders loving what they do.
What I don’t like or could be better)
It wouldn’t be a completely honest guide if I didn’t talk about what I don’t like.
1) Introducing yourself and making friends can still be tough if you’re shy.
Within ten seconds of when they dismiss the class, most people are already out the door. During class, there are partner exercises but not always. During class, there isn’t always much time to talk between or during workouts.
Because there isn’t a formal set time to talk and introduce yourself, it can be hard for shy people like me to strike up a conversation and bond.
I blame this mainly on my own anxiety and shyness rather than CrossFit because I have seen confident people have no problem talking, introducing themselves, or making friends before, during, or after the class. You can literally just go up and talk while the teacher is lecturing about a new exercise. Or you can go up to someone new and ask them to be your partner in a partner WODs and converse with them during the workout. Or you can chat up people who show up really early for the class.
I’ve honestly have had many opportunities that I’ve skipped likely because of my fear of rejection. It’s honestly a lot better than other classes I’ve tried, like yoga. For yoga classes, everyone arrives on the dot, doesn’t want to talk in class, and rushes out immediately when it ends. Despite my obstacles, I’ve made some solid male and female friendships.
But there is hope. I’ve been pushing my comfort zone ever so slightly to talk to new people. It’s taken me a full year but I’m much more social nowadays.
For my personality type, CrossFit isn’t the ideal social environment, but it’s good enough. This is mainly because of my shyness and past trauma with rejection. Large social events scare me on a subconscious level even though I try to brute force it with my willpower.
For my own weaknesses, the best social environment would probably be some hybrid social community where there was a formalized
time to talk, introduce yourself, and meet other people. Like a recreational sports league, support group, or
Toastmasters. This may differ for you and Crossfit may be great. It all depends on you.
Still, Crossfit is much better for forming connections than a typical gym or yoga class. I’ve worked out at many gyms like Planet Fitness and Lifetime Fitness. Talking and making friends with strangers there is doable but it is tougher. People are in the zone and usually don’t want to be disturbed.
If you do meet someone who is willing to talk, you may not even see them again for two weeks because they’re inconsistent or have a weird schedule. At Crossfit, I see familiar faces often and people greet me by my first name.
As a disclaimer, I believe ANY social environment, even the ones I mentioned that suck at meeting people, can be decent if you have the right extreme outgoing behavior and don’t care about rejection at all. I don’t think most people are like that.
2) The WODs and culture have a subtle emphasis on speed of completion rather than form or effort
I’d rather the members of the class applaud the person who puts in the most effort and showed the most pain they endured during a workout because that leads to the most gains. But due to the nature of the sport, there’s often an unconscious emphasis on speed of completion. Fortunately, my gym emphasizes form more than most.
It’s not all bad though. It’s not like they’re giving trophies or applauding the guy who finishes first at a standard workout of average Crossfit members. But they clearly do at the CrossFit Games.
And the structure of many WODS has a focus on speed of completion. The whole WOD is structured so that you have a certain amount of sets and reps.
I see it play out on a subtle level with the people I workout with. Just in the way they walk, act, or move, I feel like they think it’s always better if you finish as fast as possible. But that’s not always true.
That could just mean you didn’t add as much weight as you should. That could mean you didn’t slow down the reps so that your muscles really got a good pump and were pushed to exhaustion.
People have different goals other than bodybuilding, so sometimes, they’re just looking to burn fat with high intensity interval training, so maybe it doesn’t matter for them. The point is that my main goal is bodybuilding and it’s clearly not the main focus of Crossfit. I don’t like that you’re opening yourself up for potentially severe injury by sacrificing form to “complete the workout faster.” I don’t like that there is no difference or emphasis put on the EFFORT of a workout over the speed which you complete it.
Keep in mind that this is on a SUBTLE level. For a typical standard WOD with average folk like me in it, there is no one really shaming you in front of a crowd if you finish slow. If anything, large groups will cheer on the last person to finish to give them motivation to finish.
3) The WODs are programmed for the group rather than for your own unique needs
I love that there are coaches who can point out issues with your form and movements. I’ve been able to identify many issues because of that, especially when classes are small (it’s almost like having a personal trainer at that point). What I don’t like is that often, the workouts of the day are pre-planned for the basic goals of
ALL the members rather than me. And most people there are interested in just general health and fitness. I’m focused on bodybuilding (muscle hypertrophy/size), which involve an entirely different set of techniques and rep ranges.
Having said that, I’m still a beginner. I’ve been working out for years but that doesn’t count much because there was no consistency or process to what I did, so I’m still susceptible to newbie gains. ANY form of consistent lifting will have a good effect on me, so I don’t mind that the workouts aren’t completely aligned with my bodybuilding goals.
Plus, some of the exercises converge and are essentially bodybuilding too. There are a variety of rep ranges and strength exercises that will ultimately build muscle. Bodybuilding and strength aren’t completely separate entities. Strength and muscle mass go hand in hand.
I still try to do supplemental bodybuilding themed workouts once or twice a month in addition to my WODs to accelerate my progress on my own goals. It’s tough to get motivated to do extra but I try my best.
Keep in mind, though, that many gyms will do a pre-survey and find out your goals. Then, they will have different classes, like a Weightlifting CrossFit class or a Barbell Class, to recommend based on your goals. Unfortunately, there is no specific “bodybuilding” themed class.
4) WODs can sometimes get so difficult you want to just walk out of class
I guess it’s a good thing that I feel rude walking out of class because it forces me to finish the whole workout. But sometimes, they are so tough that you feel like you’re going to throw up from the fatigue and lack of air. Yes, I know it’s good for me. And that’s why I go to class 3 to 5 times a week when most people go 1 to 3 times a week. But once in a blue moon, you’ll get a workout from hell that makes you question your sanity.
Quick tip: If you really think you need to rest or stop in the middle of the workout, feel free. Do what you think will be most sustainable in the long run. You don’t want to burn out from ever returning because of one bad experience with a workout. For some people, this is easy because they’re lazy and would rather rest. For others, like me, it’s harder because I care more about not offending others by quitting early (it doesn’t make much sense but that’s how I am).
Surprising benefits of CrossFit: Six Pack Abs
One hidden benefit to CrossFit is getting six pack abs. Outside of the competitive bodybuilding circle, I have never seen more people part of the same group with chiseled six or eight pack abs. In fact, it’s better than any other workout if your main goal is to get abs, maybe even bodybuilding — especially for females.
Now, that’s a bold claim. How do I back it up? Well, I challenge you to walk into any decent-sized CrossFit box and you’re bound to see someone with his or her stomach exposed and some nice abs with it. Don’t be surprised if it’s a female.
Or I challenge you to fire up Instagram and surf the CrossFit hashtags. You’ll find plenty of athletes and amateur gym members with incredible abs.
Or check out this photo I found from an Instagram profile. This man doesn’t seem to compete in the CrossFit Games. In fact, he’s just another member of a CrossFit box that is located near mine. He’s not a celebrity. He has 1,500 followers. Yet him and his classmates all have chiseled abs. That’s incredible.
CrossFit exercises don’t always work the abs directly. Sure, we do have abs-focused exercises, like sit-up’s, crunches, and leg raises, but most of the work comes from full-body exercises that happen to use the core. Also, the high intensity interval training (HIIT) burns a lot of body fat around the belly so you can see the abs. The caption of this Instagram photo of the famous CrossFitter Kayli Ann Philips supports my point:
I am constantly asked in comments and through direct messages about AB work.. I honestly don’t target them directly most of the time. I lift a lot of heavy shit, moderate shit and light shit with different rep schemes and time domains. I’ll try to post more of my strength and skill work in addition to my conditioning for reference(out of the kindness of my 💗😂) hope this helps. Work hard, be kind and have a great fucking week. LUNGES 3x20reps at 135lb from my strength sesh in addition to all the front squats today. After this worked on some gymnasty skills.. 10 Rounds NFT(Not For Time): 4 Negative HSPU 3 Butterfly C2B pull-ups. #CrossFit #Fitness #TallChickProbz
You truly need to have a strong core if you want to effectively do many of the fundamental exercises in CrossFit at heavy weights because the core is involved in most movements.
Full disclosure: 95%+ of the people at my gym don’t have six pack abs. Like I mentioned, they come in all shapes and sizes. Some are super skinny and old. Others are overweight and short. They all come from different backgrounds, with different levels of work ethic and consistency.
But if you start looking at the people who have gone to CrossFit consistently for several years, it’s clear that their abs are coming in and they’re getting fit.
I’m not as obsessed with abs as most people. It’s a false myth that they’re some magic potion to attraction. They definitely help but there are plenty of other factors that are more important to women and should be focused on first. Plus, I’ve never had to take my shirt off in many years so there’s rarely a chance to show my abs unless I voluntarily show them off, which is a bit too showboaty.
But one thing is for sure. I’ve yet to see a community of interest other than CrossFit have a higher concentration of women with six pack abs. The CrossFit women on Instagram make that clear.
Is CrossFit for you? Maybe. Maybe not.
It works for me, but only because it satisfies the specific goals I have (making friends, bodybuilding, longevity, and fitness), what motivates me best (group interaction and accountability), and the stage I am in fitness.
Is CrossFit the best fit for you? Maybe not depending on where you stand for these factors. Many of the workouts can be done at home without any weights or much equipment. But the main draw of CrossFit, which you’ll hear from many people, is the community and person-to-person training and motivation, which you can’t get on your own.
Will you get the same results as me? It depends on more factors than just paying for membership. I worked harder in classes than most people, I showed up consistently, I saw larger gains because I was a newbie, and my diet was alright but not great. If you can do the same or better with your work ethic, consistency, nutrition, and you’re in a similar physique stage, then, perhaps.
Hopefully, I’ve help shatter many myths the Internet holds about CrossFit, such as everyone in class being an intense, ripped white American (though there are grains of truth in every stereotype).
Did I forget to mention something about CrossFit? Is there a question you have I didn’t answer? Let me know in the comments below and I will respond back.
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