As of November 1st, I will have been doing CrossFit for 2 years. What started as a casual twice a week workout, slowly grew up to four and sometimes even 5 workouts a week. It’s been an amazing, life changing experience that I bring up in conversation entirely too often. 2 years seems like as good a time as any to reflect and detail my experience so far.
Earlier in life I used to work out often. I had a good routine of jogging in the morning, and weight training after work a few days a week. This went well, but I didn’t love it. This routine was thrown off when I changed jobs and I spent nearly 3 years doing absolutely nothing that required raising my heart rate.
That might have continued if not for my friend and coworker Casey Jenks who co-founded CrossFit Kings Point. After a few months of hearing about this CrossFit thing, I decided to check it out.
Box: Term for a local CrossFit affiliate
So let’s say you want to try out CrossFit. What should you expect? Well, after joining a local box, there’s a period where you’re learning an entire new vocabulary and trying new movements every week. I started slow, at only 2 days a week. 2 days a week is better than 0, and getting a sustainable routine is an important step.
Your First Day
CrossFit Kings Point and most CrossFit gyms start people off with some type of “On Ramp” program. The way it currently works is you come in for your initial workout and you’re paired with a trainer in a small class, possibly even alone, and taken through all the exercises for the day. A typical workout might look something like this:
EMOM: Every minute on the minute
AMRAP: As many rounds as possible
Strength: Weighted Pull Ups
3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3
Rest 2 Minutes between Sets
10 Minute EMOM of Muscle Ups
(Based on your ability)
Then, 7 Minute AMRAP
7 Box Jumps (24/20)
Going into your first day can be intimidating, but having someone there walk you through it can be amazing for getting started. For something like this, you’ll learn about the structure of the workout — namely that there will be a skill portion where you’re moving slow but working on strength, followed by a WOD where you you’re moving fast for 7 minutes.
You’d learn about using bands for pullups which provide additional help if you’re unable to do body weight pull ups. The trainer would also walk you through the individual movements, showing you what it means to do a burpee, a pull-up and a box jump.
Every gym has a different way of introducing new members to fitness, so check out how the gym near you structures your first days and weeks.
My First Day
CrossFit has many named workouts that you can use as a benchmark for your progress.
My first workout was a “Half Cindy”, which consisted of doing 5 pull-ups, 10 pushups and 15 squats in that series over and over for 10 minutes (an AMRAP). Even with the assistance of a band, I struggled to not throw up after 5 rounds. Even with that awkward feeling, it felt amazing. I scheduled my next workout immediately and didn’t look back.
On a side note, wecently we did “Cindy”, which is the same workout, but over 20 minutes. I managed 17 rounds this time, without using a band. Amazing to be able to look back. Maybe in another year, that number will be 20 — or more?
Bouldering: Rock climbing on a wall no higher than 12ft without a rope.
In 2 years, I’ve had 2 injuries, and only one was CrossFit related. I strained my ankle bouldering and couldn’t run for a month. In that time I continued working out, but instead of running, I’d row. Other ankle related movements, like squats, weren’t a problem. Workouts can always be scaled back based on injuries if you make it clear with the trainer.
I’m not counting torn hands, bruises or scrapped knees as injuries.
My only CrossFit related injury was on such a light, simple movement, it’s hard to believe it ended up with me not being unable to walk straight for 3 weeks. I was doing a stiff legged deadlift with a light 56 lb kettlebell as a warmup, and on the way up I heard my back crack. I knew right away something was wrong and I had to lay down and limit my movement right away. My trainer (Mike), insisted I sit out and stretch rather than participate in the workout. Within half an hour I could barely move without intense pain.
I managed to get it looked at that day, which lead to some pain medicine for it, followed by a massage. Luckily for me it was nothing serious — just a back strain. My back was a persistant spasmed state for a number of weeks, but I was able to return to working out after a week and a half off by adjusting the workouts for my limitations.
When it comes to diet, there’s always two — what you aim for and what actually happens. I go through periods of focus with my diet, which generally lead to larger gains. Between them is my usual, mostly-healthy diet.
There may or may not be shirtless before/after pictures of me for this Paleo Challenge.
For the month of August 2012, I participated in a “Paleo Challenge” competition run by my gym. The goal was to eat no grains, sugars, salt, vinegar, rice, chocolate — or other things considered non-paleo for the month. This generally meant eating meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, olive oil and not much else. I cut out fruit as well to try to lower my sugar intake even lower.
The result of this was that I went down from 8.2% to 6.8% body fat over the course of a month. At 132lbs, that’s almost surely the slimest I’ll ever be in my life. At that rediculously small size, I didn’t have any visible 6-pack. Genetics still plays a factor in something like that.
I don’t follow paleo now, although I do tend to eat more meat and less sugar than the average person. Some things, like salt, are annoyingly difficult to limit, and the occasional beer/wine throughout the week is still an indulgence. The biggest takeaway from the paleo education is understanding how different foods affect my energy level, moods and training goals.
I haven’t talked about weight all that much because it hasn’t been a goal of mine. Going into my first workout I weighed around 155lbs. My first 10 months ended up shedding 20lbs of that going three times a week. In the year since then, I’ve managed to put that amount back on, mostly as muscle.
During this time, I’ve never had a “goal weight”. Instead I’ve aimed for periods of eating a caloric deficit, followed by periods of eating a surplus.
I don’t plan on doing CrossFit at any kind of competitive level, but I do enjoy pushing myself and seeing improvements over time. I’m securely in the “intermediate” tier on the arbitrary CrossFit Strength Standards document for my weight in all movements.
I really want to do something with the Evernote API for tracking personal bests, volume and progress.
For tracking my own progress, I create a new Evernote note for each day, and tag it with each movement, and the name of the workout if there is one. Pulling up previous times and maxes on a given lift are as easy as looking at other notes with that tag. I’ve been keeping a single Max Lifts note containing my current progress as a quick reference.
One other way of tracking progress is participating in The Open, the very base level of competition. The Open consists of 5 workouts that you perform at your local gym. Every athlete around the world performs the exact same workouts, with the same weights, which allows for a global ranking. The top 30ish in each region participate in “Regionals” where they do a few more workouts. The top 3 from each region then move on to “The Games”. This is the big event that’s broadcast on ESPN each summer.
There is a huge thrill in being the same starting pool as those who go onto to The Games, even if it’s a completely different level. It’s similar to the US Open Golf tournament where anyone can participate, but the amazing thing about The Open is how many people join due to its distributed nature — 150,000.
For the last 2 years I participated, even though in both cases still a beginner. During the 2nd year I analyzed my progress and progress to compare against the field at large. The result? I was in somewhere between the 4% and 21% percentile for all of the workouts. I’m already looking forward to seeing how I compare next year!
One of the biggest surprises about starting CrossFit was making so many friends. After 2 years at LA Fitness, the longest conversation I had with anyone was “Are you done here?”. At the gym I go to, there are other regulars at the 8am class I attend, which has lead to meeting smart and driven people that I wake up to each day. That’s not to mention the amazing trainers who help shape your progress and provide inspiration.
Being a developer and tending to find myself at developer events and developer conferences, spending time with people outside my profession has refreshing. The group I’ve come to know includes trainers, chefs, salespeople, flight attendants, former gymnists, students, parents, and too many more to list. Ages range dramatically from teens up to 60s and higher. During many, if not most classes, there are more women than men.
Tim Dikun, a coworker, friend and fellow CrossFitter, mentioned the biggest diversity gap in his CrossFit Year in Review post: income. CrossFit isn’t cheap. While a month at 24h Fitness is $10, a month at a CrossFit gym will run somewhere around $150/month or more.
Try It Out!
If you’re interested in trying out CrossFit, don’t be intimidated. Everyone is a beginner at some point and knows what it feels like. I’ve never talked to anyone at the gym that didn’t greet me with smiles.