Whether you’ve stumbled across The Games while channel surfing, read about it in, basically, any fitness mag or have that friend who may as well have #crossfit tattooed across her forehead, you’ve definitely heard of the fitness phenomenon that has the propensity to spawn Spartan-like beings. Perhaps a slight exaggeration, but it’s hard not to be intrigued when you see the effects regular CrossFit training has on the bodies of the men and women who excel at it. Even if you’ve heard of CrossFit, you may still find yourself slightly oblivious to what it’s really all about, or maybe you have a pretty good idea but haven’t the slightest clue how to get started.
Here’s your chance to learn almost everything there is to know about CrossFit for beginners.
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit is a fitness concept developed and founded by Greg Glassman. While CrossFit originally started with a relatively small following, it has now exploded to over 13,000 affiliates around the globe. CrossFit workouts for women include aspects of weightlifting, powerlifting, gymnastics, cardio and just about every functional movement you can think of.
This type of training has the potential to make you the fittest version of yourself; to get you stronger, faster, more powerful, improve your cardio and, most likely, help you shed a few pounds along the way.
CrossFit’s “specialty is not specializing” — meaning you’ll never know what to expect from one workout to the next and your body is always challenged. One aspect CrossFit prides itself on is the ability to scale the workouts to any fitness level, so whether you haven’t worked out since fifth grade or you grind it out daily – every workout can be adjusted to your specific abilities.
The Benefits of CrossFit Workouts and Fitness
The benefits of CrossFit — where to begin? Because CrossFit involves lifting weights at a high intensity, the possibility that your body will change for the better is virtually guaranteed. You will not only tax your muscular system, but your cardiovascular system as well, which means your aerobic fitness will improve right along with your strength, power and endurance.
Another, perhaps even more important, benefit of CrossFit is that your confidence is bound to explode — you can’t help but feel like a badass when you finally nail a snatch or beat your deadlift PR.
Weight Loss and Fat Burning Potential
The fat burning potential of CrossFit is pretty high, especially when coupled with the highly acclaimed Paleo diet.
First, if you’ve ever cranked out a WOD or watched someone else, it’s obvious there is some serious calorie burning going on — not to mention burning lungs and muscles.
Second, researchers have found that high-intensity interval exercise training such as that performed in CrossFit has resulted in an increased potential for glucose and fatty acid oxidation. In a nutshell, this means you burn more fat doing this type of exercise than, say, jogging the same pace for 30 minutes.
Third, CrossFit can help you burn fat by upping your metabolic rate via the added muscle you’ll build (which we’ll talk about next) during your training. I’m sure you’ve heard that the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism is — that is true. What is also true is that it takes a fair amount of energy to build that muscle. I’m not talking about the actual act of working out, but the recovery process your body undergoes to literally repair and build muscle. It can contribute quite a lot to overall energy expenditure.
The potential for weight loss with CrossFit is reasonably high, but keep in mind that the scale may not move as much as you’d like or expect. Despite the fact that you’re working your ass off on a regular basis, you’re also building muscle and the scale will respond appropriately. You will very likely find, however, that your clothes will start to fit a lot better than they used to and you’ll have curves and definition you never used to have — just remember the majority of CrossFit women are looking pretty good.
Toning and Muscle Building Potential
It’s impossible not to think of CrossFit and muscle simultaneously — mainly due to the fact that all of the sport’s big names are ripped beyond belief. So, will you gain muscle by doing CrossFit? Absolutely. Will you end up looking like a manly bodybuilder? No.
Yes, some CrossFit women have some pretty good sized muscles but they also train multiple times a day. Performing four to six CrossFit for beginners workouts per week will not result in an Amazonian physique. It will, however, help add mass to those places we all like it (squat booty, anyone?) while toning and tightening everything else — yahtzee!!
Classes: What to Expect; Should I Take Them?
The only legit place to take a CrossFit for beginners class is at a box. While it’s perfectly acceptable and common to CrossFit at home in your own awesome garage, there are a few perks to becoming part of a box.
- For starters, many boxes offer mandatory introductory courses to teach you the basics of CrossFit as well as the fundamentals of lifting. These courses give you the opportunity to perform beginner CrossFit workouts with guided instruction. This in itself is a fantastic incentive, even if you only hang around for a few months to learn the basics then take it on home for some solo training.
- A box also gives you the perks of the CrossFit women community – other people to talk CrossFit with (because your other friends just don’t get it), support and encouragement during your WOD’s and just a place to be yourself. It will give you a chance to find other CrossFit women to lift heavy things with and maybe even a little friendly competition.
What if you already pay a membership at a regular gym? While it is possible to CrossFit almost anywhere, commercial gyms aren’t really set up for the demands of WODs. Boxes have plenty of room to lift and drop weights – regular gyms, not so much. Not to mention, you may get some dirty looks for any possible grunting that may or may not happen.
It’s important to note that box dues are generally higher than those of a traditional gym, however you’ll get more hands-on coaching and several classes are held every day so you can make it a point to get in and get your money’s worth.
If you do opt for classes, shop around. Don’t just pick the first box that comes up on your Google search. Each box has its own unique training and coaching style. While you may have continuous friction with the trainers at one box, you’ll likely find your fit at another. Do your homework and you’ll be fine.
Once CrossFit for beginners join a box:
- Expect to be challenged in ways you’ve never been challenged.
- Expect to push yourself beyond what you’re accustomed to.
- Expect to be sore – your muscles will hate you for the first week or so but they’ll get over it.
- Expect to become a fitter, faster, stronger version of yourself.
- Expect to have fun, make friends and get in hella good shape.
Instructional CrossFit Videos and Training Tips
If you opt out of joining a box or just want to educate yourself before your first class, here are a few great tools to help you navigate your first encounter beginner CrossFit workouts.
CrossFit HQ YouTube Channel — Excellent CrossFit for beginners resource!
We now need to address the fact that CrossFitters basically have their own language. CrossFit is the only entity I’ve encountered that gives the military a run for its money in terms of acronyms. It is imperative all CrossFit women learn the lingo.
Affiliate – gym officially affiliated with the CrossFit brand – CrossFit certified trainers must be on staff and dues must be paid.
WOD – This stands for “workout of the day” and is updated every day on CrossFit’s home page. Many affiliates go along with the main WOD while others do their own programming.
Hero WOD – A WOD named after a fallen military serviceman, police officer or firefighter – these ones can be particularly challenging.
Box – This is where the magic happens. The Box, what we mere mortals would commonly refer to as a gym, is a large open space with only the bare necessities needed to complete the WODs.
RX’d, as RX’d – Do a WOD as prescribed or written; no adjustments.
AMRAP – You’ll see this term used in many WODs and simply stands for “as many reps/rounds as possible.” When you see this in a WOD, know that it will be tough – basically you’ll be given a set amount of time, say 20 minutes, then you’ll have to do a set number of specific exercises as many times as possible in the allotted time.
ATG – “Ass to Grass” is how CrossFitters describe a full-depth squat – getting those glutes as close to the ground as possible.
For Time – When you see “for time” written in a WOD, it means life is going to suck – you’ll be given a workout and then you must complete said workout in as little time as possible. Rather than compare your time to others (because seasoned CrossFitters put the rest of us to shame), keep track of your workout info and compare it to a similar workout later on into your CrossFitting career — compete against yourself, no one else.
Score – The number of reps completed during a workout.
CrossFit Total – A workout consisting of your maximum squat, press and deadlift. You get three attempts at each lift.
Metcon – This is short for “metabolic conditioning”, which you’ll likely develop a love/hate relationship with as you plunge into CrossFit. Metabolic conditioning is simply conditioning the metabolic systems (there are three) of the body. This can include sprint-type rowing workouts, longer duration cardio, lifting with lighter weight for high reps or a combination of movements. It’s super fun.
The Girls – Iconic Benchmark CrossFit workouts including Angie, Barbara, Chelsea, Diane, Elizabeth, Fran, Grace, Helen, Isabel, Jackie, Karen, Linda, Mary and Nancy. And you thought girls’ night out was supposed to be fun.
Tabata – For 20 seconds do as many reps of a designated exercise as possible, then rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this cycle eight times for a total of four minutes.
No guide for CrossFit for beginners would not be complete without touching on these exercises. Although no one can really lay claim to the development of a specific exercise, CrossFit has some signature moves that you’ll see on a regular basis in the WODs. These exercises are performed by other individuals and entities but, in a sense, CrossFit has kind of made them a household name. CrossFit uses countless additional exercises but this list should give you a good idea of what to expect in your CrossFit workouts for women. The best thing about them is that they’re all designed to kick your butt.
Burpees – The go-to exercise for CrossFitters. Despite the fact that they rely solely on your own bodyweight for resistance, they’re sure to leave you sucking air. To perform a burpee, begin in a standing position. Bend down, place your hands on the floor jump your feet back to plank position, perform a push-up, bring your feet back up between your hands, and, as you return to standing, jump a few inches off the floor and clap your hands above your head. That’s one rep – good time, right?!
Kipping Pull-ups – If you’ve watched any CrossFit videos online or tuned into The Games, you’ve seen this exercise in action. The athletes, somehow, manage to effortlessly arc their bodies down, around and up to complete a pull-up. The athlete’s bodies never quit moving until they’re done or have to reset. To master this exercise, your best bet is to visit a box and get hands-on instruction.
Air Squats – Although a simple movement, the air squat is a staple, especially in beginner CrossFit workouts – generally performed in a very high rep range. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, squat down until your hips are below your knees, push through your heels to return to the starting position and immediately prepare for the next rep.
Front Squat – Hold a barbell across the front of your shoulders and perform a squat.
Overhead Squat – With a wide grip and arms extended, hold a barbell overhead and perform a squat.
Pistol Squats – Think air squats but with only one leg. Stand on one leg (it’s always a good idea to stand next to something for balance, just in case) and extend the other leg out to the front. Maintain this position as you squat down on your supporting leg until your hips are lower than your knee. Press through your heel to return to standing.
Thrusters – So, if you’re into strength and endurance this exercise is your jam. The thruster combines a front squat and an overhead press into one fluid movement – exhausting, yet satisfying.
Box Jumps – Stand facing a box of predetermined height and simply jump up and down, and up again immediately upon landing. Continue until you’ve reached your goal reps or until your shins can take no more.
Double Unders – Speaking of abuse, you’ll love double unders. So, you know how you used to skip rope in grade school? Well, this is like that but on steroids. To complete a double under the rope must pass underneath your feet twice for each jump.
Muscle Ups – The muscle up, which combines a pull-up with a dip, is as elusive to some CrossFitters as Sasquatch is to Bigfoot hunters. Some people are natural s at this gymnastic move while others try for months or years to master it. Muscle ups require a ton of strength, coordination and sheer determination.
Ring Dips – A few technical notches below the muscle up are ring dips. They are performed in a similar fashion to traditional dips but the instability of the rings provides a greater challenge.
GHD-Sit-ups –This exercise is basically a full extension sit-up that has a tendency to destroy your abdominal muscles. Start with small numbers of these or you may end up hunched over for a few days. Position yourself face-up on a glute-ham developer, lower down until your torso is horizontal or, for a greater challenge, your hands touch the floor then explosively flex the torso and extend the legs to sit up.
Wall Balls – Guys usually go with a 20-pound medicine ball while the ladies can opt for a lighter (generally a 14-pounder) ball. Stand facing a wall holding the ball at chest level. Lower into a squat, explode upward, throwing the ball toward a 10-foot marked target overhead. Repeat the movement as needed.
Rope Climb – Find the nearest rope and climb it. Different techniques can be used to make your ascent as painless as possible – if that’s possible.
Knees to Elbows/Toes to Bar – One of the few actual core exercises performed by CrossFitters.
Handstand Push-up – Simply do a push-up while maintaining a handstand, no big deal.
Kettlebell Swing – CrossFitters tend to use the American version of the swing where the bell swings up overhead rather than just to eye level.
Press, Push Press and Push Jerk – Common upper body exercise variations performed in CrossFit where the weight is pressed overhead.
Deadlifts – Lift a loaded barbell off the floor and watch yourself transform into a beast.
Sumo Deadlift High Pull – A sumo deadlift (deadlift with a wide stance and toes pointed slightly outward) followed immediately by an upright row.
Clothes and Proper Attire
Before you get busy cranking out those CrossFit workouts for women, let’s take a second to address proper attire. As far as personal equipment, tall socks are always a good idea to save as much of your shins as possible from deadlifts, double unders and box jumps. Weightlifting shoes or something similar with soles that won’t compress under added weight are better options than running or cross-training shoes. Once you start pulling heavy weights, a weight belt is a good idea but you should be able to borrow one from your box. Basically, all you really need is a good attitude and show up ready to throw down.
Results and Success Stories
So, we now know that CrossFit is a pretty big undertaking and, if you do decide to take it on, you will undoubtedly become a certified badass. However, will it help give you the body and confidence you crave? Let’s see what these lovely ladies have to say about their transition into CrossFit women.
“Sometimes in life we get so caught up in the everyday and those everydays somehow turn into years and oh yeah, did I mention it also turns into about 39 pounds that ended up on my back end and thighs….. Yes, that was me, 25 years young, dang near 40lbs overweight, trying every quick-fix weight-loss voodoo scheme possible. P90x, running, and Buns of Steel videos crowded my entertainment system stand while I secretly was going through McDonald’s drive through with sunglasses and a hoodie ordering Big Macs and those devil delicious fries! By day I was starving myself and by night I was an angry hungry bear (and the time in between I was crying to everyone saying “why can’t I lose weight, I am trying so hard?!)
Looking back at the old me, I can’t help but feel sorry for myself and want to give that girl who was so desperate to look like a “Victoria’s Secret” model a big hug and let her know that is not the way to health or happiness.
It wasn’t until I found Copper City CrossFit and functional fitness that my life made a dramatic change. Physically and more importantly, mentally. I have always been active, playing sports, running track, but NOTHING compared to that memory for my 1st day of CrossFit. I was so nervous but telling myself “I got this”. I was so ready to start……and let’s just say “knee” push-ups were a struggle…..Yes….so embarrassed. I was almost in tears. Always so competitive and ready to show all these people up, and I was struggling to perform a “modified” movement. What??!!! I had become “THAT GIRL”. The girl everyone made fun of, and laughed at. I was starting to panic and waiting for the first dagger of laughter and finger pointing to pierce my ego. Wait for it…… and to my surprise not a soul was laughing at me or whispering about how I couldn’t even do a push-up. How could this be? Then I looked over and saw a 70-year-old man doing some bad ass thing called kipping pull-ups, and on my other side, there was an overweight mom of 3 working her tail off to hit the wall ball target. It was then and there that CrossFit had made its first change in my life, starting with checking my ego at the door.
Over the past three years CrossFit has made me realize no one there cared if I could or could not do a push-up, so why was I so concerned about seeking outer approval? As women we are always trying to please others, and being vulnerable about physical fitness is so hard. My CrossFit journey has been a work in progress. I went through the crazy hard-core “drink the CF Koolaid” stage and then fell of the wagon a few times….but most importantly, through CrossFit I have grown and gotten to be strong in many ways, mentally and physically. With every goal set and accomplished I hold my head high and look forward to being able to say, I climbed a rope, and also can do 5 kipping pul-lups in a row! My classmates are just as excited for me too, which makes it so much better. (FYI it took me 2 years to be able to do a rope climb and 3 years to nail the technique of a kipping pull-up)
CrossFit is a work in progress for me, and that helps me to realize that not everything is instant. And not everything should be. I realize that if I show up, I am one step closer to where I want to be. I went from a roller coaster of emotions, yo-yo dieting and hating my body to a confident mom who lifts heavy, sweats every day, and eats a lot….a lot of great food. I now take pride in my body and my food choices.
The best part of joining CrossFit for beginners, is I get to share it with my son (Gus) and my soon to be other children (currently pregnant with twins). Showing them what health looks like and means so much to me. I am a role model to them and whether it be me going to McDonald’s every day or me going to CrossFit every day, that information sinks in to their little sponge mind. Gus started going to Crossfit for beginners at age 2 months, and still comes at age 2. Instead of just sitting in the car seat he now tries to do somersaults and wants to lift kettlebells like Mommy.
With every stage of my life I am discovering new and amazing things about health and fitness. CrossFit has opened the door for me to explore my health and share it with my family. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I lived without it. Thank goodness for that first step, but more importantly for the second, third and even those baby steps. :)”
“When I started CrossFit I weighed 235 pounds and was trying to lose weight by running 2-3 times a week. I had struggled with weight since being about 12 years old. I had gotten to a pretty dark place of feeling like I would never be able to be comfortable in my own skin. Thanks to a friend I decided to try a “share the love” WOD (where members can bring friends for free) at CrossFit Vantage. I had a drive inside me that wanted to lose weight more than anything after that workout.
From there, I started with the Foundations program at Vantage with coach Amanda. Since starting at CrossFit Vantage and adjusting my eating habits to 90% paleo I’ve been able to lose 41 lbs and many many inches off my waist and hips. But more importantly I’ve learned my body is more capable of being strong than I ever dreamt. I’ve gained a confidence in myself and body that I’ve never experienced before!! I love my body right now as it is and love this journey of a fitter life. I would recommend CrossFit to anyone looking to live a healthier and more fit life!”
“After reaching my highest weight of 265-270lbs, I had finally hit my breaking point. I had to wear knee braces on both legs just to walk, I was in constant pain throughout the day, and my 5’0” frame could barely hold itself together under such massive weight. I had spent many years in a state of depression, with fear of going out in public because someone I know would see me. I had zero athletic background, and had yo-yo dieted with every “fad” out there more times than I could count. Time with my young daughter was moving quickly before my eyes, and I was not physically capable of being involved. It was time to change.
As scared as I was, I decided that the fear of staying the same was worse than the fear of change. In December 2010, I walked through the doors of my home box, CrossFit X, and my life forever changed. I was met with kindness and encouragement, and slowly began my journey to a new lifestyle. I committed to train as much as I could, waking up at 5:30am about 4 days each week. I joined in the weekend classes, and soon dived into Olympic Lifting classes as well.
What began as a way to start gaining the ability to move without pain quickly turned into something I loved to do each day. Training became fun, and new achievements humbled me beyond anything I could ever imagine. The day I achieved my first unassisted pull-up will forever be grained into my brain, along with many other achievements I never thought would be possible.
I’ve now lost over 140lbs, and continue to lose pounds and gain strength each month. I’m able to be active with my daughter now as well, which is a priceless result of this change. CrossFit has not only helped me realize that ANYONE can make a change if they put their mind to it, but that EVERYONE needs to be given this opportunity. I am blessed to now be a CrossFit women Level 1 Trainer and run our beginner camps. I have a true passion for beginners, because I know exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.”
“I started CrossFit in July 2014. I was way overweight (almost 220 pounds and I’m 5’4), depressed, and had no motivation whatsoever. One of my friends told me about it and I decided to give it a go. In my box they used to let you try it out for one week for free just to see if it was for you, so I went there.
I still remember walking there feeling extremely self conscious about my body and my lack of physical condition. It was hard and really challenging. I spent a lot of months just adapting to every single movement, even sit ups, but I showed up for practice every day at 6pm and never gave up. I survived the first week, then signed up for a month. Now I have an annual membership and I can say that I can´t live without it.
I was never a “go to the gym, likes sports” kind of person, so I was impressed with myself for sticking up for so long, especially at the beginning when I couldn’t even run 100 yards without stopping.
Last year one of my coaches told my friend that they didn’t expect me to continue, but I kept surprising them by being motivated and trying my best.
I changed a lot of my habits because of CrossFit. I started eating better and especially making better choices, like going for vegetables and good proteins instead of sweets and white flour. I was crazy about soda and used to drink it every single day, and honestly didn’t think I was ever going to stop. Now I drink mostly water and don’t miss the sugared drinks whatsoever. I pack fruits and nuts as snacks for when I go out, and reduced the amount of salt in my food. I also got a taste for running and even ran a few marathons!
I lost about 74 pounds and got way leaner and stronger. I learned how to love my body and I am proud about the scars in my legs from jumping boxes, all the callouses in my hands from the bar, and the muscles that keep appearing. So I can say that CrossFit changed pretty much everything in my life, from my appearance to my eating habits, health, and new friendships. I am a much happier person now, and have more energy in my day to day life, so I can better focus on things, especially at work.
What I like the most about CrossFit is the spirit. The last one to finish is cheered up just like the first one and we always motivate each other, and one WOD is not like the other, so you don´t get bored. It can also give you fast results, especially if you maintain a good diet plan.
I go to a Box called CrossFit Marília. When I started I used to train week days from 6pm to 7pm and on Saturdays at 11am. Now my schedule is a little more complicated, so I changed to the 7am to 8am practice on weekdays, and unfortunately have to miss it on Saturdays. Sometimes I go for a 5k run on Sundays as well. It is always a warm up, then a “skill” and finally the WOD. We do pretty much everything in there, from running, rowing, jumping boxes and rope, to weightlifting and gymnastic exercises. I still have to adapt a lot of the movements, even after more than 2 years, but I still try it to improve as much as I can.”
“CrossFit women has positively changed my life in every way imaginable. Not only has it made me stronger physically, but also mentally. There is something so empowering about being able to load up a barbell and lift it over your head or conquer a new gymnastics movement on the rings that you ever thought possible. It has made me so much more confident and allowed me to believe in myself and set goals that truly challenge me.
I also love the competitive side of CrossFit. Each workout is an opportunity to improve and keeping track of your scores on benchmark workouts and your one-rep maxes on weightlifting components is super important! Doing so will allow you to look at your progress over a period of time and see just how much you have grown!
The environment is also unlike any other and everyone truly builds each other up. It is no lie when you hear that the loudest cheers are for the person who finishes last. CrossFit builds strong people, strong relationships and in turn strong communities.
Thanks to my CrossFit Infernal family, I was introduced to a nutrition coach who has helped me to really focus on how to eat to perform and have a healthy relationship with food by working off of a Macros based plan. You will find that in the CrossFit community, there is a strong emphasis on how your nutrition impacts your performance, so it really helps you to better yourself on every spectrum of health.
I am now more than 20lbs down from when I started and have more strength and confidence than I could have imagined. CrossFit has changed my life for the better and I encourage everyone to give it a shot!”
There you have it, pretty much everything you need to know about CrossFit for beginners to start getting in the best shape of your life. What are you waiting for? Find a box and start today! If you want to optimize your CrossFit workouts for women, start yourself on a ketogenic diet for accelerated results.