Advice for Functional Fitness Beginners
Is starting functional fitness on your list of goals? No? Well, it should be! Just kidding, I just say that because I love it so much. If you’re new to fitness, or maybe even new to working out, there’s no need to worry because these kind of workouts can work for you regardless of your fitness level when you start.
What is CrossFit?
This is taken from the official crossfit.com website:
“CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. All CrossFit workouts are based on functional movements, and these movements reflect the best aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing and more. These are the core movements of life. They move the largest loads the longest distances, so they are ideal for maximizing the amount of work done in the shortest time. Intensity is essential for results and is measurable as work divided by time—or power. The more work you do in less time, or the higher the power output, the more intense the effort. By employing a constantly varied approach to training, functional movements and intensity lead to dramatic gains in fitness.
The CrossFit program is driven by data. Using whiteboards as scoreboards, keeping accurate scores and records, running a clock, and precisely defining the rules and standards for performance, we not only motivate unprecedented output but derive both relative and absolute metrics at every workout. This data has important value well beyond motivation.
Overall, the aim of CrossFit is to forge a broad, general and inclusive fitness supported by measurable, observable and repeatable results. The program prepares trainees for any physical contingency—not only for the unknown but for the unknowable, too. Our specialty is not specializing.”
Why I Love the Sport of Fitness
I love the intensity, the variety, the sense of community and the results I get from functional training. Over the last few years it’s become my main form of fitness and I’ve seen more improvements in my strength and conditioning than ever before.
I love the competitive aspect of the sport. Being competitive pushes me harder than I ever would on my own.
I love achieving things I previously couldn’t do. Once you start hitting PR’s, whether it’s in the clean and jerk, or getting your first pull-up or jumping on a 20 inch box, you’ll know what I mean. There is always a new goal to chase after.
I love the community. I’ve made lifelong friends at the gym who share similar goals and outlooks as me and having gym buddies makes showing up everyday that much easier.
In class, the last person get’s the loudest cheers, everybody gets a high five, we all support each other, root for each other, suffer together, compete against each other and just have a lot of fun. Having a community to share fitness with changes the game. Friends, accountability, community, support, coaches, programming, all these things will keep you coming back.
I don’t think functional training is the end all to be all when it comes to fitness and I know it’s not for everybody. But I do think it can be an incredible and enjoyable fitness journey, or a valuable supplement to an already solid fitness routine. When it comes to fitness, I think you should do whatever you enjoy and whatever you’ll actually do day after day.
I also think it’s a great introduction to lifting weights if you’ve never done it before. I’ve always been into weightlifting but for women who are new to strength training, I think lifting can be wonderful for showing them just how strong they can be and how powerful and amazing their bodies are.
It takes the focus off weight loss goals and puts it on improving your skills and abilities. You’ll start to focus on a better back squat or getting your first pull-up rather than fitting into a certain size of jeans.
Read my post on weightlifting for beginners.
Tips for Functional Fitness Beginners
If you’re a fitness beginner, I hope these tips help clear up any hesitation you may have and help you get started on your fitness goals today!
Joining a gym where I could attend functional fitness and weightlifting classes was one of the best fitness decisions I’ve ever made. Although I had been doing this style of workouts for years on my own, there is no comparison to doing it with a ground of positive, like-minded people.
If you’ve been putting off getting started, don’t wait any longer and don’t be scared. YOU CAN DO IT.
What to Expect at your First Class
As a beginner, any quality gym will run your through a series of introductory classes before you join the regular program. These may be called “on ramp” classes, fundamentals, foundations or something along those lines. In these classes you’ll learn what functional fitness is all about, you’ll do some beginner workouts, start learning all the movements and they’ll help you start to feel more confident in the gym.
Once you complete your fundamentals classes, you’re ready to join the regular classes. Every gym is different but every one I’ve been to begins at the whiteboard with a review of the programming for the day.
The coach will quickly go over what’s to come and give you a run down of the WOD, or “workout of the day”. After that, again depending on the gym, you’ll either warm up as a group or work through a suggested warm-up at your own pace.
After the warm-up, it’s time to get to work. You’ll notice members will probably go ahead start grabbing weights and setting up equipment, depending on what the workout is. Before the work begins, the coach should demo the movements and go over some cues for whatever you’re working on that day.
Typically, class programming will include a strength portion in which you’ll work on something like Olympic weightlifting, deadlifting, squatting or bodyweight strength or you may work on a skill like handstand push-ups. After the strength or skill portion of the class is complete, most days will involve a WOD. WODS can be anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes or more and can movements such as:
- assault bike
- double unders (skipping)
- weightlifting such as snatches or clean and jerk
- any form of squatting such as front squats, back squats or air squats
- kettlebell swings
- dumbbell thrusters, snatches or cleans
- gymnastics movements such as kipping pull-ups, chest-to-bar pull-ups, muscle ups, handstand push-ups, handstand walking
The WOD will be different everyday, which is part of what makes functional fitness so fun! And no need to worry because every single movement is scalable down to whatever level is needed.
Workout Gear for Beginners
Good news, you don’t need any special clothing or gear to get started..
Regular workout clothes and some athletic shoes will do the trick. Essentially anything you’re comfortable moving in. I typically wear workout shorts or tights and a tighter-fitting tank top or t-shirt. Most days, I don’t use any extra gear except maybe my lifting shoes.
I like my workout clothes to be tight enough that they stay in place while I’m training but not so tight that I don’t feel comfortable. When you arrive to your first class you might see women wearing minimal clothing, guys with their shirts off and a myriad of knee socks, wrist wraps and weight belts. Don’t worry about that. Wear whatever you feel like. Anything works.
Suggested Gear for Your Journey
As for gear, there really isn’t anything you need. There is absolutely no special clothing you need to get an awesome workout and start seeing improvements. Your box will have the equipment needed to complete the workouts and from there, it’s all just extras and accessories you can discover as you progress in your journey.
You’re an Athlete Now
When I first started, even though I loved it right off the bat, I didn’t feel comfortable enough to call myself a “CrossFitter.” I thought I wasn’t a CrossFitter because I couldn’t do kipping pull-ups or handstand push-ups. But wait, why not? I was there day after day, doing the WODs just like everyone else.
If you’re there and you’re loving it, don’t be afraid to show it, talk the talk and be proud of your accomplishments, no matter how large or small! You’re a “CrossFitter” as soon as you start.
Ask the Coach or Other Members
Don’t know what an AMRAP is? A 1 RM? How about an EMOM or T2B? Don’t worry about it! CrossFit has weird terminology. Whether it’s about the use of acronyms, the upcoming workout or foot placement during a squat, ask your coach or a more experience athlete for clarification, they’ll be happy to answer your questions.
AMRAP. As many reps as possible. This is a style of workout in which you perform as many reps as possible in a set amount of time. If you want to try an AMRAP workout, check out these AMRAP Workouts.
EMOM. Every minute on the minute. EMOM’s are one my favourite types of workouts. They’re easily scalable for beginners and are a great way to get a lot of work done in a short amount of time. I have many EMOM workouts on the blog you can try. Check out these EMOM Workouts for Conditioning.
For Time. Sometimes written as RFT (rounds for time), or just for time, this style of workout simply means you’ll perform the prescribed workout as fast as possible. Try this Conditioning Workout to get an idea of what these workouts are like.
- TTB or T2B. Toes to bar.
- HSPU. Handstand push-up.
- MU. Muscle up.
- BMU. Bar muscle up.
- C2B. Chest to bar pull-up.
- WB. Wall ball.
Learn Technique First
Don’t rush adding weights to your lifts before you’ve really got your form down pat. It’s better to form good habits and get your technique down at a lower weight before you start piling plates on the bar.
If you start increasing weights before your form has had a chance to improve you could start developing habits that will be harder to change later on. And as tempting as adding a few more plates to the bar can be, I don’t typically go beyond what I can perform with decent form, but that’s just a personal preference. As always, listen to your body and do what you feel comfortable with.
Patience and Consistency are Key
Just keep going. If you’re enjoying it, give yourself at least 3 months before you decide if it’s for you or not. Be patient. Results take time but if you’re consistent, they absolutely will come.
The exciting thing as a beginner though is that results come fairly quickly. You can really see a difference in your strength and overall fitness in just a month or two.
That being said, depending on your athletic ability when you start it can take years to achieve quality RX movements and weights across the board and that’s totally fine. There’s no rush, you just gotta keep working and enjoy the process. There’s no need to stress or compare yourself to others. Yes, there is a competitive aspect to the sport but the biggest competition is always against yourself. Aim to be better than you were yesterday and just keep repeating that.
If you commit to one year of consistent training, it’s amazing what you can achieve. I think 2-4 classes a week is a realistic for beginners, depending on your level of fitness when you start. It may take a while for your body to get used to training at that intensity, so at the beginning you might need more recovery time between training days. Over the first few months, start workout your way up to training 5 days a week.
Practice Your Double Unders
What is a double under you may ask? A double under is skipping while swinging the rope under your feet twice with each skip.
In my very first official class, the WOD was made up of a ton of double unders, of which I couldn’t do a single one. Oh, the frustration, the whip marks. Ughhhh. I tried with all my might to get that skipping rope under my feet twice with each skip but it just wasn’t happening. All the while I was tensing up what seemed to be every single muscle in my body, trying way too hard and completely exhausting myself.
I couldn’t progress in the workout because I couldn’t get past the double unders. So I started practicing. I practiced until I could do 10, then 20, then 50 and now, I can do over 100 unbroken. For the first little while, they killed me. I’d have to rest after 10 or 20 because I found them to be so physically exhausting. I kept practicing.
Now I can fly though them and move on without rest. My body adapted, my technique improved and now I actually get excited when I seem them in a WOD! Practice them, you’ll improve and it will make for a much better experience when double unders pop up in a WOD.
I’d recommend purchasing your own speed rope that’s properly sized for your height, that way you can practice anytime and not have to scramble to find a suitable loaner rope pre-WOD. You don’t have to shell out for a fancy one either. You can get a decent double under rope for around $15, while if you want to doll out a little more, you can spend as much as $50.
There’s No Shame in Scaling
The “RX” used in WODs is simply the “prescribed,” or recommend weights or standards for any particular workout. If you’re just starting out, simply use it as a point of reference for choosing your weights. Do what is best for you, on any given day. You’ll get the most out of the WODs if you can move through them quickly and efficiently with proper form.
Even the more experienced athletes will sometimes scale workouts, in fact I do it all the time. Things change day to day and there are a lot of factors than can affect your abilities on a daily basis. Know that you don’t always have to lift the heaviest weights to get a great workout.
If you have a good coach, they’ll want you to choose the appropriate weight for you on any given day and should help you determine where you should work if you’re unsure. As for exercise standards, those are always scalable too. Pull-ups, push-ups, box jumps – they all have modifications for beginners. Choose what you know will be challenge but is also realistic and safe. It’s never worth an injury just to put an “RX” on the board.
Get help with Olympic lifting
The Olympic lifts are the snatch and the clean and jerk, which are two different methods of moving a barbell from the ground to overhead. If you’ve never done them before they can be awkward and a honestly, a little scary.
I don’t think the time you spend on them in class is quite enough to get it down if you’re new to it. If you want to progress faster and make your WODs safer and more effective when Olympic lifts are included, I’d recommend working with a coach 1-on-1 or taking an Olympic lifting-specific course or seminar to get some extra help.
I’ve found lifting shoes to really help too, I’d recommend Nike Romaleos or Reebok Lifters. I’d also recommend reading my post on Weightlifting for Beginners.
Sometimes it Sucks
This is particularly true if you’re newer working out all together. You’re probably going to be crazy sore, some workouts still leave me sore for days on end. Sometimes you will curse the day you ever stepped into your box. Sometimes it’s really hard but you start to love that about it and you always feel awesome after you’re done.
I’ve noticed that my mental toughness has improved leaps and bounds since starting this style of fitness. Where I used to give up, I’m more often able to ignore my screaming body and push through when I want to stop. You get stronger, both mentally and physically, you get better at things you used to suck at and you actually start to enjoy it, even on the days you know it’s gonna be brutal.
Build Your Grip Strength
One of the hardest things for me at the beginning was simply just hanging off a bar. This made pull-ups and toes to bar really difficult because my grip was so weak and I could only hold on for a few seconds. It takes a bit of work to build those muscles up if you haven’t done it much before. Depending on your level of fitness, start practicing a dead hang off the bar for about 10 seconds and then build up from there. Try building up to a few sets of 30-60 seconds before or after classes.
Practice often and you’ll be surprised how quickly your grip strength, shoulders and lats will adapt to supporting your bodyweight. It will make a huge difference as you begin to progress into pull-ups and other gymnastic-based movements, as well as gripping the bar during Olympic lifts.
You can also practice farmer carries and other various kettlebell and barbell holds to help build your grip strength however, I’d still recommend hanging often.
Do More Burpees
There’s no getting around the fact that burpees suck, for everyone. But if you do them more often, they’ll suck a little less and eventually you won’t want to cry when you 60 burpees in your next WOD.
Burpees require strength and conditioning and are one of the best exercises out there for improving both those of these elements. Practice. Do more of them, even if you despise them to the core of your being, just keep at it. We’ll suffer together.
No Room for Ego
There just isn’t room for an ego at the gym, if there was, there would be a whole lot more injuries going around. Do your best. Listen to your body and don’t compare yourself to someone that’s been training for years. Instead, let them be your inspiration!
Guys, there are going to be women who are stronger and faster than you. Get over it. In your 20’s? Guaranteed there will be a 40 or 50 year old who can kick your butt. Deal. This is one of the reasons why functional training is so motivating, and humbling. Work hard and push yourself but always leave your ego at the door.
Get Out What you Put In
This pretty much goes for anything in life, doesn’t it though? You want something, you work for it. There isn’t really any way around that, but it is possible. You can achieve anything you want in the gym, if you work hard, be consistent and put in the work. Work on your weaknesses before and after class and just keep at it. You will get there.
If there is one particular area where you want to see improvement, work with a coach or even just look online to develop a plan. There are many online resources for improving your handstands, pull-ups, ring dips, or whatever it may be. A little extra work will go a long way.
If you’re not improving, be honest with yourself. Have you been as consistent as you could be? Are you actually working on those weaknesses? Are you prioritizing recovery? Are you eating and sleeping well? Have you looked for extra programming or talked to your coaches? If you want it, you can get it but you have to be honest and realistic with yourself.
Mobility and Flexibility
Your box will have evil mobility and stretching devices like foam rollers, bands and balls. Use them. Work on your tight spots. It will make a world of difference your training and recovery. See a RMT or physio if you’re unsure of where to start or check out MobilityWOD for some programs and exercises.
New (and some seasoned!) athletes may have limited mobility in the ankles, hips and shoulders. A quick Google of shoulder mobility or hip mobility exercises will point you in the right direction. It doesn’t take much to improve your mobility either, 5-10 minutes a day should do the trick. I’d recommend picking up a foam roller and a few tennis or lacrosse balls for home and using them while watching TV.
Don’t Be Intimidated
I’m not sure how things will be at your box, but coming into mine can be definitely be intimidating at times. Especially if you’re new to that type of gym and style of working out. You won’t know anybody, people will be crashing and banging on the platforms, women and men doing muscle-ups, there may be 6-packs all over the place. Good lord. Haha.
Yes, it can be a little intense sometimes. But there will be other beginners, you’ll get to know people and make friends, the coaches and other members will help you out if you need it. Before you know it you’ll be part of a positive, inspiring community that will help you grow as an athlete. Because yes, you are an athlete. We all are.
Don’t Take It Too Seriously
Realistically, you’re probably not going to be the next Games competitor so don’t beat yourself up if you have a bad day or week, that happens. No worries, always keep persecutive and just move on. It’s supposed to make you happy! Spend as much or as little time with as you want too and refer back to tip #12. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy what you’re doing, otherwise there isn’t really much point, is there?
Are you a Beginner? JUST DO IT!
I put off joining for so long (as in 5 years!!) and I only wish I’d started early. I thought it was too expensive, I was a little scared, I didn’t know if I could do it….excuses, excuses…If you’ve been humming and hawing for longer than you like, just take take the first step and do it already!
Your gym should offer some sort of program for beginners that will prep you to join the regular classes. Start with that and go from there. Chances are you’re absolutely going to love it.