We can all probably remember our first experience trying out a CrossFit workout; It was likely a very humbling experience. I for one could not finish a particularly vicious workout that left me on my back for a good 5 minutes afterwards. Coming from a sporting background meant that I felt comfortable (and more importantly, excited) going into a gym setting, surrounded by barbells, plates and athletic men and women-dressed to the nine’s in CrossFit attire. For myself and many others, the decision to try CrossFit was made with little hesitation—rather out of curiosity to try a new sport that is growing exponentially around the world. But this isn’t the case for everyone. As a good friend of mine pointed out, there is an entirely different group of people who do not have the experience in sport, in training, in exercise and nutrition. For them, a CrossFit gym is a foreign, daunting place. So although they may have heard or seen the results that CrossFit can produce, their desire to try and improve their health is overshadowed by their fear of stepping into what they perceive to be an intimidating environment. As CrossFitters, we need to take it upon ourselves to educate and reassure people that the CrossFit gym is anything but that-in fact, it’s entirely the opposite.
One of the greatest deterrents for people wanting to try CrossFit is the reception it receives in the media—both from CrossFit-friendly sources and others. If you’re like me, then watching YouTube highlights from past Games performances or athletes’ channels serves as an inspirational and educational tool to better your performance. That, and it’s pretty cool to watch the best of the best do their thing. But for someone who is self-conscious about their body and lacking in confidence, this could very well have the opposite effect. Constantly hearing about how CrossFit is an intense and demanding fitness regimen that features exercises like muscle-ups which are done by people who look like Rich Froning is unlikely to encourage them to step into a box. Add the stories from the CrossFit haters out there, and all of sudden CrossFit begins to garnish a reputation of negativity that is founded on inaccuracies or exceptions. Take the much talked about freak injury to Kevin Ogar.
This unfortunate event spawned a mass of online articles that all basically say the same thing—CrossFit is dangerous and you should be weary of trying it. There’s not much mention of the fact that Olympic Weightlifting has one of the lowest injury rates of all sports, or the amazing support from the CrossFit community raised over $100,000 for Kevin’s medical bills. What happened to Kevin was horrible, and it would be false to say that doing exercises like snatches doesn’t involve an element of risk. But so do so many other sports—how many instances of paralysis have there been in football? What about the health problems (and even deaths) that boxing has caused? CrossFit gets a bad rap because it is new and different—and history has told us that people tend to criticize things they do not understand. It is our job, the CrossFit community, to educate those people who want to better themselves through our sport but our fearful of the risks. We must continue to show the good that CrossFit has done for so many people, of all ages, genders, weights, professions and abilities.
We need to explain that CrossFit truly can be for everyone. A person who is severely overweight and comes to try CrossFit for the first time won’t be judged—he or she will be applauded for the courage to step out of their comfort zone and better themselves. We need to show that people are constantly progressing in CrossFit-scaling workouts and weights so that they can physically do the workout, and more importantly, do them safely.
Overcoming the Intimidation
But don’t just take my word for it. Maria Roselle, Head Coach at CrossFit Potomac in Arlington, VA, shares her ideas on how to overcome the intimidation:
Try a free introductory class
If you’re considering joining CrossFit but are nervous to try…join the club! I recommend jumping into a free introductory class which most gyms offer. Who are the people who go to an intro class? People just like you! A good way to be held accountable would be to bring a friend with you. It will be harder to back out last minute and you’ll have a buddy to share the experience with.
If you make it through the intro class, you should be left feeling hungry to learn more. Understanding the movements of CrossFit is the next step and the best way to do that is by joining a group foundations class. Group foundations are full of people with little or no exposure to CrossFit. It is a good way to ease into the intensity of the workouts and learn all of the different lifts and exercises. This is also a great way to be ushered into the community.
Embrace the community
The community is the biggest factor in losing your fear. Everyone understands what it is like to be the “new guy”. Even the best athletes can remember how humbling it was their first time stepping into a box. In all my years of coaching, I still see experienced CrossFitters being helpful and encouraging to everyone in the class.
Give it 30 days
The best advice I have is to give it 30 days. Just show up for one month, no matter what. By showing up consistently you will become more comfortable with the movements. You will also get to know the other members, the coaches, and they will get to know you better as well. The workouts are not going to be easy for you, but they aren’t easy for anyone. All workouts are scalable to any ability level. If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you. Make the decision today to overcome your fears and sign up for the next intro class.
Photo from the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games