1. Take the introductory course offered by your CrossFit affiliate.If you are new to CrossFit, taking the orientation course at your CrossFit box (gym) that teaches you proper exercise technique is a must. These introductory classes are vital to your success as a “CrossFitter,” especially if you have never regularly performed the foundational movements of CrossFit. These movements include, but are not limited to, various types of squats, overhead presses, dead lifts, and Olympic lifts. Even if you are an experienced CrossFitter, it’s a good idea to periodically revisit an introductory course to review the basics of proper movement technique.
Bottom line: Make sure you are ready for all of the CrossFit movements by attending your box’s introductory course.
2. Know how to modify every movement, every time.Practicing excellent form during every repetition of every exercise is one of the most effective injury-prevention strategies. Make sure you know your options for the successful completion of every single repetition. In CrossFit, the workout of the day (or WOD) is posted along with recommendations (or Rx) for load and/or movement skill. For example, the load recommendations for the wall ball movement, which involves quickly moving from a deep squat to standing while tossing a large medicine ball several feet overhead, typically include a 20-lb ball for men and a 14-lb ball for women. However, some individuals cannot safely perform wall balls with that amount of weight. In fact, some people cannot safely perform wall balls at all, and they must modify the exercise to one that is suitable to their capabilities. Whether it’s selecting a lighter weight than the Rx recommendation, or altering the movement (e.g., modifying to a half-squat rather than a deep squat in the wall ball example), knowing how to scale the different variables of an exercise to meet your specific goals or limitations will help you safely and effectively complete a WOD. Knowing the right modifications for your individual needs is best learned during the introductory CrossFit course (see Step #1), and through having a frank discussion with your CrossFit coach (See Step #3). Lastly, understand that your physical capacity changes from day-to-day and, depending on your fatigue level and frequency of training, you might need to modify a movement one day, but several days later perform that same movement at the Rx recommendation.
Bottom line: Be sure you approach each WOD with the knowledge of how to modify a movement, if necessary.
3. Regularly communicate with your CrossFit coach.Although this is Step 3 on the list, it fits in with the previous points and cannot be emphasized enough. First, let the coach of the class you are attending know about any limitations or past injuries that might make the performance of a particular WOD unsuitable for you. Then discuss with your coach possible modifications in movement and/or weight load that will make the exercises work for you. Be sure to arrive a few minutes early and talk with your coach BEFORE class so that when the timer is winding down to begin the WOD, you are not left wondering what to do. As a coach myself, I ALWAYS appreciate it when participants approach me before class to inform me of any current limitations. In addition, I always announce modifications that can be performed instead of the Rx recommendations before each workout.
Bottom line: If you are unsure about how to perform an exercise so that it works for your individual needs, ask your coach before the WOD begins!
4. Respect your limits.We all have limitations and strengths. Because the programming is so varied in CrossFit, you will probably find that some movements come more naturally to you than others. For example, people with endurance-training backgrounds who have low body fat and lighter body weights often find the gymnastics-style movements, such as pull-ups and burpees, easier to tackle. However, those same body types often find strength-based exercises such as squats and deadlifts more challenging. The point is to recognize that everyone (including you) will experience exercises that are more or less difficult to master than others. You must respect your limitations and not let the highly competitive atmosphere of performing a CrossFit WOD with your peers cloud your judgment. Only perform movements that you can safely execute with good form. This might mean that you need to unload your barbell during a WOD if fatigue sets in and your form starts to decline.
Bottom line: Be honest about your limitations and avoid letting competition prevail over proper form.
5. Avoid overtraining.This step might seem obvious, but it can be overlooked by new and veteran CrossFitters alike who are eager to compete and improve. To be successful in CrossFit, participants must train smartly by progressing training volume gradually. The high-intensity nature of CrossFit WODs requires adequate rest and recovery between sessions to decrease the likelihood of injury. Initially, a frequency of two CrossFit workouts per week is a good starting point. Over time, adding in more days, while still paying attention to rest and recovery, can be accomplished. The number of days per week that an individual can tolerate performing WODs depends on numerous factors (e.g., current state of fitness, goals, and desire). Be sure to discuss your goals with your CrossFit coach so that he or she can provide you with safe and effective programming guidelines to help you achieve them.
Bottom line: Have a plan for proper progression to decrease the risk of overtraining.
Source: Sabrena Merrill, M.S., is an exercise physiologist and ACE Education Content Development