CrossFit: The Waiting Surprise for Consistent Beginners

CrossFit woman ITB
Dear NYT: CrossFit women can do pull-ups. The woman in this picture can kill me at them.
Dear NYT: CrossFit women can do pull-ups. The woman in this picture can kill me at them.

In having re-joined a box after a layoff, I have been reminded of perhaps the most welcome and surprising (and surprising in sort of an addictive way) experiences of being a beginner, a payoff to those who go make a consistent appearance and give a best effort each workout:

Improvement comes fast.

Indeed, the first weeks and months of being a CrossFitter is when personal records come at a furious pace. Whether it’s a benchmark workout like Christine, or how much you can push-press three times, or squat or deadlift PRs, or rowing time trial PRs, or learning new skills like holding a handstand or getting the initial strength necessary for first pull-ups—the golden time is when you’re a newbie.

In fact, if you get into a rhythm of attending 3 to 5 times per week, taking rest days when you need to but getting in as many sessions per week as your recovery is enabling, you start to get annoyed if you don’t walk on with a personal record.

When I see newcomers in their first Elements or On-Ramp class, usually nervous-looking because they’re anxious about the intensity they’ve heard of in regards to CrossFit, I think the best chance for them to stay in and stick with it for the long-terms is staying with the program long enough to get on the PR drug.

I’m convinced of the reasons the improvements are so swift is the installation of mandatory variety in CrossFit programming. This is, of course, where critics like to slam CrossFit with the “It’s not a sport” thing, suggesting that a sport that is composed of a wide slate of movements from other sports is somehow too diluted to be considered a competition, but it’s this ‘constantly varying’ aspect, mixed with high-intensity and quality movements, that cranks up the impact of CrossFit. You can almost feel the biochemistry at work, the natural hormonal cocktail rushing into the bloodstream. This is especially apparent after a heavy workout with heavy deadlifts.

The resulting improvements are wide-spread (not just bodybuilding-type improvements, but the stuff of all-around athletics): Flexibility, power, stamina, coordination, strength, cardiovascular endurance.

In CrossFit, it’s always open season for committed newbies. There may be the expectation that CrossFit is most difficult at the beginning, and to whatever degree of truth there is to that, it’s offset by the progress that comes flowing in. In fact, it’s probably worth noting that this freeway doesn’t last forever. Eventually the arc slows down and PRs come at a slower, more infrequent rate.

One of the things you’ll notice is that the advanced CrossFitters of the gym have to work especially hard to claw their way to new PRs. They’re the ones arriving early or staying late to attack weaknesses or do extra mobility work. They’re the ones that look for every possible advantage in refining their nutrition and taking care of their hands. It’s good to pay attention to how they do things—for the newbies that stick with it and evolve into the veterans, this will be the future path to keep the PR machine going.

In Inside the Box, veteran journalist and marathoner T.J. Murphy goes all in to expose the gritty, high-intensity sport of CrossFit®. From staggering newcomer to evangelist, Murphy finds out how it feels, why it’s so popular, and whether CrossFit can fix his broken body.