The Big Secret For CrossFit Beginners

This past Saturday at CrossFit Norcal in Mountain View, Calif., a large class assembled for a Hero workout (Jack: 20 minute AMRAP, each round 10 push-presses, 10 KB swings and 10 box jumps).

CrossFit Norcal in Mountain View, Calif.
CrossFit Norcal in Mountain View, Calif.

A new member who had just completed the On Ramp program attended. That he was coming to a Saturday morning class for his first regular workout was a good sign, I thought, in terms of whatever the attrition rate is for those who join CrossFit and fail to last very long. (it seems high to me. I’ve seen new faces in the On Ramp programs that tend to vanish in noticeably high numbers).

I recall a friend of mine got interested in CrossFit about a year ago. He did an On Ramp program and lasted maybe a week after that. I asked him why he quit. He told me, “It was just too intense.”

I periodically looked over a the new member at CrossFit Norcal. The warm-up was extensive and I could tell he was breathing hard, his eyes a bit shocked. The coach spent a lot of time with him during the WOD helping him to work on his push press form.  After the workout, per the Norcal CrossFit protocol, no one was allowed to lie down—rather you’re right out the door for a 200-meter walk/jog.

The newcomer was asked what he thought of his first regular workout. “Insane,” he replied with a smile. A good sign.

For someone coming in with little or no fitness, or perhaps a simple layer of aerobic fitness without much exposure to anaerobic work, CrossFit is going to set off all sorts of internal alarm bells. It’s as if the brain thinks you’re fleeing burning building. Everything about it is uncomfortable.

And as Greg Glassman has said in videos archived on, the thing is that the training doesn’t get easier as you improve. It gets harder. The fitter you are the more you can handle and the more you can push yourself.

But in a way it does get easier. You get mentally tougher and your brain begins to realize you’re not running away from a psychopath trying to slash your throat. You begin to make the connection with enduring the work at hand with the swift results that high-intensity can bring. Knowing the value that you can grab off the table with a few minutes of hard, focused movement in the realm of discomfort becomes powerful.

The hard thing about the first few weeks is that you may not notice the benefits of the training you’re doing. So it can seem like you’re suffering an awful lot for no particularly incredible reason. But make it through that first month and the soreness winds down and the PR machine begins to take hold.  I wish I’d had the insight to encourage my friend to just stick it out for a solid six weeks and then evaluate whether it’s worth it or not. He had been wanting to get really fit for some time. Perhaps if he’d hung on long enough to see what CrossFit training can do, he never would have left.

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.