12 CrossFit Myths Debunked
You're Gonna Puke, Pass Out, or Die
Don't be fooled by a scary-sounding workout of the day (WOD) such as “Death by Burpees.” It's not literal, people. But it's understandable why you might think so. “CrossFit is known for its intensity. When people who are new to CrossFit don't know how to gauge that intensity, they may feel nauseous or sick,” says Yumi Lee, a Reebok athlete and celebrity trainer to Jessica Alba and Hugh Jackman. Intensity isn't something you add right away. At a good CrossFit gym, or “box” as they're called (check out our picks for best CrossFit boxes in the U.S.), coaches will help you build a foundation, teaching you about technique and consistency. Once you've got those down, then you can add intensity. Without proper form, there's no point to add speed or volume because you won’t make any fitness gains and may injure yourself.
If you still start to feel bad mid-WOD, stop and let your body recover, Lee advises. “Learning the difference between discomfort—which is common—and pain—which is uncommon and can be avoided—is part of the learning process when starting Crossfit,” adds Noah Abbott, a coach at CrossFit South Brooklyn. “It's okay to be uncomfortable, tired, and sore, but it's not okay to be in respiratory distress, exhausted to the point of systemic failure, or injured.” [Click to Tweet this!]
You Will Get Hurt
With any activity, there's always a risk of injury. But don't blame it entirely on the sport, especially one like CrossFit that is set up to mimic everyday movements to help strengthen muscles and prevent injury. Problems happen when you stop listening to your body. “If something feels weird, it's hard for a trainer to know unless you say something. They're not inside your head, so speak up,” Noah Abbott says.
Same goes if something is too heavy—simply don’t lift it, advises Christmas Abbott (no relation to Noah Abbott), a Reebok athlete who used her experience as a CrossFit athlete and head trainer at Reebok Crossfit One in Canton, MA, to earn her spot on a Nascar pit crew last year. Her remedy for the post-workout soreness that is completely normal to experience after every good workout: drinking lots of water to stay hydrated and a recovery shake to ease screaming muscles, and eating omega 3s throughout the day to reduce inflammation. Here are even more ways to avoid injury during your WODs.
You Will Meet Uncle Rhabdo
Just like Aunt Flow, this relative is never welcome. Rhabdomyolysis is a rare and serious health condition where muscles are so overworked that fibers break down and enter the bloodstream, which can lead to kidney damage or, worse, failure. And while it has been linked to CrossFit, as well as other sports, for years, all it takes to avoid any misery is the right mindset, Noah Abbott says. “The people who are risk are the fit ones who haven't done CrossFit and come in thinking they can go way too hard too early before their bodies have acclimated to the volume and intensity.” No need to flip a tire during your first workout.
Bulking Up Is Inevitable
You should know by now that it's simply not that easy for women to join the swole patrol. “Bulking up is about testosterone production, which means that most women don't have the genetic profile to add a lot of muscle,” Noah Abbott says. But when you watch the CrossFit Games on TV or see a CrossFit athlete in a magazine, it’s reasonable why you may be confused.
“The Games host the top 50 people in the entire world who have been selected through this slow-winnowing process of sectional and regional competitions,” he says, adding that the majority of them have both skills and a genetic advantage. The average woman, however, might just drop a few dress sizes and shift her body composition. “People generally become stronger, toner, fitter version of themselves,” he says. “They don't become somebody unrecognizable.” You can also combine it with some of your other favorite workouts, like yoga.
You Must Be Competitive
No need to bring your game face to every workout. You can be as competitive as you want to be—or not. While it may seem like you're going up against your classmates, the only person you need to beat is yourself. “It's great to have accountabili-buddies to encourage you to work hard, but you don't want to stay locked into the idea that you and your training partners are the exact same athlete and therefore should be at the same level,” Noah Abbott says.
He recommends keeping a journal of your sessions. Note how you felt going into your workout, what your times were for the WOD, and how you recovered afterward, which will all help you gauge your progress and set specific goals. Focusing on your own challenges, such as shaving seconds off a WOD or getting one more wall ball in before the clock runs out, will help you stop comparing yourself to others. And if the competitive energy around you does suck you in, pull out that notebook, Noah Abbott suggests. “You might notice your best squat has gone up 70 pounds in the last year. That will give you some perspective about your growth as an athlete that doesn't rely on anyone else.” Keep things fun with this CrossFit WOD playlist.
You Have to Go Paleo
You can work out out until you're blue in the face and not see results until you change your eating habits, and the Paleo Diet is the solution for some. The best-selling plan that borrows ideas from our pre-historic past calls for eating a high-protein, high-fiber, low-carb diet rich in good fats. But it may not be realistic for some, Lee says. Buying grass-fed, organic meats can be expensive, and finding time to cook them can be hard. It’s best to pick up just one new habit at a time anyway. “Get settled into your new fitness routine first, and soon enough you'll want to eat better to perform better," Lee adds.
If you do decide to switch up your diet, it's not Paleo or bust (but here are some Paleo meal planning tips if you do decide to make the leap). Talk to your coaches about their eating practices, and you may discover a variety of plans. But while many are well-informed about nutrition, not all are experts, so consult a registered dietitian to determine the best strategy for your goals, lifestyle, and food preferences.
Membership Is Too Pricey
Your local gym is cheaper, but what good is it if you're not seeing results? “A gym is basically a place where you rent out space and equipment,” says Nate Forster, who owns and operates Reebok CrossFit Fifth Avenue in New York City and Reebok CrossFit Miami Beach. “What people pay for at CrossFit is the very high-level coaching—we usually have one coach for every 10 people.” Think of it this way: CrossFit offers both the programing and the individual attention from a trained professional to help you reach your goals. If you show up at least three times a week, do the work, and focus, results are inevitable.
If you’re still uncertain about the $150 or so a month, consider this: Some personal trainers charge that much per hour. And you can try Christmas Abbott’s money-managing tip and go out three fewer nights each month so your budget stays the same. “Prioritize your funds for your health and longevity,” she advises.
It's Really Time-Consuming
Diehards will hit up their box as many as six times a week, allowing just one rest day, but you don't need to go to such extremes. Three to four times a week is all it takes to make big changes, while twice a week will help to maintain your current fitness level if you’re also doing other activities such as yoga, Lee says. Plus, research proves that CrossFit is really effective in significantly improving your aerobic fitness, so it's totally worth every workout.
The classes themselves aren’t long. On average, group sessions run about an hour, and WODs are usually between eight and 20 minutes long. However, it’s the shorter ones that may have you spent the rest of the day because of how fast and intense they are, Noah Abbott says. “It's the difference between running a 400-meter sprint as fast as you can and a 10K—you'll be on your back gasping for air after the sprint, but probably not after the middle-distance run.”
Only Former Athletes Can Handle It
Your first time at a CrossFit box may feel like you're walking into a poor man's Olympic Village with so many well-sculpted, shirtless, and sports-bra-clad bodies everywhere. But rest assured they don't have any more gold medals than you do. Sure, some might have played sports in high school, but this isn't high school anymore, so breathe easy. Anyone can play and you won't get picked last.
“CrossFit is for everyone,” Lee says. “We have people taking classes who have never ever exercised in their lives. We know a person 80 pounds overweight who lost 50 pounds in the first seven months without doing anything else. We've also had people who've had serious back injuries who are now doing movements that they weren't able to do before because of their injury.” So whatever is holding you back, drop it and pick up a kettlebell instead.
You Need to Know the Lingo
The terminology—power snatch, push jerk, slam—can be intimidating at first, but after a few introductory classes, you'll be throwing around those words like weights. “Every box offers some sort of 'Foundations' program to give you a crash course in how CrossFit works,” Lee says. When shopping around for the right box for you, call and ask about their Foundations classes. You should be able to sign up for group sessions at a reasonable fee. Then, take a look at our CrossFit basics for beginners.
Some boxes, including Lee's CrossFit LAB in West Hollywood, offer six Foundations classes that break down each movement and are required before you can sign up for a regular CrossFit group class. “If by the end of Foundations you're still not comfortable, we encourage people to take the six classes again,” Lee says.
Many fitness classes have been considered “cults” by outsiders since long before women were wearing leg warmers to jazzercise. As with most of these, CrossFit is a welcoming community, says Christmas Abbott, who has had classmates beat her in a WOD only to turn right around and cheer her on until she's finished. Even if you feel out of place at first, Forster says, that uncertainty will disappear by the end of a hard workout when you’re struggling and have 10 to 15 people cheering you on.
All Boxes Are Created Equal
CrossFit is no McDonald's. (Not that you eat there, but just roll with the metaphor, please.) Point is, you can't just walk into any box and expect to get the exact same service. All boxes are licensed and therefore are affiliates of the brand, which means they don't all need to play by the same rules. While this gives lots of freedom to box owners, it can also create lots of opportunity for bad boxes to form and turn people off.
Your best move: Do your research and shop around (check out our list of the best CrossFit boxes in the U.S. for starters). “Visit at least three boxes near you and check out their vibe and how they do things,” Noah Abbott recommends. One thing to watch while you're sizing up a box is how coaches interact with you as well as others, Lee suggests. “In a good class, coaches are walking around, checking to see if everybody feels okay.”