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10 Things I Wish I Knew About CrossFit Before I Started

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I’ve been hearing about the CrossFit (CF) craze for a few years now (at least). And like most people, I kept hearing about the hidden dangers, injuries or intense regimens that made me skeptical of the overall safety of the workouts. I never heard anything positive or remotely encouraging, until a year or two ago.

Friends of mine would talk about their CF transformation. I started to lean in and wanted to learn more. I’m a truth seeker by nature (once a journalist, always a journalist) and I knew there had to be more to it. After all, most of my military or law enforcement friends were now training at a CF gym and their wives started to join in as well, and a few of my old high school buddies were doing it for their body building and/or modeling careers. So there had to be some myths to all the controversy, right? No one wants to go into a gym to hurt themselves purposely, do they?

And I wondered, what about us regular people? Does it work for those of us non-athletes with a little (ahem) belly or junk in the trunk, or perhaps those of us who have not worked out (hard) since playing a sport in high school, or maybe those of us who have had children and are not able to lift anything heavier than a full baby carrier? I decided to go in and check things out for myself. I wanted to be objective. What I was about to find out would surprise me. Here are 10 things that I wish I knew about CrossFit before I started…

  1. You don’t need to look like a body builder to do CF. – There are people of all shapes and sizes with all different fitness goals. A good gym (often called a box) will assess your goals and have you take a beginner class for starters. Then you get to decide if it is right for you or if you are ready for the challenge.
  2. You don’t have to be an athlete to do CF. – Although once you join, you may start to see signs of the athlete within you. I know I did and I had forgotten what she looked like!
  3. You aren’t required to flip a tire larger than your body or lift an Olympic-sized barbell when you join. – Every gym varies on safety and it is VERY important to do your research. I can say that in my short time at CrossFit Tritown (under 6 months) I have yet to flip a tire or lift a barbell. My workouts are scaled to me and my abilities, and are not meant to push me to my breaking point. I would run in the opposite direction if you visit a gym that doesn’t put your health and safety first.
  4. You won’t be in competition with your group or classmates. – That’s right, you have classmates. And they aren’t the bullies from high school or gawkers that you avoid at other local gyms. They are real people who have real struggles just like you and I. They have body and weight issues, they have health issues, they have battle scars and wounds too. Your classmates will become some of your biggest encouragers, and it’s exactly what middle or high school gym should have felt like. You’ll find that the only person you will be in competition with is yourself.
  5. It’s not as expensive as I thought it would be. – My local gym is way cheaper, except I’m not looking to keep doing the same things I’ve been doing for the last 10-20 years (that didn’t work by the way). I’m putting my health first, and like most people who pay the roughly $150 a month, I know I need the coaches and team to hold me accountable. Plus, I value experts and hire them to handle certain areas of my home (cleaning, landscaping) or photography business (post production, design), and the same thing goes for my personal life (hairdresser, therapist). I have found that investing in the things that matter, makes all the difference!
  6. I won’t be forced to run long distances. – There is a cardio component to most CF gyms as well as an interval workout, and it varies depending on the location and owners so ask around. I’ve also heard that some gyms will run A LOT, while my current location will run a short distance for our warm ups and occasionally a 400 meter interval on a workout. It’s nothing that I can’t handle (note: I’ve had past knee issues) and those with injuries can modify or scale their warm ups/workouts with the help of the coaches.
  7. The terminology isn’t as scary or silly as it sounds. – Things such as WODs (workout of the day), Burpees, ball slams and Helen can actually be fun and challenging! It was totally empowering the first time I could say, “I kicked Helen’s ass today”! Yes, I was slow and yes, it was hard. And, you know what? I finished! (Note: Helen is a benchmarking workout, and much like running a 5k race or similar, the goal is to see how far you’ve progressed…and if you are getting fitter and developing speed or power over time.)
  8. It’s not a cult. – Like every new fitness craze, outsiders may consider it a cult until they try it or learn more. Here are some examples you can probably relate to: Jazzercise, Tae Bo, Zumba, SoulCycle, Pure Barre and many more. Plus, while you are working out, the coaches give you options to scale and you are allowed to speak up and say things like, “my knee doesn’t feel right…or I’m not comfortable with this equipment…or am I doing this right?”, etc.
  9. I won’t lose my soft touch. – Early on, I told a friend that I didn’t want to give up my lady hands, and replace them with callused or torn hands (which happens often for gymnasts, lifters, etc.). She didn’t have a solution for me, but my coach (Garvin) did! He introduced me to Callus Armor, which has been my saving grace and I use it now before each workout!
  10. You don’t realize the power of community, until you experience it while working out. – There’s a reason why I never wanted to work (solo) with a personal trainer. Because misery loves company… and I don’t want to be the only one sweating! I admit it, I want to have a group of people to laugh with while I’m working out and looking like a sweaty fool and trying my hardest to increase my strength and abilities. A whole group of coaches, classmates and athletes all cheering me on and vice versa? It is worth its weight in gold! You feed off of each other’s energy, drive and determination! I never got that from a cycling, Zumba or other standard gym class before, and quite frankly no one gave a damn about me or my progress.

My journey into CrossFit is unique, although I’m sure that others can relate. I’m 38, and I’m not completely out of shape nor have I ever run any kind of marathon. I’m somewhere in the middle. While in high school, I suffered a knee injury one season which sidelined my track, soccer and dance performances a bit. That injury has followed me for the rest of my life and I’ve always made excuses about why I can’t or won’t do something because of it. It also gave me permission to gain weight for the first time in my life during college. Yup, this old skinny girl (who was teased most of her youth) had finally put on 15-20 pounds. Not a big deal for most people, and yet for me it was. For the first time in my life I could feel normal and like I fit in. I could hide behind those pounds from the body shaming that had followed me years earlier.

And then after college came marriage and kids. I certainly didn’t expect to gain over 65 lbs. with each kid. I was considered high risk and on full restrictions from my doctor with each pregnancy. The weight gain was a result of not being able to exercise during this time AND I enjoyed every second of indulging then too. Then, I was done having babies. The weight made it that much harder to get strong post c-section and hernia surgeries, and I started having severe back pain when I was on my feet for long hours during work.

Fast forward to this past year. I was mostly happy with my weight, finally down to my goal of 125 pounds (I’m 5 feet and 5 inches tall). So what’s the one thing that has bothered me most recently? I have felt weak, fragile, and like my body was trying to tell me something. It took some health scares and personal struggles to wake me up. I decided that my excuses needed to stop. It was time to get healthy again. It was time to stop hiding behind the extra weight, the knee and my own self.

It is time to own my strong and to give myself permission to be a fierce woman and athlete again! Who cares if I’m “too” skinny and have a small upper body? I was born this way and I’m okay with it. I’ve got a baby belly that tells the story of two incredible births and hips to hold my children on. I’ve also got these new “guns” and strong shoulders, thanks to CrossFit, that I had only dreamed of before.

crossfit-tritown-sarah-lehberger

Let’s be honest. My workouts aren’t pretty (thank goodness there are no mirrors in the gym!!!). And I still have a long way to go. My core is shot from having babies via c-section, so I am working hard to strengthen this area again. Mostly, I don’t want to feel like the victim of my body and its limitations. Sometimes I think that my body betrayed me. Although it is likely the other way around. And right now, I wan’t to tell my tumor, 3 nodules and crazy thyroid hormones to go to hell because they will not get the best of me. I will get the best of me, and so will the people I love. I want my children to see my transformation and for them to learn that they, too, can be fearless and do anything that they set their minds to.

crossfit-tritown-unstoppable-ladies

Thinking back to my first day walking into CrossFit Tritown, I knew it was meant to be. They had this “unstoppable” sign hanging on the wall, and I knew it right then and there. This would be the next step in my unstoppable journey. The owner, Kevin, and every single one of the coaches has exceeded my expectations and they have turned me into a CrossFit believer. The community and support I’ve received from all of my classmates makes me feel like I am part of a team while on this journey. It has inspired me and empowered me to keep going. Everyone deserves to find a health, fitness and athletic community like this one. I only wish I had known all of this earlier and started sooner!

Do you know of a great CrossFit community near you? Did you have a similar experience finding one? Feel free to comment below and share the location and/or tag the people that inspire you!

PS – Thanks to Ashley and Garvin who took these iPhone photos for this post! :-) And if you are still curious and want to see more of what goes on inside the gym, follow along on Instagram here @cftritown.

Sarah Lehberger is a portrait photographer based in Easton, CT. She has been serving the Fairfield County, Connecticut community since 2005. Sarah specializes in bold storytelling that celebrates the spirited minds, romantic hearts and brave souls of women. They are the dreamers and the doers of the world, and she believes they are unstoppable! Sarah’s mission is to unite, empower and encourage women in their fearless pursuit of their dreams.
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