I’ve been in all of these categories. After CrossFitting myself for over 12 years, and watching the hundreds of members in the 2 affiliates which I co-own on their journey too, there is much to glean from that time and observation.
This list of 20 best tips and hacks will be useful if you’re looking at starting / have just started. Or maybe you’re 1-2 years in. Perhaps you are 5+ years deep into Clean and Jerks. There is always something to learn, so hopefully, this list covers a lot of ground for all of you.
1. Warm Up Appropriately
It makes sense to have this as tip 1 as it’s at the very start of each class.
Every CrossFit class (if being executed correctly) will have a suitable warm-up. Invariably, this will be noted on the board and it’s normally tailored specifically for the upcoming strength or skill section, and also the WOD (Workout Of the Day).
For example, if the WOD or Strength has Snatches, an appropriate group warm up might include Snatch Deadlift, Snatch High Pull, Hang Muscle Snatch, Squat Muscle Snatch, Squat Snatch.
This would be 5 reps of an empty bar or PVC pipe, depending on your level. This engages the muscle groups that will be used and helps engage your muscle memory.
If all of that sounds like latin, don’t worry – warmups like this are great for beginners to learn the plethora of names.
2. Engage Your CNS (Central Nervous System)
Your CNS (Central Nervous System) should be primed, ready for exercise. Some light cardio work such as 2-3 minutes on the rower, bike or run. Again, this is dovetailed with upcoming movements.
For example, if you have Fran 21-15-9 Pull Ups and Thrusters in the WOD, an appropriate warm up exercise would be kipping swings and med ball cleans.
Warming up your CNS prepares your body for exercise by such things as increasing blood flow, warming muscles for more effective contraction and expansion and preparation of your joints and cartilage.
It also enhances the delivery of essential nutrients to the muscles, among other things. A suitably primed CNS helps mitigate the risk of injury.
3. Select A Good CrossFit Gym (Box)
If you live in a built-up area, particularly in North America, there are so many CrossFit gyms to choose from – as this Best Gym Hacks article notes. I’ve had the privilege of visiting over 70+ CrossFit gyms in the UK, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Spain and other European countries, plus some as far as SE Asia. Every single one has its own style and flavour.
When visiting family in Calgary, Alberta – Canada, there are several that we can choose from, within an acceptable travelling distance. We’ve visited nearly all of them.
Decide what you want
Depending on what you want to get out of your CrossFit gym, you should try and do a free trial at them all in your catchment area.
See in which one you feel most comfortable. Out of the many in Calgary, there are 2 I would most prefer to be my regular if I lived there.
Pay attention to coaching style and competence. How does the environment make you feel? Are other members welcoming and can you make friends, as community is important.
What is the pricing like? They vary massively.
Premium or economy
Each person is different and may want top of the range everything, with brass fittings in the changing rooms, gold plated bog roll etc, and would be comfortable paying £250/ $300p/m+. Others would be happy with a £70 / $86p/m spit & sawdust approach.
Just ensure you’re going to be looked after by the coaching team, and ensure you’re getting good value for money.
Where you aren’t spoilt for choice, 99% of the time your closest CrossFit gym will fulfill everything you need anyway.
4. Learn The Progressions
One great thing about this sport is how truly humbling it is. There is so much to learn.
You’ll be better at some things than others. However, don’t run before you can walk. You’ll also never be god at everything.
The progressions being taught are to enable you to move on to the next step. They are purposeful building blocks.
When you walk in on day 1 and see Ellie – a CrossFit expert who’s been at it for 7 years – doing 30 unbroken butterfly pull-ups, she may make it look easy. But the truth is, she’s worked hard to get there to make it look easy.
Start with the kipping swings, kip with a band if you need. Learn fluid kipping pull-ups. Only then think about butterfly kipping.
You need to leave your ego at the door. It’ll help you progress much faster and you’ll move way better in the long run.
Also, listen to the coach – and not Larry to your left. He may have some good advice and you can politely (pretend) to listen.
But ultimately the coach is there to deliver coaching – that’s what you’re paying for. If you need additional pointers and help, ask her or him. In fact, the coaches love it when they’re asked, as they’re helping people be better, and that’s the reason they do what they do.
5. Get Decent CrossFit Shoes
It’s a bit of a running gag that when you get knee-deep into CrossFit, the next thing is emptying your bank for multiple pairs of shoes.
Whilst some out there do appear to have CrossFit throw up all over them, suitable shoes really are essential.
The reason for buying suitable shoes is that it will help with your technique. They’re designed with many of the CrossFit movements in mind.
For example, the Nike MetCons had an added durability section on one iteration, for better performance on rope climbs.
You want to avoid squishy soles and particularly squishy heels. Running shoes are not conducive for overhead squats, for example.
6. Olympic Weightlifting Shoes – Do I Need Them?
To paraphrase Shakespeare – to get, or not to get, that is the question.
All professional weightlifters wear specifically designed shoes. They’re called weightlifting shoes, or lifters for short.
The heel is raised and hard. The support is emphasised. The shoes are light and highly durable, capable of withstanding massive amounts of weight and supporting your feet whilst doing so.
Whilst lifting shoes (or Oly shoes) are great and help your Snatch and Clean & Jerk, they are more of a luxury for a CrossFitter than a necessity. You don’t need all that, especially if you have decent CrossFit shoes.
What lifting shoes should I get?
If you do go down the road of buying some, certain brands recommend heat moulding.
This is done by putting them in the oven (no joke) for a short period at a low temperature. Then removing, putting them on, and bed them in by wearing them around the house. Similar to ski boot fitting – only more ghetto.
If you’re going to buy weightlifting shoes, get something good like the Adidas AdiPower Cross or Nike Romaleos.
The Romaleos are not cheap.
The Adipowers are solid, stylish and extremely popular among CrossFitters, whilst being nicely affordable, as far as lifters go. A great range of colours to choose from too.
These ladies AdiPower lifters are popular in CrossFit gyms all over.
Another best hack: if you do go with them, do not wear them all the time for lifting, nor with deadlifting. You’ll become over-reliant on them, and that’s not good when doing a heavier CrossFit MetCon.
An Oly shoe is slightly raised off the ground, so by deadlifting with them on, you’re unwittingly creating an undesired deficit.
In other words, you’ve got to lift the weight higher – something you could do without in a WOD. That’s why you often see people deadlifting heavy in barefoot or socks.
Make sure to do Olympic Weightlifting & Accessory Lifts in CrossFit Shoes
When you become more advanced and have used Oly shoes for a while, make sure to also NOT use them.
I stopped relying on mine around 4-5 years ago, and in fact, hardly use them at all now. I wanted to be able to Squat Clean regularly over 100kg in my Nanos, Metcons, or now NoBulls, so that’s what I set out to do.
By lifting heavy in non-Oly shoes, you’re training yourself to be able to manage without them. They used to be would be a prerequisite for an overhead squat session for me. But now, I don’t even bother using them that often, and can overhead squat 101kg for 3, and 110kg for 1 at 70kg bodyweight without needing my Oly shoes.
I don’t need my lifters in heavy WOD’s now too, which is only a good thing.
I can, however, still lift more during Olympic Weightlifting only sessions. I would always use them at British Weightlifting competitions or Lifting League meets. So they certainly have their place.
7. Stretch, Mobilise and Warm Down
If you’ve just started, invariably you will find out that DOMS (delayed onset muscle strain) is one of the many rites of passage of CrossFit. You’ll be using muscles you didn’t even know you had. This is entirely normal and it’s a good thing, as it shows you’re working hard.
Stretching can be overlooked at some gyms, but often there is a group stretch off at the end of class.
If time has run out, do your own. Ask the coach for specific stretches, as some are better than others, and the list is endless.
Find a spot out the way
Make sure to find a corner where you can cool down and stretch off those muscle groups you just worked so abundantly hard to exercise. No coach at any gym should be whinging at you, so long as you’re to one side when the next class is going on!
Doing this is a good habit will help reduce DOMS and avoid injury. We all need to do it more.
Stretch at home in front of the TV, too. And see if your gym offers yoga or Pilates, which many do.
8. Learn The Names Of Movements
There are a lot of movement names and acronyms.
It may take a while but do make a conscious effort to try and understand the main movements, and their associated sub-movements. It will help with the learning process and make everything more enjoyable.
You can find places with useful acronym breakdowns that will help you understand what’s what when you’re bamboozled at the whiteboard.
9. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
So often in the first couple of years, I used to lose my rag when I couldn’t Double Under skip one day, or my Snatch looked like a dog’s dinner another day – how sad! We all have bad days.
I also used to avoid a WOD if it had something in I didn’t like. Also how sad!
Take a step back if necessary
When realising this fun thing wasn’t being fun, I took stock of what I was even doing. The approach now – and has been for many years – is that if I’m not enjoying it, that’s OK. Stop being so serious about it.
The idea of CrossFit for me is stress relief. It became a burden, which is totally counter-intuitive. Don’t let that happen to you. It takes the fun out of it.
So don’t be hard on yourself when you can’t do what you’re peers can, or you can’t lift as much as her next to you.
Take a step back and realise this is a fun, healthy, hobby, and that your number chasing should be kept in check.
10. Make An Effort Talk To Other Members
Even if you’re shy, do try and talk to others. If you’re less shy, seek out the shy ones and spark up a convo. All walks of life grace CrossFit gyms and you’ll find yourself befriending doctors, care workers, prison guards, accountants and florists.
Don’t be surprised if some of your closest friends going forwards are from your CrossFit gym. And also don’t be surprised if you find a spouse there. It happens a lot! I can vouch for that.
If you see someone new, looking like a rabbit in the headlights, go and introduce yourself. You’ll make their early sessions that little bit less scary.
Remember when you first started?
11. Bring A Spouse, Friend Or Loved One
We have countless couples at our affiliates. Normally one starts, then the other follows suit. We’ve even got whole families that train at our gyms.
It’s so nice to work out with your loved ones and creates another hour in your time of shared quality time with those most important to you.
Time is the only asset we can’t buy more of.
A healthy habit with some loved-one quality time thrown in. You can enjoy watching CrossFit competitions live, online and doing drop ins, bringing another dimension to your relationship!
What could be better than that?
If you want to know more about CrossFit and couples, make sure to check this Best Gym Hacks article out.
12. Eat A Balanced Diet
With all that hard work you’re putting in to lose weight, trim up, get stronger, or pack on some muscle, you need to keep tabs on the 23 hours you’re not in the gym.
I’m not an advocate of counting macros. I personally have far better things to do with my life.
But cooking healthy, balanced food is so easy, so there’s no excuse for incessant dirty eating.
Get inspiration online
The internet is awash with easy recipes. Just follow Joe Wicks on Instagram for stupidly easy and extremely tasty meals – they’re all free and vids are less than 1 min.
Top Hack: hit save on the nice recipe posts when you find them, and you can go back to them when you’re ready to cook.
Don’t worry about enjoying life, too. You’re working out enough to not worry about having a dessert, or another glass of wine. Everything in moderation.
Worrying about macros can often become obsessive in my opinion. Listen to your body and speak to your coaches about what you should eat, avoid and have more of. There’s plenty of free information out there for you.
Beware of people charging silly sums for guru diet plans.
Also – this sounds stupid, but many forget – remember to drink enough in class and out of class. You will sweat a lot, so consistent hydration is critical to a healthy body (and human survival).
13. Take Regular Rest Days
I’ve been that 6 days per week guy. At that time I was 25 years old and made of rubber.
Now I’m heading towards 36, I have to take planned and measured rest. I can feel myself getting older, and that’s fine. There’s no point in overtraining as it will only be detrimental. It will also take the fun out of it when you’re too tired.
Plan training days
A good cycle suggestion would be mid- and end of the week rest days.
For me, I normally always rest on Friday and Sunday. If I’m tired or sore, I’ll take another rest day, or 2, or do something different instead of CrossFit such as a walk, run, squash, football or work in the garden.
Get the balance right
You need to also find that mental health balance. Many of us train to release those endorphins and flush away the stress of the day.
If you really need that hour but are not really up for it, you can still go, completely scale back the WOD, or do some mobility in the class time whilst having a chat with your peers.
Freshen up the blood to any sore muscles and get out of the house.
You don’t need to go hard every day.
14. Know Your Limitations
As we grow older, our body changes physically and chemically. Recovery will take longer. You may feel more niggles and such. Again, listen to your body. This is so true when you’re keen on any sport.
Don’t over-exert yourself, as this encourages the risk of picking up an injury, creating a potential for long term issues.
Try to not compare yourself
Don’t look at what the person next to you is doing too often. It’s good to have some healthy competition as this stimulates growth, but don’t get hung up on it.
When you log your scores, PR/PBs and stats, this is your baseline guide for how you should push. It will govern what weight you should do in the WOD, for instance – whether RX will achieve the correct stimulus.
15. Invest In Some Toys / Accessories
The market is awash with CrossFit accessories. Some of them are on the gimmick side, others a necessity. Part of the fun of your new hobby is buying some toys to supplement your training, so don’t be afraid to invest in a few, especially if they are good for preventive maintenance, or will help you improve.
Check reviews before buying
Having spent a lot of money over the years on many brands, founding my own CrossFit brand and venturing through the UK and foreign manufacturing, I’ve seen the good, bad and very ugly.
Make sure to do a bit o homework on reviews online before buying.
Top Hack: The best thing you can do is have a go on someone’s accessory in your CrossFit Gym you’re in the market to buy. Get their opinion on durability, price, functionality etc. You know this review will be real and honest.
16. Do Other Sports
Don’t be that guy who does CrossFit and nothing else.
The tool at work that goes on about it to anyone and everyone, even when they don’t care.
The “if you don’t do CrossFit there is something wrong with you” guy. There are plenty of them out there.
Long term CrossFitter
After 12+ years of doing the sport, I can understand the CrossFit nut-head mentality. But it simply is not everyone’s cuppa tea.
Mix your training up. Go rock climbing at your local indoor place once a week. Play squash with your buddy. Get on your bike or board and nip off for a scuzz.
The great thing about CrossFit is how it will often inadvertently improve your performance in other sports.
Enjoy the benefits
I remember going snowboarding after being a CrossFitter for a couple of years and found my stamina and flexibility had increased significantly. So when I went to the French Alpes, my snowboarding technique saw great improvements.
17. Watch How Others Move
If you’re the kind of person who, like many, learn by visual or kinetic means, watching other good movers in your gym will likely help you pick up techniques quicker.
Watching someone say kipping swing, then immediately trying to emulate this with your coach’s direction will help you no-end.
It’s easy to watch, process, feel, learn. So watching other long-term members or YouTube will do wonders for your technique. Find some bloggers and YouTubers to immerse yourself in the sport.
This Best Gym Hacks article here will show you a good number to get following.
18. Log Your Training Stats
Many gyms offer an App when you sign up. Some don’t, but you can download them anyway and use standalone, such as Beyond The White Board.
The ones that do, oftentimes the booking system is also integrated into the App which is useful.
They help you log PR/PBs, enable you to see your progress, compare scores (if you want to do that), and understand data, among many other things.
The best fitness tracking Apps
Below is my summary of the various App’s out there. When prospecting a CrossFit gym, see if they utilise one of these, and which one.
|Beyond The Whiteboard (BTWB)||Long standing App in the CrossFit space with with huge data pool. Easy to understand. Reliable native App||Not often provided with a membership so relies on user to pay per month.|
|SugarWOD||Popular amoung many gyms. Clean look and feel.||Sometimes comes with memberships. Not the cheapest option which may effect membership cost p/m|
|Wodify||Very popular amoung gyms and used extensively for customer management and booking. Often comes with your membership.||I’ve found it to be buggy when using it for booking drop ins. Not the cheapest option|
|BoxMate||Good value for money. Well thought through App||User Interface can feel a little counter-intuitive at times. Sometimes control feels a little scattty – time scroll when logging, for example.|
|WOD Board||Clean and easy to use generally.||Found it to be a little jittery and outdated compared to others|
|TeamUp||Useful for booking into classes and doing waivers||Progressive Web App (PWA) that needs internet. Not used for training logs.|
|PushPress||Integrates with other gym softwares||Not as comprehensive as others.|
|Triib||Modern and responsive.||Lacking in key features for back end use compared to competitors|
Ideally, your gym should be running at least one software for their members, if not multiple with cross-integrations.
19. Get Used To ‘Character Building’
What this means is you’ll find yourself feeling uncomfortable. You’ll do things you didn’t even know you could do. Embrace it.
Rather than mumble grumbling, suck it up and accept that you’re levelling up as a human being in your suffering…because you are.
Soon enough, that uncomfortable feeling becomes less uncomfortable and you find your threshold increases exponentially as time goes on.
You’re resilience and growth will be seen outside the gym too, as your mindset is more focused and mental strength is stronger.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour.
20. Have Fun
This needs its own heading as we touched on it earlier. It’s the end of the list as it’s the glue that binds this all together.
I always say “If you’re not having fun you’re doing it wrong”.
Take a break if you need one
I had an 7-month pause in the 12+ years of doing it. My life at that time was particularly stressful, so was simply hating training. Having a break was the best thing I could have done as simply just fell out of love with it.
A few months off and life became more manageable, so I went back. That was 7 years ago.
Today, I still love it as much year 1. That’s what keeps our membership retention so high at the affiliates – the element of fun and community.
Make sure too to get involved in the social activities many CrossFit gyms put on. Nights out, meals, friendly throwdowns, and even group holidays. All of that will help you enjoy the community side, as well as the health and sport.