Observing the Transformation From Beginner to Experienced: CrossFit Trainer Q&A

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CrossFit is for certain not your ordinary workout experience and like anything that’s outside our norm, it causes intimidation within us. Some of the promotion of CrossFit may glamorize the elite athletes lifting huge weights and doing complex movements but that represents a small number of a larger population of people who go to a box each day to get a great workout. These people have experienced the thrill of getting in such great they shape, they barely could have imagined it. So, how do people get past the intimidation and give CrossFit a shot and start? We asked one of our expert coaches about his experience of seeing everyday people breakout of a rut and give something new a start and a dedicated member about his experience of coming off the street (with no prior background in weightlifting or Crossfit) and doing something he never thought he would do in his life.

Patrick Woods is the co-founder of CrossFit Clintonville. He is a former collegiate track athlete from The Ohio State University. After he graduated, Patrick continued to compete nationally in the decathlon. He is CrossFit L-1 certified, ACE personal trainer certified, and a level-one USATF coach.

Q: For the people who were using CrossFit as a beginning point of fitness, what were their initial reactions when they would come in and walk around the facility? What were those first couple of workouts like? What were their initial reactions before they started and those first couple of days and weeks like?

PW: I can remember this very specifically. I would see people come in who hadn’t done CrossFit before and it was a look of fear or being overwhelm, eyes wide , like “oh my goodness, what am I getting myself into?” But they made the step of faith to come into the gym. I felt it was my job to say this isn’t what you’re seeing on TV… don’t be scared was pretty much what I was trying to let them know. We can scale every single exercise for each person, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been sitting on the couch for a year or not, you can start with us. Look of fear, being overwhelmed then they’d go through their first workout and I’d make a point to say ‘you’re walking out of here, you just did your first CrossFit workout, you didn’t die, you didn’t get hurt.’ It was from there you could see people, the weight coming off, like ‘average people can come in here and workout. I don’t need to be a freak athlete with an 8-pack or lift the house to come in here and start training.’

So it’s been fun to see that personally… people email me [paraphrasing] ‘I’ve been hesitant to come in, I’m intimidated, I’m scared. You guys have made it very welcoming for us to come in and do workouts with you all.’ So it’s been fun to see that transformation of people being really scared or hesitant to come in…to see what it is really about or how we’re doing it here and for them to have the realization this isn’t as bad or scary as we thought and now we can continue to come two, three, or four times a week and get in better shape. It’s been fun to watch those people who were scared and see them turn into a regular member and see their results. It’s pretty cool.

Q: What’s the most common attitude by a person trying CrossFit for the first time?

PW: I’d say a little apprehension. This is for new people trying it. I’ll see it at the 10 a.ms a lot, that’s our community class. People coming in, real introverted like, stay behind the scenes, doesn’t want to ask questions, or be talkative, don’t make any noise or bring any attention towards themselves during a class. It’s like they want to sit in the back and do the work, and I think we’re really good at addressing that and making them feel comfortable. Like, I’m not a drill sergeant…we can just talk and I can help you out with this movement and it’s not scary. I’m not sitting there cracking a whip on anybody.

I’ve seen people… they’re everything I’ve just described. Then all of a sudden they come into a group class, they go through 101 [the introductory classes that are required for new members to go through before going through regular training classes or sessions], they get into the group class, they meet friends… it’s like they’re a completely different person. Like, hey you have this awesome personality, you’re outgoing, and you’re talkative now, you’re not as apprehensive as when you first came in.

Q: We talked a little bit about people who come in and they’re apprehensive and they have fear. What are some of the most common fears or apprehensions they have as they’re beginning to start? They’re thinking about it but there’s this line between committing and not (i.e. “I’m interested but…”)

PW: I think the majority might think it’s a fear of safety or getting hurt but my opinion is, I think it’s a self-doubt. ‘I don’t want to go in and be embarrassed. I don’t want a trainer watching me do something I don’t know how to do. I don’t want somebody else to be watching me workout with them and I suck at whatever this is. I’m not in shape. I’m overweight and I’m afraid to get in front of a group of people or a certified instructor and begin that journey.’ I think that would be one of the biggest things, that self –doubt, shedding all of that fear and being ‘this is who I am. I’m out of shape or I’m overweight and I don’t care. I’m here to get into better shape and here’s a supportive community and instructor that’s not going to shame people’… We’re like the complete opposite of that. And I think some gyms do that… I’ve heard that. Some people who aren’t able to do certain movements or have to scale get pushed off to the side or to the back or overlooked and all the attention goes towards that more elite athlete that can do all the stuff… That’s just not how it is here.

Q: In your experience are the vast majority people more capable of doing more than what they think they are? Have you witnessed that?

PW: All the time… you’ll see people who struggled with a ring row, which is a scale for a pull-up, who are now able to do strict pull-ups or a muscle-up, the gymnastic pinnacle of the movement. So, yeah, people have definitely have overcome that roadblock of ‘well I can’t do this’ to all of a sudden you’re in here two-, three-, four- times a week and all of a sudden you’re seeing these improvements, you’re getting stronger, and you’re getting in better shape… I’ll see them do something and I’ll say ‘you couldn’t do that when you first came in’ and they laugh and agree… So yeah, you definitely see that transformation of people and it’s only been a year so that’s been really cool and really rewarding to see people transform or do things they didn’t they could do when they first came in.

Q: Would you say that for most people, the obstacles they face in beginning or more mental or physical?

PW: I would say it’s more mental. There is definitely a physical aspect to things they’re just not going to be able to do when they start and that’s what I tell them. I repeat this to them ‘ this is a journey and you have to be patient with yourself and not get frustrated. You will learn these movements or you will get more mobile. You’ll get stronger.’ So to start, it’s probably a little combination of both but I would think that the mental aspect of it might start to disappear a little quicker… All of a sudden they feel the warm-ups are getting easier and then they start to think ‘this isn’t that bad’ or ‘I’m getting better’, they start squatting better, pressing better… the more their able to do physically the more confidence they’re going to build and that mental fear starts to go away as well.

Q: What are the first four-five weeks like for a person first starting CrossFit? Three months? Six months? A year?

PW: I’d say those first 8 weeks, honestly, are just exploratory like ‘this is really hard, I’m very sore.’ Maybe feeling some success with ‘hey this does feel a bit easier, I am getting better, I’m starting to move better. I’m not lying on the floor as long after a workout.’ In my mind, that first 6-8 weeks, if they can stay with it 2-3 days a week…it’s going to hurt, they’re going to be sore, and that’s just part of getting back in shape…it’s that getting back in shape of period… Those first 8 weeks, that’s just how it goes. You’re going to be learning a lot, your heard might be spinning a little bit, there’s a lot to cover but you will start to see progress in that 6-8 weeks.

Then, I’d say from that 8 weeks on you can really start to see some improvements. You’ll see people moving a little more confidently and the PRs [personal records] are just going everywhere because it’s new. It’s like anytime they touch something it’s a pr because they hadn’t really done it before. They’re moving better, they’re getting stronger, they’re in better shape, they’re more confidant. That’s a fun phase.

Q: What would you say are some of the biggest keys for people to hold onto while they go through that initial phase and process to stick to it?

PW: I would say just making their workouts a true priority. Because at some point it becomes not so much about improvement and fitness but about wellness, extending your life, being there for your kids longer, or seeing your grandkids. Here’s my one hour blocked-out and nothing else is going to take that place. Making it a scheduled priority or routine is huge for people to stick with it.

I think another key would be… their mindset towards this being a positive. ‘This is going to be a journey but I am going to see improvements, I am going to see results, I’m going to better my fitness if I can stick with this’… versus ‘this is really hard and I don’t like being challenged, or I don’t want things in my uncomfortable zone.’

I’d say just for their patience just to know this is a process, this is a journey. It’s not like it’s a magic pill, it’s not going to happen right away. If they can just stick with it and work through those uncomfortable moments… it will feel better over time if people can keep doing it.