A Beginner’s Guide to Making the Most of CrossFit Classes

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by RAKESH PATEL

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Welcome, folks.

This post is aimed at people who have recently started exercising in CrossFit classes, have been doing CrossFit for a while as a means to keep fit, or who are thinking of trying CrossFit.

If you’re not sure what CrossFit is and/or are thinking of giving it a go, check out the affiliate finder map here to find a CrossFit gym near you.

About me – I am Head Coach at CrossFit West Yorkshire and incorporate these practices into our classes which I’d like to share with you.

The question I want to answer in this post is this:

As a beginner, how should you best approach an exercise program (CrossFit or similar) that involves a lot of technical movements involving the whole body and requires competency in areas such as strength, stability and mobility, to minimise risk of injury and maximise results towards your goals?

In answering this question, I will refer to CrossFit’s model of how instructors should teach movements to clients and how clients should approach their exercise during classes. This model represents three main areas of focus in which each area is a progression from the previous one.

Stage One: MECHANICS

Stage One: MECHANICS
Focus on movement patterns (how you move) and mobility (the ability to express full range of motion in the joints).

When learning exercises, establish what the correct movement patterns are and try to replicate that movement pattern with light loads and slow, controlled movement.
When first starting CrossFit, your main focus should be on learning correct movement patterns (how best to move during an exercise to stay safe and to maximise efficiency). In this stage you should keep loads light and movements slow and controlled to learn the correct movement patterns, regardless of how strong you are. Each of us moves differently, so there will be variances in how each of us performs the same exercise; this should be factored in both by coaches and by individuals.

For example, someone with long legs may perform the squat more safely and efficiently with the feet placed wider apart to prevent dropping of the chest over an individual with shorter legs. However, the principles remain the same (maintain spinal extension, keep the knees tracking over the feet, etc).

When learning exercises, establish what the correct movement patterns are and try to replicate that movement pattern with light loads and slow, controlled movement. You may find that your joint mobility does not allow you to achieve optimal positions, therefore you should identify what mobility work specific to your movement restrictions you need to perform to allow you to achieve the correct movement patterns. Your instructor should be able to help with all of this. Find one who does!

You may have the joint MOBILITY and the POTENTIAL to perform the exercises with good form: however, you also need joint STABILITY to perform the correct movement patterning for that exercise. For example, If you have excellent hip mobility but lack ankle mobility, performing the squat may cause your hip to rotate anteriorly (forwards) to achieve depth in the squat, which puts additional strain on your lower back and diminishes transfer of power from the glutes and hamstrings into the drive upwards. Your coach should be able to help you with specific mobility exercises and specific stability exercises to help you work the correct muscle groups during an exercise.

In a CrossFit gym, I recommend the following:

  • Learn the correct movement pattern for a particular exercise by listening to what your instructor recommends.
  • Try to perform the exercise with the correct movement pattern during practice time.
  • With the help of a coach, identify any mobility or stability issues and what specific work needs to be done (this should be tailored to you).
  • Work on your mobility plan every day to address your specific mobility and stability issues.
  • Use light loads and slow, controlled movement to re-train your body to achieve the correct movement pattern once mobility/stability issues have been addressed. This will help prepare you for the larger loads and faster movements (Snatch, Clean and Jerk, Muscle up, etc).
  • Work the fundamentals and work them well – get the basics right first and do them to your best ability before attempting the more complex movements like the Olympic lifts and complex gymnastics movements.
  • Go slow and controlled in a timed workout too – just focusing on holding your body in the right positions is hard work and will work your strength and cardiovascular fitness too.
  • When your coach tells you to slow down or scale back the workout, they’re basically telling you that they care about your safety — and you should too!

WHY? This approach will help reduce risk of injury and make it easier for you to grasp the more technical movements. Safety first, folks!

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