As with any sport, there are guidelines to help you stay safe and ensure you reap the benefits of your CrossFit workouts, whether you’re a veteran or just starting out…

Find a good box
Not one to jump on – but a CrossFit gym, which is also known as a ‘box’. Good CrossFit boxes should require newbies to do intro classes, where you’ll learn the foundations, get familiar with perceived exertion, terminology and key movements. This makes transition easier and safer when you are performing in a real class.

You might love the atmosphere and camaraderie of your CrossFit box, but
 be careful not to confuse a good energy with good coaching, says Marshall.
 “Your membership should provide a safe environment through a coach who closely monitors your load and technique during every move.” And, whatever you do, never do a CrossFit workout on your own – you should always be supervised.

Develop your skills
“It doesn’t matter how strong you are; 
if you’re not proficient in Olympic lifts,
 you can injure yourself,” says Marshall. “Before you start adding weight to your bar, can you move with technical efficiency, coordination and stability? That means knowing where and when to fire, relax
 and catch at the right points to execute efficiently and without risk of injury.”
 Good technical know-how comes with practice, so take it slowly and hold out being Little Miss Competitive on the lifts until you’ve scored enough experience.
 “A good CrossFit coach should watch
 what weight is good for you and your experience, and shouldn’t be afraid of telling you to strip the bar,” says Marshall.

Think form over PB
To get fitter and stronger quickly and safely, it’s super important to always make sure your technique is spot-on. “When your form is better, your chances of injury decrease. You need to be safe so you
 can train again this week, next week and beyond,” says Marshall. He suggests that if you’re less experienced, you should push hard on low-skill movements such as burpees, runs and push-ups, where there’s lower risk of injury; and focus on technique rather than a personal best on the lifts.

Know your pain
Get to know the difference between muscle fatigue and pain that indicates 
joint damage – it’s the key to undertaking CrossFit, as well as other sports, safely. “Training intensely and exposing your body to functional movement when training like an athlete will cause some discomfort, and you may hurt the next day with muscular aches and stiffness, but this is ‘athletic normal’. Your real warning signs are sharp, shooting pains that don’t go away – that’s your indication to stop,” says Cresswell. “Never load weight if a movement is causing pain – this will lead to injury.”

Find your training age
Regardless of your past gym experience, if you’ve only been doing CrossFit for a few months, you need to make patience your new BFF. “Fitness is not a destination, it’s an endless journey. The less experience you have, the more time it’ll take to hone your technique and get to grips with
a movement pattern and your load capacities,” says Cresswell. Marshall agrees. “Your perceived exertion might have improved over the first eight weeks of CrossFit, but your skills are still playing catch-up. Eventually, you’ll know how to manage a workout, break up the reps and set your pace to finish strongly,” he adds.

Warm up, cool down
Your warm-up should challenge and
mimic some of the movements you’ll be performing to prep your body and mind and reduce the chance of injuries. Experts say your warm-up should be built on the RAMP framework. “RAMP warm-up should raise your body temperature, respiration rate, blood flow and heart rate; activate key muscle groups; mobilise joints; and prime with explosive movements to prepare your body to work out,” explains Creswell. Don’t scrimp on the cool-down either. “Stretching major muscles involved in your workout will help you recover and prepare for your next session.”

Rest up
Listen to your body – recovery rate varies between exercisers and workouts, so give your nervous system and muscles a chance to recuperate before you train again. “Insufficient recovery is the route to injury and diminished performance,” advises Cresswell. “Drink fluids after training and eat a nutrient-rich, unrefined, colourful, wholefoods meal within two hours. Sleep is crucial too – aim for eight hours to support hard training.” Still dipping in energy levels? Speak to a sports nutritionist and have your diet assessed.

Focus on yourself
Studies tells us that social networks can motivate us to exercise more and, sure, this might help you see faster results in CrossFit, but avoid getting caught up with what others are lifting. Instead, scale your weight according to your individual strength, skills and experience. “It’s not what you can lift on the first few reps, but what you can maintain for a workout of, say, three rounds of 12 reps,” says Marshall. “You might be lifting less than the person next to you, but you’ll be challenged in equal ways because it’s relative. That’s the beauty of CrossFit.”

This story appeared in the April 2017 issue of Women’s Fitness.

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