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Woman to Woman: Tips & Tricks to Make the Most of Your CrossFit experience

By Lauryn Lax

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April 13, 2016

Whether you’ve been a CrossFitter for 5 years, 5 months or 5 days, there are tips and tricks that every woman should know to get the most out of their CrossFit experience—in and out of  the gym. From the best gym gear and post-WOD fuel, to dealing with hand calluses and box jump battle scars, to pushing past fears and believing in yourself—as female athletes, we can all continue to learn a thing or two from each other.

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Here are some words of wisdom from our six-member panel for CrossFit women everywhere—veterans and rookies alike.

Meet the Panel:
Samantha (“Sam”) Butts, 24, CrossFit Nashville, Nashville, TN
CrossFitting: 1 ½ years
Occupation: Healthcare Recruiter
Favorite movement: Power Cleans
Favorite healthy food: Bacon
Fun random fact: I played baseball with the boys until I was 13

Cheryl Nasso, 28, CrossFit New England, Natick, MA
CrossFitting: 4 years
Occupation: CrossFit coach
Favorite movement: Power Cleans & Handstand Pushups
Favorite healthy food: Japanese yams with coconut butter
When I am not CrossFitting: I am a homebody! Nothing makes me feel quite as good as being able to snuggle on the couch on a Sunday afternoon

Kasey Durbin, 27, CrossFit City Limits, Austin, TX
CrossFitting: 1 year, 3 months
Occupation: Marketing Manager at Kalypso
Favorite movement: Power Cleans
Favorite healthy food: Eggs
When I am not CrossFitting: I am in a wedding, attending a wedding or throwing a shower of some sort

Becky Conzelman, 42, Back Country CrossFit, Denver, CO  (CrossFit Games 2011, 2012, 2013)
CrossFitting: 4 years
Occupation: CrossFit Athlete, Mom
Favorite healthy food: Gluten-free pizza
When I am not CrossFitting: I am hanging with my kids (ages 6 & 7), skiing and hiking in the mountatins
Fun random fact: I am the co-founder of Faith Rx’d—a new organization for the community

Jilly Jarwoske, 22, CrossFit Soul Miami, FL,
CrossFitting: 4 years
Occupation: College student (graduate in May!), then I will be a CrossFit coach
Favorite movement: Clean & Jerk
Favorite healthy food: Kale
Fun random fact: I was a competitive equestrian prior to starting CrossFit

Susan Wallis, 61, CrossFit Duval (Jax Strength & Conditioning), Jacksonville, FL
CrossFitting: 4 years (CrossFit Games 2013)
Occupation: Retired high school math teacher
Favorite movement: Front and back squats
Favorite healthy food: A raw rib-eye steak with sautéed greens
When I am not CrossFitting: I might be out working in my yard, biking/running, or working out with the lifeguards on surf equipment

Savannah, 8, CrossFit Central, Austin, Texas
CrossFitting: “Since I was a baby in 2004. My dad would put me up on the rings to hold on”
Occupation: Second grade student
Favorite movement: Squats
Favorite healthy food: Brussels sprouts
When I am not CrossFitting: I am in Girl Scouts, making something creative (I love art), skateboarding, playing tag, just being a kid

WOMAN TO WOMAN ADVICE
Think back to when you started CrossFit for the first time. What do you wish you had know then that you do now?
Sam: Listen to your body. I know that when I first began to drink the CrossFit “Kool-Aid” I could not stay out of the gym and always wanted to do more than I probably should have. I would certainly listen to my body more just in the sense of avoiding injuries and not over-taxing my body.

Cheryl: I would have spent more time learning the fundamentals. I would also advise anyone new to CrossFit to research they box they are starting at to make sure they have a well-run fundamentals/foundations program. Mechanics should come first, then consistency, then intensity.

Kasey: Stop looking around the gym and comparing. As women, we compare things all day long; is this apple as ripe as the other apple? Is my hair better straight or curly? Stop it. Be satisfied with your performance and compete with yourself instead of others.

Becky: Do some research and find a reputable box. Especially if you are new, ask around. Try a class or two at several different boxes. If you don’t get that personalized coaching you may need as a beginner for movements like the snatch, move on. Look for good coaching and a community that you are going to look forward to being a part of.

Jilly: I cried during my Fundamentals and I could barely overhead squat the training bar, but not once did my coach give up on me, or tell me I wasn’t “fit” enough to start CrossFit. ANYONE can start CrossFit! Secondly, I was a recovering vegan and I wish someone would have told me in the beginning how important one’s nutrition is to their performance. It wasn’t until I switched to a Primal diet that I noticed how much happier and more energized I felt in and outside of the gym.

Give us your top “woman to woman” pieces of advice for anything CrossFit!
Sam:
1. Don’t always go by your feelings. Even when you’re not “feeling it,” doing something is better than doing nothing.

2. Being strong is beautiful. Don’t worry about what others think of you. The way we look is the side effect of what we do.

3. Lululemon shorts are the best CrossFit apparel for day to day WODs. They are a bit pricey, but definitely a bang for your buck there.

Cheryl:  
1. You may outgrow your sports bras. This is NOT a bad thing. In fact, I have learned to embrace my lats. Your sports bras may grow tight—but just invest in a few good ones you can get on and off more easily.

2. Be prepared for some interesting results from intense ab-work. Check out this journal article to see what I mean.: http://journal.crossfit.com/2013/03/from-crunches-to-climax.tpl

Kasey:
1. Get a gym bestie. Quick. Find someone that might be a little better at picking up the movements than you or can lift heavier than you or just someone that cheers your name loudly during a WOD. This person is important. She’s crucial to your success because when your inner badass gives up, she’ll be there to cheer you on or push you harder.

2. Go to your box on the days you absolutely don’t want to go. Notice that double-unders are prescribed in the WOD and your toes aren’t ready for the whipping they’re sure to endure? That is the day you should definitely show up. I have a feeling you’ll leave extra-satisfied (even if you’re covered in whip marks). But remember to take rest days because even Oprah takes time off.

Becky:
1. Don’t overtrain. Your body needs breaks. I battled a bout of adrenal fatigue from training too much, not sleeping enough and lagging a little in my nutrition. Practice balance. Take a vacation. CrossFit is wonderful, but don’t make it your whole life. Make time for everything you love—your family, your work, your other hobbies.

2. Don’t be afraid of ‘bulking up.’ 99% of women out there just don’t have the body structure to do it, nor are they training like Games athletes. Don’t fear a certain look—instead look forward to getting to know new people and an awesome community.

3. Enjoy the journey. CrossFit is a process—and it’s about enjoying that process every step of the way. Don’t expect to get things like double-unders or muscle ups off the bat. Be patient with yourself.

Jilly:
Be familiar with the “First On, Last Off” concept: The last place you shed excess fat is the first place you put it on. Don’t be discouraged if you are starting to see abs, but have cellulite on your legs. It’s perfectly normal and like most women, ladies with big strong, sexy legs will probably lose the excess fat there a little slower. Keep lifting heavy and love those legs

Susan:
1. You can surprise yourself if you have the confidence to continue working. It will come. And the other members of your class will celebrate with you. So many women believe they can’t do a certain movement, and then one day, they get their first pull-up with only one band or lift 10 pounds more than they did last week.

2. Don’t expect to be able to do the entire workout or lift the same weights as everyone else. There are still workouts that I cannot do as prescribed even though I have been CrossFitting for more than 3 years. That’s ok, because you are there for you, to do the best that you can and be challenged.

3. Nutrition is vital with any lifestyle, whether you workout or not. Good quality foods. Nothing processed, no added or fake sugar. Dairy products are not needed for a healthy body and I maintain a gluten-free (and mostly grain-free) diet for full benefits. Fish oil and healthy fats are key, too. Plan ahead. Cook once, eat twice—make several servings and pack the extras for snacks/post WOD meals for the week.

Savannah:
1. Don’t focus on being skinny. Focus on being healthy.

2. The workouts get easier when you stick with it.

Give us a tip or trick for how you “got” a particular movement or two that you originally struggled on.
Sam:
Butterfly Pull-ups and Chest-to-Bar. I literally practiced for 4 weeks straight and was not getting the flow of the butterfly until I decided to create a band harness that latched around my shoulder blades from the pull up rig to give me that bounce in the air. It allowed me to get my butterfly pull-ups within 4 days without a band.

Cheryl:
Double-Unders. Pretend you are on a pogo stick. A lot of people tend to get into this high knee/pike position. It’s just a single-under with a little extra jump off the ground.

Kasey:
Max Cleans. I always get nervous to max clean. The weight just seems heavier than it really is in my head so I always deadlift the bar first to show myself that yes, I can pick up this weight. Then I reset and go for it.

Jilly:
The Muscle-Up. This move cost my 2013 Regionals team when we couldn’t progress past the 7 minutes of Muscle-Up AMRAP. Females don’t usually get MUs quickly, and especially not in a day if you don’t have the proper foundation. Focus on the muscle-up transition on low rings, strict dips and strict pull-ups.  For me, five strict ring dips, ten strict pull-ups and countless hours of transition practice translated into my first muscle-up, but everyone is different! It’s a skill, so don’t base your whole self-worth on ONE CrossFit movement like I did. I mentally beat myself up after Regionals when I couldn’t get even one for the team, but it wasn’t until I put the time and the practice in that the muscle-up dream was realized.

Susan: Double-unders. It took me a while and I still can’t consistently go unbroken, but I am much better at them. The advice that helped me was to relax the upper body, keep the hands in the same place and to  practice singles with a slower jump.

Best words of advice someone has given you during your CrossFit journey?
Cheryl: Embrace the “bad” training days because those are the ones you learn the most from.

Kasey: I got some good, easy, obvious advice when learning butterfly pull-ups – look up. Always look up. #mindblown

Becky: Have fun! It’s easy to get serious about it, but when I remind myself why I do it, I am way more relaxed.

Jilly: Appreciate the journey. In the first couple of months after you begin CrossFit, your body is going to undergo some amazing changes and your strength is going to increase rapidly, especially if you weren’t an athlete before starting CrossFit. When that progress begins to taper off, don’t feel discouraged! You’re still going to make progress, but it’s a lot slower and harder to continue to add lean mass, lose excess body fat and develop strength and power. You’re not going to hit 20 lb. PRs and drop 2 minutes off  your Fran time every time you test after you’ve been CrossFitting consistently for 1 to 2 years. Unhappy? Frustrated? Reevaluate your diet. Get an extra hour of sleep a night. Ask your coach about a strength program or a weightlifting class. Relax, you’re still a badass and this is part of the process.

Susan: Ask. If you can’t get a movement, then ask someone how they conquered that movement. Ask several people. One person’s cues may not help you, but the other person’s might. And then, just practice.

Savannah: Don’t quit. You have to believe in yourself. You can win and you can lose at a workout—but don’t lose the belief in yourself that you can do great things.

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