Women’s Guide to CrossFit – What You Should Know Before You Go

If you are a woman who is interested in giving CrossFit a go, you should know this:

CrossFit has the potential to transform you!

It can increase your level of fitness, enhance how you think about and see yourself, change how you feel for the better, improve your energy levels and more.

As a female CrossFit athlete myself, I want to share with you what I think every woman who is considering CrossFit should know, from how classes are run, the culture, what to expect, and what to wear.

Let’s get started.

The Basics

two women doing workout at CrossFit gym

What is CrossFit?

Really briefly, CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program where the exercise routines, known as WODs, change every day and are done in a group.

These WODs are done with intensity and the exercises included in each WOD are chosen because they promote functional fitness.

What is Functional Fitness?

Functional fitness is training that is designed to make you better at tasks you may encounter or perform every day.

As an example, let’s say you are helping a friend move and you need to lift a heavy couch. There is a CrossFit exercise called the ‘tire flip’ that can help you train the same muscles you use to lift and carry a couch.

In addition to strength, functional fitness also includes stamina, cardiovascular endurance, speed and more than I can list here.

CrossFit draws on gymnastics, weightlifting, running, high-intensity work and other disciplines to carefully design WODs that increase your functional fitness.

Do Many Women Participate in CrossFit?

If you are a woman you may be relieved to know that CrossFit attracts both men and women in just about equal numbers.

The same goes for coaches. Many CrossFit boxes have about as many male coaches as female coaches.

You may be more comfortable with a female coach, or you may find you connect better with a male coach. Coaches are individuals, after all. It’s a matter of preference and there is nothing wrong with preferring one over the other.

Most boxes have several coaches and class times so you can decide which class and coach is the best fit for you.

women climbing a rope in a CrossFit gym

My Personal Story – How this 42 Year Young Lady got Fit

When I started CrossFit I was 38 years old, slightly overweight, out of shape, mother of 4. I tried other exercise routines and gyms, but never felt motivated enough to stick with it.

I was REALLY intimidated. I had NEVER lifted a barbell, and that Plyo box? Forget it. No way was I ever going to be able to jump up on it.

But it looked really fun, and the other members looked like they were friends with each other.

They just had this kind of glow, or aura about them.

I wanted that!

I wanted to get fit, make friends, and capture whatever it was they had for myself.

Well, I joined. And I am not going to lie. It was hard. Really hard.

But it was also awesome. I met some of the best people I know today, and I am proud to call them my friends. It was one of the best decisions I made for myself, and after almost 5 years, I have no plans to quit.

The Details of a CrossFit Workout

woman doing a box jump exercise at the CrossFit gym

What is a WOD?

I mentioned earlier, the WOD is the workout of the day, usually designed by the head coach, or listed on the www.crossfit.com website.

The WOD changes every day, so you will never get bored, and you can be sure that if you go to class consistently, you will work all areas of your body and cover all aspects of fitness.

Some days focus on strength training, other day’s focus on metabolic conditioning some days focus on speed and agility. You get the picture.

Trial Class – A CrossFit Test Run

If you are new, most CrossFit gyms, also called “the box” have an onboarding class. This class allows you to get a feel for the atmosphere of the box, the coaches, the members, and the workout and see if CrossFit is for you.

All you need to do is give the box you are interested in a call and set up a time to come in.

Fundamentals or On-Ramp Class

After the free trial class, once you decide to commit to CrossFit and become a member, there is what’s called “Fundamentals” or “On-Ramp” classes.

This is a special series of classes to get you started. The fundamentals class is designed to teach you the core CrossFit exercises, including how to do them with proper form. These classes also go in-depth on the topic of nutrition.

These classes are very important and allow you to go into the mainstream class well prepared and confident.

woman training with CrossFit ball at gym

What is a CrossFit Class Like? What Happens in Class?

There are 4 parts of a CrossFit class

Part 1: Warm-up and Mobility Work

The class begins with a warm-up, and maybe some mobility work or stretching. Mobility work is movements done with the joints and ligaments to increase the range of motion and make sure they are moving properly.

The warm-up is different every day, and obviously tailored to complement the WOD coming up.

The coach will spend some time explaining the exercises and will always be there instructing, giving feedback and encouraging you.

Part 2: Skill Training and Strength Exercises

The workout or WOD has two parts, strength training and the Metcon portion. I will talk about the Metcon in a sec.

For the strength training, the coach first covers the proper technique for the strength training exercise you are doing that day. The coach will demo the exercise, showing you exactly how it’s done.

The coach will explain the scaling options, as not everybody can lift the same amount of weight. I will talk about scaling in a little bit.

The coach’s role is to teach, correct exercise form, encourage and push you, but not so hard you overdo it.

Part 3: The Metcon or Metabolic Conditioning

Metabolic conditioning could include any number of exercises. It could call for Burpees, running, rowing, air bike, wall balls and more. It is different every day.

For the metabolic conditioning part of the WOD, the coach will explain the exercise and may demonstrate, if necessary.

Remember, the coach is always there for you to ask questions and get clarification. Don’t be afraid to ask!

Part 4: The Cool Down

After your group finishes the WOD, the coach will lead you in a quick cool-down session and then you are done.

female crossfit athlete exercising with dumbbell

Can I do CrossFit at Home? Can I Make My Own CrossFit Home Gym?

Yes, you can do CrossFit at home and it is easy to build your own at home full or partial CrossFit gym.

Many people use their at-home CrossFit gym exclusively, or as a supplement on days they cannot get to the box.

CrossFit Workouts You Can do at Home

There are several great CrossFit WODs you can do from home, and even some you can do with NO equipment.

I created this list of 21 CrossFit workouts you can do from home just for folks like you.

The best part?

7 of these workouts require NO equipment, so you can start today.

Here is an easy CrossFit workout video you can follow. It’s just five exercises that change up every minute on the minute.

Exercises in this video include pushups, squats, crunches, Kettlebell swing, and lunges.

All you need for this workout is a kettlebell.

Don’t have a kettlebell? Pick one out here!

How to Build Your Own CrossFit Gym from Home

You can make your at-home CrossFit box as simple or elaborate as you like.

There are several WODs you can do with no equipment, but having some basic equipment handy will give you variety to work all muscle groups, and prevent boredom.

To cover the basics, I created this list of the 13 CrossFit gym essentials to help you choose the equipment you need and start building your home CrossFit gym.

If you are the type that likes to get a good deal and buy everything at once, I also have a list of the best CrossFit gym packages to get you set up fast.

How CrossFit is Different for Women

couple doing jumping box squats in CrossFit gym

The Scalable WOD – The CrossFit Workout is Tailored to Each Individual

Most WODs will be written somewhere in the box, usually a large chalkboard or whiteboard. You will notice that when lifting is involved, there are different weights prescribed for men and women.

When I think about it, this difference in prescribed weight is the biggest difference I can find between men and women who do CrossFit.

As a woman, I am sure you are aware that, on average, women do not have the physical strength that men do. I know by experience, after 4 years of CrossFit, I am still not stronger than my husband who does not regularly lift weights.

I am not saying you cannot get really, really strong using CrossFit. Many female pro CrossFit athletes are stunningly strong.

But you certainly don’t start out that way, and only get that way through a LOT of hard work and dedication and sacrifice.

But I digress…

The coach will let you know how you can “scale” the workout to a weight you can manage. This goes for men too. Men can scale workouts also.

Another example of scaling is done with the pull up. Many women cannot do one pull up when they start. So, as a scaling option, they may use a resistance band to assist the pull up.

All WODs can be scaled to your fitness level, so do not be worried that you will not be able to do CrossFit. You can, one way or another.

Common Concerns Women have Before Starting CrossFit

woman doing weight lifting exercise with Olympic barbell

Am I Going to get Buff and Muscular?

I just want to say that personally, I think the CrossFit body is very beautiful because it speaks about the athletes’ drive and commitment to fitness and the command and control they have over their own body.

That being said, many women do not want muscular well-defined bodies and to that I say, to each his, or her own.

Getting bulky and muscular is very hard to do, and is not likely to happen unless you want it to.

Don’t worry, a buff bod won’t sneak up on you!

The CrossFit women you see who have large muscles and definition have strict diets, relatively low body fat, demanding training routines and a lot of commitment to the sport.

What you can get from CrossFit if you train 4 or 5 days a week and eat reasonably is an attractive body that is stronger and leaner than when you started.

The true benefits of CrossFit are so much more than physical appearance.

More on that later.

What are CrossFit Members like, are They Cliquish? Will I Fit in?

The best CrossFit gyms have members who are kind, welcoming and helpful and inclusive towards new members.

CrossFit is designed to support people of any age, fitness level and gender.

It’s not unheard of to occasionally find a clique or two in a CrossFit box, but cliques are not necessarily bad, they are usually made up of likeminded people who have things in common and have become friends.

But…

You can be sure that a CrossFit box is very different from a standard commercial gym.

You can expect members to introduce themselves and cheer you on as you meet new personal records, and be there to assist if you have questions.

Overall, CrossFit is more social, interactive and inclusive than time spent at a standard gym.

Remember…

All CrossFit members were new once, so most of us remember what it’s like to be the new person, and will go the extra mile to be helpful and welcoming.

What Women Can Get Out of CrossFit

woman training on the air resistance exercise bike in the gym.

Better Health and Fitness

CrossFit is designed to improve fitness in 10 key areas.

  • cardiovascular/respiratory endurance
  • stamina
  • strength
  • flexibility
  • power
  • speed
  • coordination
  • agility
  • balance
  • accuracy

If you attend consistently and follow the WOD you will begin to see improvements in all these areas.

Each WOD may focus on two or three of these fitness parameters, but over time all fitness areas are covered.

As you can see, unlike going to a standard gym, where you may tend to focus on one or two machines, and only see improvements in a few areas, CrossFit is well rounded and challenges you to improve in all fitness parameters.

Sense of Accomplishment

When you are challenged to go beyond what you think you can do, and you achieve it, you will feel a huge sense of accomplishment.

You will be challenged in CrossFit, and while you may not always succeed on your first try, you will achieve many small successes and a sense of accomplishment and pride.

When you achieve some milestone you thought was impossible for you, you will swell with pride, in a good way!

For me, it was my first box jump. The height of that dang pine box was so intimidating for me. It looked impossibly high. But one day I did it. It’s an addicting feeling, really, the feeling of accomplishment.

Community

Working out with like-minded people has a few benefits that you just don’t have working out alone.

To be honest, you may feel a spark of healthy competition from time to time and it can be fun and motivating! You will also be in competition with yourself as you work to break personal records or accomplish something you previously could not.

CrossFit is designed to create an atmosphere where you make friends with other members, cheering each other on and motivating others when the workout gets challenging.

You will have the opportunity to make friendships that you would not really have working out alone.

At my box, the instructor sometimes pairs us up for warm-up or the WOD, with people at about the same fitness level. This helps friendships form and allows new people to be included in the group.

Accountability

Working out in a group, with a coach, recording your PRs and workout data keeps you honest.

Often, if you miss a session, the coach and your other CrossFit friends will miss you and ask “Where ya’ been?”

If you have a hard time sticking with a workout, this accountability may be just the push you need to stay on track.

It’s nice to know you will be missed if you don’t make it to class, and in my experience, it motivated me to show up.

Change in Perception of Beauty

Beautiful bodies come in all shapes and sizes and everyone has their own opinion about what is attractive, and that’s fine.

When you step into a CrossFit gym you may notice there are no mirrors. Your fitness is judged not by your appearance, but by performance. It is gauged in reps, in speed, power, etc.

The coaches are there to help you improve your overall fitness, health and nutrition, not to make sure you are working towards some pre-defined beauty ideal.

I like the way 2016 CrossFit games champion Katrin Davidsdotter puts it:

You can still be girly or feminine if that’s what you want. But I think beauty and toughness is about confidence in who you are, however you want to be. I think that always shines through.Katrin Davidsdotter

Some Good Advice for Women who are Thinking About Starting CrossFit

female athlete performing weight lifting exercise at gym

You Don’t Need to be Fit or in Shape to Start

Many people who want to try CrossFit say they need to wait until they lose weight, or get strong enough to do the exercises.

This is just NOT the case!

Remember earlier, I talked about the workout and how each WOD is scalable.

Scalable means that the coach will modify the exercises based on your fitness level. They will be challenging enough so you see progress, but not too challenging so you cannot complete the WOD and feel unmotivated.

Coaches are very aware of the ability of each member and will work with you to improve your fitness, no matter where you start.

If you want a sneak preview of CrossFit WODs that will have you burning fat fast, check out this list of fat burning CrossFit WODs. You can even use these workouts at home if you decide to set up a CrossFit gym at home.

What Should I Wear to My First CrossFit Class?

If you have seen any CrossFit promotional pictures or maybe even seen the CrossFit games, you may notice the female competitors often wear sports bras and booty shorts.

This may be intimidating, but I assure you that those female athletes have a good reason for dressing like that, and the vast majority of your everyday female CrossFit athletes dress a little differently.

If you need a good bra for CrossFit, I have a list of the best CrossFit bras here. This list includes the kind of bra you wear without a shirt, and also includes supportive bras that are designed to wear under a tank or shirt.

female athlete doing fitness workout at gym

Sports Bras and Booty Shorts

OK, so why the sports bras and booty shorts?

CrossFit is intense. You get hot and sweaty fast. If you are a highly trained athlete, kicking butt and taking names, you get even hotter and sweatier, faster.

Plus, these more advanced athletes spend a fair amount of time doing barbell work. Baggy Shirts and shorts catch on the bar, impeding lifts, rep counts and times.

Booty shorts are great for lifting, squatting and lunges because they allow you a full range of motion and do not constrict like longer shorts might. If you like booty shorts, here is a list of the best CrossFit Booty shorts out there.

Leggings and Tank Tops

But what about the everyday gals?

I will be honest, most female CrossFit athletes wear leggings and tank tops, with a sports bra underneath.

I prefer Capri leggings and a fitted tank with a sports bra underneath myself. I find it stays out of the way and I feel comfortable and cool in that.

If you need some ideas, I have a list here of the best workout leggings for women, check them out!

If you want to wear just the sports bra and booty shorts, that’s cool too. It gets hot in the box, you will be sweating and you need your clothes to stay out of the way and help you stay cool.

CrossFit Shoes for Women

For the best performance, and to minimize injury, I HIGHLY recommend you invest in a good pair of CrossFit shoes.

Padded athletic shoes are not designed for the lifting you do in CrossFit. The padding, arch support and rebound built into standard running shoes makes them unstable, which promote injury, and the padding will get crushed under the weight, wearing them out prematurely.

A flat, minimally padded shoe is what you are looking for, when you lift.

CrossFit shoes are different from other training shoes in several ways:

  • CrossFit shoes have minimal padding and arch support.
  • CrossFit shoes have a flat, super grippy sole.
  • CrossFit shoes have very little, if any, bounce, rebound or energy return.
  • CrossFit shoes are reinforced in the sole, upper and toe to withstand abuse.
  • CrossFit shoes are designed with other features like heel clips for handstand pushups and rope tech for added durability for rope climbs.

If you need some ideas, I have here a list of the 25 best CrossFit shoes for women.

Wrapping it All Up

Now that you know what to expect in your first class, what the culture is like, what CrossFit is all about, and even what to wear…

…I hope you realize you are in good hands and that you find CrossFit to be one of the best decisions you made, like I did.

Until next time…

I will see you at the box!

Katie

Katie

Katie is a busy wife and mother of four. She is a freelance writer and frequent contributor on Garage Gym Power. She guards her gym time jealously, and would rather miss a PTA meeting or get takeout for dinner than miss a workout.