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The Five Stages of CrossFitting

Sometimes, people are confused as to what to expect when they start CrossFit: “How long will it take before I start losing weight?” “When will I be able to bench 300 pounds?” “Will the soreness ever get better?”

Each person comes to CrossFit with a different background, and each person will experience different things when they start CrossFit. However, there are a few general stages that most people go through, and we have a general idea for how each of those stages will play out for most people. So, to help clarify what kinds of changes people will experience when starting CrossFit, we present the Five Stages of CrossFitting:

  1. Soreness–After your first few workouts, you will be sore. Soreness is not the goal of exercise, nor is it an accurate indicator of whether or not you got a “good” workout, but it is your body’s natural reaction to a new physical stimulus. The important thing in this stage is to scale workouts appropriately and focus on good hydration and recovery to keep your soreness to a manageable level. Again, soreness is not the goal of exercise, but it’s a natural part of beginning your CrossFit experience. It’s ok. You’ll experience less and less soreness as your body gets used to the amount of work you’re putting it through, and most people experience significantly less soreness after only a couple of weeks.
  2. Increased Work Capacity–Before you start to see major physical changes in your body, you’ll start to notice increased physical ability. For people who haven’t done much strength training before, you’ll start to notice that the bags feel lighter when you’re carrying the groceries in. For those who haven’t done much cardiovascular work, you’ll realize that you’re no longer out of breath when you go upstairs. Your body is adapting to meet the challenges that you face in the gym, which makes it easier for you to overcome the physical challenges that you face in the real world. Most people will see fairly rapid increases in their physical capacity for 6 months to 2 years (or sometimes even more), and if you do a good job of working on recovery and avoiding illness or injury, you’ll continue to see performance improvements throughout your CrossFit career.
  3. Body Shape Change–This stage usually begins shortly after the beginning of the previous stage, anywhere from 1-6 months into your CrossFit experience. As your body begins to get stronger and more efficient, you’ll also start to notice that it’s beginning to fit in your clothes a bit differently. You won’t necessarily see much weight change, but you will start to notice that your clothes are looser where they used to be tight, and tighter in the places where you might want them to be tighter. As your body re-organizes in order to become more physically capable, your useful bits (like muscle) become more emphasized, while the parts of your body designed for extra seat padding and energy storage (like fat) start to dissipate.
  4. Body Size Change–After your body’s shape begins to change, you’ll start to see some weight change. This can be weight loss for those who have been carrying around a few extra pounds, or weight gain for those who haven’t previously given their bodies a chance to flourish. Two important things to note about weight change: First, it’s usually not nearly as important to your physical appearance as changes in your body shape; and second, it has just as much to do with your diet, sleep habits, stress levels, and hormone levels as it does with your exercise habits. Tracking your weight, or living and dying by the scale, is a recipe for disappointment, yo-yo weight change, and an inability to ever settle into a healthy groove for the long term. Focus more on improvements in Stage 2 (work capacity) and enjoy the resulting effects in Stage 3 (body shape), and your body will find its best, healthiest size all by itself.
  5. CrossFit Nirvana–You have reached the pinnacle of CrossFit. Your body is getting stronger and more efficient, it’s forming itself into a more attractive shape and size, and your health markers (cholesterol, blood pressure, etc) are all looking good. The coolest part of all this, though, is that you no longer care about a lot of the things that motivated you to get into CrossFit in the first place. You could care less whether your pants are a size 12 or a size 6—you just want 10 more pounds on your deadlift. You’re no longer going for 18-inch biceps—you’re trying to get under a 5-minute Fran. The other things are nice bonuses, but what you care about is getting better as an athlete and a person—and that is what CrossFit is all about.