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Get Your Body Ready for CrossFit

People doing crossfit

You've seen the disclaimer before: "Consult your physician before starting a new exercise regimen." CrossFit is no exception. In fact, it might be even more important to talk to your doctor before starting this intense exercise regimen. There are tremendous benefits to this popular athletic program, but as with any fitness program, it comes with factors worth considering before jumping onboard. Here's what you need to know before giving it a go.

What Is CrossFit?

CrossFit blends a high-intensity mix of aerobics, calisthenics, and weightlifting to target all muscle groups. A single regimen—the WOD (workout of the day)—is "prescribed" for everybody involved, whether you're a hardcore professional athlete or a 60-something looking to shed a few excess pounds and improve mobility. This universal workout could involve anything from jumping rope to lifting free-weights and a host of other exercises in between. If you've never lifted weights, you'll be given a lighter load, but expect to complete the same number of sets and repetitions as the person hefting a 400-lb free-weight.

What Are the Dangers?

Travis Maak, MD, University of Utah sports medicine expert and head orthopedic team physician for the Utah Jazz, cautions people against getting into CrossFit too quickly. The competitive, hard-driven nature of the CrossFit exercise culture is certainly part of the draw, but there's a fine line between draw and drawback. "Too much of anything, too fast, is going to cause these overuse type of injuries because your body has to adapt," Maak said.

The best way to avoid injury is to take it slow and to listen to your body. If you feel pain, that's your body's way of telling you something is wrong. Back off and try doing it less intensively. "The smartest person in the entire room is your body. Smarter than me, smarter than you, and it will tell you," said Maak. "So the idea of no pain, no gain—you see people with t-shirts that say 'pain is weakness leaving the body' backwards so they can read it when they stand in front of a mirror at the gym. It's great, but the truth of the matter is your body's smarter than that. It's smarter than a t-shirt and it's smarter than me."

How Can I Prepare for CrossFit?

"You can't become a professional bodybuilder in three weeks or a professional marathon runner in three weeks," Maak says. "You have to work into it, just like you study for a test. You have to let your body study for exercise." Likewise, Crossfit will require some preparation before jumping in. Here are a few steps to take to get your mind and body ready:

Set goals.

Unless you set specific workout goals, you'll only be punishing your body aimlessly. In fact, without a clear objective, you'll be even more inclined to imitate the veteran weightlifter working out beside you. That's a short road to injury.

Get active.

Your body can't go from zero to 100. If you aren't already active, start building healthy habits before starting CrossFit. Pick up jogging. Go for a swim. Anything that will get your heartrate up and adjusted to being active again. After a couple weeks, give CrossFit a try.

Research before committing.

Finding a CrossFit box is easy. Finding one that's right for you is another story entirely. You want to find a gym that places individual progress over group mentality. If the members of that gym brag about not being able to move for days after working out, you're likely dealing with a coach who tries to mold athletes to the regimen and not the other way around.

But more importantly, you should research and decide if CrossFit is right for you. Go ahead and sign up for a free trial before making any financial commitments. Did you enjoy the experience? Is this something you can return to week in and week out?

It's great to get in shape. But you don't want to break yourself to get there. Though CrossFit was intended to work for anyone, it isn't right for everyone. Understand the risks and put in the time necessary before you commit.