Don’t Make My Mistakes: The 10 Things I’ve Learned From Doing Crossfit

Don’t Make My Mistakes: The 10 Things I’ve Learned From Doing Crossfit
By Avery Wittkamp

I’ve been involved with Crossfit for the past five years as a participant and coach. Early on I made some rookie mistakes, but would vow to never make them again. Then I would make the same mistakes again a few weeks later. And, I see other Crossfitters making these same mistakes all the time, too. So it might be useful to some of you to learn from the wizened voice of experience, or just to hear a few tips I learned the hard way.

1) Your background is not your destiny, (but it’s what you have today).

Unlike Coach Sara, I am not a former gymnast. I did a bunch of endurance sports. This meant that I wasn’t all that strong. I could run and run, but overhead stuff? Forget it. It wasn’t until the beginning of my second year that I got an unassisted pull up, which made me realize that I could do things I thought were impossible (or didn’t like). But during that first year, I spent a lot of time secretly comparing myself to other women and feeling like I wasn’t making enough progress. What a waste of energy!

Stop comparing yourself to other people. OK, you can do it a little tiny bit for inspiration, but not to run yourself down, and definitely not as an excuse to quit. If, like me, your background is in running, then you probably need to work on strength and comparing yourself to Brian D., Olympic weightlifting wunderkind, who has been diligently lifting for years is DUMB.

2) Don’t ever use the word “bulky”. Ever.

This is a special message for the women new to Crossfit. You will not get bulky. Just…you won’t. Cut it out. Stop using this as an excuse to get in great shape. You have to lift like a bodybuilder to get bulky and that ain’t Crossfit. I was one of those women. I was afraid of getting bulky, so lifting heavy weights wasn’t for me.

During my first year of Crossfit, I ran and and did my old workouts, because I was afraid of losing the “fitness” I had started with while learning new movements from Crossfit. I was convinced the longer I spent doing any activity, the more I was going to get out of it. But I was wrong.

Look around. See that woman with the body you would love to have? She lifts weights. End of discussion.… so get off the elliptical, please.

Also: below I tell people not to act like Godzilla with every workout. That is for the men. Women, this is never your problem. Use more weight.

3) Job #1: Avoid Injury.
All skills are improved with persistent and regular work. If you get injured you have to lay off and your training suffers.

So stretch and work on your mobility. Today, not tomorrow.

Scale. Challenge yourself, but don’t let anyone cajole you into weight that you’re not ready for or that might injure you. Crossfit isn’t (despite what some people think) about impressing other people. It’s about your progress to better fitness, and health, and being able to show up tomorrow is more important than those twenty extra pounds on the bar that send you to the couch for three weeks.
Get help. If your shoulder is still bothering you after 4 months, go get it checked out. Come on, don’t be an idiot by ignoring it and doing a WOD with 200 kipping pull ups. Pain is different than discomfort during a workout; learn the difference.

4) Not every workout is a competition; embrace training to improve.

You should be pushing past your limits in your workouts when your brain is telling you to stop (and not because of pain, see above). Why else would you be sick enough to do Crossfit?

However, improvement doesn’t occur just because you flail about with abandon and race to the finish every time we start a stopwatch. Whether you like it or not, at some point you have to start taking ownership of your workouts.

In order to improve and do WODs rx’d, I decided to do these things:
a) Get Stronger, by loading the bar when appropriate, even when I thought it might be too hard,
b) Scale as Needed to complete the movements with the best possible form and ROM I could muster (even mid-workout, if necessary), and
c) Show Up Consistently, even if I didn’t like the workout or was feeling a little tired or sore.

I improved, but like most of us, never felt satisfied with the gains I was making. They seemed soooo slow in comparison to everyone else around me and I had SO many weaknesses! See my next point…

5) You will never be good at everything. Get over it.

My biggest problem has always been that I like to do everything – and at a very early age I decided I would try to be proficient at everything I ever tried. So I get it when you tell me how you are trying to improve your snatch, max back squat, muscle ups, and strict press all while trying to set a new PR on Fran. That’s how it works, right? Nope. Only patience will get you there, and respect for form and technique.

6) Listen to your coach.

Find a coach at CFNYC who can answer your questions and whose cues you can follow. The coaches want the best for you. We want to help you progress. So listen. Seriously, get your chin over the bar! Squat lower!

But…even coaches need coaches. Without the guidance of someone beside myself to direct my training, I would constantly overtrain. That’s what I do. So I have people to yell at me and say no.

7) “This (Insert Program Du Jour) Is the Only Way!”

One of the virtues of Crossfit is that it is pretty random. Most of us will adapt and get stronger just by showing up, working hard, and not cherry-picking the WODs.

I did mainsite programming until my third year and like many seasoned Crossfitters, perhaps out of boredom, I tried about 83 different programs including, but not limited to: OPT, Crossfit Football, and several cycles of Starting Strength. I don’t recommend this, as I never really saw great gains from anything because I didn’t stick with any one program long enough and I definitely missed the class environment.

Most of the women I knew at the 2010 Crossfit Regionals who started CF when I did were at about the same strength and skill level that I was. They were all from different boxes with different programming. The key for me was to settle on some programming, and stick with it. Crossfit with kettlebells and O-lifting were the things that I loved. For you it might be something else.

8) Be humble.

Hey, there is a lot to learn in Crossfit. Some of it you can learn fast, some of it takes years to master. Take your time, and be respectful of those who have been at it longer, and especially of those who are newer than you. Be careful in the advice you give and always remember that you are a student no matter what level you’re at.

9) More is not always better. Also, Rest.

Warm ups that are harder and longer than your workout. Two-a-days before and after work. Marathon sessions of lifting, with several met-cons. Always heavy and always hard. Rarely a day off. Is this you? And exactly when are you going to squeeze in that “recovery” stuff where all gains are made? Learning more about the term “Mimimum Effective Dose” as applied to workouts really stopped me in my tracks a year ago. Really, you should be doing the least possible you need to make gains – once that stops working then change what you are doing or try to increase the workload just enough to see gains again. Too often we get into the mantra of “More!” when it is simply just that, not better.

10) Are we having fun yet???

If you are not having fun, you seriously need to reexamine your priorities and expectations. If you are spending countless hours doing an activity that is making your life more stressful or is keeping you frustrated over your “lack of progress” then you are missing out. The fun is the training and the community. It is not the PRs, and it is not about winning competitions (though I’ll admit those are nice too). The best part of my CF experience, hands down, has been the long-lasting friendships I have made through the Box over the years.

You won’t find that if you have your headphones on while jogging on the treadmill. I’ve already tried.


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  • Anonymous

    Great article, Coach Avery. Thank you for putting it together.

  • CAIN

    Agree x 10

  • Anonymous

    Love this!

  • Court

    Love you, Avery; awesome article!
    I would encourage everyone that is new to CF (& most of us that are old-ish to it) to take this article to heart and commit most of it to your memory as guide for your progress in CF; it will save you time and unnecessary misery.

    • C1sarena

      Agreed 100%

  • Kevin

    I need to get better at making friends.

  • Bryce

    Awesome advice, thanks Avery.  Wish I would have worked out more with you when I was there.  

  • Rlessman

    great advice. definitely going to share. thanks

  • Hari

    What I’ve learned: When you see a great coach in your ranks, hire her.
    Avery, check.

  • Michael Mishik

    Nicely said Avery!

  • Sean Manseau

    This is so great! I’m going to make it mandatory reading at PVCF. Thanks Avery!

  • meret

    awesome article!

  • Thank you, this is fantastic, and stuff I really need to remember, especially about comparing myself.

    I would add: don’t say “I suck at…” Because there is probably someone not as good as you who would love to be as good as you are at the thing you say you suck at. (I am definitely guilty of being on both sides of this.)

    Also, that is a wonderful and inspirational picture of you with the kettlebell. Thanks for sharing!

  •  Thanks for putting this up. Its so easy for me to forget sometimes that I need to focus on my own strengths and weaknesses and that its ok to be the last one to finish as long as I finish. So easy to get caught up in the cycle of putting yourself down for being gthe one wigth the lightest weights or the longest times, but its good to remind myself that as long as I’m trying my absolute hardest, its ok to progress at my own level.

    And yes, that its also very important to do the workouts you hate so you get better at them *cough400meterrunscough*


  • Anonymous

    LOVE this. I relate to this very much, thank you Avery, wish I was able to have you as my coach more frequently!

  • Lenny

    Great article Avery.

  • Number 10 is most important. Why pay for a gym if you don’t enjoy going? CF is really the only reason to wake up so early in the morning. 

  • Dickie


  • dan def

    Yes, yes, and more yes.  Every Crossfitter should read this article.   

  • <3 you Avery! You're awesome=)

  • <3 you Avery! You're awesome=)

  • Great read…especially after that WOD this morning that Avery described as “fun.” 🙂

  • Very nice! As a…ahem…mature CrossFitter I find wisdom in every little bit of that piece. Good on ya, Avery. 


    P.S. Cheers, Hari! 

  • Paul Booth

    This is super, thank you Avery

  • Wbgreene

    Fantastic article, thank you!  

  • Wbgreene

    Fantastic article, thank you!  

  • Michellefoxman

    avery i am feeling soo bulky today

  • Allison Bojarski

    Avery inspires me!

  • Anonymous

    great article, looking for some hard, smart work!!!

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  • Steve Slo

    This is really wonderful, Avery.

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  • Sarah

    Thanks for sharing this with us, when you read it, most of it seems obvious, but you re just not aware of it, until I read your experiences.. Comforting to hear that I m not the only one that feels like I never make enough progress, despite of all the effort you put into it..

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  • Phil

    Great article!!!

  • C1sarena

    I can relate to so much of this. Has it been 5 years since I trained with ya? Awesome pic!

  • Keely

    Thank you for this. I am 3 weeks in and I am very slow, but I am having fun!!! I had never exercised before so after 41 years, I am rather way over due. My trainer is BEYOND the BEST to me, but most important he hears me. Again, thank you for the wise advice. 

  • ‘Too often we get into the mantra of “More!” when it is simply just that, not better.’ 
    I am JUST venturing into the world that is CrossFit. But that line, that line nails it for me. 

  •  Holy smokes, all ten points are spot on! Great article and anyone who is new or experienced (or thinks they are experienced) with Crossfit would probably agree. It seems like you folks at Crossfit NYC got your act together. Hopefully one day when I am in the neighborhood I’ll have the opportunity to visit your box.

  • Dante Bachette Jr.

    All of the chicks are bulky… Rule 2 doesn’t apply

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  • Chrysaliswings

    I love this article, thank you! I especially agree with the last statement about having fun. I am also a runner and I eventually came to realize the freedom I sought in running was gone. It wasn’t fun and I was constantly pushing and not getting any results. It became borderline pathological. So keep it light, keep it fun!

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  • Debk95

    Very true!

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  • Carmela Pereira

    Awesome post almost everything your wrote about I have experienced…

  • patrick

    excellent advice alll crossfitters should follow! Well done!

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  • me

    you say to stop it with the “bulky” talk but in both pics I look at the legs, thighs, and arms of those girls and think…NO WAY do I want to be that masculine…do I want to be fit, of course, but bulging muscles are not the only indication of “fitness”. I consider myself to be quite fit, but no one walking down the street would ever stop and think “woh, she is jacked” and I have definitely had just those sentiments when walking up to a crossfit gym. now i understand that for some, legs and arms that are that muscular are the goal, but that goal should not be the only achievement equated with attaining fitness. “bulky” is not a myth of crossfit for women, it is a very likely possibility. now if you want to say you can avoid becoming bulky by tailoring your workouts as such, then i think that is a fair statement, but you can’t completely disregard the concern of becoming too bulky for women. I enjoy crossfit on occasion and think it has a lot to offer, but I also balance the intensity of it with a variety of other activities such as swimming, running, yoga, etc. because I do want to avoid building up too much bulky muscle. Not knocking crossfit in anyway here, just tired of hearing people say that the “bulky” concern isn’t a legitimate one.

    • metoo

      I thought the same thing when I saw those pics. I know I can bulk up because I did when I was playing sports in high school. Who wants to look like their boyfriend? I want to look long and sleek. Muscles will show if your body fat is in a good healthy range. Who needs to bulk up to show them?

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  • Teresa

    Good read. Several of these points have gone thru my squirrelly head …

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  • JazyladyT

    I started NORCAL Crossit at my job in San Jose, CA in October 2012. This week seemed to be a really off week. I was very frustrated thinking I wasn’t good enough or wasn’t doing things the right way. This write-up really inspired me. Thank you for sharing, it is definitely me.

  • ironcimmerian

    Its kind of funny reading some of this. If (if) you lift to get strong(talking specifically about women here) your legs “WILL” get bigger, fact. You….need to get over that and stop telling women that it doesn’t happen. It does-once again, “if” you’re doing it right. However, some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen have thicker legs! I’m not talking about the gross, phony, exaggerated steroid legs. It is obvious, however, when you look at a female and instantly know “damn, she bikes, or lifts!” There’s nothing wrong with that! The “Hollywood skinny” is out and most of us never liked it to begin with. So….get to lifting! 🙂

  • Laredo Laredo

    Great article, but in the second photo, that woman is bulky. I know everyone will read this and say “but she’s strong! She’s not bulky!” But, when women say they don’t want to get bulky, they aren’t necessarily talking about looking like a male body builder. We don’t want the large thighs and hips that many female cross fitters have. I would love to try crossfit, but I want long, lean muscle tone, not bulk. When I see photos like the one above, I think to myself, “I don’t want to look like that”.

  • kiki

    Love the article. Im not sure why people are so scared to be in shape. If u do crossfit, you will gain muscle and be defined….who cares!! U will look and feel great!!