View Full Version : How To Start?

Matthew Ricker
08-12-2007, 10:40 PM

I'm not even sure how to ask what I am wondering here; or how much information to provide, etc., but here we go anyway:

How do I start? That is, to say, what should an unconditioned/untrained/weak/slow beginner do (program-wise) to get fit? I feel like this is a very poor question, but I don't really know how express it any better. I guess some background might help.

I am moderately healthy, 24yo, 5'9", 158 lbs., ~12-14% bf (little muscle mass, but look 'skinny' with minimal definition), and, while not trying to pick on myself, just being honest, extremely weak. I can do 1, maybe 2 hanging pullups, ~30 loose form pushups, and sadly, only about ~10-14 sissy-situps (arms crossed over chest).

So we can see already that a first answer might be simply, "Just do anything because you're at a point where anything is better than where you're at now." I would agree. And I am; sort of. I'm working through SimpleFit right now, and although weak, I am not having difficulty doing the workouts. But I'm not jumping ahead in the progression; I'll just ride it out till I finish it, end to end.

So, I'm not 'doing nothing'. I also am not asking because I'm scared that x will work but y might not. I own Starting Strength and Practical Programming, subscribe to the CF newsletter, etc. I understand the methodologies, but this still doesn't help.

My question is really about where to go once I'm done with SimpleFit. Should I work through starting strength? Should I go to scaled versions of the CF WOD at BrandX? Should I develop a hybrid ME/BB CF approach? I have been thinking about this for about 3 weeks now, and eventually, I am going to run out of time and need to make a decision.

It might help to understand where I want to end up: Short term, I want to improve GPP, mostly strength, strength endurance, and short duration metcon to non-embarrassing levels. Not too big of a goal. Long term (very long term) I want to achieve 3 things: Advanced standing in Coach Rippetoe's strength standards; 'Level 4' GPP on CF Seattle's standards, and downright jaw-dropping times/rounds on CF staple girls. Sounds like I want it all, doesn't it?

True. I do. And I'm willing to work and wait. This isn't a plea for a one-program-to-rule-them-all. But I am wondering about which avenue (strength, CF, or hybrid) I should take after SimpleFit to continue progress. I'm leary of doing pure strength work only. I don't know why. Maybe because I have tried that in the past and got bored easily. I'm also very worried that my lack of strength will handicap progress with pure CF.

When somebody's overall performance slows or stagnates due to a lagging attribute, it makes sense to troubleshoot and then improve that lagging attribute. But what if you lag in ALL attributes? What if you can't do a WOD because you can't lift the weights?

I'm going to stop this post here, for now, before I ramble too long. To save others' time, I would like to say that I have done a tremendous amount of reading, both with online resources, and in popular books recommended here and at CF. My point is that I am aware of the proper diet protocols, sleep, etc.. It's been a long process, but I am changing so many aspects of my life for the healthier, not just fitness programming. Again, I am not asking for a panacea or a workaround for poor diet/habits. I am asking for a bit of direction that will make sense in regards to where I want to end up in the future.

Bill Ripley
08-13-2007, 02:04 AM
Master the exercises outlined in Starting Strength. Start with the most basic programming in Practical Programming. Mix in some of the simplefit bodyweight stuff if your recovery can handle. You are skinny and weak, start where you are and don't look back.

Sam Cannons
08-13-2007, 03:54 AM
Hey Matthew, welcome aboard. What sort of access to equipment do you have ? I like Bill's advice get some basic technique down pat and drill the basics for a while then have a look at this thread http://performancemenu.com/forum/showthread.php?t=1429

There are some good thoughts on how to mix it up there. If you can find some one to coach you in the movements it will save you a huge amount of time.

Steve Shafley
08-13-2007, 06:02 AM
If you're willing and able to go to BrandX regularly, the hands on instruction will benefit you. If you'd prefer to go it alone, then you should continue on with SimpleFit progressions and start learning how to use a barbell.

Most folks really should have someone knowledgeable to help them learn barbell lifts, even the simple ones, and especially if, at 24, you've never done them before.

Probably the best thing is to find a group of serious, competitive lifters in your area, either Olympic lifters, powerlifters, or even guys who train seriously for some other power-biased sport, and ask them to help you out.

Or a coach.

Matthew Ricker
08-13-2007, 08:14 AM
I have access to a gym close by with every piece of Nautilus (laugh) equipment you can imagine, and maybe two flat benches, a cable rack, and I *think* a power cage or squat rack, as well as a pullup bar screwed into the wall that looks flimsy; probably fine for dead hang, but I think even my 158 lbs. would kip it out of the wall.

This is another area I've been struggling with: Equipment. I'm very tempted by the "Garage gym" article, and would like to build one for myself. But, funds are limited. I can easily manage things like building a platform, buying a quality power cage, flat bench, pullup bar, and rings; but things like a C2, glute-ham developer, and 20ft rope are out of the question for now (the rope due to lack of verticle real estate, including trees on my proprty, not funds). Oh, and of course a barbell and bumper plates would help, I guess. I could swing the cash for those, too. ;)

The reason I haven't already done so (I've been 'researching' for about a month now) is that I am not sure how much overhead room I need. My garage has a very low ceiling (open rafters, but still, low beams), and I am unsure if a cage will fit on the platform (maybe I could make a cutout platform so the cage is on the ground?) and also if I have enough height for movements like the OHS and other barbell-above-head exercises.

I already know the answer to my equipment problem: Since my gym costs me nothing, use it while I gradually accumulate the equipment I need, and shift more emphasis to my garage gym as possible. The only guestion I have is: My gym has a very strict "No dropping of weights" policy; will this significantly hinder my workouts? I know certain exercises end up having you drop the weights 'once they are heavy enough' but what about in the beginning? Can I do these early on without dropping weights, or is dropping an inherent part of the movement?

Going to BrandX in person is out of the question, unfortunately, as I am in Montana. The closest CF affiliate is CF Missoula. I guess I could call and see about getting some initial barbell movement coaching, but Missoula is 230 miles away through the mountains, so I won't be going once or twice a week. This would be a 1 time or two time affair.

I think that is a reasonable path: go to CF Missoula (if possible) for basic exercise coaching a few times, use my gym as best as possible to apply the barbell lifts, and add to the garage gym as is possible. This is all slowed down by the fact that my second child is on the way, due at roughly the end of this month (17 days! woo!) so for at least a month, my time will be severely compromised.

I'm not trying to make excuses, just giving a little background. I really appreciate the advice given so far. I really do. The thing I really *don't* want to do is be sedentary, build a garage gym, then attempt to use it and discover I don't know what I'm doing, and go to a big gym nonetheless after spending a lot of money to outfit myself. Or the flipside, go to a large gym, learn incorrectly, and also deal with myriads of 'experts' who are all dying to give me their 'expert advice' which is extremely annoying.

Matthew Ricker
08-13-2007, 09:27 AM
Feels weird replying to my own post, but I think I've come up with something that will satisfy my need for definitive direction:

I purchased and read the 'strategic shopping' and 'theoretical template' articles at CF, and found them both very insightful.

I've heard people say that CF is scalable, and that CF's philosophy is not, "Come back when you can do a BWx2 DL." meaning for people to not feel intimidated, that CF is not a conditioning program for the strong. 'Don't get in shape to CF. Do CF to get in shape.' kind of deal.

While I agree, I also disagree somewhat. CF and similar programs are (as they should be) designed to accomodate the serious athlete, not the novice. They must be scaled and altered to accomodate the weak and ill-conditioned. What I am saying is that CF programming 'assumes' a certain degree of strength/conditioning/technique/fitness is posessed already. It assumes you are healthy. And it should, for it's purpose. CF and the like are not rehabilitive therapy; they are performance programming.

As such, it makes sense, that if one wanted to measure whether or not they were 'fit enough' for such programming, some measurements should be taken. And this is where many of you may disagree with me, but here goes anyway:

I would think, that as a minimum (for me, not as a blanket statement philosophy for 'everybody') a rating of LV1 CF Seattle (healthy well rounded beginner) and 'Novice' strength standing (as opposed to 'Untrained') would be an appropriate fitness level to begin at least scaled WODs and continued strength work, with maybe some O-lifting as well (coached of course).

Now I'm not saying this level of initial fitness be required of anybody in order to be a successful beginner. Think of it this way: If said fitness were posessed by a beginner (me), that level of fitness should be adequate for further (CF + Prac Prog) programming. This initial level would have me:

Squatting 204 lbs.
Bench Pressing 152 lbs.
Pressing 102 lbs.
Deadlifting 254 lbs.

As well as performing the following: http://www.crossfitseattle.com/Skill%20Level%20I%20Training%20Eval%20Sheet.pdf

So what this would boil down to is: Finishing SimpleFit (because I started it), doing SS (w/coaching) to reach Novice standards (at least), and simultaneously working on GPP by training for specific CF Seattle LV1, which I conclude to be fairly comprehensive, and a good start.

At that point I will stop training to meet a specific standard (CF LV1) and move into (likely scaled) WODs + Prac Prog + O-lifting. I will use the training template on the 5-day schedule to build a program that works all of these tasks in. Plenty of time to settle that.

This brings up an interesting point. I know some might tell me not to place too much stock in specific measures of fitness, such as CF Seattle's LV1-4 standards, or to a lesser degree, the strength standards, and instead focus on improving everything. I agree. But I also recognize that I want to achieve a specific goal of reaching those standards in the future, and don't mind a little specialized training to get there. I look at CrossFit as my future sport, not merely a training regimen for sport. I want to get as good at it as I can.

Thanks for forcing yourself to read all this. I don't mean to write a book here; I just have a lot of thoughts on my mind.

Eric Jones
08-13-2007, 10:12 AM
Getting through "beginner" standing in Practical Programming will put you way ahead. Get under a barbell three times per week, practice the major lifts (and the KISS principle) only for now. I would follow Rip's A and B based workouts of A: Squat, Press, Deadlift B: Squat, Bench or Dip, Pendlay Row. You can add in O-Lift stuff a couple months down the road as you get proficient in the Deadlift and Front Squat. That can easily be done in a power rack at your local gym. Add in basic gymnastic and sprint practice or power biased WODs (add rest). Once your linear strength progression stalls, its time to start thinking about adding in more/harder CF circuits and playing with your ME programming. For now, I would concentrate on getting stronger and putting on some muscle and keeping a clean diet.

Gradually accumulate rubber flooring (horse stall matting from Tractor Supply), a Pendlay economy bar and bumper plate set, rubber dumbells, Elite rings, 16 Kilo Kettlebells (eventually 24s), a couple Dynamax balls, build jump boxes, and a C2 rower. Thats more than enough to complete almost any WOD.

Danny John
08-13-2007, 11:08 AM
You actually ask a great question: in 2007, someone who doesn't know the basic moves of strength training and GPP can also have in their hands programs that explain the research, the science, and the art of attaining one's fitness goals. I have met fine quality people who can talk for hours about the chemical responses that a set of push ups demands of the body (in correct order!) but also don't know what stance to squat in.

I have really dumbed down my approach to working with beginners in the past year. As I move away from training people to become Elite throwers and football players, I have discovered that many people can "talk the talk, but not walk the walk." In other words, they have a great amount of information about programs and methods, but not a lot of practical details (the kinds of things we used to pick up in PE classes or in basic training for sports) that allow them to use this knowledge.

If you don't mind, I would like to mull over this question for a few days...

Oh, and I must say: simplefit.org has a very nice program as it is so simple and builds (linear, yes, but believable) over those weeks. For someone with goals as high as you have set (I'm not associated with any of this, but simply doing a "Fran" straight through as written is impressive), you need to do some things like simplefit's program that are crystal clear and technically easy...although physically demanding.

Robb Wolf
08-13-2007, 02:14 PM
great thread!

Russell Greene
08-13-2007, 03:24 PM
A mistake I made was working really intensely before mastering the form of the squat, olympic lifts, and gymnastics exercises.

The most effective exercises tend to be very technically demanding. Even a well performed bodyweight squat is a rare find among gym goers. So you should be constantly trying to improve you form on these "functional", for lack of a better term, exercises. If you can find quality professional help, take advantage of it. If not, watch videos, pay attention to the way your body moves, and videotape your form for later analysis. Establish consistency and technical proficiency before you start to add high levels of intensity. No reason to do high rep clean and jerks with 135 lbs. if you don't know how to clean and jerk a 45 lb. bar correctly (yes I have made this mistake, DUH!)

If I were you, I would try to master the technical points of the squat, deadlift, pushup, pullup, and overhead press first. I would also practice sprinting and jumping rope. Then comes the olympic lifts and some more complicated gymnastics moves.

The most sustainable, long term progress comes from learning how your body is supposed to move and striving to reach that ideal. Watch an olympic sprinter run, or an olympic lifter lift, and strive towards that level of mastery (you won't reach it, but the important thing is the effort.) On the other hand, don't wait until you reach perfection to start working hard. If you're not adding weight to the bar, or doing more or faster reps, something aint right. Also, it is hard to really learn how to do some exercises without having some real weight on the bar. Starting with a broomstick is fine, but make sure you eventually move up to 65 lbs, then 95, then 135, then 185, etc.

chris hill
08-14-2007, 07:03 AM
If you don't mind, I would like to mull over this question for a few days...

Can't wait for this answer,

Matthew Ricker
08-14-2007, 12:51 PM
Thanks to everyone for your help.

I contacted Dan Carney from CrossFit Missoula. I'm going down there this weekend to check the place out and have my first session. I'm committed to going down there once a month or more. I can't make it every weekend, but a few times a month is doable.

I'm excited, but nervous at the same time. Excited to have someone knowledgeable to teach me; and nervous....well, just because.

I'm going to take the advice here, and focus on learning the lifts, and follow the SS workout to build a strength base until roughly halfway between novice and intermediate strength level. The only thing I'm going to add is basic metcon like sprints, and some dedicated flexibility programming on the side, so I don't end up stiff, and stay slow.

It's hard to say you're 'in the process' of changing your dietary habits, because you either eat healthy, or you don't, but 'I'm in the process of changing my diet habits.' :p

I've had to buy so much new food lately, it's almost like putting together a puzzle. I had to get a deep freezer, buy the grass-fed beef and pastured chicken, buy the fish oil, macadamia oil (because I will *not* drink olive oil nor drown food in it), coconut butter/oil, a bunch of cookware (since up until now, I have never cooked anything at home that didn't involve the microwave or stove top + boxed food), and a lot of other things I can't seem to recall.

I'm kind of amazed at how much time (and $) this is taking to get started. It's a good thing that the PM and CF communities are free, and their journals cheap; or I would have said screw this awhile ago. You don't realize how cheap processed food is until you have to feed yourself without using it.

On a (very) good note, I have discovered that I am a great cook! Or perhaps it's just that real food is so much harder to screw up, and has so much more flavor! :D

I've considered starting a public training log for obvious beneficial reasons. I've also considered starting a public nutrition log, for not so obvious reasons. I think that if others could see, at any time, what/how I'm doing/eating, it adds a real sense of personal accountability, and may lead to better diet/training adherence. Kind of like when people live in a state of disarray, but hurry and clean everything before company arrives.

Thanks for all the advice and help so far. So much is being cleared up daily now.

Rob Harris
08-17-2007, 10:33 AM

Rick Deckart
08-17-2007, 10:57 AM
Keeping a training log is always a good idea. If it's public you might even get feedback which can come handy. The real value however is that once you make the commitment to stay honest to yourself and log hits AND misses it is arguably the best feedback you can get on your development. And of course nothing beats reading how one once struggled with then limits weights which are now warmups at best...

Just start and expect your training to be a long term project/investment; a little here, a little there, lots of frustration because it seems not going fast enough, but at the end of the year what once was impossible is now difficult but doable, what once was difficult is now easy...

Don't worry if your working out with what seems like baby weights compared to others, guaranteed they were once in a similar position, with few exceptions everybody has to start low. If you follow a sound programming progress is inenvitable I guarantee it.

Dave Van Skike
08-17-2007, 11:14 AM

I'm a lot older, a bit more weathered by competition but believe me..I've was exactly where you are, about a year to two years ago. Basically ground zero.

here is what worked for me.

Buy all of Rippatoe's books. Listen to Peter, keep a log.

Find a gym with big thick necked lifters and get some competent instruction on the basic barbell lifts. Even if you have to take a roadtrip out to CF affiliate or a University in Spokane, Missoula...do it. Take in a Burgener workshop or some such Olympic lifting if you can.

I held off on any CF expectations other than "playing" it from time to time.

Lift Three to Four days a week, pull, squat, press and do pull-ups.

Set a few concrete strength goals, don't get wrapped up in trying to be a rockstar CF badass....pick high solid strength goals and stay focused on those for at least 6-9 months. Everything after that will be easier.

here's a good start for anybody.

Deadlift 2.5 x BW.
OH Press 1 x BW
Squat 2 x BW

Dominate the basics. With any energy left over play a little sports, ride your bike, run.... whatever. This is basically all I have been doing for the last year. It has been a blast.

This first 6-9 months will be super rewarding.

Matthew Ricker
08-19-2007, 09:47 AM
I went to CF Missoula yesterday. Learned that I can't complete the CF warmup, which was no surprise. Ran through it anyway. A modified CF warmup (OHS w/dowell, the hip extension portion of the DL, pullups (x1), hanging ring body rows, pushups, ab mat situps, and samson stretch, x10 for three rounds) took an hour, with instruction and correction mixed in.

Turns out my squat form sucks bad. Feels very different when I do them now. Feels like my legs/knees are a mile apart. In my haste to complete the SimpleFit routines for time, etc. I have been doing piss poor squats and pushups. I will need to correct that for the future workouts.

I'll be going back to CF Missoula in the second week of Sept. so hopefully I can do a lot better on the warmup by then.

Derek Simonds
08-19-2007, 10:03 AM
Matt that is an awesome start. I am glad you were able to get out to the xFit affiliate.

Did you start a log? Keep us posted of your progression. We were all where you are when we started.

Kevin Perry
08-19-2007, 11:27 AM
Everyone's gotta start somewhere Matt, CF and the PM are the way to get it done.