The Best CrossFit Workouts for Beginners to Build Strength and Mental Toughness
Walking into a CrossFit gym for the first time can feel intimidating. The barbells are loaded up up, the music is loud, and you’re wondering what you got yourself into. The first thing to remember is that everyone was a beginner once, and they’re sure to have had that "oh no" moment, too.
Try not to panic too much when you can’t quite keep up with the crowd. The first rookie mistake to avoid in a CrossFit gym is doing too much, too fast. You might not be ready to keep up with the more experienced athletes yet, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the workout.
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Scaling a workout means adjusting it to your fitness level and ability. That might mean using less weight on the bar than the workout calls for. You may also modify exercises by performing assisted pull-ups instead of the unassisted version. Any CrossFit workout can be scaled, so there’s no need to feel left out if you’re a beginner. Want to get as ready as you can to take on more advanced CrossFit workout? Check out these modified CrossFit WODs (workouts of the day), scaled for beginners.
Best CrossFit Workouts for Beginners
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Conditioning
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workouts for Strength
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Endurance
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Muscle Growth
- Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Mental Toughness
Best Beginner CrossFit Workout for Conditioning
CrossFit workouts often revolve around helping to improve metabolic conditioning — metcon for short. Training to boost conditioning involves both strength and cardio work. The goal is to improve athletic performance and help things like walking up the stairs without getting winded.
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It’s not just cardio or strength — conditioning involves both. You don’t have to be a competitive athlete to train for conditioning. Beginners can get after it, too. Stay consistent and you may see changes in aerobic and anaerobic fitness, body composition, and peak power. (1)
Karen for Beginners
CrossFit benchmark WOD Karen is a prime example of the fact that simple doesn’t mean easy. Although 150 wall balls may only take anywhere from six to 15 minutes — more if you’re new to the sport — it can quickly challenge your strength, cardio, and will power. Beginners can scale this workout by using a lighter medicine ball and taking regular breaks in between sets.
- Wall Ball: 10
- Rest for 15 to 45 seconds
- Repeat until you reach 150 reps
Pro Tip: Write down your time when you’re done with this workout. You’ll thank yourself later, as benchmark workouts are meant to be repeated to help you see your own improvement.
Best Beginner CrossFit Workouts for Strength
In a typical CrossFit class, you’ll have a strength portion and a metcon portion. Your strength training can also be separated into its own section, usually before the metcon. Back squats, shoulder-to-overhead presses of various forms, and deadlifts are just a few of the exercises you might see during the strength portion.
CrossFit Total for Beginners
To optimize strength gains, keeping your reps low, between a one and five rep range, can be the most beneficial. (2) These intense reps help you put more weight on the bar and can help increase your one-rep max.
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The CrossFit Total workout is the sum of your best attempts at three different compound lifts. As a beginner, it may take some time to find what that one-rep max really feels like, so working through three tough reps can help your body better understand the burn and your own capacity.
- Back Squat: 3-rep max
- Shoulder Press: 3-rep max
- Deadlift: 3-rep max
- Add all three heaviest weights together for your total
Pro Tip: Slowly build up to a heavy weight by starting light and adding small weight increments at a time.
Best CrossFit Workout for Endurance
Unless you’re coming over to CrossFit from the distance runner side, training for endurance might feel less exciting than the fast-paced, blaze-of-glory burners. Endurance-based CrossFit WODs are a totally different animal than the quicker metcons.
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It may seem less riveting to watch when you’re tuning into the NOBULL CrossFit Games, but there’s a lot of strategy and incredible strength that goes into endurance WODs. Training for endurance can help improve your heart health and metabolism, not to mention making you a more well-rounded athlete. (3) Without any endurance, you might find yourself being completely burnt out in the first five minutes of a 20-minute AMRAP (as many rounds or reps as possible).
Filthy 50 for Beginners
Many CrossFit workouts have a time cap, but some are done only when you’re done. The benchmark WOD Filthy 50 will definitely serve as a mighty test of your endurance — and make you yearn to be done. Five hundred reps total can seem nearly impossible, and beginners may spend 30 minutes to over an hour completing it. For beginners, you’ll want to break this WOD into smaller sets to make it more accessible.
Pro Tip: You’ll be modifying certain exercises for beginners. For example, jumping pull-ups become ring rows and double unders become jump rope singles.
Best CrossFit Workout for Muscle Growth
CrossFit workouts are based on functional exercises that can help improve your performance in the gym and your life outside of it. But if you’ve seen CrossFit athletes like Tia-Clair Toomey or Noah Ohlsen, you know that this type of training can also build a solid amount of muscle.
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Performing a higher volume with lighter weights can be very beneficial for building muscle. To hit the kinds of intensity you need, make sure to take enough rest in between sets. Between six to 12 reps with a 60 to 90-second rest period in between can help build muscles worth flexing. (4)
Lynne for Beginners
If you’re looking to bulk up like your faves, WODs like Lynne are great choices. The standard Lynne consists of max reps of bench press and pull-ups for five rounds with as much rest as you may need in between. Your score is the total number of reps you get through at five rounds.
- Bench Press: max reps with light weight
- Rest for two to three minutes
- Ring Row: max reps
- Rest for two to three minutes
- Repeat for five total rounds
Pro Tip: You can substitute the exercises while following the same template to target different areas of your body. For example, swap out bench presses for squats when you’re looking to crush leg day.
Best CrossFit Workout for Mental Toughness
Just looking at the workout scribbled out on the board can be intimidating especially for beginners. Your body is only part of what can push you through a tough workout. A huge part of the battle during CrossFit will take place in your mind.
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The most strenuous workouts are the ones that help you find how strong you really are — both physically and mentally. Especially for beginners, part of that mental strength is knowing when to pump the brakes. It can be difficult to determine how much to push yourself and when to slow down. Practice pacing yourself and scaling the workout appropriately to meet yourself where you’re at.
Murph for Beginners
There are plenty of CrossFit WODs that can build your mental stamina, but one of the most famous ones is Murph. This intense combo of strength, stamina, and endurance may look scary — and feel scary once you properly get started. But beginners can complete this workout or a variation of it while partitioning or lowering the reps and scaling the exercises.
Perform each exercise in turn, for time.
- Run: ½ mile
- 10 Rounds Of:
- Ring Row: 5
- Push-Up: 10
- Air Squat: 15
- Run: ½ mile
Pro Tip: If you have more experience running than strength training, you can boost the running to the Murph standard of one mile instead of a half-mile.
Benefits of CrossFit for Beginners
CrossFit can seem intimidating, but all it really is is a scalable workout that can be beneficial for beginners and advanced athletes.
Lower Blood Pressure
At least 31 percent of adults worldwide experience from high blood pressure. If left untreated, it can lead to a heart attack or stroke. (5) Exercise is one of the ways that can help improve blood pressure and help decrease the risk of heart disease-related illnesses. CrossFit training specifically has been positively associated with a significant decrease in blood pressure over a period of a year. (6)
As you get older, you can start to lose function and muscle. That process can be accelerated for folks who are inactive. Exercise can help you maintain muscle, become more flexible, and move better daily. CrossFit is functional, meaning it mimics the movements you do everyday. So when you train your body to do these exercises under load, it can make walking, stepping, pushing, and pulling easier.
Eliminate the Guesswork
If you’ve never worked out in a gym before, all the dumbbells, barbells, and machines can look foreign. You may have saved Instagram videos of fitness influencers doing biceps curls and squats, but putting together your own workout program can be difficult if you’re not totally sure what you’re doing or why. A group class-based program like CrossFit can provide a predetermined routine. This way, you can spend less time wandering around the gym and more time getting fit.
The pressure of being the newbie is overwhelming. CrossFit is known for being a communal environment with helpful coaches and supportive members. Even if you’re the new person in class, you can still expect to be cheered on and high-fived when you finish the workout. This can be more motivating for beginners since you have more accountability and structure than you might at a commercial gym.
We All Start Somewhere
Being a beginner is nothing to be ashamed of. CrossFit isn’t just for the Fittest on Earth®. When you’re starting out, you’ll likely need to scale the workouts to meet you at your own level. With enough time and dedication, any beginner can become a more advanced lifter in the CrossFit class. Regardless of the weight you can lift or how fast you can run, knowing how to modify CrossFit WODs can be a game-changer for your new fitness endeavor — and your confidence.
- Tota, Dr. Lukasz, Pilch, Wanda, & Piotrowska, Anna. The Effects of Conditioning Training on Body Build, Aerobic and Anaerobic Performance in Elite Mixed Martial Arts Athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2019; 70. doi: 10.2478/hukin-2019-0033
- Schoenfeld, Brad J., Grgic, Jozo, & Van Every, Derrick W. Loading Recommendations for Muscle Strength, Hypertrophy, and Local Endurance: A Re-Examination of the Repetition Continuum. Sports. 2021; 9(2). https://doi.org/10.3390/sports9020032
- Morici, Giuseppe, Gruttad’Auria, Claudia I., & Baiamonte, Pierpaolo. Endurance training: is it bad for you? Breathe. 2016; 12(2). doi: 10.1183/20734735.007016
- Schoenfeld, Brad J. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2010; 24(10). doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3
- Mills, Katherine T., Stefanscu, Andrei, He, Jiang. The global epidemiology of hypertension. Nat Rev Nephrol. 2020; 16(4). doi: 10.1038/s41581-019-0244-2
- Gilmore, Katheryn E., Heinrich, Katie M. Crossfit & Heart Health: Effects Of Crossfit Participation On Resting Blood Pressure And Heart Rate. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2016. DOI:10.1249/01.mss.0000485883.45177.59
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