First CrossFit Competition? Here are a Few Tips for First-Timers

First CrossFit Competition Tips

Photo courtesy of SuperFit Games

While I originally sat down to write out some tips for rookies competing in their first CrossFit competition, I realized some of this stuff applies to all competitors, first-timers and veterans.

Shout out to all 15 CrossFit Addict teams competing at the SuperFit East Coast National Championships this weekend. We’ve got quite a few first-timers.

If you’re getting ready for your first CrossFit competition, follow along for a few tips. I’ve been doing CrossFit for a little over 2 years, and I’ve competed in 2 CrossFit team competitions, both locally here in Virginia.


How much is enough? What’s considered too much? This is a tricky one, as people respond to rest in different ways. If you ask 5 people in your gym, you’ll probably get 5 different answers.

For me, personally

I like to take the day before almost completely off. I don’t lounge around & do nothing all day, but I won’t do any workouts. I try to walk around as much as possible, taking frequent breaks from sitting at my desk. I’ll do an hour or two of mobility, depending on what I have time for. But never anything even remotely intense.

Two days before, I’ll do a light workout, but scale down the weights, and go about 80% as hard as I’d normally go.

For you, use previous experience

This might be your first CrossFit competition, but it’s not your first time working out, and you have taken rest days before. Think back to a time when you had a few days off. How’d you feel the next time you worked out?

If you felt like you could challenge Danny Broflex to a bicep curl-off, then rest is probably your jam, and you should take the day before off.

If you felt stiff, sluggish or just not mentally prepared, then maybe do a light workout the day before.

The given

Mobility, hydration & a good nights sleep are pretty much always a good idea. I think you’ll have a hard time finding any athlete that disagrees with me there.

Have a Plan

…and know that it will change. This probably rings true even for the CrossFit veterans.

Practice the movements. Talk to your partner about each other’s strengths & weaknesses. Do a test run of each workout, using lighter weight & maybe adjusting the time cap if it’s an AMRAP. Have a plan going in. Plans are helpful. Even if not for any other reason than to calm your nerves.

Like many great plans in life, they change. And especially if this is your first CrossFit competition, it’s just impossible to simulate the atmosphere & adrenaline that you’ll experience on your big day.

Heart rates spike. Hands rip. PRs are shattered.

Let’s be honest for a second. I’m assuming most of you have never done 3 CrossFit workouts (4 if you reach the finals) in a single day. You know that feeling you have after a tough workout during your 1-hour CrossFit class? Multiply it by 2 Frans, 1 Annie & a 5k. That’s how you’ll feel at the end of the day. (Please don’t let that intimidate you. Much like the end of any CrossFit workout, it’s one of the greatest highs you’ll ever experience.)


…before AND during the workout.

The ‘before’ stuff happens naturally (see “Have a Plan” above). It’s the during part that most first-time competitors often forget. And for good reason. You’re basically red-lining for 7 minutes, with 20 of your best gym buddies yelling at the top of their lungs, and 10 other teams trying to chase you down.

You need to block some of that stuff out. That’s called focus. It’s incredibly powerful. But don’t put the blinders on with your partner. They’re the ONLY person you HAVE TO pay attention to during the workout. And they’re just asking for 10 minutes of your time.

Are you getting tired faster than you had planned? What’s that face mean? Is your shoulder feeling alright? Why’d you just do 10 more reps? Are you going to finish that set, or do you need me to finish the last 3?

This leads me perfectly into my next thought…


They’re paramount; especially in a shorter workout. With 20+ teams competing in your division, you’ll likely be within a few reps of at least one other team. Smartly timed and well executed transitions can make a big difference.

If you know your partner is going to finish one of the two movements in a couplet, go get ready to start the other movement as soon as he finishes.

Practice your wall balls. If there’s enough room on the competition floor, and you feel comfortable enough, pass the ball off the wall to your partner, never letting it hit the floor. Not only will this shrink your transition time, but it helps you with the mental battle. Your partner is counting on you to be there when they toss it to you. And you won’t let him down.

The Judges

Ah, the dreaded “NO REP!” Every CrossFitter’s two least favorite words—except for maybe “Fran” and “Helen,” but we can talk about those ladies another day.

Aside from being a badass, another great way to ensure you don’t hear those words on competition day is by simply talking to your judge. Confirm the standards of movement with them before you start. Show them one or two reps during your warmup, and ask them to confirm that you met the standard.

You could also bribe them with a brand-new pair of Metcons, or bacon-wrapped anything, but I would never condone such behavior 😉

Your judge is your friend. She might also not be a CrossFitter.

Seriously, though, don’t bribe your judge. But do be friendly with her. She’s given up an entire day to basically watch people workout and count to 10,000. Not exactly the most rewarding of gigs.

And keep in mind she might not be a CrossFitter. Most CrossFit competitions try to get fellow athletes, whom are familiar with the movements, to judge, but there are typically very little (if any) prerequisites.

The Movements


Everyone’s favorite movement, right? While nothing in life is a guarantee, there’s a decent chance you’ll see burpees in a competition. They have the ability to manifest complete & utter exhaustion, all within the confines of a 6′ x 10′ piece of rubber flooring.

I’m not here to tell you to work on your burpees. It’s too late for that. But there are a few things to keep in mind when you see them pop up in a workout.

Hand-Release Burpees

“Hand-release?” WTF. While more experienced CrossFitters know exactly what this means, many first-timers might not. Hand-release burpees are more commonly reserved for competitions and rarely practiced during everyday WODs in the gym (at least from what I’ve seen).

First, familiarize yourself with them. I don’t think they’re any more difficult (physically) than traditional burpees, but the challenge comes in remembering to do it. So…

Practice. Start 1-2 weeks out. Build the muscle memory. And if it’s a team competition, it’s helpful to remind your partner. When you’re exhausted, you’re quick to revert back to what feels comfortable.

Burpee Variations & Standards

Hand-release is one variation, but there are other types of burpees you might see. They should be explicitly stated in the workout description, but it’s your job to understand the movement standards.

Bar-Facing Burpees
Typically, these are performed by jumping over the bar. And as the name suggests, you must leave the ground while facing the bar, for each rep.
Video »

Lateral Burpees -or- Burpees Over the Bar
Another form of burpees typically performed by jumping over the bar. But this time, you don’t need to be facing the bar when you leave your feet.
Video »

Full Extension? Clap? Jump at the top?
I’ve seen all of these used as a standard of movement. Some will say that clapping the hands together above (or behind) your head signifies a good rep. Others don’t require a clap, but state that you must come to full extension (knees, hips, shoulders stacked on top of each other). Some might also require you to leave your feet to complete the rep.

One Foot, Two Foot, Red Foot, Blue Foot
For any style of over-the-bar burpees, more strict standards of movement require you to start your jump with both feet at the same time, and possibly land with both feet at the same time, too.

All great questions to ask the event director ahead of time.

Wall Balls

Come competition day, there might not be a wall in sight.

This is especially true if it’s an outdoor event, but could also ring true for indoor competitions. They might use a circular, metal target attached to the rig.

While this doesn’t change the movement itself (or make them any easier, unfortunately), it’s helpful to know before you go. A smaller target means less room for error. In other words, your wobbly-legged, one-handed shot put might not make the cut.

Practice hitting a smaller target. Not only will it help you come competition time, but it’ll just make you an all-around better wall baller.

Also, most gyms have men throwing to a 10′ target and women to a 9′ target. Depending on which CrossFit competition you’re doing, it’s possible they’ll have everyone throw to the same target. Women, I might practice throwing to 10′ until you can confirm with the event director.

Getting Caught Up In The Hype

It’s simple. Try not to.

Chances are, you’ve never seen this much fitness in one place before in your entire life. Unbroken, butterfly everything. Photoshopped abs. Booty shorts that make Beyonce jealous. Clean & Jerk weights reminiscent of titans.

For smaller, local CrossFit competitions, you’ll typically be in close proximity to your competitors during the workouts. You’ll want to see how they’re doing. It’s human nature. But it might not be in your best interest.

The reality is… you won’t really know what round they’re on. Sometimes, you might not even know if they’re competing in the same division as you. And I can almost guarantee you that watching them isn’t going to help your cause.

Challenge Yourself

Focus on yourself and your partner. Push yourself. Push each other. No one knows you like you do.

We all have different reasons for signing up for a competition, but if this is your first one, don’t worry about the numbers. Don’t get caught up with what place you’re in and how many reps that team beat you by. If you do, you might miss out on:

  • how much fun you’re having
  • that PR you hit in workout 1
  • the 23 rep improvement over your practice run 3 days ago

Work hard. Create new limits for yourself. And be proud of what you just accomplished.

Between Workouts

Recover. Rest. Warmup. Smash. Repeat.

Maybe you’ve seen the heat sheets. Maybe not. Spoiler Alert: You could have as much as 3 hours between workouts. Have you ever worked out in the morning, then gotten in your car to drive to the mountains, 3 hours away? Yeah. Your body doesn’t like that.

Recover First

I start my recovery soon after the workout ends. Whatever your recovery ritual entails—protein, FitAid, PB&J, paleo bar, dry clothes, massage—start as soon as you can.

The sooner you get nutrients & water into your system, the more chance you give your body to recover before the next workout. So whenever your stomach is ready, commence snack time.


After you’ve eaten, you should have some time to chill out. Take advantage of it. This can be tough if you’ve got a bunch of other teams competing in different heats. I know how badly how you want to watch & cheer them on, and you should absolutely do that. Just keep an eye on the time.


…for the next workout.

Obviously you need to warm yourself back up, but do so with intention. What movements are in the next workout? Are we going overhead? Is your back feeling tight?

Give yourself 25-30 minutes to warmup. Start slow. Your body hasn’t been here before so give it some time to adjust. It’ll reward you later, I promise.

About 10 minutes before, I like to do 1 or 2 reps for each movement in the workout, at the prescribed weight. That way there are no surprises when it’s time to go.

Relax, Breathe & Have Fun

Well, don’t relax during the workouts. For that, you should obviously have your rib cage pulled down and in, abs on, squeezing your butt, and firing your hips. But for all other times… relax 🙂

Take a few deep breaths right before the workout is about to start. Make small talk with your judge. Tell your partner a corny sex joke about snatches or jerking. You know… all that stuff you do in your gym every day.

What am I missing? I’d love to hear about what you do to prepare for your first CrossFit competition.