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Health & Fitness

The CrossFit gear you need to get started

Also essential: a good attitude

Sweaty woman holding a large drink cup next to a shot of a CrossFit gym Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

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If you ask me for a list of nouns that I’d use to describe myself, the first few that come to mind are writer and editor, dog mom, island gyal, and runner. Well, that last one was true for the better part of the 2010s, but when COVID canceled races for more than a year—and, frankly, my pace slowed after turning 40—my motivation to pound pavement waned.

As a former full-time personal trainer and self-described active person (more nouns!), I know my way around a gym. But workout motivation doesn’t come easy when you work full-time from home during a global pandemic, and there are only so many #gains you can achieve with just body weight, a TRX, and 10- and 20-pound kettlebells. I needed heavier weights and someone to make me use them. So when COVID gym restrictions eased, I turned to my local CrossFit for both strength and conditioning. While the facility offers the fitness equipment for a great WOD (that’s “Workout of the Day,” for the uninitiated), allow me to suggest a few other things you might find helpful.

1. A hands-free insulated cup

A large insulated tumbler and a gym towel on a bench
Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

This tumbler plus straw combo lets you hydrate hands-free.

Even pre-pandemic, I was a germaphobe. My CrossFit box (a.k.a. “gym”) has plenty of sanitizing cleaner and fresh cloths for wiping handles and seats before and after use, but I still don’t want to touch anything during a workout that will go near my mouth. Water bottles with twist-off caps, therefore, are a no-go.

You could get all fancy and spring for a Yeti tumbler, but I went with a cheaper Amazon insulated cup, so I could buy a couple to have in rotation for the same total cost. Mine has a sealing lid, which lets me shake up my fave hydration drink powder with cold water spill-free, and its thick walls keep my drink chilled in the un-air-conditioned gym.

$10 and up at Amazon

I pop in an extra-long reusable straw before my workout begins, and I can sip to my heart’s content without my fingers touching the cup’s mouthpiece.

2. Cross-training shoes for surer footing

a pair of colorful Nike shoes next to a foot wearing a Nike Metcon shoe.
Credit: Reviewed / Nike

Nike Metcons are a go-to shoe for CrossFit athletes.

Having the right footwear for any workout is essential: Your feet are your base of movement and balance, and if your shoes aren’t designed to offer support and traction for your activity of choice, you risk injury. (That’s why you must have the right running shoes if you take up that hobby.)

When it comes to CrossFit, you need cross trainers—shoes that support a variety of athletic movements, including the repetitive strides of running, the impact of landing box jumps, and the solid base needed for olympic lifting. The most popular CrossFit shoes include the Nike Metcons, which are lightweight for when you need to be spry with your jump rope, yet flat-soled for stability when you’re pressing a barbell overhead.

$85 and up at Nike

3. Towels for soaking up sweat

a person holding a workout towel behind their back, and a stack of bath towels.
Credit: Reviewed / Facesoft / Camyn Rabideau

Towels serve double duty to sop up sweat and keep things sanitary.

If you’re lucky, your gym has air conditioning (many don’t), but even if it does, you will sweat. Having something to mop your brow is not a bad idea. Any ol’ hand towel will do—I have several in rotation—but if you want to take it up a notch, opt for a dedicated gym towel in a convenient neck-draping length. I prefer the softer feel of a brushed cotton, like the Facesoft Sweat Towel. Just skip those cooling towels made of PVA material, as we found them ineffective in our lab tests.

$17 at Amazon

During the workouts, you may also have to lie down on the floor or a communal mat. This icks me out no matter how much those surfaces are mopped, so I bring an old bath towel to serve as a barrier for my skin. Bonus: It keeps perspiration puddles to a minimum.

4. Hair ties that stay in place

A stack of coiled hairties, a woman wearing her hair in a scrunchie, and a row of scrunchies
Credit: Kipsch & Lululemon

A no-slip pony is clutch.

A corollary to the “I don’t want to touch my drink” mid-workout rule, is the “I don’t want to fix my hair” rule. A high ponytail is my style of choice for keeping those face-framing wisps in check, but if it’s pulled back with a crappy hair tie, that effort is for naught.

For my fine, curly hair, I’ve had good luck with those phone-cord-like plastic coils, but if you wanna go fancy and no-slip, the Lululemon Skinny Scrunchies topped our test of the best hair ties for their gentle-yet-secure hold.

$28 at Lululemon

5. Workout gloves for palm protection

A man wearing workout gloves next to a woman wearing the same workout gloves
Credit: Lululemon & Reviewed / Tiffany Lee

Callouses might make you look tough, but you can do more work with protected hands.

Some devotees may scoff that you aren’t a true CrossFit athlete without rough, calloused palms. But that’s not something I have any interest in achieving, as gripping metal bars and wooden gymnastics rings bare-handed isn’t comfortable, and climbing thick ropes hurts. For me, less pain equals more gain when my palms aren’t burning and I don’t have that as an excuse to keep me from attempting another pull-up or ring row.

I had a pair of cheap weight-lifting gloves, but they tore within the first couple of wears. Based on our writer’s review, I plan to ante up for better quality hand grips by buying the Lululemon License to Train gloves, which she used for all sorts of workout activities for six months and they still looked new.

$42 at Lululemon

6. A pad to prevent bruises from heavy equipment

a Yes4All barbell pad closeup next to a person using a foam barbell pad.
Credit: Reviewed / Yes4All / Elevator Fitness

A dedicated barbell pad can protect your neck and collarbones from bruising and chafing.

A lot of so-called safety equipment is controversial—some trainers argue that you shouldn’t rely on things like weight belts (a.k.a. lifting belts), wrist wraps, or knee sleeves because your goal should be for your own body’s stabilizing muscles to do that work, and you really shouldn’t be attempting to lift heavy weights that you can’t control without extra support.

That said, most fitness pros can get behind protecting the upper back and collarbones from the discomfort of resting a heavy barbell across them when doing back squats or setting up for an overhead press. You might find a nylon fabric-covered foam pad lying around the gym that you could wipe down before you use it (at least, that’s what I would do). Or consider buying your own contoured foam version, like the Elevator Fitness Barbell Pad, which has an ergonomic shape to curve around your neck.

$10 at Amazon

7. Workout clothes that don’t get in your way

Woman wearing a pink sports bra next to a close-up shot of a woman wearing bike shorts
Credit: Brooks & Oalka

Look to Brooks for great sports bras, and Oalka for compression shorts.

In my experience, CrossFit gyms don’t have the same dress-to-impress mentality I’ve seen at, say, a high-end health club. (Or maybe I just don’t care who’s wearing Athleta versus Old Navy.) I also don’t like to spend a lot on these items because they will get dirty and sweaty and even snagged or abraded. But no matter where you buy your stuff, function trumps style, IMHO.

For me, that means a good sports bra (pro tip: running only a 100-meter sprint is still running, especially when you do it 10 times on repeat); a close-fitting top, so loose fabric doesn’t get tangled on equipment or drag on the floor during push-ups; and compression bottoms (though that’s more a personal preference than a CrossFit-specific thing). I only wear tank tops and muscle shirts rather than tees—I don’t like the feel of constricting, soggy material under my arms—and opt for long bike shorts that come close to my knees (to eliminate thigh chafing and prevent overheating). When there’s rope climbing on the workout plan, I opt for ankle-length leggings, but I’ve also seen folks don tall socks or even shin pads for that purpose.

My brand pick for sports bras is Brooks because they are super-supportive and size-inclusive from 30A to 44F—and while not cheap, you can often find them on sale in last-season’s colors.

$30 and up at Brooks

I tend to shop for workout tops and leggings from TJ Maxx and Marshalls, but my go-to bottoms are Amazon’s compressive Oalka bike shorts. They feel substantial with a 9-inch inseam, are squat-proof, and come in sizes XS to XXL and more than a dozen colors and prints, all for under $20 a pair. (The large side pockets make them a great pick for running, too.)

$6 and up at Amazon

8. Athletic laundry detergent to control odor

A bottle of Hex detergent resting on clothes and wet gym wear hanging to dry
Credit: Hex & Reviewed / Amy Roberts

I pour my Hex into a soap dispenser (not pictured) so it's easier to hand-wash my gym clothes.

Even though I may not spend as much on my workout clothes, I still want them to last as long as possible. The biggest mistake people make with activewear: Not rinsing out sweaty clothes ASAP after wearing them.

I do my own clothes one better by giving them a quick hand-wash as soon as I get home, using a special laundry detergent formulated to rid performance fabric of that stank it accumulates over time. (You know, the one where the clothing smells OK when you first put them on, but goes foul as soon as your body heat warms the fabric up.)

I keep some Hex Performance detergent in a hand-soap pump bottle at my bathroom sink to make it easier. Then I give my outfit a soapy sloshing and good rinsing and hang it to dry before putting it into the regular laundry for a round-two wash with my regular clothes.

$30 at Amazon

9. Patience and modifications

two fit men flexing their biceps in a crossfit gym
Credit: Reviewed / Amy Roberts

One of these guys is a great coach, the other is a bad influence. (You decide who is who.)

This last one you can’t find in stores, but my inner personal trainer would be remiss for not mentioning it. CrossFit workouts have a reputation for being too much, too hard, and too high a potential for injury. Plenty of trainers shun it entirely for not following the rules of safe workout programming: Those WODs often prescribe more reps and high weights that aren’t appropriate for every body, and most workouts are “scored” based on how quickly you complete them (which, of course, encourages rushing such that form could suffer). Scaling what you do from the “Rx” (by decreasing the weight used, typically) is always an option, of course, and my coaches are very good about suggesting modifications based on what they see someone’s capabilities are. However, during a workout, it can be easy to get carried away by the time pressure in general, or by seeing someone else get ahead of you by a whole set, or by the anxiety that you may be last to finish.

I implore you: Just don’t. Push yourself to do your best, but watch your form and respect your limits—for me, that’s two WODs a week. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Take a beginner course to learn how to use the CrossFit equipment if your box offers it. Try new-to-you moves with no added weight at all until you feel comfortable and the coach says your form looks good. (Months in, I still do overhead squats with only a 1-inch PVC pipe in my hands because my hip and shoulder mobility isn’t there yet.)

Bottom line: If you don’t feel supported by the coaches at your box, find another coach or another gym. Or find another exercise routine that suits you better. But if you fall in love with the challenge and variety of the workouts and the camaraderie of CrossFit, welcome to the cul… er, club.

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