Ever Tried Crossfit? CrossFit Guru Gretchen Helt Gives Us Her Top Five Fitness Moves

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Meet Gretchen Helt, Los Angeles’ CrossFit guru. I’m kind of—totally—obsessed with her.

Don’t be fooled by Gretchen’s sweet smile and shy demeanor. Behind that grin lies a wealth of fitness knowledge, experience, and a whole lot of strength. Over the years, Gretchen has built a cult following in the CrossFit world. But because of her humble nature, you would never know unless you saw it with your own eyes. As Shakespeare put it in King Lear, “Have more than you show, speak less than you know.” And Gretchen does this best—she’s a true teacher and I’m a true fan of hers.

I think it’s about time the Beautylish community got to know her a little bit. But first, of course, she had to give us some workout tips! Here are Gretchen’s five favorite moves (warning: they’re all pretty challenging). Then, read on to for the Q&A!

Gretchen’s Five Favorite Moves

It’s a great, classic full-body movement! Begin standing and place your hands on the ground while jumping your feet back into a plank position. Lower until your chest and thighs make contact with the floor. Push yourself back up into a plank while jumping your feet back toward your hands. Finish with a jump and overhead clap to demonstrate full extension!

The swing is the basic of all kettlebell techniques. The key is to move with your hips at the beginning of the movement through to the completion of the swing. Start by swinging the kettlebell down between your legs and then swing the bell up to chest level by exploding forward with your hips, while tightening your core. Then swing the kettlebell back down between the legs and repeat. There’s also a version called the “American Swing” in which you swing the kettlebell directly overhead.

This is a jump rope move in which the rope passes under the feet twice in one jump. It’s metabolically demanding and requires speed and coordination.

This lift is a composite of two weightlifting moves—the clean and the jerk. For the clean portion, you move a weighted barbell from the floor to a racked position across the shoulders. For the jerk, you lift the weight above the head until the arms are straight and the bar is stationary.

The muscle-up is essentially a pull-up followed by a dip. It’s used to take yourself from below a sets of rings or bar to above a set of rings or bar. Many can do a pull-up, and many can do a dip, but transitioning between the two takes a certain level of strength and coordination.

Q & A with Gretchen

First off, what is CrossFit?
It’s so many things!! CrossFit is a fitness program and community. Both are key components to its uniqueness and effectiveness. The fitness program combines a wide variety of exercises—running, rowing, plyometrics, gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting—into constantly varying, short, intense workouts. Everything we do in CrossFit will make you stronger in the everyday movements you do daily. I have always been somewhat of a fitness geek and that really made practical sense to me. The CrossFit community aspect just happens when people do these workouts together.

How did you get started with CrossFit, and how long have you been training?
My introduction to CrossFit was one of those happy accidents that occurred while surfing the internet back in 2005. I’d already been a personal trainer for several years, but was increasingly frustrated with regular “gym culture.” As I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, I stumbled across crossfit.com. I reluctantly put myself through one of the easier-looking workouts and my life has never been the same since. I was always active growing up—gymnastics, swimming, and other sports in high school. Having been a so-called gym rat for so many years, I was shocked and humbled to realize what it meant to actually be fit. CrossFit workouts hooked me instantly as I was physically and mentally challenged in a way I hadn’t experienced before. But it was the community and support that make CrossFit so special. Now I’m healthier overall, fitter, and happier than I’ve ever been, and more passionate than ever to coach so many incredible people. I am continually inspired and excited to share this amazing program that has changed my life so much—I only wish I’d started sooner!

Your body is insane!!! How often do you workout? Do you only do CrossFit?
Currently I’m hitting 5–6 CrossFit classes per week, but I try and mix it up with a bike ride, rock climbing, yoga class, or a beach run from time to time. People are usually surprised to know that on average, my workouts are 10–20 minutes long. In any given class there might be some mobility work and skill or strength work, but I’m in and out in about an hour. I believe one of the keys to living a healthy life is getting out and applying your fitness in the real world on a regular basis. Learn to surf, learn to dance, play golf. It could be anything!  

What’s your diet like?
I love this topic! Based off information I’ve gathered and lots of experimentation over the years, I do best on a strict Paleo diet. It’s definitely the most popular nutrition catchphrase in the CrossFit community right now (also known as the “caveman” or “primal eating” diet), and it does provide a simple framework for making healthy, educated choices. The idea is to look at foods that we evolved to eat, as opposed to foods from the Neolithic or agricultural era, that we are ill-adapted to process, for example, grains and dairy. I base my meals around quality grass-fed meats, greens, root vegetables, and lots of healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil. And I cook regularly in bacon fat. I also drink plenty of water and black coffee, and reserve alcohol for special occasions.

Do you ever cheat?
Most of the time I adhere to strict Paleo whenever possible, typically reserving weekends and social gatherings to kick back a little. Being clean the majority of the time will afford you the luxury of indulging in some quality cocktails and the occasional dessert. My personal thought is that life serves up your cheat days. Whether you are travelling, at a social gathering, or in the wilderness, there will be moments when you’ll have no healthy alternatives, and that’s okay. I also keep no “cheat” foods in my house. I know what I have zero self control over—almond butter and trail mix! Just be honest with yourself about these types of behaviors. I do love ice cream and will indulge once in awhile. Nothing like vanilla bean Häagen-Dazs with some dark chocolate!  

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see people doing at the gym and with their diets?
I think the biggest mistake is that people rush the process and end up getting burned out or injured. I always stress mechanics first, then consistency, then intensity.  People want it the other way around and get greedy. Sometimes you have to leave your ego at the door. As for the diet? I think two of the biggest things are lack of education and too much reliance on convenience. Cooking needs to be a priority. There is not much you can do if you are travelling and don’t have access to a kitchen, but there are other options for those that simply “do not have the time” to cook their own food. No matter what, do not be embarrassed about ordering your hamburger with no bun, asking for substitutions that fit your dietary guidelines, or requesting no bread or chips at your table.

What do you think a client should eat before going to the gym and after?
This is different for everyone. I work out early in the morning and don’t consume anything but a little coffee. Breakfast usually happens an hour or two later and consists of a couple of eggs, some yams, and half an avocado.

Is it okay to workout on a full stomach or an empty stomach?
Absolutely. You must experiment and find what works for you! A classic post-workout choice is to consume some type of protein within 15–20 minutes immediately after your workout.  Some studies also suggest that you should include a small amount of carbohydrates with the protein, to maximize the delivery of the protein.  This may take the form of coconut water in a protein shake or a pre-cooked sweet potato. 

What is your advice to our readers about maintaining a healthy lifestyle?
My approach to staying healthy is rooted in the idea that life can be incredibly long! The process requires a lifelong commitment to learning and participating in your own health. There is no one way! Have fun, experiment, learn how to cook, learn to play new sports, and remember that what works for you is ultimately the thing that you’ll stick with.

Any last bit of advice?
I hear all the time, “I’m not in shape enough to do CrossFit!” It’s impossible to prepare yourself for something you’ve never done by doing something completely opposite of what you hope to be doing.  If you want to get in CrossFit shape, DO CrossFit!