Is It CrossFit If There's No Coaching?
“Don’t worry about the other guys,” they say. “Just focus on your own gym,” “the cream will rise to the top,” other affiliate owners say. But ya know what? After years of visiting CrossFit gyms while away from home, and seeing really shitty behavior, and sometimes absolutely zero coaching, I say “bullshit.”
Turning a blind eye and letting this stuff slide is how we all lose this race to the bottom.
People like to whine and moan about what HQ is or isn’t doing; about what Glassman did or didn’t say. But ya know what’ll kill CrossFit – and your business with it- faster than anything else? Crappy gyms with no one willing to hold anyone accountable.
I don’t know whether the emperor is wearing clothes or not, but you and I both know that we’re part of a village of naked fools and I’m willing to yell about all the bare asses I see.
Having just finished the second day in a row at one such gym - it’s close to our hotel and we were willing to think the first day was just a fluke – I can tell you that if that had been my first exposure to CrossFit, I never would have given CrossFit a second chance. I would have become part of a chorus of people out there saying “I tried CrossFit, it sucked.”
Glassman could swing naked from a chandelier singing Miley Cyrus songs and it would do less harm to the brand than the steady drip of actual people telling their friends that they tried CrossFit in one of these gyms, and found dangerous moves, bad coaching and highly questionable programming.
In two days at this gym, no one asked me my name, no one asked me if I had any injuries, no one introduced themselves. But worse than that, no one coached a single move. Not one.
Our first visit was a hero WOD. (If you don’t do CrossFit, Hero WODs are our most intense workouts.) The coach literally showed us where it was written on the board, told us to set up, try each move a few times, then set the time and proceeded to do busy work while we worked out.
The next day, in a one-hour class, there was a lift, followed by two metcons; one of which had Olympic lifting in it. There was, again, no coaching at all. Not one move was discussed. No points of performance, no discussion of risk, no talk of stimulus. NOTHING. Worse yet, I saw outright dangerous form. (When I stopped halfway through the second WOD, no one even asked if I was okay. I was. I was just really annoyed by the absolute chaos.)
Now, lest you think I’m ragging on this gym – which I admittedly am – they are far from alone. I travel a lot. At least twice a month I’m in some city away from home working out in gyms. I see this at least half the time.
I’m sorry, but y’all have to do better than this.
Coaching is like parenting: there are nearly infinite ways to do it right, and only a handful of ways to really do it wrong. But those wrong ways can do lifelong harm.
In the case of bad coaching, you can literally harm people’s bodies. But you’re also harming a brand that many of us are trying to uphold, or at least give meaning to. Granted, what that means is anything but clear, but let’s agree on at least a few things:
1. You should actually be coaching! The details of your coaching style are truly personal, and I hope we all find our unique way to shine, but let’s agree that for every move in a class that day you should, at the very least, define it for the class. Ideally, you’d demo it – either yourself or using a student if it’s not something you can do – to show people what the move looks like and how to do it safely.
2. You should be explaining the goal of the workout so that people understand the stimulus and how to pace themselves.
3. You should actually talk to the students in the class. Ask them if they understand, ask them if they have injuries or need modifications.
4. While people are working, you should be interacting with them, discussing their form, encouraging them.
When people ask why CrossFit is so expensive, many of us like to say that it’s like personal training in a small group, so it’s the best of both worlds. We have trained coaches working with everyone to find the intensity and movement that is right for them. You’ll be safe with us because we help you understand the mechanics, we scale both movement and load to learn safely while you build up intensity gradually.
I know that’s what we do at Rocket. We spend tons of time helping our coaches learn how to connect with the class as well as individuals, how to explain the mechanics of each move and the intended stimulus of the day. Are they always perfect and at the top of their game? Nope. We’ve all had shitty classes, but we’ve never not tried our hardest.
If people don’t want to be coached, they can buy a Peleton membership and call it a day. For $50 a month I can get more coaching than I got this weekend, with a whole lot less feeling like an unwanted outsider.
This weekend was the first time that I truly understood how Orange Theory or F45 could seem like a threat to any CrossFit owner. I mean, I’m not worried about them, but I see why others might be, because if all you’re offering is a big gym with some equipment in it and no coaching, then ya, those guys are your competition.
It’s also the first time in along time that I’ve seriously considered giving up my affiliation. Because honestly, if THIS is what people think I do, I want nothing to do with it. That has nothing to do with HQ, and everything to do with shitty gyms that bear no resemblance to what we – and so many other gyms – do.
Really, if you’re reading this and this sounds like your gym, do us all a favor and find a new gym. You deserve to be coached by people who are passionate about movement, safety and strength. We’re NOT all like that. Just like any relationship, you deserve to be with someone who will appreciate and respect you for you, and help you be the best that you can be. Someone who pays attention to your needs while encouraging your potential. I’ve often said that finding a gym is like dating. There are lots of options. If your needs aren’t being met, you don’t feel safe and inspired, check out another gym. That’s not to say one is better than another, just one is probably a better fit than another.
But fer fucksake, if you are being ignored, not talked to, not coached, not protected and not inspired, FIND ANOTHER GYM.
The beauty of the affiliate model is that there is no single standard way to do things. That’s why we so excitedly go to so many other gyms: to learn cool new ways to do what we do.
The downfall is that there are no standards at all.
I’ve been at this a long time now, so I know that these gyms are not a good reflection of what CrossFit is. Or should be.
But if someone is new, and walked into this, they wouldn’t know that. All it takes is hundreds of instances of one person having a drink with a friend and describing the what I witnessed this weekend as “CrossFit” to taint a brand. And all of us who call ourselves CrossFit will carry that taint.