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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Royse

What’s the Best Cert for Wannabe Coaches?

We get this question a lot since we disaffiliated with CrossFit. Used to be “easy,” get a CrossFit cert, you’re “ready” to coach. Actually, it was never that easy, and we give serious side-eye to people and gyms who think it is. A cert has never, ever, made anyone ready to coach. No matter what the cert.

But, yes, when we were a CrossFit gym, that did make an easy starting point. It was also a problem, because it greatly limited the pool of potential coaches out there, AND, it limited the coaching perspective we had in our gym. But, before you think I’m gonna bash CrossFit, not even close. I still love the CrossFit L1 and L2 and I still recommend them to people all the time. (All the time. Especially the L2, which is awesome.) I have always thought that the education division of CrossFit was the best part of it, and I still do. (With some glaring exceptions, like the practice of many of the specialty certs of not paying their instructors. But those have now been spun off and are no longer in the purview of CF, so that is NOT CrossFit’s problem.) The question of certification is almost entirely linked to the question of insurance. Every insurance company requires that a gym’s coaches be certified to coach. In our case, by a “relevant, nationally recognized, certifying body.” That’s both vague and specific.

1. Relevant. We can’t hire yoga teachers to teach Weightlifting / fitness classes. Even if they’re good at doing those things. If they’re not certified, that opens us up to enormous liability and we could lose everything if something goes wrong.

2. We can hire someone with any number of Nationally recognized certifications in personal training and group fitness coaching. YAY.

3. We can’t hire someone with no certifications at all. Or with “My Buddy Joe Who’s Been A Trainer Forever Said So” certification.

But that’s just the question of insurance. READY TO COACH? The question of someone being ready to coach is unrelated to certification. There is not a single cert out there that makes someone ready to coach. The only thing, THE ONLY THING, that makes someone ready to do that is practice. In most cases, definitely in our case, that means interning. Even before that, that means time spent actually DOING what we do. Doing classes like ours so that you grok how they roll. If you have prior experience as a CrossFit, or the like, athlete, that is a huge step on the right path. But that still isn’t the same thing as practicing coaching. When we intern people, it starts with them shadowing coaches. Literally watching them and observing and chatting with the coach about what they do and how they do it. (Ya, it’s work for us.) We have a literal checklist of all the moves you’re likely to encounter in a class, and want to see the intern know how to break each move down into 3 points of performance to coach it. As well as 3 common risk factors to avoid. Once we know they can do that, they begin interacting more as they shadow classes. Generally walking around as members are working out and doing one-on-one cueing, while our actual coach observes. (And our members generally offer us a lot of feedback, which we love.) Once we know they can do that comfortably, we’ll have them start leading demos, but still not classes, in class. We – will offer feedback on what worked and what didn’t. Ask the intern what they learned, etc….. THEN, when everyone feels comfortable, the intern will lead classes for a couple weeks with the main coach shadowing them. THEN, if we have space, and if we all think they can hack it, they are ready to coach. It’s like grad school. It’s a ton of work for us, but it’s the only way to get a coach ready. It should, ideally, benefit the intern more than it benefits us. Does that mean they have a job? Not necessarily. We’ve interned more people that never became coaches for us than who did. Some of them because they just didn’t have that “it” factor (which I’ll get to in a sec.) Some because we just didn’t have a need for coaches at the time, so they got jobs at other gyms. We will gladly intern people, whether they become coaches for us or not, because we think it helps put more good coaches out there in the coaching pool, which is good for everyone.

THE "IT" FACTOR? So, “it factor.” What is that? There are a lot of people who can ramble (and ramble and ramble) off the mechanics and points of performance of moves. YAY. Super smart, kind, good people. But they don’t have that energy, volume, almost theatrical personality that gets people to pay attention. Or the confidence that inspires trust in people. (Y’all, do not underestimate the undermining power of a nervous laugh after you demo / explain something.) OR the reverse, people who are so domineering and intimidating that people feel threatened and misunderstood. Or just seem apathetic to people and can’t connect with others to ask, and really listen to the answer, how they’re feeling. Being a coach is like being a circus performer, a therapist, a best friend and puppy all at the same time. Some people have “it.” “It” cannot be taught. “It” looks different in everyone. If you know all the Rocket coaches, you know they are ALL SO DIFFERENT. Seriously. Some are quiet, some are loud. Some are giggly, some seem really stern. Some are warm fuzzy, and, let’s just say, one of our coaches was deemed “a perky little sadist” by a member and they aint wrong. So there is HUGE diversity on what “it” is, but “it” definitely gets down to the ability to command attention and inspire trust. It also has to do with integrity in your own movement practice. Do you work for impeccable form, do you exemplify the idea that integrity of movement safety is more important that load or “winning?” Phew….. that’s a lot.

WHAT CERTS DO YOU NEED? So, back to certs. There are so many that are good starting points to coaching at gyms that do functional fitness stuff, including gymnastics, Weightlifting, kettlebells etc…. Yes, the CrossFit L1 and L2 are excellent certs. We will absolutely accept those. We do have three favorite certs and feel like if you have those, you’ve got the foundation we’re looking for. 1. USA Weightlifting Strength & Conditioning coach. Of everything we do, the Olympic Lifts are the hardest to both do and coach. So having a coach that is really dialed in on that is our first and foremost goal. As a bonus, all the other stuff – squats, deadlifts, presses – are covered in this cert. As well as basic anatomy, program design, progressions, etc….. This cert is done in person and requires you to practice coaching in a class-like setting, so that is a great help. As a bonus, you can then coach people at USAW meets, which we love. 2. The Brand X Method. Yes, technically speaking this is a kid’s coaching cert, but that’s part of why we love it. We believe this is the single best “functional fitness” cert on the market. Period. Full stop. No exceptions. The way they teach mechanics is 2nd to none. Their explaining of coaching, cueing, correcting is incredible. But their “psychology of coaching” stuff is what makes this the best cert on the market. And games. So many games. If you think grown-ups don’t like playing games, you’re wrong. Literally every single thing in this cert is applicable to adults. As a bonus, you are also then certified to coach kids, which is super helpful. 3. The Adaptive Training Course that Kevin Ogar created. This thing is bonkers good, and seated wall balls are the challenge no one needs but everyone needs. We put all of our coaches through this when it came out – in person, pre-COVID – and it was one of the best things we ever could have done. Just learning to think about the needs of adaptive bodies is so helpful in reminding us that every body is different. But it also reminds you that adaptive athletes don’t need an “easier” version, they need a hard version that’s right for them. If someone came to me with all 3 of those certs, I would weep tears of joy.

But also, KEEP TAKING CLASSES. Take all of them. We extra super love Power Monkey Camp and our coaches all seem to go year after year. It's a jam-packed week of all the things, and you'll learn new tricks and tips and just have the kind of blast we want our coaches to fill our classes with. We think the best coaches are the ones who are always hungry for more, and this is a buffet of more. When we see that people are continually learning, we know they're our kind of people. Other than that, any cert from ACE, NCSA, NASM, ACSM, ISSA will do. At that point, it’s just meeting an insurance requirement. And they’ll all give you a good academic understanding of how bodies work and how training works, in theory.

The rest of coaching? That’s just like any other skill, you gotta put in the reps. (* NOTE: If you are leading classes, you’re coaching and should be paid. Don’t let a gym say your first X weeks of leading class are “interning” and not pay you. That’s some bullshit.)


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