Recently, a friend asked me how she could find a good CrossFit box. She wants to try CrossFit for the first time, but she doesn’t know what to look for and doesn’t want to end up choosing the wrong box or trainer. So, I put together a short list of the things that I think people should look for in a CrossFit box. This is based on my experiences from the last 3 years that I did CrossFit, and from what I hear about other boxes.
- Look for a trainer who has strength and conditioning certifications and has a decent amount of experience training people, not just a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Certificate (CF-L1). I feel like they know more about personal training and strength training overall, and they understand how to coach better form and program better strength programs than someone who only went for a weekend to get a CrossFit cert. They seem smarter about getting what is useful from CrossFit and avoiding the stupid crap. Sorry, yes, there are boxes and trainers who have their classes do some stupid crap (more on that later). So, before you commit to a box, check out the trainer’s certifications.
- Find a trainer that programs his/her own WODs vs. just blindly copying what CrossFit HQ does. Again, I sometimes think that HQ and some boxes are either lazy or think it is cool to program insane WODS. They do things like 200 box jumps, or 200 wall balls, or other stupid crap like that. I hate high-rep movements that easily lead to a blown Achilles or an injured shoulder. A good trainer programs a WOD that complements the strength training for the day and balances out the movements so that you aren’t crushing one muscle group (e.g., all exercises and lifts that burn your shoulders out).
- I like trainers who program a serious strength training program in addition to the WODs. Some boxes only do WODs and practice technique on lifts and Oly lifts, but they don’t really have a dedicated strength program. I like the strength training and I think it should be a core part of someone’s program. When you visit a box, check that they have a serious program in place, like the Wendler 5/3/1 or Conjugate program, or their own program.
- Make sure the strength program hits the main Power lifts and Olympic lifts, and doesn’t do stupid crap lifts that don’t really make you stronger and may even injure you. My favorite lift-to-hate is the sumo-deadlift-high-pull (SDHP). It just hurts my wrists and shoulders, and many trainers and athletes agree with me that it is to be avoided. You should have the key lifts like Squat (Back, Front, Overhead), Deadlift, Overhead Press, and maybe even Bench Press. You should also have the Oly lift work like Cleans, Clean & Jerk, and Snatch.
- I look at the class mix as well. It’s nice to see a range of ages (teens to 50s) and genders. Some boxes are super testosterone-heavy, and some are totally ageist and only want younger athletes who they can groom for the Games. Those boxes treat older athletes like crap, hoping they will quit and leave.
- Check out the quality of the gym and their equipment. Do they have enough barbells and cages for everyone in the typical class size? Does it seem like there is enough room to work out or will you be bumping into people? What type of barbells do they have (decent or cheapo)? Do they have Oly lifting platforms? Do they let you use chalk?
- Do they have a free trial period? Most good boxes do, since they want you to be happy and you need to check out the “chemistry”. You may find that you have a very different chemistry with the trainers and athletes in different classes. Over my 3 years, I attended classes at different times of the day and the culture of each class was very different.
- Does the trainer have a good philosophy about scaling appropriately for the individual? New people should have scaled weights and WODs. Injured people should have good alternatives for movements they can’t do. Bad trainers don’t seem to care or tell you to work through the pain, suck it up, etc.
- What is their goal for you? Some boxes seem to care way too much about competition, the clock, and love it when people throw up every day. I hate that crap. I would rather lift slower with great form, than rush things for the clock and hurt myself. Make sure that your goals are aligned with what the trainer wants to set as goals for you.
Any other important factors that you consider when choosing a CrossFit box? Please share them in the comments. Thanks!