A Buyer’s Market in CrossFit: How to Choose the Best Box

Never settle for mediocre – there are more options now than ever when it comes to finding the perfect place to train.

With the proliferation of CrossFit gyms on nearly every corner, competition for your dollars has become fierce. You, the customer, sit in an advantageous position in being able to select where you take your business. Much like shopping for a car, a mortgage, or a date on Match.com, you can predetermine a set of requirements that fit your needs.

There was a time when CrossFit boxes were a one-size-fits-all proposition: walk in, look at the white board, circle up, start the warm up, “three, two, one, go,” collapse, guzzle your water, go home. No longer. There are as many variations of quality training facilities as there are species of hummingbirds. (You’re going to look that up, now, aren’t you?)

So when selecting a gym, think about your personal requirements and ask questions. Here are my personal top five questions to ask.

It’s ok to be picky – as a CrossFitter, you have more options for boxes than ever.

1. How Do You Program?

In other words, “Where are you taking me?” Ask the box owner, “Do you…”:

  • …program out a year in advance, with cycles, macro, meso, and mini?
  • …program a month in advance, and if so, how does this month relate to last month, if at all?
  • …program a week at a time? If so, are those weeks connected?

Or does the first coach in the door in the morning pick the program of the day? (If the answer is “yes” to this last question, please run far away).

“Your coach should act as a general contractor and be willing to hire subs to help you achieve your goal. “

There needs to be logic to the programming or else there is no measurable means by which you can achieve your goal. If your goal is to squat 300lb, snatch 225lb, or get your 5km row under twenty minutes, does the box have a long-term logical plan by which you might reach those goals? Or is the hope that merely doing randomized CrossFit every day will be sufficient?

Does the box put the daily WOD on their website? If not, why not? The old saw about “keeping people from cherry picking” is not sufficient to justify not posting the workouts. Posting the workouts on the public-facing site is sharing your methodology with the not just your clients, but the buying public, as well. It also allows you, the prospective client, to review a month or two of programming to determine if there is logic. Look at today’s workout and go back one week. See any similarities? You should.

2. Do You have a Barbell Club?

Is there a weightlifting coach integrated into the box, someone who specializes in lifting technique and can transfer that knowledge to clients?

This is an increasingly important aspect. Training solid and proper weightlifting technique is critical to reaching your long-term strength goals. Technique is everything in weightlifting, and more boxes are making sure that a coach who really knows his or her stuff is on staff.

weightlifting, women, olympic weightlifting

Most CrossFit L1 coaches are not qualified to teach the complexities of weightlifting.

As I have said many times in the past, God bless ‘em, but most CrossFit Level 1 coaches are not qualified weightlifting coaches. They simply can’t spot and correct the faults that specialists with thousands of hours of coaching under their belts can.

3. Do You Have Open Gym?

The world of CrossFit is changing, along with its member-related goals. While there are still boxes that offer only group classes, it is increasingly common that boxes offer open gym time to accommodate a wide variety of training goals. In my box, for example, there are a dozen different things all going on at once, but it all works. George does strictly weightlifting, the class in in progress on the other side of the rig, several people are doing their own individualized programming, Michael is on a Catalyst cycle, and Big Mike is getting swole.

Open gym allows for individuals to craft their own goals, and for the coaches and gym owner to accommodate those goals. A good box will be a conduit through which a variety of goals can be reached, by offering the kind of environment that allows for flexibility.

If I am searching for a new box, this would probably the first question I asked. For me, it’s important to find a facility that has open gym on a continuous basis. One that offers open gym from 12:00 to 1:00pm on Wednesdays is useless.

“Individualized programming is not just for competitors. It is for anyone whose goals may be specific.” 

If a box owner cites liability or safety as a reason for not offering open gym, I would suggest it’s more about control. Without open gym, the box is essentially saying, “Yes, one size does fit all. We’re doing ‘Karen’ today. Like it or lump it.”

Do you want to belong to a box where the coach/owner insists on controlling every aspect of your fitness journey? I’d rather have one that is interested in providing a flexible pathway for that journey to be taken. Open gym provides the environment to make that possible.

4. Do You Offer Individualized Programming?

Secondary to open gym is individualized programming. More and more, CrossFit coaches are writing individualized programs for specific members whose goals may be different than that of the group classes.

Some people want more than just GPP; they want to compete. Today, you simply cannot compete without a program and a coach. Doing general CrossFit classes has not been sufficient to get to the CrossFit Games since about 2010 or earlier. Everyone at the world level, including the masters competitors right up through age sixty, has a coach and an individualized program.

But individualized programming is not just for competitors. It is for anyone whose goals may be specific. Query the box owner as to whether this is something he or she offers, and if so, ask for a sample month of programming to review.

classes, crossfit classes

The group class structure of CrossFit is fine, but make sure your goals don’t get lost in the mix.

5. Are You Confident Enough to Refer Out?

When I was in the insurance business, the axiom we lived by was, “Next to knowing, is knowing where to find out.” This holds true in the world of CrossFit and coaching, as well. Chances are your future box owner is not an expert at everything. So, is she confident enough in her business model and herself to refer you to someone who can provide you with the proper resources?

For example, maybe your box does offer open gym, but not individualized programming. Is the owner okay with you then buying programming from somewhere else and doing it at during the open gym hours? Is the gym owner secure enough to say, “You know what? Nutrition is not my specialty, so let me connect you with so-and-so from CrossFit 8Abs.”

“More and more, CrossFit coaches are writing individualized programs for specific members whose goals may be different than that of the group classes.”

Any quality coach knows his limitations. If he tries to provide services that exceed that limit, those services will fail you. It’s tantamount to a dentist taking a crack at oral surgery because he either doesn’t want to lose you as a customer or is too arrogant to say it’s not what he’s good at. Trust me, after the botched surgery, he will, in fact, lose your business.

The same goes with quality coaching. Your coach should act as a general contractor and be willing to hire subs to help you achieve your goal. Whether it’s bringing in Olympic weightlifting coaches to supplement what cannot be done in house, mobility specialists, nutritionists, or more, the mark of a quality box is one that is confident enough to tell you that while they don’t know it all, they will help you get connected. As a result, they will earn your respect and your loyalty, and you’ll stay injury-free and marching toward success.

In Conclusion

Maybe GPP is what you are looking for. Perhaps group classes are sufficient. But if you’re looking for something more, whether it’s to compete locally, nationally, in fitness and figure, in strongman, powerlifting, weightlifting or simply to find nutrition help, put your box to the test.

It’s a buyer’s market in CrossFit these days, so interview your prospects and find a box that aligns with your goals.

Check out these related articles:

Photos courtesy of CrossFit Empirical.

Leave a Comment