Most of the articles about “how to choose a CrossFit gym” are written by CrossFit gym owners and they’re rarely (if ever) unbiased in their recommendations. I don’t own a gym and I don’t want to own a gym. Though I have been doing CrossFit for four years and still love it, I always encourage my friends and family to exercise regularly, and most importantly, safely, regardless of how they choose to do so.
But, for whatever the reason, you’ve decided to give CrossFit a shot even though you don’t know much about it. All of the CrossFit gyms in your area probably offer at least one free class each. So let’s go over the basics you need to consider in choosing a gym. (Besides, CrossFit pants can’t be as embarrassing as Zumba pants, right?)
CrossFit Is a Business
CrossFit Inc. is a corporation. Every gym using the “CrossFit” brand name is an affiliate (as opposed to a franchise). The barriers to entry (costs and requirements) to attain CrossFit affiliation are like the attire restrictions at Wal-mart. Affiliation means there are basically no rules regarding how to run the business.
CrossFit gyms provide a service to make money. You seek the best service provider, but you can’t count on the CrossFit brand to ensure any level of competence. Each CrossFit affiliate in your area might be equally terrible. Look to other criteria.
The Gym Owner
Safety should be the gym owner’s primary concern. The gym owner should be able to clearly explain how to prevent injury, conduct a past injury assessment, and provide warm up, stretching, and modification of exercises to accommodate the member’s specific needs.
Is the gym owner open to candid discourse or do they seem like they’ll murder kittens at the slightest criticism? Remember, the gym owner is only your friend while you are paying them. Kind of like a muscular hooker.
According to some fitness industry retention data, about 70% of gym-goers end their memberships within two years. Think of the gym owner as your future ex. The ideal gym owner is mature, knowledgeable, reasonable, and professional. You shouldn’t have to worry about someone drunk-calling you at 3:00AM and spray painting obscenities on your car just because you’re ending your gym membership.
The absence of framed (or Scotch-taped) CrossFit certificates is a red flag. There is a database to verify CrossFit certifications. Sadly, some people will actually lie about it. If someone lies about a certification that takes only two days to attain, you should be concerned. Despite its brevity, that two-day certification provides far more injury-preventing information than, say, nothing. The biggest fans of CrossFit, and the folks who are rarely CrossFit gym members themselves, are physical therapists and chiropractors.
Does the coach clearly explain and competently perform each movement, always emphasizing safety? Attempting a movement without understanding it risks injury. If you cannot do a strict movement, a good coach will scale the movement for you until you can do it properly. If the coach encourages “kipping” too soon, you’ll probably be your visiting your physical therapist shortly.
CrossFit gym communities are generally friendly and supportive of newcomers. Smaller gyms offer more intimate classes and social circles. Larger gyms rely on the members to be more independent and there are usually more cliques. Safety is still your primary concern. Make sure your gym provides enough personal space for you to enjoy a group class without having to wash anyone else’s bodily fluids out of your clothes.
Gyms often recommend a specific diet that they believe works best, but anecdotal results are not scientific research. So which diet should you choose? In 2009, New England Journal of Medicine researchers studied the effect on weight loss of several diets with varying macronutrient composition. The conclusion? You can lose weight on pretty much any diet as long as you’re shoveling fewer calories into your chewhole. There is no magical “system” for weight loss (and be especially aware of snake oil products). To lose weight, eat less.
Your Level of Fitness
The gym should offer a comprehensive course specifically for novices, who are more prone to accidental and overuse injuries. Mastery of all of the many CrossFit movements (especially complex movements involving the lifting of weight that is not included in the contents of your skin) could take up to a year or more.
- Visit the gym at the end of the day and look at the whiteboard (this may be physical or digital).
- Count the number of names on the board (N).
- Look for scores with “Rx” in them and count them (Nrx).
Workouts are generally programmed such that fewer people (as opposed to few) can do them as written (Rx). If there are 100 names on the board (N=100) and only 10 of them have “Rx” next to it (Nrx=10), then only 10% (Nrx/N) of the members could actually complete the workout as it was written. In this example, 90% of the gym members had to do something else. A low Nrx/N ratio suggests that the gym owner does not understand the needs of the majority of the clientele, and therefore may be sacrificing safety.
People who cannot perform a workout as written usually need extra coaching to prevent injury and to improve skills. Group classes rarely have enough coaches to help every single person – in fact, at some gyms a single coach may run classes for thirty or more people. How much attention do you need to avoid injury? How many people are you willing to compete with in a class to get it?
CrossFit is an excellent way to improve your health regimen if it excites you enough to do it regularly. I love CrossFit and continue to do it because I love it, but if I loved running or Zumba, I’d do that instead and just buy new pants. The most important thing is that you do it safely. Good luck!
1. Bedford, Paul. (2008) Part 1: Retain and Gain: Keeping Your Members Engaged. The Leisure Database.
2. Sacks, F., Bray, G., Carey, V., Smith, S., Ryan, D., Anton, S., … Williamson, D. (2009) Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates. New England Journal of Medicine, 2009(360), 859-873.
Photos provided by Miguel Tapia Images and CrossFit LA.