CrossFit Is CrossFit, Right? How to Choose a Good CrossFit Gym

Not all CrossFit gyms were created equal. Coach Mike gives guidelines on what to look for in workout programming to determine if your coach or prospective coach knows what they are doing.

Photos provided by Miguel Tapia Images and CrossFit LA.

It is easy for the untrained eye to look at CrossFit programming and deem it as being completely random. They see different movements being put together alongside various rep schemes and load variations and feel it is just pulled out of a hopper every day. Some less experienced programmers are at fault of doing this. They either lack the education or see CrossFit mainly as a brand that can make them money.

They may think as long as they keep the workouts “hardcore,” stick to the CrossFit main site, or program a “Hero” or “Girl” workout on a regular basis that will suffice enough to keep them relevant. Often these programmers do not account for a proper warm up, nor do they have the background knowledge when it comes to teaching essential skills and lifts needed to properly do the movements.

One of the things I love about CrossFit is that from one day to the other you should not know what to expect. There is always a skill you need to get better at and a lift you need to get stronger in. The more technically sound you are in your lifts the more you replace fat with muscle. In addition, you will gain more out of your workouts due to being more efficient with your movements, therefore being able to raise your intensity level.

In some cases you may see a weight gain of a couple of pounds but find that body fat has dropped by a few percentages and your clothes fit significantly looser. Now in saying this, that does not mean it will happen to everyone. I have witnessed many fit people maintain their current weight and size but get significantly stronger. It all depends on the genetic makeup of that person. Personal trainers who claim they can get weight loss with nifty machines and gimmicks really have no idea what they are doing. They just know a patron will pay them more money because they have those nifty machines. Just like an uneducated CrossFitter will pay for CrossFit even though it’s not well thought out programming. To them CrossFit is CrossFit, right?

crossfit, crossfit workouts, crossfit programming, choosing a crossfitOver the years, I have heard several statements in regards to why certain movements have been programmed. I have listened to people say they do not want to bulk up, afraid that too many weight-lifting workouts will put them in some hulk-like state. I have heard statements that a workout was not hard enough, wanting a “soul crusher” every day. I have witnessed people overtrain and take themselves out of commission for weeks, working the same muscles over and over again.

CrossFit programming should be far from being random. Everything should be well thought out weeks or sometimes months ahead of time. CrossFit workouts need to account for many different domains. The “unknown and unknowable” is one of CrossFit’s key concepts. However, this is only in regards to the client. The programmer should know everything being thrown at an athlete and why. If you’re constantly crushing people that is not good for the body and can most likely lead to an injury. If you’re working the same muscles over and over again and do not take the time to prehab and mobilize you will also be more prone to injury.

In programming, rep and load counts for the week are extremely important. Understanding volume versus intensity also is. CrossFit encompasses many different time domains in its system. Short domain workouts tend to range three to ten minutes in length and are often high in intensity and low on volume and reps. Long domain workouts tend to last more than twenty minutes and are often lower in intensity and high on volume and reps. There is an in-between to both long and short domain workouts that tends to encompass both variations and often ranges ten to twenty minutes in length. In addition to time domains, you also have strength- and skill-based workouts. One that focuses largely on lifts with higher loads is considered strength-based. While skill-based workouts tend to focus on gymnastic elements or high-skilled weightlifting movements, like the overhead squat or snatch.

crossfit, crossfit workouts, crossfit programming, choosing a crossfitThese concept examples are general, however, due to the fact that the variables can change drastically based on an athlete’s level of expertise. A short duration workout for an elite CrossFiter can very well be a long duration workout for the average CrossFitter. The same is also apparent when it comes to strength- and skill-based workouts. Solid CrossFit programming will hit all these different domains, while also stressing the body’s different energy systems. It is a programmer’s job to be aware of how the workouts affect the masses, and track accordingly to encompass everything for everyone, even if it means adjusting to individual levels. CrossFit works because it is constantly varied. Good programmers understand this and this is why you see certain CrossFits demonstrating better results than others.

There are a plethora of gyms out there these days calling themselves CrossFit. Be aware of their programming. Search for it and pay close attention to it. Here are things to look out for when searching for a solid CrossFit to join:

  • Does the gym have original programming or does it program “Hero” and “Girl” workouts or just stick to the main CrossFit site on a regular basis? It is okay to program these workouts on occasion, but using them as a main source of workouts shows a lack of experience. Chances are that box has no real grasp of how to program.
  • Check to see if the CrossFit you are looking into programs skills to work on or lifts to get stronger in. If they only program a workout without training skills or strength, then how are you supposed to get better? Just doing a workout will only take you so far.
  • Do they have a beginner program, often called an on-ramp or elements course? If they do not have one then that is a major red flag they definitely do not know what they are doing.
  • Do they discuss and go over recovery and mobility with their athletes? Everyone gets injured and although CrossFit is an amazing way to get and stay fit it is still a sport. Proper recovery is always key.
  • Is nutrition discussed? No matter how hard you workout, if you are not eating properly then you will never see the results you truly desire.
  • Do they post their programming online for everyone to see? If a CrossFit truly is confident in their programming then they will allow everyone to see it. If an excuse is used that they do not want anyone to steal it, therefore it is hidden, then they most likely have no idea what they are doing. CrossFit is not rocket science. There are a ton of gyms out there posting workouts.

These are all questions you should be asking yourself when choosing a CrossFit gym that is right for you. Anyone can kick someone’s butt in a workout, and that’s a big reason why the masses love CrossFit. Real CrossFit programming, however, is about constantly varying movements and domains. It’s about educating yourself as a programmer and coach on a constant basis. Most importantly it’s about always being open to new ideas. There are many amazing CrossFits out there and chances are many of them are newer. Don’t be fooled by older ones stating they are original. Do your research and come to an educated conclusion on what is best for you.

Leave a Comment