The Right and Wrong Way to Welcome Visitors to a CrossFit Gym

It’s easy to dismiss visitors as a nuisance or outsiders. But an opportunity for goodwill and community is being missed.

There is a fairly old Christian-radio song by Chris Rice called Face of Christ. Leaning toward sappy, it is a song hewn in the spirit of the best country-radio storyteller style, the gist of which is that you never know with whom you may be talking. Beware looking down on the homeless guy in the street, because that just might be Jesus in his second-coming skin.

This song kept coming to mind as I tried to visit a couple of different CrossFit boxes last weekend on my visit to New York City. Now, before anyone gets the idea that I am in any way elevating myself to the level of deity or “do you know who I am?” status, that is not the case. The case is that I have been both a visitor and on the receiving end of VIP visitors, and one thing I have noticed on both sides is that it’s easy to dismiss them as a nuisance or as outsiders. But I firmly believe a huge opportunity for goodwill and great word-of-mouth marketing may be being missed.

You just never know who might be walking into your box. So, perhaps it’s best to treat everyone right?

Visiting the Big Apple (#CrossFit Fail)

Because I am training for the CrossFit Games in July, I have a specific program that I am following. Hence, I needed to find a box in New York City that would allow me to do my own thing. I have talked with many CrossFit gyms in the past whose default response was, “No, we don’t allow open gym. You will need to join the class.” That template probably worked in 2011 when there was almost no such thing as individualized competition programming or actual strength and conditioning taking place inside CrossFit boxes – but this is no longer the case.

So in an effort to continue my training as I traveled to New York to help my son move, I reached out to a particular CrossFit gym that was literally a block from my hotel. Perfect, it would seem, to easily get my workouts in.

I sent an email to the gym explaining my situation, and asking if they could accommodate me. I never got a response. I next turned to their Facebook page where I could see that they were still, apparently, a viable box, and posted there – still no response. Their website was up-to-date, but no response to emails or Facebook, and when I tried to call the number on their website, it was not a working number. There was no class schedule or hours of operation posted on the site, so I gave them one last shot and walked to the box to see if I could talk with someone. No one home.

I don’t expect much, but I do expect the courtesy of a response.

So, I reached out to a different local box, sending an email that was answered within minutes. One box ignored me. One box was very accommodating. One box got my drop in fee. The other is getting bad press.

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How to Be a Good Host to Visiting CrossFitters

Now I do realize that every box has its protocol and may have limitations based on square footage, number of coaches on hand, and so on. I also understand concerns about liability. If some visitor walks into your box and says they just want to set up in a corner and work on back squats and ends up crushing themselves under 400 pounds of unspotted steel, lots of questions will be asked.

But that is rarely the case. In fact, most traveling newbies will likely want to join the class for their daily WOD, where those of us who train specific programming will likely not find any real benefit to jumping in on “Fight Gone Bad” when we are planning to do an EMOM of strict handstand push ups and muscle ups. (This may betray me as a programming snob. For most of those reading this, this is not new information.)

The final point of frustration is that while CrossFit purports to be a worldwide community, in fact, it still is a highly tribal phenomenon. Meaning, that visiting guy over the in the corner is most often ignored. I have been that guy, and I find it a fascinating cultural observation that sometimes no one will give you the time of day until after your workout when you have demonstrated a prowess they can only hope to achieve. You shouldn’t really need to catch people’s eye with your performance to merit a conversation.

So with that, here is my five-point good-will visitor checklist:

  1. Make your website visitor-friendly. Have a link specifically for visitors that outlines the policy, drop in fee, and expectations, as well as includes a contact form. List open gym hours and your stance on doing your own programming versus sitting in with the class.
  2. Provide open gym hours. It’s all the rage folks. Lots of athletes are now following OPT, Invictus, Outlaw, or individual programming. Why turn people away?
  3. Don’t kill visitors with fees. With flight, hotel, food, car rental, and incidentals, travelers are already getting soaked. Having a $25 drop in fee, for multiple days, can be tough. I don’t want to use your gym for free, but I will buy a shirt, some of your protein, and recommend the hell out of your box. How about an “unlimited visitor pass” that is good for a week for $50?
  4. Create a visitor-friendly culture. We really are supposed to be a worldwide community. That quiet lady in the corner setting up a bar just might be someone from CrossFit HQ, or Valerie Voboril, or Becky Conzelman. Go introduce yourself.
  5. For the love of all humanity, return communication promptly.

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If you are visiting other boxes:

  1. Provide enough information on first contact to set the box owner’s mind at ease. Either “I just started CrossFit” or “I am training for the Games in July” should be sufficient to tell the box owner where to place you.
  2. Treat the place like your home. Because in the spirit of the one-big-happy-family, it is.
  3. Be friendly and outgoing. No brainer
  4. Spread the word about positive experiences.
  5. Take great ideas back to your box. Make your box even better by coopting ideas for boxes that have gotten it right.

Photos courtesy of CrossFit LA.

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