When I first started training in CrossFit, over six and a half years ago, there were not many options for schools. I trained where I did because there were only ten CrossFit affiliates in the world and CrossFit Los Angeles happened to be right down the street from me.
I think I was pretty lucky, as CrossFit LA is one of the best CrossFit gyms and communities in the world, but today, there are CrossFit gyms popping up everywhere and consumers have a lot more choice amidst a broad variance in experience, equipment, quality, and size.
Like martial arts or any other sport or method of training, a CrossFit gym is only as good as its…what? What do you look for when deciding which CrossFit gym to join? (These are some helpful hints for those of you running a CrossFit gym, too!)
Layout / Appearance
I have visited a lot of affiliates and what I observe first upon entering a gym is the general layout and appearance. Are things neatly organized? Is the floor clean? Are there big whiteboards, leaderboards and a proper timer? Is it well lit? Is it clear where I am supposed to walk, leave my bag and where the restrooms are? In other words, how comfortable and inviting is this space?
There are two things to look for in regards to equipment. Is there enough? And, is it well organized? If you can find everything easily and there is either plenty to go around or the instructor is quick to organize around the limiting factor, then these are good signs. If I have to ask too many questions in regards to where equipment is or what weight the bars are, I find it a frustrating experience. If I see a gym takes care of its equipment, I am more likely to think they will take care of me.
While I don’t expect a CrossFit gym to be pristine, there is a difference between looking like an old-school, hard-core gym and just being dirty. Personally, I look at the floors, the bars and kettlebells for chalk (or blood) remnants, and for general dustiness. Having a clean bathroom and shower goes a long way, as well.
Make sure the gym has one. Every CrossFit is different, but having a regular class structure that allows for some expectations and flow of events is hugely helpful for the learning process and for a cohesive community. In addition, check to see if there are dedicated times for lifting, for beginners, or for a competition team to train.
Check into the background of the coaches at any CrossFit you are considering. What have they done outside of CrossFit? Do they have other certifications? Have they been athletes themselves? Was their life transformed by CrossFit somehow? What is their reputation amongst other people in the fitness industry? Find these things out and take from it what you will, but do some research.
Beyond your coach’s background, the next thing to look into is what sort of coaching you will receive. Do you have access to the coaches outside of class? How much time do they spend on skill work? Are they able to coach beginners as well as advanced students? Do they seem to have good communication and class management skills? Do they write blogs that are interesting and edifying? Is there nutrition and lifestyle coaching included in the curriculum?
In my opinion, a big reason to train at a CrossFit affiliate versus training on your own is for the community. The challenge of the workouts brings out a unique camaraderie amongst CrossFit gym members. Every community is going to be slightly different and different communities are a proper fit for different people.
When you go into a CrossFit gym, look for people who are at or above the fitness level you desire. Are there people here to drive you? Are you a firebreather looking for other people desiring to compete? Or are you a beginner looking for fellow newbies to learn alongside?
What is the culture of the gym like — How do the members of the gym interact with each other? Do they say hello and help new people with equipment and movements? Do they cheer for each other? Strangely enough, this does not happen at every CrossFit affiliate.
Community can extend beyond the gym as well. Does the affiliate have extra curricular activities? Seminars? Paleo dinners? Hooverball tournaments?
And What About You?
Before you decide on a gym there are some questions you need to get clear with yourself, as well. Just like knowing your budget and the reasons for owning a car (going off-roading versus commuting daily to work) will determine what car you purchase, knowing what you want out of your training and how you want it to look in your life will inform your decision in choosing a gym.
Answer these questions for yourself, and then walk into a gym and assess it based upon your own unique criteria. If you know what you want, you’ll be able to find the right gym for you.
- What are your goals?
- What are you willing to spend?
- What is your actual time commitment?
- What are you willing to give up to add CrossFit into your life?