A Call to Standards for Coaches, Owners and Athletes

This isn’t specifically a post for outside or inside the gym. But I’m over these nonsensical blog posts railing on CrossFit. Let’s change direction and highlight some gyms and people doing it right in the strength and conditioning world shall we? There are far more educated, conscientious fitness professionals quietly going about their business of improving peoples’ lives than there are fools allowing neophyte clients to get rhabdo. For heaven’s sake.

I have had the privilege of working in or around some top-notch CrossFit gyms in the Dallas area. I’ve also traveled plenty and seen what prompts the backlash at our community but here’s the problem: very little of this silliness is done with malicious intent. It derives from lack of understanding, low barriers to entry (a good AND a bad thing) and…frankly…little motivation to raise the bar.

Here is my shout out to excellent gyms, a call to standards for coaches and owners out there trying to elevate their business, and some pointers for CrossFitters in selecting the right “home” (sorry I have a hard time saying “box” without giggling).

Pushups
Say what? Yes. Literally the first thing I look at when I visit a gym is how the athletes perform pushups. To say this is one of the most fundamental movement patterns is an understatement. Someone having trouble with dips? Strict pullups? Repeated shoulder injuries? See how many pushups they can complete with a perfectly vertical forearm. Don’t be surprised when they can’t do one. At the very least anyone doing pushups with elbows flaring out to the side is a ticking time bomb for AC shoulder joint issues or impingements.

Photo: Vance Jacobs Photography, Nate Helming of San Francisco CrossFit

The Warmup is a Warmup
A good warmup has three elements: increased blood flow, dynamic range of motion (DROM) exercises moving from smaller to larger muscular contractions and specific movement preparation for whatever lies ahead. In general population classes, mobility drills are appropriate for educating people on how to care for their health and tissue. If you are an athlete and are spending more than 5-10 minutes rolling around on pvc…we’ve got a problem. Ask yourself if the level of “wrecked” you feel each day could be related to your longevity in this sport. Also, if a class warmup consists of a 10min AMRAP with running, pull-ups and burpees…come on, we can do better people. This is your craft, invest everything you have in it!

Multiple Options Explained for Scaling
Ok, so if muscle-ups are the RX’d movement in a workout, everyone knows there will be scaling involved. But if there are squat cleans (yes I said squat, calm down elitists, specificity is your friend), does the coach offer altered weight recommendations, power cleans for beginners or (bonus!) percentages of your own estimated maxes? Do they explain how the weight should feel as the workout progresses? These are signs of an excellent program. This is your body. Don’t compromise just because you’re afraid to ask the person you’re paying for help.

Repeated Lifts Week after Week
“Back squats again??” Yes. Now, I don’t want go on a sidebar about the overuse of the back squat…(“SHE SAID WHAT!?!?!?)…and the tendency to overlook basic, mechanical issues with double-leg movements (there, I said it anyway), but that has more to do with the ability to assess and correct movement. If you see strength or Olympic movements repeatedly in classes, take heart! How else can you measure progress if not by training and repetition? CrossFitters get all hopped up about fun, sexy movements because we have so many options. But if your goal is anything related to health, wellness, fitness and longevity, it is the foundational movements that matter. A good programmer will do their best to “hide” this alongside all the fun crap we simply MUST see in workouts or will die. #sarcasm #guilty

Quality of Movement Stressed Over Type of Movement
Do you get annoyed by your coach chattering on about technique? Do you zone them out when they suggest strict pull-ups with a band instead of kipping pull-ups? “By golly I’m not getting a band! I can kip the crap out of 2-3 pull-ups!” Face palm. Suck it up buttercup, no one cares if you need a band. We’ve all been there and the only person you’re holding back is yourself. If you have an annoying coach that chooses kinder words than mine to express the same idea, hug him or her the next time you see them. You are blessed.

Infrequent 20-30min AMRAPs
Need I say more? I think we’ve covered the whole Hero WODs topic. The occasional aerobic grinder can certainly be appropriate in a well-rounded fitness program, but if you are hitting these bad boys every other day or (cringe) every day, ask yourself why. If this aligns with your goals, you enjoy getting worked to the bone and you are not necessarily concerned with doing CrossFit forever, WOD your little heart away. It is no one’s place to judge your goals or intentions and those are all legitimate. If, on the other hand, you seek improved fitness and health for the long-term, I would kindly suggest that is not the way.

And For Bonus: Explanation on How to Approach Your Workout
If your coach gathers you in front of the whiteboard and discusses all of the movements and scalings, congrats you just might be in a great CrossFit gym! Now if your coach goes on further to explain HOW the workout should feel, at what intensity you should approach it and provides suggestions for fractioning reps or rounds…boy howdy you’ve found yourself a top-notch strength and conditioning home. Never let go. There IS a science behind every workout, whether people realize it or not, and understanding these “energy systems” is integral to high level fitness. However, that is a conversation for another day.

Hopefully, I have offered some provoking thoughts. I believe in a community that holds each other to the highest standards founded on a belief in improving peoples’ lives and wellbeing. It already exists. Let’s continue to encourage one another in this direction and refuse to compromise for passivity’s sake.

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus and in His Person, giving praise to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17

68 thoughts on “A Call to Standards for Coaches, Owners and Athletes

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