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).

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

  1. You hit the nail on the head. Too many who enjoy the life of CrossFit approach it blindly with their fingers in their ears anytime ‘their’ world is questioned or challenged. This ‘elitist’ mentality is the quickest way to defeat. Great post. Thank you.

    • We live in such an interesting community that loves being on the “cutting edge” but often refuses to be open to outside thought. Glad you enjoyed!

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    • Exactly! It doesn’t matter if we are talking about CrossFit, weightlifting, or any other sport the same foundational principles apply (and are too often overlooked). Your “Belt System” is ingenious, I love it!

  3. Any of those top notch “homes” near enough to Addison? Looking for a second box as I will be living in two cities for the next year or so. Thanks!!

    • Hey Emily!

      If you don’t mind a little drive, CF Deep, CF214, CF Dallas Central and CF Tiger’s Den are excellent options with educated coaches and solid programming. The communities are great too!

  4. Great article! These are all the things that my coach is constantly stressing and some of the things that have caused other CFers to look elsewhere (i.e. if they don’t have a 30+min metcon every other day they are out!)

  5. Awesome article & I love the style it was written in…straight to the point! This is stuff we’ve been implementing in our gym over the past year & even though we–the 3 coaches at our gym [I also giggle at the thought of calling it our ‘box’ where we ‘work on our snatches’ ;)] know what we’re doing is the best for our athletes, they still need outside convincing sometimes. Your mom can tell you brushing after every meal is best but until you hear the dentist say it, you don’t believe it. I’m printing this out & posting it on our news board to brag on how awesome we’re being & to encourage our athletes to hold us to these standards…until we raise the bar even higher! Thank you for a great post!

  6. Wow…..I just understood how great our coach is after reading that, the new gym in Letterkenny is a credit to the Crossfit name 🙂

  7. As an affiliate owner of 4 years, my thoughts while reading this is, do people still do this stuff? How can a gym owner/coach who believes that they care about their members, not have strict standards on progressing through movements? “I love you Sue & Jim, but f#@k your Labrum!”

    Good article, sad it still needs to be written…

  8. Nice post Bri! I am the owner of an All Volunteer military affiliate on Fort Hood (Centurion CrossFit Fort Hood). Even though all of my Coaches are volunteers with various levels of experience we are rooted in fundamentals and all our classes retail the typical structure of a “profit” affiliate. Granted we can’t provide the same one on one level of instruction but everything to knowing your athletes to goal setting reasonate within Centurion’s Mission and Vision. Thanks for putting this out there.

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  13. Regarding your comment about 20-30 AMRAPS…what are you suggesting? I ask because I think I agree with you but I’m not sure I’m reading you correctly. Are you saying the workout should be 10 mins or under? I go to a great L1 guy who specializes in Oly lifting and I love it. He runs his show out of his garage. The workouts are routinely about 10 mins or we focus on something like deads or squats for the WOD. But, I miss those 30 burners sometimes too! So, to get my fix of the big group suck, I’m going to start back at my original gym (Rainier Crossfit, they’re awesome) on Saturdays.

    Did this make sense?

    Can you clarify a bit? Or at least dumb it down for me? 🙂

    • Jeff, I could write a paper in response, but I’ll give you the gist. I think it’s safe to say that for the majority of us, the goal is improved health and the ability to “do more work” without injury. Thus our bodies should be prepared to participate in a wide range of athletic activities or “tests” (for lack of a better word). However, our bodies also have finite limits…whether we like it or not we are not Superman, so we have to be smart about how we push the envelope. The problem with 20-30min AMRAPs performed too often is the stress it places on our body’s ability to recover. Do they have a place in a well-rounded exercise program especially if you are in tune with your body enough to know how much is too much? Sure! But it’s one thing to hop around the gym doing steady exercise or movement for 30 minutes and quite another to add the standard CrossFit intensity for that long a duration repeated day after day. Scientifically speaking, our bodies cannot replenish the energy stores we use for such intense exercise and this is why we see hormonal imbalances occur: exercise is still a stress on the body after all! We just want it to be an appropriate stress that brings more good than harm.

      Ok, I wrote a paper, forgive my verbosity lol. Get after those Saturday workouts there’s nothing wrong with it! I just want to encourage people to be wary of the “sexy” CrossFit grinders at the expense of longevity. I hope that made sense 🙂

  14. Thank you!! Love this article and the honesty.
    Moving to Dallas area, and very sad to be leaving my CF gym, would love tips on a few great CF gyms in Texas.

  15. Seriously amazing!! As a previous post stated — sad it needed to be written but you really did a beautiful job! The topic of an adequate warm up really hit home for me. Thank you for basically reading my mind and stating what many of us needed to hear. Loved it!!

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  18. Reblogged this on The Physio Detective and commented:
    This blog post is a nice summary of what I find in good CF boxes as well. I don’t necessarily agree with the vertical forearms bit (I think you can do push ups in many different positions) but otherwise a nice read 🙂

    • Antony, I absolutely agree about the use of varied pushups (we want to be able to move and function in all planes!), but I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of the vertical forearm as the go-to. Excellent point to bring up!

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  21. Let me preface by saying I am not a Crossfitter. I have yet to see a “box” that subscribes to your beliefs. I am encouraged by your post, all of the comments following and hope to see more and more trainers subscribe to your sensible training philosophies. Nice job!

    • I’m so glad you are encouraged! I assure you there is plenty of excellence in the CF community but, as with anything else, it is the negative aspects that get dramatized. It’s time to turn the tide.

  22. Lots of truth and sense packed into your post. I’ll share this with my fellow coaches at CrossFit Kalmar in Sweden, and I’m happy to say that we passed your ‘test’ 😉 Very well-written and likable piece, and admirable courage to hint at the common overuse of the holy grail called back squats 😀 The dose certainly makes the poison!

      • Thanks, Bri! 🙂 As a coach I love talking to my athletes about the reasons why we’re doing certain things, and about the thought process behind our programming. Often I skip writing down any Rx weights on the board to reduce prestige, and instead I encourage people to choose a weight appropriate for them to get the most out of their workout. CrossFit WODs are strong medicine, and we’d better tackle them wisely!

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  24. This was a very good read, I am happy to say that at helotes crossfit you get the best training a box can offer, are trainers are very informative and make sure we all display proper mechanics in all our movements, the trainers and athletes are all amazing and full of support !

  25. Thanks for the reminder. As a one man show (owner, administration, head and only instructor), I need these little eye openers to keep me pursuing excellence and not become blinded by my own preferences.

  26. Wow! Great article!! Very well said! Thanks for not only speaking your mind and truth about CF, but also adding the most important truth, God’s word to close! Thank you!

  27. So happy that my box fulfills every point made above, although I never really had a doubt! CrossFit Garden City is owned by two of the most well known and best CrossFit affiliated people in the world! Thanks Dennis and Jenn!

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  30. We cannot say “squat” clean without cringing, that is too funny. We use “full” clean and “full” snatch as the descriptors. Love and appreciate the write up.

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