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What Makes a Great CrossFit Trainer?


I’ve blogged about choosing a CrossFit Trainer and Gym before, but I wanted to expound a little. With the popularity of CrossFit on an exponential climb, CrossFit Level 1 coaches are in high demand. Level 1 Seminars sell out quickly on the main CrossFit site, at 60 people each with 8-10 classes each weekend with a pass rate of 80% you’ve got roughly 480 coaches entering the CrossFit “job market” any given week. Chances are, not all of the individuals who become a coach will be a good coach. Standing out in a sea of coaches is hard, but the following focus areas should help you become a better coach or, if you’re an athlete, help you find a good coach to train with.

If you are an athlete understand that very few, if any, coaches will fit all the areas we list below, but use your best judgment and try and find someone that is a good mix of the below points.

Focus on the Foundations

A good CrossFit trainer will make sure that each and every athlete that they work with is performing movements with the proper movement standards. Seasoned athletes or athletes that have been CrossFitting a few days can all benefit from going back to the basics. Ironing out form will not only make you safer as an athlete but also help you with your own personal PR goals.

A focus on the foundations also means that a coach follows proper progressions when training athletes. Typically faults in form and movement in a front squat will also show up in an overhead squat. A stand out coach will make sure that an athlete shows competency at one level of a progression before moving on to the next level.

The same can be said about weights and scaling workouts. A good CrossFit trainer won’t rush to throw plates on the bar just to make an athlete feel good about going RX’ed on a workout. It sounds like a trivial point but it’s quite important, when an athlete fatigues form begins to suffer. Ask yourself which is better? 30 reps at 75lbs with perfect form or 30 reps at 95lbs, with terrible form? A good coach knows that scaling is all about maintain the neuromuscular response to the workout and that form will trump weight every time.

Focus on the Majority

In any given CrossFit box, there is a group of athletes that performs at a standard above the majority of the gym. These guys/girls will be the ones constantly posting the top scores on the dialy WoDs and more than likely have the best Frans, Graces, etc… at the box. In the same regard, you also will have athletes that preform below the vast majority of folks in the box, with 15 minute Fran times and 2 hour Murph times.

As a coach we tend to focus on these two groups most of the time. We will tend to alienate the majority when we focus on the top 10% and we’ll aggravate the majority when we focus on the bottom 10%. It’s important for coaches to focus on all the athletes in our gym equally. While the top 10% may be the athletes that are the most fun to work with, the majority is the most rewarding and from a business sense, they are the ones that pay the bills.

This is not to say that you should ignore your top and your bottom groups, but create a programming that will allow you to push your top 10% to get even better, push your bottom 10% to catch up to the majority and push the majority into the top 10%

Focus on Programming

The most important part of any CrossFit trainer’s job is to develop quality programming that is part of a larger plan, pushes athletes outside their comfort zone, and can be performed in a safe manner.

Any coach who has passed a Level 1 Seminar can make up WoDs that have intense rep counts, massive weights, and high round counts. They live and die by the “prepared for anything” mentality. Not only is this methodology unsafe, but it’s unmeasurable. If all of the workouts performed are random, how can an athlete track progress?

A coach that puts a focus on programming will have a common goal. For example, a 6 week focus on pressing strength, with WoDs over that 6 week period focusing on movements that help improve an athletes pressing strength. At the end of the 6 week period the athlete will be able to gauge whether or not their push strength has increased.

With proper programming a coach should be pushing an athlete out of their comfort zone. When athletes are working outside their comfort zone, that’s where positive change can occur. As long as this is done safely it can promote positive growth in an athletes training regiment.

Safety should also be a primary focus in any programming schema that a coach develops. This goes back to the points that were brought up earlier when we talked about having a focus on foundations & foundational movement.

Focus on Humility

As CrossFit trainers we want to acknowledge the success of our athletes, without downplaying their success. Let’s say that an athlete hits a snatch PR of 135lbs. A humble trainer will acknowledge it, tell that that it’s good work and start working with them on how to get to the next level with their PR. The converse of that is a trainer who will say that 135lbs is good, but his or her own snatch max is 235lbs, and that 135lbs is a light weight. This is going to alienate the athlete and downplay the success that they just had. Coaches won’t attract or keep athletes this way and it will hurt our overall reputation as CrossFit coaches.

Focus on the Relationship

One of the best ways to build a strong relationship is to listen more than you talk. A good CrossFit trainer will know when to be quiet and listen to his athlete’s goals, weakness, past injuries, past experiences, and more.

After listening to all of this, a good coach will then be able to apply those experiences to an athletes training. Is the athlete prone to wrist trouble? As a coach you need to take them a little lighter on cleans as to not aggravate that. You also need to work with them on wrist mobility to help alleviate that trouble.

In closing

Being a CrossFit trainer isn’t a difficult job, but it is a job that will require you to put others needs above your own. You’ll have to be willing to listen to your athletes, understand what they are capable of and what their goals and then program training that enforces movement standards and pushes the athlete outside their comfort zone to help them reach their goals and gains.

If you are an athlete look for a coach that’s willing to do this with you. A coach that you can form a relationship with and feel can push you to the level that you need to be at.

CrossFit is a personal experience; once the workout starts its you vs. you. A good coach will give you the skills and training you need to beat yourself time and time again. If you need more help in choosing a CrossFit gym or coach, check out my article on Choosing a CrossFit Gym