I still remember the first time I set foot into a CrossFit box. I filled out a waiver 15 minutes before class, met my coach and jumped right into a WOD with snatches. No foundational class or anything about doing an on-ramp program for beginners—heck I wasn’t even told to stick with the PVC pipe for my first day. No, I was told to grab a barbell and then told to add some weight because ‘I was strong.’ Whatever feelings of apprehension I had about jumping right in to this brand new sport I pushed to the side—I had been a college athlete, after all!— and joined the workout.
Was I strong enough to handle that weight? Yeah probably. But what I did that day, and for months and months after it, resembled nothing close to a snatch. If only I had known what a red flag it was to be at a box that allowed brand new athletes to do that. If only I had learned the fundamental movements properly. Unlearning all those bad habits was a painful process and switching gyms made for some awkward moments.
So, how do you avoid all that and choose a CrossFit box wisely? Here are five important things to consider.
1) Visiting first
A lot of CrossFit gyms do a “free first visit” where you can come in and talk about what CrossFit is, what your goals are and maybe even do a few basic movements. If so, try to schedule yours so you can watch an actual class before or after. Or just email and ask if you can come hang out for a little while and watch.
Are the members friendly, open, cheerful? Are the coaches actually instructing or are they just there as supervisors or cheerleaders? Are the classes appropriately staffed? You don’t want to be a newbie in a gym where one coach is leading 40 people. I’ve dropped into gyms where the coach has been on their phone during the strength portion of class. If you see this run far, far away.
The bottom line is your CrossFit gym becomes your family, your home away from home. I’ve met some of my best friends at the gym. You want to get a sense of the people, the coaching and the overall community before you commit.
CrossFit is about variance, but a gym’s programming should not be random. It should be detailed, results-driven and an easy thing for an owner to discuss with a new athlete.
Do they offer one program for the masses? Are there different tracks or scalable options? Is there a competitors program or options for sport-specific training? Is there open gym hours?
You won’t be a beginner forever and you want to be at a gym where you can learn and grow over time. What’s the experience level of the owners and coaches? As important as scaling down is, they also need to be able to scale up for more complicated lifts/movements.
Am I saying you need to join the nicest, newest CrossFit box in your area? No. But a CrossFit gym shouldn’t be disgustingly dirty and out of date, either. Good box owners invest in their gym, no matter how slowly at first, with new/updated equipment or more classes/coaches. You want a box that is evolving, that wants to keep getting better and strives to provide a great overall experience.
4) Their beginner program
I don’t care what your athletic background was. Unless you were previously a weightlifter, you need to learn how to properly do the movements in CrossFit (snatch, clean, squat, press) with a PVC or empty barbell first. The same goes for gymnastics.
If a gym doesn’t have a proper on-ramp/foundations program (at the very least a week or two of beginner classes) know that it may take you longer to have a full understanding of the basics. Look into doing some intro classes one-on-one or in a small group.
Ask about the opportunities to stay after or go early to work with a coach.
Most coaches will tell you brand new CrossFitters (especially those not coming from an athletic background) require a LOT of instruction and attention. That’s why it’s difficult to jump right in with the regular classes.
Obviously cost is a factor when you’re trying to choose a CrossFit gyms. But if you’re serious about starting this, don’t let money be the thing that sways you. Take a look at other gyms that are cheaper or more expensive and find out for yourself why they are that way.
Are specialty classes included in that rate? Are their classes capped at a small number? Do they offer family rates or discounts military, teachers, first responders, etc.?
Take a look at everything on this list and, if you’re still deciding between a few CrossFit gyms, then let money factor in.
I’ve been to some great CrossFit gyms that are very affordable and some not-so-great ones that charge an insane amount of money. Do your homework.