How To Get the Most Out of CrossFit Group Classes

By Noah Abbott, with an introduction by David Osorio

A professionally run CrossFit group class requires orchestrating a lot of moving parts. On ITA, we've talked about how and why coaches should use time stamps to organize classes, discussed how to intelligently organize lifting segments, and even described how introductions in group classes help facilitate a sense of community and set the tone for training. It is absolutely the responsibility of the coaches running each class to make sure things are clear, smooth, and safe for everyone. But group classes are also a dance of sorts, that require members to also hold up their end of the bargain by being prepared. In one of our previous articles, "A Letter to New CrossFitters: Good Training Habits," we discussed some fundamental and conceptual perspectives regarding how to get the most out of your overall CrossFit experience. In today's article, we're talking to athletes, about what you can do to be a proactive member of your affiliate and get more out of your CrossFit group classes—and win the admiration of your coaches in the process. Enjoy!

Fresh out of Foundations, the world of CrossFit can seem a bit overwhelming, full of jargon, percentages, and acronyms only a government employee could love. (“This is an AMRAP WOD of T2B and DUs!!!”) While things can seem to move pretty fast, there are some specific strategies and considerations that will make your daily hour of fitness better spent. Equally important, it will make for a more pleasant experience for your fellow members, and allow your coaches more time to spend doing what they love (yelling “Knees out!” for instance) and less time in an administrative or cat-shepherding function. To be fully awesome, do this: 

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STRONG Gym: Inside a Strength Training Gym

As told to Katharine Reece for Inside the Affiliate by Strong Gym co-owner, Matt Reynolds. 

Basic Statistics

Gym name: STRONG Gym

Location: Springfield, Missouri

Year started: July 2008

Estimated number of members: 900

Square footage: 14,000 square feet

Gym co-owners: Matt Reynolds, Paden Stringer, and William McNeely (read more about them here)

Number of full-time and part-time trainers: Four full-time staff who are also coaches, three full-time coaches, and three owners, who also coach 

ITA: Tell us the story about how your gym started. 

MR: After training out of my two-car garage from 2001 to 2008, our group of competitive powerlifters and Strongmen had outgrown the space. We weren’t a business, but rather a group of training partners. William McNeely and I opened STRONG Gym, in 2008, in a typical industrial space—10,000 square-foot warehouse with no heat, no A/C, no business plan, no insurance—and with no delusions of grandeur. We weren’t starting a business, we just wanted a place to train. And then people started showing up.

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How to Program Deadlifts at CrossFit Affiliates

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit another gym while on vacation. I was excited to go and especially since starting to write ITA, I've become even more curious about how other people run classes and write their programming. At this affiliate, the strength segment called for a 3RM deadlift, followed by 10RM deadlift. At the whiteboard review, there wasn't a lot of context provided for the less experienced athletes regarding how to organize their lifting to meet the two goals. Curious about the intention of the programming, I approached the coach and asked her three relatively basic questions: 1) Are these touch-and-go or dead start deadlifts; 2) How many attempts at the 3RM and 10RM are you expecting us to do; and 3) Do you have any guidance as to how to pick a 10RM weight based on the 3RM. In a noncommittal tone, she told me to do whatever I felt like doing since it wasn't specified.

Looking around the room, unable to turn off my coaching eye, people seemed to be just winging it, making multiple attempts at 3 and 10RMs, dropping the bar frequently, and some were losing their positioning from the accumulated fatigue. Without proper context and guidance, people were more or less left to their own devices to figure out the programming and a few were overextending themselves beyond what they could organize and handle. The coach was walking around trying to help people with fault corrections, but refining movement is only one part of what makes an effective and professional coach. Understanding the intention of your programming, communicating it effectively, and then being able to scale or modify based on what you see are equally important, and unfortunately were in short shift during this segment. 

I've wanted to write an article about programming deadlifts at CrossFit affiliates for a while and my experience at this gym brought it back to the forefront of my mind. Executed correctly, the deadlift is the most effective exercise for overloading hip extension and developing a strong and stable back. But done incorrectly or programmed haphazardly, the deadlift is an extremely effective way to fuck yourself or your members up. In today's article, we'll discuss how we program deadlifts at CFSBK for strength versus using them in metcons, and we’ll share some additional thoughts related to basic execution of the lift and context of usage.

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Collective Learning and CrossFit

Inside the Affiliate’s first birthday was yesterday, and I’m proud to say that we’ve written over 50 articles, with almost 200,000 pageviews. Writing this blog has helped me connect with people from all over the world and even refined how I approach practices at my own gym. I originally got into CrossFit back in 2005, and continue to be thankful for the huge network of people and training philosophy that CrossFit provided, both of which served as a jumping-off point for me to build a successful business. As I’ve mentioned before, I started ITA in large part because I want to give something back to the community and create the resource I would have wanted back when I was starting out. 

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How to Find the Balance Between Training and Exercise at CrossFit Affiliates

In a Huffington Post article at the beginning of 2014, noted strength coach and author Mark Rippetoe discussed the differences between training and exercise. Read the full article here, but in essence, Rippetoe says:

Training involves “directed physical stress,” and is “the process of going from where you are now to where you want to be later for the purpose of meeting a specific performance goal.”
Exercise is physical activity performed for the effect it produces today—right now. Each workout is performed for the purpose of producing a stress that satisfies the immediate needs of the exerciser: burning some calories, getting hot, sweaty, and out of breath, pumping up the biceps, stretching—basically just punching the physical clock” (Practical Programming, 3rd Edition). 

While some debate ensued regarding other specifics in the article, the real value of this discussion, in my opinion, is the standardization of semantics when discussing the effectiveness of a program. These definitions are useful because most people have no idea what the difference is between training and exercise—and as an affiliate owner or coach, you need to be able to explain to your members why Barry’s Bootcamp or SoulCycle are not actually training.

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Own the Weight: Moving Beyond PR-Dominated Thought in CrossFit

By Noah Abbott

Originally published on CrossFit South Brooklyn's blog

A world-record mile. A half court shot to win a million bucks. A hit single that rules the airwaves for a month or two. Society has become more and more obsessed with the rare and extraordinary, celebrating and venerating the “once-in-a-lifetime” moment over the slow and steady grind of dogged hard work and incremental progress. Seen through this lens, greatness becomes a montage of single-frame snapshots instead of long form cinema verite. 

CrossFitters are not immune to this type of thinking. We celebrate PR’ed lifts and WODs, then cling to the numbers as though they are immutable testaments to our continued performance. This partially attributable to CrossFit’s complicated balance between training and sport.Singular numbers matter during competition, as they may be the difference between a win and a loss. They matter psychologically, as the tangible and obvious payoff from long hours of toil and sacrifice. However, confusing PRs with overall fitness, or becoming too reliant or attached to them, is folly. Consider this statement:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

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CrossFit Oahu: Inside a Hawaii Affiliate

As told to Katharine Reece for Inside the Affiliate by CrossFit Oahu owner, Bryant Powers. 

Basic Statistics

Gym name: CrossFit Oahu

Locations: 5 locations, in Honolulu, Kailua, Waipio, Kaneohe, and Pearl City

Affiliation year: 2006

Estimated number of members per location: 808… Not really. People come in and ask how many members we have, but that’s not really the right question. You get a lot of members by being good, sure, but you could also set up a system where there is no Elements class and people could join on contract like at a globo gym, and you could technically have 2,000 people. We have a lot of members, but I don’t like this metric as a measure for how good a gym is.

Square footage per location: Our main gym in Honolulu is almost 15,000 square feet (not including the upstairs); Kailua is 2,000; Waipio is 4,000; Kaneoat is 1,500; and Pearl City 4,500.

Gym owner's name: Bryant Powers

Number of full-time and part-time trainers: 10-12 fulltime and 20 part-time 

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A CrossFit Coach’s Guide to Training Pregnant Women

By Katharine Reece

Every few months, the CrossFit blogosphere explodes with articles about pregnancy and CrossFit. “People often don't realize how scalable CrossFit is,” Nicole Crawford, an associate editor at Breaking Muscle (and the site’s resident mom-doula-pregnancy-exercise expert) told Inside the Affiliate. “We see pregnant women squatting with what look like heavy weights and all social media hell breaks loose." As Nicole points out, "'Listen to your body’ is the mantra for pregnancy fitness, and for good reason. Women do need to listen to their bodies and be safe, during pregnancy more than ever. Over the last decade, it seems more and more women are listening when their bodies say, ‘I want to keep CrossFitting.’” 

For those women, it can be easy to get lost in a sea of conflicting information—not just on the Internet, but also from doctors and well-intentioned friends and family members. In the interest of caring as well for CrossFit South Brooklyn’s community of women and parents as possible, our staff decided to enter the conversation from our perspective and experience. To that end, on CFSBK’s blog, we are publishing a series of three articles titled “CrossFitting While Pregnant: An Interview with Four Women and a Coach” (read Part 1 here, Part 2 will be published tomorrow, and Part 3 on September 30). The article is comprised entirely of interviews with four CFSBK members who became pregnant during their training and one of CFSBK’s coaches, Chris Fox (who you've heard from before on ITA). Our approach is simple, and acknowledges that everyone’s experience is different—and that the most important thing for women is to listen to their bodies.

But on Inside the Affiliate, we want to help you, as a coach and affiliate owner, by sharing more of our guidelines for training these women. Coach Fox created a document that CFSBK will now use as guidelines for both our coaches and pregnant women. We’ve included that document below. 

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Standardized Warm-Ups at CrossFit Affiliates

Back in July of 2011, CFSBK started noticing that while people were making good progress on their barbell lifts, we weren’t spending enough time developing basic gymnastics capacity through direct practice of foundational calisthenics. We noted that people could pull a lot of weight off the floor, but still struggled doing a set of 20 unbroken push-ups. To curb this trend, and in the spirit of the original 2003 "CrossFit Warm-Up," we implemented "Standardized Warm-Ups" (SWU) after intros and general movement prep. The intention was to dedicate eight to 10 minutes of class to training these movements while also performing an effective warm-up routine before the more rigorous training ahead. Before 2011, we usually wrote a novel warm-up for each class. We soon found that having a more consistent warm-up regime made running classes more efficient, and was a more effective training stimulus. Today we're going to talk about how CFSBK implemented SWU and provide some examples of templates we've used.

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4 Common Exercises That Could Hurt Your Members

Popular Internet pastimes in the world of fitness include, but are not limited to: making blanket statements about various exercises or training programs, and providing specific recommendations to an invisible audience without context. Sometimes, these recommendations are based on science and backed up by common sense, such as the statement: "having novice lifters attempt rep maxes on their lifts is both dangerous, inappropriate, and an ineffective use of their training time." That particular blanket statement is sound advice and any prudent coach should at this point be nodding along in agreement. Other times, general statements require a little more nuance and context, and thus, become confusing and inconsequential. For example, a warning like: "If you bound your box jumps your calves will immediately explode upon making contact with the ground." Well, some people certainly shouldn't be doing high rep bounded box jumps, but depending on their tissue quality, technique, and the volume of reps being programmed, others will probably be just fine. Often the reality behind a recommendation falls in a grey area and depends on analysis of the situation sitting in front of you—not something you read about on the Internet.

The majority of training-related injuries any facility will encounter are usually progressive in nature, meaning they’re the result of inefficient technique, inherent orthopedic limitations, or overuse of a particular movement pattern. These issues are systemic and minimizing them depends on your ability to program intelligently  and make thoughtful and specific recommendations to athletes about how to modify or scale their workouts on a daily basis. Below, we address commonly-seen situations in CrossFit gyms that have the potential for acute or catastrophic injuries—and are often completely avoidable. To be clear, this article is not meant to condemn the movements themselves, but to offer some context as to how to implement them responsibly at your gym.

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