Just another morning, hanging around at Rocket CrossFit.
Of all the things I’m asked about CrossFit, the one I’m asked most often is “do you know anything about this gym?” or its variant, “do you know a good gym in this city?” The answer is usually “no,” because it’s not like we all know each other. Even in Seattle, I don’t know thaaaaaat many of the bajillion gyms that are popping up. So I do what I do when I’m curious about anything, Google it. And although there is NO substitute for going in and getting the feel of a place, I will weed gyms out pretty quickly based on their Web sites.
The people who ask me this are “regular folk.” Not people who want to compete in any real way. People who have jobs and kids and usually a handful of injuries that make them think they can’t do CrossFit. People who have seen all the bad press that CrossFit gets, but are still curious and interested. And they just want to make sure that they don’t go to one of the bad gyms.
So let’s get this out of the way: there are a lot of bad CrossFit gyms. There are gyms that are more concerned with numbers – numbers of members, weight records – than the safety of their members. Gyms that care more about being badass than safe. I agree 100%. There are bad gyms and bad trainers. That sucks.
But let’s get another thing out of the way: there are a lot of other ways that people get hurt. Including gyms where people lift weight totally unsupervised with bad form. And all sports. (Ever heard of tennis elbow? People blowing out their knees running? )
So, that said, I want you to try CrossFit. I want it to make you strong and empowered, both physically and emotionally. I believe that finding a good fit with a good CrossFit gym can change your life. So let me tell you what I look for in a gym – or at least on their website:
1. PHOTOS The first thing I look at is the photos. I look for photos of a wide variety of people. People of all shapes, sizes, colors and fitness levels. To me, that says that it is a diverse community in which most people would find a reflection of themselves, and that matters greatly. The more connected to community, the more likely you are to stick with it. I also look for AN ABSENCE of “you, dude, look at my ripped yoke being badass and shiny impressive” photos. Those tell me that they gym values appearance and shock-value more than the safe athletics of their members. Seriously, the photos a gym shows you will tell you more about what they value than anything else. A picture is worth a thousand words.
2. INTRODUCTORY CLASSES The next thing I look at is how they incorporate new people into their community. I like to see a dedicated “fundamentals” program, though we all call it something different. At Rocket, we call ours “Blast Off,” for obvious reasons. Other gyms call it fundamentals, or on-ramp or who knows what. The point is that CrossFit can be dangerous, because you are doing gymnastics and lifting weight. In order to be safe, you MUST understand the principles of movement and how your body works. I look for a fundamentals program that is a minimum of 6 classes, for beginners only. That not only begins the process of building community, but it also keeps you safe. Ours is 12 classes, 3 times a week for 4 weeks. We take safety seriously.
3. THEIR WORKOUTS Honestly, most gyms are already out based on their photos and their absence of introductory classes. But if I’m still looking, then I look at their workouts. If a gym doesn’t post their workouts, I leave their site. Most of the gyms I know that don’t post their workouts say that it’s their “special sauce” and some sort of magical proprietary secret. Whatever. Their ego is already in the way of your training. But I want to see if they program workouts that are varied (so you don’t overdo any joints or muscle groups,) easily scaleable (so that anyone at any fitness level could do it,) reasonable intensity (neither too hard nor too easy, again, for people at all levels) and smart (high-rep deadlifts for time? Nope.)
4. THEIR PHILOSOPHY I want to know why they do what they do, not just how. If they use words like “beast” and “tough” and “monster” and I can kind of hear them thumping their chests in the background, I won’t recommend them. If they talk about the experience of fitness as being intensely personal, empowering, and as much emotional and physical, that’s a great sign. If they talk about a diverse environment and the value of that in inspiring people, that’s awesome. But unless you want to be a competitor, then how many athletes they’ve sent to the CrossFit Games just isn’t relevant. (Again, I’m assuming you’re just an “ordinary folk.” There are GREAT gyms, that I LOVE, that train Games athletes, that’s a different subject.)
I feel the need to add that the word “elite” is the biggest red flag of any word out there. And yes, it’s the word that CrossFit uses. “Forging Elite Fitness” has got to be the biggest piece of shit tagline ever. It basically says, “this isn’t for you, you aren’t good enough, don’t even bother.” I would like to apologize on their behalf, but they’d hate it if I did that, so lemme just say, we are not for the elite, and we are not going to make you into an elite meat-head.
Also, look for language that indicates shared values with you. Whatever it is. Do they use bullshit phrases like “man up?” Is there sexist, homophobic language? Read carefully. They’re telling you who they are with the words they choose.
5. THEIR TRAINERS I look for a variety of trainers, with a wide variety of experiences. In a perfect world, those trainers would be as diverse as the community they’re trying to build, but honestly, that can seem like unicorn hunting and I know that we have been totally unable to hit that mark. I want to see trainer bios that are personal and let you know who these people are. Not just what certifications they have or what world records in one thing or another. Who are these people. This is a lot like online dating, these are the people who are going to be all up in your fears, your dreams and your body, who they are matters, A LOT.
When you ask me for my opinion on a CrossFit gym, I am very likely going to just go to their Web site and look at those things.
Once you’ve narrowed it down through the Web sites, go in! Spend some time talking to people. Talk to members and trainers. Hang out in the space. Watch a class. How does it make you feel? (One great sign to look for is members that are just hanging out and talking before and after class, that’s a sign of a solid community.)
Talk to the trainers. Tell them your fears – whatever injuries you have. Do you feel like they listen to you?
Remember, you don’t have to go to the gym that’s closest to you, you have to go to the one that is the best fit. This really is like dating. It is at least that intimate, and you need to feel at least that safe and empowered. (And if you don’t feel safe and empowered in your romantic relationships, that’s another subject, but you should, and if you don’t, you should find a better fit.) We have a lot of members who drive past several gyms to get to us.
This can change your life. As a result, it’s a big decision. You need to trust these people with your body.
And your body is worth it. REALLY.
So are you. I promise, you can do things you never knew possible, and it’s awesome. You just have to do it right. And with the right people.