Be a Coach, not a Cheerleader


Be a Coach, not a Cheerleader

The coaching is half of the equation that makes a CrossFit class so special to me. It’s hands on, personal training, in a fun group with your buddies. Whether it’s watching body positions during gymnastic, or the fast and precise movement of a barbell during the Olympic lifts, a CrossFit Coach should be able to explain or demonstrate these things, and lots of others, in a way to help you better understand them. Even beyond movement, the community of a CrossFit box is such a cornerstone that coaches can often give specific advice from member to member for them to get the best, and/or intended, stimulus out a movement or workout.

I don’t bring these expectations up to say that if you’re not constantly doing them during your class you’re a poor coach, because it’s honestly really hard to do! On top of doing all the teaching there is we also have to keep track of time so class doesn’t run over, keep the atmosphere upbeat, and make sure everyone knows what’s happening next. It’s easy to get pulled into setting the timer for an hour and pushing people from one thing to the next. Here’s the warm up, “you have 10 minutes”, demo movements and set up, there another 5 to 10 minutes, workout starts, 20 minute cap, and maybe an Ab finisher for 5 minutes then stretch as a group to cool down. If we were doing something like a spin class I would say this is fine because there isn’t any complex movement patterns or high skill movements, so the coaches job essentially just becomes to encourage the participants.

In CrossFit even simple movement based workouts such as ‘Cindy’ have so many things we can go over and improve upon. What scaling options are appropriate for that benchmark, how different ones change the stimulus, and the positions of kipping or during a proper push up are all there to go over or improve. Often times there’s hesitation to spend time on these things because it does create a sort of lull in the class. Music isn’t going loud and people aren’t moving like crazy sweating. Going into a workout where we’re going to do dozens of reps of individual movements it’s important we make sure things are moving right, so small faults don’t turn into consistent form.

Another big issue is that we just get comfortable with how people move. “Well Dave isn’t quite to parallel on those wall balls, but that’s how low he always goes.” Why does consistency make it acceptable if it’s also consistently wrong? Every coach knows athletes that, no matter how many times you say “squat lower”, only make the adjustment for a couple reps then switches back. Saying it over and over starts to feel futile, so maybe change how you cue them. During a workout we’re hesitant to do anything other than yell cues because it would require stopping them, and at the end of the day they’re just there to get that workout in, so we wouldn’t want to ruin it. I very much challenge the idea that stopping them to fix even a small thing more than makes up for any hindrance slowing down could have.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m at fault of doing these things at times also. It’s just our general tendency to fall into a routine with things even as simple as going over a barbell warm up. The members have done it dozens of times, so instead of showing the movement, correcting while they do a few, then showing the next and et cetera, you just go through the movements without paying much attention. Of course there is also times when just giving encouragement is very appropriate! If there’s a minute or two left in a workout you’re probably better off cheering them on to a strong finish, but they don’t need a time check every thirty seconds. I would say that being encouraging should actually be a constant thing, but it’s about how to do that while teaching and correcting at the same time that’s important to work on and become skilled at.

-Coach Tristan