CrossFit Level 1 Course

You remember your CrossFit Level 1 course, right? That one weekend years ago, where you likely had to travel away from home and get familiar with some random town like Garden City, Long Island. You were probably wide eyed, far less fit, and eager to learn from the people who got you excited about functional fitness to begin with.

Maybe you remember that one guy who somehow has no idea what CrossFit actually is, and yet he dropped $1000 dollars on the weekend. Whatever happened to that guy? Did he ever figure out the difference between a push press and a push jerk? Is he in some Globo gym somewhere, trying to create AMRAP workouts of machine assisted pull-ups and and leg presses?

For those of you who took your CF-L1 and started coaching at a box, you’ve hopefully expanded your knowledge and technique over the years. But with so many athletes and coaches rotating in and out of the gym doors, it’s easy to get complacent and fall into a routine. When that happens, sometimes it’s best to look back on the absolute foundation and revisit the basics that built your career. It may be years since you’ve passed your Level 1, but there are a few topics worth revisiting to bring structure, life, and technique back to your box.

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Explain Why

The Level 1 course is half lecture, half physical movement. The instructors explain why a concept is important, and then take the participants to the floor to explore that concept in movement. This needs to happen at a class level as well, albeit within the time constraints of a one hour long class.

In order to reach their maximum potential, athletes need to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s not that you need to spend an hour lecturing them on the minute differences between the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative pathways (remember those words?), but they should understand that different exercises create different responses in your body, and that’s why every day can’t be an EMOM. 

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Use Athletes to Demonstrate the Good and the Bad

In most classes, movement demonstrations are done by the trainers themselves. While it’s beneficial to the athletes to see movements (hopefully) performed correctly, with beautiful range of motion and technique, sometimes a more realistic example can be far more helpful. Adjustments that may be easy for a coach aren’t so easy for an everyday athlete, and it’s good for the class to see corrections applied to someone who does not exercise for a living.

Next time, instead of demonstrating a movement yourself, grab a few athletes and have them demonstrate an air squat, or a snatch, or a pull up. Have the class point out faults and offer up corrections and help the athlete to adjust as necessary. Not only will this help facilitate communication and trust between you and your class, but the athletes will be able to see their own faults in their peers.

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Incorporate Monostructural Workouts

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in “constantly varied functional movements performed at a high intensity” that every workout is expected to be a complicated mashup of different skills and movements. Don’t forget, though, that “constantly varied” also includes simple, straightforward, monostructural workouts. 

Monostructural workouts are workouts that include just one repetitive movement, often thought of as traditional “cardio,” designed to be sustained for a long period of time. These sorts of workouts could include a 10k run or row, double unders, or even a long handstand walk. These workouts aren’t always the most fun or interesting, but they provide an important contrast to all the days of heavy lifting and maximum intensity.

Additionally, monostructural workouts are a great way to incorporate The Why that we were talking about. There are members who will whine and moan if you program a 10k run, but those people may not truly understand why they’re doing what they’re doing, and it’s up to you to explain it to them. If they’re still bucking, try asking them how they plan to run away from zombies in the event of the Zombie Apocalypse. Do they just plan to stop running after 14 minutes because that’s the time cap they’re used to working in? How’s that going to work out?

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Bring Back the PVC

The PVC pipe is absurdly annoying. It takes little effort to move and provides no counterweight, which means it’s super easy to be lazy and just sit in the movement. Utilized correctly, though, the PVC gives you nowhere to hide, but it’s often tossed aside after introductory classes in lieu of a barbell.

Remember, though, every exercise taught during the L1 weekend is first drilled without a barbell. In case you forgot, you literally did hundreds of reps of the 9 foundational movements all without a barbell. If you weren’t sore, you weren’t doing it right.

The PVC forces athletes to use their own body to do the work. They should be trembling and drenched in sweat. Asking a group to perform 50 PVC snatches perfectly will immediately flesh out the lazy from the dedicated. The lazy will avoid full extension, flop down into a hunched over overhead squat, dump the PVC and probably announce that this is “stupid.” The dedicated will explode out of the bottom, squeeze their butt, activate their entire back, and be sore the next day because they actually used their muscles to hold the correct position.

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Demand Perfection

The L1 instructors don’t let anyone get away with laziness. There’s no opting out of any part of the weekend, and if you’re just sort of holding that damn PVC above your head instead of using active shoulders, they will call you out in front of the group. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing CrossFit or how much knowledge you already have. They expect you to suck it up and do the work, no matter how monotonous and simple it might be.

And yet, coaches everywhere let poor movement patterns slide. How many times have you been in class or dropped into a box, seen a coach watch someone do something abhorrently, and then all the coach says is, “Great job. Keep pushing”? No correction, no concern, just autopilot.

Yes, there is a balance. One coach cannot break down every little movement from every athlete, every class, but simply instilling the expectation of perfection will whip athletes into shape. You want your athletes on high alert every time you walk by, so they make a point to do a little better and extend a little more. If they want to be lazy when you walk away, that’s their choice, but don’t give them the freedom to do it while you’ve got eyes on them.

As a coach, your job isn’t just to show up, watch over a class, and make sure nobody hits themselves in the face with a barbell. Your job is to facilitate overall athlete improvement, which means consistent effort and constant adjustment. Remember the basics, remember to explain why this all matters, and get your classes moving in the right direction.

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BarBend is an independent organization not affiliated with or endorsed by CrossFit, Inc. 

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