Everybody starts somewhere. You might be an expert Olympic lifter by the time you find your way into a CrossFit gym. Or, you might just be learning what a barbell is. Either way, CrossFit boxes — that’s what they call gyms — have a culture all their own. No matter how much lifting experience you have, figuring out how to fit in at your new CrossFit gym can be tricky.
Some rules are posted on the walls, but others are unspoken between members. You’ll learn the rules as you go, but to help avoid making rookie mistakes, you’ll want to know the do’s and don’ts of CrossFit gym culture.
As you get deeper into the sport, you’ll learn that each CrossFit box has its own quirks and norms. Still, there are some things that are pretty constant. These rules are pretty universal, so whether you’re joining a box close to home or you’re visiting one from out of town, they can help you be a better member.
The Do’s and Don’ts of CrossFit Gym Etiquette
- Do: Show Up on Time
- Don’t: Drop an Empty Barbell
- Do: Sign Up for Class
- Don’t: Empty the Chalk Bucket
- Do: Clean Up After Yourself
- Don’t: Break Down Equipment Before Everyone is Done
- Do: Introduce Yourself
- Don’t: Ignore the Coach
In a regular commercial gym, you’re on your own time and can generally use equipment when you’d like to as long as no one is using it. But CrossFit boxes are different. Typically, they have a set schedule of class times.
Sometimes, you can’t even use CrossFit boxes outside of schedules class hours. Check in with your box to see if they offer open gym hours. When it is open, certain sections are often reserved for warming up, strength, the WOD (workout of the day), and cooling down. Take advantage of tours that staff might offer to learn what happens where.
Don’t forget the when. You may be tempted to hit that snooze button one more time or show up just a few minutes late, but you could be interrupting the flow of class and limit your progress. Coming to class even five minutes late could mean you’ve missed the warm-up. Everyone else may have their barbells loaded and their stations ready to go. Warming up is an essential part of exercise, even if you don’t love it, and it can help significantly decrease your risk of an injury. (1)
Coaches get that traffic jams happen, and sometimes you can’t control being late. But if you’re the member that’s constantly late, start leaving a little earlier. It’s more respectful to the coach, the other members, and your own body.
The loud crashing you hear coming from the CrossFit box is likely the loaded barbells hitting the floor after a heavy set. CrossFit uses bumper plates made of rubber, so when you drop the barbell, the weight plates can absorb the shock to help protect the floor of the gym and the barbell.
As a CrossFit newbie, you may be using an empty barbell for some of the exercises to get the technique down before adding extra weight. It’ll be tempting to let your barbell crash to the ground when everyone else is doing it, too. Dropping an empty barbell is bound to make your ears ring with a loud and sharp noise that isn’t nearly as glamorous as the clank of iron and bumper plates. It’s also not good for the equipment.
Without weight plates to absorb the shock, an empty barbell hitting the floor can cause damage to the bearings and even break the bar. Dropping the bar with only tens on each side can also damage the barbell. You run the risk of breaking the bumper plates, too. So, take care of your barbell by setting it down gently after a set if you’re lifting empty or with 10-pound plates.
Many gyms use apps to help you book your desired class online. You can reserve your spot and keep yourself accountable to showing up all at the same time. But reserving your spot is about the bigger picture, too. Signing up for class helps the coach prepare for how many people are in class. That way, if they need to sub out equipment or make extra room, they have time to do so.
Just showing up for class, especially if the class is full, runs the risk of showing disrespect to the coach and to the members that did sign up. This is especially true if it’s your first time at this gym. There can be paperwork or payments to process as a beginner or a visitor, which can take up valuable time from class.
Pull-ups or heavy deadlifts require more than a little oomph in your grip — especially when the sweat starts to flow. Chalk is a great tool to increase your grip strength so you can hang onto equipment as long as you need to complete your reps. (2)
Although it may help you get a heavier set in, chalk can also cause a problem. The chalk bucket is there for everyone, so if you’re dumping it into your hands and LeBron James-style clapping, it can get messy — to say the least. You’ll look cool, but unless you’re on maintenance staff and will be cleaning it off the ground later, you might want to hold back. In summary: keep the chalk in the bucket and use only as much as you need.
You might leave dishes in your sink or your laundry on the floor in your own home. But your CrossFit gym isn’t your home — and your coach isn’t your exhausted roommate. You’ve heard it since you were a child, and the rules still apply: clean up after yourself.
This means wiping down the equipment you used, putting it back where you found it, mopping your station, and any other rules your box may have. If you accidentally make a mess with the chalk, make sure to wipe it up. All of this is common courtesy to your box’s maintenance staff, other members, and your coach.
This isn’t so much a rule as it is a common courtesy. You may have finished the workout before everyone else, but cheer everyone else on before breaking down your barbell. A little motivation from your fitness peers can go a long way.
On the reverse end, finishing the workout last can be tough enough emotionally — it’s even more demoralizing to see speedsters putting their stuff away while you’re still grinding. It’s about treating people at every level with respect — so hold off before heading out.
Just about everyone has first class jitters — even old pros checking out a new gym. But people going out of their way to make you feel welcome makes all the difference. Even if it’s only your first or second time, extend a few hellos if you’re able to. You never know who the other first-timers are, or if someone’s having a bad day and can use a boost. That said, keep it focused on the workout. You’ll want to avoid commenting on someone else’s body.
Introducing yourself to someone new in class can make them feel more comfortable, and it helps exemplify the community that CrossFit is known for. High-fiving, fist bumping, and simply cheering someone on can make their day and even help their performance. The science backs this up. Motivation from your peers may just help you have a more successful workout compared to working by yourself. (3)
This may be your thousandth CrossFit class, and you may completely understand the workout. Still, you probably shouldn’t ignore the coach when they’re talking. Even if you’re ready to load the barbell, the noise and movement can be a distraction to the coach and the other members.
It’s important to listen to the coach’s cues. They’re there for a reason. If they say you have too much weight on the barbell after a lift, your form is likely suffering. Even if you’re annoyed by their guidance, coaches are there to help you. Who knows? You might just learn something.
Navigating a CrossFit Box
A CrossFit box isn’t like a commercial gym in more ways than one. There may be a lot of equipment and sections that you’re not totally familiar with.
When you first walk into a box, you probably first see what looks like a bunch of squat racks in the middle of the floor. This is the rig. It can come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and attachments. The rig is designed with separate sections to allow for enough space for everyone in class.
On the rig, you’ll typically find attachments like pull-up bars, wall ball targets, gymnastic rings, and squat racks. Stay in your section of the rig during a workout for everyone’s safety and personal space.
You may know your way around a barbell, but many CrossFit gyms have them separated based on weight and grip. A shorter, 35-pound barbell has been conventionally considered a women’s barbell for class and in competitions. On the other hand, a longer, 45-pound barbell has been conventionally considered for men.
There are different knurling patterns on different barbells for various grips. Some barbells have center knurling — which can be useful for front squats and cleans — and others have more aggressive knurling for a better grip. As a beginner, opt for the softer knurling if you can.
Depending on the box, you may have various types of cardio equipment like Assault bikes and treadmills, rowers, jump ropes, and ski machines. They might be programmed into the workout, or if your coach doesn’t mind, you can warm-up on one of them before class starts.
Typically, the same type of equipment will be in one area. For example, the bikes might sit in the back corner. All the cardio equipment will likely be spread out in the corners or along the walls to save room by the rig.
The warm-up for your WOD may incorporate different types of accessory equipment like resistance bands or PVC pipes. Sometimes the coach will hand them out, but it’s good to take note of where they’re stored in the room. Typically, they’ll be in the corner or against the wall.
The workout might call for dumbbell snatches, wall balls, or kettlebell swings, all of which require different types of equipment. The dumbbells and kettlebells may be stored close by each other and should be organized from the lightest weight to the heaviest. Medicine balls should also be stored together and vary in weight, and the weight is written on the front of the ball near the laces.
Your First Week at a CrossFit Box
Knowing proper CrossFit gym etiquette is just one part of having an enjoyable, successful experience. But to reach your fitness goals, you’ll need a plan of action.
Work Out at the Same Time
Chances are you have a pretty consistent daily routine from the time you wake up, to going to work, and going to bed. Your workout schedule should follow this pattern and may even be more beneficial than choosing random times.
Ease Into It
You may be tempted to perform a workout as written, even if you’re not totally ready. Seeing the person in class next to you crushing it can be a powerful motivator — but you’ve also got to meet yourself where you’re at.
Lifting too heavy or going too hard can put you at a higher risk of injury. And even if you like being sore, it’s less fun when you’re so sore that you can barely walk. When you come into class, try to leave your ego at the door. Work hard and do your best, but ease into it so you don’t end up regretting it later.
Make Some Friends
A group exercise class can help you form relationships in and outside the gym. Finding people that share your common interests and values can help make those long, treacherous workouts a little less miserable and maybe even more fun. Making friends at your usual class time can help keep you accountable, supported, and maybe even more social.
Follow the Rules and Be a Good Person
Some of these CrossFit etiquette norms are more obvious than others — you’re supposed to wipe your stuff down in a commercial gym, too. But unless you know a lot about barbell maintenance, you might think slamming down your empty barbell will help you blend in with the cool kids.
You can avoid being that person by learning the rules of your specific CrossFit box. It helps, too, to understand the universal unspoken rules between boxes across the world. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or cheer for someone you don’t know yet — that’s how a community is created.
- Fradkin, A J., Gabbe B J, Cameron, P A. Does warming up prevent injury in sport? The evidence from randomised controlled trials? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2006; 9(3).
- Halilaj, Besim. Does the usage of gymnastics chalk have a positive impact on hand grip strength? Gazzetta Medica Italiana. 2018; 9(7-8).
- Stewart, Greg L., Barrick, Murray R., Courtright, Stephen H. Peer-Based Control in Self-Managing Teams: Linking Rational and Normative Influence With Individual and Group Performance. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2011; 97(2).
- Schumacher, Leah M., Thomas, J. Graham, & Raynor, Hollie A. Consistent Morning Exercise May Be Beneficial For Individuals with Obesity. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2020; 48(4).
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