Note: I attended the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Seminar one year ago (May 2016). At that time, I drafted much of what follows, but I never published it. Since this week marks the one year anniversary, I figured I’d dust off the article and put some belated final touches on it.
Why would anyone who has no immediate aspirations to be a trainer or a coach, take the CrossFit Level 1 Course? It’s not cheap. And it is an entire weekend!
You’ll get no argument from me on those points. In fact, if you don’t want to spend a dime, you can get the Participant Handbook and the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide online for free.
However, if you’re one who likes to “own” your fitness, it might make sense to learn more about what how the CrossFit sausage is made.
My relationship with CrossFit has been a Love/Hate kind of thing. But for some strange reason I keep coming back.
After five years of various levels of commitment to this game I decided to better understand it. CrossFit claims it is Open Source, and indeed it is. There is very little that is original, when one considers the various movements/exercises.
In addition, CrossFit HQ is extremely generous with their material. Their websites are filled with valuable training resources for those who are disciplined enough to take them and run with them.
What you cannot grab from the internet is the passionate community and the experienced eye of a trainer/coach.
Many local boxes are capable of providing community. Some boxes can provide adequate programing and coaching. Others provide stellar programming and coaching. This is one thing the CFL1 class provided to me, the ability to tell the difference.
I signed up for the course in May, 2016. I ended up being in the same class as a couple box-mates from one of my gyms. Yes, I attend more than one, but that is a story for another blogpost.
The following is a list of the reasons I thought the CrossFit Level 1 Course was a worthwhile investment of my time and money – even if I am not planning on being a trainer in the near term*.
I don’t know where all CrossFit Seminars are taught, but in my region of the Northeast US, they are often held at Reebok CrossFit ONE in Canton, Massachusetts. It is an amazing gym. It is located at campus of Reebok HQ, and for many years this campus was the home of the Northeast Regionals. This box is spacious and the equipment is plentiful and top notch. They have a gazillion rowers, treadmills, GHDs and more. Obviously I cannot comment on other regional venues for CFL1 training.
The Red Shirts are creme de la creme. Many are Regionals and Games athletes, as well as Games Judges. They are programing and movement gurus. I had been going to the Northeast Regionals for several years. Perennial favorites like Austin Malleolo and Spencer Hendel have amazed fans for years. These were the guys teaching and coaching for the weekend. In addition to Austin and Spencer, the team included Denise Thomas, Gregg Martino and Meagan Burns.
I don’t know if it’s the same for all venues, but my class at CrossFit One was 50 people. That’s small enough for getting all your questions answered and for getting individual attention – 5 coaches, 10 people per breakout session/clinic.
The seminar sessions lasted about 45-60 minutes (I never timed them, but I was never bored). I typically hate sitting still but I never even came close to dozing off. Each presenter was engaging, competent, dynamic and in control of their subject matter. Frequent Q&A proved they knew material inside and out. Their familiarity with the subject matter was clear during the many interactions that occurred during lectures.
The discussions of nutrition were somewhat matter of fact. I guess you could say it ran the gamut of Twinkies vs Paleo vs Zone. The philosophy was simple, Garbage in, Garbage out. You want to fuel your body for performance. How dogmatic do you wish to be about nutrition? I guess it depends on your goals for athletic performance. Do you aspire to simply survive the CrossFit Open, or are your eyes on the Regionals or Games? Plan accordingly. Just eat real food, in the right amounts.
Every lecture was followed by Hands On Workshop, where we learned the nine foundational movements. Yeah, we all know how to squat already right? Don’t be so quick. The staff deconstructed every movement and rebuilt it from the ground up. Students/Athletes all learned something, often unlearned/relearned something.
If you attend a CFL1 plan on being sore. Hours holding a PVC under tension, with proper positioning, in a squat, will be quite noticeable to your body by 5 o’clock Saturday evening.
Every breakout session consisted of 10 students, a lead coach and a secondary coach. Each movement was demonstrated, and students were called out to illustrate flaws to look for in coaching scenarios. This was not embarrassing, it was an opportunity to get personal coaching from Games Athletes, regarding your form.
There is a WOD on each day. Day one was a bit of a grind for this old man. I have no love for Thrusters or Burpees. These workouts serve several purposes. 1) You cannot talk all day about movement and not move, 2) you learn to pay attention to scaling (yes, most athletes are scaled), 3) introduce an element of community and support into the class, and 4) shift the student’s mindset from cheerleader or judge to trainer/coach.
CrossFit takes a beating from haters about how dangerous it is. I was fascinated how much attention is given to the fact that most athletes are expected to scale their workouts. The first WOD, which contained thrusters is a good example. I purposefully scaled my weight back to 65 pounds. Denise came up to me and asked if I felt capable to performing 3 sets of 15 thrusters – unbroken. I replied that I could do it, but not unbroken. She stripped my barbell and made me do the WOD at 45 pounds instead of 65. She was right. Even with the lighter weight, I was the last man on the floor, but I finished under the time cap.
Later in the day we would learn that scaling can be reduced Reps, Weight, Time or substituted movements. The philosophy of scaling is to provide the athlete with the same stimulus regardless of their proficiency – whether elite or novice. A Trainer/Coach should be capable of scaling an athlete to the appropriate stimulus for the desired benefit of the workout. For example, if the the desired goal is keeping a high heart rate for 20 minutes, don’t confuse that with needing more weight on the bar.
Initially I thought the programming lecture would be of little interest to me. After all, I didn’t see myself doing programming. But this was a very fascinating lecture for several reasons. For me, it dispelled the notion of WODs being random. Varied is not the same as random.
This introduction reviewed a general program template that illustrated how a head coach can balance Monostructural, Gymnastics and Weighlifting movements into a schedule of 3 days one, 1 day off, or a 5 and 2 weekly model.
There was consideration given to load, time and intensity as well. There is a nice summary of this session on the CrossFit website.
When designing a program, workouts are targeted at the elite athlete in the box. What does that mean? It means MOST people in the box should be doing a scaled version of the WOD. Again, the goal is to achieve the same stimulus, but proportional to one’s ability.
Spencer Hendel led this discussion and he walked us through a hypothetical week of programming, allowing the class to suggest what movements and intensities we might use to fill the gaps in the program, and why.
Several people have told me if I am not planning on coaching, this was a waste of money. Yet, people spend thousands to go to baseball or soccer camps. How is this different? We spend our money on what we value. If you place a value on learning, and movement there are worse things you could do with your money. Personally, I found the weekend to be a fun, informative, social, encouraging and gratifying (yes, I passed the test on the first attempt).
* Though I had no immediate plans for coaching in May 2016, when I took the CFL1 course, a lot has changed:
- I am back to being a full-time unlimited member at a reputable CrossFit Box
- …submitted myself, and my ego, to the coach’s scaling recommendations
- …no longer cherry-picking WODs (metcons). I show up on my scheduled days
- …committed to doing CrossFit regularly (3 days per week minimum)
- …a couple Open Gym session every week
- …Olympic Lifting Barbell Club two nights a week
- …taking other CrossFit Courses
- CrossFit and the community has done a great deal to instill confidence in me, that pervades every area of my life
I’m curious about how many athletes we have in their Fifties, Sixties or more, who have taken CFL1, L2, L3, etc. How has it affected your life as an athlete, or as a person? I’d love to hear your thoughts.