I spent the first weekend of April (2014… I know people are going to be reading this important document in the distant future… LOL) outside of St. Louis, MO taking the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course. The room was full of mostly super-fit, mostly young (to qualify this, I’m 39, but even the people who were older than me there were fit as heck) people, most of whom were planning on beginning to train others in the CrossFit methodology. Being 14-15 months into my CrossFit career as an “athlete” (I use the term loosely, LOL) and having been sedentary and way out of shape for the greater part of my life I felt a little like a fish out of water, but the course was great, the instructors were awesome and the other participants were fun to be around. If you need to read more than that then here we go…
The class is a full weekend, 9-5 both days. As a teacher at the graduate level as well as an instructor of doctors and healthcare providers on the post-graduate “circuit” it was obvious to me that a tremendous amount of work has gone into these seminars and no aspect of the course is left to chance. Every minute of every day is used and I could tell that the entire thing was well-orchestrated, workshopped, rehearsed, debriefed and refined. That’s what you would expect from a weekend seminar that costs $1,000, and they deliver!
The format of the course is a mix of lectures, demos and breakout sessions in relatively small groups. I didn’t take a full count of our class but I’d guess that there were around 60 people there and there were a total of 5 instructors. Our instructors were Steve, Nick, Natosha, Dustin and Hollis. More on them later. The carefully planned and timed lectures and breakouts keep the course moving along at a nice pace and each chunk was no longer than an hour, so it’s a good way to keep everyone focused.
The lectures aim at deciphering and simplifying some of the somewhat heady “philosophies” behind the CrossFit methodology. For example, anyone can say that CrossFit is “highly varied functional movement done at high intensity,” but fully understanding that and breaking down the importance of each element is another thing altogether. That’s what the lecture elements of the course aim to do and I think they did so remarkably well. Lectures covered the basics of what CrossFit really is, how it defines fitness, why tracking performance in everything from diet to WOD times and weight of lifts is important, etc. It really crystallized and clarified the idea behind CrossFit a lot for me. I never found myself doodling, getting bored or drifting off during any of the lectures, so their timing of the course worked great for me!
Steve had a GREAT sense of humor and timing in his lectures, Natosha was just perfection in her positions and movements and was as great of an instructor as she was a model, Nick and Hollis were super down-to-earth California guys (in the best of ways) and Dustin had to sleep at O’Hare Friday night because of flight problems. He showed up a couple hours late on Saturday with a big smile on his face and didn’t miss a beat. Everyone’s attitude and energy was super positive. Dustin’s going to Regionals and watching him work out during the lunch hour both days he demonstrated all 10 aspects of fitness like the definition was written for him specifically. The staff made the seminar great. The best planning and curriculum in the world doesn’t make up for an average or below-average delivery and these guys killed it.
The course is set up to basically alternate about one hour of lecture with practical hands-0n stuff. After Steve’s first lecture, Nick went into lecturing on the squat series (air squat, front squat and overhead squat), going into detail on proper setup and execution as well as common faults. Natosha did a fabulous job of demonstrating ideal positions and movements as well as each of the common faults. The seminar staff will tell you to not take notes and simply watch during this part, and I fully agree with their advice. ALL of the setup, execution, points of performance, faults and corrections are in your Training Guide already. There are a fair number of test questions that ask you what’s being demonstrated or corrected in a picture, so if you were scribbling notes (that are already in your guide) while you should’ve been watching the demos, you’re going to miss out.
After the demo session for each series, we’d break up into small groups of less than 14 people and workshop everything. Each breakout session was 45-60 minutes and you get a chance to work with each of the four instructors while Flowmaster Steve kept a watchful eye over the whole proceedings. Your groups are pre-arranged and everyone wears a nametag, which is nice because you don’t have to break the ice by asking people their names, and the instructors call everyone by name all the time. These extra touches are worth it.
The squat breakout with Nick was tough! My legs were Jell-O afterward and I was picked for “squat therapy” in my group, which was tough but rewarding. I have more work to do on my squat than I thought I did! Nick was a great coach, being both demanding and rewarding at the same time. He has it down to a science! I did manage to strain an adductor or hip flexor during this, and it hurt to flex my hip all weekend, but it didn’t affect the rest of the experience. Squatting was fine and the rest of the movements were minimally hampered by my “injury,” so that was lucky.
On the subject of injuries and abilities, they ask at each breakout if anyone is injured or needs scaling and they take it seriously. Also, all the WOD’s are scaled appropriately in the true spirit of CrossFit, so don’t think for a minute that an injury or an inability to perfectly execute a movement will make you unable to participate. I was worse at some things than others and way better at some things than others… everyone has strengths and weaknesses.
The lecture/demo/breakout format was the theme all weekend. On Saturday we did the press/push press/push jerk series with our group being led outside (I got a bit of a sunburn, which is a nice feeling in the Midwest during the first weekend of April) by Natosha. She broke each movement down and we pressed our PVC pipes about a million times. The whole class got together for kipping pull up and snatch instruction so we could see how to keep a large group moving. Hollis did a good job teaching snatch progressions and basically running us through the Buergner warmup.
We had some social time after the WOD and it was a cool way to end a hard day and get people chatting and having a good time. Met some cool CrossFitters and then I headed to my hotel. I had a good dinner and spent an hour or so going over some key points in the Training Guide again, reviewing the lecture and demo material and reading the homework Steve gave us. I was wiped out, but feeling good.
After a solid night of sleep I was ready to go on Day 2. My leg was pretty sore if I tried to flex my hip, but after all those thrusters and everything else we did on the first day I wasn’t too worried about it.
Day two was much like Day 1, alternating interesting and concise lectures with demos and breakout sessions. We did the deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull and medicine ball clean breakout with Dustin, who is as fast and coordinated as he is strong. Every instructor embodied the CrossFit definition of “fitness” for sure.
The large group sessions trained the muscle-up (yeah, right) and snatch and it was good stuff, followed by watching several participants accomplish their first muscle-ups ever!
The second day’s WOD was more of a challenge in that we split into groups with one person being athlete and the other person being the coach. Counting reps, rounds and coaching movements all at the same time was tough, but it was a good introduction into how complex running one athlete can be, much less keeping your eye on a larger group. The point wasn’t to be perfect, it was to show you how coaching athletes is tough work and needs mindfulness, presence and a careful eye.
We finished up the second day with the exam and some closing remarks after the nutrition lecture and a few more things.
My closing remarks:
- CrossFit has worked really hard to develop an excellent seminar. They have the timing and logistics nailed down and they are obviously going above and beyond on choosing instructor staff and training them well.
- The instructors embodied fitness both physical and mental. They were approachable and fun yet professional at all times and led by example as to what a confident and knowledgeable coach should act like when working with athletes.
- The information was very digestible and easy to handle for me, but my background is probably somewhat atypical. If you don’t have a background in movement and health, lots of anatomy, etc then you will have a tougher time with it, but it’s still packaged in a way that someone with basic knowledge can get a lot out of it and not feel too underwater.
- Don’t come into the experience expecting you’re going to leave as a master coach, and the instructors will tell you this themselves. This is the basic information you need to get started training in the CrossFit paradigm. Programming, mastering movement, mastering interpersonal skills, etc all take a lot of effort and work and that’s all on YOU to do, which is reasonable. My suggestion would be to co-instruct some classes or minimally start with a small (SMALL) group or individual training at first and then work your way up as you prove to yourself that you are doing a good job.