Box Etiquette – Foundation of Your Gym’s Culture

Picture that you’re in class. The group is warming up with empty barbells, and at the end of 10 warm-up reps of a push jerk, somebody drops the empty barbell to the ground.

Kaaaklaaaang-klang-cling-boom!

Ugh, even typing that makes my ears hurt, and my body cringe.

While I could publicly reprimand the individual (hint: not a great idea) or constructively tell them not to do that, I have found that the first important step is to lay the foundation of expectations for your gym with a straightforward list of Box Etiquette.

In my opinion, stand out and successful gyms are built on two pillars - excellent coaching and a strong community. (Notice I didn't say excellent online marketing, business plans, or super secret programming, but that's for another post.) By publishing a list of Box Etiquette, you are laying the foundation for a strong community. But the growth and development of any community necessitates nurturing. Your coaches have to believe the list at their core, bend over backward to reinforce it, and have the hard conversations, because the list will not flourish on its own. What you allow to happen in your gym will occur.

Etiquette is defined as "the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group." I expand on etiquette in our list at CrossFit Roots and include elements of safety and a few gym rules.

By publishing a list of Box Etiquette, you are laying the foundation for a strong community.

A few years ago, I felt that some practices that had bonded our community and set the tone for the culture at Roots were waning. Then I realized that many of the box etiquette expectations I had for my athletes were just that, expectations. In the early days of the gym, and with few members, it was easy to communicate those expectations to all. But as the gym grew, I had never taken the time to formally document, teach, and communicate our gym etiquette. The result was a piecemeal approach in group classes.

The need for a list of Box Etiquette in a CrossFit gym is quite simple. You have a large number of people who consider the box their home away from home (and rightfully so, I wouldn’t want it any other way) but they all come from different backgrounds and don’t have a shared understanding of how your shop runs.

Publishing a list of Box Etiquette is one way we solidified and strengthened our culture at Roots. If you don’t tell them, and in multiple ways—through online posts, signs at the gym, and friendly reminders and reinforcement from coaches, they won’t know. And even the best of us need a reminder here and there of how to play a contributing role in a tightknit community.

Below is our list of Box Etiquette. The original list was adopted from CrossFit Belltown and then I adapted it for CrossFit Roots. Below each item, I’ve included insight to why it is included in the list or my thought process behind our stance. I’d love to hear from you on how you approach etiquette at your gym!

1. Be on Time.

We cover a lot in class and utilize every minute. No, we won’t lock the doors five minutes after class starts however, if you’re late, please assimilate into class by mimicking what you see going on!

I know that many gyms employ a burpee penalty for people who are late and I know that works for some gyms. It’s just never been my jam. Why would I penalize that person without knowing the reason why? Maybe they were on the phone with a pharmacy ordering meds for their kid, maybe their boss kept them 10 minutes long in a meeting - and they still made an effort to get in the door. It’s hard enough for some people to come to class and do a workout that they’re nervous about, I certainly don’t want being late to be another reason that they might decide not to show. Now, I do want them to realize that they aren’t the center of attention and that they need to naturally become part of class, rather than taking the coach’s time to catch them up. If a person is chronically late and I want to address it, I do it in a quick one on one conversation before or after class and ask them to make an effort to be on time. For most people, a caring conversation with a simple request goes a long way.

2. Check Your Ego at the Door

Please check your ego at the door. You’re going to be first in workouts - and last. The coaches are going to take weight off your bar and tell you to go heavier. We care just as much about how well you move as how fast you go in the workout. The coaches are there to help you improve now and long into the future - trust us, we have your best interest in mind.

If you don’t make it clear - and reiterate it many times and in many different ways - athletes will lose their way wrapped up in ego and competitiveness that comes from a group training environment. (To be clear, ego and competitiveness are an excellent part of group training, but everything comes in balance). By making a statement about how you expect your athletes to receive coaching, you lay the groundwork for your gym to respect technique and intensity equally.

3. Introduce Yourself

Please introduce yourself to newbies (or someone you don’t recognize). Remember when you were the new guy or gal? A friendly introduction goes a long way.

This starts from the top. Encourage your classes to get to know each other, introduce the person who just started, and set the stage for them to talk to each other.

Every group class at Roots begins at the whiteboard with a walk through of the workout and the class. It’s also a time we use to introduce new folks. “Hey everyone, today we’re doing deadlifts and handstand push-ups, but I want to take a quick moment to welcome Bill to class. Bill just finished Foundations, and this is his first class. We also have Sarah dropping in from CrossFit MPH in Washington, DC. So please help them feel welcome."

As another example, if I notice that a class has many people who don’t often work out together, I tell them to go for a 400m jog and to know everyone by name when they get back. I don’t test them on names when they get back; I just make sure to get them talking to each other.

4. Don’t Break Down Your Equipment Until Everyone Has Finished the Workout

At Roots, no one breaks down their equipment until everyone has finished the workout. This is a common courtesy that you too will one day benefit from as everyone is last in the workout someday. You can cheer on others, grab a foam roller, or just sit and enjoy the downtime, but don’t touch your equipment.

This is one of the most important ones to me and one that needs to be taught. We lay the foundation in our list of Box Etiquette and then the coaches gently enforce it during classes should a newcomer not pick up on the protocol.

Our classes start and end on time, to the minute, and we expect our athletes to stay for the entire hour and be engaged in class - from the whiteboard discussion to warm-up, the workout, skill work, and score reporting. Allowing athletes to break down their barbells and do their own thing, or leave early skipping out on skill work, dilutes the cohesiveness of the class and the community.

5. No Ghost-Riding the Barbells – Ever.

Yes, we know you’re cool, and we know how empowering it is to drop a barbell from overhead. You know what’s not empowering? When you barbell drops to the floor and dances into someone else’s shin injuring them for weeks. Not sure what ghost-riding looks like? Ask your coach next time in class.

You know when safety is funny? Never. I once heard someone say that and it has always stuck with me. This rule helps enforce an element of safety at the gym which carries over to other movements and gym organization components.

6. Treat Empty Barbells Like They Were Your Baby

Would you drop your baby from three feet above the ground? We certainly hope not. We use an empty barbell a lot in class for drill and form work. When putting the barbell down, gently place it on the ground with the utmost care and admiration for the fine piece of equipment that is a barbell.

Dropping a barbell isn’t good for the longevity of the equipment. That’s obvious. Those babies come with a nice $200 price tag. With proper care, they can last a long time. But honestly, it’s not about the barbell. It’s about setting expectations. If don’t teach your athletes to respect the equipment they use, the respect of your gym is degraded. If you want your athletes to pick up their trash, put away all equipment, respect other athlete’s belongings, then you need to establish and model clear rules which will inherently create more respect for your gym and the equipment in it.

7. Check Your Surroundings and Stick to Your Equipment

The shop is not your oyster; it’s many people’s oyster. If you set up on one pull-up bar, don’t take someone else’s bar just because they’re not there. If your wallball is further away from the rest of your equipment than you would like, well then, run to the wallball, don’t use someone else’s just because it’s closer.

While there are instances when everyone won’t get their own piece of equipment, for the most part, everyone is set-up with a clear understanding of where they will work out. Stating this helps reinforce why we do that in class while setting up the workout.

8. Kindergarten Rules Still Apply

You have to clean-up after yourself. It’s your responsibility to get out and put away your equipment, count your reps, get your own tissue, and clean off your bars. Plus, by carrying those huge Rogue boxes all the way across the shop, you’ll gain a lot of fitness.

Many people come from a fitness background where someone else may have counted their reps or set-up equipment for them. It’s good to lay the foundation that the coach is there to coach, and the athletes are there to do the work, including setup and breakdown.

9. Clean Off Your Bars

It’s entirely possible that at some point in your CrossFit career you may bleed on a pull-up bar or barbell. Please, please clean off your bar with one of the shop disinfectant wipes.

Make people aware that you have disinfectant wipes and they should use them. The coaches can always lead by example on this and after a workout with wallball, instruct people to wipe down their equipment.

10. Chalk Usage

Chalk stays in the chalk bucket. Yes, you’ll have to walk all the way to the chalk bucket to dust your hands. While some people believe that chalk is the magic fairy dust of CrossFit performance, the fact of the matter is that a light dusting of your hands is all you need.

Chalk dust goes everywhere, and it makes your gym look less clean. End of story. Keep it in the bucket, and you’ll reap the benefits of cleaner looking gym. It also helps breed equality. Why should one person get to have a personal chalk block next to their bar while everyone else follows the rules and takes the ten steps to get it during a workout?

11. Children at the Shop

Children who can sit on the couch or at the white desk while their parents workout are welcome to come to the shop with Mom or Dad. They are not allowed at any point to come onto the shop floor or training area. Sure we like kids, and we even have a few; however, the safety of the children and quality of the athletes’ training environment demands this arrangement.

CrossFit is a community, but it doesn’t mean that everyone loves kids or that they want to be with yours while they workout. Lay some ground rules about how kids can come to the shop.

12. Go the Distance

Every athlete pushes them self differently. You can scream, cuss, cry, go to your happy place, bleed, or even rest…just don’t quit. Talk to the coaches, communicate with us when you’re on the verge or feeling defeated, we can help. The human body is capable of more than you can comprehend; challenge it accordingly.

The CrossFit workout environment can be intimidating to some people. It’s good to make clear the expectations and comment on what folks might see while working out. It’s also good to make clear that communication with coaches is always encouraged.

13. Come Prepared for Class

The coaches' commitment to you is that we will come energetic and prepared for the day’s class. We’ll be armored with a class plan, varied and relevant scaling options, and we will provide a class format that is professional, organized, and well-coached. We ask that you, our athlete, come prepared for class. Know the workout, look up past Benchmarks and 1 rep maxes when relevant, and have any personal equipment squared away and ready to go. And, go the extra mile and take detailed notes on your workouts so it fuels your preparation for next time.

I want to develop athletes who are invested in their personal successes at the gym. I want them to know that the coaches are committed to each athlete's class experience and individual progress. In the beginning, I will hold an athlete's hand and teach them how to record their scores and take notes on their workouts. But over time, I pass off this responsibility to the athlete. This allows the coaching staff to better scale and prepare each athlete for the workout and to run a better class.

How to Put This Into Practice

I wish I could write and say it was as simple as publishing a list and voila!, enhanced gym etiquette and culture for your gym! It's not that easy. Just like any code or creed that you want people to live by, it needs to be consistently reinforced.

Publishing the list doesn't relieve the coach of the responsibility of enforcing it on a daily basis and it would be unfair to say that those conversations are easy and natural to us as humans. But the realization of the list and the culture that is at stake are too important to risk
not having those conversations. Publishing the list and not enforcing it has true dangers in that it breeds resentment among members of your community and distrust toward your coaching staff.

When your coaches take the time to reinforce it, in the same way they reinforce, coach, cue and correct an air squat, it galvanizes the principles that make for excellent coaching and a strong community.

Virtual

This list lives on the CrossFit Roots website under the Resources tab. When individuals complete our 3-session Foundations Course, they receive a series of emails that help them get acquainted with Roots and one of them includes our list of Box Etiquette. Also, once a year, I reshare that page on our blog and social media channels to refresh the community’s commitment to etiquette and our culture. I just did this recently and you can see an example here.

In Person

Teaching and enforcing box etiquette is kind of like training a puppy. Just hear me out. A puppy wants to do the right thing, just like your members. They’re all good people with good intentions, but we all need a little molding at times.

Everyone who reads this list, nods and agrees with its content because it is reflective of the environment we want to be in and how we want to be treated. At the same time, we're all human, and sometimes forget.

That’s why at our Coaches Development Hour sessions I have worked with our coaching staff to give them tools to have those (sometimes hard) conversations at the appropriate time and in the appropriate. This allows us to reinforce the list in a caring and educational way and eliminates confrontation.

As an example, here's a sample interaction to reinforce Don’t Break Down Your Equipment Until Everyone Has Finished the Workout.

Coach: “Hey Tom, come on over to the whiteboard for a quick sec.”
Athlete walks over to the coach and is now separated from other athletes.
Coach: “I just wanted to give you a friendly reminder, we don’t breakdown equipment until everyone is done with the workout. No big deal this time, it’s just something we do at Roots as a part of our classes. You can stretch or chit chat with other folks in the few minutes until everyone is done.”

I’ve probably had this conversation forty times, and I’ve only ever been met with one reaction:

Athlete: "Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry, I never even thought about it. That makes sense."

Done. Box Etiquette reinforced and fostered in a way teaches, not reprimands, the community.

What Has it Done for Our Community at Roots

It’s been a few years since we formally published our list of Box Etiquette and the reception has been nothing but positive. We’ve had quite a few members email to thank us for setting the standards and expectations for how we work together as a community. We've had drop-ins comment on the group class cohesion and how they felt part of the group right out the gates.

Personally, I think it has helped breed a level of respect between athletes that goes beyond each individual's athletic abilities. As a business owner, I feel it is one way we set ourselves apart by offering a level of professionalism in training that goes beyond the coaching and becomes reflective of our business practices.

How You Can Write a Box Etiquette List for Your Gym?

If you’d like to put together a list of Box Etiquette for your gym, start by thinking about what is important to you and the culture you want to create at your affiliate. Then, write out the list and publish it in many different places to get all of your athletes on the same page. You can even go through it item by item at the conclusion of class each day for a week.

If you like the list that you see above, you’re more than welcome to use it as is or take it and adapt it for your needs - we’re open-sourcing this stuff!

Feel free to post it on your gym’s blog or as a standalone page on your website. You could also share this post on your gym’s social media handles and get input from your members as you create your own list.

If you want to use this list, we've created a page that makes it easy to copy and use on a blog or web page. You can find it here.

We want to hear from you! What do you think of the list? Did we leave out anything? Is this useful to your gym?

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