We can probably all agree that having an effective class format is an essential part of a successful CrossFit gym and business. It’s also one of the most easily recognizable aspects of a well-run gym. That’s right; your athletes can tell if you and your coaches have their act together or if you’re an unorganized mess with no plan. What’s fascinating is that your clients can decipher this independent of if they understand the CrossFit movements or workout you are teaching them.
having an effective class format is an essential part of a successful CrossFit gym and business.
At SugarWOD, we talk a lot about how the workout of the day is the heart of your box. The group class that your athletes attend is the daily touch point that fosters community and communication, demands preparation and programming, and requires tracking and thoughtful analysis. I believe that to be successful, you must nurture each element of The Big 6.
I get many questions via email and from visitors at Roots regarding how we run our classes, and why we do it that way. I love the curiosity of the coach, and while I don’t think that everyone has to do it one way, you have to do it some way - have a protocol or practice that your coaches learn and abide by.
Here’s a sample of some of the common questions I get about our class operations:
- What do you do at the whiteboard?
- Do you give your classes a designated bathroom break?
- What do you do if the workout is only 6 minutes long?
- Why do you still write up everyone’s name on the whiteboard even though you use SugarWOD?
- How do you get someone to scale who is being stubborn or won’t listen?
These are all valid questions and ones that a good coach should be asking themselves as they develop their practice. I have spent too many hours thinking through hundreds of class issues and how they relate back to The Big 6.
In this post, we’re going to lay out the elements of a group class format that has worked for us for years. Every part of the class has a specific purpose that helps our athletes and coaches thrive. The implementation of this standard practice into each of our classes has given us a competitive advantage as we train our athletes, build our community, and scale our business.
Why a Consistent Class Format is Important.
I believe that my athletes deserve a consistent and top-tier experience when they come to class. By developing a consistent class format, we reap the benefits of establishing a class cadence, nurturing our product, providing the coaches a framework, and scaling our business.
Top sports teams around the world endeavor to do this every day they take the practice field, so why shouldn’t we?
Cadence - athletes know what to expect; the structure is predictable, the classes run with a high level of efficiency.
I view each class as having its own cadence which begins at the start of class and ends when the athlete logs their score and notes in SugarWOD. This rhythm becomes something athletes learn to know and expect, classes run on time, and the structure is predictable allowing for a high level of efficiency and use of time.
When coaches take the time to map out a detailed approach to the components that make up a group class, each of the areas in the above graphic can reach their full potential. The result is that your primary product - the daily group class - will shine and drive business.
Your Product - the workout of the day is the heart of your box and your main product. You have to start with a great product.
While there are many facets to a successful business operation, you have to start with a great product. Time and money spent on marketing, social media advertising, or website development waste away when the efforts are aimed to boost the heart of a box that is mediocre or struggling. In many ways, deploying these business strategies before the product is ready for release is like putting a patch over an existing problem. If you want to improve your affiliate, you have to start by improving your class operations.
Coach Framework - providing your coaches with a framework to run classes builds cohesion amongst your team and ensures that your staff has the tools to be successful on the gym floor.
Improving your quality starts with your team and teaching your coaches an effective framework. Over the years I’ve coached 1,000s of classes at Roots, logged a few 1,000 hours instructing the CrossFit Level 1 and Level 2 Seminars, and visited over 100 CrossFit gyms to drop-in and take a class. Having seen many different styles and techniques of running a class, I took the best of what I saw and paired it with our own ideas and styles to come up with a framework that fuels The Big 6.
The hours spent coaching paired with an ongoing analysis and reflection informed a thought process for each section of the workout which eventually became a protocol that I taught to my coaching staff. Constructing a plan or process to address each question or class element, that you then teach to your coaches, ensures that they have the tools to be successful on the gym floor. This effort has built cohesion amongst our team, an understanding of expectations from our athletes, and developed a professional platform for our business and the service we offer. Our class cadence is not negotiable amongst our staff. It is something that we are all bought into and continuously work to make better for all. It is this element that has allowed our team to reap the benefits of the “1% better” each day.
Scalable - the class format becomes an effective tool to scale operations, develop new coaches, and evaluate the potential for a coach to be successful in the field.
Finally, the creation of a class format scales the operation of our business. When working with an intern or new hire, the class format provides the structure for how we develop the coach as well as an evaluation of the potential to be successful in the field.
Without a Framework, Chaos Ensues
It's painful to paint the picture of an ineffective class product - but I'll do it anyway!
There is no designated start or structure to the class. Athletes who can not do movements specified as RX are unsure what they will do for the workout. No one is sure what the goal is for this workout or what is the intended time domain. Warm-up time morphs into confusion as to if the lifting sets have started. Some athletes are doing a power clean while others a squat clean and athletes have no idea which is the correct one for the workout. The class feels disorganized and unprofessional, and some athletes feel as if the coach doesn't realize they are even in the class. The class wraps up with no clear understanding as to if the session is over and people are free to go. Feeling uncomfortable yet? I am.
When your product is left to chance, and at the whim of a coach who has no consistent accountability to a specified protocol, your product is different every hour of every day.
What does that look like?
It means that now an athlete may choose not to come to a class that a particular coach is coaching because they don’t like the experience. This distrust in a coach and the product now limits the athlete's class time options in which they're willing to come. Fewer times they can come to class means that some days, depending on their schedule, they just won't come. Eventually, they decide that it’s not quite worth it to stay a member.
The above is just one example, and there are hundreds more.
The Class Format That Has Worked at Roots
In the next series of posts, we’ll dish on the best practices developed by observing, coaching, and participating in 1,000s of group classes over ten years.
The Whiteboard: The Bookends of a Great Class
We start and finish every group class at the whiteboard to establish and reinforce the culture at our gym. We kick-off each class with a detailed description of the workout and set the tone for the day. We close down each class at the whiteboard, recording each athlete’s score and scaling options by hand.
Sure, we all know that the general warm-up is there to get the body moving, but what are the different styles out there and why did we land on the one we did? Why is every warm-up different, every day, at CrossFit Roots and what does this do for our coaches and athletes?
Getting ready for the workout and the movements at hand is so much more than simply building up a barbell! This section of the class drives mutual respect between athlete and coach and dedication to proper movement patterns.
Bathroom Breaks and the Sneaky Athlete Check-in
It’s a bathroom break, and so much more. We’ll talk about why this has become an important element to our group class operation.
What to do During the Workout
It’s one thing to tell your coaches to “stay engaged” during the workout and to stay off their cell phone (although, hopefully, those don’t even make it onto the coaching floor!). It’s another to give them specific tools and techniques to learn how to coach during the workout. We’ll offer specific strategies for coaches to use during the workout.
CrossFit often reminds us to work our weaknesses, but we also all have jobs, lives, kids, and other shit to do, which for most of us limit our time in the gym to exactly one hour (and we think that’s a good thing). Find out why we include skill work into most class hours, how we structure it, and what skills we focus on.
We want to hear from you! What questions do you have about running a group class? What would you like to see covered in this series? Be sure to leave us a comment so we can address your questions within the series.
Download the full "Lessons for the Coaches at the Gym" eBook here.