*Foreword: Since I anticipate being asked by several inquiring minds if this post means that I am not happy and switching boxes, let me clear the air and emphatically say, no… and yes. No, I am not unhappy. Yes, there is truth in that there is a possibility I may make another box change, but that possibility is always there. (Ok so I just answered that like a politician…) Your next question is, am I directly correlating the points below to where I currently CrossFit? Again, no and yes. I have been a member of 3 boxes, I have dropped into at least half a dozen other ones and I have friends at boxes around the country. So know that this post is not commentary on any one box in particular. It’s my collective experience and feedback. Of course there are parallels to where I CrossFit now (admittedly both negative and positive, but that’s also any box). When you read this blog, you will see that CrossFit is not cut and dry and it’s a journey. If this post causes any waves, I view that as a positive. I am ok with being a wave.
Anyone who loves CrossFit will attest that it is a journey, and that is why it is not surprising that many of our journeys take us from box to box. It is really easy to fall in love with CrossFit and to fall in love with the box you sign up at. It is also just as easy to fall out of love. I wish there were published stats as to the percentage of athletes who switch boxes but if I had to guess in my unscientific opinion based on experience and observation, I would venture to say it happens more times than not. Possibly at least 50% of the CrossFit population changes boxes. I personally have switched boxes twice in pursuit of adjusting to my own journey and doing what made the best sense for me at those times.
This begs the question obviously: what do athletes and members look for in a box? More importantly, what keeps members loyal and happy?
- Coaching. Strong, great, dedicated coaches are an absolute must have. Great coaches can really keep members happy. They have positive energy and are encouraging. They are 100% focused while coaching. They treat members equally. They know athletes’ strengths and weaknesses so that they can give proper cues and instructions.
When I think about why coaching is so important, I find two distinct reasons: One is to of course keep athletes safe and continuously progressing. We perform complex and technical moves that when not done correctly lead to a high propensity for injury. NOBODY wants that, and so we rely heavily on stellar coaching.
The other reason is because CrossFit is a business and athletes are paying members. We expect the same professionalism we would get anywhere. This may be harsh but it needs to be said. Just like coaches expect a positive attitude and a can-do mentality from athletes, it’s reciprocal. Coaches expect athletes to come in and give it their all, and that is no different than what athletes expect of their coaches. Athletes do not want to be coached by someone who is paying more attention to their phone than the athletes working out. And I get it. We are all human, including coaches. People can’t be “on” 100% every day. Off days will happen, but it should be the exception, not the rule.
When an athlete feels like their coaches are checked out or not giving them the right amount of attention, it is to be expected that they are going to sign divorce papers to find a better suited box.
- Programming. This is possibly my #1 criterion these days. People want to get the most out of the hour they spend a day at their box. They want programming that is methodical and part of a bigger plan. Athletes want to constantly be challenged and see improvement. Athletes want consistency without getting burned out. We want to be pushed beyond our limits smartly, and conversely, we do not want to walk away from a workout feeling like it was a warm-up.
It happens that athletes may even outgrow programming at their boxes. I have seen blogs and posts and have had conversations on this topic. Often athletes find they need to switch boxes to either train with more competitive people or have more competitive programming. I do not look at it necessarily as a slight to any box. Every box has to cater to a different demographic. For example, I drop into a box back east where many of their members do not have prior weight lifting experience and can get spooked by heavy weights. So their programming caters to that.
If I am being honest, one of the reasons I have left the first two boxes I trained at was because of inconsistent programming. The programming each day was good, but collectively I did not find it to have a long term plan. While I respect there are benefits to having different coaches program on a rotating schedule, I found, for me, it did not work. Some months might be heavy on gymnastics while others may be highly focused on squats. I rather do everything regularly but more strategically and evenly distributed. I am highly prone to injury (and I am no spring chicken) which means I need to treat all muscles equally. I cannot afford to favor or discriminate.
- CrossFit is a business. I alluded to this in my first point about coaching. Members pay for a service so like any other business transaction, they shell out anywhere from $100 to $400 a month to get something back in return. So in addition to remarkable coaching and programming, there are many other factors that play into expectations when it comes to thinking of CrossFit as a business.
It is like when I go to get my hair done or my nails done (yes I love my nails), I expect the space to be clean, sanitary and safe. It shows pride and maturity by having a smart, positive space. Being a business also means that there is a schedule that works for athletes. Logistics play a big part in why people join a box and why they leave. Unlike global gyms where you can go whenever you want, having a class schedule that works for you is key in picking and staying at a box. When class schedules change (or jobs change or athletes move houses), it will happen that a box switch is inevitable.
Being a business means constantly changing. I work for an Entertainment-Telco company, and I see this theme loud and clear every day. If we still sold only traditional cable and installed land lines, we would be out of business. To change, that means the owners and coaches need to be attuned to what the trends are, what the CrossFit market demands are, and what members and aspiring members require. CrossFit is ever evolving and continuously exploding which is a marvelous thing! Keeping up with it though I can appreciate, is not easy but it is an absolute necessity. This is the perfect time to mention a perk of having a diverse membership. We come from all different walks of life with different skills and talents to offer. People who CrossFit WANT to help their box not because they expect monetary compensation. They want to help because it is their community and they have a vested interest in assisting to make it the best ever. Members are essentially a whole pool of business resources that should be tapped.
- Speaking of community, that is another reason it itself why people join and leave boxes. It is like dating: sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs to find your prince. Much like how boxes have to cater to their demographics, athletes need to find the demographic and vibe that works for them.
Community in the world of CrossFit also implies that members look for more beyond just the classes, coaching, programming and the business side of it. Most boxes heavily promote their members and offerings on social media. They keep people connected so even if you go to 6 am class, you still may interact (albeit virtually) with the 7 pm class. Community also means Paleo challenges, burpee challenges (yes this is a good thing), social events and a slew of other non-workout specific activities. They all promote happy and healthy living, which is fundamentally what CrossFit is about.
Good boxes in my opinion are inclusive. Anyone should feel welcome in any class they walk into. The responsibility of this does not just fall on the coaches and owners. It is something that all members need to be accountable for.
Even though I do not personally own a box, I would be willing to bet many owners would agree that enticing members to join a box is hard and keeping them is even harder. My advice to owners and coaches for whatever it is worth is to listen to your members. Listen to your colleagues. Listen to what social media says. With boxes sprouting up everywhere, there are a lot of options for athletes. People will leave if they do not feel like their needs are being met.
To athletes, know that every box is unique and sometimes it takes being immersed in one to decide if it suits you or not. Athletes who CrossFit ultimately want to be their best selves mentally and physically, and should have the freedom to decide what environment, what box, will best foster that.
When I left my prior two boxes, I had very different experiences with the owners. One treated it more matter-of-factly and basically just gave me the terms of my termination and the terms if I were to decide to rejoin. The other appealed more to the human side of me. He was heartfelt in wanting me to stay and was genuinely interested to know why I was choosing to leave. He listened to my feedback and vowed to make changes and even offered me a free month to give it another chance. While I politely declined, that box has been thriving, and so I would say it’s a testimony to his abilities as a good business owner.
Anyways, I digress. I have so many points I can still make but I will leave you with this. Like anything else, there are pivotal points in any journey where you need to reevaluate where you are and where you want to go. Both times I switched boxes they were really hard for me to do. It is like switching jobs or moving or starting/ending a relationship. There are pros and cons but ultimately you have to do what’s best for you. I strongly believe if people can find all of the 4 mentioned things (good coaching, good programming, a business centric box and community) they are more inclined to be a loyal happy member.