Two weeks ago I was able to attend a Level 1 CrossFit Trainer Certificate Course. While pretty much everyone attending was there for the purpose of CrossFit trainer, I was there for other reasons.
Since I am good friends with a lot of fitness professionals on Facebook, I see a lot of bashing of various training methodologies. CrossFit seems to be at the brunt of it (close second is Tracy Anderson). Not only are CrossFit’s methodologies called into question, their trainer certificate and business practices are as well. As a physician, all I want to do is find friendly gyms that will help my patients exercise safely (I can take care of the rest – eg. nutrition etc). So my purpose for attending the certificate course was to see how these trainers are trained and learn in depth the methodologies of CrossFit.
Day 1 (of 2) started out with introductions to instructors and then went into “what is fitness?” and “what is CrossFit?” The instructors (both guys and girls) were very fit. Most everyone in the room learning was relatively fit, but the instructors were magazine cover material. While looking like a greek god isn’t a necessity to be a good trainer (or a good doctor) I do think it is good to practice what you preach. There were a lot of semantics thrown around with the definition of fitness and health, which seemed to be a branding strategy of CrossFit but nothing blatantly wrong. There was ONE thing that did catch my attention during this introduction. There was some mild “fat shaming” going on with a slight elitist attitude – but this was only one or two of the instructors out of the group. This was really the only thing that bothered me during this part. There was also some bodybuilding/globo gym shaming but that was mostly in jest.
We quickly went on to learn the first block of basic movements that for the base of CrossFit – the squat. Specifically we learned how to properly perform and teach the air squat, front squat, and overhead squat. My first impression of the instructor performing the movements was that the way he moved looked like artwork. His form was impeccable like a cheetah sprinting in the savannah moving fiercely yet elegantly to only capture and tear apart its prey (except here he was squatting with very good form and then eating a rotisserie chicken at lunch). They all had great form – men and women instructors.
When we went outside to practice the movements, I was impressed at the instructor’s attention to detail when correcting our form. They would bring some of us to the middle to teach us how to give basic coaching cues based on one of our flaws in the form. I specifically got called out on the overhead squat because it was apparent I had tight pecs and lats because I was struggling to keep the PVC pipe in the proper position overhead – however, I did have good form while struggling :). After doing about a million squats, we went on to learn the overhead press series – shoulder press, push press, and push jerk. Like with the squats, this was taught very well.
Lunch time rolled around and everyone scattered. I sat down and ate my non-paleo (close but no cigar) but what I would consider a healthy meal of greek yogurt, oats, blueberries, protein powder, and chia seed mixture along with my leftover chicken, boiled potato, and carrots ‘n guac. Everyone was eating pretty healthy foods. One guy had tupperware full of raw veggies and a chicken breasts. Not sure where his source of energy (glucose) was coming from for what was to come later (high intensity workout/WOD – Workout of the Day).
After lunch there was a good lecture on the common question of form and speed/intensity when doing these WODs. The goal is to be competitive and strive to get your best time / reps for time so of course form can break down a bit. One of the common complaints against CrossFit is that people are throwing weights around with awful form and at high velocities, which set people up for big time injury. This lecture discussed that as a coach, your job is to make sure that there is the right balance between speed/intensity and form. So the answer when someone asks “hey coach, do you want me to go fast or do you want me to do it with good form?” is “both.” If you look like hell doing the movement, you should slow down. If you are doing the movements too slowly or with too light of weight but with absolutely impeccable form, you should speed up or increase the weight. I thought this seemed reasonable and coming from a physician who is deciding on whether to send patients to a CrossFit box or not, I thought it was a good answer. I obviously don’t want my patient’s getting injured.
I can’t remember exactly what came after that lecture (I think it was pull-ups or something), but what I do remember is getting ready for what I thought was the dreaded Fran WOD. CrossFit has girl names for their benchmark workouts and this particular one is named Fran. It is 3 rounds of alternating sets of thrusters (basically a front squat that goes into shoulder press) with the rep scheme of 21-15-9. I had heard they do this at the cert so I even practiced (see video below).
Instead of doing the Fran WOD though, we ended up doing 21-15-9 of thrusters and then burpees (instead of pull-ups). While I seemed to have fared well on the Fran workout above, I hit a wall and could hardly see straight by the time I finished this workout. I was still gunning to be finished before everyone else since I love competition, however a guy about 8 years younger than me kicked my butt. Anyway it was still a great workout – it reminded me of some of my wrestling matches back in the day where I just couldn’t talk for awhile afterwards. This was pretty much the end of day 1 – and I was ready to be done 🙂
On day 2, we went over and practiced the dead lift movements – dead lift, sumo dead lift high pull, and medicine ball clean. Again the instructors looked like artwork in the way they performed the movements. The weirdest part of the day was the nutrition lecture. We started going over the ins and outs of the Zone diet, which uses an archaic method of tracking calories and putting them into special blocks that are supposed to be catered to the individual. In the age of fitday/myfitnesspal/etc this system seems a little silly. It was literally a complicated version of macro/calorie counting. Not to mention the idea that your macronutrient split HAS to be split pretty much evenly OR ELSE is pretty unscientific. Oh well I guess it’s not that big of a deal, maybe it will help people be more aware of calories?
We then went into more of the theory behind CrossFit and its methodologies, which I really didn’t have a problem with (some of it was just semantics). I really liked that the overall theme was to help people go from sick to healthy. That seems to be the mantra as opposed to guys on ESPN looking like bionic superheroes. While I love having a good physique, my main purpose is to help my patients become healthy, which is what they conveyed CrossFit is all about too.
After this I think we had lunch and then did another WOD. This time it was AMRAP (as many reps as possible) doing pushups, sit ups, and medicine ball cleans. I fared better in this one… mostly because my pecs were developed better than everyone else’s due to my obsession with bench press (haha jk…kinda).
The end was a written test that went over everything we had learned the past two days. It was very well controlled and taken seriously. There were people in there that had failed before. I was the first to hand in my test and head outside to relax (I passed by the way). When many of the others came out, we got to talking. As far as I could tell, everyone understood that they were NOT now all of a sudden master trainers. One of the critiques is that anyone can take this 2 day course and become a trainer whereas other people do a 4 year bachelors degree (I did one at UNC-Chapel Hill in Exercise Science) and then go on to continue to do CEUs and attend conferences to be the best trainer they can be. It is thought that this is dangerous. My thought is well anyone can go and open a gym and train people. You don’t need anything to do that. This at least gives some standardization and hopefully that coach/trainer will continue to learn to help their clients.
- I had a great time and learned some pointers on form and how to give better cues. I have a 4 year (technically 5 year since I redshirted in college) exercise science degree and I am a former NCAA division 1 starting athlete, yet I was able to learn and better myself. While I don’t plan on being a trainer (I am a physician of course) I do want to bridge that gap between trainers and physicians and this helped in that regard.
- While only 2 days long, the CrossFit certificate course has an efficient structure to maximize learning and also has tremendously talented instructors running it. These folks were charismatic, smart, buff, and just good people. I would trust sending my patients to them.
- Would I trust sending my patients to some of the people in the class? That is the big question. I have NO idea? I think what would be best is going to boxes in the area and just watching what happens. Do they scale appropriately? Would they know how to handle my 300 pound 50 year old with moderate osteoarthritis in his knees and a tad of hypertension (high blood pressure)? Not sure. It will be very individual of the box.
- The atmosphere of CrossFit is addicting. Everyone was so enthusiastic and ready to help everyone. How could I ever discredit that?
I will say this – They say that CrossFit is like a cult and that you’re drinking the Kool-Aid if you get into it. Normally I would have my diabetics stay away from Kool-Aid but in this case, I would give them the Kool-Aid if it meant them getting into fitness.