Since it was founded in 2000, the CrossFit workout style has gone on to become a global phenomenon. There are now more than 12,000 affiliated gyms, or ‘boxes’, in more than 150 countries. That makes the idea of becoming a CrossFit coach a pretty good proposition for anyone wanting to establish a career in the fitness industry.
So, how do you do it?
In this article, I’ll show you the steps you need to follow to become a CrossFit coach – but not only that. By the time you finish reading, you’ll know what you need to do to become the best CrossFit instructor in your area, building a base of Crossfitter trainers who wouldn’t dream of training with anyone else.
What Does a CrossFit Instructor Do?
CrossFit is a workout style that involves performing high-intensity workouts, with a mixture of weightlifting exercises, functional movements, calisthenics, and running. Workouts are short and hard and you are often trying to beat the clock.
The CrossFit coach is essentially a personal trainer for a class of CrossFit participants. Workouts are typically done in groups of between 10 and 15 people. The job of the coach is to instruct them in the proper exercise technique, ensure that they are using proper form, promote a high-energy environment and motivate people to achieve at their highest level.
CrossFit gyms are known as Boxes. Membership at a CrossFit Box is significantly higher than at a run-of-the-mill gym. The main reason for that extra cost is the personalized attention that members get from their coach. It is up to you, then, to provide the excellent personal attention, expert guidance, and inspiration that members expect and deserve.
Are There Any CrossFit Coaching Requirements?
As of this writing (August 2022) there are no official qualifications required to become a CrossFit instructor. That means that any person can stand up in front of a group and lead them in a CrossFit session.
Even though it is widely regarded as a separate type of exercise, such as yoga or resistance training, CrossFit is actually a brand name belonging to a private company. While it does not at this time have any certification requirements to be an instructor, you do need to be certified in order to open a CrossFit Box.
There are currently four levels of CrossFit coaching and certification. To operate a CrossFit Box, however, you only need to achieve the first of them.
Level One is an introduction level certification. You will be required to attend a group weekend class to learn about the basic methodology and fundamentals of CrossFit. The goal is to provide you with the confidence to lead a CrossFit class and adjust the activities in accordance with the ability levels of the participants.
The Level Two certification drills more deeply into biomechanics of movement, physics and kinesiology. It also teaches prospective coaches to be effective leaders and communicate. Each individual is also observed and evaluated as they conduct group training sessions.
In order to earn a Level Three certificate, you need to have completed 1500 hours of CrossFit coaching and have a current CPR certificate. To maintain Level 3 certification, you need to obtain 50 continuing education units every three years.
To Advance to the highest level, the Level Four certificate, you need to maintain several years at Level 3 and pass a final test.
Even though there are no official requirements from the CrossFit organization to become a coach at this time, you should check the local laws in your country or region regarding fitness training. It may be that your area places CrossFit coaching under the umbrella of personal pain or gym instructor, which may require a general fitness certification.
There have been many criticisms labeled against CrossFit over the years in terms of its potential injury risk. The fact that there is no official coaching standard is one of them. So, even though the organization does not require it, I suggest you consider it mandatory to have at least one certificate behind you before you step up to lead a CrossFit class.
The CrossFit Level One Certificate
The CrossFit Level One certificate is, by no means, an in-depth course. It is conducted over a weekend and will teach you the basics of CrossFit methodology, coaching and movement patterns. That includes classroom instruction, small-group breakout sessions and actual workouts.
The official CrossFit website will show you when and where the nearest courses are being held near your location. You can also download for free a CrossFit Level One Training Guide.
I would consider the CrossFit Level One certificate as your starting point into your career as a CrossFit coach.
The CrossFit Level Two certificate is another weekend course. It is designed for trainers who want to refine their training skills and become better able to lead and motivate their class members.
The problem that you may find with both of these courses is that, because they are in-person, you may find it impracticable to attend. For example, I am living in New Zealand, yet the nearest Level One or Level Two course to me is in Perth, Australia. The cost of the course is (USD) $1150. Throw in the price of airfare and accommodation and it begins to approach the out-of-this-realm level – especially if you are struggling to get started in your career.
I suggest looking beyond the CrossFit organization to obtain your certificate. That may seem counterintuitive. Surely, you would think, a CrossFit-affiliated Box would prefer you to have credentials from the CrossFit organization, right?
Well, maybe not.
Most Box operators are well aware that CrossFit certifications do not assure in-depth training in such subjects as anatomy, biomechanics, weightlifting and strength training, functional fitness, nutrition, kinesiology, and motivation techniques. If you’ve got certification from other organizations that cover these areas, they will likely be impressed, even if the instruction was not specific to Crossfit. Of course, if you’ve got both, they will be even more impressed.
Because the word CrossFit is a licensed trademark, other training certification organizations are not able to actually use that name in promoting any of their courses. Many of them, however, cover the topics that you need to know in order to become a competent CrossFit instructor.
The three most recognized and respected certifying organizations in the United States are:
5 Steps to Becoming a CrossFit Coach
- Do CrossFit
If you are going to spend your days and nights teaching people how to do CrossFit, you need two requisite qualities …
To get both of them you’ve got to put in the hours on the gym floor. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t even be considering a career as a CrossFit coach if you didn’t already love this form of exercise and weren’t doing it frequently.
Having determined to become a trainer, you should take your classes with a close eye on the instructors. Which ones do you most like and why? What do they do to help new members get familiar and comfortable with the environment? How do they motivate jaded members? How do they handle it when they see a member doing an Olympic lift the wrong way?
The more training sessions you have under your belt as a student, the better you’ll be as a coach. Of course, the more you do CrossFit, the better and healthier you will also become. People expect their coach to not only be able to walk the walk but to look as if they can. You don’t have to be an elite competitor at the CrossFit Games all look like you’re about to compete at the Olympics to be a great CrossFit coach, but neither should you look like you’ve spent the last 20 years munching away on Doritos on the couch!
Don’t think, either, that you can transition to CrossFIt, take a course over a weekend and become a good coach because you’ve been bodybuilding, or doing gymnastics for years. It doesn’t work that way. To teach CrossFit you need to DO CrossFit – period!
You should have at least six months to a year’s worth of CrossFit experience as a student before taking the next step towards becoming a coach.
- Learn About Biomechanics, Physics, and Anatomy
If you are going to take responsibility for another person’s physical well-being, you have the responsibility to know what you are talking about. If a person asks you why they are doing a certain exercise, they deserve to have an answer that goes beyond ‘It’s going to make your legs stronger’. To do that you need to know your stuff when it comes to muscle biomechanics and human anatomy. That requires getting serious about study.
The best way to acquire that sort of knowledge and understanding is to invest your time and money in a training certification course. As we’ve already covered, the CrossFit Level One certificate will not provide the type of specific knowledge that you need in order to be confident in your job. So, you need to consider some other certification beyond the fact that it will help you get a coaching position. It will also provide you with the type of fitness industry-specific knowledge that is the mark of a good CrossFit coach.
What I’m saying here is that you need to go into your course of study with the mindset that you’re not just trying to pass an examination and get a piece of paper. You want to absorb, understand, remember and be able to apply the knowledge that you are acquiring.
3. Develop Your Communication Skills
While acquiring experience on the gym floor and knowledge through study are important, it is your ability to interact with the people in your CrossFit class on a day-to-day basis that will determine how successful you are. As a CrossFit instructor, you’ll be dealing with people from every strata of society and with all sorts of personalities and temperaments. You need to learn to be able to adapt to each one, get on their wavelength and be able to instruct them at their level and in a way that will inspire and motivate them.
In addition to being able to explain exercises, concepts and other issues related to the workout to people of all different experience levels, you need to present yourself in a way that is going to be attractive to your members. I’m not meaning that you should appear physically attractive, though it is important to look professional and well-kempt at all times, but rather you need to be likable.
Of course, being likable is something that you can read about and apply automatically. It requires a self-analysis, an honest appraisal of ourselves, and even the asking of some searching questions to people that we trust. Here are a number of things that I’ve noticed that good instructors do very well, along with some that they avoid doing …
- A good instructor is enthusiastic, upbeat, and smiles without making it phony or over-the-top.
- Good instructors quickly learn the names of the people in their class and use them regularly.
- Good instructors follow a two-for-one praise/attractive criticism formula. In other words, they’ll say good things about what a person is doing before they mention what could be improved.
- Good instructors are genuinely interested in their members, asking them questions and waiting to hear the answers.
- Good instructors portray humility. They are not always talking about themselves and don’t act like they are the best CrossFit exponent in the world.
- Good instructors practice what they preach. When your members see you leading them in the workout, they will draw inspiration from you.
- Good instructors are equally confident and competent talking on a one-on-one level and to a larger group.
- Good instructors are able to adjust their motivation style to meet the individual. In a group of 15 people, you might have a handful who love the ‘ra ra’ Sergeant Major, in-your-face type motivation, and others who prefer a quieter ‘you’ve got this’ vibe. Bad instructors won’t be able to accommodate both types – good instructors will.
I mentioned earlier that you can’t learn to be liked from a book. However, there is one book that I feel can help you on the journey. It’s an oldie but a goodie and one that I made required reading for all of my gym employees. That book is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. I suggest picking up an audiobook copy and listening to it while you do your cardio workouts.
4. Start Looking for Work
Having achieved your qualification, whether it’s the CrossFit Level One certificate along with another, more comprehensive fitness certification or just the other certification by itself, and having put in the hours as a CrossFit student and worked on your own personal skills to the extent that you have the confidence to put yourself out there, you are ready to start looking for work as a CrossFit coach.
There are three main types of CrossFit coaching positions:
- Full-time salaried jobs
- Part-time salaried jobs
- Part-time hourly jobs
The option to become a CrossFit personal trainer, where you run your own business and have your own clients within the parameters of a larger fitness operation, does not really exist within the CrossFit world. So unless you intend to open your own CrossFit Box – which is a subject beyond the scope of this article – you will be an employee of someone who does.
The best way to find work is to cold call CrossFit Boxes. Make sure that you have a professionally prepared resume that includes some kind of portfolio with images of you leading classes. To get these, you can ask the owner of your local Box if you can take a class or two, under his instruction, in order to help build a portfolio. Of course, this manager will be your first port of call.
When you are in front of the person who is interviewing you, rather than asking for a job, explain to him what qualities and benefits you can bring to his Box. Be confident and enthusiastic and show your personality. Make it clear that you are willing to learn and that you have a strong work ethic. Be sure to dress for success, wearing the type of outfit you have seen the coaches in that club wearing. You also need to be immaculately groomed and hygienic, as you will be up close and personal with the gym’s members.
Ultimately, securing a position as a CrossFit coach is a numbers game. Put yourself out into the marketplace as frequently as you can. Set a goal to make so many cold calls every week and don’t be deterred by negative responses.
Although there are no official qualifications to become a CrossFit coach, I recommend that you gain the CrossFit Level One certificate, as well as a secondary fitness qualification from another certification organization. Put in the groundwork on the Box floor and develop your personality and interpersonal skills. Then it’s a matter of putting yourself out there and presenting yourself to prospective employers. Share your passion and show how you can add to the Crossfit experience of members and you will, eventually, get the position that you are after.