Teaching Beginners

17 May

Teaching Crossfit London Beginners

By way of explanation, one of the major targets for Crossfit London is to produce and develop an elite team of trainers. This journey begins with teaching beginners. To this end, we have our Coaching Academy, but also our plan is to develop a series of teaching worksheets to help teachers get better.

In many cases, teaching is like decorating: everyone thinks they can do it: the truth is that very few can.

Having the “gift of the gab” is perhaps the most distracting skill to have, as, in amongst the entertaining ramble, little development of the  learners takes place.

Learning is not a battle of wills between the teacher and the learner: it’s a process where the teacher sets and guides the learner through a series of practical supported drills

Of course these notes are for trainers, but they can help learners understand the process, and identify why they may  progress faster in some sessions and not others.

It is a privilege to be invited to deliver sessions targeted at beginners, as you have a unique opportunity to encourage, educate and inspire people. Or disillusion and put them off us, Crossfit and training – possibly for life.

Here are some principles:

The level of your class is “beginners”.
It does not matter if a super-elite world-class athlete books in, it’s your job is to go through the basic drills with them. The reality is that most advanced athletes have never been through a structured skill delivery session.

When I have trained advanced trainees with basic drills, they have always learned, or been reminded of stuff they have forgotten.

Rule 1 Basic drills
People learn by doing stuff. In the context of our beginner sessions they rarely learn by listening to you rant on about theory

If on the day you have your first driving lesson, the instructor parked you up and explained, by waving her hands around, the workings of the internal combustion engine your lesson would be a waste of time, whereas a drill that says “ this is the clutch, put your foot on it, and press down”…well that could help.

Rule 2: Beginners learn by doing a guided drill, not listening to you talk

Rule 3: Assume all learners are male and are therefore only capable of doing one thing at a time

Rule 4: Every move has a coaching point

Rule 5: If the trainees are not doing something for more than 60 seconds, you are not teaching. It may be you are giving them a rest (physical or mental), or entertaining them,  but, you are no longer teaching (within the context of a beginner session)

Rule 6: Assume nothing.

So, here is your  teaching practice for today.

In the space below, write down five key performance elements of the squat.


For each point, write  a quick instruction that you would give to a beginner to help them perform that criteria


Think of a quick cue you could use to help reinforce your instruction (normally a quick pithy summary)


For example

Performance element: weight in the heels

Quick instruction: “ In the next squat you do, I want the weight in your heels: so pick up one foot and stamp your heel down. Same with the other! Good job, great stamping.”

“If it helps, just imagine you are having a temper tantrum and stamping your heels down in fury!”

“Ok, everyone, keep the weight on your heels, and down you go.”

Cue “Heels!”

In some cases your imagery won’t work, so you need reserves:
“Imagine it’s windy and you have a £50 note under each heel”  or
“Imagine you are  a merchant banker, grinding your heel onto the face of the poor” Your cues could be,
“Keep that fifty quid”, “oppress the poor!”

So, stand in front of the mirror, give your first instruction, then squat, then cue yourself and squat again. “heels”
then perhaps
“One more time, it’s really windy, keep that £50 safe”

Then feed back to yourself: Was the squat good? Were your heels down? Are you £50 better off?

Now move on to your next point (knees? chest, bum back , etc etc)

If your beginners sessions involve you counting 1,2,3,4,5,6, its a waste of everyone’s time.

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