Our goal: Coaching excellence at CrossFit London

11 Feb

CrossFit London have been involved with the CrossFit movement for a long time. We were the first affiliate in the UK and indeed the first outside the US. Andrew is one of a very limited number of CrossFit trainers in the world who has been coached by Greg Glassman himself.

Why is this of relevance? Only insofar as it has afforded us the opportunity to watch the development of the movement over an extended period of time. Perhaps it allows us a certain *perspective*…

Andrew and I spend a large portion of our week considering the future of CrossFit London. We endlessly ponder new, different and better ways to to make you experience with us fun, memorable and impactful.

One of the constants in these discussions is coaching quality and we’ll probably write a few articles on this. To kick off, here are our thoughts coach progression and the level to which we aspire to get our team to.

Coach progression

1. Know the movements

The first thing we ask of all of our coaches is to be able to actually perform the movements that they are coaching. For the barbell movements this is fairly straightforward, although gymnastic movements can be trickier.

Why is this important as a foundational step? It allows the coach to physically and emotionally experience the process of learning. This insight can help to guide others through a similar process. It also increases the sensation of body awareness, allowing the coach to better describe how the movement feels e.g. your hamstrings should be screaming at the bottom of the deadlift.

It also allows the coach to be a role model for the movement.

Note: this is as far as the CrossFit Level 1 Certification will take you…one of the reasons that CrossFit London coaches have long apprenticeships with us, and hold many certifications and qualifications.

2. Know the progressions

If there is one thing we get extra nerdy about at CrossFit London, it is nailing down a set a great movement progressions. We accept that not everyone will get the full movement first time of asking, so we break it down into a series of achievable steps. Each progression has a purpose and a sequence. We find that when we get them right, 95% of folks “get it”.

By creating a package of – ever evolving – progressions, we can help to ensure that everyone receives a consistent and effective coaching experience.

3. Spot movement faults

This one is a bit harder. Is the coach able to spot when a movement is being performed incorrectly. This can be quite obvious with potentially dangerous movement patterns (e.g. rounded back in deadlifts) or may be more subtle (e.g. slight squatting in kettlebell swings). To compound the matter, the fault may not manifest every single rep. It might also happen really fast (e.g. olympic lifts). Oh yes, there may be 9 other people to watch, too!

The skill is being able to scan the room and pick out that which doesn’t look quite right. Not easy.

4. Correcting movement faults

Harder again. Just because you can see that something is wrong, doesn’t necessarily mean you know why it is wrong, or indeed how to fix it.

Sometimes this is about returning to earlier progressions that you have seen performed correctly. Other times it can be more complex. In the case of the olympic lifts, tiny movement patterns can have a disproportionately large impact on the outcome of the lift. And in some cases there is something in the individual’s flexibility or strength (or both) which serves to impede their movement.

The skill here is in setting the one (sometimes more) drill, or giving the single coaching cue that creates the adjustment. It is not about yelling the names of body parts at the trainee…

In many (most?) cases this is a long-term process that requires gently chipping away at the problem.

5. Know when to intervene (and when to leave alone)

This is probably the hardest of all skills to get right, hence it being the final one on this list.

In many cases there is not just a single movement fault at play within an individual. Or there may be many different faults happening across multiple clients. Or this might be the first time that you have covered this skill with an individual. Or it may be the 100th.

Knowing when to intervene, what to focus on, how to address it, and when to leave along is tricky. It requires experience of how people learn, a sense of what the individual most needs at that movement (sometimes to be left alone!), as well as an appreciation of the law of diminishing returns; hammering away at the same point for 30mins may not always be the best approach.

Do you interrupt in the middle of a WOD, is this a group teaching point, which is the greater of the two (or more!) ‘evils’ that the client is demonstrating, how tired are they, what is an acceptable level to reach in this session, are all questions that must go through the coaches mind.


Hopefully this gives you a sense of the sorts of things that we focus on internally as a coaching team, and what we aspire to.

It will also give you a kind of benchmark to assess our – and perhaps others’ – coaching standards.

Of course if you you ever have a question on any of this, or indeed suggestions for how we can get better please let us know. We listen to, and greatly value all feedback.

3 thoughts on “Our goal: Coaching excellence at CrossFit London

  1. Awesome article! I think coaching quality is pretty important. Was considering opening my own box in South Africa, but after some thinking I decided it’s just not ethical as I still have way too much to learn. Now we are also seeing some exceptional growth of new affiliates in South Africa. When I look at the credentials one can only cringe while thinking of the little experience people have with regards to human movement and seeing the opportunity to make money.
    Just wish there is something to stop inexperienced people from starting affiliates and potentially injuring people, or to stop people from getting low quality coaching which might damage those who are respectable in the CrossFit trade from getting a bad image.
    Keep up the great work! I support CrossFit London all the way from here in South Africa.

  2. Excellent article! Coaching quality has declined much in various sports over the years, where as the abililty to power thought is seen as the main factor rather than techinque.
    The quaility of the classes in Cross Fit London are very good, but would wished that there was more time allociated towards the skill part of the class. As people become better in the work that they do in the classes, more time is needed towards skill development
    You use to have a 2 hours session on Sundays for Strength work (i.e Squat, Bench, Clean, etc) where peole could praticse their skills. Do you have any plans of reintroducting this back or having an open session in the gym where people could pratcise their skills at their own pace (i.e. 1 – 2 hours, skills covering muscle ups, gymnastics, weight lifting etc.)
    Overall enjoy the classes and would recommanded Cross Fit London for people who are serious in their training.
    Keep up the good work.

    1. Hi Leo – thanks for the comments. We do run coached lifting sessions on Saturday mornings (Basic Barbell). Depending on how these turn out, we may well expand to an open training model.

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