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CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course: My Experience

Remember back in October when I attended the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course? Yes, it’s been a while and now that I’ve been coaching CrossFit for six months I figured it was finally time to write a review of my experience!

Let’s start with why I attended the Level 1 Trainer Course. I manage Metro Fitness Club and Metro CrossFit. We offer CrossFit at both of our locations so as the general manager it made sense for me to complete the Level 1 Course so that I can coach classes and so that I can hold an affiliation. I had only been CrossFitting for about eight months when I attended the course but given my background in fitness as a personal trainer, group exercise instructor and yoga teacher, I felt confident that I was ready. One thing that I have learned from the many certifications I have received is that there are always all levels in attendance. For example, at the CrossFit L1 we had everyone from stay at home mom’s wanting to safely do garage workouts at home with their teenage children to middle of the road people like me to serious CrossFitters with years of experience who wanted to open their own box.

It’s recommended that you study the CrossFit Training Guide before your Level 1 Course so that you have a good base knowledge of the principles of CrossFit and the information you will be presented with in the course and so that you are prepared for the test. This guide is available for download on the page I linked to above for anyone that is interested. If you’re into CrossFit and want to get a better understanding of the principles behind it, nutrition philosophy and a breakdown of the key movements then I suggest you give this a read. I read through the entire thing once and then went back through and outlined key points to prepare for the test. Everyone talks about how difficult the test is but as long as you read the guide, pay attention during the lectures and take notes, you should be fine. They cover basically everything that is going to be on the test in the lectures so I was sure to study my outlines and my lecture notes.

My L1 course was at CrossFit Charlotte. The course is on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. with a one hour break for lunch each day. I arrived around 8:30 a.m. on the first day to get checked in and settled. There were around 50 people in my training course and six trainers. My head trainer was Joe Alexander. The set-up was just like my CrossFit Endurance seminar where we were arranged in a semi-circle of chairs around a whiteboard. The way these weekends work is that you alternate between lecture and practicing movements. I love this because you don’t get tired or sleepy and the information makes more sense because you practice it right after you discuss it.

Our course was broken into nine lectures – five on day one and 4 on day two. The trainers alternated giving the lectures and it was nice to have the variety in personalities. They all do an excellent job of thoroughly explaining their topic and writing key information on the whiteboard. They also give you strong hints when you should really pay attention to something (meaning it was test material).

Here is a list of the lectures:

DAY ONE

  1. Opening Lecture: What is CrossFit
  2. 9 Foundational Movements Overview + The Squat (Air Squats, Front Squats and Overhead Squats) – followed by outdoor movement practice and drills in small breakout groups
  3. What is Fitness & The Four Models to Define Fitness
  4. Overhead Press, Push Press, Push Jerk – followed by outdoor movement practice and drills in small breakout groups
  5. Technique and Intensity
*On day one we also completed the benchmark WOD Fran as well as reviewed muscle ups, kipping pull ups and thrusters

DAY TWO 

  1. Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift High Pull, Med Ball Clean – followed by outdoor movement practice and drills in small breakout groups
  2. Nutrition
  3. Glute Ham Developer – Hip Extension, Back Extension, Sit Up
  4. Programming

*On day two we also completed a 7 minute AMRAP of med ball cleans, hand release push ups and ab mat sit ups, drilled snatches and took our test.

When we checked in the first day and received our name tags there was a number in the corner that assigned us to our breakout groups. I think we had 5 groups of 10-15 so you were able to get more one-on-one work with the trainers as we drilled the movements that we were lectured on. Each time we did a breakout the trainers would rotate to a new group so that you got a chance to work with all of the different trainers over the course of the weekend.

We completed a workout each day of the course. The first day is always Fran and I was dreading it something serious.

Fran 

21 – 15 – 9

Thrusters (95/65)
Pullups

I told myself going in that I wasn’t going to put too much pressure on myself. Six months ago I was not nearly as proficient at kipping pullups or quite as strong as I am now to do the 65# thrusters. I was even more intimidated when they gave us a 10-minute cut off. They broke us into three heats and as I watched the first heat, I knew I was going to have to modify. Basically everyone was finishing in under 8 minutes. There was one girl still going until the cutoff and the entire crowd of 50-some people were crowded around watching her. I did NOT want to be that girl in the spotlight desperately trying to finish. Don’t get me wrong, it was really cool to see everyone cheering everyone else on but for me trying to RX was not worth being the last one standing.

I shot a video of the first minute of the first heat so that you can see the crazy pace some of these people were going at. Fran is one of CrossFit’s most intense workouts. I ended up modifying to 55# thrusters and a mix of kipping and jumping pull ups. I would kip as many as I could each round and then switch to jumping. I think I finished somewhere in the 7 minute range. I totally got called out by the trainers for not getting my butt below parallel in the thrusters and had a “butt ball” placed underneath me to ensure proper depth in my thrusters. It was a humbling experience! I’m glad I went into it with an open mind because it was seriously tough and a little scary.

I went home the first day and studied my lecture notes and training guide outlines. Overall, I felt pretty good about everything but these types of courses are just information overload so I was trying to get everything straight in my head and pick out the key points of what we discussed in our lectures.

I really enjoyed the second day’s lectures, especially the nutrition lecture.

 

(source)

I was pleasantly surprised by the nutrition lecture. I was expecting it to be “Paleo or die” but it wasn’t at all. Our trainer emphasized that your nutrition (food = fuel) is the foundation of fitness. We have to fuel our bodies properly to not only perform well in physical activity but also to prevent the common diseases of civilization such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. The recommended diet was actually the Zone Diet where you eat in blocks of balanced proteins, carbs and fat. Each block should be made up of 40% carb, 30 % protein and 30% fat. This diet focuses on eating whole foods (meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar) in balanced ratios for optimal nutrition and performance.

I loved it when our trainer pointed out that Paleo can be a trap because people think they can eat as much as they want as long as it’s Paleo. That’s not true. Overeating anything can cause insulin spikes and lead to excess calorie consumption and weight gain. She shared with us how she gained 10 pounds when she went Paleo because she thought it was a free for all to eat almond butter and bacon. The Zone Diet is less restrictive than Paleo and allows for better control over the way you fuel your body.

All that said, I like the principle of the Zone Diet and I would say that I generally include the three elements in all of my meals but I could never adhere to the block counting and food measuring/weighing that the Zone Diet requires. I would go crazy. I think it is a great starting point for those who are struggling to understand how to fuel their body, how much to eat and when. Then I think this style of eating can become a little more intuitive.

Our day two workout was a 7 minute AMRAP of med ball cleans, hand release push ups and ab mat sit ups. It wasn’t really very challenging but it was meant to drill the med ball clean technique into us. They are surprisingly tough.

Our final lecture was on programming. We discussed how to keep it within the CrossFit principles of constantly varied, high intensity and functional movements. We did a week of programming together where we learned how to consider the rep scheme, task v. time priority, what type of movement it was (gymnastics, weightlifting, etc) and the time domain. They encouraged us to “program for the best and scale for the rest” along with going over the importance of scaling.

Here is where I had some issues with the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course. We spend one hour talking about programming and quite a few people taking our couse wanted to go out and open their own affiliates/boxes. We spent ZERO time talking about how to effectively coach. I think that these two skills are critical for anyone to succeed as a CrossFit coach and I couldn’t believe the lack of emphasis on them. Now I understand the importance of having a good shadowing/mentoring program at your gym so that you can further develop coaches after they complete their course. Let me make it clear that completing this course alone is not going to make you a good CrossFit coach. A good coach is someone who not only understands the CrossFit principles and movements but really gets how to communicate that to their athletes.

We ended the day by taking a group photo and taking our test. Speaking of the group…the Level 1 course was the strangest training I have ever attended. No one really talked to anyone else. In every other training that I have attended I have eaten lunch with other attendees or chatted with them during breaks but this training felt so different. I walked away from the weekend feeling like I didn’t even know anyone else’s name. We never did introductions of any kind (not as a big group or in our small groups)…it was just strange.

The test required careful reading of the questions (they do try to word things differently and trick you) but it was not as difficult as everyone had made it out to be. I took my time with each questions and stuck to the idea of choosing “the best answer” (it was one of those where more than one answer could have been right). After completing our test we had to wait in a holding area for everyone to finish before coming back in for closing remarks. We received our test results about a week later via e-mail.

In closing, I am glad that I attended the training course. It gave me a good foundation to come back to Metro and coach CrossFit, especially in regards to the 9 foundational movements. But as with most things, you learn the most by doing. Actually coaching classes, doing research on my own, watching athletes and taking other coach’s classes has taught me more than anything.

I hope this post provided some good insight on the CrossFit Level 1 Trainer Course. I would love to hear feedback from anyone else who has completed it and I welcome questions from anyone considering it.

{ 23 comments… add one }
  • 1
    Hayley @ Running on Pumpkin April 25, 2013, 10:07 am

    That’s interesting about the lack of communication between the attendees… that is something I feel like is important at a training course! Sounds way different than the way you described your yoga training. Great you did it though and feel more knowledgable with it now!

  • 2
    Brent J April 25, 2013, 10:48 am

    I took my CFE course with you and as you mentioned the interaction between the students and the instructors was encouraged. I remember eating lunch with my friends as well as you, Sean and others. I just took my L! about 2 months ago at CF Mayhem and J. Alexander was also our lead instructor. The rest of the team was made up of Khalipa, Froning, Maddox, Austin Stack and Leah Polaski. My experience was similar to yours with respect to interaction amongst the class. I met 5-6 people but couldn’t tell you where they are or even what their names are now. We did get great coaching cues from our instructors. They really pushed the need for all of us to have multiple cues in our head for the same movement and to keep yourself from just being a cheerleader. “If the athlete doesn’t understand what you’re saying, it’s your fault as the coach and you need to change it”. Khalipa was probably the best of the group when it came to coaching and giving cues. The other thing I wish we could have done was take notes during the movement breakouts. There were so many great cues and tips that I wanted to capture but I’m sure I forgot some of them. Congrats on your L1!!

  • 3
    Rachel @ For the Love of Chocolate April 25, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Great write up of your Level 1 Cert experience, Jen! I’m hoping to get certified in CrossFit at some point in my life, so this was really fun to read. Someone from my box just took her Level 1 Cert at Reebok CrossFit One in Massachusetts, and said there was a man there who had never done a WOD before! I couldn’t believe that. I totally agree with you that you learn most from doing and observing other coaches! Again, thanks for taking the time to write such a thorough write up! 🙂

  • 4
    Brittany @ FreckledNettles April 25, 2013, 4:00 pm

    It’s so great that you are pursuing a goal like this. I myself have been curious about CF and would really like to give it a shot someday. Although I’m a little bit nervous about the intensity of it, I’m sure that I will be able to successfully complete the classes. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about your experience and training!

  • 5
    Brooke May 29, 2013, 10:32 pm

    I was so disappointed by the lack of connection I felt at the L-1 last weekend. I simply could NOT believe I didn’t meet ONE single person. I am an outgoing people person, but I felt like the atmosphere was clinical. I was so upset by the time I took the test I couldn’t think straight. Thanks for posting this. I clearly though I ws losing my mind. I’m sure I failed the test, FYI.

    • 6
      Jen May 30, 2013, 11:18 am

      brooke – i’m sorry that you had the same experience. i wouldn’t take it personally…i just think they’ve made it into such a “get as many people through as possible” production that it lacks any personalized feeling. sending good luck that you did pass the test!

  • 7
    ob81 June 8, 2013, 8:38 pm

    Great article. I recently started taking crossfit serious after doing it for 3 years not knowing what I was doing. Your article provides a great view of the Level 1 course. I just found out about this course today.
    Congrats on obtaining your cert, and again, great article.

  • 8
    Josh April 15, 2014, 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the write up. I’ve been hooked on CrossFit for 8 months. After years of being sedentary, I found my calling. My Box is the right fit for me, and I’m Better Than Yesterday after every WOD.

    So, I’m looking ahead at CF L-1 and I just don’t know if or when I’d be ready. Do you have any advice on that? I want to learn more so I do the exercises better. And I’d like to coach at my Box at some point.

    I try to gauge myself on being able to do most movements. I’m comfortable with all of the lifts (and growing my 1 RMs). DUs are coming along. Pull-ups are lagging. I’m working toward not using a band.

    What do you think? When is someone “ready” for Level 1?

    • 9
      Jen April 15, 2014, 2:47 pm

      hey josh – that’s a great question that is applicable to many fitness certifications. i think the #1 indicator that you’re “ready” is a passion and a thirst to learn more. as far as coaching goes, i typically recommend that people have been doing whatever it is they want to teach for at least a year and have a working understanding of it and be able to do or at least coach most of the skills.

      crossfit specific…we require all newly certified coaches to go through a shadowing period before they can coach solo. ask if your box offers a program like this or even if they’d let you shadow some classes pre-cert to get an idea of what it’s like.

  • 10
    SPoole May 23, 2014, 9:05 am

    Thank you for this post. I am so nervous about the L1 that I have been putting it off. This is encouraging. 🙂

  • 11
    Steph kinzer July 16, 2014, 10:43 am

    Thank you sooo much for the insight! Fran is no joke. Way to go taking the cert so quick into your cfexperience 🙂 thanks for the pics, video & well written article!

  • 12
    Kim December 31, 2014, 1:51 am

    I took my level 1 and studied like crazy .. Didn’t pass by a very small amount, I was completely devastated. Determined I studied again … Focusing on the big picture and not all the details .. I had so much anxiety this time I was just sick. I felt more unprepared. Then while taking the test it was as if they through on questions I had never even read or remember them teaching in detail. Definetly not in the handbook. Well, I failed again. This time I was beyond devestated. This has caused me to go into a minor depression and feeling completely stupid. I am a very visual learner and learn through repetition. I have read so much and studied so much. I have a successful career where I’ve had to take tests that are extremely difficult and I have passed them. So why can’t I pass this. I’m preparing to give it another try but worry that now with 6 months passing since the actual course attendance that I will not remember what was taught during those two days … My notes are not as good as I could have taken I guess.. I followed along in the book and didn’t write extra.

    I guess I just needed to vent … I’m so discouraged.

    • 13
      sarah May 18, 2015, 9:43 pm

      Kim, So sorry to hear that. Where did you take your L1 at? Have you retested again? I’m taking my L1 cert this weekend and am scared to death for some reason. Best of luck to you 🙂

    • 14
      Aja March 27, 2016, 4:21 pm

      That test was aweful. I took the entire time. From the first question I went into panic. The pictures were such bad quality I could even see what was being asked. I failed. Now I have to retest. I did everything I read. I went over the blocks, took notes, paid attention and still failed. I have ADHD and test taking is very hard for me. I read the questions almost 5 times before the words started making some sense. Than when I looked up there was 39 minutes left and I went into full Panic.

  • 15
    Stacy February 20, 2015, 11:47 am

    Thanks for sharing this! I am doing my cert this weekend and have some nerves working on me. I have seen doing CrossFit for a year and cannot wait to learn more and become a better athlete. Where there people in your cert that could not do jumping or kipping pull ups? I can do five strict and 10 or so jumping without breaking, but I cannot kip. I am still in a small band when completeing FRAN.

  • 16
    Vicmar August 18, 2015, 2:50 am

    Anybody pleased help me pass my L1 test, I retested 3x and still didn’t pass.I review and study my notes and other ref.but still the result is the same.Thanks.

    • 17
      KM April 24, 2016, 4:22 am

      me too , what was your version A or B

  • 18
    Valeria Buitrago December 3, 2015, 9:27 am

    Hi Jen, this was really useful. I’m 17 and planning on getting certified soon. I do have some nerves about this and starting to have doubts. I’ve been involved in Crossfit for about 4 years and want to start coaching part time as I go into college. I’m worried about the same as in not finishing wods as fast or being able to efficiently complete doing RX. I’m working on my muscle ups now but don’t seem to be getting them? Are they necessary? I seem to lack upper body strength and was wondering if that would affect me in any way through the testing.

  • 19
    Tim May 31, 2016, 2:08 am

    Thanks Jen to share your Crossfit Level 1 experience. I am thinking about signing up soon and I am currently studying the CF level 1 guide and Training 4 to 5 times a week. I didnt sign up yet cause I’m scared of failing the test.

    There is something I am not sure I understand totally is the blocks chart. I guess I can get more content through the link above, Zone diet.

    Thanks again for sharing Jen, I feel more confident now about going to the seminar and passing the test.

  • 20
    Carrie Dockery September 8, 2016, 3:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Jen! I am traveling to Charlotte from NW,Florida this weekend to take the CF-L1 class and I am SO nervous! I’ve read the training guide and made countless notes and high-lighted key points, but I’m still scared that I will fail the test. (Horrible test taker.)

    I’ve only been doing CrossFit for about 6 month, so I am not even to a jumping pull up yet. Do they let you modify much when doing Fran? Wish me luck!

    • 21
      Jen DeCurtins September 12, 2016, 3:42 pm

      Hey Carrie! How did it go?

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