Coach’s Corner: Gym Safety Tips

📷:CrossFit Northlake

One of the things that separates CrossFit coaches from disinterested Globo Gym trainers is their level of professionalism and care for their members. First, we coaches pride ourselves in running a “tight ship” where every class runs like a tightly scripted and choreographed dance, with little to no “surprises.” Secondly, we know our members by name, work out alongside them (I hope- that’s its own article!), and build friendships with them that endure outside of the gym. For both of these reasons (and more) we should put the safety of our members above all else. How do we make sure our members stay safe? First, we prepare them to succeed by starting them slow, teaching the basics, and making them “earn” their progress with good movement. Next, we make sure that we organize and run our classes to minimize chaos and the potential for accidents. If we do these things, we can reliably make sure our members stay healthy and happy, even if they still complain about the music you play.

Program Organization

We can do a lot for member safety by setting up our onboarding process and programming in a way that helps build safe movement habits and gives our members time to practice in a controlled setting. This varies a little from gym to gym, but I’d encourage you to think deeply about how to best set up members for success.

At my gym we don’t just let people drop into any class. While that may sound like a hard line to draw, there’s a lot of ways this can work at an affiliate.  For some, this means offering an Intro Class. For others, it might be specifically programming certain days with total beginners in mind and directing them to those days/classes. This both keeps the newcomer safe and makes sure you don’t neglect your regular members because you need to teach someone how to do a hang snatch on the fly.

Most gyms now have some sort of Foundations, On Ramp, etc. program, whether it’s a private/1-on-1 setting (that’s how we do it) or a larger group.  We prefer 1 on1s or a small group as it allows you to give people a ton of personal attention right at the beginning, take all the time you need for a movement if they are having trouble with it and make doubly sure that they are setting themselves up for success.

Lastly, we make sure to program “slow” work periodically. This doesn’t mean doing butterfly pull-ups in slow motion or just focusing on the “slow” lifts, rather it means setting aside time that isn’t an exercise race to work on skills, technique, and strength.vWhether that’s extended gymnastic progressions and practice, Olympic lifting technique work, or EMOM style work with plenty of rest (at least 1:1 rest:work). Make some time where people can practice and refine their technique without feeling like any pause is cutting into their leaderboard time.

Earning Your Progress

On that point, coaches can’t be scared to slow people down, stop them entirely, or make them scale or drop weight when necessary. This was hard for me when I first started, but these days if I see someone moving dangerously in a workout I will step right in between them and their barbell and tell them what I want to see. Even though they are anxiously waiting to get back to work, I won’t back off until I’ve made my point. If they don’t improve, I will tell them to drop weight or pull weight off their bar when they are on another movement.

A few rare times I’ve even stopped people entirely if I feel they are not listening and putting themselves in danger. Cultivating an atmosphere where it’s clear who is in charge and what is expected of each athlete can go a long way to keeping everybody on their best behavior. Always make sure to have a conversation after class with the athlete so they understand you weren’t being punitive but that you care about their long term development and safety. I’ve never had someone not “get it” and most people are grateful… once they cool off!

Inter-Class Organization

One point I always make to my coaches (and that was impressed upon me by my coaches, David Osorio and Christian Fox at CrossFit South Brooklyn) is to always put people where you want them. My coaches and members joke about my equipment related OCD- I like having things in straight lines or in squares or other nice little shapes and areas. While part of that is undoubtedly aesthetic, having equipment set up chaotically can be a major safety hazard. Especially when barbells are being bailed, people are jumping on boxes, or people are doing burpees. Having your equipment set up in designated spaces/lines makes sure that people don’t end up tripping over each other or equipment. Similarly, as people warm up to their working weight in a barbell WOD, make sure they put the plates they aren’t using away. Before the workout starts, there should be nothing on the floor that isn’t part of the workout- you’re asking for a barbell to land on something and go rolling wildly across the room. Taking five minutes before a workout to make sure people and equipment are set up well can make a big difference.

A Culture of Safety

In many ways, safety in the gym starts with the expectations you set and culture you foster. Whether it is starting beginners appropriately, coaches expecting perfect movement, or always directing where equipment will be staged in a workout, you can create an extremely safe gym by anticipating potential issues as early as possible and working hard to make sure they never arise. Good luck, and stay safe!

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