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The Business of CrossFit: How to Hire a (GREAT) Trainer for Your Gym

CrossFit trainer

Many, if not most CrossFit gyms are started by fitness professionals who have that entrepreneurial gene in their DNA.  Typically, before starting their gym, they have been personal trainers or coaches and have decided that the CrossFit philosophy and potential for business success is worth their investment – in time and money. Then, the pressure begins for expansion.

After a start-up period, the owner of the box often realizes that running a business requires more time and energy than someone who is also in charge of leading several classes each day has. The owner/trainer has to then decide if they want to spend their entire day training members or use some of that time to build the gym’s membership, plan promotions, scope out new locations, plan the sales and marketing for the gym and about a hundred other critical tasks for growing the business.

It’s at this time when the owner has to make the most important decision he will make as a CrossFit entrepreneur – hiring another trainer.

What to Look for in a CrossFit Trainer

Great fitness trainers, even those who have owned their own gym, are not always great judges of potential employees. There’s a reason why big companies have HR departments. It is very difficult to pre-judge talent and employees can make or break any company of any size. More importantly, in a CrossFit environment, a trainer (s) is the pretty much the heart and soul of the gym.

Finding an trainer who will (1) show up for work every day with a great attitude, (2) has the training and certification required to properly and safely teach newbees and veterans who are throwing heavy weights around, running, pulling and struggling (potentially hurting themselves and their fellow CrossFitters), and (3) has the personality to actually LEAD a group is a challenge. However, there are a few considerations that can help an owner find a trainer who can help the business continue to grow.

Are They Certified?

The first criterion that every trainer must have is a Level 1 Certification from CrossFit. This is common knowledge for gym owners who started out as trainers or coaches. However, for investors or owners of gyms with no background in training, this is very important.

According to the training page, the Level 1 certificate course is “an introduction to CrossFit’s methodology and foundational movements. The course includes classroom instruction on these topics, as well as hands-on small-group training for the movements. These group sessions are conducted under low intensity with a focus on improving mechanics. Students’ movements are observed and Students’ movements are observed and corrected, and they engage in dialogue concerning effective coaching techniques. Large group CrossFit workouts are conducted as an example of bridging the gap from theory to practice. These workouts provide examples of how to:

  • Conduct a class.
  • Hold a standard of effective technique at high intensity.
  • Achieve relative high levels of intensity for each individual.
  • Scale for any ability level.

The Level 1 provides introductory education on the fundamental principles and movements of CrossFit. It is structured to meet two goals: 1) Provide attendees with the knowledge to better use CrossFit methods for themselves; and 2) Provide attendees with an initial and foundational education to begin training others using CrossFit.”

This training and certification is not cheap. The prices for this two-day training and certification are:

  • Course (and test): (US) $1,000 if registered 14 days or more prior to the course date or (US) $1,200 if registered within 14 days of the course start date.
  • Revalidation (course and test): (US) $500.
  • Retest only: (US) $150.

These two-day training and testing sessions are conducted around the United States and other countries. For locations and dates, just click on the training page.

Where to Find Your New Trainer?

This question has two choices. The new trainer will either come from within your gym or outside your gym and there are advantages and disadvantages of both.

According to Journal Menu, When you hire from within you will already know if your potential hire has the right personality and fit for your gym, since you will have observed them in numerous classes under a wide variety of situations. However, it’s important to realize that a cool person, one-on-one, may not have the chops for full class responsibility, you'll have to throw them into the mix before you can make that determination.”

The article noted other benefits from hiring within, including:

  • Reduced/no costs associated with advertising the job opening
  • No time spent creating job postings

The article advised putting this new hire through an internship for several months, in return for no membership dues, to see how they handle the leadership role. As noted earlier, before they take on the full-time trainer role, they must go through the Level 1 certification, and depending on how great of a prospective trainer they are, the owner can opt to pay for this training and testing.

The other choice is to hire the new trainer externally. The Journal Menu notes, “Hiring externally will require some more footwork, but will also allow you to find specialized coaches to fill in a void you currently have. You could require all applicants to already have their Level 1 as well as other specific certs, like gymnastics or Olympic lifting. 

“Hiring externally might allow you to get one of the best skills related coaches around, something that your internal prospects might not have been able to put on the table. This would allow you to make a few strategic hires that would drastically increase the potency of your program.

“When you externally hire, you will not need to worry about the transition from member to coach. This transition can be very tricky since members might not view an internally hired coach as a ‘real’ coach for as long as a year or two.

“If you hire externally you will need to advertise the slot. You can advertise through a blog post, a Facebook post or even a post on the CrossFit boards.

CrossFit WOD

There are many job boards where CrossFit trainers and wannabe trainers share the thoughts about their profession. This one from “Thomas” is an interesting insight into how he got his job as a trainer and what he thinks is important.

“How I got my job was pretty much like an open tryout. My resume impressed them then I had to go in for two weeks, non-paid and prove myself as a leader and my ability to program and coach every movement and exercise I claimed to be proficient in. I like the format of hiring as an open tryout (because) you find out who really wants it. I like the Idea of finding someone you trust and grooming them too, if you have relevant knowledge to pass on and instruct people on giving instruction. Don't hire anyone based on a resume and pay them until they are proven.

In our box we don't shy away from heavy lifting so peoples’ lives are literally in our hands and it has to be treated that way. Safety is #1 period, and knowledge is key. I feel like you are robbing people of their money if you aren't giving them the whole enchilada of CrossFit in which I see as including heavy lifting. I’ve had people threaten to walk out of the box when I introduced heavy lifting. They said that didn't want to be football players. Month down the road, these people are thanking me for their new strength gains and notice in power output in there other activities, especially the few cyclists I have at the box."

What is the Pay Scale for a Great Trainer?

Many trainer/entrepreneurs who have run one-man-band in the beginning, will have many questions about what to pay these new hires.  As with every business, it’s all over the road and depends on many factors, including: experience, range of teaching skills (i.e. can they deal with weight training, gymnastics, nutrition counseling, etc.) and the city where the box is located.

Fortunately, there are several online resources for helping an owner to determine a competitive compensation package for a new trainer. One excellent resource is PayScale Human Capital. This site also offers a cool compensation calculator which will help an owner get a better starting point for this subject. Unfortunately, CrossFit trainers are like any other employee in that their personality is very important for the job and a trainer with interpersonal gifts is worth more (in the long run) to the growth of the gym than someone who is a just great athlete or coach.  

There’s Paperwork…Lots of Paperwork!

Running a business and hiring more people can be worse that tire flipping in July! In order to do this right – meaning the avoidance of state and federal taxes violations and employment commission violations – it is important to get good legal and accounting advice. Anyone who is serious about growing a business should get competent help in both of these areas. Don’t make the mistake of thinking these tasks can be done by a high school intern or your cousin Vinny who went to junior college for one year!

There are also reams of paperwork to deal with! This blog post is a good place to start your hand-to-hand combat against the forces of bureaucratic evil. There are also a couple of helpful sites from IRS and The Small Business Administration.  

Go for It!

Sure there are challenges to expanding your CrossFit enterprise, but if this more than a hobby for you, hiring GREAT trainers along with other talented staff members is worth the grief. Go for it and let us know how you’re doing.