Looking at that map, you can probably imagine how excited I was for that weekend (although, truth be told, I was living on the island at the time so it didn’t have quite the same novelty as you might expect).
Unfortunately, a few days before the seminar’s start date, it was cancelled.
5 years later, although still a bit gun-shy from my previous experience, I tentatively signed up for the seminar for the second time.
On CrossFit Games weekend, at that!
10 days before the seminar start date, I received this e-mail from the CrossFit Education department.
It was on!
With the seminar behind me now, I’m ready to share my experience. Today, I’m going to provide insight into what the CrossFit Level 1 certification course is all about, to include brief discussions of content, the instructors, and who this seminar is right for (and who should probably skip it). Hopefully, this will inform your decision before you shell decide to shell out ~$1000-plus for a weekend of CrossFit!
Table of Contents
Before diving in to all things “seminar”, I think it makes sense to describe where it was. Environment has so much impact on us and, thankfully, I was in a good one.
Having lived and trained in Southeastern and Central Europe for an extended period of time, I am always a bit taken aback to come across an actual CrossFit-affiliated gym.
What’s even more suprising? When that gym is a good one.
Take a bow, CrossFit Serdika…you’re doing it right!
It definitely doesn’t hurt when your gym is located in the middle of a beautiful city park and literally inside the country’s national soccer stadium!
(The adjacent food truck/day-drinking venue close by probably doesn’t hurt either….not that I indulged!)
Well-kept and nice equipment along with an immaculately maintained training area made the “practical” hands-on periods of the seminar very enjoyable.
Being only a short, pleasant 20-minute walk from my hotel, I looked forward to my “commutes” each day. My only regret? Not taking a plunge into the locker room’s built-in jacuzzi (no picture of this…there were always half-dressed dudes hanging around while I was in there!)
From what I’ve seen online and heard from others, my nine-person CF-L1 training cohort was definitely on the smaller side. To be honest, when I first found out that the class would be so small, I was actually a bit excited. I figured a smaller group would result in a more “individualized” or even “intimate” experience.
(Later, when discussing the instructors, I’ll discuss how this actually played out!)
Even with a smaller group, I anticipated a group that was at least somewhat diverse in nature. This was mainly due to that fact that during the time period when I was exploring CF-L1 seminars in the region, there were locations as close as Istanbul and Budapest. If you were interested in other locations, you’d pretty much have to go a bit further south or west.
So there were going to be people from all over the region…
Nah. I was the only international participant (one participant was originally from South America, but was currently living in Bulgaria).
Don’t get me wrong; the other participants were all rather friendly and were attentive and active throughout the seminar. However, my wife, who has completed three different CrossFit seminars (L1, L2, gymnastics), has discussed on a number of occasions her wonderful memories of meeting people during from a diverse collection of locations. In contrast, 2/3 of the participants at my CF L1 seminar were members of the same (host) gym.
Had I known that this was going to be the composition of participants, I probably would have opted for a different location (or possibly even the CrossFit Level 1 certification online version).
However, had this been the case, I wouldn’t have gotten to experience the tasty lunch that a few of the guys graciously invited me to join them at. I mean, just look at these menu options!
Also, after I finished up the end-of-the-seminar exam, one of the owners, who had been around the gym throughout the seminar, took me outside and told me about his life and the history of the gym. It was really cool to hear about his background in fitness and I was very impressed with what he had built up at CrossFit Serdika.
One of the things you realize really quickly is how structured the CF-L1 seminar truly is. That schedule of events that’s posted online? That’s exactly how the CF L1 is going to go (plus or minus a few minutes here and there, depending on how long the lectures actually take).
Both days include both “methodology lecture” and “practical lecture” portions (where everyone is seated in front of the dry-erase board as one or both instructors teach) as well as “practical” portions (where everyone has a PVC pipe, med ball, or gymnastics rings in hand and is actually performing foundational CrossFit movements). However, for all intents and purposes, Day 1 is heavier on lectures where Day 2 is heavier on practical content.
Thankfully, the lectures and practical portions switched back and forth so there were not excessively long sitting or activity segments.
Each of the methodology lectures lasted between 30 minutes and one hour, together comprising roughly 1/4-to-1/3 of the non-lunch, non-testing hours of the seminar. During these portions, only one trainer was present and was the exclusive purveyor of the content discussed.
During the practical lectures, one trainer was the main “teacher” while the other would demonstrate correct form and a plethora of common faults. Points of performance were briefly discussed for each, although no more than 10 minutes were dedicated to each movement. Overall, these comprised about 1/4 of the total non-lunch, non-testing hours.
After each practical lecture, we would get up and start performing the lifts. These portions included movement progressions, feedback from the coaches, and periods where we observed and learned to cue common faults in real time. Some of these segments were much longer than others, but overall, they comprised roughly 1/3 of the total non-lunch, non-testing hours.
To round out the 9-5 schedule for each of the two days, we had a one-hour lunch (exactly one hour) each day, a 75-minute test on Day 2 , and about 15 minutes of “closing remarks” at the conclusion of the seminar.
The methodology lectures consisted of content that is in direct relation to the subject matter items found in the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide. Seriously, there is nothing presented in these lectures that can’t be found in this document.
On Day 1, we started with a number of answers and defining terms for the question “What is CrossFit?”. Later lectures included the topics “What is Fitness?” (to include CrossFit’s proprietary definition) “Technique” “Nutrition”, and “Programming”.
The practical lectures covered the “Squat”, “Press/Jerk” and “Deadlift/Clean” series of movements, each comprising of the 3 lifts of differing complexity.
On Day 1, a very short practical lecture (more like “movement introduction”) was given on the “kipping pull-up” while on Day 2, equally short lectures were given on the “Strict Ring Muscle-up” and the “Snatch”. Because these lectures were immediately followed by practical segments (where we all got up and performed the movements), it seemed as though there was even less tolerance for questions and anything else that stopped the lecture flow.
Like the methodology content, none of the movement/practical content would be new to anyone who had done a little bit of homework. In this case, I would argue that if you’ve been through a CrossFit “on-boarding” class and/or have been a member of a CrossFit affiliate for ~6 months, you’ve seen all of these movements.
Each day, everyone participated in a short workout. Each of these coincided with the content covered in that day’s practicals.
Throughout Day 1, one of the instructors kept alluding to Fran as the WOD. However, when the time came, we ended up doing something kinda similar.
About half of us went Rx with the weights and I finished in 4:27 (a couple of the other guys went something like 4:05 and 4:07). We were given strict instructions from the instructors both before the workout (“you are not to drop the weights!”) and during it (lots of cueing and encouragement). This was pretty much the last thing we did this day.
Day 2’s workout was early in the day and a bit more nuanced in nature. We had been working through med ball clean progressions along with listening to the instructors gush over all of the virtues of the Abmat. As expected, our workout looked like this:
However, the actual workout wasn’t the real challenge here. Instead, we went through this workout twice in a row. Each time, half of the class simply did the workout while the other half coached and cued (we switched out after the first time). This was where the real “new” content was present in the seminar.
I get that we only had a couple of days in the seminar to cover everything on the agenda.
I also get that developing the “coach’s eye” takes a lot of time and first-hand practice/experience coaching.
However, being that this was the only content in the course that wasn’t either covered in the Training Guide or (likely) experienced first-hand by “seasoned” CrossFitters, I found it to be the area that received the least coverage.
In addition to the “coaching” that we did during the second workout, we also switched out and cued each other during the kipping pull-up practical. We received a little bit of instruction on certain coaching exercises we could use to address specific faults (Ex. “Squat Therapy”), but none of the was overly detailed.
I don’t think I learned very much about coaching during the seminar. Also, there were just too many things to learn about/keep in mind as you’re coaching in such a short period of time.
There are quite a few videos like these floating around where people a hyping up the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar test like it’s the Bar exam or something.
Truth be told, the test is trickier than you would think (also, 7 of the 9 participants in my seminar had to take the test in a non-native language. I can’t imagine how much harder this would make it). It has a lot of those types of questions where you are, like, 75 percent sure that you’re correct to round out an equal number of “50-50 questions” and “gimmees” (there aren’t too many “what the heck is this?” questions).
However, you don’t even have to make a “C” to pass.
Want to give yourself the best chance (I would argue, almost a guaranteed) shot at passing? As much as you’ll fight it, just read the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide. Not only is all of the methodology content you might be asked in there (to include a few items the instructors may have skipped and/or not covered), but it includes the same types of movement photographs that are used on the test.
Plus, it’s just a really good document.
Any time an instructor explicitly says something like “…I’m going to write this down” before proceeding to deliberately write on the board, that is a test question. Pay attention.
Overall, I wouldn’t worry too much about the test and I would encourage you not to overthink it.
- Go through the entire test once, leaving answers blank that you’re less than 80 percent sure of.
- Go through it one more time, checking your answers and now filling in the answers you previously left blank.
- Once you’ve done this, you’re finished. No time to second guess. Turn it in and leave.
Apparently, CrossFit only gives you a breakdown on how you did on each section (Ex. “movements”, “what is fitness?” “nutrition” etc.) if you fail the exam. Otherwise, you just get a general “Yay, you passed!” type of e-mail.
Ironically, I received a contract to sign (licensing and legal items related to CrossFit) before I received my “You passed!” e-mail. It would have been a less-than-amusing tease if I had taken the time to fill in these documents only to receive this message:
This is likely the most “personal” aspect of any CrossFit Level 1 seminar due to the instructors being different on every date and at every location. What I say and feel about my instructors may differ greatly from what someone else says and feels about theirs.
It was obvious that both instructors really believed in CrossFit and what they were telling us. Also, they both obviously practiced what they preached (you could tell they were both in excellent shape and they moved very well when demonstrating the movements).
Besides these similarities, there really wasn’t much in common between the two.
One of the instructors had a quite stoic demeanor, but still managed to add a degree of vigor to the lectures and practicals. Additionally, some of this instructor’s personal stories, particularly with assisting people in their town with nutrition, displayed firsthand how the content discussed could change lives.
I spent a good amount of time talking with this instructor during the short break periods. They were generally very focused on ensuring we were mindful of time constraints, but they still did their best to assist me with questions on concepts and movements as much as possible. When they had to cut me off (when it as time for the next lecture to begin), they were tactful about doing so.
As it is, it is completely the luck of the draw with who your instructors will be if you decide to pursue the CF-L1. Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to get this guy!
Who is the CF-L1 Truly Designed for?
In the week after the seminar, I really thought about this question. The more I thought about it, the more obvious the answer was.
The CrossFit Level 1 seminar is for people who want to legally be able to coach CrossFit courses at a licensed CrossFit affiliate.
Want to learn about the method behind the madness of CrossFit? Read the CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide.
Don’t spend ~$1000 on the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar…unless you love the Training Guide and want to coach some day.
Want to learn the foundational CrossFit movements to the same level that you do during the CF-1 seminar? Go to an affiliate for a few months or hire a coach to guide you through them over a few hours.
Don’t spend ~$1000 on the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar…unless you love the movements and want to coach them some day.
Want to learn to be a better CrossFit coach? Ask an experienced coach to allow you to “shadow” them while giving snippets of what they’re looking for and their rationale.
…and then, if you want to coach at an affiliate, attend the CrossFit Level 1 Seminar.
I could dive deeper into my rationale, but in the simplest terms, this is who this seminar is for (and isn’t for).
As someone who has “done” CrossFit in a number of different settings and contexts over the last ~8 or so years, it was an interesting experience to finally participate in something (other than a workout at an affiliate) “officially” CrossFit.
Maybe this amount of “buildup” was part of the reason why the experience was a bit of a letdown for me.
It was nice to get some personalized, eyes-on coaching and cueing in the fundamental movements. This takes places in (some, but not all) CrossFit gyms, but the “coaching eye” of the seminar staff is at a different level.
Meeting a few new people with similar fitness interests in a country I’d never been to before was also nice.
However, I didn’t think there was enough time during the practical portions to really do more than scratch the surface of perfecting the movements’ points of performance, yet alone coaching them. I certainly don’t think I became a “better” CrossFit coach after attending (at least in regards to coaching and cueing the movements in real time).
The lectures…well…after reading the CrossFit Level 1 Training Manual through one time, these seminar components seemed very redundant.
Almost to the point of being unnecessary.
As I previously mentioned, questions that I had where I was looking for an answer that either expanded on the Training Guide/Lecture material or contrasted with it were almost uniformly shot down. As such, I can confidently say that the personal results I garnered from the methodology lecture material portions (which comprised ~33 percent of the total seminar time) came almost exclusively from my reading of the free CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide.
I’m interested to see how the CrossFit Level 1 seminar “sets me up” for future CrossFit seminars, professional education/development undertakings, etc. It is pretty cool that the day after the seminar ended, I started receiving professional development e-mails from CrossFit HQ. Specifically, the “Your First 30 Days” e-mails arrive each day, covering common topics that new CrossFit coaches are interested in.
I think these are a great addition to the seminar content, helping new coaches overcome common obstacles while keeping enthusiasm high. That being said, a week out from the seminar, I think its understandable that my personal results aren’t yet super extensive.
It was a decently fun weekend, although I was very glad when it was over.
What does that tell you?
As you might imagine, my biggest conclusions are that far too much time is spent covering topics that can more effectively or efficiently (or both) be covered in different ways. Meanwhile, not enough time is spent on the area that requires the most in-person attention.
From what I understand, the CrossFit Level 2 seminar is much more focused on coaching and is marketed more towards those who have been coaching for at least a few months. However, there is not a hard experience requirement for this seminar (other than possessing the CrossFit Level 1).
I would suggest cutting out a large portion of the lecture content (particularly the methodology portions) from the CrossFit Level 1 certificate course (still testing for it though…it would really “force” people to read the excellent CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide!) and replacing it with more coaching content (the likes of which is covered in the Level 2 seminar).
Another option would be to make smaller cuts to the CrossFit Level 1 certificate course, combine it with the Level 2, and add an extra day (Friday-Sunday).
Also, it’s nit-picky, but don’t make me have to chase down NOBULL for my “CrossFit coach” shirt.
Just have a few different sizes on hand to pass out at the end. CrossFit can afford to pay for a checked bag.
Something else of note…
I’m sure every experience is different, but the manner in which the seminar was conducted was very different than the vast majority of my previous experiences with the sport. The almost military-like precision in which the content was presented and the extent to which any deviation from the seminar “script” was not only bypassed, but in some cases, treated with borderline hostility was something I wasn’t expecting.
In hindsight, my experience shouldn’t be that surprising as CrossFit is a company with a mission statement, company culture, and operating standards like any other. However, the singular focus and approach to presenting the seminar content was quite the contrast to the extreme diversity in how CrossFit gyms around the world operate (from my previous experiences).
If you’re a more inquisitive type, you might be a little frustrated with how the content is presented. If you’re used to a CrossFit box that leans more towards the laissez-faire, the seminar format will likely be very different than how you are used to perceiving “CrossFit”.
If, on the other hand, you prefer a more direct, uniformly structured, and presented approach to fitness and fitness education, this could be the course for you.
For me and Larry, though…