The CF-L1 Class at Crossfit Ironstone in Halifax, December 17 2016

What a weekend! While I don’t yet know if I earned my L1 Trainer Certificate this weekend (I won’t find that out for several days), I’m thinking this might be exactly the right time to write about my experience this weekend in the L1 Trainer course – while it’s fresh in my head and I don’t know the outcome so I can focus on the benefits of the learning the process involved, with or without obtaining the L1.

Let me begin by saying it’s a shame this program is perceived principally as a path to becoming a coach – it’s much more than that. There was a tremendous amount of learning in the 2-day program that would benefit an athlete of fitness level, age, gender, experience level and personality type, whether you have an ambition to coach or not – and in many cases, not just a crossfit athlete – an athlete in ANY sport – or any person in any walk of live. Sure, the practical application of the knowledge is expected to be in Crossfit, but that doesn’t mean the substance of the program begins and ends there. The concepts of measurable, observable and repeatable results quantifying fitness levels while performing highly varied functional movements performed at high intensity preparing one’s general fitness for any and all contingencies… well, these concepts apply well to anyone! And that’s where the L1 program starts.

I’m not revealing anything you can’t find out on your own – the L1 Training Guide is available publicly on In attending the program, you gain a much deeper understanding of what these principles mean, reinforced by discussing the capacities crossfit promotes. Is it a little more meaningful if you have some experience in Crossfit? Yes. But that doesn’t blunt the benefits of this knowledge and discussion for the average person. And being in the program with a dozen or more other like-minded people with different experiences, backgrounds, interests, priorities, capacities, etc. is worthwhile too. And you get the benefit of practical application of the movements you learn about with experienced trainers working along side you and your L1 classmates to share their knowledge with you and help you practice your coaching technique.

My L1 program was lead by two extremely experienced and capable Crossfit instructors. Matthieu Dubreucq from CrossFit Laval and Jason MacDonald from Pure Fitness in Alberta. They traded off back and forth, running the program structure which alternated more or less evenly between lectures and practical movement on the workout floor. There was one WOD per day – nothing too long, but challenging in their own way – with the purpose of enhancing and/or complementing the learning from the lecture(s) that preceded them. Matt and Jason have clearly been doing this a long time – not only did they demonstrate a deep knowledge of every aspect of CrossFit and the L1 program, but they made it look easy. There were 17 participants in our class, and it was a great size to allow Matt and Jason to get plenty of time with everyone in a bit of one on one, and made it easy to handle the group breakout sessions as well. It was held at Crossfit Ironstone, a large and beautiful facility that’s very well suited to running the program, with an expansive workout floor and even a separate classroom area. I’ll make a point of visiting there for a BoxJump sometime soon!

Day One

We learned about the general philosophies of Crossfit – what fitness is objectively and what techniques Crossfit therefore utilizes in the pursuit of that objective measure of fitness. We also dove deep on the first 2 of 3 “families” of foundational movements in crossfit – the squat family (air squat, front squat and overhead squat) and the press family (press, push press, push jerk). Each lecture about a movement was followed by a practical session on that movement in which we actually practices the progression we learned and examined the faults commonly seen with the movement that were raised in the lecture. We also did a quick 3-round WOD of thrusters (which translate closely from the squat family) and burpees before closing out the day.

Day Two

We started the day with more lectures and practical sessions on the third family of movements covered in the program (deadlift, sumo deadlift high pull and medicine ball clean). Then we addressed nutrition and the methodologies Crossfit employs around nutrition, particularly as it relates to goals, performance and the sickness to fitness continuum. We looked at the series of glute hamstring developer exercises and then worked on pull-up and ring muscle-up progressions. Finally we learned how variance for performance improvement is programming for Crossfit workouts. Then it was test time!

Everyone should learn how to critique movement.

Analyzing movement doesn’t only benefit those that intend to coach. It’s a skill that is invaluable in keeping your own technique in check – not just when you look in a mirror, but when you observe faults in the movement of others, from inefficient to unsafe. That awareness in of itself makes you far more conscious of your own movement standard. It’s for that reason that I would love for everyone in Crossfit to be able to attend the L1 program. Not everyone will, but the learning to be gained from the program is accessible and worthwhile to anyone at any level. Does your perspective change as you gain more experience? Absolutely. As would be the case in any sport. Is it beneficial for every level? Absolutely. Like scaling a workout, you tailor the knowledge to your skill and fitness level – you make it appropriate to how you are as an athlete now. And you will continue to grow your knowledge of movement as time goes on and your ability to apply a critical eye to that movement – whether in yourself or in someone else – also becomes more developed. Having that critical eye doesn’t make you a coach, but it allows you to think like one. And that’s a skill any athlete at any level can learn, benefit from, and refine over time.

I’ve been a coach in sport for many years. I have taught skating, Uechi-ryu Karate, basketball and endurance running – and every time, I’ve applied a similar set of skills that I have refined over the years and employed appropriately in each environment, tailoring the approach to suit the sport and the audience. When I first joined Crossfit, a friend who helped get me in the door and herself took the L1 course told me I’d wind up doing it too. I didn’t believe her. But she’s known me for a long time – we’ve known each other since high school and we ran together for years when we eventually wound up being neighbours. She knows from experience how competitive I am and how naturally I gravitate towards coaching. She told me this before I had been going to Crossfit long enough to be hooked – she was pretty far ahead of the curve when she made the prediction considering I had only been in crossfit for a few months at that point. But she was right.

I didn’t really see it coming until about 7 or 8 months in or so. New members started coming in and were asking questions of those of us that seemingly knew what we were doing. And generally you stay away from giving them any kind of advice that would be seen as “coaching” but once you’re comfortable you can at least speak from experience about what works for you and how it feels.

That’s how the itch can start. And when you help someone with your own experience and they tell you that it worked (and the coach confirms what you told them in OK), then you feel pretty good about it. And you start to see what an impact that can have on your own ability to adjust and adapt to what’s thrown at you in the workout. Learning in one area translates to application in another. And so on.

To be successful in communicating to someone else how they can perform the movement requires you to have a higher awareness of what you yourself are doing. That is essentially where coaching begins but it’s also the core value I think programs like the L1 have. They train you to think analytically about movement – yours and the movement of those around you. And if you choose to become a coach, the community is better for it. And if you don’t, that’s OK too. Because the way your brain is wired after the L1 program, You’re better for it. It wires you to be a better athlete, whether you realize it or not. That translates to better fitness, and more capable living. And at all levels, THAT is at the heart of what we strive for in Crossfit.

If you are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to participate in the L1 program, you certainly won’t regret it.

Update – December 21 2016 – I am now a CF-L1 Trainer!

I received the official word from via email that passed the course and have achieved the designation of CrossFit Level 1 Trainer!

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