Crossfit coaches

CrossFit has helped to forever change standards within the fitness world and most certainly in the coaching/trainer world. It’s been the biggest kick up the backside to the fitness world in striving for new standards of excellence. I would argue that when done well you’ll be hard pushed to find better trainers in the world for general fitness enthusiasts. CrossFit and its methods forced trainers to up their game. In todays environment I see the influence of CrossFit everywhere.

If you asked most members of CrossFit gyms and asked them to compare their CrossFit coaching experience with other fitness choices they’ve made, it’s often the best they’ve ever had. From the knowledge, technical direction, energy and passion. I think most CrossFit gym goers would expect CrossFit coaches to be some of the best paid trainers across the fitness industry. What with teaching the highly skilled gymnastics and olympic weightlifting, whilst managing large groups and differing abilities. They ensure everyone is progressing at the right level. It takes some doing when compared to fitness methods that require less technical individual direction, coaching and management.

The truth is you’d be wrong. It’s a bit of a misconception and a little bit of a taboo subject in CrossFit circles. Salaried coaching roles are rare in the UK (I was lucky enough to have had one in the past). Most salaried roles are in the US/Canada and increasingly in the Arab States where there is some serious money. Many coaches in the UK are only part-time. They may coach for free, in exchange for free membership or work limited class hours (18-25 hours approx) based on an hourly rate which can vary greatly from gym to gym. Often coaches who wish to make it a full time job have to supplement class coaching with Personal Training and other services or become a gym owner. Bear in mind with the world economics..personal training is fast becoming a luxury many can no longer justify and is part of the reason for the huge shift towards group training. Couple this with the fact it can be seen as a threat at times to a gyms revenue if it’s not positioned well within a gym offering. It can make it difficult to supplement sufficiently. A litmus test at your gym is how many of your coaching staff are still there 2-3 years down the line? If they are then my next question would be do they have a full time job and coach as a hobby or do they coach full time? It’s easier to keep the hobby coaches as they don’t depend on the income from classes or PT. If they are full time then a solution has been found to ensure they can thrive. Gym location, clientele demographics and coach compensation structure has great bearing on this.

“Most people open gyms because CrossFit changed their lives and they want to use CrossFit to change the lives of others. CrossFit Founder and CEO Greg Glassman often talks about the pursuit of excellence—of virtuosity—as being the foundation of CrossFit. Providing health is the priority, but achieving some degree of wealth is also important to entrepreneurs. Trainers must buy homes, raise families, travel, save for retirement and so on, and they need to be rewarded for their expertise and their passion for fitness.” (Emily Beers – Beyond $20 an Hour)

I’m going to discuss a few things where it seems the CrossFit community in the UK may be in need of some introspection. This is in no way meant to upset or disrespect the many super hard-working gym owners out there that have looked to create opprtunitites for budding coaches. I’ve worked within a number of affiliate gyms over 6 years with a variety of practices as to how they compensate/pay coaches. Over the years I’ve had my fair share of frustrating times where I’ve felt there’s been an imbalance between what coaches put into their coaching at gyms compared to how they are rewarded for their time and expertise. I’ve always felt the quality of that has been some way behind the other excellent aspects of affiliate culture and service. At one point I found myself being paid more per session to run a bootcamp than to coach CrossFit. That just didn’t seem right to me when comparing what is taught and the skills involved in CrossFit and the investment coaches have made in their own education. It’s important that business decisions in CrossFit need to work for the Gym, the coaches and the clients (WIN-WIN-WIN). Often I’ve seen coaches be the ones who get the short end of the stick, or are thought of last. I don’t think it is ever an intentional thing but merely the result of some or all of the factors below.


Passion, not Business generally drives Gym Owners:
On the whole when they open…it’s out of love and passion for CrossFit, and what it can add to their lifestyle. They want to develop new CrossFit communities from the ground up and hope to create some personal freedom by making their passion a business opportunity. For many I don’t think they look too far into the future, or beyond just opening and sharing the CrossFit love. They put one foot in front of the other. Then comes the point of needing some help, and with it the headache of how/if to pay for it.

Coaches first…business people second is not an unjust assessment of most gym owners. They make mistakes as anyone does. There’s trial and error, and guidance is sought from other CrossFit gym owners as they look for tried and trusted formulas. Sometimes the dogma of what has gone before with other gym owners dictates how the new breed run their gym. They find their way as they go along and sometimes painful lessons are learned as they look to grow as business owners. CrossFit gym businesses must be one of the few business models in the world that have staff that work for free in the early period of a gym (some gyms have unpaid coaches permanently). How many small businesses have that kind of relief when it comes to staff costs? Not many…and here in lies the problem. It skews the true profitability of the gym in the long term and sets up gym owners/coaches for some obstacles to growth. Owners don’t want to change their pricing down the line massively to absorb the cost of staffing. Hell they probably aren’t paying themselves a wage in the first year, so I’m sure it could needle many owners to have to outlay on staff when they are yet to make some dollar. Yet by not building in these costs to the business early on appears to make things difficult later when it comes to coach pay.


Profit Margin Dicates All:
CrossFit gyms don’t appear to plan and account for staffing costs from the start of their gym regarding their pricing. “Yeah but CrossFit is so expensive already..surely coach pay is factored in there right?” Fraid not folks!! The bottom line it’s a cost and one of the hardest to navigate successfully where all parties are happy. I’ve included some excerpts on this topic below. This was a massive A-HA moment for me in understanding WHY coaches pay has always been an issue in the UK. When you overlay it against the CrossFit model, you see why there aren’t too many coaches doing it full time in UK CrossFit. Take the example: A Mom and Pop Team open a CrossFit gym. The gym sets a price upon opening. They start with doing all the coaching themselves to keep start up costs down. Then when staff are needed the usual start point is taking on interns. Exchanging development of experience for free labour. The next step tends to be Free Membership for x amount of hours coaching or rent free PT. Next tends to come a flat rate hourly rate for coaches regardless of experience or qualifications. If you are super lucky and the gym packs a financial punch you may be salaried. Even salaried roles can have their negatives in the long term. They are a big fixed cost for the owner that is set regardless of the cashflow within the business. If you are churning customers and losing money you’ve still got to pay your coaches salary. They can also create a glass ceiling if it is fixed with no room for progression, or commission based incentives linked to revenue generation. They may stunt motivation of staff.

Margin equals profitability. It’s the difference between what a client pays you for training and what you pay a coach to fulfill that service.

It’s expressed as a percentage and is found by this equation:

Revenue – Coach Pay

Example: If your private training sessions are priced at £45 per hour, and you set the coaches pay at £15 per hour, the margin would be 67%.

That’s a good margin. There are margin guidelines for each type of training, but for now just know that for private training, your margins need to be over 60%. It’s nearly impossible to make the economics of a fitness business work with less margin than that.

Unless you plan to be a one-man or a one-woman show forever, you must hire coaches to continue growing at some point.

Plan and set your pricing from the beginning so that when you do hire, you don’t have to change the entire business model. Use your best guess of what you’re going to pay them.

If your margins are below where they should be, you can either decrease coaching pay or increase your session rate.

Those are the two variables you can play with.

Business success starts with margins. (NPE)

CrossFit large class

Quality Versus Quantity Dilemma:
This again relates back to margin and what effects it. There’s a few ways a CrossFit gym will go when it comes to the revenue it generates and subsequently the funds it can assign to coach pay. You either need a big volume of members with cheap membership, or lower member numbers with higher premium on your pricing. You can only serve so many customers in the limited peak hours a CrossFit gym can offer and that clients prefer. One gym I worked at did very intelligently manage to serve more customers with evening classes every half hour with a production line format It required some clever management and restrictions on programming but it worked for them. It’s a unique case I would imagine though.

If you go for 20 people in a class you sacrifice some quality control, individual attention and put your class management under stress. You also need the square footage of your gym to allow for this. If you opt for smaller class sizes you’ll have better quality control but probably need to operate higher priced membership. Whichever option is used, the hope is your classes are at full capacity. If you’ve got 100 members at your gym you’ve done ok. Getting the 150+ members that low cost CrossFit gyms need to make their numbers work.. doesn’t materialise that often. The experience, customer service and results all have to be on point. Your churn rate has to be low to have a chance. Plus you’re going to need a qualified team to help you make the dream work when the member numbers get high. ‘More members…more problems’

The format of the Foundations/Fundamentals introduction is a massive influencer on the potential for coach compensation. Group formats are popular with CrossFit gyms to keep cost-to-prospect low. Entry to classes and having a paying member is faster of course. This is an area where you potentially can help or hinder both your coach compensation and the quality of your client’s progression into classes.  Some owners will run Foundations to control quality and there is the added bonus of not having to pay staff. If coaches are paid for it with a flat rate per hour on a group format it’s not a great earner and only valuable if your rate is at the higher end £25/hour.  There’s usually less hours involved in the group format. Sometimes 2-3 hours maybe and held once a week. Whereas PT Foundations may be 5-10+ sessions. If it’s based on percentage of revenue or the numbers who have paid for Foundations, it’s probably more  fruitful for trainers. Commission based pay has more for the gym owners to think about I guess and is a little messier to keep on top of. When revenue generation and commission based pay is linked to performance such as sign ups for Foundations it helps to create an entrepreneurial mindset for the coach and greater investment in the gyms business for staff.

I can understand it when it’s a one man operation but once you have staff a Personal Training format brings a potential for the WIN-WIN-WIN. Gym revenue is better, coach pay is better. The relationship with the new client is better. All metrics of quality improve (Movement Standards, knowledge, progression, education, buy-in of the methods, conversion to membership, and retention of client). This early period and the format chosen can affect how long the client sticks around. It’s easier to market and sell the group format over the PT format for sure. The barrier to entry is what stops many gyms from going down the PT format. Plus the migration from Foundations to monthly membership is slower and more like a drip feed than multiple member sign ups as with the group format.

Inside CrossFit circles we feel we have the best product, knowledge and application around yet we are scared to ask people to invest in that quality of education and coaching. This is rooted in the desperation to combat the notion CrossFit is expensive, and to try to align pricing that is as close to the commercial gym model as possible. CrossFit is not expensive… it’s a high value prospect when done right. So if we want to produce high quality there should be an unapologetic premium for delivery of quality. That takes guts to do and it takes positioning, and it takes effective marketing of that high value. Yet the irony is CrossFit owners for years have all been perfectly confident and willing to sing the benefits and values to justify cost for memberships compared to Globo Gyms. Yet they maybe  fear selling the PT format for entry to CrossFit. Pitching the PT format for Fundamentals is no different in my eyes.

I understand objections maybe around muddying the concept  of Crossfit as a group class format. Where that doesn’t add up as an argument is that everybody needs skill development that thrives in a PT setting, and clients approach for PT down the line when they see that. Nearly all gyms have PT in some format operating at their gym but it’s operating at the mid-to back end of the client experience.  So any resistance doesn’t make sense to me.  It’s more about confidence to pitch it, and a fear of people walking away. If you prefer group foundations, big classes and lower cost to your members that’s fine, but it will have a correlation to the quality of what you produce. The one-on-one format will act as a client  pre-qualifier for your gym and cut out time-wasters for sure. The choice of format is a big indicator as to whether you have an amateur part-time staff or professional staff making a decent living from working at a CrossFit gym.

Bob owns a Crossfit facility.

He’s got 100 members.

They pay him £75/month.

So £75/month X 100 clients = £7,500 in gross revenue.

Bob’s expenses are £7,500 per month.

Which means his business isn’t making any money.

100 clients X £75/month = £7,500 gross revenue

£7,500 gross revenue- £7,500 expenses = $0 net profit.


Bob also owes £40,000 on a business loan he took out at one point to make the investment in the business.

He pays himself £28,000/year salary from his business.

He wants to grow.

Wants to know how he can “get more clients”.

But getting more clients won’t help Bob’s problems right now.

They’ll only make them worse.

Because he has no MARGIN in his business.

There is no profit when you are priced too low.

So at this point, he doesn’t really have a business.

He (for all essential purposes) has a low paying job with a charity organization… that gives him shitty hours and a tough work schedule.

£28,000/year, let’s say working an average 45 hours per week (which I’m being generous on here, because Bob actually admitted he works an average of 60-70 hours/week = about £10/hour (in reality Bob is really is making about £8/hour).

He could make the same salary working at the local convenience store or fast-food restaurant.

He would probably get some nights and weekends off.

And wouldn’t have to stress about the risk and liability of owning a business, managing employees, and being on the hook for a lease, etc.

I actually made the comment in our conversation, not to be rude… but just to call his attention to this… that he might as well be a non-profit charity organization.

Because that’s essentially what he’s running right now… a charity.

Not a business. (NPE)

PT vs Group Class

Personal Training: A Conflict of Interest?
Though many CrossFit gyms allow trainers to PT to supplement their income, it can come with some obstacles to overcome. Most CrossFit gym trainers are independent contractors..not employees. Therefore their services and pricing sit outside of the gyms offering. Prospects usually have to approach the trainers for details. Many gyms do not actively promote it or create any structured lead generation for its trainers. The priority for the gym is a member who is on a monthly membership. So I understand why gyms may not actively assist their trainers in marketing and lead generation. There is always the danger of losing a client completely to PT. Yet if the mindset and approach was different this isn’t the end of the world. Sometimes it’s what’s in the clients best interest…not the gym owners. If PT is offered via the gyms service offerings (Foundations/ individual program design) and coaches are paid a cut of the revenue generated, it makes it easier for gyms to want to promote it when everybody wins. It helps the coach to generate leads, win business revenue and takes PT from a point of conflict to an inclusive complimentary service that is part of the gyms pricing structure.

Some gyms may offer PT rent free, others charge industry standard cuts of between 20-30%. It’s a tough gig for trainers when you think about the smaller potential lead pool (70- 150+ members) over a commercial gym (500-1000+ members). Add the fact that many CrossFit gyms still position themselves as an alternative to one-on-one PT. You can see how this creates confusion with prospects for CrossFit trainers trying to make a buck. If they happen to be at a location  with good disposable income, or super competitive clientele, looking for an edge, it’s all good. Most are not at such gyms. CrossFit clients don’t always see the value in it when they are being coached in class and expect all their needs to be met there. Especially if it’s being pitched as Group Personal Training. That’s even when it’s often the case they need some one on one time to work on things that can’t always be covered sufficiently in class. The amount of times I’ve seen members slogging away at something on their own in open gym trying to speed up their progress, and going about it all wrong. They don’t opt for PT if its value is never demonstrated and positioned as a valuable service option within the gyms offerings.

PT requires good space to operate outside the gym’s classes which will always take precedent. Your clients may want to train at peak times across classes, which can mean competing for space and kit without being in the way, and keeping everyone safe. The size of the gym, its rig, the programming of the day, and the amount of kit it has can be the difference. If you are restricted to off peak, quiet times this limits the clientele and the potential earnings.If you’re working in less than 2500 sq ft it could be tricky trying to PT during classes.

Speciality Programs/Seminars/Clinics:
Some gyms have them, some don’t. The size of the venue the gym timetable, and customer demand will dictate whether these are prospects or not. Also, the gym philosophy and type of clients you have comes into play. Some gyms may not wish their clients to specialise in areas if they feel it is counter to their general fitness goals and conflicts the main gym programming. Olympic Weightlifting, Strength programs, Gymnastics focus, Mobility and Nutrition are the obvious candidates for speciality programs. If your gym doesn’t but could, then this is another area to help Coaches pay. Especially if they operate on limited classes at the gym. Then it’s how does the gym choose to pay coaches. The classic flat rate per hour regardless of sign ups? Or do you work on a percentage of the revenue earned? The Emily Beers article below has a number of methods for gyms to consider. See one example here from Chris Cooper from Catalyst CrossFit. The 4/9 model gives 44% to coaches on any revenue earned. Such models suggest all services and pricing to go through the gyms offering. It removes confusion, conflict between gym owners and trainer and gives the client a clear picture of the different service offerings.

Lack of Assessment of Client and their Goals Upon Entry:
If we aren’t asking the WHY’s at the start then we are doing a disservice to the client as well as potentially leaving money on the table, where a client is willing to pay more to get more of what they need and can afford. Nutrition is the foundation of CrossFit and most people come to gyms with weight/health/eating issues they need help with. They’ve seen the ripped bodies..they think we can help. Often that’s not  tackled from day one. Client misconceptions on nutrition are left to fester. They leave because their bodies haven’t changed and nobody has drilled into the WHY’s for that client. They thought they could just turn up and look like Katrin Davidsdottir within 3 months. They’ve never been sat down and had discussions about what is achievable and how to go about it. It’s been left to them to put their hand up. Many won’t because they’re scared to truly change and they wait to be led. This is where assessment and nurturing comes in. Everybody knows where they stand, what they’re shooting for and everybody wins. Gym wins, coach wins, member wins.

I had a girl once join a gym I was coaching at. She joined leading up to her wedding. Only at the end stage after getting to know her did she ask about nutrition. After trying and failing using a number of counter-productive diet methods with CrossFit. “Why didn’t you mention it earlier?”. It was too late…we should have nailed this from Day One Assessment! We let her down! A man comes wanting to smash CrossFit but it quickly becomes evident he’s not in the right condition to be in group classes. He has pre-existing injuries that need to be accounted for and needs more rehab oriented work to be incorporated. His ego gets caught up in comparisons. He tries to keep up with the Jones’ in class and thinks he can do what everyone else can do. He does something silly, he gets hurt…he leaves. All because the lack of assessment, the fear in telling someone what they really NEED over what they WANT at the start of the client experience. It’s the fear of not getting that person on a monthly membership and walking away. It comes down to confidence of pitching what we can help with and demonstrating that value. You’ve potentially denied this client real fulfilling  long term progress. You’ve also lost a potential PT client for you or one of your coaches all because you didn’t want to have a difficult NEEDS based conversation. It’s a scarcity mindset (WIN/LOSE), thinking you are losing money to one of your coaches doing PT. Or that they will leave if having to pay more for a PT service. This goes back to the point earlier about the format you opt for with PT in your gym. It’s either divisive between owners/coaches or inclusive!

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There is a chance for the CrossFit industry to raise the bar again. This comes in the business models they choose to use, and the coaching pay structure they opt for. The non-affiliated functional fitness gyms have improved and copied what they can in terms of Unique Selling Proposition. Their presentation is getting better (e.g. Heaven v Hell Gym, Wigan/Caveman Training Manchester/ JD Gyms). They look like CrossFit gyms, they’ve created high intensity training formats, they’ve jumped all over creating a community vibe. They are trying their hardest to offer as much of the same things that CrossFit brings. The one thing they can’t copy is the standard of coaching because the market they choose to cater to is the lowest common denominator. They want the masses and volume of customers. They opt for lower skill formats that require less individual coaching or movement standards for clients, and allows for working with bigger numbers. This is where the opportunity is for CrossFit Gyms to differentiate themselves again to the uninitiated as high value for those who want more from their gym experience.

JD Gyms Collage

To grow a business, you’ll need to master the arts of leadership and management to create a staff that embraces your vision and is just as motivated as you are to change people’s lives. This means establishing a hiring process, an on-boarding process, a pay scale that provides opportunity for growth, a continuing education process and an evaluation/assessment process based on tangible, objective measures of success. ( Your CrossFit Box is NOT Different – NPE)

What we teach is highly skilled, with a lot of attention to detail and individual attention. We improve mobility, movement patterns, nutrition whilst improving health markers. We make it the best hour of someone’s day! A huge amount of energy is invested by all involved in working in a CrossFit gym. If  established quality CrossFit gyms wish to be seen as high value then it needs to be reflected in pricing and a structure of coach development and compensation. Yes its nice for it to be for everyone. If you can operate as a non-profit affiliate or charity then all power to you, but I know you will never create a career for your staff. For the rest we know you’re not necessarily in it for the money but a business needs to make profit to function and grow a staff. Gym owners need to be ok with that and not see profit as a dirty word!

Who the hell am I to comment I’m sure a lot reading this may say.  I’m not a gym owner with the pressures they face. I can only comment on what I’ve seen and experienced. I do feel there are better ways out there on the business side of CrossFit. There are gyms out there doing it, and business coaches advising it. It needs gyms to be brave and know their worth..and the worth of the staff they rely on. Get this right and you will get far less coaches leaving to open their own gyms, or leaving the industry altogether in search of earning a decent wage for their efforts.

Professionalize your staff, develop your coaches and help them to earn a living from this awesome phenomenon. Ultimately it will lead to gym owners being able to spend less hours on the gym floor. Working on the business, instead of in it all the time. Your business will be running without you. The direction for me should be building a box that can be sold as an asset one day. The biggest ones you have are your loyal coaches. Start there!!!