I’ve just returned from five-month trip around the world with my wife, Ronna. Before the trip began, I’d been involved in Crossfit for about two years, and while I was super excited about my trip, I worried about losing some of the fitness gains I’d made.
While I could have settled for finding globo gyms and doing my own workouts while traveling, Crossfit is the only thing that has ever gotten me to regularly work out. There’s something specific about a Crossfit class that makes me nearly obsessed with working out, while anything else will bore me very quickly.
So I decided to make it a priority to visit as many Crossfit boxes as I could throughout my trip. There were times when I’d have to go a week or even two without training, but there were also times where I’d stay in a city and visit the same box seven or eight times in a 10-day stretch.
I ended up visiting 12 boxes throughout Europe, Asia and South America. In the majority of these boxes, I attended five classes or more, giving me a much better feel than one class would. Generally, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a box from one class. The coach for that class could be relatively new or have an off day, there could be too few people, too many people, or sometimes the WOD is just not very fun. Spending a week at a box gives you a better opportunity to learn what makes them different from other boxes.
Here were some of my favorite Crossfit boxes and experiences during my trip:
I was very impressed with the programming at the only box in Taipei, Taiwan. It was relatively new, and therefore a large majority of the athletes had less than one year of experience. While a lot of boxes program insanely grueling and complicated WODs, the workouts at this gym were simple, and there was a big focus on building strength and skills.
In one class, we worked on the clean for about 20 minutes. Then there was a short WOD involving cleans and burpees (three rounds for time of five cleans, 10 burpees).
Another time, we looked for a three-rep max at the overhead squat. The WOD was four rounds for time of 10 overhead squats and 12 pull-ups. While Boxfit did sometimes program slightly longer WODs, I believe that these short but sweet WODs are especially great for newer athletes (and probably also good for experienced athletes). These types of WODs also give me an opportunity to go high speed the entire time.
The coach was also very involved in letting everyone know which weight they should use for the WOD. In a lot of boxes, the coach just leaves it up to the individual athlete, but it’s extremely common for athletes to overestimate their abilities and put too much weight on the bar. At the very start of the WOD he basically announced to everyone what weight he’d recommend for them. It’s a great sign when the coaches actually pay attention to each individual athlete, which isn’t the case at many boxes.
Overall I was highly impressed with the style of training at Boxfit Taipei and would without hesitation recommend it to anyone interested in Crossfit.
2. Chikara Crossfit:
Chikara Crossfit was located in the Akasaka district of Tokyo. I was very fortunate that it was located less than a five-minute walk from the apartment we rented, and while severe jetlag made it hard for me to go as much as I wanted, I still managed to drop in at least five times.
While the regular classes were great, I was most impressed with their Open Gym.
What could possibly be so great about Open Gym? A normal Open Gym just allows regular members to show up and train on whatever they want. Often the coaches will give some thoughtful suggestions on what the general membership could work on. However at Chikara Crossfit they took it to a whole new level.
There was a coach on hand throughout the Open Gym, and each and every workout was tailored to the individual athlete. Some athletes did a specific hero WOD, some made up a WOD from earlier in the week. Some were told to work on skills or lifting. I even saw the coach look up notes for what one of the athletes did in Open Gym the week before and build off of that.
Whenever I see coaches pay such attention to detail and to the specific needs of every student, I know that this has to be a great Crossfit box.
3. Crossfit AKA:
Crossfit AKA was located in Amsterdam, Netherlands. This was the second box I visited during my trip, and I was just coming from Paris, which had the worst box I encountered during my trip. I was hoping that other foreign boxes were better and I was happily surprised at Crossfit AKA. They had a very spacious gym, and a good athlete-to-coach ratio.
My favorite experience was my first day. It turns out the box has just moved to a new location, although still had the occasional class at their old location. When I couldn’t find the new location after tons of searching, I rushed to the older location to make their 7 p.m. class. I arrived at 6:58 and only the coach was there. I was the only student for the class.
The coach was planning to just work out on his own, but in the end he decided not only to coach but also to do the workout with me! It consisted of working up to a three rep max of cleans, followed by a 16-minute EMOM of odd minute: row 15 calories, even minute: five handstand push-ups. I was happy to see that despite not cleaning anything heavy for a few weeks, I hadn’t lost all of my strength.
The best part was the WOD though. We started doing a few rounds and since it was just the two of us, we realized that we were both flying through the five HSPUs. So at some point we decided that each round we will do one more HSPU than the round before, and eventually ended at 10 HSPUs in the final round.
It was a lot of fun to train alone with a coach, have him do the WOD with me, and to be able to change the WOD in the middle since it was just the two of us.
4. Crossfit Accion
My wife joined me at Crossfit Accion in Santiago, Chile. The first thing that impressed me was that they had an extremely large box, nearly twice the size of any box I’ve ever been to. One thing that was super cool here is that when we told them we were in town for about five days, the coach told us the price for dropping in: Bring a cup of coffee for the coaches each day.
Compared to the 25 euro cost per class in Paris, this deal was hard to resist. My wife had only been to a few Crossfit classes, but she felt totally comfortable here and had a lot of fun.
And the Not So Good
These four experiences above were some of the best, but I also enjoyed my time at many of the other boxes I visited during my trip.
That said, I want to quickly talk about a few weaknesses at some of the boxes I visited, so boxes can avoid them and athletes can recognize them and look for other locations if needed.
1. Gyms that allow too many athletes in their classes
I went to a few boxes with have very limited space, including a few that should’ve allowed only 8-10 students at time to maintain a safe and productive training environment. Some of these boxes sadly allowed closer to 12-16 athletes, and at times the WODs felt borderline unsafe. There was one WOD in particular where someone was doing heavy thrusters very close to me, and after dropping the bar it actually rolled against my leg while I was also doing thrusters.
I know limited class sizes can hurt a box’s bottom line, but if you don’t have a lot of space, you simply have to keep your class sizes small until you can afford to move to a bigger location.
2. Not enough focus on strength
There were some boxes that clearly did not emphasize the strength aspect of Crossfit very much. One in particular I visited 7 times and there was literally zero strength work the entire time. Therefore it was no surprise when the WODs generally consisted of relatively light weights, and when those light weights were also too difficult for the majority of their members. Squatting, pressing and other strength movements should be an integral part of any Crossfit box and should not be replaced by an extra long general warmup. I wouldn’t be nearly as strong as I am now if I was a regular member at some of the boxes I visited.
3. Not paying enough attention to the individual athlete
It’s important that the coaches have at least a general feel for the skill level of an individual athlete, so they can recommend which weights to use in a WOD and gauge what the weight the athlete should use. Even worse than not knowing these things, is to simply ignore the athletes as they work on their strength.
At my home box of Crossfit Center City, the coaches watched almost every lift I attempted for the first year of my membership, and they gave specific directions on what type of weight jumps I should make in between lifts. This was very important for my progress. When boxes are small and just getting started, this type of individual focus is pretty normal, but once they grow it can kind of get pushed to the side. I saw too many boxes where the coaches not only don’t give advice on what type of weight jumps to make, but also don’t watch at all during the strength portion of the class, which can especially shortchange their newer athletes.
Lastly it’s very important for the coach to make sure that every single athlete is comfortable with whatever movements are part of the WOD for that day, and this is something that has definitely been overlooked.
4. Unnecessarily grueling WODs
This might be the most annoying one of them all. It’s totally fine to have a super tough WOD from time to time. At Crossfit Center City, in order to celebrate their 7th anniversary, we just did Fran followed by a 10-minute rest period and then Grace. This is a very difficult WOD that can be programmed for special occasions. However it just doesn’t feel like this is a good idea if WODs of this intensity are happening multiple times a week. While some of it may be due to general lack of fitness due to traveling, I have never felt as sore as I did from taking the classes at some of these boxes. And this isn’t because everyone in these boxes was an unbelievable athlete who capable of doing these crazy WoDs. In almost every box the level of athlete was far below my home gym of CFCC.
That’s why I really appreciated the Boxfit Taipei, because they didn’t put their athletes through unnecessary torture WODs on a daily basis, and were very aware of this issue.
So that wraps up my biggest pet peeves, but despite those I had an amazing time traveling the world and dropping in at different boxes. And my biggest fear of coming home completely out of shape didn’t come true. While I may have lost a little physical strength, I was able to achieve a 30-second PR in Fran just two weeks after getting home. So thank you to all of you Crossfit’s around the globe for keeping me in shape, I can’t wait to drop in again sometime soon!