CrossFit’s James Hobart on On-Ramping Programs for New Members

January 23, 2023 by
Photo Credit: James Hobart
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As a CrossFitter for over a decade, CrossFit Games athlete nine-times over, CrossFit Seminar Staff, coach and one of the key leaders of CAP (CrossFit Affiliate Programming), James Hobart knows a thing or two about creating a killer experience for members. We caught up with him for Coffee Break Conversations last week where we dove into several topics; one of which was his opinion on having an on-ramp class, or something similar, for folks newly joining the gym.

Anyone who’s owned a box, coached at an affiliate or even been the fresh-faced trial member probably knows there’s a few different ways to go about incorporating someone into the regular classes. Some choose to offer personal training sessions first, others require a “test” or in-house on-ramp course, many let you just jump right in. As with many things in the affiliate model, there isn’t one “right” way, but Hobart’s experience informs a unique approach you could consider offering.

“I think the first thing is it’s dependent on the structure of your affiliate and what resources you have. For example, when I owned an affiliate (CrossFit Boston), we had enough people there and enough coaches and enough resources where if a new person came in and I was at the gym, I would ask them, ‘Have you ever done CrossFit before, yes or no?’. The next question I would ask is, ‘Are you comfortable with group classes?’” 

“And if they said yes, great, I’m going to be your workout caddy. I’m just going to shadow you. We’re going to take class. Any question you have, I’m just going to be right there, you let me know,” he said. “And that process was really successful for us because it’s probably pretty nice to step into CrossFit and have someone who will bring you your barbell and grab your plates and tell you what all the words mean and just kind of walk you through it — that’s how I would do it.”

Not being confident in a group workout setting, for example, is something seasoned athletes may take for granted, but could be a foreign concept to those making the switch to functional fitness classes. 

“If they (the new member) said something like, ‘No, I’m not comfortable with group classes;, I’d say, ‘Hey, let’s just sit and watch a group class together’,” Hobart explained. “And we would sit and watch a class and typically afterwards they would (realize) no one’s really paying attention to you, not the coach, but other athletes. The fear is always that when you’re in class, everyone else is going to be laughing at how unfit you are. But the reality is everyone is literally struggling to just survive, just like you survive CrossFit.”

Hobart went on to share that alternatively, the gym he currently coaches at, CrossFit Mafia in Colorado, runs a one-on-one on-ramp program new members complete before joining class, consisting of three sessions that are done while the class in the background is going on. Being able to see the group class in action during these appointments, and having a low barrier to entry for the course, are two key components Hobart notes as important. 

But again, it’s certainly worth noting that not every gym has the ability to staff their location to offer the former.

“I do think it comes down to resources. I really love the model, if you have the ability in your gym, to have someone who can be like a workout caddy,” expanded Hobart. “I don’t think it’s necessary, but it can be really helpful to introduce people to all of those things you’re talking about, all those little things that could stop people from going into a gym — the names (workout movements, lingo, etc.) and just the craziness and the chaos and the music. Sometimes it’s just a lot of information overload, for sure.” 

In the same interview, Hobart shared his thoughts on providing standardized programming to affiliates (spoiler alert: it’s not for everyone), how folks enrolling in the Level 1 course have changed over the years, and much more.* And, he even shares what’s kept him interested in CrossFit for so long, which we can definitely relate to. 

“Here’s the dirty secret: CrossFit never gets easier, you only get fitter. And then they start loading more weight on the bar and asking you to go faster…but the reason I’ve stuck around so long is the people — it’s the amazing people you meet, the new people you meet (and) the different stories you hear.” 

*Rx only. Coffee Break Conversations are weekly interviews with an industry expert, exclusive to Rx members. Join here for just $1 for the first four months.

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