Why CrossFit Coaches Are the Best in the Business

ByBrittney SalineApril 11, 2023

There is no dearth of “experts” out there; all you need to be a health or fitness guru is an Instagram account and good lighting.

But just as CrossFit was the first to define fitness in an objectively measurable, observable, and repeatable way, it was the first to professionalize the fitness trainer in a meaningful way. I’m not talking about the mic’d-up group-fitness instructor leading a choreographed workout routine or the personal trainer with a sales quota to meet — and I’m not disparaging them, either. They offer a guided exercise experience that’s better than nothing.

But for long-lasting, life-changing results, you need the kind of coach equipped to change lives.

A CrossFit Seminar Staff Trainer positions an athlete holding a barbell.

Something’s Missing …

So, what makes a coach equipped?

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), and the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA) are touted as some of the most well-known and respected certifying bodies for fitness trainers (so is the National Strength and Conditioning Association [NSCA], despite its proven corruption).

Each organization offers a selection of increasingly prestigious-sounding certifications, ranging from certified “personal trainer” or “group exercise instructor” to “elite trainer” to “performance and sport scientist.” To earn such credentials, aspiring trainers must be 18 or older, possess a high-school diploma/equivalent and current CPR/AED certification, and pass an exam. Exams range from 100-190 multiple-choice questions, and some can be taken online — a few are even open-book. Most of these certifications cost between US$100 and $300, and topics covered include basic and applied sciences and nutritional concepts, client assessment, program design, exercise technique, client relations, exercise leadership, and risk management.

But despite the ostensible rigor of these certification programs, there’s one glaring omission: practical instruction. I’m trying to think of any other industry or field of study that grants its students a professional certification with no hands-on training, and I’m coming up blank. I wonder, could I become a forklift operator with just an online test? (The answer is “No.”)

The absence of practical instruction by these certifying bodies leaves it up to the individual to amass some sort of experience — likely by training friends or family — in order to one day get a job. But translating theories and diagrams from paper to the human standing before you is easier said than done — and if I were someone who wanted to learn to move better (I am), I’d want to learn from someone who’d been taught to move.

CrossFit Coaches Are Fitness Experts


It was the last day of June 2018, and sweat dripped from my brow to the floor of CrossFit Omaha as I held the bottom of a squat. 

A handful of athletes squatted in the circle with me during the afternoon’s small-group breakout session, part of the CrossFit Level 1 Certificate Course. Seminar Staff Trainer and Certified CrossFit Level 4 (CF-L4) Coach Pablo Cervigni circled the group, cueing and correcting every athlete in turn as our quads burned.

“Knees out — chest up — weight in the heels!”

By that point, I’d been doing CrossFit for almost six years, and if you’d asked me to tell you about the air squat, I could’ve rattled off enough points of performance to make your eyes glaze over.

And yet, when Pablo got to me, I got a correction, too — because nothing can compare to real-time feedback from one of the most qualified trainers in the world. You just don’t know how it really feels to keep your weight in your heels until a coach holds a PVC pipe right in front of you. And you don’t realize just how much your knees are caving in until your coach tells you to extend until your knee taps their hand.

And without being properly coached, you can’t expect to properly coach someone else.

That’s why the two-day, in-person Level 1 includes multiple breakout sessions integrated between live lectures on the fundamental principles and movements of CrossFit, professional training and scaling, and nutrition. Small-group breakout sessions allow individuals of any fitness level to simultaneously improve their movement mechanics while learning effective coaching techniques. Each day also features a coach-led group workout, and once you’ve caught your breath after Sunday’s workout, you hunker down to take the 55-question exam. To earn the credential of CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, participants must not only pass the test but also be present for 100% of all lectures and give 100% participation in all practical breakout sessions and workouts.


Though a credentialing experience well beyond any of the courses of study listed above, the Level 1 is CrossFit’s most fundamental qualification. It’s the starting point for anyone seeking to improve their health and fitness through effective training and nutritional strategies and the elemental requirement for every CrossFit affiliate owner and trainer.

In other words, it’s just the beginning.

“Coaching virtuosos display an unmatched capacity to improve others’ fitness, and yet these virtuosos never consider their development complete and always seek to improve their craft.” —The CrossFit Level 1 Training Guide


In CrossFit, we seek virtuosity: doing the common uncommonly well. We don’t just want you to squat; we want you to squat as well as you can — and we hold the same standard for our coaches and the art of coaching.

The best CrossFit coaches tell their athletes to “stick to the basics, and when you feel you’ve mastered them, it’s time to start all over again, begin anew — again with the basics — this time, paying closer attention” — and then they apply the same principle to their coaching. They do this by pursuing higher credentials and regular continuing education, all while learning from evaluation.


After the Level 1, the next-highest credential CrossFit trainers can earn is the Level 2. The Level 2 Certificate Course is an intermediate-level course that builds on the concepts and movements introduced in the Level 1 Certificate Course. Over two days, CrossFit trainers refine their skills through one-on-one mentorship, group sessions, and classroom discussions focused on objectives including teaching, seeing, and correcting movement faults, class structure and lesson planning, program design and scaling, nutrition and compliance strategies, and both one-on-one and group-coaching development. After the course, applicants must correctly answer 100% of the 40-question exam.

Next comes the Certified CrossFit Trainer (CF-L3) credential — a 160-question exam whose prerequisites include a significant number of hands-on coaching hours and which is designed to test an individual’s ability to apply knowledge gained from practical experience and education. Those who earn it demonstrate advanced coaching knowledge and a commitment to a long-term standard of professional accountability.

Finally, the truly exceptional of CrossFit coaches earn CrossFit’s highest trainer credential, the Certified CrossFit Level 4 Coach (CF-L4). And it doesn’t come easy.

This one-day assessment is for experienced trainers who have been coaching CrossFit in a group setting for several years — and it is not an educational course, but rather a performance-based assessment conducted in a real-world setting.

In this assessment, candidates coach two CrossFit workouts — in a typically scheduled class at a real CrossFit affiliate — with a minimum of seven athletes. Candidates have to assess athletes they’ve never met, adapt their instruction, and respond to realistic problems and scenarios that typically occur within the affiliate. They are evaluated on their proficiency in six domains: teaching/demonstration, seeing, correcting, class management, presence and attitude, and application.

“Earning this credential is no small feat,” writes Nicole Carroll, CrossFit’s Chief Brand Officer and former General Manager of Education. “It means an individual has demonstrated advanced coaching abilities through a real-time performance assessment. This is an essential milestone in a coach’s career and one that signals coaching mastery developed over many years.”

A coach points to the whiteboard.

The best CrossFit coaches also further expand their expertise through CrossFit’s many specialty and online courses, including courses geared toward working with kids and older athletes or on nutrition.

“The charter for our coaches can be summed up into a single sentence: My competency is solely determined by my efficacy,” Carroll says. “This means what determines how good you are is how good you are for your clients.”If you’re looking for a professional trainer vetted by their expert knowledge and practical skills; a guide who cares and is committed to delivering results; a coach to meet you where you’re at and get you to your goals, you need a CrossFit coach.

CrossFit Coaches Are Coaches, Not Choreographers

CrossFit’s definition of and approach to developing fitness is objective and measurable — and so is its definition of an effective trainer, which mandates the trainer have capacity in six different abilities: teaching, seeing, correcting, group management, presence and attitude, and demonstration.

But what sets the CrossFit coach even further apart — and what makes them such a powerful ally along your quest for fitness — is their commitment to the more intangible things. Things like accountability. Skip too many workouts? Expect to get a text or call asking where you’ve been.

CrossFit coaches care about changing your life and developing meaningful relationships with their athletes. CrossFit coaches adjust their approach for each individual. They correct technique and keep safety top of mind. They think outside the box, delivering a unique experience for every member of their affiliate.

A CrossFit coach will show you you’re capable of more when all you want to do is quit. It means that sometimes they’ll challenge you to push beyond your comfort zone — because that’s where progress happens. They care about strengthening your mind just as much as your body, and because a CrossFit coach’s mission is rooted in service, odds are they’ll be there to support you both in and outside of the gym.

If all you’re looking for is someone to start the music and give you a high-five, look elsewhere. But go to a CrossFit gym, and you’ll get high-fives — and you’ll get better at life, too.

A coach works with an athlete on the box pike push-up.

CrossFit Coaches Meet You Where You’re At

“The needs of an Olympic athlete and our grandparents differ by degree not kind,” writes CrossFit’s founder, Greg Glassman. Put more plainly: A high-level athlete needs to deadlift hundreds of pounds to meet their goals; Grandma needs to deadlift her laundry basket — but they both need to deadlift.

The difference between the high-level athlete’s deadlift and Grandma’s is something we call “scaling”: wherein a movement is modified to each individual athlete’s current ability, fitness level, experience level, and goals. The CrossFit coach’s job is to assess every athlete in their care and guide them through whatever version of the day’s workout is most appropriate for them.

It’s the reason the same coaches who train the fittest athletes in the world for competition at the CrossFit Games also coach septuagenarians who do CrossFit to stay active and independent. It’s the reason a 43-year-old woman and a 56-year-old man with Parkinson’s disease can do the same workout right alongside their classmates — their CrossFit coaches know them, they know their abilities and limitations, and they know how to scale the workout to maximize both safety and results.

In any given CrossFit class around the world, you’ll find coaches leading a diverse room of athletes: pregnant athletes. Adaptive athletes. Olympic athletes. Athletes with diabetes. Ninety-three-year-old athletes. Your coach doesn’t need to have been in your shoes to help you learn to walk — and then run — in them, but it’s entirely possible they’ve been where you are at one point, too.

CrossFit Coaches Are Not Magicians

One thing CrossFit coaches are not, however, is magic.

There is no perfect cue or class that will take the onus off you, the athlete, to make the choices and do the work that will get you to your goals. Make no mistake, if you are not coachable, there is no coach who can help you.

But if you are, all you have to do is show up.

About the Author

Brittney Saline

Brittney Saline is Senior Writer and Editor for CrossFit, LLC. Previously, she was a writer and editor for the CrossFit Journal. She’s been sharing powerful stories from and for the CrossFit community since 2012, covering topics ranging from problems with healthcare and Big Pharma to CrossFit’s potential for reversing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease to discourses on femininity and musculature. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and her favorite CrossFit workouts feature lots of heavy lifting. Got a story to share? Email Brittney here.