The Learning Curve

By Amy Ferro

I was an exercise science major in college and one of the curriculum requirements was to take a practical strength and conditioning class. We learned barbell movements and others modes of strength exercises, along with conditioning modalities such as pulling sleds and pushing prowlers. Other than that I can’t tell you much about the class. I learned what I had to learn to pass and then erased it from my memory. At the time my career goal was to save the world from diabetes through elliptical training. I had no interest or application for strength training with a barbell and took next to nothing away from the class.

The learning curve is interesting. We all learn differently and no matter what type of learner you are, you’re going to absorb more if it means something to you. I took nothing from the class because none of it resonated with me. I was the sorority girl in the corner giggling over the fact that I had to use a broomstick instead of a barbell. Gosh, I hope people made fun of me.

When it comes to an on-ramp program at CrossFit Southie, we have a similar philosophy. It is hard to really learn how to move better until you want to move better. (This is speaking for a broad and general population. Former athletes and individuals who have decided that they want to dedicate themselves to the CrossFit program will do great, but those who are on the fence might not take to it as well.)

A couple of weeks ago one of my members thanked us for not having an On-Ramp program. She is someone who was very hesitant when she came in, and has since lost 35+ pounds and has been CrossFitting at Southie for a year. Since she loves what CrossFit has done for her, she recently got four of her friends and her sister to try CrossFit. They all attended different boxes, some across the country, and all of which required an On-Ramp course. Only 1 out of the 5 people she encouraged to try CrossFit decided to stick with the program afterwards. Understandably, she was very discouraged because she wanted her friends to have the life changing experience she did, but they had no interest.

In CrossFit there are many movements to learn and perfect. It can take years to master the squat or learn to keep the arms straight until full hip extension on the clean. If potential new members are frustrated with their inability to move well, or do not understand the importance of why we need to move efficiently, then chances are they will not stick with the program.

On Thursdays and Saturdays we open up a free intro class for interested participants. We warm them up and then get moving on the fundamentals. We teach them quickly how to squat, front squat, press, push-press, and deadlift. If there is time we will teach them the overhead squat, sumo deadlift high pull, and clean, but typically we will just show them. For their intro WOD they do a 7 minute AMRAP with thrusters, box jumps and burpees. After this one day session they have a sense of what the program is all about. They can sign up for classes immediately and enter into our community.

Our month-to-month system allows for members to try it for a month and get a true feeling for what it is like to be a member of a box. We offer beginner level classes that allow members to learn as they go. Each class is extremely structured, from the warm-up, to the skill, to the strength, to the WOD. The members re-learn the movements every class. These classes have multiple coaches present to help correct faulty movement and ensure that no one feels lost or gets ignored. There is no exclusion from these classes, but there is an understanding that the instruction might be longer, and there probably will not be any RX’d athletes.

In using this system we have experienced rapid growth, great retention, and a very low injury rate. New members are surrounded not only by other new members but also those who have been Crossfitting for a while. They get a good feel for the community and have a chance to witness the amount of progress that can be made in a few months time. With all of this, their desire to become more efficient heightens and the learning of the movements becomes ongoing and meaningful.

Watch Amy further discuss On-Ramp programs with Jon Gilson of Again Faster and affiliate owners Jay Ackerman, Ben Bergeron and Rick Martinez. You can see the full Business Panel series here.

Amy Ferro is the co-owner of CrossFit Southie.