CrossFit On-Ramp
Nicki Violetti

The way in which new clients are introduced to your Crossfit program can be the deciding factor in whether you retain them for life (and they refer friends, family and co-workers) or they come for one dose and vanish.  Perhaps the most common way affiliates bring in new clients is the “come and try it” approach, often associated with a free session or free week of sessions. With virtually no barrier to entry this can be effective for getting folks in the door. However, the absence of a dedicated entry point for new clients will ultimately hamper your ability to provide high quality coaching as well as your rate of growth as a business.

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The following questions are worth some consideration:

What experience do you want each new client to have that comes to your gym? What do you want them to tell their friends and family after the first day?

How will a new client progress through your program? Where will they start and where will they end up?

From a coaching perspective, what ideally would be the fundamental skill sets each client would have when they join your classes? Perhaps a decent squat, with the awareness of how to extend the spine? It might also be nice if they knew the difference between active and passive shoulders and had been shown the desired overhead position for the push press. And oh the fabulous deadlift…how many new folks struggle to get in the setup position with a properly extended back? How many are able to lift a 55# barbell without either first elevating the hips or chest prematurely, or flexing the spine?

As a coach and owner of a CrossFit training facility I’m going to make a case for having dedicated points of entry and the utilization of an On Ramp program or similar beginner’s workshop.

The Early Days

In the early days of CrossFit NorCal we had the “come one, come all” approach to growing our clientele, much like many new affiliates today.  We encouraged our existing clients to bring friends to classes and even lured them with specials like “train free for a week.” This approach made it relatively easy to grow our business, but quickly became a logistical nightmare.  The programming always defaulted to accommodate the new person. Our existing clients didn’t get the attention they deserved and as a consequence did not progress as quickly. 

This lack of a dedicated point of entry for new clients is especially problematic if you are the sole owner/coach. Here’s a common scenario: You have 4-5 clients in a class who are ready to learn muscle up technique.  You begin teaching the progression when in walk 2 brand new people, 10 minutes late, wanting to try your free class.  They need to sign a waiver and have a conversation with you about their old injuries, etc and then you need to teach them to squat, because there will be squats in the WOD.  Meanwhile your existing clients are left in the lurch.  Giving free lessons on the squat while your paying clientele is waiting for you to finish, is not, in my opinion, providing the best quality coaching to all parties involved.

A typical way this problem is “solved” is to have a second coach handle your new walk-ins.  It seems like a solution, but it’s not a viable one.  You are a professional who is running a business, and as such you should be paid well for your time.  Each service that is provided can and should command a price.

I distinctly remember a turning point for us at CF NorCal late in 2005.  There were about 12 athletes in the gym.  Robb was coaching a class of 8 athletes and both myself, and Greg Everett each had 2 new people off to the side introducing the squat, etc. I did some quick math in my head to realize that the gross revenue for that hour was about $12. Three professionals pouring their energy and expertise into 12 clients to earn what amounted to $4 a piece.  Not a good business model! (This was back when we were charging FAR too little for unlimited training, we had family members and folks on trade and students with obscene discounts, etc.  Folks would come every single day, with an effective per class fee of around $3! We’ve truly learned the hard way!)

Dedicated Points of Entry

If you are an affiliate owner who wants to run a business that sustains your livelihood, as opposed to it being a hobby or second job, you have three primary aims:

•    Demonstrate that you are a professional and can get results
•    Demonstrate that you are interested in each individual’s success
•    Have FUN while doing both of the above!

The way to thoroughly demonstrate your abilities as a coach and establish interest in your client’s success is to have dedicated points of entry for new clients joining your facility.  These points of entry are paths for them to progress into your ongoing classes. (As an aside, the “get them to puke then convert them” approach only works on a tiny sub-fraction of the general population.)

At CFNC we have 2 points of entry for new clients: Private training or the On Ramp class.

•    Healthy, orthopedically sound individuals can begin with our 12 session On Ramp class.  
•    New clients with orthopedic issues are typically private training candidates.  

The beauty of having 2 entry points is that you are able to thoroughly bracket your population.  The price point of the On Ramp removes the otherwise steep barrier to entry of requiring private training sessions prior to group training.  Offering private training allows you to fill otherwise dead hours with paying clientele.  Don’t overlook the fact that EVERY community has plenty of people willing and able to pay for 1-on-1 coaching.

Building Relationships and Mitigating the Fear Factor

Dedicated points of entry also allow for the development of rapport and relationships, both crucial to growing a service business.  Whether in private training sessions or a beginner’s class, the coaches and clients get to know each other quite well. It is a safe and less-intimidating setting.

A new client recently shared with me that on her first day she was so nervous that she almost turned her car around and returned home.  She was in the middle of her series of private training sessions with one of our trainers and gushingly told me how much she loves our program and how grateful she was that we were in town. After finishing her 12 sessions of private training she is now in our CF Elements classes.  She is learning to snatch, she is kicking up into handstands against the wall and she is climbing ropes. She is also a well-recognized professional in our community.

My point is that without a dedicated entry point this woman’s experience would not have been the same and we likely would have lost her business after the first day.  This woman was scared to death.  Had our primary focus been that of proving the toughness of our workouts she would not have come back.

The On Ramp

The NorCal On Ramp is our evolving template for progressing new clients into our group classes.  We’ve been utilizing this program template since June of 2008 with great success.

The On Ramp provides new clients a solid steeping in the movements and upon completion allows them to seamlessly transition into the fast paced group classes. Each session includes a warm-up, skill instruction/review, workout, and stretching/cool down with different topics discussed during each cool down session: nutrition, food logs, etc. We limit enrollment to 10 people with 2 coaches.

On Day 1 we are careful to explain the goals of the class and what clients can expect. We explain that we value and emphasize mechanics and technical mastery and that the primary goal is to provide consistent exposure to the movements and adequately prepare each of them for success in the group class environment.

Upon completion of the On Ramp, the new client feels less intimidated upon entering our existing group classes, and the continuity of the existing class is preserved, as we don’t have to slow things down to walk a newbie through the movements.

The Magic of 12 Sessions

The 12-session time frame is key for a couple of reasons. First, almost anyone is willing to try something new for a month, and a month allows for adequate exposure to the movements.  We’ve found that just one exposure to the deadlift, one exposure to the kip, and one exposure to the press, is not sufficient for the raw beginner.  A full month of training gives folks a true sense of the power of the CF methodology and it allows us to follow the Mechanics, Consistency, Intensity mantra of CrossFit.

Second, the 12-session time frame also allows for the client to experience transformation on multiple levels: They FEEL better, they LOOK better, and they PERFORM better!

On Day 12 we repeat the same workout that they completed on Day1 and folks consistently shave 3-4 minutes off of their original time.  Needless to say they are STOKED! We have found that after the 12th session, when folks see the improvements they have made in just a month, they are ready to sign up for more. It virtually eliminates the need for any sales pitch.

Changes and Adaptations

Our first On Ramp was held in June of 2008.  We had 7 people signed up ranging from 21-48 years old. The day 1 workout was the following:

200M Run
200M Run

Our first crew (who in all estimations was a fairly young/active group) was pretty busted up from this.  They were wickedly sore from the pushups and wickedly sore from the squats.  Most middle-aged women (your bread and butter clients) don’t want to be so sore they can’t hold their child or wash their hair.

After that first class we changed the numbers to 15-12-9 and this volume seems much more appropriate.  We still get folks who fail on pushups and squats with this rep scheme, and if so, we will cut that individual’s numbers mid workout.  We will also scale movements if necessary and pushups might be against the pommel horse or GHD if someone is unable to do one from the knees.
A younger male or female who is in relatively good shape will obviously be able to go faster and push harder.  We encourage these athletes by showing them our gym records for the workout and challenging them to beat it.

Again, our goal here is to progress people according to their needs, not prove that our workouts are tough.   Remember, we want to RETAIN these people. We don’t want to kill them off day one and have them never come back.

What about Fire Breathers?

I frequently get asked whether we ever allow a younger, fitter individual bypass the On Ramp and just join the group classes.  The answer is no. Throwing an uninitiated individual (regardless of age or fitness level) into your class of fire-breathers is not taking interest in the progress of that potential client, nor that of your current clients.

We have uncovered movement deficiencies in the youngest and fittest of our new clients.  Everyone benefits from spending some dedicated time working the technique of the movements.  In my opinion, rushing someone into a class environment where the competition is much greater only serves to put pressure on that individual to go fast, when instead technical mastery needs to be the focus.

Remember, there is plenty of time for these folks to “get some” after some steeping in mechanics!
That said, we definitely push the younger, fitter, and cockier ones harder.  Typical times for completing the Day 1 WOD range from 5-15minutes. We have the records on the board for the top 5 male and female times and we use this to push the more hard charging types: ”the Day 1 male record on this is 4:35 let’s see if you can beat it!” And while it’s absolutely not our goal, we have still had a couple of young guys head to the bathroom to puke after the Day 1 WOD.

Typical Day1/Day 12 Times

Everyone sees improvement from Day 1 to Day 12, typically in the 2-3 minute range, but sometimes shaving as many as 5 minutes off the original time.  Here is a picture of the whiteboard of a recent class showing their Day 1 and Day 12 times.

Our top 5 Male/Female records to date:

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Margaret Graham
June 2 2009
Thank you!
Will Lennon
June 9 2009
The link for download the curriculum, does not seem to be working. Is it suppose to?

Greg Everett
June 9 2009
Will -

Works for me...
Jim Smith
June 17 2009
The on ramp program is perfect for the beginner and the restarter. Thanks
Michael Fallarzik
July 10 2009
It's almost spooky. All the things you guys struggled with in the early days we are struggling with now. I read this stuff and all I hear is
"shit we do that" Thanks!
Mike Anderson
July 14 2009
Thanks very much for making this available. So useful and well put together. Much appreciated.
Jeremy Gilpin
September 1 2009
Thank you very much for sharing this.

Jeremy - Beijing, China
September 15 2009
Tt is a 12 day program, but is it done 12 days in a row, every other day....?

Nate Alexander
January 7 2010
Awesome article! Very insightful as I was turning these ideas over in my head, it really adds some clarity to some of the ideas i had.
July 22 2010
What does \\\"10!\\\" mean?
Thank you for sharing this.
Walter Fisler
September 26 2011
Thank you
Greatly appreciated
May 15 2012
Thanks for sharing this.
I'm willing to open a box in Belgium and was just thinking on how I should deal with new students.
I owe you one because your solution is really great with benefits for the financial part, for the students and the coaches.
Anthony Medley
May 20 2013
We adopted your On-Ramp program from day one of opening our box and have had great success. I compare it to the first six months on a new job, it is your probationary period, you get to feel us out and we get a good Idea of what you can and can not do, so when you get in to our group class we can scale/modify correctly. I also agree with the relationship side of it. Thank you
Daniel Robles
March 20 2014
Thanks for this information. We are a very young affiliate (6 months old) and are trying to soak up as much knowledge from established gyms as we can. Keep up the great work.
March 14 2018
This is so good!