Using Music to Your Advantage While Coaching
Written by TJ O’Brien

If you are a CrossFit coach, you work in a very loud place. It’s not every job in which you have to project over clanging barbells and a speaker system. Let’s just say I know a few coaches who keep a pack of “Halls” on their desk. 

But while it may pose a challenge to your vocal chords, music is an incredibly valuable tool for managing the mood, timing in between classes, and even influence the culture of your gym. Allow me to explain… 

Using House Music to Encourage Conversation

Say you coach the first class of the day. The sun might not even be up yet, so it’s unlikely people are very talkative that early in the morning. BUT, to encourage conversation, have some music on as people arrive. It may sound counterintuitive, but if there is low music or no music, the gym can feel like a quiet cathedral. If people can hear themselves too loudly, they’ll hesitate to speak up and talk to other members. A little background music goes a long way to building a gym culture where people speak to one another before class. Prior to my 6am class, I try to have something light and inviting playing on the speakers – maybe some chill electronica, sublime radio, or some oldies. 

What to do With the Music when Starting a Class 

If you are playing your house music before class, turning it down will automatically get the attention of the class, before you call out to the room for everyone to come to the whiteboard for the class briefing or intro. 

If you have a large group to wrangle, you can also turn the music up for 10-20 seconds to get everyone’s attention, before turning it down. This contrast of loud to quiet sets the stage for everyone to begin to tune in to what you are about to say. 

What to Play During Class 

If the group is doing some longer intervals that involve some sort of pacing, it’s probably not a good idea to blast your class off with some hardcore EDM that involves huge crescendos of beat builds and drops. That’s going to amp them up – that’s what it’s there for after all – but it might not be what we want for the first interval of say, eight, for example. 

Instead, make the music match the mood of the interval. If it’s eight sets, I’ll play some James Brown or Michael Jackson radio for rounds 1-2. I’ll even ask my class to match the vibe of the music, to stay as cool and in-the-pocket as James Brown’s drummer. Then, as we progress through the workout, I might put on some EDM, upbeat hip hop. For the final intervals I might play the  “the evil, German house music,” that comes up on artist Geffafelstein radio. 

After Class Cool-Down Music

Consider how your music choice influences how people cool down from the intensity of the workout. I will turn on some reggae or something I consider “feel good,” during the clean-up and debrief of class. It puts people at ease and allows them to begin to return to leave “fight or flight” and return to “rest and digest.” 

Fritz, another coach at Invictus San Diego, has even led people through breathwork at the end of classes and used a “yoga/meditation” radio station to get people into a more relaxed headspace. This is a very effective way to tacitly say to the class “now it is time to chill out.”

A Word of Caution

It is a very powerful tool, but don’t stress about the music too much. Early in my coaching career I would worry too much about the right songs playing during workouts. I would skip songs if I was worried the class didn’t like them. This can disrupt the flow of class, because while curating your space with the right sounds is a great way to create the desired vibe, you are a coach, not a DJ! And most members won’t even be able to tell you what they were listening to in the middle of their row interval, for example. So make sure that these techniques for injecting a little flavor into your classes are layered on-top-of, but not in-place-of great coaching and culture.


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