A 4-Day On-Ramp Syllabus

Pat Barber Coaching Development, Gym Management


It’s fairly common these days for CrossFit gyms to have their new members complete an introductory course, which is often referred to as Elements, Foundations or On-Ramp programs. These courses give coaches dedicated class time for teaching beginners the basic mechanics and movements they’ll be expected to perform in regular classes.

On-Ramp Programs Help Coaches:

Keep new members safe
You can teach new members how to safely execute movements and lifts so that when they show up to class, they’re:

  • More prepared,
  • Less intimidated, and
  • Less likely to get injured.

Intro programs also give you the chance to provide specific, personalized advice to each newcomer in the very beginning of their training.

Run efficient classes
If your team is continually wasting big chunks of class time on demonstrating foundational movements to newcomers, do you think your established members feel like they’re getting their money’s worth? Probably not. Especially when you spend 15 minutes of a class teaching the new guy what a squat is. On-ramp programs help with keeping regular classes efficient, which is good for everyone in your community.

Set expectations
On-ramp programs also give you the opportunity to get to know these newcomers — their injuries, their abilities, and their goals — so that you can develop mobility exercises and modifications that will help them with their weaknesses or movement restrictions (like tight ankles or hips). You can also use this time to suggest what weight they should start with for various lifts so they’re not so confused when they show up to class (again, this will help keep classes efficient).

Teach proper gym etiquette
Ya know… how to bail, how to spot, how to rack and unrack barbells, how to set up the rowing machines, how to get the plyo boxes unstuck, how to use the bands. This is also a good time to mention any gym rules your team might enforce.

Give them the ‘why,’ not just the ‘how’
Explain your fitness philosophy and why certain movements are executed in a particular way so that your new members can make more educated training decisions during those first few months of classes.

Pitch the value of quality over quantity
This goes hand in hand with leaving their ego at the door. In these classes, we want to stress that even though by going hard and heavy we get results, it is absolutely imperative that we move safely first. This is your time to teach them that in order to move fast, you have to first move well and moving well is a constant battle.

Explain the general timeline of a class
Help beginners understand how your classes are structured. With us, it goes like this:

  1. A customized warmup for the workout
  2. Workout prep to review the movements
  3. A scaled workout
  4. Optional stretches or mobility cool down (which isn’t always necessary)

Some Coaching Notes

Before You Begin

The vast majority of your time should be spent on the “Main Movements” of each section
Which means that if the class is not moving correctly, you may need to spend the entire session teaching the movements (and skip the workout).

Always scale as necessary
No one should be working beyond a reasonable ability — it’s your job to push people to their limits and then scale accordingly. After all, your goals with the onramp program are to:

  • Help people move better
  • Prove what a professional, highly-skilled team you have.

And disabling newcomers in one of their first workouts doesn’t exactly accomplish this.

Be ruthless with movement standards
Don’t let beginners move poorly just so they get a ‘good workout’ in. This introductory program is not just about getting clients sweaty — it’s about getting them ready to join classes.

They should be moving more than you are talking
In other words, this is not a lecture course.

Have a plan

Encourage beginners to ask tons of questions

Answer questions kindly
Be patient and kind when a new guy says he’s heard that most CrossFitters get rhabdo or when a woman asks if lifting will make her bulky. Remember that you were new once too.

Make it fun!

Day 1

Movements to Teach

Main Movements
Air Squat
Front Squat
Overhead Squat

Supplementary Movements
Wall Ball

Concepts to Discuss

Leave your ego outside the gym
We all have a collection of characters within us that we’ve acquired over the years to help us survive and thrive. They’re the costumes or masks we put on when we feel like we have to be something “other” or “more” than we really are in order to be liked or loved. This family of fictional beings is our Ego.

To our Ego, the gym is a battleground. It’s where we’re pushed to our physical and psychological thresholds, our edges.

In nature, the edges are where the forest meets the field. The forest is a mysterious place where things can hide and then jump out and get you.

The unknown is scary to us because we don’t know how to survive it. Even if it’s healthier or less dangerous than our current reality, it’s still unfamiliar. Which is uncomfortable for our bodies but is TERRIFYING to the curated and conditioned parts of us. They sense we won’t have the energy to maintain them, to feed them. They sense their vulnerability. They crave the familiar, where they know the rules of the game, where they know they can succeed, where they are in the driver’s seat.

What we see over and over again is that people want the type of training they need the least.

Some will want the barbell, others will want the metcon.

These cravings aren’t about getting fit.

They’re often tied to Ego.

Our goal is to teach people in the BEGINNING how Ego will show up in their training.

We are a gen-you-whine GPP/CrossFit/Fitness-biased program. Which means that on any given day, you’re going to look weak, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to be frustrated.

That’s the price for becoming more resilient, more capable and more powerful.

You must Leave Your Ego at the Door.

Range of Motion (ROM)
Range of motion is an important concept to discuss. Full ROM is how the body is made to move, taking our joints ligaments, and musculature to the end range of their abilities. If we don’t workout using a full range, we will lose the ability to perform proper range (like squatting to full depth or pressing something directly overhead).

The importance of scaling workouts
Scaled workouts help keep the workouts intense, no matter what level you’re at.

Four common movement themes
Discuss these four movement themes which are seen in all nine foundational movements:

  1. Staying on your heels
  2. ROM
  3. Active shoulder
  4. Midline stability

10 Air Squats
8 Sit-ups
6 Burpees
100-meter run
8 min AMRAP

Upscale or downscale reps and distance as needed.

Day 2

Movement to Review

Air Squat

Movements to Teach

Main Movements
Push press
Push Jerk

Supplementary Movement
Box Jump

Concepts to Discuss

Core to extremity
All good movement starts in the core and radiates out to the extremities (provide your clients with examples like a baseball throw or soccer kick).

Mastering the basics, before adding intensity to any movement, will lead to better performance in the long run.


4 Rounds of:

Row 250m
10 Pushpress/Push Jerk
10 Box jump/Step-up

* Use PVC or light Barbell.


Teach your new members how to use a foam roller, and then have them do some work on their legs.


Day 3

Movement to Review


Movements to Teach

Main Movements
Sumo Deadlift High pull
Medball Clean

Supplementary Movements
Jump Rope
Kettlebell Swing


30 seconds on, 30 Seconds off of:

Med ball Clean
KB Swing
Double Under

* 3 to 6 rounds depending on the ability of the group. You can also change it to 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off, depending on ability. Scale double-unders to single jumps and use Russian KB Swings if needed.


Day 4

Movements to Review

Overhead Squat
Push Jerk

Movements to Teach

Main Movement
Snatch with a PVC

Supplementary Movements
Pull-up and its scalings


Fran or some variation of it.



Time Cap: 10-12 min.

Explain what Fran is, and make sure people are assigned appropriate scales. For a ‘wow’ effect, tell your group the world record time and then tell them what they should be aiming for, which is under 10 min.

(We also have an 8-Day Onramp Outline.)

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About the Author

Pat Barber

You might know me from the CrossFit Games, where I’ve competed since 2008, but I have also been the Head of Coaches Development for one of the largest CrossFits in the world. I have the honor of being one of the few L4 coaches, and I still love teaching L1s and L2s for CFHQ (I’ve put about 15,000 coaches through their L1’s). I'm husband to the most wonderful woman in the world, and a father who loves surfing, Magic: The Gathering, knife making and good coffee.

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