CrossFit® Gym Drop-in Guide: Find the Best Box & Have a Great WOD

CrossFit® Gym Drop-in Guide: Find the Best Box & Have a Great WOD

Nothing throws me out of my routine like traveling. I completely stop tracking my food intake. I binge watch shows I’ve been meaning to catch up on into the wee hours of night. I sleep way past my regular 5AM wake up call. I get zero reading done.

However...

The one thing I try not to compromise is my fitness routine. I only WOD 3-4 times per week so my training volume isn't that heavy to begin with. Completely avoiding a workout on a week-long vacation makes me feel pretty lazy. Not to mention, CrossFit® is one of those things where the longer you're away from it, the more it hurts when you come back.

Over the past few years, I've dropped into countless affiliates. I want to share my process (Yes, I said process) for selecting where  I drop-in when I'm on vacation.

It breaks into three simple phases:

  • Research
  • Outreach
  • Etiquette

Research: Finding the perfect Box to drop-in

Every gym is not built the same. Dirty facilities, ignorant coaches & cheap equipment are the tip of the "bad experience iceberg".

I'm sure the box you go to at home is awesome on all accounts. That doesn't mean they're all built that way. In fact, I'd argue coming from an awesome affiliate gym puts you at a disadvantage when trying to find a drop in.

But enough scare tactics; here's how you can find incredible drop-in locations no matter where your travels take you!

Use What You Have

The first, most simple strategy is tapping into your existing network. A simple post on your favorite social media channel (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter) can render the rest of this guide useless.

If you’re in the incredible WODprep Athlete Insiders private Facebook group, then you can use that as your sounding board. With over 4,500 like minded athletes from all around the world, you’ll get a bunch of great suggestions. Not a member of WPAI yet? Join here.

Once you’re there, a simple post like this will go a long way:

"I'm going to be in *insert city here* for the week, does anyone know a good CrossFit® Affiliate to drop into?"  

Click to Tweet

If you have no friends, just keep reading. All hope isn't lost.

crossfit WOD fitness

Drop-in Resources

Let's start by calling out the obvious resource: The Official CrossFit® Affiliate Map. This is the "all-encompassing", official listing of active affiliates registered with CrossFit® HQ. DO NOT START HERE.

This map provides no tangible value. If you punch in the city or zip code you're visiting, you will find a list of gyms nearby. But this map doesn't give you any of the information required to make an educated decision.You want to start with a Google Maps search.

Go to maps.google.com and type in "CrossFit® near *Insert City Here*". Here's what a search for "CrossFit® near Mexico City, MX" looks like:

crossfit dropping in

This is a huge map area.

You're going to want to hone in on your exact location to narrow down the list to 3 or 4 locations you can reasonably get to. Especially if you don't have a car while on vacation. As you zoom in, the left column will update to include only the gyms within the new map area.

Analyze the reviews for the Affiliates remaining:

Look for volume of reviews. So in the picture above, you can see "Black CrossFit Mexico" has 3 reviews with a 5-star average. I'm sure it's the owner's mom, dad, and dog that left those reviews. Pass. The top two Boxes ("Reebok" & "Cygnus") have 23 and 19 reviews, respectively. I'm going to look into those further.

Note: Sometimes your only option will be to drop-in at a gym with little to no reviews. You should still go! It could be an incredible, tight-knit community. A hidden gem, if you will.

For Affiliate Owners reading this, let this serve as a reminder. Ask your members to leave a review on Google or Facebook. Furthermore, do you have a GREAT gym? Do everyone a favor and leave a 5-star Google Maps review for them right now! The more detailed, the better. 

The next step is to click on the name of the box to expand its' information on Google, which is user updated. I'm going to spend a few minutes looking at the pictures uploaded by regular people/drop-ins. I’ll be skipping right over the stock images of chiseled athletes bent over a puddle of their own sweat. 

Pro Tip

Try to find their Instagram account. This will give you a good look into their culture and facility. Here's what I'm looking for:

  • What type of equipment they have (racks, rigs, weights, KBs, DBs, etc).
  • How big the box is (I like my space).
  • If the facilities are well-maintained (organized and clean).

After filtering out some Boxes based on reviews and pictures, I visit the remaining affiliates websites. I want to see if they use a CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) like MindBody Fitness, Wodify, ZenPlanner, etc.

I'm a stickler for tech. I'm sure there are great boxes out there that rely on the good old-fashioned whiteboard. However, that doesn't interest me as much. I appreciate an affiliate willing to invest in tech to provide a better user experience.

Here's a picture of my gym's website. You can see the schedule and how many spots are open in each class. No guesswork. 

CRM example athletes

Recent Workouts

The final box I check in the drop-in research phase is looking at their last couple of WODs. I hate going to boxes that have 30-minute MetCons that look like bootcamp circuits. No barbells, no kettlebells, no dumbbells. Just aerobic workstation after aerobic workstation. I also find it odd when there's no strength component.

finding the right box
crossfit workouts
how to find the right gym

If you can't find previous days' WODs on their website, you can try to see if it’s on any of their social media accounts.

If their prior WODs look scary, you found a winner.

At this point, you might think I'm being too picky. I would say you are right, but I don't mind. I have to be. Paying a ~$20 drop-in fee for one class is 2x what I pay per class at home. Not to mention, I'm still paying at home. So that's $30 for just one workout.

Below is a picture of my wife and me in Mexico City at CrossFit® Vexsel. This is a tiny gym, but everyone here is extremely nice and accommodating.

ProTip

If you end up driving here, make sure you have 5-10 pesos for the “street parking attendant”.

crossfit travel drop-in

Outreach: Start Contacting Boxes About Drop-ins

After I narrow my list of choices down to two or three boxes, I start calling. If I'm in a country that speaks another language, I'll reach out via writing. Writing makes both parties feel less anxious about fumbling over words.

Pro Tip 

You'll hear back from a gym quicker via Facebook Messenger or Instagram DM. But as a courtesy, Affiliates appreciate an email with a few days notice. Please don’t be the athlete that frantically messages 30 minutes before class. 

Here's a script of how the communication usually goes for me:

I open by introducing myself and my intention: "Hi, my name is Sunny and I'll be in *city/town* from *date* to *date*. I'm calling a few different boxes in your area to see where I want to drop-in. I've been practicing CrossFit® for years so you won't have to pay special attention to me. It'll be like I'm not even there. Do you accept drop-ins?"

At this point, I've piqued their interest by saying I want to drop-in. Saying I'm calling a few different gyms will add urgency. Finally, mentioning my experience is reassuring to them.

Side note: Don't lie about your experience. If you're a beginner, tell them.

After they tell me about their drop-in protocol, I follow up with timing: "I like to work out in the mornings. Typically the first class of the day. Is that class usually full or will there be space for me?"

After the confirm or deny a time slot, I ask about the cost. "Oh by the way, how much do you charge for drop-ins?".

I used to avoid asking about cost, hoping it wouldn't come up. Then I got caught with a $20 cash only drop-in fee and had nothing but credit on me. I also didn't have my debit card on me, so I couldn't run to the nearest ATM. I had to PayPal one of their members for the cash. Made for a good story, but also mildly embarrassing.

After they tell me their drop-in rate (usually $20), I counter. "The affiliate I go to charges $20 cash or $25 for a T-shirt as the drop-in rate. Would you consider doing the same?" .

This really is my gyms policy: $20 cash or $25 in Merchandise. Almost everyone opts for the Merchandise. If they say yes, great. If they say no, I reply "Ok cool. If I bring my wife can it be 30 for both of us?".

 Finally, If I'm staying somewhere for an entire week, I'll ask, "Can you do 3 classes for the price of 2?"

Here's a picture of my wife and me at CrossFit® Pilatus in Lucerne, Switzerland. These guys were super fun, helpful, and informative. They charge 20CHF per drop-in. I tried my negotiation on them and ended up paying 30CHF for two people and they threw in a free tank top for my wife. 

switzerland drop-in vacation

Obviously, she’s not wearing her new tank top in this picture………

Drop-in Etiquette: How to Behave When You're There

Early is on time. 

Show up ten to fifteen minutes early (or earlier if they specify). Give yourself ample time to sign any waivers, have an ice-breaking convo with the coach, and get a lay of the land. Running in late will draw unnecessary attention towards you.

Be a polite guest. You are in someone else's house. Respect their culture, and be open to a new experience. Accept this affiliate’s way of doing things. Unless asked, refrain from openly comparing the way they operate to the way you're used to. “But at my gym, we don’t…

No. Stop.

The differences, if any, are a good opportunity to learn. You can share your experience with your coaches and classmates when you get back home.

Take it easy. 

I see no value in overexerting yourself while dropping in. Especially if you're on vacation. You don't want to get hurt while you're away from home. Furthermore, nothing makes exploring a new city more painful than sore legs. Approach the WOD as a good opportunity to get blood flowing and remove any kinks caused by a long drive or flight. I'd also encourage you to avoid any PR attempts as a drop-in. You don't need to impress these people, you'll likely never see any of them again...

UNLESS THEY HAVE SOMETHING YOU'VE NEVER DONE BEFORE!

Click Here to check out a video of me crushing my first peg-board attempt in the Hamptons while dropping into CrossFit® Impervious back in Summer 2016

Smile first. 

When you make eye contact with someone, go first! Flash your winning smile and extend out your hand. Introduce yourself to one or two people. If you're shy, look for someone of the same sex and age to make it easier on yourself. Ask a question!

"I'm in town for a few days, what are the two or three things I have to eat, see, or do while I'm here?"

​Take a picture! 

Right when class ends, ask the coach if you can take a "class picture". If you've done everything before this correctly, they'll be so glad you asked.

Leave a review. 

After you leave, share your experience as a drop-in on Facebook, Yelp, or Google. Make sure to mention you dropped in, then share your experience, good or bad. This will help the next person make an easier decision in the research phase.

Dropping into a CrossFit® box is really fun. It's an easy way to meet people with similar interests in a foreign location. It's also an opportunity to learn how different gyms do things. I Hope this guide helps make your next drop-in a breeze.

Have an awesome drop-in story you'd like to share? What made that specific drop-in experience so special? Give the gym a shout-out in the comments below!

Last but not least, if you want to get some great recommendations for local boxes, be sure to ask everyone in our WODprep Athlete Insiders private Facebook group. It’s free to join and you get direct access to some of WODprep’s best athletes and coaches from all around the world 🙂

About the Author Sunny Shakhawala

Another member of the WODprep team, Sunny tries to balance out an unhealthy social media addiction (mainly IG & YT) during the day by reading self-improvement books in the morning and biographies of the world's most successful before bed. Advocates CrossFit® memberships for three major reasons: 1) They're expensive, which always pushes me over the edge when I'm on the fence about going to class. 2) Surrounds yourself with high achievers (in one discipline or another) 3) It's easy if you can just show up: the programming is done for you, a coach's feedback is available to you, and there's a built-in support group.

  • Jerome says:

    I enjoyed your article about Drop-in and I agree the biggest issue is usually the price.

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Hey Jerome! Thanks for commenting. Some gyms (although very few), will let you slide without a drop-in fee. Hard to find those diamonds in the rough.

  • Andy Paulusma says:

    Great article, I’ll be on vacation in two weeks so very timely!

  • Cindy Mantei says:

    We dropped into Reebok CrossFit Lourve while we were in Paris. We happened to be in the area the day before we were dropping in, so we were able to check out the box ahead of time. It’s a really cool location underneath a Reebok retail store. There was running in the WOD going on when we walked by. The run begins in the basement, and includes a run up a flight of stairs, then on the pavement dodging pedestrians, motorcycles, and cars. It was a bit intimidating to watch! The class we actually went to luckily had no running, but some back squats, for the strength, burpees and kettlebell swings as part of the metcon. What really impressed me about the coach was that he went to the effort of teaching the class in both French and English. We weren’t the only English speakers in the class, but he definitely could have done it only in French and made his life easier. It was a great drop in experience and everyone was super friendly and accommodating.

    • Kait, WODprep HQ says:

      wow that’s awesome Cindy! Language barriers always intimidate me too when I travel to other countries – glad you had a good experience 🙂

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Wow what a cool experience! The run portion you watched sounds like a video game. At CrossFit Vexsel in Mexico City, they do their warm-up lap around the block. Depending on the time of day you WOD, could be empty or could be madness.

  • Cindy Mantei says:

    Great article. One other thing I’d mention in your list of things to do when you arrive is ask the coach if it’s ok to drop barbells. Some gyms don’t allow it at all due to noise consideration for their neighbors, or safety concerns, or just as a general rule.

  • Chris says:

    Nice article, but if there’s no “strength component”, that probably means they favor intensity over volume…which is actually a really good sign!

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Hey Chris, thanks for the comment! There’s definitely different preferences across the spectrum of CF Athletes. However, I guess the point I was really trying to make was: Just “make sure” that box’s typical WOD isn’t something you can do in your hotel room.

  • Jim says:

    Good article. I wish there was a benefit to being a crossfit affiliate member, and you could drop-in for free since you are paying a membership at your home gym. It would all wash out, since all gyms probably have a few people traveling at any one time. Affiliates could prevent abuse by only allowing a certain number of drop-ins per month by any one individual. The ridiculously high drop-in fees stop me from ever doing it when I travel. I just do some body weight exercises and hit the treadmill or go jogging.

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Jim, I hesitantly agree with this. As an athlete, this would be great. However, I’m sure box owners see a lot wrong with this idea. Logistically / financially it would be a heavy burden for some affiliates (in popular, high traffic areas) to bear.

      Someone should make a “ClassPass” for CF Affiliates only. That someone would probably have to be CF HQ.

  • Kelly Addis says:

    Thanks for this article! I travel 1 week a month for work (all in the same state though, so nothing too exciting). I have a little t-shirt collection goal so I make a point of dropping in other places a lot. The thing is, there is one place I’ve been to multiple times and I’d really like to leave a review but it’s not a glowing recommendation (not that I’d say anything totally damaging either, but I think they should get my true opinion). Any advice on how to leave that feedback without destroying relationships that have been developed?

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Kelly, Thanks for the comment! I LOVE that you asked this question. I deal with this type of self-talk at my home box all the time. And since you go to this affiliate rather often, I’d consider it a “home away from home box” for you.

      I think the best thing you can do is change your mindset from, “I risk damaging the relationship” to “I’m giving constructive feedback”.

      Unfortunately, you cannot control how the coaches / owners of that gym choose to react. However, you can very much control the positioning of your message. You have to come at it from an angle of, “I want to help make this place better…” Because that’s really what you’re doing..

      When I see something wrong at the gym I’ve been going to since 2012, I go straight to the head of the table and say, “Hey, I’m not sure if this has been brought to your attention or not yet, but this is what I’m seeing… I’m only telling you because I’ve overheard a few people talking about it and it has become quite the distraction…”

      After you do your part, it’s up to the ownership and coaches to act. Again, you can only do what you can do. I also wouldn’t take it personally if they don’t address your concern. Sometimes they just have bigger fish to fry. A favorite quote of mine, “Do not attribute to malice that which can be explained by stupidity or laziness.”

  • Angie B. says:

    Great article! Box drop-ins are literally the 3rd thing I plan when traveling…right after logistics & accommodations! It’s my favorite thing to do on vacation along with eating! 🙂

  • Alejandro says:

    I have a drop-in story to share. It was in Asunción, Paraguay.. In google maps I found a nice box which was supposedly 15 minutes away by foot. So I didn”t even bother to take money or a cell phone with me. Just a piece of paper with the address. When I arrived, there was no box in sight. I had to asked several people for directions but since the address were people’s names (military guys), nobody knew where the gym was. It took me an hour and a half to finally get to the gym, and I even had to do some running to arrive on time. I was so tired (and hungry) that I even cramped up during the WOD, and since I had no cash, I had to walk all the way back to the hotel which took another hour. Long story short, my training that day was about 3.5 hours!! Learn from my mistake. Always take money with you and if you have wifi, take your cell phone as well. The box was great though. It’s called Bigg Herrera Crossfit.

    • Sunny Shakhawala says:

      Alejandro!!! That sounds like quite the adventure. Thank you for sharing that story. Some good wisdom you passed on to anyone that reads it. You must have enjoyed quite a good meal after you got back to your place.

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