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.
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:
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!
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?"
If you have no friends, just keep reading. All hope isn't lost.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
If you end up driving here, make sure you have 5-10 pesos for the “street parking attendant”.
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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!
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?"
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.
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 🙂
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.
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