Over the weekend, I got into a good conversation with a friend of mine who happens to be a fitness coach (a former affiliate owner who’s now an independent microgym) about “open gym” and why he implemented rules how his members get to utilize it. When the doors opened at Undisputed, we had this idea of having open gym between all of our classes and on the weekend. Its intent was for members to be able to get in practice time, make up a missed WOD, or develop new skills. In its early inception, that’s how it started. However, now it’s a little more of a mixed bag – with some members doing entirely their own thing and some making up missed workouts. Now, I’m a big proponent of doing stuff you enjoy, but at the same time I also say the utilization of open gym shouldn’t be a replacement for a WOD that’s in the program. Why?

Well, here’s the pros of open gym:

  • The coaches are the experts at your facility. If members are using open gym to make up WODs they missed, it means they’re getting the product they’re paying for. After all, you put together a program for a reason.
  • Extra work or practice time. This is a conversation a member should have with his or her coach because it ensures he or she is moving in the right direction, which is closer to their goals and not further away from it. Most reputable gyms and good coaches will help you figure some of this out for free. However, if you require a supplementary program – don’t expect it for free. I mean, just reverse roles, would you work at your job for free? At Undisputed, we have supplementary templated programs for our members. So if they have a lagging squat, etc, we can say, “Hey, just follow this.”
  • Development of new skills. Open gym is a great time to work on developing new skills. Working on double under progressions, handstands, etc. There’s only so much time we get in class, so if you really, really want these additional skills, you have to put in extra time somewhere.
  • Less time constraints. Class times are usually an hour, so there are times you’re struggling with something and you can only work on it for that 5, 10, 15 minutes before having to move on. Most of the members at Undisputed who are better at the Olympic Weightlifting movements, double-unders, etc, are better because they come to our weightlifting class, or they practiced double unders religiously during open gym, etc.

Now the cons to open gym:

  • You are not an expert, your coach is. Do you remember the part where I said, “Open gym started off as a time for people to make up a missed WOD…” but lots of members are doing their own thing during open gym. Meaning you’ve replaced a WOD during the week that’s intentionally programmed with something of your own that likely is not. This is the reason why my friend doesn’t allow members at his gym to go off book during open gym.
  • You tend to do only what they like. One of the greatest evolutions of fitness was the concept of doing things you don’t like to do. I can recall many of the members here saying they never used to run; never used to strength train; never did mobility; etc; until they got to Undisputed. But I’ve noticed people in gyms, including mine, tend to stick to stuff they like to do if there’s not a coach there telling them otherwise.
  • Members tend to do only what they’re good at. When everyone was new at Undisputed, everything was foreign to them and extra time spent working on this-or-that was a good thing. However, I’ve noticed a reduction of members working on their weaknesses. Other coaches and gym owners I’ve spoken with have said the same thing. Look, we get it – it’s hard to want to do stuff you’re bad at, but that’s the only way you’ll get better at it. Ignoring these weaknesses won’t eliminate those any faster.
  • Volume we don’t account for. The ONLY volume we can really account for with each member is the volume we program for you. If you’re going off book we don’t know what you’re doing and it probably doesn’t fit into the grander scheme of things.

How should you utilize open gym?

Undisputed will never go to the extent of saying you must do this-or-that because we’re firm believers in doing anything active is better than being sedentary. As a coach, I’ve never once told anyone they must quit something. However, I’ve suggested reducing in certain areas to improve others.

If you want the best results here is what I recommend:

  1. Make Up WOD – If you don’t attend 4-5 days a week to the “Fitness,” “Cross-Training” or “CrossFit” classes at your box, then I recommend doing one of those WODs you missed.
  2. Skill Development – Use the open gym time to develop new skills, doing singles in a metcon is fine. But if you’re chasing that ever elusive Rx workout and double unders is the one thing holding you back then you know what you can do. This goes for any skill you’re trying to develop. However, choose only 2 maybe 3 things to work on and do it over and over again. Start with the lowest hanging fruit. For instance, if you can’t do a pull up, you probably have no business trying to learn how to muscle up.
  3. Technique Refinement/Practice – If you’re already really good at certain movements, there is no real purpose to practicing it more (well within reason). However, there’s a difference between being able to do something a few times and consistently. Keep refining movements until it’s no longer a weakness. For instance, I’ll never be great at pistol squats, but I can do it at a passing standard where it won’t hold me up in a metcon.
  4. Have a plan. Programs aren’t random and maybe you are one of those who can only make it 2-3 days in the middle of the week. It might not be a bad idea to do the strength movements you’ve missed then do a “create your own metcon.” Just remember, more often than not, the metcon shouldn’t be the star of the show.