It all boils down to one word: community.
Let me explain. Love it or hate it, there is no denying the tremendous impact CrossFit has had on the fitness industry in the last few years.

So this is not going to be yet another CrossFit-bashing blog post. I will have nothing to say about allegations CrossFit is unsafe or overpriced, much less the wisdom of kipping pull-ups.
Those topics have been re-hashed endlessly in thousands of blog posts by people who usually have a dog in the fight. Instead, I’m going to focus on what others can learn from what CrossFit is doing right.

My thoughts are prompted by my recent visit to a competition at a CrossFit gym. It was unlike anything I had seen in years. Pats on the back and a real sense of camaraderie took me back to my college years. They even passed around beers at the end of the competition!

Everyone knew everyone else’s name. Everyone supported everyone else. And most amazingly the male to female ratio was near 1:1.

When I’m not travelling around the country doing membership consulting at “Mom and Pop” gyms, I’m a member of a big box gym, like everyone else. And I have to admit the camaraderie is often lacking. Most people — including me — just want to get in, get “in the zone” and get out.
What’s missing in the big box gyms is a sense of community.

Which brings is back to my bread and butter: the “Mom and Pop” gyms. Time was when they did provide camaraderie. When you finished your workout, you’d hang around the front desk, sipping a shake and shooting the breeze with anyone around.

But lately, many “Mom and Pop” gyms have been muscled out by the massive marketing machines of big gyms with low price. So how can they compete?
My advice? Learn from CrossFit.

Consider convenience and results. There’s a lot to be said for short but intense “workouts of the day” that have you in and out in an hour, including warm up and cool down. This is attractive to busy professionals who don’t want to make the gym a second home.

Consider Bare Bones Equipment.  CrossFit has proved it’s possible to get a great work out with minimal equipment in a warehouse type of environment. If you’re a full service gym, you already have superior equipment selection.  Why not put it to great use?   Imagine the possibilities if you could combine your machines and a functional area to create killer workouts of the day.  Members are already doing it on their own at the big box clubs.  Not a workout day goes by where I don’t witness members performing CrossFit in front of the dumbbell racks, pathways between the cardio and machines or wherever else they can find the space. So why not give the practice your blessing?

Back to Camaraderie. If you’re a family-owned independent gym, would it be so crazy to introduce name tags for members for a month?  Better yet:

  • Combine this with your new programming rollout
  • Set times for these group classes in a month-long rollout
  • Have your best personal trainer dedicated to roll the  workout of the day program as an instructor
  • After, have a protein smoothie contest amongst your staff with members voting on who is the best smoothie craftsman
  • This will not only boost employee morale, but give members a reason to stick around and socialize after the workout.  You want members to interact with one another so that eventually they will form groups to meet for the workout of the day on their own without instructors.

Marketing to Women. CrossFit has done a great job at shattering the stereotype that lifting is unfeminine. It appeals to women of all fitness levels and body types. But why?

I believe the answer is threefold:

1: CrossFit gets results far more effectively than running on a treadmill for a half hour

2: CrossFit gyms create a a small and personalized atmosphere

3: CrossFit and instructors and members are highly supportive and engaged with other members. Visible on-site owners are not only passionate about fitness, but deeply believe CrossFit is a superior delivery medium for fitness. Members are equally passionate and create great grassroots marketing no paid advertising can buy.

One last note. I believe the final ingredient in the CrossFit secret sauce may be the most important:

Competition. How exciting! How many people — other than professional athletes — get to compete past the age of 25? But many of us want to relive our high school days of athletic glory (real or imagined!) CrossFit provides that opportunity. You have an end goal that’s not measured by lbs lost but by competing if front of a supportive group of your peers.  CrossFit has created a sport not just a fitness option.  It’s a helluva lot better model than what much of the fitness industry is doing: slashing prices and praying members don’t actually show up!

It’s high time “Mom and Pop” health clubs get back to their roots. They should create an atmosphere where “everyone knows your name” and everyone genuinely cares about getting members better…and healthier.

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