How Affiliates Are Keeping Community Alive During The Pandemic

December 2, 2020 by
Credit: Cohort CrossFit
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12 hours. 

That’s the amount of notice Paul Knowles, owner of Cohort CrossFit in Erina, Australia, says he had before a coronavirus lockdown closed his facilities.

Knowles hit the ground running. Like affiliate owners across the globe, he stripped his gym bare, leasing out packages of equipment to members. He worked to engage his community through YouTube videos teaching movements using only a backpack — something that’s accessible to everyone — created months of programming, and ran classes through Instagram live.

One big thing: Stories like that of Cohort CrossFit’s are echoed in affiliates globally. With restrictions emptying gyms of both members and equipment, coaches and owners have been forced to find creative ways to keep the family-like feel of the CrossFit community alive.  

Knowles relied on Instagram live rather than Zoom, polling his community on what they wanted to see each day, for example, fitness or meditation, 4 or 5 p.m. class. “Rather than throwing and missing,” he laughs, “I asked them where they wanted me to throw.”

  • Lockdown was a chaotic time for everyone. Some ladies in the gym, it was the first time they had five kids in their household, 24 hours a day,” Knowles says. “When we did the polls, we saw that a lot of people just wanted to hang out, or they wanted to stretch. They wanted some calm in the day.”
  • “To be honest, I think a lot of people just had Cohort running in the background to make it feel like they were still there.”

Premium subscribers can hear more about how CrossFit San Jose owner Lance Miller worked to keep his community together as his gym pivoted to fully virtual earlier this year.

Credit: Cohort CrossFit

Creating the backpack YouTube series allowed Knowles to add an educational skill element for his members.

  • I think for the members, seeing a push series come out through YouTube, they were like ‘Oh, I didn’t know that the handstand push up was the same as a lying back press,’” he says.
  • It was nice to educate along the way, you felt as if you almost had more reach to them, because you can’t spend an hour going through a push series in the gym,” Knowles adds. 

In Michigan, group fitness classes are no longer allowed. CrossFit in the D has pivoted to offering open gyms on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

  • “The secret sauce is not allowed,” says Dave Finlay, owner of the box, touching on the loss of community felt with Michigan’s recently-imposed restrictions.  “They’ve taken away the things we’re best at doing: the opportunity to coach, the opportunity to compete, the opportunity to test yourself against your friends, and the community, hallmarks of a great CrossFit gym.”

But members and coaches are finding ways to bring back pieces of community. CrossFit in the D, in normal times, relies heavily on partner workouts. Now, athletes are waiting just a few minutes at open gym — Finlay leaves a running clock all day — to start the daily workout with the person next to them, bringing back friendly WOD competition. 

  • “We are doing our best to create as much of a community, competitive feel to our WODs as we can,” Finlay says. 

Mark Oscroft of CrossFit Tamworth in England, which was placed under a second lockdown on November 5, created The Quarantine Games to keep members engaged in virtual classes. 

Oscroft explains that Zoom classes weren’t popular in the first lockdown — only five members consistently attended and when they reopened, only 50% of members returned to the gym. The games were created, in part, to retain athletes. 

  • In The Open, for the last four years now, we do the Crossfit Tamworth Championships,” Oscroft said, explaining that they make a “massive deal” about the in-house competition in their community, dividing members into teams. 
  • “I thought, “Ok, how can we make more people interested in the Zoom classes?’ You get points,” he adds. 

The Quarantine Games were run like The Open. Athletes had a few days to submit scores, with points awarded just for submitting an entry. 

  • “Everyone’s been loving it,” Oscroft says, noting that this time around, they’ve only lost one member.

CrossFit Soto in Kentucky took a similar approach when new restrictions were placed on gym capacity and classes, challenging members with the Holiday Hustle

  • I knew that regardless of what new protocols were coming our way that many of our members would choose to stay at home,” says Kimberly Luber, co-owner of CrossFit Soto. 
  • We typically have a cardio-style challenge between Thanksgiving and New Year, so I decided to make it a challenge that could be done at home,” she continues. “That way everyone could participate.”

With the holidays approaching and COVID-fatigue setting in, Luber says she and her coaches will keep implementing challenges to keep members engaged.

  • We are there for them, it’s our goal to help with their health and wellness whether they can come in the gym or not,” she says.

Programming was the focus of CrossFit Catacombs in Colorado, who is operating with outdoor and limited indoor classes. 

  • “We offered a nutrition challenge, virtual coffee with Coach (owner Tracie Holcomb), and launched our new kids classes via Zoom,” says Kelsey MacDonald, a coach at the gym. “We encouraged our members to post their fitness adventures, both CrossFit or other activities on our community page.”

MacDonald continues, noting that coaches offered a wider range of virtual programming, like mobility, mental fitness tips, and challenges to aid in mental health. 

The bottom line: There’s no right way to keep community engaged as the pandemic continues. 

  • We did it in a different way, I don’t think that we did it better,” says Knowles, who has been back in the gym with members since June, after a near four-month shut down. “I think that some people were really connected to the 4 p.m. Zoom.”
  • “We could’ve done Zoom, but I don’t think I would have produced the same content,” he continues. “We’re back, and we’ll be fine. Whatever happens, we’ll make sure our members are ok.”

It’s what works for individual boxes, what keeps athletes coming back and staying connected, that matters. .

  • There are more conversations over post-WOD foam rolling and mobility sessions and a lot of cheering and encouraging each other throughout their workouts,” MacDonald says. 
  • For some of our members, their early morning class is the only human interaction they get all day, and just being around other people while suffering in a class helps soothe their souls.”

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