OPINION: Why are CrossFit Owners and Coaches Struggling to Make Ends Meet?

November 15, 2022 by
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The CrossFit methodology works, undeniably, when applied to the appropriate people. Further, it’s affiliate owners and coaches tend to be hardworking and passionate. Why, then, are so many owners and coaches struggling to make ends meet? I believe it stems from focusing on the wrong people.

I have owned three CrossFit affiliates, coached at dozens, and consulted with hundreds; I’ve experienced the full spectrum of ‘high highs’ and ‘low lows’. I exited affiliate ownership on December 31, 2017. However, if I were to start a new one today, my primary focus would be on the particular audience that I believe is best-positioned to experience the magic that can happen inside an affiliate. 

That audience is current and former athletes. These are people who have participated in organized or recreational sports, who seek hard work, who are between the ages of 25 and 40 and want to get into the absolute best shape of their lives. They’re not afraid to get hurt, and they’re not already dealing with injuries they want to prioritize eliminating. These people may already be in shape, or they may have let themselves go over the years, but they generally don’t have chronic disease. They value a fun atmosphere over individualized coaching attention. They get excited seeing their name on a whiteboard, and they want to crush their friend in today’s WOD. 

Before you head to your keyboard, let me be clear: CrossFit as a fitness methodology could absolutely be useful to a far broader audience than the one described above. However, my belief is that if we really want to help people, we should eliminate “could” from our language, and replace it with “is likely to”.

I acknowledge that people have experienced a wide array of magic via their experiences with CrossFit. Some individuals have recovered from depression or kicked drug addiction; others have lost 100 pounds or reduced the severity of metabolic diseases. Irrefutably, these things have happened. 

However, we need to examine whether or not they are “likely” to happen.

If we lead with the margins of the capacity for what can happen inside an affiliate… we attract hopeful people to a fitness methodology delivered through a business model that, while possible, is unlikely to deliver them the results they are coming for.

People have overcome depression and addiction via CrossFit. So, affiliate owner: are you ready to promise people suffering from depression or addiction that if they join your gym, you are going to help them overcome it?

People have lost 100 pounds. If ten people who intended to lose 100 pounds joined your gym this week, are you prepared to promise that your group class is what they need… Do you think a scaled version of this week’s Hero Workout or Girl Workout is the best thing for them to be doing?

Some of you would probably answer, “yes” – and that’s why the discussion is worth having. You believe that you are saving someone’s life. I concede that you could be. 

Compare the promises above to this one. “If you’re tired of boring workouts that aren’t getting you back into the kind of shape you remember being in, we promise that if you work your ass off, we can help you become the fittest you’ve ever been while also having the most fun you’ve ever had working out in an amazing community.”

Everything about that promise is true. And you would have a box full of people who are easy to coach, who get results, who refer friends, and who are fun to have as members. 

As a bonus, the person at the margins of who can be served via this programming and coaching model is still going to join. In this context, they will have self-selected for an environment that they fully understand was designed for the most ambitious version of themselves. And they just might experience the magic of losing hundreds of pounds, getting off their medication, overcoming depression, and so many other incredible things. 

Below is a bell curve I created to share on my social media that expands on these thoughts. It’s incomplete, as all things are. 

In any line of work, awareness of limitations is equally as important as an understanding of potential capabilities. Every professional has a defined scope of practice; CrossFit is no different. Affiliate owners and coaches can reduce burnout and experience more financial success simply by recognizing that they do not bear the responsibility to be all things for all people, they simply bear the responsibility to consistently deliver on their promises. Focus narrow, serve deep. 

Dr. Sean Pastuch is a former owner of three CrossFit affiliates and a rehabilitation clinic. He has since founded Active Life and has experience coaching dozens of CrossFit Games athletes as well as helping numerous CrossFit coaches and affiliates around the world in a professional capacity.

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