How to Improve Culture at your Gym

“A major contribution to the success of CrossFit can largely be attributed to its strongly guarded culture which has less to do with physical transformation and more to do with encouraging participation, community, and personal growth,” wrote Rachel Service in her article, What CrossFit Culture Can Teach Businesses. 

As a gym owner, you already know this. You know this because culture is your currency. It’s what separates you from globo-gym execs, “miracle” diet peddlers, and late-night fitness equipment infomercial hosts. 

So what happens when the culture at your gym starts to suffer? How do you get it back? We’ve collected a few stories about gym owners and the tough decisions they’ve made to take back their community and preserve their business. If you’re in the same position, hopefully you can learn from their struggles and take action before it’s too late.

Take an honest look at your coaches

Have you observed a negative change in a particular coach’s attitude? Is their behavior affecting the flow of the class? Or the attendance? If you’ve noticed something, chances are your members have too, and that’s not good for business. Does your coach just need a refresher on your gym’s mission or is it time to part ways? 

John Briggs, co-owner of CrossFit Great Salt Lake had to make the hard choice. In his revealing article for Morning Chalk Up, he outlined the struggles he faced trying to make his gym profitable. One of these struggles was getting rid of staff members who were damaging the culture.

“It took months to realize that a handful of entitled, poisonous coaches were standing in the way of all the good things we wanted to accomplish. Coaches are a critical part of the culture of a gym. They have to be on board with the owners’ vision. Those who aren’t, need to go.”

Briggs knows it was the right decision, even if he waited too long. “We wasted six months of effort because we didn’t clean house soon enough.” Culture is built when everyone has a stake, not just the owner. Make sure your staff is clear on your values so that they can provide your members with the best experience possible. 

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Take an honest look at your members  

In a perfect world, you’d have a gym full of encouraging, invested members just bursting with positivity. And those who weren’t, would leave without incident. 

Even though John Briggs suffered through having to fire a few staff members, he did catch a break. The small group of athletes who were enabling his coaches’ problem behavior also left the gym, leaving behind a much stronger community. It was a classic case of addition by subtraction.

For Jason Brown, founder of Box Programming, things weren’t as simple. On his blog, he’s written candidly about whether or not to fire members, even after they’ve caused him to feel resentful and uncomfortable inside his own gym. 

“I made the decision to NOT fire a client. I knew it would create a lot of issues with other people, resulting in many of our clients leaving our facility. I regret [my decision] because from that point forward, I could not be myself around this person.”

Since that time, he’s changed his attitude and accepted the fact that not every member is right for every gym. Some have different goals, some have different values, and some are just jerks.

His conclusion mirrors exactly what CrossFit Great Salt Lake discovered: 

“You may lose clients to find out that your community is much better off just by having some clients leave.”

At the end of the day, your gym is your livelihood and you get to decide whether they stay or not. In Brown’s words, “Keeping a few clients that make you miserable is not worth any amount of money.

Take an honest look at your business partners

Owning a gym is an exciting venture within the reach of many passionate entrepreneurs. However, once money for rent, insurance, and equipment are on the line, things get really serious, really quickly. It pays to do your due diligence and know exactly who you’re going into business with before you sign any contracts.

It was immediately after Battle Axe CrossFit opened that Carol Solo noticed a problem. Even though she and her partners had agreed upon a business strategy and philosophy, one partner wasn’t fitting in. 

Within hours of signing the lease agreements and combining our finances, things changed,” said Solo. 

From a difference of opinion in how responsibilities were handled, to how the coaches and members were treated, it was apparent that something had to give. “Our attitude at Battle Axe is playful and light-hearted, but this partner didn’t share the same view.”

Solo and her other partners knew they needed to make a change for the health of their gym, even if it meant losing some members as a result. “We were worried about removing a partner because we were so new and didn’t want to have a fracture in our community so soon after opening.” 

It took six months to fix an issue they’d realized from day one. However, even though they waited longer than they preferred to formally remove the partner, Solo knew it was the right move as she and her current team all share the same mindset and work ethic. “We only lost three members due to the change, and over the last five years, we’ve built a kick-ass community that we are very proud of.” 

Take an honest look at yourself

In 2010, CrossFit founder Greg Glassman gave a now-famous presentation to his affiliate owners where he equated gym success with the cleanliness of its bathrooms and offered some very blunt words:

I can fix bad training. I can’t fix ‘you don’t care.’ I can’t give you pride where you don’t have it.”

If you’ve read this far, it’s evident that you do care. The question is, are you willing to identify why things aren’t working and repair them, even if you’re the cause?

Full disclosure: This is familiar territory. A few years ago, Wodify had a serious culture problem. We were missing a clear mission and set of values, and people were jumping ship. We needed to reset, so that’s what we did.

In June, 2018, we shut down the company for a week and focused on what every one of us could do to improve company culture, empower our customers, and provide the best product possible. You can learn more from this presentation by Wodify CEO Ameet Shah, where he outlines why our company culture had to change and the lessons he learned as a result:

“If you wait, it will be too late.”
Waiting too long to make tough decisions has been a recurring theme. Have the confidence in your skills as a business owner to make the hard calls, knowing that whatever the immediate fallout, the long term result will improve your health and the health of your business.

“Get everyone involved.”
Talk to your team and your members. Get complete buy-in from everybody so that your vision and the values of the gym are clear. 

“There is no finish line.”
Culture isn’t something you solve and then put away. Every new hire and every new member who walks through your door is another opportunity for you to share the things that make your gym special. Don’t miss your chance!

Have a culture story you want to share?
Tag us on social media (@wodify) and use the hashtag #WodiFam to be featured!

Ready to put what you’ve learned into practice?
Download a free PDF handbook with many of NCFIT’s gym management procedures and philosophies that you can implement in your gym today.
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