Lessons Learned

As LinkedIn recently reminded me (and some of you via “Congrats” in the app – thank you!), I have now been the owner of CrossFit Kent Island for 7 years.  It seems crazy to think it’s been that long, but at the same time I can look back and think of many things that I have learned along the way.  Here are my top 7 lessons learned, in order of when I learned them.  Some of them came as tough feedback from mistakes I’ve made, and others just realizations through maturing as a business owner and as a CrossFitter myself.  Let me know if there if you have any more for me!

  1. Treat everyone that comes in the door as a “newbie”.  When we first started with 10-15 members this was relatively easy – not many people had any experience with CrossFit or high-intensity workouts.  So we didn’t have an On-Ramp program and we started very basic, assuming that everyone needed to learn everything from the ground up.  But as we grew a bit, we had some experienced athletes who claimed to be in good shape, and I threw them to the wolves, only to see them get chewed up and spit out.  As it turns out, CrossFit is a great teacher to all of us that unless you have been really testing yourself with high-intensity (which is tough to do on your own), you are not very well-rounded, not very fit.  Everyone comes in with some sort of fitness bias – they are good runners or powerful lifters, but we’re all going to be leveled pretty quickly by something we weren’t expecting.  So we started an On-Ramp program, made it mandatory for all new CrossFitters, and began all of our conversations with experienced athletes with “Leave your ego at the door”, lest it be forcibly removed by Fran, or Karen, or Grace, or…
  2. Fitness is contagious!  One thing that everyone knows about CrossFitters is that they love to talk about CrossFit.  But ironically, I don’t think that’s what gets new people in our door for the first time.  It’s not seeing the “check-ins” on Facebook or the Instagram videos of new PRs – other CrossFitters are the only ones that really notice that stuff.  It’s the way that you show up in your life when you’ve started to build a solid foundation of fitness and health that attracts your friends and family.  Year 2 is when we started to have a lot more families join the gym, and it happened one-by-one.  A common quote from a husband coming into their first On-Ramp is, “my wife has gotten so fit, I want to do whatever she’s doing!”  So keep on posting about the way yesterday’s workout crushed your soul, WE all want to see it and I love scrolling through my feed to see what you guys are saying.  But also keep on getting out into the world and doing awesome things – people take notice of that, and that’s when they do something about their own health.
  3. You have to have a “Why”.  CrossFit is hard.  Getting yourself amped up for a grueling workout that you know is going to kick your ass, which then proceeds to kick your ass in a different way than you could have imagined, and then gearing up to do it again tomorrow takes a lot of courage and commitment.  At first you will see the Wodify leaderboard raining PR gold stars all the time, and then if you’ve been at this for a while you will start to see some plateaus.  Those benchmark workout times and strength numbers become much harder to top!  This is when you need to back up and think about what you are training for.  Is it to be a healthy dad so that you can coach your kids and they can look up to you?  Are you training to be able to complete your first marathon?  Your “why” may change over the years, but it’s important to come back to it because this is what will keep you focused when the training gets tough.
  4. CrossFitters have an abundance mentality.  In our third year, the first in “the new gym”, we ran our first fundraiser event – a hastily put-together competition and cookout to raise money for a member that was in medical and financial distress.  And we raised just under $10,000.  Since then, whether raising money for our members in need or national causes, I have been stunned by the generosity of our people, and other CrossFit communities stepping in to support us as well.  Service has always been one of our guiding values at CFKI, and it’s something we excel at, because you all share an “abundance mentality” that there is more than enough to go around.  It’s the feeling of, “If I have something and I don’t need it right now, you can have it,” and it’s a great thing to see in this rather pessimistic and grab-what-you-can world that we seem to be living in.
  5. Have fun with gymnastics!  One of the things that has kept me energized about CrossFit over the years is the almost unending number of skills that you can work toward mastery in gymnastics.  In our On-Ramp program and in our class warmups, we often run through the skill progressions of a handstand push-up or a muscle-up in order to determine an appropriate scaling option for everyone.  And at every step, there is always something for everyone to work on in order to get better at that skill.  Then once you feel proficient in a step of the progression, there’s always more!  Gymnastics is a huge component of overall fitness because of its lessons in body control and coordination, but also due to the core and extremity strength to be gained in practicing it, which then translates to bigger weightlifting numbers!  Work on your gymnastics skills, strive to master the basics, and then the sky is the limit!
  6. Mobility is important!  Although I’ve been saying this for years, I have to be honest in admitting that my opinion was that mobility is important… for YOU.  I have always been pretty flexible, and so neglected my pre-WOD mobility drills in favor of getting to the workout and getting back to work.  My post-workout recovery, if not done with a class, tended to be laying on the ground for several minutes and then high-fiving anyone that was around.  Recently I have learned through nagging injuries that turn into demobilizing conditions, that you can’t get away with that forever, and our bodies have a neat way of telling us to stop moving in dangerous ways!  I have recommitted myself now to focusing on warming up my joints and muscles for the crazy amount of work I expect them to do, and then incorporating our great recovery exercises along with a daily ROMWOD.  If you don’t have a subscription to ROMWOD (basically yoga for CrossFitters), I think that is $14 a month that will save you from a lot of unnecessary soreness and potential injuries due to overly tight muscles.
  7. I still have a lot to learn.  One of the most humbling and also most exciting things that I’ve learned, especially over the last couple years, is that I’m not the best athlete in the gym anymore.  Who knows if I ever was!  I’m not the best coach in the gym anymore.  I can go down the list of what I consider to be the characteristics of a great coach, from technical knowledge to group management, to presence and attitude, and I find myself emulating aspects of all of our amazingly talented coaches.  They motivate me to always be better, to keep working on my trade.  And all of you awesome athletes motivate me to be a better mover, to keep myself more healthy, to continue to push my endurance limits when I really don’t want to.  I love it!  I feel like the presence of greatness in every aspect of athletics and coaching in our community means that we are growing in the right way, and that we all have a lot to be excited about for the future.

Thanks to you all for an outstanding seven years!  It’s hard to imagine where the next seven will take us, but I can’t wait to find out!

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