History of Penance Gym – Part 2

If you missed Part 1, you can go back and read it here.

As the wheel turned into 2015, we were full of hope at all the possibilities that being affiliated with CrossFit could bring us. But nothing really changed for us initially. We kept on with business as usual – training our clients using the same equipment and the same methodologies that we had previously. Because we knew it worked! The only major change we experienced was that being listed on CrossFit’s website gave us a platform for potential clients to find us on a national level.

By the end of that year, we doubled our business space from 4500 sq ft to 9000! We really felt like we were taking off. The added room allowed us to try new exercises and it allowed our members to spread out farther during the workouts which made coaching a little easier during workouts where barbells were being used. We were also able to add an expanded bathroom facility with showers, an actual front office, and kid’s area to the front of the gym.

But CrossFit’s marketing proved to be a bit of a double-edged sword for us, though, as the number one driver of CrossFit’s popularity was the CrossFit Games – labeled as “The Sport of Fitness”. This is the ultra-competitive side of CrossFit. Unfortunately it goes completely against the actual mission of CrossFit and the reason why I was driven to it in the first place – helping people improve their quality of life.

By the time 2016 rolled around, we were starting to implement some of the things that CrossFit is more known for – like hosting an Intramural Open for our members, performing “Murph” on Memorial Day, and incorporating big movements like Bar Muscle-Ups and the Olympic Lifts.

Let me first say that there is nothing inherently wrong with the CrossFit Open; however, we pushed our members to participate in this which began to cause them to place importance on exercises that are not conducive to the goals that they actually had for themselves. 

For example; Snatching 200 pounds – or training to do so – is not going to help someone get off of blood pressure medication, play soccer with their kids, or lose the 15 pounds of body fat they need to feel confident in their bathing suit… By comparison, someone training to be able to do their first Push-Up (or 50 unbroken) or their first Strict Pull Up could help someone completely eliminate the need for that same medication mentioned above, and they definitely have the potential to drop the 15 pounds!

Despite the fact that I had added staff both on the coaching floor and in the front office, I still very much felt – and acted – like Atlas with the weight of the world resting solely on my shoulders. Having done so much on my own for so many years, made it difficult for me to recognize that I was in my own way when it came to advancing the business. (My staff were primed and ready to succeed, but it would take me more time than I would like to admit to see that.)

Much to our benefit, we still continued to primarily rely on Kettlebells, Sandbags, and Tires for weighted movements during this time. We really could not afford an abundance of Barbells which was a blessing in disguise. (Contrary to popular belief, gyms like ours are not rolling in dough. Especially in our earlier days, we heavily discounted our rates to encourage potential customers to become members. We now know what a disservice that was – both to us as a business, but most importantly to our members.)

In the last quarter of 2017, a generous donation made it possible for us to purchase the Barbells and Weight Plates that we “thought” we needed. For the next 9 months, we were basically just doing the same training that every other CrossFit gym was doing.

And that may be part of the reason I allowed myself to get caught up in the “CrossFit” of it all for a few years. I knew in my bones, I could help my members reach their goals and live the lives of their dreams. But during that time, I had people in my gym who were EXCITED to work out. Almost on a daily basis, one member or another would approach me about something “cool” they’d seen online and with the hope that I would incorporate that into our workouts. 

I thought by allowing myself to get caught up in their excitement, that others would find the same love for training and physical fitness that I found years ago as a teenager. That we could use this to spark that joy as well!

But all those “cool” things didn’t actually help us to help our members get better. In fact, too many of them were either working out through their issues, or even missing workouts because of “tweaks” they had gotten in the gym.

It wasn’t until I suffered my own back injury in June of 2018 that my eyes began to open to the fact that the type of training that we were doing and the focus that we were inadvertently placing on the competition side of CrossFit, was doing more harm than good.

In hindsight, I missed a HUGE opportunity to use that injury to return to our roots. I shielded the membership and my staff from the true depth of my injury. I’m not an emotional man, so sharing my weaknesses at the time wasn’t even an option for me. There were a few who knew, but I downplayed it a great deal to make it appear like it was a non-issue.

And it was so crazy to me that we had allowed ourselves to get so far away from our own mission. I KNEW how to help my members get healthy!!

Through those hardcore years, many of our initial members still stuck by us. And today, I couldn’t be more grateful for that!

Because we didn’t know it then, but big things were in store for us….

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