Get Engaged

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Article brought to you by CrossFit Elevates Guest writer @Fitbomb

“When people learn that I’m a regular at CrossFit Palo Alto’s 5 a.m. class, they usually look at me like I’m crazy. I know what they’re thinking: CrossFit’s tough enough – why do it before the sun comes up?

For starters, my kids aren’t (usually) awake at 5 in the morning. Plus, there’s no one at work — not even on the East Coast — who expects me to be available at that hour. But the main reason I’m willing to drag my hide out of bed at 4:20 a.m. is simple: I love hanging out with the people in my class.

I’m convinced that more than anything else, CrossFit affiliate members who stick around for the long haul do so because of the friendships that develop at the gym. Yes, the quality of the coaching is vital, and good programming is key. Some folks commit to a long-term membership because they dig the convenience of a short, intense workout, and others stay because they see how CrossFit has changed their lives for the better, and are eager to see continued improvement. But all else being equal, a gym without a strong community is one with a revolving door. Absent the anchoring bonds of friendships, members will come and go.

Decades ago, Gallup developed a 12-question survey to gauge the engagement levels of employees at different companies. Over 17 million people have since taken the survey, and it turns out that the most predictive question is this: “Do you have a best friend at work?” Respondents who answer “yes” are typically more than twice as committed to their company as those who answer “no,” and exhibit the strongest loyalty scores and retention rates. It makes sense: People are more loyal to people than they are to abstract institutions.

This, I think, applies equally to CrossFit gyms.

I’m not saying that unless your BFF 4EVA is cranking out wallball shots next to you, it’s inevitable that you’re going to leave your gym. But if you’ve developed strong connections with those in your affiliate, you’re less likely to ditch class, let alone abandon your box. Conversely, if you show up at a gym where no one knows your name, you’re more likely to look around for another, more friendly CrossFit affiliate. To be truly successful, a gym can’t just be a gym — it has to aspire to be Cheers (minus the alcohol, pool table, Cliff Claven and co-worker sexual tension).

While it may seem difficult to build relationships with your fellow firebreathers during a breathless, heart-stopping WOD, there are plenty of little things that anyone can do to strengthen bonds between members. For example:

  • Say something. I’ve visited CrossFit gyms where — to my surprise — people barely acknowledge each other’s presence. WTF, people? If we’re going to be in the trenches together, let’s at least say “good morning.” Not all of us are natural extroverts, but there are ways to show support for classmates other than screaming at ‘em as they struggle to finish a workout. Consider offering a simple post-WOD high-five or “nice job!” to each person in class. If your gym has time set aside for self-directed stretching, warm-ups or cool-down, take the opportunity to start a conversation with someone. And don’t just demand to know their Fran time. Ask them about their goals, and share yours, too. Ask for advice. Find out what your classmates do for a living, or for fun. You don’t have to be a gifted loudmouth or a class clown to start quietly planting the seeds of community.
  • Don’t be a drag. Ask yourself if you’re bringing positive energy into the gym, or if you’re sucking it out of the room when you enter. Nothing kills a gym community and a friendly atmosphere like a sullen quitter or an incessant complainer. Remember: No one’s forcing you to show up, so lighten up a little. Smile and hit the workout hard. Positivity breeds positivity.
  • Leverage social media. More than half of the members at our affiliate are on Twitter, and just about everyone’s on Facebook. A number of us keep blogs. We use social media tools not just to discuss CrossFit or gym-related news, but also to network, share ideas and learn about each other. CrossFit Palo Alto’s owner and head coach, Tim Dymmel, doesn’t use Twitter and Facebook to overtly push marketing messages about the gym; instead, he uses it to celebrate members’ successes, share topics of interest, and cultivate a robust online community that enhances and feeds our real-life interactions. Most importantly, he actively encourages us to use social media to extend the gym’s community online. As a result, we’ve learned a lot about each other, and developed strong friendships — not just with our classmates, but with members we rarely bump into at the gym.
  • Participate. I’m not advocating loitering at the gym to gossip while the next class is trying to do warm-ups. But take advantage of your affiliate’s official events (weekend throwdowns, Paleo potlucks, etc.) as well as opportunities to get together informally. After every 5 a.m. class at CrossFit Palo Alto, a group of us strolls over to a nearby coffee shop to guzzle hot caffeine and decompress from our workout. Sometimes, it’s just me and Tim; other days, our group has included up to a half-dozen folks. “CoffeeWOD” doesn’t work out for everyone’s schedule, but all are welcome to join. It’s an opportunity for us to geek out over our common interests (e.g., CrossFit, Paleo nutrition, cool new iPhone apps), swap stories about our weekends, people-watch, or share bizarre YouTube videos with each other. Yes, CoffeeWOD is just a fancy name for “hanging out.” But that’s how engagement gets built: Small social interactions — online or offline — develop into friendships that, in turn, coalesce into a larger community.

Think about it: If some of your closest friends worked out at your gym, wouldn’t you be more excited to go, and more inclined to stay? Sure, you can try to convince your best buddy from high school to join your CrossFit gym, but if he or she decides that rowing 2K sounds like an awful way to spend a morning (and who can blame them?), you can do your part to create and sustain an environment at your affiliate that’s conducive to building strong relationships.

So go round up some people, grab your iPhones and get your CoffeeWOD on.”

Tuesday WOD

Wall Ball



21 – 15 – 12 – 9 – 6 – 3


Hip Mobility

Scale to capabilities


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