The Release Valve

The Release Valve

You’re under a lot of pressure.

Sometimes that’s good. Maybe, like me, you’re at your best when your back’s to the wall.

But you’re also a fitness professional. So you know what happens to an organism under stress. Hans Selye said it first:

“An organism under stress is in decline. Remove the stress, and the organism super-compensates. But maintain the stress and the organism continues to decline until it dies.”


Relieve Stress—Your Way


Every entrepreneur needs a release valve.

Some drink. Some cheat on a spouse. Some have other bad habits.

And some exercise.

Maybe, as a gym owner, exercise is your release valve. But more and more gym owners admit that working out in their gyms adds to their stress instead of relieves it.

I want to tell you: It’s OK to work out somewhere else.

You can go to another gym. Your members won’t quit.

You can go ride a bike. Your members won’t quit your gym to ride bikes.

You can work out in your garage. Your members won’t immediately quit your gym to build garage gyms of their own.

Last May, I walked into my gym for the noon group. I love the people in my noon group but had been forcing myself to attend for a few months.

On my way into the gym, I saw a coach’s lunch garbage spread all over the front desk. I was pissed; and then the class started two minutes late, with 10 people waiting around while one person tied their shoes.

When the workout started, I felt unmotivated. I was distracted by the work sitting in my office next door. I didn’t like the workout, and I was bored by the warmup. I started to ask myself why I was even there. That night, I dug out my bike. And I haven’t worked out in my gym since.

But membership keeps growing. None of my members said, “Screw it! I’m gonna go ride bikes with Chris!”


Self-Improvement Produces Business Improvements


If you’ve been a gym owner for a while, your gym might not be your release valve anymore. And that’s OK: It exists to be their release valve. You need a different one. As our resident psychotherapist says:

“Therapists need therapy more than anyone else because they’re carrying everyone’s shit around!”

Did my members ask where I was? Absolutely.

Did I plan to return after a short break? Definitely. But I haven’t yet.

Do I hate CrossFit? No way. I love it. I just love cycling more right now. It’s a tremendous gift to be able to choose between two things that I love.

To be a better coach, better boss and better human, you need to release the pressure. Some of that pressure comes from self-doubt; some comes from lack of clarity; some comes from guilt.

Go exercise somewhere else. You have permission. Come back happier.

Do all the right things for all the right people.

Including yourself.

Need more advice on common problems? Click here to book a free call with a certified Two-Brain Business mentor.




It doesn’t matter who reads the most books.

That’s not the contest.

The contest is “who can build a sustainable gym that pays you really well?”

I’ll never tell anyone to read fewer books. I was raised by teachers. I have hundreds of books in my Audible account and hundreds more scattered between my office and my home. When I find a book I love, I buy 20 copies and hand them out to Workshop visitors.

I read a for nearly three hours every single day.

And it’s not enough.

I still can’t read everything. So here’s what I’ve learned:

When it comes to reading business books, I encourage everyone to read more intensively, not extensively.

Here are my rules for reading business books:


1. Don’t Plan to Read the Whole Book

Paraphrasing Nassim Taleb, “Most books would make a great blog post.”

Most business books follow a new format: one central idea, some supporting evidence, and stories of the idea being put into practice. I won’t explain why here (but I write about it more on the Two-Brain Media blog).

That means it’s really easy to understand the author’s point. But it also means you don’t need to read most of the book.

Read the intro and then the first few chapters. If you understand the idea, you can skip to the middle of the book—or even the end.

If the first few chapters make you excited to read the rest, keep going. Every chapter should sell you on the next one.


2. Don’t Pass the Halfway Point Without Action

When you hit the halfway mark in a book, pause and reflect.

Ask yourself: “What action have I taken since starting this book?”

If the answer is “none,” put it down. This information isn’t moving you forward.

If you can clearly point to an action you’ve taken or a habit you’ve created since starting the book, keep going.

And put it in your pile to read again in six months.


3. Avoid the Novelty Bias

When you finish a book, ask yourself:

“Does this book complement something I already knew or does this book replace something I used to believe?”

In other words: Is this new, supportive information or did it change my mind?

We’re all wired to believe that the last thing we read is the best thing ever. That’s a logical fallacy, and it keeps us constantly consuming more and more (but acting less and less).

I love buying books but force myself to go back through my library every three months and ask, “Should I listen to any of these again?”

If I’ve done a good job filtering in #2, the answer is often obvious.


4. Make It Stick

Summarize what you’ve read as soon as you’ve finished.

Pretend you’re teaching the book to someone else. How can you concisely sum up the book?

When you teach something, you get to learn it twice. And focusing on the key insights will make them stick in your brain longer.

This is why I started writing my first blog to help other gym owners in 2009: I was really just taking notes for myself in the most effective way. translated the top lessons from business books into directives for gym owners.

If you had to tell me about the book in 1 minute and pass along its key lessons, what would you say?


Test Yourself!

These lessons aren’t just for books. Use them in seminars, webinars, podcasts, courses and even mentor meetings.

We used to have a “Books” page on this site, but I took it down. I wrote “Founder, Farmer, Tinker, Thief” to help entrepreneurs filter through the noise, beat overwhelm and take action. You don’t have to read all of it.

Just take the test to determine where you currently sit on the entrepreneur’s journey.

Then read the intro and that section.

Which stage of entrepreneurship are you in? Take our 20-question quiz to find out and get the exact steps you need to take your business to the next level.



When you were a kid, you had heroes.


They came from books. Or sports. Or movies. Or your family.


These heroes were models for you. You were brave because Sir Lancelot was brave. You were smart because Nancy Drew was smart. You practiced because Michael Jordan practiced. You would slip into the body and mind of your heroes and become them. Mine included Sherlock Holmes, Wayne Gretzky and, later, Lance Armstrong.


But as you grew up, you lost your heroes. The lens of experience taught you that no one is perfect. The news highlighted flaws in your heroes. Your adult mind is more skeptical. And you stopped sharing your admiration for people out of fear that one of your friends would say:


“You like HER!?? You’re crazy: she cheated on her first two husbands!” Then they’d look at you funny.


You know the old adage: “Never meet your heroes.”? It’s true. You should never meet your heroes, because you’ll find a flaw in them, and that tiny flaw will undermine all the great things about them. Maybe that great scientist drinks too much, or that incredible athlete cheated on his taxes. Whatever the reason, we lose our heroes as we grow up. And that’s a huge problem, because when we lose our heroes we lose our models for success.


One of the biggest reasons people fail to lose weight, or fail to exercise properly, or even fail at business is that they don’t have models for success. They don’t have heroes.


The greatest value of the CrossFit Games isn’t to crown the Fittest on Earth. It’s to create heroes. It’s to tell a sticky story and provide models for success.


Before 2007, it was widely held that powerlifters should never do “cardio”, because it would sap their strength. I can remember Eddie White, who won world championships in one federation or another, talking about jogging 5k every day. And other powerlifters would say, “Imagine how much stronger you could be if you didn’t jog!”


But then the CrossFit Games happened, and some athletes deadlifted 600lbs and ran a sub-6:00 mile on the same day. And then the movie “300” came out, full of ripped dudes with beards who did CrossFit instead of bodybuilding. Suddenly, we had new models for what was possible. Suddenly, people became interested in CrossFit, because we had sticky stories about its success. Because we had heroes.


People at your box wear board shorts and knee socks because of these models. They train shirtless because of these models. They do snatches, eat Zone and bring their dogs to the box because their heroes do. Hell, no one even called their gym a “box” until their CrossFit heroes did!


Heroes are important. Your clients need them to succeed at fitness, and you need them to succeed at business.


Heroes are made by stories. And without CrossFit Media around, no one is telling the stories that make the heroes that form the models for your clients.


So we–you and me–WE have to do it. Here’s how.


  1. In the Founder Phase, be the hero. Tell your story, especially if you had to overcome some big obstacles. If you’ve lost weight in the past, talk about it a lot. If you weren’t an athlete in high school, tell that story. If you’re a Storybrand fan (like I am), you’ve heard that “the client is the hero, and you’re the guide”. But before you have clients, you still have to tell a story. So tell yours to get the first clients.
  2. In the Farmer Phase, make your clients the hero. Tell their stories. Highlight their obstacles and celebrate their success. Social media posts aren’t enough. Share your YouTube videos, podcast episodes or blog posts through Social Media, but sharing a picture on Instagram doesn’t count as ‘making your clients famous’.
  3. Also in Farmer Phase, make your coaches the heroes. Tell their story. Highlight their knowledge.


If you need help telling stories, follow the Hero’s Journey map from this podcast episode. Not sure which phase of entrepreneurship you’re in? You can take the test here.


4. Finally, be a hero to others.


If you have any kind of public platform–if you’re an athlete, or if you open a business–everything you do is open to scrutiny by your audience. Don’t take that lightly. Even the tiny bit of fame you get from achieving something small comes with the burden to live up to your reputation.


I was at a barbecue with some “inner circle” folks from CrossFit HQ last year. There were some Games athletes at the house, and they were comparing their Instagram audiences. Each had over 20,000 followers. But the head of CrossFit Media pulled out his phone and said, “You guys are only CrossFit-famous. That’s the same as “not-famous”. You want to see ‘famous’?” And he showed them Kim Kardashian’s Instagram account, which had around 22 MILLION followers.


The Media guy was right: on a grand scale, “crossfit-famous” is about the same as “not famous”. But he missed the point: “CrossFit-Famous” means “famous in a way that our tribe cares about.” CrossFit Games success might not matter to everyone, but it matters to THEM: the people we care about.  OUR tribe. OUR audience.


In your little gym, maybe even in your little town: you are the model for success. You are a hero. Live up to it.


(if you don’t have a business hero, get a mentor.)

…But You Must Be Friendly.

…But You Must Be Friendly.

Yesterday, I wrote that “Your Clients Are Not Your Friends.” It’s a lesson that many of us have had to learn slowly, painfully, and repeatedly.


Many veteran gym owners weighed in with their own stories. But some  also shared the other side of the coin:


“You still have to be friendly to everyone.”


Your gym attracts people by promising to solve their fitness problem. It keeps people through operational excellence (your systems) and strong relationships (the 1:1 coaching relationship, and the relationship with your other members.) Some call the latter their “community”.


All of those relationships flow from your example.


If you greet everyone with a smile, they’ll turn around and greet the next person with a smile.


If you hover behind a desk with your hood pulled up, and point people at the whiteboard to warm up on their own; or show up late, looking tired; or punish people who are two minutes late for class–well, they’ll just go and have a better experience somewhere else. Giving a client the best hour of their day means pulling them out of their funk, breaking through their boredom and cheering them up.


No one quits a gym because their coach doesn’t know enough. But plenty of people switch gyms because their coach is tired, or cranky, or not engaged. Hell, I don’t want to spend time around negative people either.


If you’re tired in the mornings, do the right thing for your clients: bring a bubbly part timer who will shout “GOOD MORNING!!” from the rooftops at 6am. If your days are long, replace yourself in the evenings. Find a part-time coach who’s not tired; not stressed; not distracted. (Read: The Case for Part-Time Coaches here).


Many Microgyms don’t survive. When they fail, it’s never because the owner lacked education. It’s almost never because the owner didn’t care enough. But it’s often because the owner didn’t smile, hug, or high-five. Trust me: I’m a natural introvert. Friendliness is the skill you need to develop most.


What kills gyms in their first year? A lack of clients. That’s why we build marketing mentorship into our Incubator now.


What kills gyms in their seventh year? The owner. The owner is burned out. The owner is exhausted. The owner is stressed. The owner is unhappy, and it shows. They can’t force the smile anymore.  And there’s no “backstage” area in their gym; nowhere to hide their mood. If they’re still overworked and underpaid after five years of gym ownership, the owner is going to have a tougher time making a comeback. Usually, they’ve had hundreds of people walk through their doors by that point–more than enough–but haven’t kept those people. So they look for some marketing magic tricks, pump more strangers through, fail to bond with them, and just get more tired and stressed.


The difference is in your smile.


If you can’t smile at people, replace yourself. Put someone else in front of them. Work on attracting more people into their sticky web of joy. Or take a nap. Put your best face forward!




The Zero-Sum Error

The Zero-Sum Error

In late 2005, I opened my first gym. I made my first business mistake before I trained my first client.


I was painting my new gym space with one of my new partners. He asked my goals for Year One while we rolled a bright chartreuse over the wallpaper in our tiny second-floor space.


“I’m going to put these other guys out of business,” I said.


I’d been coaching for nearly a decade at that point. The last 2.5 years had been spent training people 1:1 in a tiny, windowless studio gym. I needed the money–and that’s why I opened my own gym–but I also needed acknowledgment: I was positive I was the best trainer in town, and I wanted people to know it.


In 2005–barely 14 years ago!–the sum of fitness business knowledge was: “Be the best coach and you’ll be the most successful.” I was eager to believe it, because I was the best coach.


My partner, Norm–you’ll meet him at Summit!–asked me, “Why?”


I said, “Well, I’m going to take all of their clients.” Not because I was confident in my business skills, but because I thought I would have to take their clients to survive.


I made the classic mistake of believing the market for personal training was limited. I thought, “Only a few dozen people in town can afford personal training, and they’re already doing it somewhere else!”


This is called “zero-sum thinking”: the belief that the number of potential opportunities for your business has a limit, and that every opportunity comes at the cost of someone else.


Here’s how it almost killed me:


When I opened my doors on October 25, 2005, I really did take clients from elsewhere. I had 25 sign up the first week. True, I was honoring packages they’d purchased elsewhere and making very little new money, but they came with me. I owned them! Right?


But my zero-sum thinking actually turned some of them off. I was already writing blog posts almost every day. I had fitness columns in two out of three local newspapers, and my website was live before my first barbell arrived. Even then, I knew the power of publication. But I didn’t know it was a double-edged sword.


Because I was broke; because I was scared; because I was thinking zero-sum, I wrote about how wrong other trainers were. I told readers to ask their trainer for their credentials; then to check their own results; and then to call me to get better results. I told them that if their trainer couldn’t tell them what workout they’d be doing in two weeks, the trainer was lazy. And on and on.


After two weeks of this, the newspapers both backed out on the same day. Then clients began giving me the “don’t call me, I’ll call you” brush-off. My bookings went down. And worst of all: some of my new clients went back to their old trainers!


Why? Because I’d shown them all the worst parts of me: my desperation, my willingness to blast the other guy just to get clients. Hell, the clients who left were embarrassed to do business with me. It didn’t matter that I was trying to feed my family or terrified of failure. All that mattered was how I handled myself.


I should have listened to Norm when he told me “You can’t build your business by tearing another down.”


Unfortunately, I thought building blocks were in limited supply, and I had to smash their tower to build my own.


Today, Catalyst is doing great. It survived my early mistakes (though it took years to correct them, even after finding my first mentor.) All of the other gyms in town are also doing great. More people are exercising in our city than ever. People who go to X gym wouldn’t be a great fit at Catalyst, and vise versa. It’s not an all-or-nothing, zero-sum game at all.


What’s holding you back?

How To Stop Panicking

How To Stop Panicking

Alright, you had a bad November.


Or maybe it was September? October?


Maybe it’s not your fault things went badly. Maybe people really DO stop looking for gyms after Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s an “industry norm”. Or maybe that’s all bullshit.


Maybe it’s not your fault, but it’s your responsibility to stop the bad month from happening again.


I clearly recall a horrible August and thinking, “I’m never, ever going through that again.”


For me, a bad month meant missing a paycheck, presenting the bad news to my wife, and cutting back on my kid’s birthday party. A weak revenue month meant a REALLY bad month at home. But that was a good thing, even though it felt horrible at the time. It meant I couldn’t afford to repeat my mistakes.


My first inclination was to ask, “Why was membership lower in August?”

And the answer came down to attrition, back then: many of my clients took vacation time in August, so they stopped showing up to the gym. Some backed out of their memberships, but even more costly, many of my personal training clients were away in July, so their package renewals were pushed back.


I adopted a solution of many parts. The first was to plan a big “competition” in the first week of September, and charge a high entry price. Over 100 people signed up (especially for team events,) and that kept those 100 training more often in the gym, because the price for not training was painful (failure at the event, wasting the $50 entry fee.)


Second, we cut costs by cancelling our kids’ groups, all of our Friday night groups, and giving staff some time off. We adopted a seasonal class schedule to make sure we had space when our clients wanted it…and not when they didn’t.


We also froze purchasing through the summer so we’d have a better buffer to carry us through August.


Many gyms see a drop in cash flow in December. But gyms who sell a lot of 1:1 training see a bump, because PT clients don’t go broke at Christmas, and 5-packs of personal training sessions make great gifts. You can also make an easy $1000 by ramping up your retail game for Christmas. WARNING: if you do this wrong, you can LOSE money on retail. That’s why I just let Matt do it for me.


TwoBrain clients in the Growth Stage build an annual plan around these highs and lows, so there’s no after-the-fact panicking. We start by setting income goals for the owner; then we extrapolate to determine revenue goals for the business. Next, we add a Sales Plan on top, and then a Media Plan. Every month, clients get on a call with their mentor to review metrics and find opportunities, then plan out their month’s actions step by step.


Maybe you’re not doing that. But please promise me this: stop panicking and start planning. Make sure your bad month never happens again. Because the costs are far more than money: they’re your home life, your health, and your peace of mind.


Mistakes are only bad if they’re repeated. If you’ve made mistakes but aren’t going to repeat them, then great news: the worst is past.


You’re an entrepreneur now.


You’re already unemployed.


You already know what “broke” tastes like.


You already know the bottom.


It’s too late to be afraid.


Let’s go.