Level Up: Jason Khalipa Wants You to Coach Like a Pro

Level Up: Jason Khalipa Wants You to Coach Like a Pro

Chris Cooper (00:02):
Jason, welcome back to “Run a Profitable Gym.”

Jason Khalipa (00:04):
Heck yeah. Happy to be here. Fired up. Let’s get it.

Chris Cooper (00:07):
Yeah, man. And you are just fresh off the “Jocko Podcast” too, so I’m really thrilled and flattered that you could make the time.

Jason Khalipa (00:14):
I’m fresh off of two cups of coffee and a beach workout this morning, so I’m like ready to go run through a brick wall.

Chris Cooper (00:22):
That’s awesome, man. Well, we’re going to start off with “Coach Like a Pro.” And the question that I have is—a lot of times when a gym owner comes to us, the coaching in their gym is like a seven out of 10; it’s pretty good. They’ve been through the CrossFit level one, maybe the level two, and their business is like a two or a three. But what we’re finding more and more often now is that we’re talking to these gyms where the business is already an eight and maybe their coaching isn’t quite as good as it once was. So, what do they do? I mean, they could go to CrossFit seminars or take online stuff, but what is the best process to elevate their coaching game, and how important is that to the overall picture?

Jason Khalipa (01:01):
Yeah man, I think you’re hitting the nail on the head. So, we’ve worked with several Two-Brain Business gyms, and dude, you guys are legit. There’s no question that Two-Brain and the community is legit. People who buy into Two-Brain are running a business like a business and not a hobby. And for that, I’m very grateful that there’s someone like you out there because for so many years, it’s been something that I’ve strived for—to see the industry level up from a business perspective. And I think that you’re filling that void very well. Where I see a void in the industry: I’ve always seen this. I think that part of me—I used to talk, and we used to do these seminars for free called “Box to Business.” We used to donate the money, and I used to always just want to talk about the business side—not talk about the coaching.

Jason Khalipa (01:45):
Now I’ve kind of flipped my script where I just want to talk about the coaching side. I don’t really want to talk about business because there’s guys like you who are doing it better than we ever did, just to be honest. But where I think that there’s a gap is how do you take someone—so over the years we’ve had hundreds and hundreds of coaches. At our largest, we had 30 locations that we owned and operated. How do you train, develop—I mean, across that, you’re talking about a hundred coaches on staff. How do you make sure that you create guardrails and that you create an onboarding process—intern, apprentice—but also, how do you take them from getting a level one to their ability to go take the floor? It’s a really difficult question to answer. And with scale provides solutions.

Jason Khalipa (02:31):
And what we’ve noticed is that we needed to create something internally for our own team. So, we hit it as three parts: We have an internship program, which is really helpful because it helps with people who are internal who want to become coaches. And you’re trying to find the right way of saying like, “Hey, you’re good for the fit; you’re not,” but at least there’s a system so that we get to see the buy-in from these individuals. Are they prepared to put in the time and effort to go through our process internally? That’s number one. Number two is we take them through something that we call “Coach Like a Pro,” which is now also available publicly, which we could talk about. And then number three: The third pillar is our NCFIT Collective, which is daily development, session planning and programming. Those are the three pillars that we utilize here at NCFIT.

Jason Khalipa (03:20):
And the one that I’d like to talk about is one that I think—so just yesterday—the reason why this is so fresh in my mind—just yesterday, I repassed my CrossFit level three, which then gives me my CrossFit level four again. So, CrossFit level four, for those of you who are unaware, is the highest level you can get in CrossFit. And yesterday, I just retook my level three because it expired. I used to teach for CrossFit seminar staff, so I had an old level four. I let it expire, and now I wanted to get it back—just for myself. Is that going to add value for the business? Probably not, but I want to do it for me. The reason why I bring that up though is that CrossFit has, in my opinion, the best structure of seminars out there.

Jason Khalipa (04:03):
I think a level one for a weekend course is brilliant. I think a level two from practical application is good. I think a level three—I just took it yesterday—it’s hard. It’s 160 questions; it’s three hours long. But do any one of those three give me everything I need to produce the product on the floor is the question, right? They each are a piece of that puzzle. And I’d say the largest piece actually is a level one. I’d say that’s the most impactful. But what we are finding is that our coaches were coming out of a level one, and there was a big gap from getting them there to on the floor. So, we created something called “Coach Like a Pro,” which is an eight-module course where myself and coworkers of mine, MDV and Gabe, sat down, and we created eight one-hour modules, basically taking decades of experience.

Jason Khalipa (04:49):
I started coaching daily in 2008, and how do I disseminate that information and provide it in a more practical setting? So, we’re not talking about movement, we’re not talking about how to squat, how to deadlift, how to press. You should already know those things. What we’re talking about is: How do you actually run a class? How do you get—how are you scaling? How are you adjusting the workout? How are you setting a vibe? How are you taking them from minute one to minute 60 and providing the best hour of these people’s day? And that’s what we talk about for eight hours. Along with that comes a workbook, and along with that comes weekly calls for five weeks. And man, we’re putting together a Two-Brain cohort right now. Tomorrow, we have a call, and it has just been incredible. So that’s where we’re at. That was a long-winded way of answering your question, but it’s “Coach Like a Pro.”

Chris Cooper (05:37):
That’s awesome, man. So, I really want to dig into that. Before we do, maybe can we just talk about NCFIT Collective and what that is? Check that off the list, and then we’re going to go deeper into “Coach Like a Pro.”

Jason Khalipa (05:47):
Sure, yeah. And we’ve evolved, so like I opened NCFIT—originally CrossFit Santa Clara, then NorCal CrossFit, now NCFIT—in 2008. So, it’s been a long journey, and as we expanded, we opened up many locations. In 2011 and 12, we signed a major deal with Western Digital that took us globally. And that was really the time where we said, “Wow, we have locations in Mexico, China, Malaysia; how are we going to offer a premium experience?” And so, we started taking from Google Docs and saying, “This Google Doc thing; we can’t do this anymore.” And so, we created our own app, and we put daily videos and daily session plans for our coaches to create guardrails for our own team. We were saying if we had a crappy product on the floor anywhere in the world, it was a poor representation.

Jason Khalipa (06:33):
So, the NCFIT Collective takes what we actually use in our gyms today—the workouts are tested by our team; they’re written by someone who just tested it. And we have an “Outlook” document coming out soon for 2024. And so, I’m really proud of what we do at the Collective because I can’t think of another programming service—I think every gym owner should outsource their programming—but I can’t think of another one that has a team of experts like we do where each workout is tested. That individual who tested it then provides feedback. It goes through several layers; then that individual who tested it writes a session plan for it with the nuts and bolts, and then we do a video on it because we have the team to scale it, which an individual gym just doesn’t have the time, nor should they take the time to do that because it’s not worth it for them. So, that’s the NCFIT Collective.

Chris Cooper (07:21):
Okay, well we’re definitely coming back to that. I saw the “Outlook 2023,” and that was so impressive to me. We’re going to talk about the “Outlook 2024,” but let’s dig into “Coach Like a Pro.” So, when you are teaching this kind of stuff—so they take their L1; I’ve got somebody with like an L2 at my gym, but you’re right: There is a disconnect in what they’re actually doing once they get on the floor. And this was true even with the CSCS when I took it back in 1998. You walk into the gym the first day, and you go, “Uh, but what do I do?” So, maybe just walk us through the first step that you take people through in the “Coach Like a Pro” program.

Jason Khalipa (08:00):
Yeah, I mean, first off, it’s the eight modules. So, I’m just looking—our agenda for content call two was we reviewed modules three and four, self-evaluation and class observation, which I’ll talk about, participants filled out a technical self-eval and had a fellow coach observe a class using a scorecard and takeaway doc. Right? The videos assigned, the ones we were going to assign—I’m reading off a Slack channel we have with our team—was module three, which is all about intros and warmups, and module four, which is about teaching best practices. I came in and talked about earned confidence—a few different things. Then MDV comes on and talks about a few other things about specifics: warmup goals, transitions, teaching, Zoom In/Zoom Out Model—all these different things, right?

Jason Khalipa (08:46):
But each week, we have homework associated with this. So, what happens is these eight modules are really like the broad strokes. Then we come in on a weekly basis and provide a 90-minute class on, “Let’s dive deep.” But I think the part that we’re doing that no one else is doing is we’re holding coaches accountable to level up. So, we have homework that is self-eval, but also having a peer of yours review your class. And man, I’m telling you, those two alone—there’s more to the handbook than those two—but those two alone have been instrumental in the growth for people because people realize, like, “Wow, I’m coming off too serious. I’m doing this; I’m doing that.” All the intangibles of a great coach because, Chris, here’s the thing: A great technician does not make a great coach.

Jason Khalipa (09:34):
A variety of factors make up a great coach. If you’re a great technician, but your athletes are not having fun, not enjoying the experience, if you’re not communicating effectively, if you’re not touching each one either through tactile, visual, verbal cues three or four times, you’re missing the point. And so, you have these businesses that grow like yours because you help them from a profit perspective and revenue one. But what we’re trying to avoid is the revolving door where these gyms work hard to get new leads in, they come in, and they just have a suboptimal experience. And when you’re charging a premium, you have to offer a premium experience. And that’s what we’re trying to get to the bottom of through “Coach Like a Pro.”

Chris Cooper (10:13):
Do you think that’s actually an issue or a main reason why a lot of gyms—and I’m going to include CrossFit gyms in this statement—they don’t charge a premium. And so, when somebody like Nike shows up in the market for 99 bucks a month, the consumer is like, “Eh, what’s the difference? I’ll take the lower priced one.”

Jason Khalipa (10:29):
Yeah, I mean, I think that we as an ecosystem have to realize that there’s two levers we need to pull continuously. One is leveling up the business. You need to run a clean organization. You need to make sure that your employees are appropriately listed from 1099 to W2. You need to make sure you have your AED; you need to make sure you have all the things that are business focused. Like you have to run your business like a business, not a hobby. And your business is coaching, is group-based training. So, it’d be like running a super badass restaurant that is just dialed in from the amount of food you order to the profit margins you get. I mean, everything on the backside is phenomenal, but if your actual food or the service you’re providing is subpar, you’re missing out on a major point. I’ve been in restaurants that have phenomenal food, but their service sucks. I’m never going back. At a gym, you could have everything …, you get the most beautiful location in the world, but if that coach doesn’t make you feel something—create an emotion—you’re not going to have raving fans, which is what we’re trying to build at NCFIT.

Chris Cooper (11:36):
I think most listeners who’ve been around and owned a gym for five years or more, they’ve probably experienced this on both sides—both as a client and potentially as an owner too. The thing that really stuck out the first time you were ever telling me about this was the self-evaluation. And that’s something that as an owner, I know I should be doing all the time, but I really struggle to fit it in unless I’m really mad at the person, and then it’s tense and awkward. How does that self-evaluation and the peer evaluation work?

Jason Khalipa (12:03):
Yeah, I’m just pulling up right here. So, “Coach Like a Pro,” essentially the workbook—so, we’ll go through it—starts off: course objectives and breakdown, course outline. We go over our theoretical development of a coach, and we actually presented this at the Two-Brain summit for the first time, which I found it to be really cool. MDV created this from our team. At the bottom is culture and clarity. So, one of the first things we do with people is we recognize that above anything in the pyramids. So, you think about like a CrossFit pyramid: Sport is at the top, but at the bottom of the framework and foundation, there’s much more that builds that up. And so, for us it’s culture and clarity: making sure that you are communicating with your team, and that your team—there’s this culture of feedback, culture of leveling up.

Jason Khalipa (12:51):
From there, it goes to baseline knowledge, right? So, that’s going to be like mastery of the basic soft skill development. Those are going to be like: Do you know the basics of the air squat? And whatnot. Then you have feedback: informal and formal. We discuss, then you have advanced skills and knowledge. Then at the top, MDV added this thing, it’s called polymath, which he has a legal background, but a polymath is just essentially someone who has a diverse language, is an interesting person, has a variety of things they could discuss. You’re not just talking about only fitness, but you could talk about other subjects than just that one, which he breaks down. So, we go over that. But back to your question about evaluations. So, the way that we do it is we do twice-a-year formal evaluations with our team, and we utilize a very formal documentation, which I’m happy to send over to you.

Jason Khalipa (13:42):
And that documentation: There’s a self-evaluation form; we also have a report card that we go over, but I’m rolling down to it. Self-evaluation form. So, these are questions: Give a brief snapshot of the current stage in your journey, and identify a goal on your radar. Right? So, we provide these self-evaluation forms to create a conversation. Right? After that, underneath, you have a coaching scorecard. So, you have an intro, a warmup, teach-skill workout, open items, and then you have a ton of different areas underneath it, which I’ll have to send it to you. Anybody listening to this podcast, I’m happy to send this to them. But it’s broken down in each one and each specific criterion has its own score. So, you could really dive deep into: What area does this coach need improvement on? Is it in the intro?

Jason Khalipa (14:29):
Is it—in particular, was the coach on the floor at least five minutes prior to class? Did the coach start class on time? Did the coach greet athletes as they arrived to the class? For the warmup, did the coach administer an effective warmup? Da, da, da. Scale of one to 10. Was the warmup demonstrated, explained effectively? Really kind of going in so that the more granular we could get, the more quantifiable the data we can have, so these coaches can actually make tangible takeaways to improve. Then we have our NCFIT coach takeaway form, or we have a coach planning document that comes with it where we set up a timeline. So, these people could start looking at: If you don’t use the collective, how do you plan out your class? Right? Just a linear line. How am I going to plan this out?

Jason Khalipa (15:09):
Because if you—one of the things we’ve noticed, Chris, and I think this is a huge takeaway for your audience to think about—if you’re finding as an owner that your coaches are not reaching their potential as a coach, one reason why they might not be is because they’re not prepared enough for class. And here’s what I mean: If you’re not prepared, the coach cannot allow their enthusiasm, their personality to shine because they’re too worried about what’s coming next. So, think about whenever you’re giving a talk, whenever you’re doing something: You’re so worried about what I’m going to say next that it doesn’t allow you to engage because you’re thinking about, “Okay, at minute two, I need to do this.” “Okay, wait, what’s next?” “What’s the warmup?” But if you already have your plan, now you know what you’re going to do. And it allows the personality to come through in the coach. Because if you ever met a coach who’s phenomenal, but as soon as they get on the floor, they fail, oftentimes it’s a failure to plan. They’re so in their head, they can’t perform. So, that’s the documents we help them with.

Chris Cooper (16:11):
That’s amazing. Honestly, I think every gym owner listening to this has done this before: “I really want to help my coaches get more knowledge. I’m going to sign them up for the seminar.” Coaches are eager to do it. They want to be better coaches. You send them to the seminar, they spend a day or even two days, and they come back. “What did you learn?” And they can remember maybe one or two things, and two months later, maybe those things are lost. But when you compare it to the evaluation process and the way that you’ve got this all set up with “Coach Like a Pro,” it’s actually much better. And I just want to read you a quote from one of the participants. We have a cohort going through right now just for Two-Brain gyms. And the participant said, “I brought this up during the discussion and related it to the feedback you’ve given me about over-explaining.”

Chris Cooper (16:59):
So, this coach is in the program, and he had received some feedback from another coach at their gym that he’s an over-explainer. Hey, it could be me; that’s me. “Jason then hit me with the hard truth that I was likely doing that because of insecurity. He followed that up with some encouragement to trust myself and trust that you have put me in this position of authority. So, I don’t need to apply reasoning to every little thing. It was a very powerful moment being called out like that in front of the rest of the cohort.” Jason, when you built “Coach Like a Pro,” did you do it in a way that you intended for these kinds of moments to happen? Or did this just kind of emerge from the way that you’ve got it set up?

Jason Khalipa (17:42):
Yeah, the goal of “Coach Like a Pro” is to get coaches uncomfortable. And so, if you’re listening to this and you want your coaches to level up, or if you want to level up as a coach, we’re for you. But if you’re not comfortable with getting a little bit uncomfortable, we’re not for you. We’re just not, and that’s okay. If you’re not prepared to have your class reviewed, if you’re not prepared to take feedback in a very constructive manner, it’s just not the right time. But I would also say that if you’re not prepared to have your coach review or to get feedback, then you’ve got to evaluate why not, right? You know, something that I learned—I was going through a leadership course with Jocko’s team through Echelon Front, and one of the most important takeaways that I had was detachment: detaching from my ego, my emotion, and my perspective.

Jason Khalipa (18:23):
And that’s something I’m taking into every single class, every single business meeting, every single thing I’m doing. Because what happens is, if you—I don’t know how much you want to go into this—but from a leadership perspective, I believe every leader needs to walk into a situation and detach from those three things. I’ll just explain a quick situation for you. So, one of the instructors there shared this story; I found this to be really profound: This gentleman, JP goes for a CrossFit class—and it could have been jiu-jitsu class, but either way it works—and he shows up 15 minutes late for a class. Everybody listening to this who’s a coach has had someone come in 15 minutes late. And this guy, JP, is a former Navy Seal. So, he shows up late, and the instructor says, “I thought all frogmen were on time. Go ahead and start doing burpees.”

Jason Khalipa (19:05):
JP: “Roger that. Got it.” So, he starts doing burpees. After that, he finishes class, and he never goes back again. But the instructor never asked why, you know: “Hey, is everything okay? Why are you late?” Because here’s what happened: He shows up 15 minutes late. What happens to that instructor? His ego becomes attacked because he’s saying, “Hey, this guy doesn’t value my time as much. He’s a former seal. He thinks he’s better than me. My ego is being attacked. I’m emotional. I’m in the middle of class trying to deliver a great product, and this guy interrupts me.” I become emotional. And the perspective, my perspective is, “Hey, class started at 8:00 AM you showed up late. My perspective is you’re not respecting my time or the class’s time” or all this kind of stuff. That’s my vantage point, right?

Jason Khalipa (19:53):
But what’s JP’s vantage point? JP was on his way—would’ve been on time. He saw a woman on the side of the road. This is a true story by the way. He saw a woman on the side of the road who had a flat tire, and he stopped to help change her flat tire, and that’s why he was late. If the instructor had just gone up to him and taken a deep breath, just detached from everything that he was feeling at that moment, and just said, “Hey, JP, is everything okay? You’re never late. Why are you late?” And JP had said, “Hey man, I apologize. I saw a woman on the side of the road; she needed to get a flat tire changed.” What do you think would’ve happened? He would’ve been like, “Oh dude, alright. No problem, bro. Go ahead and just jump on the bike. I’ll get you in a class in a minute.”

Jason Khalipa (20:29):
And it would’ve continued the relationship solid, right? Because what would’ve happened is his ego and his emotion would’ve been deflated, and he would’ve seen it through someone else’s perspective. So, something I’m thinking about as a leader in our gym and through our organization is anytime I step onto a Zoom like this, anytime that I’m out anywhere, anytime I’m coaching a class, I take a deep breath beforehand, and I remind myself: Detach from my ego, my emotion, and my perspective. So, anybody who joins our program needs to come in there knowing that so they can get the most out of it. And with this person in particular you’re referring to, I oftentimes see instructors over-explain—and I’ve done this too—because of their insecurities. And I’m raising my hand. I told this to the individual; I said, “Look, I’m insecure too.”

Jason Khalipa (21:14):
I’m probably one of the most insecure people people meet, or you’d think I’m much more secure than I actually am. That’s why I’m always chasing these level fours and this and that because I feel like I need to always be chasing something. But the reality is I’ve been anointed by the owner—or in my case, I am the owner—to be the subject material expert, and I need to be more comfortable that this person saw that in me as a coach. And I am the expert in the room because the more that I try and over-explain, the more it actually takes away from who I am as a coach. And that’s what we explained to this individual. And it was just a light bulb moment for them that no one needs to validate them. They’ve been validated because they’ve been anointed in that position as it is. Now go out there and thrive.

Chris Cooper (21:58):
I think that is a massive example of what happens in this program because most online programs or courses or whatever, they really struggle to deliver value because it’s just delivering knowledge, and “Here’s an instructional,” or “Here’s somebody speaking at the whiteboard,” or “Here’s a quiz,” or whatever. But what really attracted us to “Coach Like a Pro” is it’s not just the feedback part of it, but you’re giving people these experiences that they’re going to remember forever. I guarantee that coach had a life-changing experience when you said that to him.

Jason Khalipa (22:30):
Yeah, I mean, I’ll give you another example. One guy, he was reviewed—said that he came off too serious, and he wouldn’t have known that. He wasn’t trying to be serious, right? He’s not trying to be, but better is better. And he didn’t know he came off serious until the person reviewed his class. He would’ve never even have known. So, imagine our ability just to leapfrog him because when you come off too serious, what ends up happening is you’re not trying to be that. What you’re trying to do is you’re trying to focus on people’s movement. You’re looking at them, but it comes off very serious, and all of a sudden people get uncomfortable. And we as coaches need to realize that I’d rather have a coach that makes people feel like they’re cared for, they’re passionate to help them, that they’re bringing an energy to the room that makes them light up. I’d much rather have all of that than someone who’s a technically better coach because people come back when they’re enjoying the experience. And if you’re too serious as a coach, you’re detracting from that. Unless you want a one-on-one Olympic lifting session or something like that; that’s different. But if you’re coming in for a group class, you’re going for the environment, and the coach’s responsibility is to create that. And if you’re too serious, you’re doing it wrong.

Chris Cooper (23:45):
I had to learn that the hard way. And early on, my first business mentor said, “You’ve got to hire somebody else to run the 6 a.m. class.” And the only person who was willing to do it was a girl—she was a sophomore in college. Obviously, I at that point had a degree and had all these credentials and stuff, and I was like, “Okay, well I’ve got to put somebody in there.” And she was bright and happy, and she was the first person you wanted to see every single day, and her class just grew exponentially because of that. And I was lucky to learn that lesson early on; that it’s really about the environment that you create more than it is what’s up in your head, right? So awesome, awesome lessons. What I want to do is pivot a little bit into programming, but I want to make the audience understand, like these are two different things. You don’t have to do NCFIT programming to do “Coach Like a Pro.” You don’t have to do “Coach Like a Pro” to follow NCFIT programming. My gym started with NCFIT last year about this time because, Jason, at that time you shared with me your “Outlook for 2023.” So, can we start there? Can you talk about what the “Outlook” document is and why you do it?

Jason Khalipa (24:55):
Yeah, so full disclosure—you talk about delegation and team building—I am not hands-on on the “2024 Outlook” document. We have a great team that does that. But what the “Outlook” document does for us and the team, right—or the 2023 or the 2022 or the 2021—it sets expectations for the year for people to utilize our program. It sets expectations for our own team. It lays out exactly what we’re going to be doing over the next year and how we’re going to execute on that. And in the past, we probably overdeveloped it. This year, what we’re trying to do is put together something that’s actually digestible for an owner or coach, but then something a little bit broader for our internal team. And what that means is that, again, if you’re not planning, you’re not setting yourself up for success.

Jason Khalipa (25:43):
And so what we do is we clearly communicate, “Hey, this is our NCFIT track; we have our performance and fitness version of that. We have our compete track, we have flex over here, and this is what we’re doing in 2024. Let’s ride. Let’s get ready to rock.” And so that is going to be done here in the next—probably the next week or two. And then we’re going to start sending it out to people to get people fired up for 2024. Because again, with me, when it comes to programming and coaching, we have a team to do this. Like, if you’re a gym owner out there and you’re running a single brick and mortar, you have so many more things you should be doing than creating a “2024 Outlook” document for your team. It just is not going to move the needle. But for us, it is going to move the needle because we have a variety of different people who need to know what we’re doing. And we have a team that’s going to spend probably hundreds of hours on this. You shouldn’t be spending hundreds of hours on it, which is why whether you use us—which I do believe we’re the best—or another, you should be outsourcing your programming.

Chris Cooper (26:40):
Okay. And we’re going to get into the numbers on that too. But I remember seeing the “Outlook” document this time last year, and I went through it, and I said, “This feels like old-school CrossFit; this feels like the CrossFit that I fell in love with, you know, 2007, 2008”—maybe a little bit more evolved than that. But that really kind of reignited the passion for CrossFit in me, to be honest. And can you talk about how do you formulate the programming for the year, and what are the most important elements of it to you?

Jason Khalipa (27:13):
Well, I mean, I think the number one element is—well, there’s a variety, but I think testing is important. I think planning is critical, and I think fun is cornerstone. Like period. If your programming is not getting people excited, if you’re—you have to bridge the gap. Back in the day, if you think like old-school CrossFit, right? You know, hold an L-sit. For the duration you held that, go jump on a rower. We’re not going to program that. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just not designed for the traditional brick and mortar space. We’re going to think about workouts that are going to leave people feeling, “Wow, that was awesome.” Yeah, every blue moon, maybe you’ll do something random, but for the most part, 99% of the time people should be fired up when you’re leaving your gym. And I understand there’s value in running a 5k; I understand there’s value in back squatting five-by-five and going home.

Jason Khalipa (28:04):
I understand that. I’m not—but for our business, it’s just not going to happen because for us, we have to run a for-profit business, which requires our athletes to feel like they’re accomplishing something. And yes, if you’re a phenomenal coach, can you make a five-by one back squat day great? Sure. But in general, we find that people want to sweat before they leave, they want to have a great workout, and they want to learn something new. Like that’s where we’re at. And so, when we base this year, we’re thinking, “Hey, what are our macro themes? What are we trying to accomplish this year?” We have a performance and fitness track; we want to make sure that our performance numbers are appropriate. We want to make sure our fitness numbers are appropriate given the audience. We want to make sure that we’re—we don’t really use the leaderboard necessarily as much. We’re really trying to focus on the best experience for that athlete for that day.

Jason Khalipa (28:52):
And we use a few different factors: We use RPE, rate of perceived exertion; we use specific workout types. So, there’s grind, there’s effort, there’s different types. And what that does, it helps our coaches create a vernacular very quickly. So, athletes walk in the door, “Hey guys, welcome to the gym. We have a performance workout over here. We have our fitness workout over here. Today’s going to be an effort day.” That means it’s going to be 12 to 20 minutes. We have an RPE 7: That means like on a scale of one to 10, we’re looking, looking at seven. And now all of a sudden, athletes walk in, they’re like, “Ah, done. I already know where I need to be” because we created this understanding. So, the 2024, what we’re focused on: making fun, effective workouts, making sure we’re communicating that well with everybody that uses our programs, making sure that that is then disseminated to the members really well. And then I think that’s what’s successful. Yes, we’re going to have micro, we’re going to strain cycles, and different stuff like that, but for the most part we’re trying to focus on just really fun, exciting workouts. They’re going to be easy for coaches to execute.

Chris Cooper (29:54):
When you’re programming, it must be very, very tempting to program a lot of really technical stuff. I mean, you’ve been one of the fittest in the world now for a decade. How do you get outside your own head and program for kind of everybody else? I think a lot of owners—including me, I’ve always struggled with this.

Jason Khalipa (30:11):
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s important not to place your own personal fitness on your membership base. And that goes as a coach too. But the way that we do it right now: So, you have several people who are involved in the actual—so we have one individual who’s programming compete. We have another individual who’s programming flex. We have a group of people that are programming NCFIT. They program it, and we’re like a month out. So, this is the actual way we do it, if you want to know. So, we program it; we’re about a month out. We have this macro idea of where we’re going, and we break it down into monthly, and we break it down into weekly, and we break it down into daily. With that, we then come together as a team, and we review the next week’s programming.

Jason Khalipa (30:52):
So today is Wednesday: Yesterday at 10 a.m., we had a group call where we reviewed the week of programming for like three weeks from now or a month from now. We say, “Okay, we like this programming. We may change a few things.” So, one person kind of creates it, then a few people maybe put the finishing touches on it. We then send that out to the testing team. Once it goes to the testing team, each workout is tested. So, let’s just say it’s—I don’t know—500-meter row, 20 cleans, five rounds. We test it to see, “Hey, should it be 400 meters? Should it be 135? Should it be 95? Should it be this? Should it be that?” Just little touches. In general, we keep it, but sometimes we’ve changed it, right? Sometimes I test them, sometimes other people. After it’s tested, if nothing changes, that individual who tested it then writes the session plan: how they prepare for it, how they do this, how they do that. If something changes, they might need to test it again. And that goes on for the NCFIT program. Flex and compete are a little bit different, but that’s the general theme.

Chris Cooper (31:55):
How do you audit results? I mean, one of the things that most impressed me the first time I ever went to CrossFit HQ, and Greg had just turned over the programming for the main sites to Tony Budding, but he was involved in the review, and he told me that when he owned a gym, his programming for this month really depended on what his clients did the previous month. So, “Well, we tried rope climbs; it didn’t really work out, so we’re going to do a bunch of pull-ups and pulling style movements this month, and we’ll come back to rope climbs again in two months.” You know? How do you audit when you’ve got such a massive scale and so much scope?

Jason Khalipa (32:28):
Well, I mean, I think it happens within our gyms, right? So just here in the Bay area, and you have a thousand active people just in the Bay area, we’re seeing a thousand active people on a daily basis, right? Or more. So, we’re getting a lot of inputs, and those inputs are coming in, but we also have people who are supporting the programming who are not in the gyms, which I actually think is a good thing. So, we have people who are in the gym, people who are outside the gym to provide inputs to say, “Hey, where are we going?” And I think ultimately, I’ve changed my tune on this—meaning like back in the day, it was all about performance and looking at your members and saying, “Hey, am I going to be able to get them a muscle up? Am I going to be able to get them a handstand pushup?”

Jason Khalipa (33:07):
Now it’s more like, “Let’s create a program that’s effective and fun that keeps people engaged.” So, what are the metrics that I’m paying attention to? Attendance, right? Retention. Revenue. If those numbers for our gyms are continuing to go up and if we’re receiving feedback that they’re going up for the rest of our group, then I think we’re doing the right thing. Whereas maybe years ago I would’ve said, “Hey, I want to look at a leaderboard and see are these people qualifying for semifinals or regionals” or whatever. That’s no longer a metric that we’re strongly pursuing. We want to see growth through benchmarks and things like that. We want to see benefit. But what we really want to know is: What are our average check-ins? What’s our revenue look like? And how’s our attrition? If we’re seeing that going in the right direction, it tells us that the program is a factor. It’s not the only factor, but—and then also surveying our members on a regular basis, surveying the collective, “Hey, how do you guys feel like we’re doing? What type of feedback do you have for us?” And MDV has done a great job of always getting on the phone with any gym owner who has a strong position that maybe we could improve something because it’s never going to be perfect, and we’re always striving to get better.

Chris Cooper (34:12):
You were one of the first to do this at a large scale—to kind of confront that forging elite fitness mentality back in the day and build a massive brand that wasn’t all about forging elite fitness. And it was about forging everybody’s fitness even though you were one of the most elite yourself. Like what was that like in between 2010 and 2014? I’m sure there were some lessons there that the rest of us can learn.

Jason Khalipa (34:38):
Yeah, I mean, I think the big lesson during that time was: As you grow, just make sure you create systems and procedures to grow with appropriate levels of consistency. I wanted a consistent experience at any gym people went to. But I think that I also learned that I was trying to be everything to everybody. And I think that I had to learn that I had to be truer to who I am, provide a product that I believe in—which is today, more than ever, where I’m at in terms of what we’re offering, which we could talk about. But between 2010, 2014, we tried everything, Chris. We tried Pilates, we tried spin classes, we did yoga, we offered kids’ class, we offered daycare, we offered jiu-jitsu. I mean, literally, from 2010 to 2014, we had every single fitness thing you could think of.

Jason Khalipa (35:29):
We had an Olympic lifting class, a gymnastics class, a kids’ class. You name it, we offered it. And I think what I learned the hard way was that when you’re trying to be everything to everybody, you can’t dive deep. And I think that what I would’ve done differently is instead of trying to change and have all these different programs, all these different things I should have just kept with one program that evolved to where we’re at today. And it took us doing 30-minute classes, 45-minute classes; it took us doing all those things to get to where we’re at today—just reevaluating how complex we want to go, and where we want to be in this level. We do not want to be Orange Theory; we don’t want to be F45, but we also don’t want to be doing muscle ups, rope climbs and handstand pushups every day. We don’t want to be those guys either, but it doesn’t mean that we have to avoid them. And I think that’s what I learned over the years.

Chris Cooper (36:17):
One of the most profound things that I’ve heard you say, and this probably would’ve been around 2016 in Montreal, was “Scale by complexity, not by intensity.” And I think maybe the audience could benefit from hearing what the difference is and what you mean by that.

Jason Khalipa (36:31):
Well, I think originally, and this was the original intent of this, is that with a decreased duration of class, it allowed us to—so with an increased duration of class, it allowed it for more complexity. So, for example, if you have a 30-minute class—like this morning I went to the beach; we did a TRAIN HARD Men’s Club workout. It was 30 minutes long. We jumped in the ocean and got out. We’re not going to do snatches and overhead squats. We’re going to do body-weight squats, burpees and kettlebell swings, and we’re just going to get after it. But if I want to teach more fundamental skills like a rope climb, I need time to develop that with people. And so, with the increased duration of class allowed us to get more complex, but I think that what’s important is we’re going to always have intensity as the guiding principle for results.

Jason Khalipa (37:15):
I believe that through intensity—obviously making sure people move safely—that that creates adaptation in your body. You need your body to say, “Oh my gosh, what’s happening?” So, you could create an adaptation. I think that over the years, we tried many different ways to get all that, but I think where we’re at today is our fitness track is, in my opinion, exactly what we should have rolled out with years ago. So, our performance track still has the complex stuff. Like if you’re going to see a snatch there, you might see a hang-power snatch. And our fitness track, I wish we had looked at it like that a little bit more than actually a specific class. I think that gyms over the years have just gotten too wrapped up in the leaderboard, and this idea of scaling our RX, and it almost puts this weird stigma on people who want to adjust the workout. But at our gyms over the last x many years, people just adjust, and it’s not a big deal, but it took us years to create that culture.

Chris Cooper (38:06):
Well, I think, you know, genius doesn’t come easy, and there’s more genius in subtraction than in addition. You know, the cool thing—maybe the thing I like even best about you is that you’re willing to try things, but you’re also willing to stop doing things when they’re wrong, and then talk about both. So, and honestly, Jason, I think that’s probably one of the things that helped you, and I wouldn’t mind touching on this: You went through the pandemic from a ton of gyms, and you shared before this, you had seven figure gyms that went to zero, and now they’re back to seven figures again. What were the things that you focused on most to bring them back, and is programming part of that?

Jason Khalipa (38:48):
Yeah, I mean, I think the programming is a cornerstone. The coaching is—I mean, like we said before, I think the coaching on the product on the floor matters. I think the program you’re delivering matters. And I think the way you run your business matters. Like, those are things that matter. I think that you could be a phenomenal coach, but if the programming, if the workouts are boring, and like it’s fine, but long-term, you’re not going to have the retention that you want because people are going to want more exciting stuff. So, I think programming matters. I think the way that you set your coaches up for success matters the most. Meaning, every day our coaches have every tool at their disposal to perform a great class; we are taking care of everything. Gone are the days of, “Hey, go run your 400 meter while I’m creating the warmup and the workout.”

Jason Khalipa (39:35):

Because guess what, as you’re running your 400, and I’m thinking about that, what I’m not doing is setting myself up to be in the best position to dominate when they come back because I’m thinking about what I’m doing next instead of having a plan. So, by us setting our coaches up for success, it means session plan, with in-depth session plans; it means videos. And that’s ultimately what I think took us from doing really well to being shut down to doing really well, is paying attention to the fundamentals, trying to do the common really uncommonly well, where our coaches are getting provided products like “Coach Like a Pro” and daily session plans to deliver a great product while simultaneously, we have a phenomenal team on the backend running the memberships and doing that kind of stuff. You need both. You can’t do one or the other.

Jason Khalipa (40:21):
How many times have you been into a gym, whether it’s jiu-jitsu, yoga, Pilates, CrossFit, you name it, where the instructor is just amazing? Like, oh my gosh, it’s incredible, right? But they don’t get back to your emails, they don’t answer the phone. They don’t bill you; they just don’t bill you. And you’re like, “Dammit, you’re so great, but you’re missing this side.” Or how often do you have a business that’s just like cutthroat, like on point, like everything’s dialed, but you go in there, and there’s no culture; there’s no environment; the coach isn’t doing a good job? You’ve got to have a blend.

Chris Cooper (40:53):
Yeah, I think that’s where the “Two-Brain” actually originally came from was that you need to be great at the art of coaching and the science of business. And obviously now, I think there’s art and science to both sides, but there’s a few key places I think that owners of gyms miss opportunities here. One is evaluating and improving their coaches. Another is trying to do the programming themselves. We all come into this as technicians. And so, we tend to overthink things, or the opposite is sometimes true where you’re so busy that you look for the spiciest workout online, and that’s the workout today. I think one of the greatest investments that a gym owner can make is paying for coaching. And now you’ve taken that a step further and made it possible for me to just invest in coach development, not just coach training or certification. I really commend you for that, Jason. I think that’s really awesome.

Jason Khalipa (41:48):
Yeah, well, I mean, look, all I’m trying to do is do stuff for myself and then share it with other people. Like at the end of the day, Chris, dude, I’m not talking from—if you’re listening to this podcast, I own gyms. If our gyms suck, it’s on me, right? It’s my responsibility. And what can I do to level up our team? “What can I do?” is the question I’m asking every single day. And the question becomes, “If I’m leveling up our team, well why don’t I then sell that to other gym owners?” Right? If it’s working for us, why wouldn’t I provide that to the overall ecosystem? And that started off the NCFIT Collective, and now it’s evolved and to “Coach Like a Pro.” But I think what’s really important for anybody listening to remember is this has come out of necessity as being a gym owner with the scale that we have.

Jason Khalipa (42:34):
Everybody listening, your programming is not necessarily your secret sauce. You might be good at programming, but the reality is—and I mean, I’ll stand by this—your programming is not the differentiator. Your actual 21-15-9, it needs to be good, but it’s the plan behind it that’s different. So, if you’re creating this and you’re spending an hour creating a plan for an entire week, how good is that really going to be? If you’re spending 10, 20 hours during the week to create a plan, couldn’t you be doing something else with that time? Right? Couldn’t you be paying me or another provider just to provide it for you? How much is your time worth to you to go spend that on attaining new business instead of just trying to create your programming?

Jason Khalipa (43:18):
And if you’re listening to this, and you’re like, “Dude, I love programming.” Okay, that’s fine. You might love it, but what does the business need from you? The business is a third-party, unbiased, and just because you love to do something doesn’t mean you should be doing it for the business. If there’s a better way to outsource it, I would recommend doing that. And when it comes to coaching products, if you’re not evaluating your coaches, if you’re not providing them a system, I think that you’re missing out on an opportunity there. And so, either use ours or create your own, but you’ve got to be doing that kind of stuff.

Chris Cooper (43:49):
I do think that gets lost in the shuffle quite a bit. Alright, well I do want to take a minute, two minutes maybe to talk about TRAIN HARD because this is kind of the new evolution that you mentioned to me when we were both down in Austin at the Rogue Invitational. What is it?

Jason Khalipa (44:05):
So, today’s a big day. I don’t know when this podcast is going to go out, but today we just launched TRAIN HARD merch for the first time. Let’s talk about it. So, I started off in the fitness space at 15. I started working at the front desk of a health club. I then found CrossFit in 2006, opened a gym in 2008 and then kind of evolved from there. Well, over the last, I’d say six, seven years, I’ve gotten interested in other things. I roll jiu-jitsu regularly. I’m getting ready to compete in a Tactical Games. I spend a lot of time working with military and law enforcement and supporting them on the fitness side. And my interests have changed as I went from a 21-year-old athlete to a 38-year-old dad of two. My interests have changed, and do I still want NCFIT to be the most thriving, badass CrossFit gyms in the world? Absolutely.

Jason Khalipa (44:52):
Do I still want them to impact men and women every single day? A hundred percent. And NCFIT needs to continue to do that at the highest level for gym owners and coaches—taking the things that I’ve learned over the last 20 years and sharing with them. And I’ve also evolved. Right? And a lot of people listening I think, I hope can relate to this. You’re not the same guy you were when you opened the gym 10 years ago. And neither am I. I no longer really have a desire to do some of those complex lifts, like full-squat snatches or muscle ups. Can I still do them? Did I do them at the Rogue Invitational? Sure. But I don’t really desire to have them in my program right now, especially because of how much jiu-jitsu I’m doing. So, we have our team on the NCFIT side that’s absolutely crushing it.

Jason Khalipa (45:33):
I was just at the gym right now, but I also have the TRAIN HARD side that’s starting off as just a newsletter, right? Every week we’re putting out a newsletter—just things we feel connected to. About—for dads and moms who want to be able to train, protect and provide. And I just want to talk about what that means to me. Like my goals have changed from trying to be able to be the fittest on Earth to being able to protect myself and my family. If I need to run, jump, climb, lift, I want to be able to do that. And most people listening here probably can already do that, right? Like they train enough where—like my son fell into a fire pit last year, and I had to jump and throw him out. I want to have the fitness to be able to do that. Not to mention the combatives and that kind of stuff.

Jason Khalipa (46:14):
I also want to be able to provide—and this is something that’s really important to me—provide experiences. Every day I get home and my son’s like, “Let’s go play baseball; let’s go do this; let’s go do that.” I want to be able to say, “Yes.” That’s important to me, right? And never say “no” because I’m too tired or too out of shape. I also want to be able to provide financially. It’s very important to me. And I feel like if I train hard, I show up better during the day. I show up better at work. Ultimately, it’ll give me more confidence. And I believe I’ll see more potential with my revenue potential because I’m going to be able to show up differently. And so, we are creating a brand for dads, for people who want to train, protect, provide, who want to act the part, look the part, but never let momentum get to zero. And eventually we will be rolling out an online app, which are going to be different programs than what we do at NCFIT. With NCFIT, you have a coach’s eye; we’re running classes. TRAIN HARD is going to be designed for people who want to do it in the gym, in the garage, or on their own. And they still want to embody these same characteristics.

Chris Cooper (47:16):
That’s awesome, man. And I think every time we speak you’ve got something new, which is super-duper exciting, but it’s all also really awesome to see what never changes. You hold true to your core, and you do different things kind of around the perimeter, which is just fantastic to watch. So, Jason, thank you so much for being part of this. Jason, I’m sure we’ll have you back on again before Summit, but we’re going to have you at Summit next year in June in Chicago too. And in the meantime, “Coach Like a Pro.” The first Two-Brain cohort is about halfway through right now. 10 out of 10 recommend. They all love it. And we’ll put directions to get more information in the show notes.

Jason Khalipa (47:56):
That sounds great. No, I really appreciate you having me on. Looking forward to talking with you soon about the “State of the Industry” and everything you’ve been doing. I think there’s a lot to dive into because it’s tangible numbers. It’s not like, “Oh, I have 500 members.” It’s like, “Well, talk to me about the financials.” And then I’m super excited to be back at the Two-Brain Summit. I really want to focus on things that are important to me at that moment. So last year, we talked about leadership and a few things. Those are still evolving, and I think that we continue to evolve. So, we’ll see what we come up with this year, but I’m excited for it.

Chris Cooper (48:29):
Thanks, man.

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