The Antifragile Fitness Business

To survive long term, your business must have a rigid footing and flexible delivery.

You must operate your business on values and fairness. You must deliver with consistency. But you must change your service to match the changing needs of your clients.

This means you don’t give discounts or do special favors. It also means you can lose access to all your equipment, all your space, all your history and still deliver your service to your clients.


“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.” —Nassim Taleb

An antifragile business is one that grows while others are failing. A robust business doesn’t simply avoid  problems; it uses challenges to diversify and grow.

Many gym franchises are considering bankruptcy. They have solid foundations and systems. They have good marketing and branding. But they couldn’t change their delivery model.

Gym franchises sell access. You sell coaching. And coaching is a flexible delivery model.

I started writing about antifragility in the fitness business back in 2010. One of the first concepts I shared on Two-Brain Radio was how to build a robust business.
This has always been a hot topic for me because most of the media in the microgym industry says the opposite. We’ve been led to believe that big group classes in a big space with multiple coaches and a lot of equipment provide the best model. But the covid crisis proves that it’s actually the most fragile.

And I think it always has been.

The Covid Correction

 For years, I’ve watched the microgym industry polarize. More than ever, the good gyms are growing and the weaker gyms are shrinking.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t correlate to excellence in coaching. It correlates to excellence in business.

Great coaches with bad business practices are going bankrupt and leaving the industry. But that doesn’t mean bad coaches with good business are thriving.

In the end, an excellent service that gets results is necessary for survival. But it’s not sufficient on its own and never has been. Being the best coach in town won’t make you successful at business.

Meanwhile, the gyms in “the middle”—with around 120 members, 5,000 square feet, overpaid coaches and underpaid owners—are being squeezed. They’re forced to either become a great gym or go out of business. Spread over 100 years, it’s libertarianism. Squeezed into a month, it’s a tragedy. Crisis puts pressure on the middle of any market.

This is the “covid correction”: Short-term pressure on the fitness market will accelerate the life cycle of fitness businesses. Those who survive the next few months will emerge into a world with a leaner, more agile business and far less competition. But many won’t survive. Gyms that might have struggled along for two or three years, just breaking even—the covid correction could kill them before they have a chance to fix their businesses.
24 Hour Fitness is in the middle of the globo-gym market. It’s neither the best nor the cheapest. And it’s considering filing for bankruptcy.
But you have a huge advantage: You get to choose. If you have a robust business, you can stay open. And if you have an antifragile business, you’ll grow from this challenge.
It’s a horrible time to own a big globo-gym. But it’s a great time to own a coaching business.

It’s a horrible time to sell access. But it’s a great time to sell coaching.

It’s a horrible time to sell a commodity. But it’s a great time to sell a premium service.

Rigid in the Right Places—and Flexible in Others

 To become antifragile, start with a strong base: solid systems, good retention metrics and personal coaching.

Then be consistent: Treat everyone the same. Consistency breeds trust. Everyone is your favorite. No one is an exception.

Let your best clients determine what you sell. Pivot your coaching to solve their greatest problem (and expect that problem to change over time).

Teach your vision to guide their choices. Tell them both the stark truth of the problems they face and the reasons they should remain optimistic about a solution.

Lead. Show them the way. Make it simple for them to follow.
Grow from this.

The great gyms will survive the covid crisis. But the best gyms will actually grow.

Many people, stuck at home, are discovering fitness for the first time. The combination of online coaching, privacy and time is allowing people to pursue their health even while sheltering from the coronavirus. When they emerge, some will want to take the next step: You’ll find a whole new group of “early adopters” in your market again. For a short time, “free trials classes” on Saturday might work again, just as they did back in 2010.

And yes, some of your clients might prefer to just stay online. But that’s OK—you can just keep coaching them online. Antifragile businesses win both ways. Antifragile businesses gain from disorder.

In “Antifragile,” Taleb wrote that “difficulty is what wakes up the genius.”
Online coaching was always an option for gym owners and coaches. We even had a whole course on online coaching in our Growth ToolKit before the crisis! But until the situation became urgent, few people launched an online program. Now that they have, most will keep it and grow their businesses.
But the franchisees won’t. And the gyms with weak business systems won’t get the chance.

Rigid footing, flexible delivery—that’s what makes you gain from disorder.


One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.