Heart-Rate Training at a CrossFit Affiliate


Mike (00:01):

Heart-rate training is common at Orangetheory and other facilities, but it’s less common at CrossFit affiliates. Today. Chris Follick of CrossFit Justice will explain how he uses heart rate monitors to help his clients. This is Two-Brain Radio and I’m Mike Warkentin, your host, please subscribe and hit like whatever you’re watching or listening. I’m well known in local fitness community for winning the first 15 seconds of every single workout and then finishing dead last at the end. I go out too hot. I do not pace myself. I take lengthy rest breaks all the time. Chris Follick just might have a solution. Chris, welcome from Michigan. How are you today?

Chris (00:35):

I’m doing very well. Thank you for having me.

Mike (00:36):

My pleasure. Now, if I screw up in this show and my heart rate spikes, are you gonna be able to talk me down to like a nice even 60, right.

Chris (00:43):

I’ll give it my best shot.

Mike (00:45):

I appreciate that. So we should actually probably have heart rate monitors on for this show, but at Two-Brain we always wanna find out what clever people are doing in the community. And this was something I hadn’t seen before. So, Chris Cooper mentioned it and I think it’s time to talk about heart rate in functional fitness gyms. So I was brought into functional fitness old school in about like 2008, maybe something like that. Go hard, max out. You know, I’ve learned many rough lessons, but I’ve also really stubbornly refused to learn other lessons. I need you to talk to me like the dinosaur I am. How does heart-rate training make for a better session at your facility?

Chris (01:18):

Yeah, definitely. What I found and with my staff and my wife, who’s also on staff with us is just kind of, it permeates the gym and it just brings everybody down a notch just to stay calm, to stay present, and to be very intentional with our training. As you mentioned, you go out like kind of hot and heavy the first 15 seconds we get that on certain days. And I’m sure that we’ll talk about that during our time here together, but on most days being able to walk into a gym, tone it down a notch and be very intentional with our training has helped, not just our members feel better move really well, but it’s also helped us from a business perspective and just retaining members, for the long term, we’ve got members who are celebrating seven and eight years with us. We’ve taken over like three years ago. So they were here beforehand. I’m sure we’ll talk about that too, and how they’ve transitioned their mindset and their shift in that, which is really cool. But now I’ve got a longer term member and so just kind of being able to combine those two things has been really, really helpful for us as a business.

Mike (02:25):

So you took over three years ago and the affiliate’s been around for seven.

Chris (02:29):

Going on close to 10.

Mike (02:31):

Oh, I was going to say the name CrossFit Justice is such a strong name that I figured it was older because you probably can’t get that one anymore. So the question would be did you guys put in heart-rate training as the new owners?

Chris (02:46):

We did. So we took over what we call it as classic CrossFit. That’s what everybody was accustomed to. And then early on this guy named Max Finkbinder and Kate Cannes, they were kind of business partners down in, Ann Arbor at CrossFit TreeTown. And they started laying the foundation before we even arrived. And we had a lot of really good people who, they’re in the triathlon community, they’re in the marathon community, obstacle course racing, all those different things. You know, this could really benefit me on those longer duration races. So when we took over, that transition hadn’t happened yet. Like, you know what? We really wanna try this ourselves. We wanna get our feet wet. We wanna engender some trust with these people before we just change the entire philosophy, albeit the trajectory of the gym. And so we did that in the first, like five to six months and we’ve never looked back and it’s been a great shift to have that. So, some people laid the groundwork for us first and we just kind of took it from there.

Mike (03:45):

I’m gonna ask you about that transition, but first I wanna give people kinda the lay of the land. So tell me the details, like talk to me about the equipment, the cost of this system, the procedures, like what’s the investment like in this system, do members pay more, give me the details of how this thing works in your affiliate.

Chris (04:01):

Yeah, definitely. So from a membership perspective, it doesn’t cost the member anything extra. OK. So we just kind of built everything into the cost. We did charge them initially the cost of their heart rate monitor, but it’s like they get to keep it. They don’t rent it from us or anything like that. And if we part ways they keep it as a parting gift. Right. So I recognize that as a gym owner business owner, like if I’m gonna institute this, I’m gonna eat the costs, cuz I’m asking my members to change. So we talked about engendering trust. I thought that was one way that we could do that. In terms of a business perspective, we had to buy a couple different like monitor like screens just to put ’em up in our gym. Like you see in Orangetheory, right? You think about the cost of a screen. What is that couple hundred dollars? OK. A tablet that then transmits the heart rate monitors up to the screen so the member can see it. So the cost of a, tablet’s like a hundred dollars. Couple things like that, maybe a Google Chrome, to cast, total like build out cost of that maybe $1,500. So if your gym is already doing well, it’s a little bit of an investment, but it more than pays for itself very, very quickly.

Mike (05:14):

An InBody’s like 8,000 or something, so 1500’s not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. What does one individual monitor for a client cost?

Chris (05:24):

50 bucks. And then I just, you know, it’s not insured, it’s good for a year or so. And if it is defective, then I try to get them a new one for free, you know, wahoo. They’re really good about that. They ship them to them, you know, for free. And we also build that into the cost of OnRamp. So we, you know, working with Two-Brain, you know, we had doubled our cost of OnRamp. We had set up different OnRamp packages based on price point, which is number one, number two, we also built in our heart-rate based training into OnRamp. So someone’s like, I need more than just the barbell work. I need to know how this works with my heart and how it works with my body. And so we offer six and nine, one hour sessions to accommodate those kinds of people as well, who might be either really deconditioned or they are conditioned. They go, man, like I’m digging this, I want more. And we really take them through hold them by the hand, if you will. And just show them how it works. It’s been really cool for not only the member, but for us as a business.

Mike (06:25):

  1. So like gimme a, like a class perspective I’m in your noon class or something like that. And let’s say the workout is, you know, like, do you, I guess the question would be, do you use this in strength workouts and conditioning workouts or is it just predominantly in conditioning workouts or where does this thing show up and then what am I gonna see as I work out?

Chris (06:42):

Definitely. So just walking through generally, you’ll come in, do a warm-up that is, you know, led minute to minute by our coach. We have a strength piece. To your question. We don’t really pay attention to the heart rate if you’re like doing a heavy back squat, OK. We know need that strength and it will make our aerobic efforts easier down the road if we are simply stronger. So yesterday we did heavy thrusters. If I can do a heavy thruster at 185, whatever, and then I go and do Fran, it’s gonna help my aerobic capacity later. OK. Then when it comes to conditioning, we have different zones. OK. So each week we’ll have a two, three. So it’s like a green, yellow, really aerobic. We want a three, four, so something that’s yellow, orange, something that’s like pushing that threshold. And then we want a four, five. I just mentioned Fran. Fran is definitely a four, five.

Mike (07:35):

It’d be a nine for me.

Chris (07:36):

Yeah, definitely. So it’s gonna be really hard and our level, goes up to five. OK. That’s just where we are. But we put each of those zones in on purpose, not just like, oh, I went four or five today by accident. Like, well, wait a minute, we’re doing a two, three, like, let’s just kind of pump the brakes here. I’m gonna let you do a four or five on Saturday, which we do have that planned. But today’s not that day. We wanna, we’ll build you up. We’ll get you there. So we do both. That’s your answer.

Mike (08:07):

  1. Now, so these zones, these, you know, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so forth, they’re different for each client based on their heart rates. Correct.

Chris (08:15):

So the zone they’ll have a different like heart rate based number. So what we do, we figure that out. It’s called your max aerobic function or your math. OK. So Dr. Mathetone, he is really good about, kind of defining that. If you have been sick or unwell, your math will decrease. Lucky for us. Good news is that if we train aerobically, we can increase that max aerobic function and thereby increasing our threshold for work. OK. So we help the client figure that out very early on, that equation, 180 minus your age is ideally your math. And then we divide that by 0.75, that gets your max heart rate. We don’t go there very often, but we clarify for each client during their OnRamp with that equation.

Mike (09:03):

So let’s say Cindy, Cindy is on your board,as a workout. And, you can obviously in that workout, you can drive the intensity really high, but it’s also a long 20 minute that many of us need to pace. Especially given that some things pull-ups and push-ups start to stall. Let’s say I’m working on this and you have a program for the zone, the 2,3 or the medium zone. I start creeping up into the higher zone. What do you say to me?

Chris (09:35):

One way I look at Cindy and I’m like, I think the air squat’s probably the easiest of the movements in there, right? So say, Hey, look at the board and do like one air squat for me, one every five seconds. You could probably bang out five in five seconds. If you’re really trying to get a really high Cindy score. But if I want you to do Cindy aerobic quickly, which is challenging, by the way, I just say, Hey, look at the board and pace out this air squat, or break up your push-up set or breathe at the top of your push-up. Most people, not just men or women, but most people hold their breath during push-ups in Cindy. Right? So I said, breathe through this. Not just when you’re huffing and puffing hands on your knees, it makes a huge difference. It might not get you green, yellow on Cindy, but I could probably get you to do it yellow orange. If you really thought about it and paced yourself, it just depends on what our goal is for the day. But that’s how I start helping someone do that.

Mike (10:31):

Yeah. So as I’m doing this workout, I’m gonna have targets in place and you’re gonna have briefed me on the workout. And then I’m gonna look at the monitor and I’m gonna be like, OK, I gotta slow it down. And the coach is gonna give feedback. Have I got that correct?

Chris (10:42):

Yeah, definitely. And I’m able to coach every single person, multiple times a day, makes our athletes and we do call them athletes, more receptive to feedback. It makes them more coachable, which is awesome.

Mike (10:55):

  1. So now talk, we’ve got the features of this thing and we know how it works. Now, talk to me about the benefits for the client. And then I wanna hear about if there are any benefits for you in terms of like retention and client success. And so let’s talk benefits.

Chris (11:07):

I think benefits just physically, like when you work at a lower heart rate for most of your days, OK, it’s gonna reduce inflammation in the body. So someone who has tight hips, tight quads or hamstrings, whatever it is, and they can now get to depth, right? That’s an improvement. If they can achieve lockout on any overhead press where they couldn’t before, cuz now their muscles are just more relaxed. That’s an improvement. As a coach, the fact that I can slow my athlete down and they’re not so worried about their score, they’re more worried about their health. I have a more coachable athlete. I have a more compliant athlete. I have a better coach to athlete relationship and it shows them that I am there to coach them and help them, which then they trust me. And that’s how good relationships are built. Not just a coach yelling at you, mid-WOD when your hands are on your knees, and you can’t breathe. That’s not great. That’s just like cheerleading and we’re all about coaching. So yeah, just makes it better for everybody.

Mike (12:09):

  1. So like obviously the members are getting something out of this, cuz they’re staying, the gym. That’s gonna be a retention improver. You said with Two-Brain you increased the price of things and you’ve built these things in and so forth. Yeah. So does this device and this system become a retention tool? And I’m thinking about things like Level Method where it shows progressions. Talk to me about the retention benefits of a system like this.

Chris (12:36):

Sure. So if I have a client who’s broken, like when we took over and then they realized that I am now well, I don’t hurt. I’m not in pain. That person’s gonna stay and hopefully they’re gonna recognize that we helped them get out of pain and like going back to that trust, they trusted that we would help them in that fashion. So it’s definitely a retention tool. When you mentioned the level method, right? Our levels is like paying attention to, I used to squat this slow. Now I can squat faster or I can squat more weight or I got more rounds. You mentioned Cindy, I got more rounds on Cindy. And then I look heart rate data. I wasn’t in the red until the last five minutes. Right. And so we can use those as tools and those as metrics to gauge overall fitness, health, wellness, and ultimately improvement. And so yes, that definitely serves as a retention tool.

Mike (13:30):

  1. Now in terms of performance yeah. When you do this heart-rate training and then you get to those days where it’s like a tester day and we’re gonna go, you know, all the way. Are you starting to see people getting significant improvements as a result of the slower training earlier?

Chris (13:46):

Definitely. Because not only like, can they have the capacity to go and do that? Cause like they’re training lower. Right. And I say go hard on one or two days a week. They haven’t tapped into that high octane high burn for the first three days of the week or whenever it is that we programed it, so they can actually do that. They can do what we ask and they can do it better. And not only that like, because they’ve moved slower, they’ve probably moved better and they’ve refined their movement pattern. They practiced good, strong, positive mechanics, allowing them to do great things when the time is called for.

Mike (14:25):

That’s interesting. Cause in my history, I’ve certainly, you know, I’ve certainly looked at workouts and you know, we go through the entire week and you’ve gone hard the entire week. You get to Friday and you know, you need to go hard again. But sometimes I just don’t feel like it, so it’s an interesting principle, right? To where if maybe I had gone a little bit slower and still worked out earlier in the week, I’d be able to go harder on Friday, but I always have this perception in my head, you know, you need to go hard all the time and that might not actually be true at least in your experience.

Chris (14:51):

Yeah, definitely.

Mike (14:52):

Yeah. So talk to me about the implementation of this now. So this is an interesting number. How do you sell slower to existing members? You’ve got like an old school affiliate. You’ve got a bunch of people who have been brought up on let’s, you know, let’s meet ukie in the parking lot and so forth. How do you do that? And then how do you, you know, onboard your newer members into this? Talk to me about these things.

Chris (15:11):

Sure. I think you say onboarding, I think before we even get to that point, it’s the no sweat intro. Yeah. The people who are willing to come in for the no sweat intro and then we can start talking to them and I’ll be maybe preaching a little bit of slower is better. And just plant that seed. That’s a huge help. We also, when we have our no sweat intro, they’re able to kind of see physically like look out at class. Cause we have like this bar top table and they can see people practicing what I’m talking to them about, like right then and there, like these people move really well and they’re really strong and this is cool. And so not only is it from what I’m saying, but then seeing sometimes is believing and I can talk to them about practicing patience, being humble, like all right, man. And walking them through what that actually looks and feels like real time during a training session and they can see it on the board. So when I say, Hey, do this for me. And they watch that their heart rate actually does it. That’s really cool. Watching the execution of that new athlete.

Mike (16:15):

And so I gotta ask you this. Yeah, I gotta jump in and ask you this one because there’s in the functional fitness community, there’s always this perception that it’s for elite Navy SEALs and so forth. And that’s a perception that we’ve been fighting as gym owners for, you know, 15 years now. Sure. I struggle with that because I’d get someone to come into an OnRamp or pardon me, a no sweat intro I would, you know, say, talk to ’em about how training is tailored to you and blah, blah, blah. And then I’ve got like three guys, you know, bleeding in the corner over there. Yeah. It can be a difficult sell. So have you ever got someone in one of these no sweat intros and had them say, I think this program’s too hard for me and you’re like point over there and it actually convinces them, does that happen to you?

Chris (16:48):

All the time.

Mike (16:51):

So this is a problem solver for some of the major issues with functional fitness. Right. And this might even be something that, you know, Orangetheory has kinda figured out where they’re commoditizing intensity as Chris Cooper has said, but it also helps the, what we’ll call the late adopters. Right. When CrossFit first came out, Navy SEALs, you know, elite special forces and then hardcore athletes and so forth. It’s trickled out. All those people already found it. Now we’re trying to, you know, get people to do functional fitness. And these people might be quote, normal people. Right. Like, you know, like me. Right. So it’s easier to show them paced functional training probably than insanity, for lack of a better term.

Chris (17:29):

Yeah, definitely.

Mike (17:31):

So let’s go into now, so that I love that on the intro side of it. And you can bring this in, explain it, show them, get people in the door. How did this go when you brought it in and you’ve had the old school crowd, what happened there?

Chris (17:44):

To be very honest and open about this. We had some people leave. Yep. And at the time it is terrifying and you’re like, oh my gosh, are we doing the right thing? And now hindsight, yes, we definitely made the right decision. But it also changed the culture of our gym. And you hear like community, community, community is great. Your culture dictates your community and the people you decide to keep and who they want to surround themselves with. And so people who doubted us and were like this isn’t CrossFit, like, OK, go over there. Like go away, whatever go die in the corner. That’s fine. Like, but I know those people had a hard time squatting to depth. They were not very coachable. They had a hard time achieving lockout on things. They were our, honestly, our poorest movers. And so we kind of purged the things that we didn’t like about our culture. And now we have the vast majority of our people who we genuinely, appreciate having in our space because, they come with our vision, they have the values that we’re looking for. And that’s when you know, you truly have something special. So yeah. As a owner making that transition, it can be scary. I don’t wanna underscore that. But we’ve gained so much more.

Mike (18:58):

So you obviously saw this program, believed in it and then decided within six months I’m going to put this thing in. Did some of the old schoolers buy in and say, Hey, you know, I was skeptical at first, but now, you know, now it works.

Chris (19:16):


Mike (19:16):

Talk to me about that. How’d that go?

Chris (19:19):

Yeah. And I was gonna kinda jump in if you hadn’t mentioned that question. I love it. So thank you for asking is, one of our coaches, Vahn Smith, like he’s been excellent. So he was a big proponent of it before, and he was doing some of the ticker training amongst like the regular traditional CrossFit classes before we took over. And everyone’s like, they value him and they respect him as do we as a staff. And they’re like, what’s that guy doing over there? Like, well, we’re gonna come back to that. Cause that shouldn’t happen in a corner by the way, you’re out there listening, but it was so good that I’m like, I need to listen. And he invoked buy-in from other people that had been there longer than we had taken over for. And so it’s you listen to your staff, you listen to what they’re doing and what they value and then you watch your members.

Chris (20:07):

Watch that person go think there’s something really we’re onto this. We should probably go down that path, but you also need to learn more and you also need to try it for yourself, which we did. And then we benefited, my wife and I personally, and we go, OK, let’s pull the trigger. Let’s make this decision and go from there. Yeah. So just being open and transparent with your members, having sit down meetings and town halls, like this is why we’re changing the trajectory of your gym. And again, it just engenders trust and good things happen.

Mike (20:41):

Has your membership. And again, I know it’s diverse. So, my question, I guess, would be when you did this, did you see a shift in overall membership? When I started my gym around 2012, 2013, there was a lot of competitors. We made some changes, it wasn’t heart-rate training, but it was more of a focus on other aspects of like, you know, health and fitness and most of our competitors vanished. Did you see a transition? Not necessarily with those elements, but did you see a transition in the makeup of your group as a whole?

Chris (21:10):

A little bit. Yeah. But I think we’ve got a really good even spread of say ages, if you will. And so it’s not catered just to old people or those who are exclusively out of shape. And I will say it’s lower barrier of entry to more of like the newer athlete. Totally. I get that. But if you’re trying to build a business that reaches more people, that’s where it’s at. If you want to go the competitor route, like, go ahead, you just might be limiting yourself and your business for the long term. We’re playing the game of life, which unfortunately we will all lose, but it’s the game that the vast majority of people will play and they’ll play it the longest so that’s who we wanna help.

Mike (21:55):

I love it. Now this is an interesting one. So you’re doing heart-rate training, which is obviously gonna set you apart from other affiliates. There probably are others that are doing this, but I haven’t seen any. This does put you kind of in that Orangetheory realm. So talk to me, does that make you a competitor with Orangetheory or talk to me about market advantages disadvantages. How does this all go?

Chris (22:17):

Sure. I’m not really worried about Orangetheory. Like I think they’re cool. I think they they’ve got their own space. We do have one about 15 to 20 minutes away from us and I haven’t really heard, oh, I tried that Orangetheory before I tried you guys, it just, the conversations haven’t come up and I’ve been open and welcoming to have those conversations, but they just haven’t really happened. We do have, I’d say about eight to 10 affiliates within a 10 mile radius of us and it does make us unique. And yeah, some people did leave and go to them, but not in droves that you might be really worried about. yeah. So it makes us a little bit different, but I’m not worried about the difference or people going to other places because of that difference. I think if anything, it’s more than helped us for sure.

Mike (23:06):

  1. Have you ever gone to an Orangetheory? I haven’t. Have you gone?

Chris (23:09):

Shame on me, I have not. I probably should just to, you know, to see what it’s like. But I think with the combination of what we do with CrossFit and more functional movement and being what I, this is a perception, a little bit more diverse with what we can do, I think it makes us a cut above, but I haven’t tried it. So I can’t say that for 100% certainty.

Mike (23:31):

That’s an interesting one. And I would be curious to see, you know, your thoughts if you did a class. Cause I haven’t done one either, but I understand that it’s like they’re not using quite as many movements and they’re not using as, you know, weight, the loads and different things like that. Like it’s a little bit more formulaic. So you know, that would be obviously a very distinct advantage for you is that you can go with thrusters up to 225 if someone really feels like it, you’re doing all these, you know, different movements that maybe aren’t available, I’d be curious.

Chris (24:04):

Got it.

Mike (24:05):

And you can even do this. You put, you know, yyou have to do the same workout, you put their monitor on and then put your monitor on, do the same, workout at your facility and theirs and compare the data. Right. Overlay.

Chris (24:13):

That’d be cool. That’d be really cool.

Mike (24:16):

If someone’s thinking about this program. So someone out there is listening saying, wow, I’ve never thought of this, or maybe I’ve thought of this, but I’ve never actually talked to someone who implemented it. What would you tell that person, what are the challenges gonna be? And what are the benefits gonna be?

Chris (24:29):

The buck always stops with you, right? As the gym owner, like you make the final decisions. And so if somebody’s kind of chafing at the direction you’re going, it’s your job to say, Hey, like, this is why we’re doing this. And just be very open and transparent. I went through the nutrition course with Jen Broxterman. And she always said like, be curious and be kind, and that’s exactly what you need to do with these people. Be curious about why they’re coming to you in the first place. Don’t judge and like, this is why we’re doing this. I truly think it’s going to help you and show them the path. That’s been the message all along. Be prepared for your culture to shift in I would say the most positive way possible. But just kind of get ready for that. And so when you change your philosophy, people might chafe at it, but that’s OK. Cuz those who truly believe in it will remain. And those who don’t value what you do, they’ll drop off. And it’s been really cool. Last thought here is to watch people come back, like you ready for this now? And they go, yeah, like I’m broken. I need you. And it’s really cool.

Mike (25:34):

So have you had people leave, do something else, come back and, and kinda come to the light for lack of a better term.

Chris (25:41):

Yeah. Yeah. It’s really cool to watch that happen or they’ll just drop off a little bit. They’ll go do some races or it’s seasonal. But it’s like, man, like I’m in a really tough spot right now. Like all right. Tell me, tell me the things and we’ll help you fix it. We’ll help you get better. You know, it’s pretty cool.

Mike (25:58):

It is cool. You know, it’s gonna give me something to think about when I do my workout later today, maybe in that first 15 or 20, maybe I’ll try not to spike my rate to, you know, 220 and then end up dragging myself across the workout for the rest of the day.

Chris (26:10):

Yeah. We’d love to have you come on over.

Mike (26:13):

If I ever, make it across the border, I’ll come down and visit you and strap on a monitor. Chris, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate your perspective on something not a lot of people are doing.

Chris (26:23):

Yeah. Love it. Thanks. Pleasure’s all mine.

Mike (26:27):

That was Chris Follick on Two-Brain Radio. I’m your host, Mike Warkentin. My heart rate was stable for the entire show. I assure you that.For more shows like this and advice from Two-Brain founder Chris Cooper, please subscribe for more episodes. And if you’re on YouTube, please hammer that like button. Now here’s Coop with a final word.

Chris Cooper (26:43):

Thanks for listening to Two-Brain Radio. If you aren’t in the Gym Owners United group on Facebook, this is my personal invitation to join. It’s the only public Facebook group that I participate in. And I’m there all the time with tips, tactics, and free resources. I’d love to network with you and help you grow your business. Join Gym Owners United on Facebook.


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