Chris Cooper’s Top Lessons of 2020

Chris Cooper and title text.

Andrew (00:02):

2020 has been challenging, but it’s also been full of lessons. In this episode of Two-Brain Radio. Chris Cooper shares the top 10 things he learned from the toughest year in the history of the gym business.

Chris (00:11):

Hi, this is Chris Cooper, and I founded Two-Brain Business to make gyms profitable. Over the last years, as we’ve compiled more and more data, more and more tools, gotten better and better at mentorship, we’ve really made a lot of gyms, hundreds around the world, thousands over the years, profitable, doing better. What hasn’t kept pace is the quality of coaching in a lot of gyms worldwide. There are great programs out there that will introduce you to a method like bootcamp, kettlebells, Olympic lifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, running, whatever that is. And so we can make coaches who know the subject matter, but that doesn’t make them a great coach. To be a great coach, you have to be able to change somebody’s habits. You have to be able to change their behavior and to do that requires deep understanding of their motivations to do that means amazing adherence by the client. And it means amazing retention because as gym owners, we know it’s harder and harder and more expensive than ever to get a new client. Retention is more important than ever. Referrals are more important than ever. Peer to peer marketing, word of mouth is more important than it’s ever been. How do you get those things? Through client results. So I founded Two-Brain Coaching with Josh Martin to get coaches the skills they actually need to make a career in fitness instead of just familiarity with a methodology. has courses to help you start a career with personal training, to scale up with group training, both in person and online, and to diversify with nutrition, coaching, and mindset coaching. We have the best programs in the industry that will prepare you and your coaches to deliver any method that you love now or you might love 10 years from now. Twobraincoaching is really a project of love for me. And if you visit, you’ll get a ton of free resources, just like we produce every day on

Chris (02:10):

None of us is as good as all of us. My name is Chris Cooper. At Two-Brain Business, I have an information cycle and 2020 put it to the test. The Two-Brain dashboard wasn’t built to be an early warning system. Two-Brain Media wasn’t built to be a fast response reporting network. And my brain doesn’t do well in captivity, but when placed under pressure, all of these things worked really well together. When gyms in China were shut down, we saw it happen.

Chris (02:39):

Our mentors spoke to the Two-Brain gym owners immediately, and they began brainstorming ideas to keep their bills paid. Now, some of these ideas worked really well. So when Italy and Germany began to shut down, we had a few bullets loaded in the gun already. We knew what could work, and our success in those countries was even better than we had in China. And by the time the COVID shutdown reached North America, we had a pretty solid plan. We published what we knew to be true in a super valuable shutdown guide. We interviewed experts in the strategies that we were promoting. We built courses for gym owners and we published them and we did it all in the first couple of weeks before some gyms were even aware that a problem existed. 2020 taught us a lot of lessons. Here are my top 10. Number one, you don’t have time.

Chris (03:25):

You don’t have time to guess. You don’t have time to figure it out or build your wings on the way down or any of the other business catch phrases people use to excuse their dawdling. You need to solve problems fast to survive. Now I kidded myself for years when I opened my business that I was just going to figure it all out, that I would learn off the internet. And I was smarter than the authors of those books. And I just put it together my own way, or I’d learn something and I would tweak it to make it my own. It didn’t work, but I had the luxury of time back then. It took me four and a half years to find a mentor. COVID forced our evolution upon us really, really quickly. That means we needed to solve problems fast to survive. Now that means leaning on your community, leaning on your mentor and finding the people who have already solved the problem you’re facing.

Chris (04:13):

It means getting over your ego and saying, how do I do this instead of how do I figure this out? Lesson two. When time counts, mentorship becomes more valuable. Several times during the shutdown, I asked myself who has already solved this problem. And then I just paid them for their knowledge. Then I turned around and I taught it to gym owners. My normal budget for mentorship in a year is a hundred thousand dollars. In 2020, I spent $230,000 because it became even more valuable as urgency increased. The third lesson is that communication is everything. 2020 was filled with examples of people communicating badly. The gyms that did the best in 2020 were in constant communication with our staff members and clients. They had a clear vision. They constantly kept people aligned with their vision and they told stories to make everything stick. So when they were getting shut down, they already had a plan and they communicated that plan.

Chris (05:12):

And that kept everybody on the bus. When they got shut down for the second time, they could say, don’t worry. We have a plan. And that kept people on the bus. When their first members contracted COVID they had a plan and they could say to their clients, don’t worry. Here is our plan. And because they had already been saying, we are clean. Here’s a picture. Here’s the disinfectant that we use. Here’s the space that you must maintain from the other clients in your gym their clients stayed on the bus. They use stories to make everything stick, but they talked to all of their clients every day. Lesson four. Your business is only as strong as your team. When pressure was placed on the businesses from COVID this year, a lot of teams suffered. Many gyms emerged with a very different team than they went into COVID with, and that’s OK, because if those people couldn’t stay with you during COVID, they probably weren’t pulling you forward in the first place.

Chris (06:08):

Unfortunately there are some exceptions where great coaches were lost by gyms, or maybe they temporarily left the industry because they just couldn’t make a living. But the best coaches will come back stronger from this. And the best teams will come back stronger. And that means the best businesses will come back stronger too. Lesson five. Your team is only as strong as its tools. If your team doesn’t have a playbook for delivering online coaching, then you are only as strong as the weakest online coach on your roster. If your team doesn’t have software to help deliver online coaching or a model to follow, or if your team doesn’t have the education to understand how to customize your workouts, then your business will be brought down to that lowest level of delivery. You don’t rise to the level of your opportunities. You sink to the level of your systems, and your systems are the biggest tools that you have in your gym.

Chris (07:04):

Lesson six. Your tools are only as strong as the systems you’ve used to build them. So we’re right back to systems again, here. If your staff knows, Chris will tell me how to do this. Chris will tell me how to deliver online programming. Chris will tell me what to say. Chris will tell me what time to do this. Chris will tell me how to dress and how to behave. Then they don’t have to burn brain cells trying to figure that thing out. And you’ll be able to pull everybody up to a level of operational excellence instead of waiting for them to figure it out on their own. You are their coach. You are their mentor. You are their boss. If you build the systems to help them, they don’t have to figure it all out on their own, either. Lesson seven is be anti-fragile.

Chris (07:45):

And I did a couple of webinars specifically on this topic. The strongest gyms are not necessarily the gyms who are most dedicated to their belief system. They’re not the gyms who are the best at one particular method or the most devoted disciples of one diet. The best teams are the ones who are anti-fragile, meaning that they can pivot and actually benefit from disorder. Now, if you’ve read Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragile, you’ll know that that phrase, things that gain from disorder is actually his tagline. It’s so important to understand that the best gyms aren’t just the ones who will survive COVID but the best gyms are the ones who will take lessons from COVID pivot their business and evolve because of it. The best gyms aren’t just the ones who could pivot to online training really, really quickly. But the best gyms are now the ones who understand even better

Chris (08:40):

here’s what my clients need in this new world. And they emerge into this blue ocean of opportunity. So you don’t just want to survive. You actually want to set yourself up to thrive long term. Lesson eight is that the first to evolve wins. So for example, we have in my town, several microgyms, and if you big globo 24 hour access chains that, you know, they charge a low rate and you show up at their gym. If those gyms had evolved really quickly just to selling personal training or online programming, they could have kept up with us, but here’s what’s happened. Catalyst closed before we had to, we reopened as soon as it was possible, we started training people online. When that was allowed, we started training people outside. As soon as that was available, we started moving back to personal training when that became an option again. That took us a few months, but the big chain gyms did nothing.

Chris (09:36):

During that time, they might’ve published some free home videos to try and minimize the refund requests they were getting. But that was it. And now that we’ve emerged and the city is mostly opened up again, what we’re seeing is that we’re getting a lot of their clients because we evolved most quickly.

Chris (09:53):

Hey guys, it’s Chris Cooper. Your members are buying supplements somewhere, so they should buy them from the person who cares about them the most: You. And you should work with my friends at Driven Nutrition. Jason Rule and the Driven team put customers first, every time they’ve got a ton of products with high margins and they’ll even train you so your retail program adds revenue to your business. Kirk Hendrickson from Iron Jungle CrossFit says Driven Nutrition has some of the best support I have seen from any company we’ve partnered with. To make more money with supplements and retail sales, visit

Chris (10:25):

Now back to the show. Even in the big chains of, you know, quote unquote microgyms, the franchises like Orangetheory, F45, if they had pivoted faster, their franchisees could have benefited. They could have been offering the same personal training, outdoor training, small group training that a lot of microgyms offered, but franchises don’t have the flexibility to do that. They can’t make their own decisions. And so their pivot didn’t work as well. And they found in many cases that the franchisor was actually competing with the franchisee by selling online training. So it’s not just enough to evolve, but the first person to evolve into this new model is going to benefit. They’re going to take clients from everybody else. They’re going to gain clients that they never lose. Again, they’re going to have more at bats with brand new qualified clients, seeking a high value service. It’s not just enough to eventually evolve.

Chris (11:18):

You have to be open to change and you have to change first. Lesson number nine is maybe the most important lesson for me personally. And that is that forgiveness is important. People act out of character when they’re under stress, they say things that they would never say in normal times, they say things through email that they would never say to your face. 2020 required a lot, but it required forgiveness. Most of all, you need to forgive your clients, your staff, your haters, your family. You need to forgive yourself. All of us made mistakes during COVID. None of us had ever seen it before, but you did a great job if you’re still alive and you’re listening to this podcast and your business is still going. You are one of the sole survivors. 2020 was a battle of attrition. 70% of gym chains went bankrupt. You didn’t, you made it.

Chris (12:14):

You need to forgive yourself for any little mistakes and just move forward. The other thing too is that you need to forgive the people who have wronged you. Like you, they were going through a stressful period. They couldn’t perceive the future. They were terrified. And so they acted out of that irrational fear. They might’ve said things or done things that really upset you. They might’ve done something to personally attack you, to write you an email that was full of hate, and you need to forgive them. You don’t need to invite them back. You don’t need them in your life. But if you’re holding onto that anger, you’re only hurting yourself. The 10th lesson of 2020 was that leadership is even more valuable in a crisis. In the darkest night, a beacon becomes the most important thing. You need to know what your clients need now and pivot toward it.

Chris (13:07):

People don’t know where you’re going unless you tell them. But if you tell them, they’ll follow you. And so one of the most important things that I published all year was the CALM model: clarity, assurance, leadership and movement. You need to tell people exactly how things are, but you need to assure them that things are going to be OK. Then you need to show them your plan, because they don’t have a plan, and so any plan is better than none. And if you’re the person with the plan, they will follow the plan. And then movement. You need to show them that you’re taking actionable steps. That’s what 2020 was all about. And if that lesson serves you for the next 20 years of entrepreneurship, then this year will have been worth it. I’m going to finish this with a question and maybe one more lesson too.

Chris (13:56):

If I had told you back in January, 2020, that most of the big chains would be considering bankruptcy before November, how would you have felt about it? What would you have been willing to trade for this blue ocean opportunity that you now face? What if I had said that a lot of your competition would disappear before the end of the year? And what if I had asked you what you were willing to do in exchange for these things to happen? What would you have answered? This is how we should measure our year 2020, not in growth, but in survival, not in consistency, but in evolution. The small pond has gone. Welcome to the blue ocean. When things get tough, we win.

Andrew (14:38):

You can benefit from the lessons Chris Cooper learned over 20 years as a trainer and a gym owner. Click free tools in the show notes to download a host of resources and guides, including the free audio book Two-Brain Business 2.0. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to Two-Brain Radio for more episodes.


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