Two-Brain Radio With Sean Woodland, Episode 6: Craig Howard

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Sean: 00:00 – Hi everybody. Welcome to another edition of Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland. On today’s episode I sit down with Craig Howard. Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland is brought to you by Two-Brain Business. For free business tips and advice, you can sign up for our mailing list at Craig Howard is a two- time CrossFit Games competitor in the masters division and he won the 50-to-54-year-old division in 2013. He is also the owner of Diablo CrossFit in Pleasant Hill, California, an affiliate that is in its 13th year of operation. I talked with Craig about the keys to competing and training as a masters athlete, how he started and then grew Diablo CrossFit and how his gym has managed to send nearly 60 people to the CrossFit Games. Thanks for listening everybody.

Sean: 00:53 – Craig, how are you doing today, man, thanks for being here.

Craig: 00:54 – Good Sean. Thanks for driving up by the way.

Sean: 00:57 – It’s my pleasure. My pleasure. Yeah, it’s always fun dealing with Bay-area traffic, but I got a little bit lucky it wasn’t that bad. First question that I always like to ask people is how did you find CrossFit?

Craig: 01:07 – I found it through a Men’s Journal article that talked about the best online fitness programs and they labeled CrossFit as the hardest online workout that you will ever do, and the workout that they listed was Murph. And at the time I was doing triathlons and push-ups and pull-ups and I said I want to try that. And I went out and literally within two days, I did that workout and I honestly think I gave myself rhabdo.

Sean: 01:35 – Did you go like old-school straight through?

Craig: 01:39 – Yeah, straight through and, you know, I started out 10, my pull-ups was like 10, 10, eight, five, three and then ones, single all the way home. And they were strict, I didn’t know what a kipping pull-up was. I was so fricking sore for so long and I was sold. This is amazing.

Sean: 01:56 – Yeah. That’s the reaction that a lot of people have. Before you got into CrossFit, what did fitness look like for you?

Craig: 02:02 – In my late thirties, early forties, I was doing triathlons and marathons. Ran about six marathons over that period of time. And prior to that, spent a lot of time in Gold’s Gym. So I went from training in Gold’s Gym, doing heavy lifting bodybuilding type stuff to changing and transitioning to the triathlon fad. And I was living in Austin, Texas at the time. But what really drew me to CrossFit was the amount of time that I was spending doing triathlons, training by myself on the long rides, the long swims, the long runs, time away from the family. And what was enticing about CrossFit is the short amount of time that was necessary to get fit. And that was the claim and what they wrote about in the Men’s Journal article as well, or Men’s Fitness article, and that in and of itself was kind of like, OK, there’s no way, something that short, that condensed could make me fit. And I was so wrong.

Sean: 03:01 – Oh yeah. When did you figure out that you were actually really good at it?

Craig: 03:09 – That probably wasn’t until 2009, 2010. So my partner at the time, Jeremy Jones, and I started this in 2005. We just started doing it in a park and people would come and friends would do it with us. And then in—we missed the calling for the 2007 Games, but 2008 is when—we had heard about the 2007 Games, we were like, oh yeah, we’re not going to miss that in 2008. We went down there and I remember going down there and watching people competing and doing it and I realized, oh shoot, I could do a lot of this stuff. And we had some athletes in it from our gym that were in it at the time too.

Sean: 03:52 – You’re one of the few people who’ve actually seen the Games at the Ranch. What was it like being part, or just being there in that atmosphere?

Craig: 03:58 – It was a neat experience. It was a festival-type experience. We went down there, we camped out in the dirt. We had a number of our gym members that went down there and cheered for our members that were down there. And it was more, it was an extension of this community, because everybody there was so nice and so friendly and really very little ego. Awesome experience.

Sean: 04:23 – How did your background with triathlons and marathons and all that, how did that help you as a competitor in the CrossFit world?

Craig: 04:29 – Having that the ability to go long was helpful. In 2013, for example, when I competed as a masters athlete, and I benefited from the change in the age groups by the way, so they added a 50 over age group, a 50 to 55 age group at the time, and I was 50. But the first workout was Nancy, which has 400-meter run, it was long, and I ended up winning that workout, and thank goodness it was the first workout because it gave me the confidence like, oh, hey, shoot, I’m OK at this stuff. But that ability to go long in the longer workouts was super important. And even today, if there’s a swim workout, I’m gonna do all right in a swim workout.

Sean: 05:10 – Absolutely. That triathlon background comes in handy there. You’ve been to the Games twice, 2011 and then you won the 50-to-54-year-old division in 2013. What was it like to be able to achieve that goal?

Craig: 05:25 – For me, it was something really special. Partially because I’m most passionate about CrossFit and love telling the story of that and love getting people involved and to be able to compete and demonstrate that, you know, that a 50-year-old can do this and can achieve their own personal fitness goals through this new sport was awesome to me. It was really neat. It was a big moment for the gym, too, to be able to put my name on the board, bring a gold medal back to Diablo CrossFit. Even if it was in the—Sam Dancer told me, the “crispy” division.

Sean: 06:05 – The crispy division! That’s the first time I’ve heard it described as the crispy division.

Craig: 06:08 – Someone told him, someone said, “Hey Sam, did you know Craig actually won the CrossFit Games?” He goes, “Yeah, yeah. In the crispy division.”

Sean: 06:15 – Oh, man. Come on, Sam, you gotta give a guy credit. What’s your favorite kind of Games memory?

Craig: 06:22 – For me personally? My favorite memory is my last workout at the CrossFit Games. And it was the fans at Diablo cheering me on as we did a an event, a chipper that went around the track. It started with a hundred double-unders and it went to rope climbs and then it went to front squats and we moved around the track.

Sean: 06:49 – I remember that. That was a cool workout.

Craig: 06:50 – Yeah, it was really cool. Get to the farmer carries, and I remember running with the dumbbells, and my partner at the time, Jeremy, my coach, told me, he goes, “When you get to the farmer carries everybody’s gonna walk, they’re going to pick up those dumbbells and they’re going to walk. Run with the dumbbells. It’s time under load and it won’t matter if you’re running or not.” So I picked ’em up and ran and passed five or six guys in that workout, which was crucial, that finish was crucial to me actually getting the victory and the Games. I’ll never forget that moment. And seeing all my buddies who I trained with scream, a lot of them since 2006, 2007, just they’re cheering and screaming and urging me on, it was awesome.

Sean: 07:27 – You found CrossFit as a, you were already a masters athlete, right?

Craig: 07:32 – Yeah, I was 41 when I started, but they didn’t have a 40-plus division at the time.

Sean: 07:37 – Right. So what is the key to training effectively as a masters athlete?

Craig: 07:43 – It’s recovery time, and I think it’s something that I think masters athletes today still struggle with. We get in the gym and we feel good. The working out and doing a metcon, there’s nothing like the feeling you get 30 minutes after a metcon. I tell this to people that are joining here, you drive away in your car, 30 minutes, after the workout you feel really good. Endorphins are going and we get addicted to that. But
unfortunately, that can be counterproductive to performance long term because you simply don’t recover. My wife, I’m on her all the time, she wears the WHOOP monitor and she’ll say, “I’m only 30% recovered but I’m still going to work out.” It’s that addiction to fitness. And masters need more time and I found that that taking—I’ll do two on one off, three on one off. Those days off are huge. Cause I’ll come in the next day in and performance is so much better.

Sean: 08:45 – Other than maybe not taking recovery seriously, what do you think are some of the biggest mistakes that masters athletes make in their training?

Craig: 08:51 – I think, and this is something that Alessandra Pichelli’s coach and husband pointed out to me too, is they try to Rx at the younger person’s weights. They can move those loads that are posted in the workout, but they don’t need to move those loads, especially when you get to the, to the competition level in the Open and even in the Games, they’re lighter weights. I get told a lot here by coaches do the lighter weight. Here at Diablo, we post our workouts and then we put a masters 50 weight. So we have a scaling weight built in, and I get told a lot. I know I can do the 135 hang power cleans. I can do the 155 shoulder-to-overheads, but I get told a lot to move at the lighter weights because I need to learn to move faster. And there are a lot of masters who are capable of doing those heavier, more complex gymnastics. But when it comes down to a metcon, you know, in the Open or a metcon even at the Games or even at a local competition, they’re usually lighter weights and they get held back because they aren’t capable of moving faster because they’ve trained with a weight vest on that has slowed them down.

Sean: 10:16 – You were an early adopter of CrossFit back before it really started taking off, you know, 13, 14 years ago. What was it like kind of being part of that early crew and what did people think about what you were doing?

Craig: 10:30 – I would compare it today to going to a hotel gym and doing a CrossFit workout. People stared at you and they ask you a lot of questions about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. And in those days, for me, it was a little bit of a badge of honor. I tell people that are doing CrossFit like, “Oh, you’re doing CrossFit?” and if they hadn’t heard about it I’d tell em what it is and how we do things and that always seemed to impress. So for me it was kind of a cool thing. It was a little bit outside the norm of fitness and it was perceived as being extreme, you know, they train the tip of the spear. Right? And if they could make the athletes at the tip of the sphere fitter then it was good for everybody and we embrace that and like that, and we spent a lot of time trying to overcome that objection that it was dangerous in the early days, and a lot less now, surprisingly, but in the early days it was something that we learned to talk about a lot.

Sean: 11:32 – You helped launch Diablo CrossFit, you mentioned, you guys got a start in 2005, you opened in 2006. What motivated you to say, OK, I’m going to open my own gym?

Craig: 11:41 – It was a desire to have a place to do these things unencumbered. And by that I mean we wanted, I needed a place to do 15-foot rope climbs. I wanted a place to be able to drop bumper plates. I wanted a place where I could row and run. And so, you know, Jeremy, you know, I literally posted on the CrossFit message boards and the post is still there, you know, “Does anybody in Walnut Creek want to get together and open a CrossFit affiliate?” And Jeremy Jones, who was my partner at the time said, yeah, let’s do this. And we did it literally as a place where people could come and train CrossFit together. We had a karma jar that people could put money in to help cover our expenses. And Jeremy and I both had jobs, full-time jobs, and it was kind of a part-time thing. One of our athletes was a DeLaSalle, he had just graduated from DeLaSalle High School here in California, and he was passionate about it as well, and he became essentially our first coach, Josh Jorgensen, great kid, and all he wanted was a membership. So he did classes and then we would come in and we would get together, and weekends were great. We’d come in on a Saturday, and the people that found us were the hardcore CrossFitters, people that followed blogs, and they’d come into our gym and we’d all stand around and go, OK, what’d you do yesterday? What’d you do yesterday? What did you do yesterday? OK, here’s where I got, let’s do this. And we literally wouldn’t warm up very much. We finally found the CrossFit workout. I think we found the CrossFit workout or the CrossFit warm-up, remember the CrossFit warm-up? I forget what that CrossFit warm-up was. There was a standard warm-up, it was like 10 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, you know, three rounds for time, 10 squats, something like that. And we started doing that finally, but now it’s much more complex.

Sean: 13:31 – Back then when you opened your doors, the awareness of CrossFit is not nearly what it was today. How did you sell this to people that you thought might be potential clients?

Craig: 13:40 – We took the approach of not selling. We put a blog up, started posting and we leveraged CrossFit’s notoriety and brand and for people to find us locally. And we were the only one in this area, in East Contra Costa County area. So if anybody found CrossFit, they would come to us. And so we have a population here that allowed them to come to us. On our website, it said, we had this quote, “We’re not motivational coaches for the apathetic. If you don’t come, we don’t care. But if you do, we will.” The idea being that what we wanted was people that literally wanted to learn a new fitness program that could transform their life, and were passionate about wanting to follow through. Cause we didn’t want to have to try to sell people on fitness, instead what we wanted to do is transfer our passion for CrossFit to them. Our enthusiasm for CrossFit. Sales for me has always been kind of a transfer of emotion. I get you excited about something, and it was easy to do with CrossFit. And so we had this methodology that we knew about that was amazing. It was not boring. It changed every day. And it produced results really, really fast. And that was really our pitch.

Sean: 15:16 – At what point did this stop being a place where you guys just came to work out and become a business?

Craig: 15:23 – That’s a good question. So 2009 is when that happened. Actually it was probably late 2008 when my partner Jeremy and I said, man, this is getting overwhelming. We literally, the shed this mechanic shed that we had in Walnut Creek, we were having to do classes half in and half out of the shed and it was cumbersome. And Jeremy Jones said, I think we’ve got enough now. We had software, we used the Mindbody software, and we had enough now where we could pay a full-time coach. He said, I’ll quit my job and I’ll coach the classes and run the business. And I was in the investment banking world. And said that’s great. So literally in 2009 we did that. We moved into this place in Pleasant Hill, it was 4,000 square feet at the time. Now it’s 12,000. And it took off, ad I attribute the taking off to not necessarily—well, yes, dedicating ourselves full time to taking care of customers and then those people telling other people. But the growth of the CrossFit Games at the time, that’s when it was starting to take off, 2010, you know, being on ESPN and people seeing it and going, “Oh, I want to do that” really helped us a great deal.

Sean: 16:37 – What are some things that you think if you could go back that you think you could’ve done better when you first decided, OK, this is going to be a business.

Craig: 16:44 – You’re going to stump me on this one. There’s a number of things that we could have done better, and one of the things that we did in the beginning that I wouldn’t do now is we tried to be all things to all people. In the beginning. If someone said, hey, you know what, I can’t come to 5-a.m. cl
ass , can we do 5:30-a.m.class? And so we literally, Jeremy and I would go, “Yeah, what the hell, we’ll just bring another coach in.” So we literally had classes in the morning at 5:00 a.m., 5:30 a.m., 6:00 a.m., 6:30 a.m. We did that in the evening, too. Same thing. Anytime there was someone said, well, you know what, I joined but I really want more of a boot camp-style class. OK, let’s make a fit class. And we would respond to every customer request in that way and that became overwhelming to us. The other thing that we didn’t do is we didn’t, in the early days, we didn’t establish a good set of ground rules for membership pricing.

Sean: 17:52 – I think that’s pretty common, though.

Craig: 17:53 – Yes. We were very flexible with, you know, “You have a student discount?” Sure. We have a student discount. “You have a military discount?” Yeah. We’ve got a military discount. I only want to come three days a week. Yeah, we’ll do three days a week. And we ended up with this just menagerie of memberships. In the early days, too, one of the things we said, and without kind of foresight, we’ll grandfather your rate. So if you pay that rate we’ll keep it that way forever. Well, that just wasn’t feasible financially. We got to a point where we finally had to say, we got to raise rates. And that was a painful period of time.

Sean: 18:29 – Yeah. How did you get through that?

Craig: 18:30 – A really good letter.

Sean: 18:34 – What was in said letter?

Craig: 18:35 – Heartfelt letter explaining the financial challenges of owning a CrossFit gym and the need to remain competitive in this marketplace with respect to our facilities and our equipment and the coaching. In order to have quality coaches, quality equipment, and nice facilities, we have to charge a certain rate in order to make that available.

Sean: 19:09 – You mentioned your coaches. How do you train your trainers to be effective coaches?

Craig: 19:16 – We started out early on as most of our coaches, almost all of our coaches were members first. And we still, when people call us up and say, “Hey, I’d like to work for Diablo,” we say, OK, great. Join us first. Be a part of the community, understand what’s going on here. That is one, so they can see and they learn, you know, somewhat through osmosis the process of how we do things here. We also then require all of our coaches to go through an observant and assist period where they spend 60 to 160 hours depending upon their level of previous experience watching and observing classes. And then also being coached by the coaches that are already out there on the floor. So they act first just observing then assisting actual coaches. And then from there they, we have them take on classes in very small amounts as part-time coaches. That’s really the training process we have. We also have a formal meeting that we do a once about once every two months. We bring the coaches in and we do a continuing education- type program for things that are relevant to our Diablo costumer base.

Sean: 20:23 – What do you think makes a good coach?

Craig: 20:25 – Pat Barber has talked about this in the past. He said emotional IQ. First and foremost is the ability to communicate effectively with every type of customer. You don’t have to be an outstanding athlete. You don’t have to be the best CrossFitter in the world. You don’t even have to have, you know, several certifications. I’ve seen—and you know, Greg Glassman talked about this, you know, I’ve seen people with, you know, Level 3 coaches that make me cringe in front of a group. They’re just not great coaches. That’s not to say—there’s some awesome Level 3 coaches. But it’s that emotional IQ. It’s that ability to communicate effectively and to be able to deliver coaching cues that work for all different types of customers. And those folks, you get to know, and learn who they are through lots of conversations with them, through lots of time on the floor, seeing them interact as members. The most difficult period, and I know a lot of affiliate owners will agree to this one, is when you get a member that you know is not a good people person tell you they’re getting their Level 1 and they would like to start coaching with you. And you literally have to have that conversation, that difficult conversation. I’ve had members leave us, quit, because we had to break the news to them that they couldn’t become a coach here. But that is so important to your community.

Sean: 21:59 – When you get someone, and not just someone who wants to be a coach, but just someone who comes in who might not be a cultural fit. How do you deal with that?

Craig: 22:09 – On the extreme level, we have a no-asshole rule, and if someone’s an asshole, we will ask them to leave the gym. And we’ve had to do that on a couple of occasions, in our long 12 years only, you know, once or twice has that happened. But on a lesser level, there is a time, a point in time where you have to have a conversation with your member that is disruptive to the community. Managing a CrossFit affiliate is not like managing, you know, a chain of fitness businesses or s studios or managing the car-parts shop that’s right next door that kills it next door to us. It’s a community of people that operate together to accomplish one goal, make everybody fit and make it a place where people want to come back to on a daily basis. And if you have that poison in the well, you are that cancer and that cancer, you have to deal with and you have to have that difficult conversation. And that usually filters all the way up to me. And that’s primarily because I’ve been in management and dealt with people and managed people for probably 30, 35 years. And so I know how to have those difficult conversations.

Sean: 23:39 – When an affiliate has been around as long as this affiliate has been,12 years, you just said, you’re clearly doing a lot more right than you are wrong. What do you think some of the things that you do right here are?

Craig: 23:53 – For us it’s we stick to our values, and I remember having conversations with some other long-term affiliate owners about this, is we stay true to our values. Our mission is, and everybody knows this is, is to make people fit beyond expectation. The only way we can make people fit beyond expectation is if they come and they come often. So they got to want to be here. And that really kind of is our operating principle for how we do everything. At Diablo, we make sure that this is a welcoming environment and people want to keep coming back. And we do that through really good programming. And so I’ve got, you know, Coach Jamie Lee, who’s been a Games athlete, not necessarily relevant to programming on a daily basis, but he’s just a damn good coach. He knows—every time you take a class with Jamie, every time he does—and I’m like, God, I gotta remember to do that. He asks everyone, how are you feeling? How are you feeling? Do you have any injuries? What’s going on with you? He connects really well. So he’s the guy that’s writing our programming. So what’s going on in this community is really important to him and how people progress in their fitness and are they avoiding injuries.

Craig: 25:02 – So one is really solid programming that makes people fitter, stay healthy, and then want to come tomorrow because it’s fun. The other part that we do is we we’re accommodating. One of the things I’ve said about Diablo, people go, wow, man, you’ve had lots of Games athletes, you’ve had teams at the Games many times. That’s awesome for us, but we thrive on the success of our daily members. But the reason why that happens is we create an environment where that can happen. I don’t necessarily think—it’s not necessarily our programming that’s made these athletes; half these athletes do their own programming or they may even do Invictus or Ben Bergeron’s programming. That used to bother me in the very beginning and then I realized this, I don’t need it. We don’t need to fulfill ourselves that way. What I want to do is create an environment where they can thrive, where they ca
n come and they want to come here to do that. And that’s kind of an overriding principle with our business as well, is I want them to be able to come here. So that means I’ve got to have classes available to them when they need them. And then I also, one of the things we do here is we make available open gym. I’ve always carved out space in the gym. We’re lucky enough to have enough space that we can offer open gym all day and on the weekends. And then when class isn’t being taught in the main gym, I’ll make sure there’s open gym available there so that people can come here and do what they want to do on their schedule. Life in the Bay Area’s exceptionally busy. So people finding time in their schedules to come work out is really important and it might not be when classes happening. So open gym is an important characteristic as well.

Sean: 26:43 – Why do you think more gyms don’t have that kind of open-gym policy?

Craig: 26:48- Looking back on ourselves in the initial discussions with my management team about that, I think it’s a control thing, that they’re worried that they equipment’s gonna get used the wrong way. Equipment’s not going to be put back or you know, someone might break something or someone might walk off with something, or someone might do programming that’s different than what the class is doing. Those are natural fears. You think it might disrupt and take away from the community that’s out there. We have to spend a little bit extra effort to make sure that the folks that are coming into open gym are integrated within the regular community, and that’s actually easier than we thought it was going to be, they’re invited to all community events. They come for Memorial Day Murph and they do Memorial Day Murph, they come for Barbells for Boobs and they’re doing the workout with everybody else. They’re part of this community and they’re part of our community Facebook group. Including them and making em a part of it is huge. Those fears are unfounded. This gym—here’s the other thing we do, Sean, is we’re open on Saturdays and Sundays. When gyms tell me they’re closed on Sundays, I don’t get that. There’s tons of people that will trade for membership to be here and check people in. And there’s 16-year-old kids that would sit at your front desk and check people in for minimum wage to be open. Even if you don’t generate enough members, even if there’s only three or four members that will actually take it, that will come in and actually do it, saying that you are open on those hours has been a decisive factor for many people that have come in and purchased memberships from us, knowing that they have that availability, not necessarily that they’re going to come, but knowing that availability is, it’s just a significant factor and it’s a really easy thing for affiliates to do.

Sean: 28:49 – You mentioned that the competitors that you’ve had—I think right now, before these Games, it’s like 60. How have you been able to crank out that many high level athletes?

Craig: 29:01 – It’s again, we’ve created an environment where those athletes can thrive. And being early to the game helped us a lot, meaning, we were in and around this since 2008, in and around the competition world. And so it was part of what we did, it was part of our culture here. And you know, it’s kind of the friend of a friend. So when someone’s good and they tell someone else that they think might be good, hey, come train here. And I think that—and then here’s the other thing, is when you see Alessandra Pichelli or at the time Whitney Hughes or one of our other athletes do a workout, you know, there’s a certain amount of, OK, I might be able to do it close to that fast, and you get them training together, and every Saturday we get together, our competition group gets together and call it Rx-plus, and anyone’s invited. Anyone that, you know, wants to come in and jump in can, can jump in and we train together. And that environment itself helps raise the bar, it changes their perspective. They don’t think—what they see as being normal is way above what other people can do with CrossFit. But they perceive it as, “Oh, you know, I can do that too.” And I think that’s helped create that environment.

Sean: 30:23 – I’ve had people tell me that they’ve quit gyms because the gym focused too much on competitors. How do you avoid that here?

Craig: 30:31 – Yeah, and I’ve talked to other affiliate owners about this, too. It’s been an ebb and flow for us with respect to our community and their perception of whether we focus too much on competitors and not on competitors. It is a dynamic that is not for everybody. It’s not for every affiliate. It takes a lot of—there was times when it took a lot of emotional strength to get through those periods of times where the community thought you were spending too much time on competition, you’re too focused on competition. You can’t focus on the regular members. But it’s, again, it’s part of managing the community, and we got through it by including the community in the process. One of the things that we tell people is we’re going to make you fit and make you love CrossFit. And we’re also gonna make you fans of the sport of CrossFit, because this is a really cool sport. The competition side of this is one of my personal choices. It’s not necessarily a profitable part. As a matter of fact, it’s probably one of the more expensive parts of this business. But it’s one of the things that I really love. I just happen to love watching these guys compete. This is the first year we haven’t had a team competing at a Sanctional, which is a little bit of a relief from a time perspective and a financial perspective. But we’re looking forward to next year putting together a team that’s going to go to Sanctionals ’cause I just love—there’s nothing more thrilling than watching those guys compete on the floor. I’m looking forward to seeing our athletes go to the Games this year and competing. It’s exciting for me. I love the sport. I love the idea behind it and I’d like to make our members fans of that.

Craig: 32:12 – And what’s cool is that one of the things we tell them, Sean, and this has helped a lot, that the best way a member can understand who we are and the value of the competitors is when they travel to Ireland and they go to a gym and they’ve got a Diablo shirt on and someone recognizes, “You go to Diablo?” Like, yeah. And that’s a cool thing. And that brand recognition, name recognition—we run a great gym, but it’s not because of that, it’s because of those competitors, and what we’ve done at a competitive level has helped build our brand identity and I’m grateful for that and that helps keep this community together.

Sean: 32:53 – That’s a good segue into what I wanted to ask you next because you’ve been around for a while and you’ve seen a ton of changes in CrossFit and the sport and everything else. What do you think about the current shift towards health and not only just towards health, but really with a focus on sort of the elderly and the decrepit that’s kinda, that’s coming from CrossFit HQ?

Craig: 33:10 – I think it’s a bold initiative on CrossFit’s part and I think, I rarely hesitate to second—judge Greg Glassman cause the guy has an uncanny ability to be right with his stuff. He told us early on, you know, I want one affiliate owner per affiliate because I want someone invested in person. And he was so fricking right with that, because, you know, managing a community is different than running a franchise business. But likewise with this, I think he’s right from a perspective of this is absolutely something that can help that community of people. It will not happen overnight here. It will happen over time. Our community has responded favorably to it. Our general population; the blue liquid bottles aside and the old-style living room aside, what that’s doing for our community has been positive. And I’ve even actually—we got an email last week that said “do you guys have something for a 60-plus person who’s 30 pounds above his BMI and needs to start moving better?” And I’d
like to think that that came as a result of this shift that CrossFit has in its marketing. It probably did, it was just an unusual email to come in and it was cool to be able to say, yeah, we do and we can handle that. I think the story will play out in two to three years on this one. It’s going to take two to three years before we start seeing a real impact. I support it. And the reason, here’s the other reason, the people that are coming into CrossFit, that came into CrossFit for the first five years of our existence were people that were extreme athletes that found this stuff through newspaper articles or through online articles, you know, like I did, looking for something that’s more aggressive and more extreme than other fitness programs. And they came into us and they found us and all of those people have now been found or have found CrossFit. Like all of those people out there—the next generation of athletes I think that are coming in are lesser experienced, less fit, don’t move as well, have more injuries, don’t know about fitness. We get more people now that come into our free class that aren’t doing anything. And then that’s always a little bit surprise for me and so I’m ready for this transition because we’re having to spend a lot more time training them. It’s a different coaching approach. And so CrossFit might have nailed this on the head with the kind of the way to train this type of athlete because that’s the type of athlete that we’re seeing now. All of the extreme guys have already found us.

Sean: 36:29 – Yeah. Your gym personally is very active on social media. And next thing I wanted to ask you about was the decision by CrossFit HQ to just purge the vast majority of their social media. What did you think about when you heard they were going to do that?

Craig: 36:44 – For me it was a shock because I enjoy seeing that stuff. And I’m a fan of the sport. So not seeing it on Instagram was a bit of a blow for me personally, but given the level of discussion that takes place on the posts that happen on a daily basis, I understand it. And then given the backstory behind it, especially as it surrounds the ability of Facebook/Instagram to essentially shut your business down on a whim based upon political sentiment or a particular government that doesn’t want your opinion or voice to be heard. That CrossFit essentially demonstrated that they’re going to take this into their own hands and not allow one of those entities to be able to control their voice. And I respect that as a business owner, I respect it—and I think what’s going to happen, you know, maybe not immediately, but personally I think what’s going to happen is that businesses like CrossFit are going to create their own social media outlets, their own forums, the old message boards. We got along just fine with the message boards. Has it affected my business? Not at all. Half my members, most of my members didn’t even notice. The people that noticed are the very vocal minority within the CrossFit world. And that includes the Games fans and Games athletes. Most of my community out here, they know the best names in CrossFit, they know the, you know, the Mat Frasers and the Annie Thorisdottirs and the Tia Toomey and the rest, but beyond that, they don’t know any of them. And that’s just, that’s just the nature of the sport. Obviously I want everybody to know, right. If you’re in one of my classes, by the way, you’re going to hear about it because I love telling the stories, but they weren’t impacted by it. And so if it doesn’t impact them, it doesn’t impact me.

Sean: 39:01 – Yeah. You left your job as an investment banker in 2014 so you could run this place full time. Why did you make that decision? Because that seems like you left a pretty lucrative business.

Craig: 39:12 – I did. This was finally at a point where I could walk away from the grind. And that’s what my job and the investment banking world had become, was you know, it was getting up at 4:00 a.m. n the office by, you know, 5:00 a.m., and then home at you know, four o’clock in the afternoon, five o’clock in the afternoon, and then traveling a lot. And I was passionate about this. We were at the point where the business was capable of paying an income for me and my family to pay our bills. It was just enough. And I had some saved up, that it made good sense. I’ll never retire. You know, I had decided that, you know, probably 20 years ago, I don’t know what I would do with myself. But being a part of this on a daily basis has been amazing. You know, Chris Cooper talks about it in his book is the, you want to develop your business to where it gives you more time. And that’s where this has gotten to. I love spending days here, I love walking around. I love training here. And then I also get to be at home with my daughter to help her with her homeschooling at the same time. And that’s what this business has gotten to. I can’t take random trips to Hawaii. I can’t fly to Europe on a whim. The stuff that I did back in the investment bank days, but that’s not what’s important to me. It’s not my why.

Sean: 40:45 – Final question is that you’ve been in business here almost 13 years. What are the next 13 years look like for you and Diablo CrossFit?

Craig: 40:56 – For us, you know, I set a goal a long time ago, and I hope I haven’t over spoken here, but I set a goal a long time ago of I wanted to make Diablo CrossFit the best CrossFit gym in the world. And it wasn’t the best gym in the world. It was the best CrossFit gym in the world, and for us, that how we got there has kind of changed along the way. At one point we thought we need to open up more Diablo CrossFits and you know, I think at one point we had four and we were helping manage another one, a fifth one down in Pleasanton. And I was spread so thin. I wasn’t engaged with customers. I wasn’t really enjoying it. It was a job. Since then we’ve come back to, I have a location. We recently sold our San Jose location to members down there and they’re passionately pursuing it. We’re here in this central location, and it’s been awesome. This business has thrived since we’ve divested ourselves of those other locations. And now I can focus on this community here and making this an amazing gym an amazing experience. And then what we do here, what I’d like to do is be able to take and share that with other affiliates around the world. We’ve got our programming that we do and we make that available through SugarWOD to other affiliates. We’ve got people signing up. It’s enough of a distraction that doesn’t take away from our primary business. One of the things that affiliate owners will learn, their bread and butter is their primary affiliate. Anything you do that’s outside of that, another affiliate, selling programming, doing corporate wellness. Anything else, all of that starts to take away a little bit from your main bread and butter. ‘Cause I’ve done it all. I’ve done corporate wellness. We’ve done them all. We’ve done all those programs and some of them have been great and very profitable, yet the better you get at those things, the more your primary bread and butter suffers. And that’s the nature of a CrossFit affiliate. We’re back and I’m focused on this, that primary affiliate, and it’s been going great. Our primary bread and butter and I’m enjoying it more. I’m spending more time with my family and I’m spending more time here in the gym training. My fitness is getting better and the only divergences, you know, is what I’m doing here. How can I help other people with what I’m doing here do the same thing at where they are.

Sean: 43:35 – Well Craig, best of luck, man. I really appreciate you having me out here, this is a fantastic facility and I’m 100% sure that you’re going to make this fantastic for the next, you know, 10, 12 years or however many years it takes.

Craig: 43:44 – That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to it.

Sean: 43:46 – Thanks a lot.

Craig: 43:46 – All right, Sean.

Sean: 43:48 – I want to thank Craig Howard one more time for letting me visit his gym and for taking the time to sit down
with me and have a great conversation. If you want to follow Craig on Instagram, you can follow him @cshdiablo. And for more information on his affiliate, you can head to Two-Brain Radio with Sean Woodland is brought to you by Two-Brain Business. To learn more about creating your Perfect Day as an entrepreneur, book a free call with a mentor at Thanks again for listening, everybody. I’m Sean Woodland and I’ll see you next time.

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