What Does Affiliation Really Mean?

A pride of lions basking in the sun together - what does affiliation really mean?

An affiliate group is a collection of similar humans gathered around a central idea or ethos.

The people in the group share a common system or belief and refer to themselves as a whole.

The benefits of affiliation go beyond a name, and the group is more than the sum of its parts. Each part of the group contributes to the improvement of the rest by sharing knowledge, showing leadership or making sacrifices. The slowest antelopes do improve the herd, but the fastest improve it more.

Over the past several days, I’ve had literally dozens of requests to start a “Two-Brain affiliation” for gyms. Some are CrossFit gyms whose owners are looking for a new central hub of unity, and I’m flattered that some would consider me and my team to be that hub. And we already have that affiliation.

Currently, there are two types of affiliation in the fitness world. They can be formal (you pay to license) or informal (you gather to share a common interest).

Method Affiliation

Method affiliation: You come together over a common practice. Yoga practitioners are loosely affiliated even without a central governing body. Practitioners of hatha yoga are more tightly affiliated because they are more specialized. The further you go down the niche, the closer the affiliation gets—due to specialization or a governing body that includes a few and excludes the rest. Some affiliations are brand affiliations (like CrossFit): You can’t be a “CrossFit affiliate” without paying a licensing fee, which is the exclusionary boundary.

Pros: It’s really easy to join these loose affiliations. It’s really easy to leave them. People in the affiliate group care a lot or leave.

Cons: Quality control is impossible. And despite the best intentions, everyone is forced to repeat the same mistakes over and over because the group is really a collection of individuals.

Systems Affiliation

Systems affiliation: You come together over a shared series of regulations or best practices. Franchisees are affiliated by a common playbook and branding. Physiotherapists are affiliated by examinations and licensure.

Pros: You get the benefits of collective learning. You benefit from others’ mistakes. You don’t have to guess: You have a set of systems to follow. You can focus on your craft instead of trying to figure out “the business side.” You’re protected from fakers. You might have group buying power.

Cons: It’s hard to join these affiliations. It’s expensive to start a franchise and it’s challenging to earn a license. So you’re paying for exclusivity with your money or with time invested in education. Also, most franchises are fragile. As we saw in the Covid Crisis, gym franchises couldn’t pivot quickly enough, while coaching businesses like microgyms could make huge changes literally overnight.

What’s Best? 

So what’s the best form of affiliation?

The best affiliation model, in my opinion, is a systems affiliation that maintains the passion and care of the group.

The best affiliate group learns from its members. It collects real data, filters that data to determine best practices and then teaches those best practices to the herd. The herd gets faster without losing many antelope.

That leaves the group’s members free to practice any method of fitness they choose. A systems affiliation with a broad client base can be method agnostic: You can have caring coaches from the disciplines of CrossFit, athletic training, yoga and gymnastics in the same tribe, all traveling on slightly different paths, but all moving north. Viewed from a high level, one antelope might look exactly the same as another. Upon closer inspection, each antelope is running fast on its own unique path.

Together, the affiliate group goes farther. Individually, its members go faster.


The recent requests for “Two-Brain affiliation” are flattering. But we don’t need to start a new group like that. We already have one: it’s called mentorship.

We have data. We have filters and tests.

We have caring coaches from a broad range of disciplines—around 70 percent of our clients run CrossFit gyms. There are gymnastics gyms, Brazilian jiu-jitsu gyms, personal training studios, even franchisees in there. We collect data from all of them.

We have a group with a common ethos.

We have a feedback system: When an idea is working really well, we get it to everyone in a usable form.

We have a Growth ToolKit: a collection of all the information a gym owner needs to be successful.

We have personalization: mentors who guide gym owners along the Growth ToolKit.

We have buying power: We can hire experts to fill the gaps in our experience and partnerships to solve every problem a gym owner could have.

We have centralized knowledge but decentralized delivery.

But we don’t have the fragility of a franchise. Two-Brain gyms can pivot, and they just proved it. We don’t have forced branding: You can white-label our systems for your name and brand. You don’t have to use mine.

Systems and Care

Methods come and go. Systems change. Passion never goes away, and it feeds all of us.

But our herd’s survival depends on more than speed and endurance: It requires direction. Systems plus care get us far—and they do it fast.

Other Media in This Series

The True Costs of Changing Your Brand
How to Change Your Story
What’s in a Name?


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.