You would be hard-pressed to find a more polarizing and controversial modern exercise trend than CrossFit. Known for extremely intense workouts that combine core concepts from weightlifting, cardio, gymnastics, and even yoga, CrossFit is a "love it" or "hate it" experience.
Regardless of your personal feelings on the topic, we’re here to examine whether CrossFit as a business model could benefit your gym in the long run, or whether you should steer clear and stick to more traditional methodologies. Since every gym owner has different needs, financial situations, and business overhead to consider, this decision is often a personal one.
CrossFit box versus traditional gym
Rather than offering a clear "yes" or "no," we’ll be laying out the differences between the CrossFit business versus running a traditional gym. Armed with that information, you can make the best decision for your own business.
You don’t have to be an experienced gym owner to know what usually happens in gyms across the country. Customers show up, pay a membership fee, and then are generally free to use the facility as they see fit. Depending on what the gym offers, a member may choose to use the weight machines, weightlifting racks, treadmills and ellipticals, or anything else that sounds appealing.
In a traditional gym setting, members usually work out on their own, choosing their own fitness goals and working toward them at their own pace. If a person needs some extra help with motivation, goal planning, or exercise form, he or she may hire a personal trainer. That trainer may work for the gym as a direct employee, or he might be a freelance trainer who works out of many locations. Either way, the customer’s experience is roughly the same: he or she receives a customized workout plan with goal tracking and regular training sessions.
CrossFit is more of a lifestyle choice rather than a simple "hit the gym and then you’re done" type of activity. Generally, when members sign up for a CrossFit gym (or "box"), they choose their level of commitment to the program and decide whether to start with a baseline of two to three sessions a week or go all-in and purchase a daily or total-access membership.
Rather than showing up on their own schedules, over a lunch break for example, members attend scheduled sessions that are run by CrossFit trainers. There may be several other people attending the same session and doing the same workout under the guidance of one trainer. CrossFit encourages both a supportive and competitive environment among its members, though each box will likely lean toward one or the other end of that spectrum.
Members attending a CrossFit workout can expect that each and every workout will push them to their maximum capacity. Workouts are deliberately crafted to be extremely challenging, with the expectation that participants can modify certain parts to be easier if necessary. Even with modifications, CrossFit workouts are known for their intensity. As a trade-off for that high level of difficulty, the main workout in each session often takes less than twenty minutes. The remainder of the time is spent on warm-ups, cool-downs, and any auxiliary exercises that members need to work on for the sake of goal progression.
Cost of affiliation
Both traditional gyms and CrossFit boxes have similar overhead when it comes to paying building rent, purchasing workout equipment, and paying trainer salaries. However, in addition to all of these costs, CrossFit box owners must also pay $3000 per year to CrossFit’s corporate offices in exchange for permission to use the CrossFit name. That’s because box owners are technically owners of their own businesses as affiliates of CrossFit, instead of owners of franchises run by corporate.
Traditional personal trainer certifications come from certifying organizations such as the American Council on Exercise (ACE) or the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), among others. These organizations require applicants to study sports medicine and exercise principles and pass an extensive test proving their knowledge. Once certified, trainers must stay up to date with current exercise recommendations by earning continuing education credits. The initial cost of pursuing a fitness training certification is usually a few hundred dollars.
CrossFit trainers, on the other hand, must attend a weekend class that teaches CrossFit training principles. To become a "level 1" trainer costs $1000, and this certification must be renewed every five years. Earning additional levels of certification, up to level 4, requires additional classes.
One of the reasons CrossFit is often targeted as a fad is that you need only have the basic level 1 certification in order to open your own CrossFit box. To a wary eye, it looks like CrossFit charges $1000 for training, $3000 for affiliation, and then turns trainers loose to practice under the CrossFit name with little to no oversight or safety enforcement.
Traditional gym owners do not necessarily need fitness certification to open their businesses. Traditional gym owners, however, are rarely the ones in charge of providing actual training to gym members, while CrossFit gym owners can and often do function as trainers for some classes. And, any trainers hired to run workout sessions in a CrossFit box are only required to have that bare minimum level 1 training in order to lead extremely intense workout classes.
It’s generally the high cost of admission to the exclusive CrossFit club combined with the relatively quick weekend training course and the extreme level of intensity that raises eyebrows when it comes to the CrossFit business model. New members often wonder, "Is it safe to work out this hard under the direction of a relatively inexperienced fitness trainer?" And, in some cases, they are right to be concerned.
Regular gyms have a fairly wide range of membership prices based on the services they offer. Big-name 24 hour gyms can get away with offering $10 monthly memberships, while more specialized gyms run by independent owners can charge $50 or more per month.
CrossFit gyms, on the other hand, frequently charge members $150 or more per month. For the average exerciser, this cost might seem unreasonable. But CrossFit enthusiasts happily pay this price in exchange for structured sessions and the coaching and atmosphere that goes along with the competitive workout style.
Choosing your preferred business model
At the end of the day, each gym owner needs to decide for him- or herself which business model is more appealing. If you already know you are ready to open a gym, or you have been successfully running a gym already, you likely have some idea of which direction you would like to take your business.
If you have been "playing it safe" by sticking to the traditional model and you find yourself wanting to experiment with boutique offerings such as CrossFit, that goal is completely achievable. The startup cost of $4000 for the affiliation membership and your level 1 training is relatively low, as business costs go, so long as you already have the necessary workout equipment and building space.
If you emphasize quality training principles and safety, you might be surprised how many of your "regular" gym members might be enticed to give CrossFit a try if you decide to branch out.