As told to Katharine Reece for Inside the Affiliate by CrossFit Oahu owner, Bryant Powers.
Gym name: CrossFit Oahu
Locations: 5 locations, in Honolulu, Kailua, Waipio, Kaneohe, and Pearl City
Affiliation year: 2006
Estimated number of members per location: 808… Not really. People come in and ask how many members we have, but that’s not really the right question. You get a lot of members by being good, sure, but you could also set up a system where there is no Elements class and people could join on contract like at a globo gym, and you could technically have 2,000 people. We have a lot of members, but I don’t like this metric as a measure for how good a gym is.
Square footage per location: Our main gym in Honolulu is almost 15,000 square feet (not including the upstairs); Kailua is 2,000; Waipio is 4,000; Kaneoat is 1,500; and Pearl City 4,500.
Gym owner's name: Bryant Powers
Number of full-time and part-time trainers: 10-12 fulltime and 20 part-time
Oahu owner Bryant Powers. Photo cred to Nathalie Walker.
ITA: How do new members start at your gym?
BP: They either sign up online to attend a free intro class or we tell members to bring their cool friends—not the bad friends—and then they usually stop by an intro class. We don’t hit ‘em with a Level 1 lecture but we tell them about what makes CrossFit cool and take them through a workout.
If they want to sign up, there are two options: group sessions with fixed times, Monday and Wednesday at 7pm, for 8 sessions—Group Elements. Whatever membership level they buy, that class is included in the price of membership. If they want to do personal training Elements, that's $300 and includes six personal training sessions scheduled whenever they want. So one is cheaper with less times and the other is more expensive with flexible times.
ITA: Besides CrossFit group classes, what other programs do you offer?
BP: We have a full, legitimate Olympic lifting program, with people who have qualified for Nationals, and that program happens at the Honolulu facility in the “Oly Pit,” where we have all the specialty equipment that Olympic lifters would need—20 and 15 kg Eleiko bars, kilo plates, jerk/pulling blocks. We have ladies’ boot camp. We have Striking—George Ryan will be proud—that’s a specialty membership. People have to take fight names, and they can only call each other by those code names. I’ve also done some gymnastics classes since I grew up doing gymnastics. We have running stuff, and probably other things I’m missing.
ITA: Tell us about your group class programming style.
BP: We always do a strength portion in the beginning of class—based on 12-week cycles, where for instance, we’ll focus on back squats and pull-ups. I’d have to say our programming is mostly old-school CrossFit-style stuff—triples and couplets. We like to mix it up a lot with variations of the body weight movements—so not just push-ups, but wide push-ups, and not just squats, but one-legged squats with say, your hand behind your head, which is harder. We take the basic movements and put a twist on them to make them harder. If we have ground-to-overhead, we’ll give people the option of implements, so they can use different equipment—a sandbag, keg, Log Bar.
I try to structure the programming overall so that we hit short, medium, and longer stuff, and then bodyweight stuff, and also incorporate running or rowing. We mix in mobility, too, depending on the length of the workout.
ITA: What kind of engagement does Oahu have with the surrounding community?
BP: We all get in this matte-black truck and drive slowly by the other gyms. No, not really. I was the first CrossFit gym out here, and even before I affiliated, we were doing workouts in the park starting in 2004. All the people who do CrossFit out here have either trained with us or worked with us in some capacity. We know everybody. I hear some stories about people who hate other affiliates [near them], but I don’t have any of those issues.
This year, we started a fitness league—outside of just CrossFit Oahu—for local people with three events and some online stuff. I went around the island and sat down with every gym owner and talked about how to do a competition that keeps people in their gyms and gives them an opportunity to compete in this league. Just last week, I talked with every gym on the island.
That being said, I’m really for our team. I’m not against anybody else, but if you’re on my team, you get all the perks and benefits. I’m not trying to take anybody down, but I want us to do well.
ITA: What are a few of CrossFit Oahu’s most popular annual community events?
BP: We do stuff all the time. We have events that are specific to each gym, which are smaller, and then we have Five Facility events, that are larger and have participation from all the gyms. A really cool Five Facility one we did recently is called—cleverly—The Box Jump, and the point is that you work out at all five facilities in one day. Then everybody meets up at the big facility [in Honolulu] at say, 2pm, and we all go out to he bar afterwards. You carpool around with your team and you dress up, and people love that. That’s how you make your memories, cruising around and working out with people. (One of the teams, Gym Bag Cupcakes, is pictured above.)
The other annual event we have is called the CrossFit Prom. Basically we can only do it once a year because everyone gets out of control—and once provides a year’s worth of memories. We’ve had at least five so far. So we turn the whole gym into a prom, we vote on themes. This year was Casino, so we brought in card dealers and craps tables. The earlier hours were for members with kids. Then after 10pm, we get gnarly and bring in the DJ and kegs, and it just gets wild. We’ve had people get married that met at the prom, we have people sleeping at the gym the next day. I’m usually left to clean up, that’s fun.
We have another event, the Midnight WOD. We let members know we’re going to do it through Facebook or Instagram, saying we’re having a WOD at midnight, on like a Tuesday or Wednesday to really mess with people, and we give away free shirts or something.
But the single gym events—we have one called a Benchmark Bash, where we print out all the benchmark WODs and hero WODs, and people pick which two or three they want to do. That’s where they can work on their PRs if they want, with their friends, and there’s usually a BBQ with it. Having a good time is a big part of our deal.
ITA: How do you communicate with your members outside the gym?
BP: Facebook and Instagram for the most part. We send out emails every once in a while. We had a newsletter once, but we quit that because I couldn’t keep up with it. We’re in the habit of not posting WODs on our blog. There are some members who post religiously about the WODs on their own Facebook or whatever, and members seem to know who they are. I was in the parking lot heading out when a member was coming in, and I joked with him and asked him what he thought the WOD was, and he said, “I already know, my brother texted me.”
Coaching and Administration
ITA: What does it take to work at CrossFit Oahu?
BP: A seemingly contradictory combination of low standards and high standards? (Laughs) I’d rather hire someone who is happy and likes coaching over somebody who is a technical Olympic lifting coach but is a hard person to deal with. You want people who are excited to coach and are engaged. We have a pretty decent internship program if we can run new coaches through it, though sometimes people slip through the cracks, which I want to work on.
We’ve gone out of our way not to find coaches—people usually bring up their interest and ask a couple times. For the most part now, the head coaches of our facilities have a pre-intern checklist and will bring people to me that meet those requirements. Then I’ll meet with the person and if they’re not a total dick, we’ll start them through the internship process. We only want people who want to work, not people who only want a free membership. Back in the day, it didn’t matter if we had someone on staff that didn’t do something, but now everyone needs to have a role. We definitely don’t want coaches who just want to do it to be cool.
ITA: Which aspects of your gym's operations are you most proud of?
BP: Our ability to consume massive amounts of text messages at any given time. No, just kidding. Creating jobs for coaches—we have healthcare, we have payroll that always work. For the most part, the coaches have gotten a crap-ton of free certs. We’re really trying to help people that want to work. Also, we’re pretty technical and on-top of it when it comes to checking people into classes and keeping track of everyone’s billing information.
ITA: Tell us about something you tried that did not work out.
BP: Pretty much everything we tried at first didn’t work out. I work with some business advisors, and we have yearly lists of The Top 10 Business Failures of Bryant Powers. I’m more of a creative person than an authoritarian. Last year, I spent a shit-ton of money customizing things, and that was stupid. We just made these shoes and spent about a lot of money customizing them. I hope they sell, maybe they won’t. I’m really lucky my high points balance our my low points. I keep extensive lists of what I do wrong each week, and meditate on those. I do a lot of things right, of course, but I’d rather think about the things I do wrong.
ITA: How can CrossFit Oahu get better?
BP: Work on our coaching. I have a lot of ideas for how to work on this but I get bogged down on day-to-day stuff. I think coaching is the most important we do. If you’ve taught thousands of group classes, you have a lot of experience you can pass on—and mentorship is really how a coach gets better. Everything else is supplementary [for affiliates] if your coaching is great, even though I don’t know if there’s really a definition of a great coach.
I did totally rip those tests from ITA and made my coaches buy all the books you referenced. I’ve made book reports for all of those and will start forcing my coaches to read them.
ITA: In your experience, what kind of personality and qualities are valuable in running a successful affiliate?
BP: I don’t even know, I guess I only know what I know. I just like trying to figure stuff out. I think you have to not be bummed out when things go wrong, but that’s like any business. Not everything is going to go right. A lot of people are like, “How do you get five gyms and are successful and have money to waste on stuff?” But a lot of people I know out here work in the business and not on the business. For instance, this morning I taught CrossFit classes to military units, and then in the afternoon, I was working on business stuff—changing our credit card processing, streamlining the process of how we run our events. You have to do both.
If you’re an athlete and pulling a 135 deadlift and two years later, you’re still pulling a 135 deadlift, then you know something didn’t work. I go to a lot of gyms and then go back to it two years later, and often not much has changed. Here, I like to tinker with stuff and improve little stuff each day. Also, write stuff down.
ITA: What transforms a good affiliate into a great affiliate?
BP: Continual improvement, focusing on your members.
ITA: Do you have any cool equipment hacks (novel ways you store/label/decorate gym equipment)?
BP: Honestly, you’d probably geek out if you ever travel out here. Our whole gym is an equipment hack. Not only do we have five gyms, but we’ve expanded four times, so our DIY skills are through the roof—on welding, whatever. Everything has to match, everything has a home. People don't pay attention to signs, so we want to design things so everything gets back to its home. The pegs the bands go on are color-coded, so no one puts a band in the wrong spot. We’ve welded the bases for the bumper plates so they always go back in the right spot, so they’re never crooked—that drives me crazy. I always check out the background of peoples’ pictures from other affiliates to see how they do things. Our main gym, I mean, it doesn’t need to be that nice. Our members care for a second and then they complain about something else. I go too far, probably.
ITA: What's one thing your gym has that can't be found anywhere else in the world?
Something else people probably care more about—we’ve got the original Pukie shirt that Greg Glassman sold to me at the original CrossFit gym, we’ve got that framed. And other CrossFit knickknacks—I had to put some of them away because it was looking too much like Ruby Tuesdays. We have this crazy airplane puke bag from CrossFit NYC. I’ve got the original CrossFit shirt that says, “It doesn’t have to be fun, to be fun.” I’ve got license plate covers from the original CrossFit games in Aromas. I have a box of probably 500 shirts from different affiliates.
ITA: Last but certainly not least, do you have a gym pet?
BP: We have several dogs, that run around aimlessly.