5 Reasons Why Your Gym Should Outsource Its Programming to a Pro

When you tell people you own a gym, they probably respond with some iteration of, “Wow! What a great job. I bet you get to work out all day and take all the vacations you want.”

And of course that’s when you chuckle and let them know you’ve gotta get back to the gym to clean the toilets before the afternoon classes roll in (and are really looking forward to sweeping the floors and wiping down all the sweaty equipment after that).

Then you’re reminded of the days leading up to the grand opening of your gym. It was probably a very exciting time – sticking it to the man and choosing to carve your own path in life by starting a business where you’re finally calling the shots. Risky? Sure. Exciting? You better believe it. Overwhelming? To say the least.

Within a few years, you probably realized that the grind of gym ownership is vastly different than the fantasy you created in your head. You didn’t realize you’d be the one responsible for organizing the gym, coaching the classes, paying the bills, finding new members, writing programming, managing the website, organizing fundraisers, and dealing with frustrated customers.

Not to mention those toilets.

What a wake-up call.

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And now here you are: overworked, underpaid, and wondering why the hell you even got into this thing in the first place. Your passion for coaching has taken a dip. Your credit cards are nearly maxed out. You’re at your wit's end and need to a find a better way to do things.

Did you know that the average gym owner spends about 30 hours per month writing programming and class plans? That’s 7.5 hours per week. Nearly an ENTIRE work day each week is spent writing workouts. Thirty hours! That’s nearly a full work week. Spent on writing workouts. And it’s not like you get to fully focus on that program design either.

If you’re like many of the coaches we’ve interviewed recently, like those at CrossFit Tuebor and CrossFit MBS, you’re banging out programs on the weekend when you should be spending quality time with your kids and/or significant other.

As a result, the quality of your programming isn’t what your coaches expect and your members need to help them meet or even exceed their goals. Then you have to spend even more time answering follow-up questions throughout the week. Phew!

So, why should you consider outsourcing your programming to a pro? Let’s dive in.

1) Boost Your Business

It makes absolutely zero sense for you to manage the programming and class plans. Literally zero. Your time is extremely valuable, and you’ve got to start seeing it as such. Plus, every hour you spend on programming and answering those pesky questions about it is an hour you don’t have for something else that’d be more worth your while.

Imagine if you could invest 8 hours each week into planning a community event. Or launching a new ad campaign. Or simply cleaning and organizing your facility. These are things that will have a direct impact on the happiness of your membership, and will increase retention. Imagine if you could spend 8 hours a week training your coaches, or introducing them to the latest advances in nutrition, mobility, and recovery.

Don’t you think your members would benefit from that?

It’s pretty simple: find out how much time it’s taking you each week to write your programming. Now multiply that by four. Next, find out how much time you invest into writing a class plan. Oh, you’re not writing a class plan? Are you trying to build a scalable business? Then you need one, and outsourcing your programming to a team of experts like those at TrainFTW will give you the opportunity to finally create such a plan, and much more.

Yurii Hanson, who co-founded CrossFit Billings in 2008 and still serves as head coach, was training as a CrossFit athlete. After meeting Matt Chan, he jumped on his competitor track programming. So when Matt, Eric O’Connor, and other top coaches came together with Train Heroic to create TrainFTW Affiliate Programming, this seemed like a logical next step for Yurii and his gym.

“Now we’re outsourcing our programming to TrainFTW, I’ve got a greater opportunity to be on the floor, interact with our members, and have more individual time with them,” Yurii said. “It has also allowed us to focus our minds on different areas, like trying out a new type of challenge to get new members in the door.”

2) Get Your Members to their Goals

Every minute you spend on writing a program or answering questions about it from your fellow coaches is a minute you could’ve been spending on actually coaching and helping your members become better athletes. When Yurii Hanson objectively assessed his own programming, he realized there were some holes in his game. “I’d get stuck with the same programming themes and default to barbell-focused WODs a lot,” Yurii said.

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Another challenge was that the time demands of weekly programming limited the amount of actual coaching Yurii could do, and what he could accomplish during those periods. Often, he’d find himself with no alternative but to issue generalized prescriptions, rather than personalized guidance and troubleshooting.

With the time that he has regained through TrainFTW, Yurii has been able to re-focus on what he loves most about running a gym – catering to the needs of his athletes.

“Our gym has been around long enough that there are people who have been doing CrossFit for a very long time,” Yurii said. “They’re aware of their weaknesses – like gymnastics skills, strength, and motor control – and actively want to improve in those areas. With TrainFTW, I have more bandwidth to help them do it.”

In the 15 months that Yurii and his fellow coaches at CrossFit Billings (two of them are full time, with five part-time instructors) have been relying on TrainFTW, they’ve seen some big differences in their members’ fitness levels.

“When we started TrainFTW, around 10% were RXing workouts and 90% had to scale,” Yurii said. “With the affiliate programming, about 30% are RXing. We’ve really been able to push the margins of their experience and challenge them to increase their fitness.”

Sometimes when you run a gym, you only hear from your members when there’s a problem. But with TrainFTW’s programming, Yurii finds the opposite is true and that members have relished the opportunity to learn from the master coaches that create his gym’s programs.

“I’ve actually had people come up to us, including some of our older members, telling me how much they’re getting out of the programming now,” Yurii said.

3) Take the Pressure Off

Being a small business owner can be a ton of fun, but did anyone ever clue you in on just how stressful it could be sometimes? One of the reasons is all the plates you have to keep spinning, from coaching to staff management to equipment maintenance, and so much more. Sometimes program design can be the proverbial straw that breaks your back, or at least your spirit.

That’s another reason to consider outsourcing your programming to a tailor-made service like TrainFTW, according to veteran coach Jim Kielbaso, who has served in many leadership positions for the National Strength and Conditioning Association, is the President of the International Youth Conditioning Association, and is director of the Total Performance Training Center in Wixom, Michigan.

“There’s so much to do as a coach day-to-day that no matter how organized you are, it’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed,” Jim said. “This is particularly true of young coaches and those with less experience, who have to put more time and effort into programming. It’s often much easier to implement someone else’s proven program instead. Doing so can be a big relief and allows you to concentrate your efforts on developing a culture, creating meaningful experiences for your clients, and building relationships.”

We all like to feel that we can do everything all the time, and constantly have umpteen bloggers, authors, and podcasters telling us that there’s one more thing we must fit in each day. As such, we can start wearing our busyness as a badge of courage, even as we’re hiding the stress of a frenetic schedule, the cracks in our relationships, and our chronic lack of sleep (sound familiar?!).

In Jim’s opinion, we need to stop making life harder than it needs to be.

“As a business owner you might be able to figure out how to do payroll and taxes on your own, but at what cost?” Jim said. “It’s much better to hand this off to a professional who can remove the burden from you. That’s how I think about outsourcing programming, too. It’s one less thing for you to worry about, and you can also learn a lot from the methods that experienced coaches have evolved over the years. No matter how much education you have and how competent you may be, you’ll probably go through periods where your programming gets stale. Outsourcing it enables you to tap into the mind of someone else who’s getting results and can either validate your approach or teach you something new.”

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4) Identify Your Strengths and Fill Gaps in Your Weaknesses

As a gym owner, you’ve got to wear an awful lot of hats – entrepreneur, marketer, motivator, counselor, leader, and many more. Even for true Da Vinci-like polymaths, it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to truly excel in all of these roles.

Former NFL player and creator of Power Athlete HQ John Welbourn believes that taking your game and your business to the next level requires asking yourself some tough questions.

“To be successful, you need to figure out as soon as possible what your top couple of strengths are and those things that are weaknesses,” John said. “Sometimes that doesn’t align with our initial self-assessment. I used to think that I was a decent graphic designer, until we brought in a branding guy from the UK who made me realize I was actually terrible. So the first thing to consider with programming is to be brutally honest about whether you’re good at it. Then think about whether you have the time and desire to get better. If not, then consider turning program design over to someone who’s a proven expert.”

In John’s school of brutal honesty, another mistake he commonly sees is a coach thinking their program design is effective because a few people are seeing results.

“If you only have 10 or 20 members at your gym, you’re not going to have a diverse cross-section of athletes or a broad data set to draw conclusions from,” John said. “This means that your programming might not be working as well as you think it is, or might only be applicable to a certain client population. In contrast, there are coaches out there who’ve trained thousands of athletes over many years and have continually improved their programming by assessing trends across many data points and making adjustments. You might be better off letting their expertise guide your programs and instead focus on keeping your members happy and running your gym well.”

If you make the decision to outsource your programming, it can be tempting to confuse this with abdication, believing, “Well, now I don’t have to think about that anymore.” Welbourn cautions against this mindset.

“If you start using outside programming, that doesn’t give you a free pass to just step away,” he said. “You should test and retest your clients to see if the program is working, make sure they’re progressing, and focus on adherence and execution. Doing so will lead to the greatest benefits for you, your other coaches, and your athletes.”

5) Re-Focus on What’s Most Important

What if you could take those 7.5 or 8 hours a week you used to spend on program design and actually take an extra day off? Heaven forbid you get some true downtime.

Not only would this allow you to decompress and spend more time with family and friends, but you’d also recharge your enthusiasm for the gym. Plus, you’d get time to reflect on what’s working, what’s not, and what you can do better going forward.

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For Yurii, the time he has regained since deciding to outsource programming to TrainFTW has not only benefited his business and positively impacted his members, but has also improved his quality of life.

“I’ve got a lot more time to train now,” Yurii said. “TrainFTW has also given me the opportunity to pursue other things that I couldn’t have even considered before. Every affiliate owner has strengths and weaknesses, and I used to really wrap myself around the axle with our programming. Now I’m able to be more proactive in different areas.”

It’s not just Yurii who is reaping the benefits of TrainFTW, but the other CrossFit Billings coaches as well.

“Instead of creating a Google spreadsheet and constantly going back and forth by email, we have a weekly staff meeting and take about 10 minutes to roll through programming,” Yurii said. “We look over the week, deal with any sort of equipment or class flow challenges, and make minor adjustments to the calendar.”

Having the opportunity to plan and reflect is allowing CrossFit Billings – which has done very well over the past decade – to put an infrastructure in place to guarantee that the next 10 years are even better.

"We’re really focused on growth this year, so I am free and flexible to improve different areas of the business and plug in with our members even more,” Yurii said.

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About The Author

Phil is an Emmy-nominated writer who frequently contributes to The Inertia, SUP the Mag and Canoe & Kayak. He is the co-author, with Dr. Kelly Starrett, of the forthcoming books Flight Plan and Waterman 2.0, and is also collaborating on Game Changer with University of Michigan football performance director Dr. Fergus Connolly and Bridging the Gap with Sue Falsone, the first female athletic head trainer in Major League sports. His other books include Whistle Stop, which Larry King said, “I can’t put down,” and Our Supreme Task, which The Times Literary Supplement called “Illuminating.”

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