Should You Open a CrossFit Gym, Part I

I get asked almost every day about running a warehouse gym and what it takes. And, once a week or so, an e mail comes through asking me about CrossFit.

Here’s Part 1 of a 2 part video on my thoughts on CrossFit.

Questions, Comments, Haters…. Post thoughts in the comments section :)



Recommended Resources:

CrossFit Journal



  1. mike says

    Zach, your words are dead on. Regardless how people might feel about CrossFit, the brand-name, etc… the people and the education are top notch.

  2. Christopher Reed says

    Coach Z!

    Great posting; thank you for sharing your experience with crossfit. I have had an amazing experience with 4 differet CrossFit Gyms (and Gym Owners): CrossFit Colosseum, The Traning Room at Avon by the Sea, Element CrossFit & HyperFit USA.

    The most impactful of which has been the relationship between my gym, Empire Fitness, CrossFit Colosseum & The Training Room. Paul, the owner of CrossFit Colosseum, is a stand up guy and he has done everything in his power to help me grow. From gym equipment to an opportunity to attend certifications he has consistently provided resources for my business to flourish. Uncle Mike of The Training Room, has helped me with directions on how to rig up pull-up bar systems through videos he has shot and never fails to answer any questions that I have about training or equipment design – another solid dude.

    This is an example of the culture that you speak of in your video Zach. People that are just passionate about training, business and wanting to kickass in every facet of their life.

    I really can’t say enough good things about the people that are attracted to this format of training. I think that that is what is key – it’s the tribe that builds as a result of a shared passion. Whatever the label, the cult of physicality and movement is one that transcends time and I consider it an honor and privelege to be a part of the mechanism that continues to instill the values of this culture and pay it forward into the next generation!

    C.A.R.P.E. D.I.E.M.

    ~ Christopher

  3. says

    right on Zach! I went to Vegas this spring to become a CF coach and to learn more about it. From what I can tell CF is like underground in the way that it’s more about general rules and principals as opposed to spacific workouts and equipment. Come to find out, most of the principals I had been applying for years and most of which I learned from you to begin with. So I think some folks are CF and don’t even know it kinda like myself. In the end though, like you said, it’s about learning, growing and training hard. Time to run in the snow, peace out!

  4. says

    The Underground Strength Gym’s affiliation with Crossfit is a great example of Crossfit’s main strength: its community. Contrary to some people’s claim that Crossfit is close-minded and authoritarian their are many examples of great individuals ploughing their own path and leading the community forward. Thank god Castro and HQ (and no doubt others) encouraged Zach to stay. Like Zach says, Crossfit has its flaws but as affiliates we can either leave with bitter feelings or stay and try and fix the problems. I look forward to seeing the second part of your adventures on the Jersey turnpike Zach.
    Until then, Justin Doran

  5. Coach O says

    Are there any Professional Athletes that endorse CF? If i’m going to jump on a bandwagon of an exercise program, I’d at least follow one from a individual who gets paid millions to be at the top of their game. Secondly, how could you give props to something that has already been out, since the beginning of time? Many of the movements are traditional weight barring movements. “Over-unders”, isn’t that jump roping?

    Maybe CF is great for followers not creators…

  6. James says

    Zach, wow….8 minutes of handheld video on the commute! Out here in San Diego, the CHP would have been flashing in your rearview about 7 minutes ago! Looks like you keep your eyes mostly on the road, but be careful out there man! I want to be hearing from you for a long time…

  7. says

    Hey Zach,

    I am with you 100%. I have not affiliated yet as I’m still in my garage, but affiliation is in my business plan and will happen. I have done the level one cert in Brisbane Australia and the instruction was awesome.

    Look forward to the second half of the post buddy.
    Kaine Tessier

    HYBRID Strength
    “We Begin Now”

  8. Tavita says

    Zach, keep doing what you do at Underground Gym. I wouldn’t have known you were a CrossFit affiliate based on what you’ve done and what you talk about. I do know now, but only because you said it.

    Still not sure why you had to affiliate with CrossFit. You do great on your own…as most true people who live physical culture do. Not so much with capitalism, which kinda messed up physical culture for at least the last 50 years or so. When you mentioned how inspired or motivated you felt after that seminar/conference (Phil-Fest? SP?), something is always being sold. Even though you fly the flag, you are not CrossFit- You are Underground Training, and I respect that. Don’t lose yourself to the New Boxes On The Block.

    Anyone who has been students or fans of physical culture would have known at least that judoka and wrestlers as far back as the 50s have been doing workouts exactly like the approach CrossFit markets. I’ll say it again, you do great on your own Zach.

    For what it’s worth, the progress of CrossFit echoes the same theme of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”- set all these standards based around doing not what those despised are doing, have a revolution, the masses begin to follow because they feel secure and have an overwhelming feeling of belonging, then the movement becomes what was most despised to begin with. The outcome of the story may have been the fall of the “revolution”, but there are many people that are stupid enough to fuel something “revolutionary”, but now it’s a religion.

  9. says

    Matt, aka Quadzilla, awesome to know you hit a cert out in Vegas, guess you wanted some sun and warm weather, too, ha ha!!!

    Man, I love how you’re always out training, snow shoeing, mtn biking and doing a variety of training! Miss ya Brutha!

  10. says

    Tavita, wow, thnx for the feedback, I did not HAVE to affiliate, we all have choices, I made the choice and the community inside crossfit is amazing and I have learned LOTS from many of them.

    The last time ANY form of community was in fitness and health was the golden era of bodybuilding….

    I will continue my methods and will continue to be part of the CF community.

    The Underground Strength Gym will always keep on keepin’ on!

    Peace Bruddah!


  11. says

    Coach O – over unders….. errrrr, you mean double unders?

    Professional Athletes? You mean mma fighters, NFL and beyond?

    What about Navy SEALs, are they “professional athletes”?

  12. Franco Crincoli says

    Personally Zach, I think that the fact that you have an affiliation with crossfit has nothing to do with anything. You believe what you believe no matter what and will continue to do and pave your own road. Crossfit is an excellent platform and it’s just that — a platform. It’s not the end-all strength and conditioning program but a method based on principles just as you have your methods based on principles.

    As the saying goes:
    “Methods are many, principles few. Methods may change but principles never do.”

    Everyone bashes on Crossfit but what are they doing? I hate when people bash on something without even trying it out. It’s all these keyboard jockies that are the first ones to say something. Do a little research and try it out for yourself before you make a judgement call. Experience is a better teacher in this case.

    And as far as elite athletes — have you not seen Crossfit Football? And just as Zach said what about our Navy SEALs? If there were no sports on this earth then I’d have to say that the Navy SEALs would be our elite athletes.

    Enough ranting — I just wanna say keep doing what your doing Zach and as always “hater’s gonna hate” so when the comments bubble up from the water don’t even look down and just let ’em drown.

    In Strength

  13. Tavita says

    Thank you Zach for your reply and correcting me on my statement. It’s good to know, from you personally, that you and the Underground are still yourselves. I do agree on the sense of community, it can be quite attractive and addicting.

    Franco, as for bashing CF- all I have to base my comments on CF is experience with CF. Since 2001 to be exact. CF, minus the people, is a good circuit program when the time for doing the kind of circuits posted are called upon. IT is merely a tool for what circuits cover. Fortunately, nothing is new, but rather revisited. It’s just a part of the whole. Like you said, it’s not the end all, be all of conditioning programs. So many would say otherwise at times.

  14. Rudy K says

    I think there have been other prominent strength coaches in a similar dilemma. However, their feeling is more: “What does CF affiliation do for my business?” whereas Zach’s is how can we feed off each other and make the whole strength community better?
    Zach, your sense of community is stronger than mine, and it’s admirable. I think however that you are associating with the people you respect, not the method, and that the 2 are not equivalent. Tavita’s points are poignant. It’s not new, just rehashed, and becomes mainstream when everyone jumps on the bandwagon. Neither good or bad, but once a community gets to that size rules and structure become inevitable. It’s just the nature of humanity to tend towards structure and routine. Even WOD could be described as a (random) routine.

    That’s why I don’t necessary think CF affiliation is good for Underground. UGSG in my interpretation is not randomized, general fitness improvement for the masses (which is how I interpret CF), but a goal-oriented training system, tailored to the individual, in which unconventional training methods happen to be used. CF gym owners have to realize that affiliation means precisely the above, and whether that’s their individual philosophy or not, potential clients will be calling with CF-type training in mind.

    You can respect and interact with CF groups without being a part of CF. Each system remains unique and individual, while feeding off of the other- That overused Bruce Lee quote about absorbing and discarding remains highly relevant.

  15. says

    Great post Zach even if the video did cut out before you finished what you were saying. I like the idea of crossfit (all around fitness as a goal, blending olympic lifting with gymnastics etc.) but not always the implementation. I have seen some shit crossfits and I have seen some world class ones. Running a factory that puts out badasses makes yours a great affiliate.

    I also like how you use anvils as a tool. :)

  16. glenn says

    [just want to clarify — hopefully this is read in a ‘good light’ — if it starts some flame war absurdity PLEASE delete it] from your video one may be led to believe that it is necessary to AFFILIATE in order to attend the CF seminars, get access to the CFJournal, be a part of the (local) CF gym affiliate/culture community, compete in CF competitions, etc… it’s important to remember/know that NONE of that has anything to do with ‘Affiliation’… affiliation is paying to use the BRAND NAME: CrossFit in advertising — that’s it, period. There is no reason why an independent gym can not train members in ‘sport crossfit’ (ie, for crossfit competitions)…

    [to get back to the first point]
    Zach – of all the reasons you mentioned to ‘affiliate’ non of them were necessary for affiliation. so the question becomes does one think 2K is worth it to be able to advertise ‘CrossFit’ and then does such person also agree with CFHQ’s business model/practices/philosophy/character/etc… ie, do they agree with the BRAND that they want to advertise…

  17. says

    Glenn, GREAT points and this is why I gave my side of the coin, as it is just my opinion.

    I don’t advertise crossfit or use it to bring me money whatsoever

    I understand some do or will but I would never expect people to go w/only my way of doing things

    thnx for your input, great to see so many different opinions / experiences


  18. says

    Great post, you have a lot of great things to say.

    We have a lot of mutual friends but I haven’t had a chance to meet you yet. Everybody has great things to say about you and I hope to get out to your course soon. OK on Crossfit, I did there Level 1 course back in early 07. To me it was nothing new, I had the fortune to train with Dr. Ken Liestner, and one of his trainers Carl Mangione. Training hard is just how I was trained. Muscle ups on rings, well I competed in the NYS HS gymnastic championships back in 78 and 80. When I left the course in Colorado, it didn’t give me any tools to make me a better trainer, and nothing that I could pass along to make my clients to help them move better, or feel better.
    That being said it sounds like they have really expanded what they offer, witch is a great thing. Bringing in the best and brightest that the fitness industry has to offer will only make some ones “BOX” a better place to educate clients walking through the door. IE, Brooklyn Barbell club, run by Keith is great and he is a very knowledgeable coach.
    It can take me, on average, 2-3 months to get someone in good enough condition, to start introducing them to more metabolic programs, even though I train my clients out of a commercial gym, I still get the sled, tire, ropes, dynamax balls, KB, C2 rower into there program. Is it perfect, you said it best, no program is perfect.
    All the best, Happy Holidays to all, and a Healthy and Happy New Year
    Larry Betz, CSCS
    Bio Signature,IKFF 2,RKC, KBC2
    CNT1, L.I.F.T.

  19. Nancy says

    Hi Zach,
    I have been in the fitness biz since I was 18 (now 42). Went to school for an exercise science degree, etc. After being bored out of my mind from watered down training and clients who were more interested in talking than working hard the opportunity presented itself where I could take a break from the business and decide how I wanted to proceed. I even thought of discontinuing the business entirely. I was burned out. Then I found CrossFit and I was hooked. Finally some intensity and serious folks who want to train hard. Got CF level 1, CF gymnastics, CF olympic lifting certified. And then I found you by watching K Starr’s mobility wod featuring you. I love your website and posts. Awesome!! I have not opened a CF gym and am not sure I want to go that route. Over the holidays I was back home (in LA) and hanging out at my friends gym. Half of the gym is dedicated towards MMA. Anyway, my friend was trashing CF because he had a CF’r walk in and say he could “do anything” better than anyone (including participating in a sport he knew nothing about). My friend welcomed him but got sick and tired of him constantly talking about CF and how superior it was to any other form of training. He would come in and tell all the other people taking the class how great CF was, etc. Finally my friend couldn’t take it anymore. He put him through a private “real” boxing MMA workout. The guy was toast (and doesn’t train there anymore, ha.) Just because you do CF doesn’t mean you know all the “skills” of a particular sport. I love the community of CF and agree that HQ does a great job of providing people with continuing education but I do not like when students or even CF instructors run around playing the elitist card. It turns people off from CF and gives the entire community a bad name. I totally agree with you. I want MORE people to abandon their watered down workouts that are giving them minimal results and jump on board to true, hard core training (unless they’re satisfied with their minimal results and same workout over and over then that’s fine too. I just have no interest in training that type of client anymore.)

    Anyway, loved this particular topic as I have been thinking a lot about exactly this. What direction do I want to continue in the business after 24 years.

    Thanks for the great website and articles/posts, etc.


  20. says

    Nancy thnx for the kind words and lengthy response :)

    You are a great example of someone who has seen BOTH sides, as there is TWO sides to everything.

    You ran into a person who was arrogant and rude, which is his personality probably if he was a powerlifter or bodybuilder or swimmer, etc.

    I like seeing people w/manners and being humble, and, being open minded to learn from ALL.

    I’m glad u r kicking ass and loving it :)


  21. Joe says


    Hope your feeling better,that bug jumped the GW and got me too ! As usual the advice was straight forward and useful. I’ve been going back and forth on the crossfit thing myself for some time now, and I’ve decided to give it a go.
    I also wanted to point out that I have enjoyed your sites and advice for years, in fact i even changed my career with the intent of following in your foot steps. At first i went the commercial gym route (CPT) with a plan on doing the storage gym on my own soon after. I quickly was disgusted with the pt business, i wasn’t earning (partially because i refused to stalk people while they were trying to get a work out done ) and the attitude was more about turning a profit then helping people. So I continued house painting, It was then that i started re listening to all my bonus interviews that i had saved on my mp3 from when i first joined the USC . There was one particular interview with one particular school that made me go home, google them , fill out a on line app, wait 3 months for an interview, rock that interview and now am a PD/PC for them. When asked how I got to where I am i always tell people this story, in part because it shows to be a better person you should look to people who have achieved success in the real world doing what you want to do and act as they would and also to prove if you want something in this world you need a set of balls and a non stop attack attitude. Zach i thank you for all you do and i continue to strive for success such as yours , but in part 1 you may have had the best advice ever, it was a brief but very important message one that I’ve learned and one all should adhere to and that was ” NEVER TRUST A JERSEY DRIVER ” With that said i’m off to the garage for a barbell complex, have a happy and healthy new year !

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