Vision & Culture


A little background first:

My wife and I own an old-school bodybuilding style gym.  We have been doing CrossFit for a few years, and started the CFFB program about 9 months ago.  The program is great, and the results we have seen are fantastic, so thank you for that.  Anyhow, I have learned a couple of things since we have been running our gym:

1.  A guy will do any silly-ass exercise, as long as he can watch himself in the mirror while he does it.

2.  For people who spend so much time in the mirror, their egos are surprisingly fragile.  Imagine my shock when after watching my wife flip a 450lb tractor tire, not a single guy in our gym was willing to give it a try.

3.  For guys who spend so much time comparing muscle tone, practicing poses, and generally hamming it up, they are really reluctant to actually compete in anything.  We have an annual bench press contest (it had been running every year, for years before we bought the place, so we continued it), and getting more than a handful of guys to sign up is like pulling teeth.

So my question is this:

How do you foster and encourage a competitive spirit in a place where most dudes would rather stand around in the mirror admiring how awesome they are?  I would love to have some awesome competitions with lots of folks really pushing to be the best.  I would also love to see more dudes in our place practicing more fundamental, functional training, but you can't have everything.  Our squat racks only get used by about 8% of our membership, and some of those guys are curling!  I would be happy to just see more guys talking less trash, and putting their money where their mouth is, in the form of real, honest competition, bodybuilders or not.

What would you do?

-Jerod, Grover Beach

sick triceps


I was recently gifted a book about the world’s top CEOs and how they deal with pressure.

The book is called Better Under Pressure: How Great Leaders Bring Out the Best in Themselves and Others, written by Justin Menkes.

The book goes into great length about management styles of great leaders and how they deal with pressure. The author gives memorable accounts of the most pivotal moments in various leader’s careers, their successes and failures.

The author discusses a common thread that connects all these great leaders: their ability to see the shore through the storm and make the right decision when things look bleakest. He discussed how great leaders have great vision, and while many around them cannot see the future, the great leader is unwavering in his commitment to it. But all the while, still having the flexibility and humility to listen to those around you and make changes if need be.

Great leaders provide vision, thus creating a culture that perpetuates that vision.

Your vision is one of a warehouse gym loaded with Olympic platforms, barbells, tires, ropes, dumbbells, prowlers, turf and other odd implements to be lifted, hoisted and pulled by athletes who want to compete daily.

However, the culture at your gym is the complete opposite. Whether, you created it or it was created before you took ownership, the culture of the gym is one of aesthetics, comparing vascularity and practicing posing. I am sure your gym is crammed with countless machines, a cardio area and a more leg presses than squat racks.

How can you ask someone to compete in that environment?

“Hey bro…lets see who can do the most reps of preacher reverse curls…”

vision and culure #2

“Bro…I invented preacher reverse curls.”

I remember this oddity from when I used to train at Gold’s Gym back in the day. I remember seeing guys, 5 deep, waiting in line for the seated cable row. The only positive was there rarely was a line for the squat rack, but the negative was scrounging plates was a nightmare as the 5 different leg presses were using most of them.

As the leader of your gym, you have to offer vision and then provide a culture that supports your vision.

In a perfect world, I would start by removing all mirrors. The minute that people stop training to improve how they look and start putting emphasis on performance, they end up looking the way they want as a by-product.

Form follows function.

Second, I would replace all the machine-based equipment with barbells, dumbbells and kbs. Replace the leg press and leg extensions machines with a few squat racks. I would replace the cardio area with Olympic platforms and bumpers. I would line up a dozen atlas stones where the cable cross over machine used to go just as a finishing touch.

vision and culture #3

Now that the vision is complete, it is up to you to create the culture.

The only problem is you could possibly lose your entire cliental and be left with an empty gym full of functional fitness equipment with rent due.

You can either go option A day one or do it over the course of a year. Start by “remodeling” half of the gym to cater to a new, younger cliental that is more focused on performance. Over time, as that section grows, you can make the decision on when to cut the cord and do a full renovation.

Create a daily leader board and central training times, and foster competition.

We have adopted a motto around my gym first made famous by Steve Yurosek: “show me someone who is OK with losing, and I will show you a loser.”

Either way, one of the toughest things to do is create culture. It takes constant focus and unwavering commitment to the vision. It takes just the right people believing in the vision and their undying support to it.

If you want an example of vision without culture, look no further than the NFL. Take a team like the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid takes the helm in 1999 with the owner’s total support. Over the next 8 years the Eagles are one of the top teams in the NFL, making 4 NFC Championship games and 1 Super Bowl. But then things change and they begin a downward spiral over the next 4 years, possibly resulting in wholesale changes to the coaching staff and roster.


The coach is the same, the owner is the same, and the vision never changed (i.e. win the Super Bowl). The facilities have not changed and the coaches are basically the same.

What changed?

Why would the culture change?

The coach can only provide vision.  The players in the locker room and those that play on Sunday create the culture. It is comes down to how players practice, if they are on time for meetings, and if they are quality players or people or bad eggs. It comes from players who hold themselves and those around them to a higher standard: the standard of being the best. When players believe in the coaches, the game plan and their teammates, they win games.

If you want your culture to match your vision and thus convert the masses, you will need soldiers. This is true in Fortune 500 companies, the NFL and small gyms the world over.

Posted in Mental, Talk to Me Johnnie, WTF? | Tagged , | 23 Comments

23 Responses to Vision & Culture

  1. Crow

    Thank you for this, John. Great advice. Option B sounds like the way to go.

  2. Mike M

    “In a perfect world, I would start by removing all mirrors. The minute that people stop training to improve how they look and start putting emphasis on performance, they end up looking the way they want as a by-product.”

    I agree with this 100% and am a product of it. Great post John.

  3. chad

    Great article especially the part about the Eagles. However I think their change in scenery (new stadium) made the team soft, same for the fans that attend the games.At the Vet it felt dangerous to go to a game for both the fans and the players. Now it feels like going to the mall. Could this have carried over to play on the field?

    • Vet = dangerous…for everyone, player and fan alike. The Vet had a certain home field advantage b/c no team wanted to play there…including us. I owe an almost career ending injury (torn patellar tendon in my left knee) to a seam on the vet turf. The linc is a great stadium but did not get christened properly. The first game at the linc we have Sylvester Stallone and a packed house…they pulled out all the stops…and we lost. I think the shift came when they failed to bring in a quarterback that could win the big game. Unfortunately, Donovan could never win the big game and Vick…well Vick is exactly who we always knew he was. I think the Eagles lost their ability to draft with the exit of Tom Modrak and his staff. And having the GM who negotiates deals and decides on personal be the same man standing up there leading the team, is a poor idea. A HC needs that ability to push that stuff to the pencil pushers. I think the Lurie will fire sale the coaching staff and many big salary players, in wake of a poor season. I am interested to see who they bring in to replace him.

  4. Mike McD

    Ugh! John! Please, no more about the Eagles. This season has been like watching my dog die a slow and painful death.

  5. awesome article John..I am lucky enough to get to train in a gym like the one you describe with a great culture. After spending years training in a corporate gym I have learned to appreciate the difference. Happy holidays to you and the fam.

  6. Jon

    Even simpler: grab one of those guys and say, “check this out” and show them some functional movements. Repeat daily. Over a month when you’ve talked, worked alongside and trained a few the culture will shift.

  7. Jaden T

    Great question. Great response.

  8. Ingo B

    I still find it hard to believe people don’t buy into the efficiency argument. I mean, if you’re spending x amount of time lifting, wouldn’t you want to achieve two goals (do stuff better AND look good nude) instead of just one (look good only)?

  9. Your advice is spot on. Love the humour and wit in your style.

    5 years ago I was in a very similar situation. I chose to do exactly what you suggested over the course of about a year and it worked tremendously well. First thing I did was get rid of the rolled hand towels we handed them when they walked through the doors to wipe the brows that never got sweaty. I personally took down the last of the mirrors with a sledgehammer. A little dangerous but most gratifying. And I turned off the air. Did I lose clients? Yes, but not ones that mattered and with the culture we created they were replaced tenfold. What we have today is an incredible community with a stellar coaching staff that is continually evolving. My vision has recently expanded to include “turf” and I am looking most forward to attending the CFFB cert in Florida next month. Thanks for all you do –Happy New Year!

  10. Fuck I love reading your posts!!

  11. Aaron White


  12. Steve (a.k.a. Booty) Platek

    oldie but goodie.
    I didn’t realize the value of gym culture until I started CrossFit Gwinnett, in my garage with a barbell and some asphalt to run on.
    Now, everyday I get to train with a two 4 time national champion (oly) weightlifters, champion powerlifters, D1 athletes, high level CF athletes – and a holder of two american records in CJ and total. No egos. Just grinding. Great article @john!

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