Is There A Recipe For Great Gym Culture?

No.  Not exactly.

I can’t hand you a to-do list that will help you to recreate the distinctive atmosphere we’ve created here at Cressey Sports Performance (CSP).  There just isn’t a definitive recipe for constructing a great gym culture.  Peter Thiel once said, “The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.” This rational can be applied to the idea of recreating an existing culture in a different space; it is simply impossible without all variables being identical.   

The CSP culture recipe question is among the most commonly asked of me these days.  During the first three to four years that we were in business, the culture here at CSP was the brainchild of me, Eric and Tony.  The three of us were working six days a week and interacting with every client who came through the door.  We decided on the music.  We rang the cowbell in advance of any client attempting to hit a deadlift PR (we really did have a PR cowbell).  We were the brand.

As times changed and business grew, we incrementally expanded our staff and introduced a collection of new personalities who would help to shape the training experience for our clients.  Us co-founders eventually managed to find a second day off each week, allowing for the “vibe” of our gym to adapt to the personality of the staff on the training floor, and the collection of athletes inside CSP at any given moment.  Our culture changed; not dramatically, but it did change.

If your goal is to convey a culture that is authentic to your team, the game plan can’t be to standardize the personality of your brand or training environment permanently.  You can maximize the authenticity of your existing culture by making sure that your employees feel free to, for lack of a better term, “let their freak flag fly high.”  If you’ve hired employees who possess the ability to be both flexible and reactive in their coaching style, and give them the autonomy that encourages them to be themselves while engaging with clients, you’ll end up with a gym that has character as opposed to manufactured culture.

If my employees felt obligated to constantly deliver a baseball clubhouse atmosphere, Miguel may not have issued a dance-off challenge to Roger Lawson in the middle of the 2015 CSP Fall Seminar...

If you want a manufactured culture, you need to be upfront about said culture in your hiring process to ensure that you’re hiring the right employees to perpetuate it. There’s nothing wrong with this methodology either, but it will make your hiring process more selective.

The culture at CSP is not entirely driven by the personalities doing the coaching.  Much like there is a seasonal component to our clientele, there is very much a seasonal component to our training environment.  There’s a considerable difference between the busiest time of day in the summer months, and the busiest time of day during the winter.  From May through August, college and high school athletes fill the gym and securing a spot on the Ping-Pong table in the athlete’s lounge can be a problem.  When the professional baseball off-season rolls around, and our college athletes are off at school, suddenly interest shifts from the Ping-Pong table to casually tossing around a football prior to getting a lift in.

We’re happy to adjust our clubhouse atmosphere to accommodate the unique interests of the athletes populating the training space at any moment in time.  Our gym culture changes with the introduction of every new intern, with the hiring of any new full time coach, and at the very moment a new client walks through our doors.  Our culture is adaptable.

Every gym on the planet has its own unique culture.  Instead of highlighting the particular skills and personality traits of those inside the facility, many gym owners are concerning themselves with recreating the current trendy training environment found at someone else’s successful business.  We don’t run CSP that way, and I’m confident that is why people admire the culture we’ve built.

Your clients can tell when you’re trying to fake it, and they’re eventually going to see through your insincerity.