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Nothing Wrong With a Shoebox

“I heard that place is a shoebox.”

A friend said this to me recently in reference to a new affiliate I was planning to visit. She meant no harm or insult, just an expression of the small size of the place. Still, it struck me as to how things have changed so much in the CrossFit world since 2007.

Today, 10,000-square-foot CrossFit gyms are becoming common, and it’s not unheard of to find an affiliate in 15,000 SF with 15 platforms and enough pull-up bars to host a small army of athletes. So a place that is only 3,000 SF? That’s considered a shoebox now. But long ago when there were only 500 or so affiliates and CrossFit dinosaurs roamed the earth (you know, way back, like 7 years past) it was common to start out in 2,000 square feet.

For years, recommended: “Start small and get kicked out– Start in the smallest cheapest space available and move when you outgrow the space. Start in your garage and work out there until the neighbors either all join you or band together to complain about the ruckus. Running out of room means you can afford more space.”

I started my affiliate in late 2007 in my garage. Technically, in half of my garage, because my elderly mother parked her new Honda in the garage too. We had enough room for one person to do pull-ups, one person to row, one person to do wallball, and one person to use the one squat rack. Everything else had to be accomplished outside. We then moved on up to the “big time” — 896 square feet in an old office building, with an unheated Depression-era walk-in bank safe where we could drop weights. You could see your breath in the safe, but it was still better than being outside in the 10-degree Connecticut winter.

Eventually we made our way into 3,600 SF but despite all the fun we had in our new place, I’m still not sure it was ever better than that first year in 896 SF. Sure, the old spot was crowded and conditions were far from ideal, but there was something about that space, something about that time, something about that experience. There’s an old country song with the lyric “Love grows best in little houses, with fewer walls to separate” — and I tend to think that’s true in many spaces of our lives, including CrossFit gyms. We just kind of forget, as we pursue our dreams, that bigger is not what makes something better. People and effort make something better.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, in our rush for bigger, newer, better, don’t dismiss the little guy and the small gems among us. A restaurant doesn’t have to hold thirty tables to be excellent, and a book doesn’t have to be 2,000 pages to be great. What matters is the quality of the experience. Always the quality. Focus on that, whether you’re the member or the trainer, and things will turn out okay.

You don’t have to be big to be a success. Great shoes come out of shoeboxes, don’t they?


“We are buried beneath the weight of information, which is being confused with knowledge; quantity is being confused with abundance and wealth with happiness.” — Tom Waits

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Beautiful, Lisbeth! CFChampions started out in our garage and moved only because the home owners association kicked us out. That first "real" gym was a 4000 sq ft building but usable gym space was less than 2000 sq ft. People shared bars and weights and boxes and there was excitement with everything that was brought in to better "our" gym. It was a tight community. We moved into more than twice the square footage and bought enough gear that everyone had their own and the tight group started to loosen. It became not what it had been. New folks didn't know better but the older ones did and over time they'd leave when someone would start a new gym and they could be a part of a small tight group again. We sold but are doing it again. Starting small and building a tight community again. 

Great post! 


Valley CrossFit went from renting space at a gymnastics studio, to 2700 square feet, to 7000 sq ft, to 10000 sq ft, to currently 15000 sq ft. By the time we were at the 7000 sq ft studio, I would have clients return from business trips and say, "I dropped in at so-and-so, and it sucked." I would ask, "What sucked about it?" And they would often say, "Well, it was tiny, and --"

I would stop them right then and there. I would say, "Listen, we are next to an airport, in Southern California…an earthquake could hit tonight, or a place could crash into this building tomorrow -- heck, we could simply lose our lease, and all be training in a park from now on. It doesn't matter what size the facility is…were the people there nice? Did you learn anything? Did you get a good workout? Did you have fun? That's really all that matters."

Oh, and…when Kris won the CrossFit Games, it was out of the 2700 sq ft spot! 

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