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How “Safe Fail” Training Helped CFAH Owners Stay Strong During COVID-19 Closures

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Karen Stoychoff

In this Back of the Napkin Friday Fail, Jeff Arce and Web Eby, owners of CrossFit Arlington Heights, compare a “safe fail” in strength training to the obstacles faced by small business owners. Plus, they describe how gym members rallied on behalf of the entire training community during the state-mandated COVID-19 closure that hit just a few months after they assumed ownership. Listen to the episode.

How “Safe Fail” Training Helped CFAH Owners Stay Strong During COVID-19 Closures

Failure is sometimes due to your own actions—misplacing a wad of cash or forgetting to pay taxes. You look for a reason and then catch your image in the mirror. Other times, no amount of reflection or preparation could change the course of events, like a once in a century pandemic that shuts down training facilities within months of investing in one, just as you’re gaining momentum. Jeff Arce and Web Eby, owners of CrossFit Arlington Heights (CFAH), faced that exact situation in 2020.

Challenge + Recovery = Adaptation

Strength training delivers results, or forces adaptation, by systematically challenging the body through progressively increasing load and periods of rest or recovery. One of the first lessons in strength training, particularly when performing barbell movements, is how to fail safely. The same holds true for small business ownership.

Arce and Eby, strength training enthusiasts and CFAH performance coaches, understood the strength training equation; they all too quickly learned how to apply it as new business owners. Buoyed by record-breaking revenue gains and class attendance after just six months as owners, Arce and Eby invested in expensive equipment. And then, boom. COVID-19.

“It was kind of devastation,” said Jeff. “I didn’t know how we were going to navigate this.”

The duo opted to adapt and recover. They thought about ways to keep their members engaged and had their coaches create workouts that were filmed in basements, garages, and parks that they made available to members. They even allowed members to take equipment home for use. “We did Zoom. We did Facebook live, recordings of workouts,” said Eby. “That was a huge success for us.”

Arce agrees. “We were doing things as often as we could to keep everybody together while we were so apart. We wouldn't be sitting here having this conversation without all of those people who supported us during that three and a half, four months of rocky roads.”

The Human Side of Business

One key to keeping CFAH afloat was the trust Arce and Eby built through their commitment to the community. “We knew how tight our community is and how much we needed to be around each other, while also staying healthy” said Eby.

They renewed their commitment to member health, wellness, and safety, with a keen eye to the diverse reaction expressed by members regarding the pandemic. Arce and Eby recognized the increased need to take it slow and ensure everyone was comfortable. The duo believes engaging with members in virtual get-togethers and sharing their concerns helped.

“We learned it's okay to ask for help. It's okay to be vulnerable as a business owner,” said Arce. “I think too many times business owners sit there and de-humanize their role, at the end of the day, we're all people.”

Vulnerability is something Arce and Eby share with members. According to the duo, it takes humility and the ability to suspend the fear of failure or being judged (by yourself or others) to master a complex lift, acquire a new skill, chase a “personal best,” or push past barriers to achieve performance goals. In the end, people looking to get in shape and small business owners will have similar outcomes if they follow similar steps.

“You show them the plan, you give them the tools, if they execute those things, then abs in six months is possible,” said Arce.

And so is thriving during a pandemic.

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