Jesse O’Brien looks back on his old life with appreciation. Not appreciation for what his days used to look like, but appreciation for the fact that he found an escape.
O’Brien’s former life involved running a CrossFit affiliate that followed a predominantly group class business model.
“I’d wake up at 5 a.m. to coach the 6 a.m. class, and then make a push through to 9 or 10 o’clock. When I’d finally get a chance to breathe, I’d try to train, but I’d be tired. Then there was a dead part of the day, where I’d do administrative work, and then I’d push through to the evening hours and coach all evening,” said O’Brien, now 32.
“I was perpetually tired. Fatigue became normalcy for me,” he added.
To make enough money, O’Brien started taking on more off-site personal training clients, which just added to his hectic schedule.
“Eventually I realized I could make more money personal training, but then that took over and I reached a ceiling,” he explained.
This is a far cry from his life today as the owner of Central Athlete, a gym he opened in 2015 in Austin, Texas—a gym that follows the OPEX individual personalized fitness model.
O’Brien first became acquainted with OPEX in 2010 when he started following the Big Dawgs blog. In 2012, he completed the Coach Certificate Program (CCP) and became a Level 1 coach, and in 2016, he became a CCP Level 2 coach.
The concept of the individual program design made way more sense to him than the current system he was using to deliver fitness to his clients.
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“I wanted to do this for the rest of my life, or for the rest of my productive working life, and I had become disillusioned with the amount I had to work owning a CrossFit facility. Then I realized there was a market for having an individualized component to the gym, where you can really watch someone improve for long periods of time, and it’s a lot more fulfilling,” O’Brien said.
“I had also run into the wall financially with the group class model,” he added. Not only that, the model wasn’t helping his clients get what they actually needed to reach their goals.
“I liked James (FitzGerald’s) approach. He was like, ‘Let’s be more critical how we apply (fitness).’ Like, does the mother of three who hasn’t worked out in years really need to do snatches and toes-to-bar?” O’Brien said.
So O’Brien “burned down” his old gym, so to speak, moved locations, rebranded and “started from the ground up,” he said, abandoning the group class method for an individual program design model instead. Today, his clients pay $369 a month for a personal coach to help them with their fitness, health, nutrition, sleep, stress and anything else relevant to improving their wellness, he explained.
This system allows O’Brien to develop more “in-depth relationships,” with his clients, he explained. And his clients are more committed and value his coaching service more, he added.
Most importantly, the system allows him to better service his clients. On top of offering coaching and programming services, O’Brien has also invested in creating a recovery center for his clients, which offers services like comprehensive blood work.
On his end, O’Brien no longer lives in a constant state of fatigue, where his own fitness suffers, and where he has to pick up a second job in order to pay the bills.
Today, he coaches just six hours on the floor, spends another chunk of time programming for clients, and the rest of the time on business development. This leaves him time to train four days a week and pursue his bouldering hobby.
“I still work a lot of soft hours, but they’re not hard hours like, ‘I have to be there to coach the 6 a.m. class.’ I think I work a quarter to a sixth as many hard hours as I used to,” he said. Not only that, he actually gets to take a vacation here and there and not feel a financial hit when he does.
“I have the ability to make as much money when I’m away because I can work with clients remotely, and there’s a big piece of freedom that goes along with that,” he said.
O’Brien added: “I have what 9 out of 10 people don’t have. I wake up every day, hang out with friends and have a good time, and don’t feel like I have worked since 2015.”
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