Workout of the Day

Humble Beginnings: Instinct Fitness Willis Street

The idea came out of a bit of frustration and boredom…
I was eating lunch in a cafe with my [now ex-] girlfriend and her friend Amanda. While we were eating I started jotting down ideas for what I might call a gym if I had one. Most of my ideas were rubbish but it was hypothetical anyway. Then Amanda suggested, “What about ‘Instinct Fitness’?” I thought it sounded alright so I wrote it down on the list in case I ever started a gym. Fast forward a few weeks and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I jumped online and found a local equipment supplier who sold small items good for home gyms or bootcamps. I went through the numbers… “What if I had 15 people”… “How many stations could I have with these pieces of gear”… “What would it all cost?”. I was becoming obsessed with this thought and once I get that way there isn’t much stopping it.
I ended up purchasing a small order of gear, I think it came to just under $400 and could fit into a 60L plastic bin. I did the research on how to setup a business from both a legal and a sales and marketing perspective. Luckily I knew how to make websites so I could save money there and I was good enough on photoshop that I thought I could design a cool logo (it was terrible!). I came back to the name’s I had been brainstorming and I liked “Ignite Fitness” but it was already being used by some cheap clothing brand and I didn’t want to be a copycat. So I went with Instinct Fitness and registered the business name and web domain, and .com in case it went worldwide!
The first thing I did was reach out to a few friends who I knew could get the word out and pumped out a few facebook posts to gauge interest. Before I knew it I was signing people up for a 4 week August Bootcamp. I can’t remember exactly how much I was charging but it was something like $20 for 3 sessions a week. I can honestly say that I did, and still do, do this for the love.
Over time the gear I had grew to a few kettlebells, slam balls, sand bags, and soon a barbell and plates. All of which I would load up into the boot of my car and drive from location to location. I would get up at 5:00 am for either a 6:00 am or 6:30am session, making sure I was early enough to unload everything before everyone got there. After the session was done I’d pack it all up and head to the gym to do my own workout* before going to my office job helping beneficiaries gain employment.
*I would try to pack as much as I could into these 1 hrs workouts that I’d have no time to shower and still be sweating when I got changed. My solution was to have cold showers and count to 60 before jumping out, quickly putting on my often unironed shirt and pants and briskly walking to work so as to not produce more sweat. And I’d still usually be the first one into the office!
I was lucky enough that I could get all my work done and be out the door by 4pm so I could drive back into Wellington from Porirua and take the evening bootcamp sessions which were some of the coolest times I have had. Being outside at Waitangi Park during summer and working out was so good and I got a great t-shirt line tan. After those sessions, I’d pack up and have the evening to either go to rugby training or just chill out at home, those were the days…!
After a year of bootcamping I was getting tired of lugging around all the gear and I think my car’s suspension was sick of it too so I start looking into leasing space to open a little studio. It was around this time that a friend of mine (who is now an Instinct member) got me interested in the idea of CrossFit. That played a big part in the vision of what the Instinct Fitness facility would look like. After 6 months of searching for suitable premises, I took a leap of faith and signed off the lease for 192 Willis Street and spent every resource I had – both money and time – getting the gym up and running. I spent about $23,000 I had in savings, borrowed another $10-$15k from family, and spent every weekend painting or setting up gear. Instinct Fitness bootcamps was gone and Instinct Willis Street was born.
I also stopped working my other job so I could spend all day at the gym, there was no plan B. I would get up in the morning and drive 30mins to the gym so I could coach at 6:00 am and I wouldn’t leave until the last person left, usually 7:30 pm. Sometimes I would stay late and mop the floors or hang out there in the dark trying to unwind because I knew it was a long drive home just to sleep, get up, and come back to do it all again tomorrow. I didn’t take a single holiday or sick day, there was no one else to cover me. The only time I was away would be for a CrossFit competition – a little hobby I started. I honestly believe this lack of personal time led to the end of my 10-year relationship with my girlfriend at the time. But I’ve learned that while being so obsessive may have been a good thing in the beginning I had to back off and get some balance back in my life.
Willis Street has had its fair share of issues. The custom rig I had fabricated was made by a guy that didn’t understand CrossFit at all so bar muscle ups have been a challenge from day 1. Wall Balls and Rope climbs were only made possible by removing several roof tiles and dodging electrical and phone wires in the roof cavity. I have designed 2 different lifting platforms (none of which worked) to stifle the thud of heavy barbells hitting the ground. The constant complaints from the residential tenants in the floors above us lead to threats of being kicked out from the landlord. And the plethora of people who insist on smoking outside our main entrance despite it clearly being a “place of fitness”, a no smoking sign right outside, and a friendly reminder from yours truly. But like a father watching his uncoordinated child get pummelled on the rugby field, I’m still proud of what Willis Street is.
After the first year at Willis Street I was fortunate enough to bring on coaches and eventually business partners who helped take some of the workload off of myself. I didn’t exactly back off and I still have probably been on 2 legitimate holidays since starting the business. Not long after bringing on partners, we found the perfect premises on the other side of town which is now Thorndon CrossFit. That effectively doubled the workload, but there were more hands to spread the load. Since then the business just keeps growing and although it seems I’m busier now than back in the beginning I have so much support from my business partners, coaches, and even members. And I’m getting better at asking for help.
This will be the third year Willis has been open and there are still members with us now who started way back in the bootcamp days – ‘the ancient ones’. Only they have some idea of just how much I have devoted to Instinct and the Willis Street facility in particular. Over the past 4 years I have met hundreds of people who came into Instinct wanting to get fitter and lose weight who have now become beasts in the gym and I consider to be good friends.

In early July this year my business partners and I decided to not renew the lease for 2018 and so these next few months will be the last for what has been home to me for almost 3 years. And while it is sad to see it go, I am excited about what it means for Instinct Fitness. 
Thank you to everyone who has been a part of the Instinct Fitness story.