It’s About the Athletes First

A successful fitness community is centered around building relationships, not rounds, reps, or PRs.

When you’re on the road as much as I tend to be, finding someplace to work out becomes part of your travel planning. I do my homework as best I can, to find out about the facility, the programming, and the level of coaching I might expect for my drop-in dollars. Still, my experiences as a visitor in gyms across the country tend to follow a bell curve; most of the time, they’re just “pretty good.” On rare occasions, I’ll leave a gym feeling happy that I never have to go there again.

Rarer still is the drop-in experience that leaves me seriously considering packing up the house and moving to another state, just so I can go to that gym more. But that was exactly the feeling I had after spending a week training, laughing, and being embraced by the community at Max Oxygen CrossFit Downtown in lovely Des Moines, Iowa.

Yep, you read that right. Iowa.

What I experienced at Max Oxygen was everything positive you read about CrossFit gyms. The coaching was on point, the programming was thoughtful, the facility was top-notch, and the community felt like a family reunion, even though I’d never met anybody there previously. What I observed that week was a clear example of a gym being run right, so I had to sit down with their Director of Operations, Jess Pilling, to find out how they do it.

Jess is young as a coach, but possesses a professionalism and a passion for her craft that surpasses most coaches who have been in the industry for decades. That fire has lit the torch for her other coaches as well, and permeates the whole culture at the box. Exactly how fast does Jess burn? She recently became Iowa’s second female CrossFit Level 3 Certified Trainer, just two and a half years after first getting her L1.

She and I cover how her staff works to actively sculpt and cultivate their culture from the top down, their unique plans for the Open this year, and how they’ve prepared their athletes at all levels to have the best experience possible. She explains the direct approach she uses with new and prospective athletes to dispel their misconceptions about CrossFit, and how her education and experience as a mental health professional has shaped her coaching.