When Fitness and Social Justice Clashed (with Alyssa Royse)

Today we’re talking to Alyssa Royse, owner and coach at Rocket Community Fitness — formerly Rocket CrossFit — in Seattle. Today’s episode is a bit different from the norm, and Alyssa joins us to talk about a variety of issues regarding representation, diversity, and inclusivity in fitness.

Some listeners may be familiar with Alyssa’s name after an exchange she had with CrossFit founder and former owner Greg Glassman went viral in June 2020. Alyssa had written to Glassman expressing concern over CrossFit’s silence regarding the death of George Floyd’s death and the Black Lives Matter movement. Glassman responded with a now-infamous letter calling Royse “delusional” and saying he was ashamed of her comments. Glassman’s letter — and later tweets and Zoom recordings — stirred immense controversy, eventually leading to his resignation and the ultimate sale of CrossFit.

Alyssa’s perspective extends well beyond her experience from last summer. She’s a long time coach and business owner in fitness, working across multiple sports. In this recording, she gives her perspective on the responsibilities of multiple stakeholders in strength — from business owners and brands to athletes, coaches, and fans following along at home. We should say it’s a deep conversation that focuses on subjects that could be sensitive to some listeners.

Alyssa Royse on the BarBend Podcast

On this episode of The BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Alyssa Royse about:

  • Alyssa’s June 2020 letter to CrossFit HQ (2:15)
  • Why acknowledgment is the first step in public conversation (6:08)
  • Social justice is not a one-way street (9:50)
  • Why some of Rocket Fitness’ members left due to press spotlight (15:00)
  • Alyssa: “Keep your politics and your social justice out of your business” doesn’t work (19:40)
  • The intimate trust involved in fitness and strength coaching (23:00)
  • Assuming positive intent from brands and people (26:00)
  • Is the organizing principle of the fitness industry “you’re not good enough”? (30:30)
  • “What good are we doing in the world when we’re just preaching to the choir?” (34:30)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

When you’re asking human beings to come into a gym and trust you with their bodies and their dreams, their identities, to make a hard lift, or learn a really difficult move, you’re basically getting them in their most vulnerable position.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today, I’m talking to Alyssa Royce, owner and coach at Rocket Community Fitness, formerly Rocket CrossFit, in Seattle. Today’s episode is a bit different from the norm. Alyssa joins us to talk about a variety of issues regarding representation, diversity, and inclusivity in fitness. Some listeners may be familiar with Alyssa’s name after an exchange with the CrossFit founder and former owner Greg Glassman went viral in June 2020.

 

Alyssa had written to Glassman expressing concern over CrossFit’s silence regarding the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. Glassman responded with a now-infamous letter calling Royce delusional and saying he was ashamed of her comments. Glassman’s letter and later tweets and Zoom recordings stirred amidst controversy, eventually leading to his resignation and the ultimate sale of CrossFit.

 

Alyssa’s perspective, though, extends well beyond her experience from last summer. She’s a longtime coach and business owner in the fitness community, working across multiple strength sports. In this recording, she gets her perspective on the responsibilities of multiple stakeholders in strength, from business owners and brands to athletes, coaches, and fans following along at home.

 

I should say it’s a deep conversation that focuses on subjects that could be sensitive to some listeners. However, I hope you give it a listen. I do want to take a second to say we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast, so if you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it, and I hope you enjoy the conversation.

 

Alyssa, thanks so much for joining us. To give a little bit of context as to why we’re having this particular conversation, which is a bit different than some of the other recordings we’ll have on the BarBend podcast. It’s worth talking about an experience you had last year in interacting with CrossFit HQ and Greg Glassman.

 

It was in early June of 2020. You wrote a letter to CrossFit regarding CrossFit’s, at the time, silence regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, the response to the death of George Floyd that in many ways captivated the United States and many parts of the world.

 

Greg Glassman’s response to you was what went viral for better or for worse and ultimately was the first domino. Maybe not the first domino. Maybe it was a domino in his eventual resignation. Just to give our listeners some context, that letter you wrote, I believe, was on June 3rd of 2020.

 

How long did it take you to decide to reach out to CrossFit HQ about their silence on the issue? What was your thought process? How did that evolve to where you decided to go ahead and pull the trigger and do that?

It was a very long process for my deciding to send that letter. What people don’t understand is that it was a process that was steeped in a year’s long relationship. My relationship with them in that regard started, oh my gosh, like five years ago maybe, when they were banning trans athletes from competing in the Open.

 

That was how we got to know each other because I did what I apparently do and spoke up. I was like, “This actually isn’t OK. You misunderstand the science. This is a bad stand to take.” The letter that people saw that looked like…the first thing ever you heard from me wasn’t at all even the first CrossFit had hurt me. It was built on this relationship.

 

The pandemic hit, and the Black Lives Matter protests were getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger. CrossFit was not only not speaking out, but when they were, they were saying things that were bad. I don’t even know how else to say it. It was bad.

 

Brady, my husband, and I were looking at our affiliation with CrossFit and saying, “My God, we share this name. We are going to de facto be lumped in with the behavior of this brand, of these people, what people are seeing.” We didn’t want that from a business perspective. It ran counter to that.

 

I wrote the letter. I showed it to a few people. Everyone said, “Please, send it. We’re worried about this thing also.” That part, I write quickly.

 

That part didn’t take long. From the time that Greg responded to the time that I posted, it was probably five minutes, honestly. I had already queued it up as a blog post on our website to explain why we were disaffiliating. I was hoping for a different response from them. When I didn’t get it, I was like, “Oh, OK. Here we go.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Is there a response that you think would have been fulfilling at that point because your stance and your thoughts were that they had not responded yet. They were already late to responding.

 

Was there anything that could have been said — and again we’re speaking in hypotheticals here, I want to make that clear. Was there anything that could have been said that would have made you reconsider disaffiliating?

I actually love that question because the answer to that question lies in the fact that I don’t expect perfection from anybody ever. Perfection is a myth. It’s a lie. There wasn’t one correct answer, except that what all it would have taken was, “Yeah, dude. We hear you. Can we work on this? Can you help us with this? What should we be saying?” Instead of what I got.

 

I understand that the process of shifting a brand of cultural change, all of these things is long, complicated, and messy. If you start with, “Screw you,” there’s nowhere to go. Really, all it would have taken was, “Yeah. We’re open, let’s talk.”

David TaoDavid Tao

I think that one thing I’m very curious about. Not that I think, I’m just very curious about because you are involved in multiple parts of the strength community, and it’s not every day we get to talk to someone who bounces back and forth between this community in strength, and this community in strength. It’s always a special day. Normally, it’s through a multi-sport athlete.

 

Sometimes, it’s through a coach, a parent, a gym owner, you’re all of those things. What obligation do you think sports governing bodies, which CrossFit is. They run the CrossFit Games. It’s a little bit different because they are a for-profit company and they are also the sports governing body. They’re the highest echelons, not like…

It’s a [indecipherable 07:23] .

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s not like weightlifting where it’s USAW is nested under the IWF, which is related to the IOC. It is just CrossFit. What obligation do you think or responsibility do sports governing bodies have to speak regarding social issues because I’m curious how we might determine what is a big enough issue for them to speak on?

 

Obviously, not everything in the news is going to warrant a comment from a sports governing body. Do they have that obligation? If so, where do we start drawing the lines of where that obligation kicks in?

I would take it down to every single human being has an obligation to speak out on issues of oppression and social justice. Now, I say that there are people who are themselves oppressed or who are at risk or whose jobs are at stake, who don’t have the privilege to be able to speak out. You have to honor that as a starting point.

 

Going up from there when you’ve got the governing body, whether it’s USAW who, I think, Phil Andrews has taken the lead in pretty much all the best ways possible. CrossFit, I think that they have an absolute obligation to speak out on behalf of social justice issues because sports and gyms and training are where individuals come together that form communities.

 

When communities are empowered, that’s where not only do individuals succeed, but we are actually able to affect social change. If you see a group of people who are being oppressed or harmed by any social injustice, and you choose silence when you have the power and the privilege not to choose silence, I think that that is a moral failing.

 

People will say that that’s unfair. It’s not my job. It’s not…whatever, but it’s also actually not all that hard. I am really one small and shockingly friendly despite what some people think of a person, and I’m able to say, “Yo, your behavior is hurting people.”

 

When I spoke out because they were banning trans athletes from competing in the Open, it wasn’t at the time because I necessarily had any deep knowledge or interest in the trans community beyond just those are human beings who are being denied the opportunity to gather in community and feel empowered and feel strength and test their limits, and that was wrong.

 

Also, because of the people who don’t understand those issues, are being denied the opportunity to grow and learn and change by being part of an inclusive community. I don’t see social justice as a one-way street. It’s not like, “You people do something nice for those people.” It’s more like, “We all come together.”

 

As a result of learning and growing from each other, the world evolves and becomes a better place. That’s happening in warp speed right now [laughs] . We are in some firing forge. When brands miss the opportunity to support that growth and change, they put their business at risk.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m curious what the community reaction or [indecipherable 10:33] about the reaction you got to when you spoke out about five years ago regarding trans-inclusivity.

 

I will say this from personal experience. As a content producer at BarBend, there are times when we publish things, and I’m not speaking to trans-inclusivity specifically here. I’m speaking to things where whether we speak out against something, or try and take a stand…Which we are not perfect at, I do want to clarify. We are not always…

Nobody’s perfect. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

We’re not always quickest. We’re not always perfect, but there are times when we push content out that I assume will be non-controversial, in my heart of hearts.

 

I circle up with my editorial team. They’re much smarter than I am, and we all come together and we say, “OK, this is the right thing to say. People will support this, and they will feel supported by this, which is why we’re doing it. However, it is the Internet. It is the age of social media, and nothing comes without backlash, it seems.”

 

I’m curious what backlash, if any, coupled with what positive responses you received five years ago because it’s a very different place now. We’re in a very different time than we were back then.

Boy. Five years. It is a different world. It’s interesting. I met some of the people who are now my closest friends as a result of that, which has been a wonderful gift.

 

Back then, there was a lot of confusion. I did meet — you had a conversation with Greg Glassman after that — and I’ve told the story…Partly, so that people don’t think I hate Greg Glassman.

 

We met and we talked about it. We didn’t agree on anything about it, but the last thing he said to me was, “Hey, never stop speaking your mind.” Which my husband laughed like, there’s no chance of that.

David TaoDavid Tao

That seems to be your thing. One of your things.

 

One of your things.

It hurts not to. The response on it overall was positive that came to me. That came directly to me. The response was overwhelmingly positive. The change at CrossFit took a while, but it happened.

 

There’s a lot of people who still hate me just for that. That CrossFit shouldn’t have been forced to let trans people compete. There’s a lot of people who are mad at me about that, but it was much smaller compared to what happened in June.

 

What happened in June went viral beyond any expectation. Honestly, had I known that would happen, I wouldn’t have done it at all. I’m glad I didn’t know that it would happen.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m curious about that because you say, you’re someone who…It hurts you to not speak out. Then you say looking back in hindsight, looking at the consequences of what happened, might have hesitated or might not have done it.

 

Is that something you have, at the time, you had known it would become mainstream news that would be covered on major news outlets and on television, and everyone and their training partner would be talking about it?

 

I feel like you would have gone about it.

 

How might you have changed your response? What might that have seemed like?

Every time I tell someone I’m going to try not to speak out, they’re like, “Yeah, listen. That won’t work.”

David TaoDavid Tao

I can’t let it though, because you say, “I might not have done it that way,” but at the same time, you’re like, “I cannot speak out.” What is it?

t’s hard to explain. There’s a tremendous cost to doing it. As I’ve said earlier, I have my standing joke. This is still PG-rated, but my standard joke is that, “I have every privilege in the world except a penis,” and “I’m usually able to get those to do what I want when I need them to.”

 

I come from a point of privilege, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no cost. What happened in June was emotionally expansive. I had to get a therapist to help me process the trauma. I went on Xanax to try and sleep at night, which didn’t work for me. Drugs are not a good mix.

 

I don’t know that I would have done anything differently, but I would have steeled myself and been prepared for it because I wasn’t prepared for it. It happened so fast that I couldn’t catch my breath. There was a tremendous cost to put a whole lot of emphasis, or a whole lot of focus, on our little gym which was already struggling.

 

We’re in the middle of a pandemic. Everything’s crazy. There’s a tremendous social uprising all over the world. Because we’re so politically active, everything was already tense. There were a lot of people who ended up leaving our gym not because they were angry that we did it, but because it was just too much pressure to be part of it.

 

I would have warned our community. I would have maybe asked if anybody needed anything, but we just weren’t ready.

David TaoDavid Tao

Were the gym members getting inquiries from the press? Were they getting hounded at all?

 

Oh, really?

Not gym members so much but our coaches and staff. It was hard, and it gets back to the…There are people who interpreted that thing as us saying that, “Rocket is perfect.” Which Rocket is not perfect? Rocket’s never been perfect. We are trying to do our best in an imperfect world. We’re constantly growing and changing.

 

If you go back and look at the history of Rocket, for instance, the trans thing was interesting because we were certainly not a trans-friendly gym when we opened. Not because we didn’t want to be or didn’t care, but because we were doing things out of habit.

 

We’re a CrossFit gym. We had leaderboards. Leaderboards are for men and for women. Where does that leave your non-binary members? Those were issues that had never occurred to us until we were put in a situation where we had to ask those questions.

 

Then we had to make the hard decision to say, “Oh, yeah. It turns out leaderboards don’t jibe with the ethos that we’re trying to create, so we had to change.”

 

When people were assuming that our taking a stand on this meant that we thought we were perfect, that was hurtful to the community. They’re like, “Well, you know. You’re not perfect either.” We never have been.

 

Like everybody else, we’re a work in progress. We meet challenges, learn from challenges. Change as a result of challenges, and then go forward to the next challenge because…Perfect. You’re never finished.

David TaoDavid Tao

No one is perfect, but are there any governing bodies, brands, or other community leaders — or sub-communities — in the strength space that you think are doing an admirable job of leading the charge for inclusivity and communication?

You know my bias. You know I love USAW, but USAW has done an absolutely stellar job. I’ve had lots of conversations with Phil about trans athletes, and about events, and about education. He’s a great example of somebody who has always…He’s met “I don’t know” with “I will find out,” and followed it up with “I will do something.”

 

USAW has time and time again have been on the right side of history, and they’re very quick to speak out. Whenever an issue presents itself, they’ve got a statement out within 24 hours, and it’s usually backed up with some sort of action.

David TaoDavid Tao

I will say, as a disclaimer, I did not prompt Alyssa to say this, nor did USAW.

 

BarBend is the official media partner of USA Weightlifting. I love disclaimers. If you ever talk with me off the record, you know I absolutely love disclaimers. I did not prompt her to say this. USA Weightlifting did not prompt her to say this.

He did not.

David TaoDavid Tao

She’s not under [indecipherable 18:19] or anything.

No. Phil doesn’t pay me. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I do have to get that organizational partnership disclaimer out there. Actually, the opposite of that, you probably pay the USA Weightlifting…

I pay USA Weightlifting. I do. We pay dues as a gym and as a coach. I don’t know how many competition fees they’ve gotten from my daughter.

David TaoDavid Tao

How do regular companies find customers like you that will praise the company, and then just keep forking over cash? You’re like the unicorn to these brands.

[laughs] I don’t know. Alaska Airlines gets it too, man. I’m always posting how much I love them. That’s the irony, right? I love business that’s well done.

 

I don’t know how much you’ve Googled into my past, but I used to be a sex educator. That was literally what I did. I help people have the kind of sexual relationships that they wanted to have in the world.

 

I approach business and gym ownership in all of those same ways. Tell me who you are. Tell me what you want. Show me your values. Let’s see how we can work together to bring out the best in each other.

 

When I see businesses and brands and governing bodies doing that, I get so excited. It’s like, “Oh, this feels so good. Let’s come together.” No pun intended.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] That almost slip by, but you [indecipherable 19:41] it. I appreciate it. I’m thinking of the Futurama meme where Fry’s holding out this stack of cash and saying, “Shut up and take my money.”

Totally. When I find a brand that hits all those sweet spots, I go for…It’s also why you often hear people say, “Keep your politics and your social justice out of your business.” To me, that fundamentally defies the rules of consent.

 

If I am giving you money on a regular basis. I’m giving you space in my brain and energy in the world, and you’re out there supporting, taking my money to support causes that I find reprehensible — whatever they are, hypothetically speaking — I’m going to be pissed because you used me, and my money, and my labor, and my energy to support something that I find reprehensible.

 

The converse is also true. I have found that the more open we became about our values and what we stand for, the more business we got. We got people who were seeking us out because of that. They became just like I am for USAW or Alaska Airlines. They became these vocal advocates of what we were creating.

 

When I do inclusive coaching workshops with gyms, I’m always like, “Dude, be public.” If you are a Christian gym, you rock that. You go out and say, “We are lifting for Jesus.” I’m not going to give you my money, but lots of people are. Those are people who deserve community, want community, and will support and promote you.

 

That’s how no matter how different we all are, we’re allowed to build communities around our strengths. Fly your flag, be you.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve been in the fitness industry and strength industry bubble specifically for longer than I care to admit. My viewpoint might be a little bit myopic here. You’re someone who has been in a lot of different industries, or at least a few of them across your career, some of them in fitness and strength, some of them not.

 

Do you think there’s anything specific to the fitness community or specific to strength communities that makes it more difficult or conversely, makes it easier for brands to build community around that authenticity, around what they believe?

I think it’s easier. When you’re asking human beings to come into a gym and trust you with their bodies, and their dreams, and their identities to make a hard lift or learn a difficult move. You’re getting them in their most vulnerable position.

 

If you are able to genuinely reach somebody and empower them from that vulnerable place, that’s going to garner the kind of loyalty that you get in any relationship. That’s actual intimacy. Our culture is afraid of intimacy because we confuse intimacy for sex when they’re two different things that do not always have to go together.

 

Intimacy is where relationships are built. From a brand perspective and a business perspective, if you are able to reach people and keep them safe and empowered while they’re in an intimate place, you’re going to foster that loyalty and growth.

David TaoDavid Tao

Do you think that level of intimacy that the fitness industry allows or opens itself to, also increases the risk for violations of trust?

A thousand, bajillion percent on every conceivable level.

 

You see this social violation of that trust when you see ads about like, “Get a six-pack ab.” Like, “Your body is not good enough. Get a bikini body.”

 

That is taking somebody in a vulnerable place where they’re admitting something about their body, and you’re looking them in the eyes and saying, “Yes. So, you’re totally not good enough.” That’s a violation of intimate trust right there. It’s also a lie, but that’s a whole different subject.

 

Then, when you get into the realm of coaching and competing and traveling, there’s lots of room for more literal physical violations of intimacy and trust that range from, “I don’t feel safe here,” or “This gym makes me feel bad,” to actual abuse.

 

Because people are so dependent on that relationship and on that place to achieve their goals, they sometimes don’t speak up. That’s a huge problem. That’s a whole different ball of wax.

David TaoDavid Tao

A lot of what we’ve discussed today comes down to communication. I like how you emphasize, “Not everyone has to be perfect. Not everyone has to ‘a priori’ come from this pedestal where they’re saying everything…All the right stuff.”

 

A breakdown of communication is more often what leads to public outcry, resignations. It’s not necessarily because someone is starting from an imperfect place, because everyone is starting from an imperfect place.

 

What can we do as members of strength communities to better facilitate communications at the grassroots level?

Let me clarify. Communications between yourselves and your governing bodies, or…?

David TaoDavid Tao

There’re a few different levels. My apologies, I should break it down. Communications between athletes in the same training, in the same space. Communications online where you’re interacting with someone who might be in a similar strength sport, and you’re interacting with them via social media or messaging.

 

Communications when you’re at a competition, which is something that you have a lot of experience with. A CrossFit sports. You’re interacting with your competitors, other coaches, officials, and obviously, communication with a governing body.

 

It could be with a referee or a judge, or it could be…I’m thinking of all the million ways that I’ve had to communicate with someone like USA Weightlifting over the years. I was late ascendance of registration or something like that.

 

There’re a lot of different levels of communications, and so there’re a lot of different answers to these questions. We can start maybe where you think might be appropriate, but it’s not communication coming from governing bodies and coming from brands to the athletes. It’s athletes talking to themselves, talking amongst themselves, and working their way back up the chain.

Two things have occurred to me as you’ve been saying that. The first thing is that I always…This will probably surprise a few people, but I always try to assume positive intent.

 

I like to assume that somebody’s not a total jerk, and assume that if they said something, it’s because they don’t understand something. Occasionally, I’m given enough evidence to the contrary that I give up that idealism. For the most part, always assume positive intent.

 

The second thing I like to always do is answer a question with a question, essentially. Why do you think that? Why do you feel that? Why do you think this is happening? What did you think would happen? What was your goal? That tends to get us back to that “intimacy” place where somebody is forced to own their own thoughts and actions.

 

If you’re assuming positive intent and you’re standing there with them, helping them own their actions and words, that’s a fertile place. You’ve all got your hands around this concept and you can move forward.

 

Because we started there with the trans athlete’s question, when people are like, “OK, this is going to be terrible. You can never let those people compete.” The question is, “OK, why? What are you afraid will happen if we let them compete? What is it that you understand about the underlying processes and principles, and biology, and whatever?” Try and combat it with knowledge.

 

It’s interesting that you brought up communication. One of the biggest conversations I’ve had with CrossFit for years was their absolute lack of communication, not only with affiliates but with the outside world, about what CrossFit is because it matters.

 

If you’re asking 15,000 people to all carry the same flag, that flag has to mean something. In the absence of meaning, why are we going to keep carrying the flag? That’s my answer. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I like when guests get Socratic on this podcast. I don’t think it happens enough. If you’re listening to this, and I ever reached out to you to come on the BarBend Podcast, make sure you have a few questions to shoot back my way or rhetorical questions to ask the audience because I really do enjoy it.

I loved that you said, “Socratic.” That made me happy. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m the least educated person in my family. I’m very much overcompensating. If my mom’s listening to this, this is my apologies for not going to grad school, is that I’ll use big words occasionally.

 

Let’s pull this up to a different level. I don’t want to say a bigger level because I don’t want to say it’s more important. Let’s talk about how the fitness industry is viewed in mainstream society. [laughs] I know you just…

 

You all can’t see this if you’re just listening in, but I triggered something with this question. You are a gym owner, you are an athlete, you are a coach. What are some of the miscommunications or breakdown in miscommunications or misconceptions that you see people outside the fitness industry having about the fitness industry? That’s my first question.

I actually think it starts with a misconception that the fitness industry has about itself, which is that the myth of the fitness industry is often sold that you know healthy when you see it. That in order to be healthy, you have to have visible muscles and six-pack abs and that’s what strength is, and that’s what healthy is.

 

I think that that in it of itself is a misconception that the fitness industry has of itself. That our job is to make people thin. I will push back against that all day long because this idea that fitness means thin — literally if you would go back and study it — it’s literally rooted in racism. It’s just absolutely absurd.

 

That then filters out to what the general public’s perception of the fitness industry is that the fitness industry is a bunch of people peddling, body shame and thinness on people, which is going to tie for a lot of people, myself included, very deeply into junior high and high school PE class. Fear and shame of being the last person picked and all of that stuff.

 

I don’t think this is true of weightlifting so much. Actually, much less in those sports. The organizing principle of fitness industry is that you’re not good enough. That’s a really risky place to start any relationship.

 

It’s like negging. It’s like these pickup artists who go into bars and like, “Yeah…” [laughs] If only you could have gotten them shirt that fit you better to show off that tight bod of yours. The fitness center starts with negging, and it’s just garbage. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I know that wasn’t addressed to me, but I feel…You did that so convincingly, I feel a little bit negged. I’m going to go change shirts after this.

I have a hard time picturing you negging someone in a bar, but if you’re familiar with pickup…Are you familiar at all with pickup artist’s culture?

David TaoDavid Tao

I wasn’t saying that it’s something…I was just saying hearing that makes me feel…

Yeah, it makes you feel a little gross, right?

David TaoDavid Tao

You did it so convincingly that it feels like it was directed toward me. I have to ask, and I should have asked this at the beginning of the podcast. We had so much ground to talk about. How does one go from being an expert in sexual relationships to being so entrenched in the fitness and strength industry?

They are so exactly the same thing. The similarities between those two career choices are really simple, but it was [laughs] a coincidence. I had a tech startup that I desperately wanted to work, that was about women’s sexuality and empowering women to find their sexual happiness. I think the timing was off in the market.

David TaoDavid Tao

Wait. There was a tech startup that failed?

There was. Like most of them do. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Oh, my God. You never hear about these. You never hear about the 99.9 percent of these that exist.

What’s amazing is that it was a tech startup built on women having better sex, which presumably would benefit not only women, but everybody who wants to have sex with women. Talk about a big market.

 

Anyway, I met my husband when I was trying to get that off the ground. He was starting the gym at the same time. Rather than continuing to fight sexism and misogyny in funding startups, I was like, “I’m going to lift weights with this hot dude.” The next thing I knew, here we are.

 

My daughter was so happy, though. Because I was certified to teach sex ed in Washington State, she made me promise I would never teach sex ed at a school that she attended. She was really happy when I finally walked away from that and started doing this full-time.

David TaoDavid Tao

Is that a fair request? I feel like that’s a fair request.

[laughs] Totally fair request. I didn’t push back in the slightest. Totally fair request. Her friends would still ask me stuff.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s always interesting to me how many people who I interact with in the fitness industry, it’s their second or their third career. It’s a passion they find later in life.

 

I do think there is this misconception that fitness is something you find very young because you’re an athlete. Then you might be a D 1 athlete in college. You don’t make it pro, so you become a personal trainer, and boom, you’re in the fitness industry. That is what the fitness industry is comprised of. There are those people and some of them are fantastic.

 

I’m not promoting those people because if I did, I would be crapping on 40 BarBend contributors, [laughs] which I am definitely not. There’s some fantastic people who take that path in life. However, that is not everyone in the fitness industry.

That is the overriding point for me, is that when people make that assumption and when the fitness industry markets those people, you’re leaving out everybody else. The truth is that it is everybody else, that is A, that’s your target market if you’re running a fitness business. Those are the people who we can reach with all of the stuff that we know fitness does for people.

 

Those are all the people we can reach. When we ignore those, what good are we doing in the world when we’re just preaching with a choir? Part of why I think Rocket has worked so well is because my husband is one of…Well, he was never a Division 1 athlete, but he’s a born jock. The man has never seen any physical challenge that he couldn’t just tackle and succeed.

 

I’m the opposite. I hated team sports. I was always picked last. I have a catastrophic list of injuries that has forced me to modify everything. Between the two of us, we encompass both of those ends. Anybody who comes into our gym knows that they’re going to be met with somebody who probably understands what they’re going through. That’s the biggest power of the fitness industry.

 

That’s why I get so upset when [laughs] brands like CrossFit, pardon me, but they fuck it up and pay attention to just the Games’ athletes. Those people actually scare a lot of our potential market and potential members. It gets back to the fundamental mistake that the whole fitness industry makes is that the fitness industry is for jocks. It’s not.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It’s almost like it’s comprised of many different people with many different backgrounds and preferences.

Strange, right?

David TaoDavid Tao

Just like a community.

It’s almost like diversity. It seems so obvious.

David TaoDavid Tao

I almost hesitate to ask my final question. I promise, it’s not a bad one. Where can folks follow along with what you’re doing, with what you’re writing, and along with Rocket Community Fitness? I hesitate to ask that because we spent several minutes of this podcast talking about how you regret the impact that all this attention had on your gym. I don’t think that this episode of BarBend podcast will go viral in the same way.

 

That’s why I hesitated to ask because I know you don’t want to call undue attention to your members of your community.

Yeah, but I’m always happy to talk. I will say, if you follow us on our social media stuff, you’ll be sorely disappointed because I’m really bad at it. We don’t post stuff all that often, but rocketcommunityfitness on Instagram is probably where we put most stuff. We also have a Facebook page that’s Rocket Community Fitness. If you follow me personally, you get my daughter, her boyfriend weightlifting, my cat, and the food that I’m baking.

David TaoDavid Tao

I will say that’s good. It’s good weightlifting content.

Yeah. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

There is good weightlifting content. You had to point it out to me because I missed it, including a 300 kilogram overhead rack hold. There’s some highlights out there.

I’ve got some very strong kids living in my basement, for sure.

David TaoDavid Tao

Your grocery bill must be horrible.

Dude, I can’t even…Yeah, but they eat a lot. I’m very much on social media. You can find either my name or Rocket Community Fitness. Yeah, we’re there. I probably won’t, as you guessed, I probably won’t stop speaking my mind anytime soon. At this point, I’m in it, so I may as well just push the ball all the way to cross the finish line.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, we’re out of issues. We figured everything out.

Excellent. We’ve solved it. Now you just have to come to Seattle, and we’ll have a barbecue.

David TaoDavid Tao

You have to find another community to fix because fitness is done.

God, I wish.

David TaoDavid Tao

Job completed. Mission accomplished. [laughs]

I’m sticking to fitness for a while. I’m sticking to the fitness until everybody feels welcome in the fitness community. It will be a while.

David TaoDavid Tao

I say this in the best possible way. You do have a lot of work ahead of you in that case, but I don’t mean that in a pessimistic way at all.

You know me well enough because we talk often, but I’m super optimistic and hopeful. My husband jokes that the only thing I know how to write are love letters, and even my angry letters are love letters because if I didn’t truly love fitness and truly love CrossFit even for that matter, I wouldn’t give a damn. But I do. Here we are.

David TaoDavid Tao

Fair enough. Alyssa, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you, David. Have an awesome one.