A Tale of Mastery at CrossFit LA

CrossFit LA

After eight years of owning CrossFit LA, Andy Petranek saw an endpoint to that role.

However, he decided to not put the Box on the market, despite what that might have meant financially. “To me, the way more valuable [aspect] was the community, the camaraderie, the friendship, the legacy,” he said. “And I still wanted a place I could call home.”

But not a home he would own and be responsible for, something he’d done since 2004. It was that year Petranek opened CrossFit LA after becoming enraptured with CrossFit’s ability to provide endurance. And for a man who had spent years training for Adventure Races — competitions lasting three hours to two weeks and taking place over various terrains — improving on endurance while cutting down his workout time meant he was hooked.

Around 2012 though, Petranek was ready to dedicate his full attention to the Whole Life Challenge, an eight-week online challenge that focuses on making daily habit changes. Enter Kenny Kane.

Kane had been at CrossFit LA since 2009 as an athlete. He soon transitioned into a leadership coaching position due to years of experience in elite-level training and a family fitness business. In fact, he never thought he’d return to the business side of the fitness world, because it was “a pain in the ass.” However, irony had yet to have its last say.

In 2011, CrossFit LA’s team went to the Games. It was, in Kane’s words, electric. “I’d say that we bottled lightning in 2011 by going to the Games. It was a very amazing, emotional, wonderful team-focused environment,” he said.

But by 2012, the grind of training had taken its toll. He realized competing all the time was not sustainable. “I was coaching people into exhaustion,” said Kane. “And people were beat up by the whole experience.”

This turn of events began CrossFit LA down the road that it’s on today. Kane started to develop programming based on mastery and longevity. Petrank began to relinquish control. And the transition of ownership all happened very organically. “[It was] a merging of two stories that dovetailed at the right place at the right time with two people that really loved each other,” described Petranek. “Our friendship was just kind of building, and I’d say it really got tight as we went through this process of me letting go and him coming in.”

In fact, a living testament to such an organic and smooth transition is that Petranek still goes to and coaches at CrossFit LA today. Despite the difficulty of such a transition, Petranek noted Kane was respectful. And even though Kane has made changes Petranek never thought of — like adding a basketball hoop in the big room of the gym — he has been able to let go and concentrate on the Whole Life Challenge.

Kane said it was respect and love that helped him and Petranek get through the transition, as well as direct communication. “He will always be a part of our community for as long as he wants to be, because he’s sort of an honored wiseman, if you will,” said Kane.

Alongside that transition of ownership was Kane’s transition to CrossFit LA’s contextual programming. By owning the gym, he was given a brick and mortar location to test the ideas behind what has become the Mastery Method. “It considers and mimics the full spectrum of human challenges, provides an ever-changing diversity of physical, mental and emotional demands, thereby allowing the body, mind and heart to expand, adjust and adapt through the same range of challenges that are experienced in life,” said Kane. “It also prioritizes athlete durability and longevity.”

Basically, it puts a focus on mastery of movement and fitness.

Prior, Kane said CrossFit LA had got it wrong for a time. They branded themselves as a school of elite fitness, and with that came an expectation of doing workouts RX, of always competing. But for members to find longevity in their fitness, this couldn’t be the case, said Kane. So, he changed it and many of the Coaches caught on quick.

For example, Danette Rivera has been coaching at CrossFit LA for four years. When Kane brought in the Mastery Method, she said her and the rest of the core Coaches responded with a hell yes. “As a Coach, you want the pace to slow down so you can actually correct them on form,” she explained. “I’m interested in a more sustainable and mindful practice.”

The longevity programming found at CrossFit LA can be broken down into three categories with percentages: 60 percent practice days, 30 percent competition/testing days and 10 percent mental toughness days. Petranek described it as teaching members the foundations of good, solid movement, and then using CrossFit to keep it fun and interesting.

Beyond the long-term, contextual programming, the relationships built with members have also led to success of the gym. In fact, a current Coach at CrossFit LA, Matt Cipolla, came as a student to the Box in 2011. However, it wasn’t CrossFit that got him hooked and turned him on to coaching; it was the community and staff already in place. He said they are what had a huge impact on his life. “One of the big things in our culture and our philosophy as far as when we’re coaching is really investing and putting the time in to really cultivate really strong relationships with our students,” he said.

Or take for example Rivera’s “Strong Women Society,” an all-women’s program at the Box. She meets with the ladies twice a week and has the goal of them taking ownership in their strength and fitness. No self-deprecation is allowed in the class, and the goal is to improve one’s quality of life.

Because in Rivera’s words, while the gym works under the guise of a CrossFit Box, it in fact is much more. “I think CrossFit LA has definitely evolved beyond that to consider all aspects of well-being,” she said. “Kenny has shaken up the model a little bit so we can have a longer and more sustainable practice … I think having the owner and the head Coach as the lead programmer put that much thought into how our well-being is supposed to look — that’s somebody that I want to invest time in.”

That same person Rivera invests in also runs a gym that helps fulfill adults’ cravings for playful fun, she explained, which is an aspect that could be related to the 15 years Kane spent in stand-up comedy. In fact, Cipolla mentioned when Kane teaches a class, the warm up is probably going to be a dance with bodyweight movements. “When he walks into the room, the first thing he’s going to say or do is going to be really, really goofy,” said Cipolla. “It just makes everything a lot of fun.”

So with fun, context and relationship, CrossFit LA and Kane are moving into the future with plans to buckle down for the long haul. And for Petranek, that is one of the largest building blocks behind the evolution of the business he founded.

“The way Kenny’s got it structured, the way the programming works with the community, the way it encompasses competition, it encompasses all the elements of CrossFit and movement, but it’s really for the long-haul. People who are willing and able to look at the next 10 to 20 years of their life, not the next 10 to 20 months,” he said. “He’s modeling the future of this long-term thinking model for the rest of the world.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.