Scott Grayson with Voodoo CrossFit

This week Peter sat down with Scott Grayson of Voodoo CrossFit in North Austin to talk about the sense of community in his gym and how people won't workout the same way again because of the CrossFit revolution.

Peter: So, how old is Voodoo CrossFit 512?

Scott: Voodoo started in 2011. We got our affiliate in just the beginning of September.

Peter: Awesome. So we're coming up on it. Five years, man, that's awesome. So, why did you get involved in CrossFit in the start?

Scott: So I was just over thirty and had gotten to the point where I'd really kind of let a lot of things go. You know? I was working for a wine distributor, I was doing a lot of wine drinking. A lot of partying it up. I'd been in a band prior before that, so just a lot of general unhealthy living and saw family members and stuff going through issues when they're getting older and something in me thought, "I'm not ready for that. I don't want to have to deal with any of that stuff any time soon," and I had to start getting back actively into fitness so I started working out and got introduced to my first CrossFit workout and it was kind of a life changing, a life changing event - my first workout.

Peter: Do you remember which WOD it was?

Scott: Sure, yeah! My first workout was three minutes of continuous jump rope singles, with absolutely no breaks, and then three minutes of max effort pushups, and then you go back to two minutes of max singles, two minutes of pushups, one minute of singles, and one minute of pushups. The tricky thing though is that there's absolutely no resting during the jump rope singles, but your score is the total amount of pushups.

We do this workout at Voodoo still. It's a cool story, I mean, it's my first WOD and everything and I always like to look at the look on people's faces, especially the guys. The first look you see is, "Oh, man I got this! I can crush pushups," you know? Three minutes is a long time. Military PT test is 2 minutes of max pushups and I was ex military, and so going in, I knew what two minutes of pushups could do to you. That first three minutes you know you try and game it before you enter the workout, that first, three minutes is an eye opener, and then the next two minutes is crazy easy and then that last minute is just a sprint of pushups.

Anyways, I did that workout and had in my head that I was going to get some obscene number, you know, a totally humbling experience and from then I was just like, "man, what is it with this workout? Like, I gotta do it again. I gotta do it again, and beat what I did last time," and then I quickly learned why that's not how CrossFit works, it's gotta be constantly varied. I instantly latched onto it and remember I never thought about, it didn't even enter my mind that it was going to turn into a business or anything.

I just started obsessing over technique on everything. Back in the day I would watch these videos of people doing like dumbbell cleans or whatever and I would just obsess over it like, "Why doesn't mine look like that?" Like, "What do I have to do to fix it? The mechanics are not quite right," and I remember just watching videos and picking apart some of the most basic movements on air squats and just being like "How come mine does not look exactly like that? What is going on? What's not functioning correctly?" and so you know I think that's where it kinda started. Real quick I had some friends that started trying to work out with me and I would look at them and be like, "Hey that's not right, let's see what's going on and how we can fix it," and so I think that even to this day it's been a driving force behind it. It's just trying to figure out what makes people work and work more efficiently and work better and all those kind of things.

Peter: Awesome. So, let's skip ahead quite a bit and talk about Voodoo these days. How do you describe the culture of your box?

Scott: The culture of Voodoo. It's interesting because how often do you get to go and experience other cultures? The way our box was born and the culture of my box was born - my little brother is a 5th degree black belt in Tai Kwon Do. He's been doing karate since he was three years old. He snuck out of a preschool class into a demo that was going on for the kindergarteners to watch. He went in there and the school called my parents and said, "Hey you should totally think about putting him in this karate class." So my parents got with the Tai Kwon Do school owner and he said, "Yeah, we'll take him in even though he's young," so my parents got heavily involved in this Tai Kwon Do thing. As my brother was coming up through the ranks and they were super involved and the whole time I was growing up we just had karate parents at the house. My parents always had their front door unlocked so you'd go in on a Wednesday night and there'd be a couple of the parents over in the backyard with my parents drinking beer and the kids would be running around or whatever. I was brought up around this culture of a very tight community of people that do things even outside of just showing up for Tai Kwon Do class. So I never wanted to take part in Tai Kwon Do or anything like that. It just didn't really interest me that much but what I saw when I started doing the CrossFit workouts and started to see an opportunity to be able to build the same community experience, I was like, "Oh, man this totally fits everything I've known my whole life!" That's where the community aspect comes from. It really just kind of worked.

Peter: So, how did you build that in the start and where are you now? Like, what do you doing actively to inculcate it in the start and support it now?

Scott: I think the biggest thing is trying to get as involved with people in the gym as I can which goes beyond just knowing how their workout felt, right? We end up getting to know about what's going on at their work, we know what things they struggle with their scheduling conflicts, we know if they hate sitting in traffic. We know all these little things about them that eventually lead to these other things like why they're not getting enough sleep, or these little things that they struggle with diet, or the things that they like to do during workouts and then we start to understand the things that they get away from in workouts, that they skip because they don't like doing this particular thing and it helps us kind of work with them on their journey of overall fitness. You know what I mean?

Peter: Absolutely. So you know, we're here in Austin, TX. There are a lot of different boxes. What makes yours special or unique or why do you think people come to you?

Scott: So that's interesting. I know a couple of the other boxes here in town and I think that the beauty of CrossFit is that every box gets to run its own particular way. When I think of what separates us I haven't' been a part of these other boxes so I don't know the intimate details but what I would like to think that we specialize in getting to know the person, getting to know the member on a level that goes outside of this gym. Our coaching staff is built to where it's pretty much like we have three main coaches right now that are just full-time and we are like best friends and we are together probably most of the hours that we're awake and we get to talk about these in depth details of what's going on with the members. I guess that personal connection and that was something where my previous job in selling wine - it was something that I had to learn to be successful with that business as well, which is to totally be involved in every aspect of a clients' situation. I had to deal with a lot of startups, you know, for liquor stores and mom and pop stores and stuff like that, so I guess I don't know does that answer the question?

Peter: Yeah. Absolutely. For sure. So, let's redirect a little bit. So you're coming up on the five year mark as a box. You know, what have you learned over those five years, or what would you do differently from then till now?

Scott:Yeah so five years. What would we do differently? So, I would say that there's of course, hindsight is always 20/20 and you can look back and think about all these different things. I will say one thing that is really interesting. One of the main things that we have really focused on over the past year and I think it's probably a general process of starting off with a CrossFit business or business - equipment is such a big deal at the beginning. You know, acquire all your equipment make sure you've got enough bars, make sure you've got enough space, make sure you've got the right building. Just all these things. Then as soon as I got kind of over the hurdle of making sure we got to the point where we had all our equipment in place and you know our next thing was just really developing even more education. As far as being better coaches, I think getting to the point to understand, you thought you knew a lot and understanding that you know that the coaching has to go - that the education has to be stepped up even more and keep acquiring that knowledge, I think that has been such a big deal, and then what's crazy is we are now going back to the very basis of what CrossFit is. Over the years we had gotten away from just the CrossFit model and had gone to cramming as much shit as we could within an hour and what we're seeing now is after going through more education and stuff, we have gone back to the original formula for what CrossFit is. We're really pushing a lot more for intensity. Our volume has gone down, and so I think that's the thing that's crazy right. You go through this big thing like "Oh, wow I think I need to really put as much stuff as I can um on our athletes," and then even after all this education you come back to this whole thing of, "What I need to have is the best quality coaching I could possibly have," and look to push intensity over volume.

Peter: So that's interesting. How many different programs do you have at the gym? So an athlete walks in, do they go to one of a few different tracks or are they pretty much just boom, you're on our CrossFit program?

Scott: Yeah, so we used to have multiple programs that we would push and now we've really gone back to a very, very, very, formula. This past year I got a chance to go back and it came up on my five year mark to retake my certification and I decided to go retake my L1 and then a month later take my L2 and I wanted to really immerse myself in CrossFit, like, big time and get re-fired up about CrossFit and I really tried to take a hard core dose of the very basics of what CrossFit is all about because that’s the thing. That's why we're all here - is because of CrossFit. It's not because it's easy to get sidetracked and be like I love doing outlaw and I love doing misfit and all these things but none of that would be here if it wasn’t for CrossFit so I think that's the thing is it's like you know when we talk about seeking this higher knowledge it's kind of how we're going back and we're reading, we're scouring through these old pages of Crossfit Journal. Stuff like this it's like I don't know how popular it is to do anymore but some of these things that are in the journal still ring true. I mean none of these thought processes have changed, you know? When you look at this formula it's amazing and so we've gone back to this formula and really tried to dig in really deep and figure out what exactly is going on here and how we can put that through to our members. We run a we are proud to say we are 100% CrossFit, right. We want to be good at everything. Is that to the detriment of our Olympic lifts or our squats or our powerlifting or anything? No. We want the best of all of it. We do have Olympic lifting classes. We do have gymnastic classes but our overall goal is CrossFit.

Peter: Awesome. I love it, and one of the things to speak to looking at those old episodes of the Crossfit Journal- I actually go back and reread the very first issue which is, "what is fitness?" It was huge for me because right after I heard about CrossFit, I downloaded that PDF, it's an eleven page PDF and actually read it on a flight where I was travelling somewhere for my day job at the time and I thought it was just you know groundbreaking and even if you go back and reread it, you know, it's from 2002, so at this point it's fourteen years old, but I feel like it was just a seminal, you know, kind of shot across the bow of fitness in general at that time that really held up very well.

Scott: Yeah, man, and you know that's just it. You go back, I have goose bumps now just talking about it and that's what I'm saying about getting fired up about CrossFit. I can still go right now and I still go back and watch like Nasty Girls' video and I'm like, "Oh my god, like I want to work out right now!" So I think one of the things for us is we had gotten to the point where we were having these big strength components going into this conditioning piece and all that kind of stuff because it's kind of a popular thing to do right now. We started to instead we see this in the clients where we would see people who would come in. Let's say it's a big, strong guy perhaps maybe a little overweight but he's got strength and we have this strength portion and afterwards we have a conditioning piece. Let's say it's a five minute attempt at AMRAP of wall balls. What do I expect that guy to go intense on? The thing that he's good at! He's going to have fun over here lifting weights, and then when we ask him to lift wall balls he kind of has an alibi. Like, "Dude, I just crushed it over there. That's why I'm dying over here!" and it's like, "Hold on a minute, we're supposed to go after the things we're not good at. I know you're good at lifting weights!" So we want a max effort on our weightlifting day but also tomorrow when we have this five minute AMRAP of wall balls. I think that's the other thing too. You have to evolve to that point with your coaching staff. It's way more stressful on coaches when the WOD for the day is a five minute AMRAP of wall balls and that's it. I mean somebody might look at that and go, "That's it for the workout?" I mean, if you don't treat it correctly, you're right. It's not a good workout but it's on the pressure of the coaches to make sure that you are so fired up, you think you are about to do the OPUS. So frickin ready to hit this workout, we've warmed you up correctly. When it's time to hit that five minutes it's like you're first set right off the gate isn't seething. You've partitioned in the sets where you can game it out like "Cool I'm going to knock out ten reps and then rest and then go down to eight reps and I'm going to get more and here's my target number." No, no, no. What's the most wall balls you've ever done without putting that ball down? Aw, Forty. Okay, well today we're getting sixty, and you won't put it down until you hit sixty. At least sixty you know and then staying on that person and being like, "Don't put it down. You've got more!" It's intense on the coaches but that is intensity and I can't believe how profound now that we've been doing it this way, it's almost like teaching people how to workout. Even people who are really good, it's pushing them in ways that are totally different than the ways we were doing it before.

Peter: So, if I could interrupt that. How have the clients responded to this? So you had mentioned before having more volume, having potentially more weigh and now going back to basics, so to speak in CrossFit and- and ramping intensity. What has the feedback been from your clients?

Scott: I think at first it was a little bit of a culture shock because somebody who hasn't sat through the classes, and had games athletes tell them "Hey, this is how it works".  But that's the thing if they were sitting in front of Greg Glassman and he said, "Listen, this is how it works," you would nod your head and be like, "Yes sir." If Chris Speeler was sitting in front of you and said, "This is how it works," you would just be like, "Okay, thanks!" So at first to some people it was a culture shock but when they started seeing that we're not saying that CrossFit should be a throw up fest but when you start seeing a lot more people start getting to that point again and pushing themselves to that point, you're seeing these people who are going from little intensity to a lot of intensity pushing themselves really hard. They're seeing the people around them doing this stuff, like they've never done it before, the attitude starts to change a little bit and they start to realize like, "Hey, you know maybe I didn't feel like I was getting a good workout today, the workout was only seven minutes long. Maybe the reason I didn't get that much work done in that amount of time is because I'm not good at a seven minute workout. If you give me an hour of stuff to do I can probably get a lot of stuff done in this hour," and it's by default that that's what we've always just asked of you. We've never put you in a position to sprint as much as we should have, so right there is like a glaring weakness that you just haven't. Just because the training process was always in these big time domains or whatever. If we had you do twenty minutes of strength over here and before that we had you do some oly work or whatever, and then we put you through a conditioning piece. You've put yourself in this time domain of over twenty minutes, so let's see how you do when you get that three minute FRAN time, and you can't, you know, then perhaps we need to spend more time working you in these shorter time domains. Is that kind of what you were looking for, a little bit?

Peter: Absolutely. Awesome. Well we're going to wrap this up a little bit. So again, you're based out of Austin, TX. Where can we find you online?

Scott: Yeah, just and our Facebook page, and Instagram @VoodooCrossfit.

Peter: Cool. If someone in Austin is interested in checking you out, same thing? Just go to the website, go to your Facebook? What's the best way for them to get in touch, to get in contact with you?

Scott: Yeah, exactly. They can go to our website. There's a form. It takes ten seconds to fill out and they can just drop it to us and we'll reach out to them.

Peter: Sweet. Anything you want to add before we sign off?

Scott: You know I think about this a lot. It's really cool and again looking at this whole thing all this stuff was because of CrossFit. I look back at the success of Fringe and where we're at and all of that, and I always think it's super awesome. I remember picking up a kettlebell and I think maybe a wall ball from your garage and it's really cool to watch you guys go from there to new buildings and get to a bigger location and you know do this supping all over the place and it's really cool and I think when we get it goes right along with the other boxes in town. Just when we get older we're going to look back at this really cool moment in time these first few years when CrossFit was at this inception and we were all operating out of our garages and stuff and I think we'll be able to look back at it and go, "Yeah, man, that was really cool. We were at the start of this whole CrossFit revolution." And I do think it's a revolution. I think even a regular globo gym has changed because of it. People won't' workout the same way again, so we were kind of right at the beginning and I think that's really cool.

Peter: Yeah I totally agree and I'm so thankful . one of the things I think about is when you sign up for the CrossFit open and I don’t know if you remember this or if this is meaningful to you but it was meaningful to me. There's a little questionnaire that has a few questions. You know, "do you weigh and measure your food," a few things like that and one of the questions is "Have you had a life changing experience because of CrossFit."

Scott: Yeah.

Peter: And for me, I was like wow and this was like three years ago and even then when I saw this for the first time I was like enthusiastically "Yes CrossFit has changed my life!" and it's done that for so many people, even people who aren't involved in the business in one way or another it's had a very life changing in a positive way you know influence so that's something that I'm thankful for every day.

Scott: Yeah. Definitely I mean it goes all the way into people that may even consider themselves not in the CrossFit, not affiliated with CrossFit or not in the CrossFit realm- you take it all the way to Olympic lifters or power lifters, people who make bumper plates or whoever you know and it's changed it's just changed the landscape so definitely cool

Peter: Awesome. Cool. Well thanks a lot Scott, and we're out.

Peter Keller
Peter Keller


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