Strength coach and author Dan John speaks around the world about the training methods he has honed over his fifty years of lifting and coaching. You might be surprised to learn a coach of this caliber does not charge hundreds of dollars to train people. Everyone who comes to his garage gym trains for free. It is part of his intentional community.
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Dan John preparing to train with his community.
An intentional community is defined as a place where everyone shares resources and brings something to the group. Dan John created a gym intentional community many years ago and has recreated each time he has relocated. When asked about the benefits, he quickly came up with three.

3 Benefits of an Intentional Community

1. Diversity of Ideas

Dan indicated that to build a true community, you must not create a “room full of mirrors.” He does not want everyone coming from the same background as him or having the same goals. 
He works with young athletes with hypertrophy goals, elite athletes, older athletes, and medical professionals. Each person brings something to his community. He said he learns best from the diversity of ideas everyone brings. Furthermore, his skills as a coach are honed by having athletes of such diversity.

“Dan indicated that to build a true community, you must not create a ‘room full of mirrors.'”

2. Commitment to Train

In a community, you do not want to let other people down. For Dan, there are days he wants to sleep in and skip training. But he thinks about the other guys who probably want to do the same and it gets him motivated to train. The community has a compounding effect where one good behavior builds on another. Members feed of each other to make everyone better.

3. Egg Salad Sandwich Time

Part of the success for Dan’s community comes from the time he and his workout partners spend together outside of training. One of his favorite activities is having egg salad sandwiches after the workout. This time leads to great discussions and builds the bonds of their community even more. 

How to Select Members for an Intentional Community

One of the difficulties I see in creating an intentional community is how to select the right members. Dan said this process was rather simple in that people tend to select themselves.Those who don’t fit tend to self-select themselves out of the group. But I am not so sure it will be this easy for everyone – Dan is a unique individual.

“Dan’s ideas tend to fly in the face of traditional economic models where the higher the price we pay the better we think of the product.”

In fact, Dan John is one of the most generous coaches I have spoken with. Even in conducting this interview, he made himself immediately available and I almost imagine if I had asked he would have written the article for me (maybe not, but pretty close). His leadership is one of the reasons for his great community as his generosity leads by example.
By giving so much, he creates an environment where people want to give back. Rather than thinking in a market exchange manner (“What do I get out of this relationship?”), his community thinks about what it can give back to each other. That behavior is normed by the leader.
Dan’s ideas tend to fly in the face of traditional economic models where the higher the price we pay the better we think of the product. For example, people report that wine tastes better if it has a higher price tag. Given that, people might feel they are getting more out of paying a famous trainer a great deal of money. But Dan’s community members keep coming back for years (and are healthy for years). Dan John must have really good tasting “wine,” because the usual economic principles do not hold.

How to Use These Principles to Build Your Own Community

It would be tough to imagine everyone being able to start an intentional community where all memberships are free. However, we can learn from Dan John in order to make our communities better.
  • Build a community of giving – The more you give, the more others will want to give back. Dan feels all gyms should give free seminars or classes. It can provide fresh blood into the community and hone the skills of the coaches. When asked why he gives his training away, he said his karmic debt from his coaches is so large that he has to give back. Furthermore, he learns so much from his members that he feels he “should pay them.”
  • Be open to ideas – Dan did not say this idea as much as demonstrate it. He wants to learn from others and this idea manifests in how he has developed his community. Everyone can provide important information that helps you and your community.
  • Be ego-less – Dan has a Navy SEAL captain and someone with a Super Bowl ring who train with him. But everyone contributes to the community and realizes the value of others.
  • “Don’t make people look stupid” – People come to gain mastery of their bodies. They will give more to the community if they feel like a contributing member.
  • Remember a member’s giving might not be noticeable at first – Everyone can help you in your training or in your coaching skills. Dan’s students who couldn’t squat well led him to develop the goblet squat, which is an excellent teaching tool. Your most frustrating times can be the best learning experiences.

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Take Home

Many of you already have a great community. But the above principles might help to make your community even better. In interviewing Dan, I was struck by what a giving person he is. He not only inspires to give back, but he believes these benefits pay off (and they seem to have).
Based on Dan’s success, it seems like his ideas of his intentional community are something to consider. For gym owners, it might be good to think more about giving as it will provide you and your clients with long-term benefits, even if the short-term benefits can’t be seen.