I arrived in San Francisco last week Tuesday, jet lagged and in a state of exhaustion. After waking from my disorientating slumber, I decided that a workout would solve all my problems.

I booked a coaching session with Angel Orozco, the head coach of San Francisco Crossfit, and arrived as eager as I’ve ever been in my life. Truth be told I was probably a bit too keen, as during the warm up I nearly burst a blood vessel in my left eye pressing a bar overhead. That wasn’t a great moment.

I informed Angel that I wanted to work on some of my Olympic lifts, as although I can clean and snatch a reasonable amount of weight, my hips often lie. If you dont use your hips, or arent able to fully extend them while Olympic lifting, you’re basically operating at 60 percent.

I quickly began to understand why they call him Angel. Unlike many of the typical personal trainers we’ve all encountered in our lives, Angel took a genuine interest in each of my lifts. He never stopped feeding me information, from the generalities of mobility to the subtleties involved in lifting, in 60 minutes he helped me to lift more than I ever have.

The following day I attended a class coached by Kelly Starrett, which was a great experience. He immediately recognized he hadn’t trained me before (remarkable given the amount of people he coaches), and certainly gave me a lot of personal attention and assistance with my technique during the workout. On my last day, I booked one more coaching session with Angel, with a focus on power lifting. The gains were even more remarkable then our previous hour together.

I think the best part of the experience was that I was treated like an athlete. I wasn’t compared with anyone. He just looked at what my limitations were, and what could fix them. I’ve been to gyms in the past where, just because I could perform some of the movements reasonably well in comparison with other members, I was rushed into the classes and programmes. This resulted in the frustration of slow gains owing to poor technique, as well as injury.

I also realized that what makes a business (and this is especially applicable to a gym) is that it doesn’t matter which rockstars form part of it. It doesn’t matter if the winner of the Crossfit Games, or a provincial rugby player or South African rower train there. They’re one person, who is good at one sport. The people that matter are the individual members. They make and shape your gym, it’s personality and it’s belief system. The attention of the coaches shouldn’t be determined by previous individual achievements of members, but rather focused on the collective development of it’s membership body. This can only be done by taking the time to analyse each member’s ability and development, without comparing either of these with another’s.

This is the reason Roark Gyms will have a capped number of members per gym. Once that number is reached, we will have acknowledged to our members that their individual athletic development is more important to us than packing the gym with more members for the sake of financial gain.

It has also been refreshing to see how freely information is passed between members of the exercise community in America. There is no ego or judgment among athletes or coaches, nor is there any of the macho crap we often see in gyms around South Africa. This is certainly something we I’ll be advocating at Roark.

Next was Manhatten Beach, Los Angeles, where I attended the USA Olympic Lifting Certification at the renowned Waxman’s Gym…but more on that next time.