Interview w/ Danny Yeager

I met Danny Yeager, owner and coach at CrossFit Kingfield, just about a year ago. I was trying out various gyms and doing my own thing at Los Campeones and did a free class at Kingfield. As we spoke afterwards, I was struck by his sincere passion for helping people achieve a level of fitness that is sustainable to keep them healthy and moving throughout their life. Danny is known for his lion’s mane of hair and love for Star Wars, but in this interview we get to discuss his philosophy about coaching and wellness.

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Danny after finishing a workout during the 2016 CrossFit Open.

MMG: When did you start doing CrossFit? What about it sustains your interest and enjoyment?

YEAGER: I found CrossFit I think around the summer of 2005. I was working out at the Colorado Athletic Club and a guy I knew there said he was doing this thing called CrossFit. He was opening CrossFit Denver soon and wanted to know if I wanted to join him. His workout was wall balls and ring dips and I thought to myself, “That’s stupid. I know that’s not going to make my biceps bigger.” So I went back to curling because I wanted bigger arms. Fast forward 11 years and look where I am. Doing CrossFit. For me I always remember that story and think back on it frequently because it reminds me that if my first reaction to something (which it generally is) is negative or dismissive, it would behoove me to take some time figuring out exactly why I think something is stupid, and see if I can have an open mind about something.

When you ask me what sustains my interest this is a bit of a loaded answer. First I am a coach. That is what I love to do. I am passionate about helping people develop a lifestyle that will help them live and move better. Currently I have spent the last 18 months creating/collaborating/developing a space in which people can pursue health and fitness. It has been an arduous process but 100% worth it. So to answer your question, this is what drives me and motivates me everyday.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was some intrinsic personal motivation as well. CrossFit for me is very therapeutic. I enjoy pain. It is inevitable when it comes to CrossFit, but I truly believe it is how we deal with that pain that shapes who we are as human beings.

MMG: What motivated you to become a coach?

YEAGER: The people I work with motivate me. I am not motivated in watching other people workout because I believe we can all get to a place of greatness if we work hard enough and sacrifice enough.

My true heroes are the people who show up at Kingfield even after a hard day and bring light and enjoyment to everyone around them. And to be clear, that doesn’t mean being super fluffy and giddy just because. Fuck that. If you have had a hard day and just want to workout with a few familiar faces, but are still capable of encouraging people around you with a silent fist bump and nod of recognition, you are a badass in my book.

MMG: What has been a personal highlight for you as coach over the years?

YEAGER: Hmm. I can’t name a singular moment. I can say that the relationship I have developed with everyone here as well as the overall growth of Kingfield as a community has been a huge highlight for me. Watching our coaches grow up and create their own identities within our gym has been very satisfying. I have always said that no one remembers who won regionals last year, but they will remember if you are an asshole or not.

MMG: When did you decide to make the leap and own your own gym? What was the deciding factor?

YEAGER: Man that was a while ago. I remember staring to write a business plan in early 2011. I knew I wanted to create a place where people actually got fit and didn’t have to pay upwards of $400 a month to workout regularly. I tried to open an affiliate at the Calhoun Beach Club where Willis and I worked. They decided it was not a good idea so Willis and I decided to go out on our own. I remember coming home one day in the summer of 2011 and Amanda decided she was going to give her two weeks notice. It was at that point I thought to myself, “Holy shit. I guess I better stop messing around and actually do this because otherwise we will be on the Top Ramen and Party Pizza diet real soon!”

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MMG: What is the tone and atmosphere that you are working to create among the coaches and athletes at Kingfield?

YEAGER: Great question. I answered this question long before we affiliated. I knew that I wanted coaches who were top notch at what they do, but also were not afraid to make mistakes. That part was crucial. If someone is terrified of failing, they won’t make it. You have to be willing to ask for help when needed, seek answers when they are not readily available, but also believe in yourself enough to grow and try new things.

The greatest line I ever heard from a coach was from Mike Burgner when he said, “I wake up everyday with the same mindset. In the morning I say to myself, if I’m not ready, at the age of 65, to change everything I know about coaching for a better and more efficient way of teaching my athletes, then I should no longer be a coach.” That has always resonated with me because it stresses the true importance of coaching – the athlete.

So I have taken that into the tone of the gym and the community. At Kingfield I would say that we are not interested in claiming the accomplishments of others. When you succeed, that success is yours because you did it. The process or journey in which you took to get there is yours. We don’t give a shit about accolades. As coaches we know that if we continue to do what we do, provide an inclusive community in which we only ask that you show up, we will accomplish more than we ever thought we could. And it will happen because we did it together.

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Danny being cheered on by his wife Amanda during the 2016 CrossFit Open.

MMG: Who do you look towards for coaching and mentorship?

YEAGER: I look for people who challenge me. My wife does this everyday, but our marriage is something that requires me to constantly work on improving myself and how I communicate.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I say that I think I’m pretty awesome. I would say that I use to think that success was found by forcing your ideals, opinions or methods on others, while at the same time making it known we are better than others. Well low and behold, I have learned the hard way that living with that kind of mentality doesn’t lend itself to any sort of calm or peace.

So my mentors are people who lead by example. They are vocal for sure, but also patient. As I get older I realize that you can’t be a complete asshole all the time. People are not attracted to that. So I need people in my life that are willing to understand that at times I need to think I’m right, but will eventually realize there is probably an easier, softer way. Amanda always says more is not better. Better is better.

MMG: What’s the best piece of advice you have received as an athlete?

YEAGER: Know your limits and accept them. Because when you know what you are not capable of, you know exactly what you are capable of. That allows for growth and consistency, which is the true secret to training – consistent, slow growth.

MMG: What does a typical week of training look like for you?

YEAGER: My weeks are pretty crazy as to be expected. I don’t have a specific set number of workouts I have to hit each week. I have a coach who does my programming, and he has a general rule that I should workout when my body is ready too. Typically that is anywhere from 5­8 sessions a week.

In terms of type of workouts, I have been spending the better part of the last year working on my imbalances. I have been carrying heavy things a lot more, spending time on quality movement rather than quantity, and working on being more well rounded in my training.

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Danny with his teammates at the 2015 Granite Games.

MMG: How does diet and nutrition factor into all your training? Do you follow any plans or have any rules that you follow in terms of eating and drinking?

YEAGER: Well recently I have had a bit of a scattered schedule, but I always train 5 days a week, probably 7­ to 9 sessions per week. I have a coach who programs for me, but I also add some things I want to do or work on. In terms of eating and drinking, I feel like it is important to spend around 8 months a year on a plan and 4 months trying to cut yourself some slack.

Next week I start working with Emily, so I am sure that will be more structured than my current plan.

MMG: What other factors are important to you in your overall physical and mental wellness?

YEAGER: I always try and stress to people that we are just working out. CrossFit does not define who I am. If CrossFit were to go away tomorrow, I would still know at my core who I am as a person and a man.

MMG: You often talk about the importance of CrossFit for its focus on functional fitness and how it helps us move outside the gym. Earlier this year you went on what looked like an amazing trip with Amanda to Hawaii. How did your time in the gym enhance your trip?

YEAGER: It was very useful. There wasn’t anything I didn’t feel like I couldn’t do. More than anything, we develop a lifestyle in the gym, and if anyone has gone on vacation since starting at Kingfield, they realize that their decisions day to day are influenced by what they want to accomplish in the gym. I would say that is what I notice enhanced our trip the most.

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Danny with his wife Amanda.

MMG: Amanda is not only your wife, but also your workout partner and coworker. How has that relationship contributed to your success as a coach and business owner?

YEAGER: Well, we communicate very well with one another. I try and tell her that I’m not always wrong, but most of the time she is right. Damnit! But in all reality we are very lucky to be able to see each other as much as we do. Truthfully we don’t get much time together ever. We are usually surrounded by people or have very busy days. So we make sure to do things like walk the dog together, go out and eat, or just spend time not thinking about power cleans.

MMG: I usually don’t do this, but I appreciate your “nerd” spirit and wanted to do a short rapid fire. Who is your favorite superhero?

YEAGER: Raphael, ­red Ninja Turtle.

MMG: Name one superhero power that you wish you had.

YEAGER: I wouldn’t mind being Captain America.

MMG: DC or Marvel?

YEAGER: Marvel.

MMG: Favorite Star Wars character?

YEAGER: Yoda.

MMG: Who shot first – Han Solo or Greedo?

YEAGER: Han Solo.

MMG: Favorite video game?

YEAGER: Nintendo ­- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2; Super Nintendo – ­ NBA Jam; Nintendo 64 ­- Tony Hawk/Wayne Gretzky NHL Ice/Goldeneye/Diddy Kong Racing; PS2 ­- Tony Hawk 4/Killzone; and PS3 -­ Uncharted 2.

MMG: Nintendo or Playstation?

YEAGER: Nintendo.

MMG: Super Mario Brothers or Legend of Zelda?

YEAGER: Super Mario Brothers.

MMG: Favorite action movie?

YEAGER: Bad Boys 2.

MMG: Van Damme or Segal?

YEAGER: Van Damme,­ especially in Street Fighter. He makes everyone want to follow him and go up river. YouTube if you don’t know. You’re welcome.

MMG: How do you define strong?

YEAGER: I have said this many times before, but strong to me is how you show up. It is how you approach things mentally. Can use use failure to motivate you, or do you let it keep you down? Strong is the ability to do something that you don’t think you can do, or you don’t want to do, but you show up anyway and give it hell.

MMG: What is your favorite lift, movement or WOD?

YEAGER: Handstand push ups and power cleans.

MMG: Finally, what is your goat?

YEAGER: My lungs. If I am stopping or slowing down in a workout it is usually because I can’t breathe.

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