Building a Gym Empire at Coastal Fitness With CrossFit Coach Ed Haynes
October 03, 2022
Former Hong Kong rugby player and fitness coach Ed Haynes has a distinct philosophy when it comes to training his clients at Coastal Fitness, Hong Kong’s leading strength and conditioning facility.
In his nine years of operating the North Point gym and 14 years since beginning his physical fitness journey, Ed sees coaching as more than lifting weights. “I want to teach people how to navigate life sustainably. We’re not about three-month transformations, nor quick fixes. We want to set people up for success for the rest of their lives.”
With a mission to influence as many lives in Hong Kong, transforming people’s mental and physical health outlook through mixed-modal fitness practices, Ed is resolute to position his gym as the primary centre for CrossFit in the city.
Ed’s fitness pilgrimage and CrossFit hobby started at a young age for the gym’s founder and CEO. The Hong Kong-born-and-raised British-Chinese has always sought to avoid the “typical” career route of his peers at his alma mater West Island School and then Newcastle University, “getting a banking job and climbing the corporate ladder.”
“There was something about coaching that I loved [during high school]. I relished teaching younger children and training them,” Ed told The Beat Asia in an interview. After completing university in 2008 and returning to Hong Kong, playing with the city’s international rugby team, Ed was inspired by a teammate to get his certifications to become a personal trainer. “I’m gonna [sic] coach adults to become better versions of themselves, this is what I want to do.”
He described that he wanted to do this alone – bar any support from his parents – only with the help of HK$500 to register Coastal Fitness Performance Training as a company, all the while competing with the city’s rugby team. His gym empire saw its humble beginnings in its first year in 2009, training friends in Happy Valley’s Recreation Ground following strength and conditioning principles learned as a professional rugby player.
“I would learn more in the first three to four months [running Coastal Fitness] than I did in the four years of university, setting up a business, and starting to coach people.”
In the first year, Ed combined his experience of every programme he has encountered in weightlifting, strength and conditioning, and fitness since the age of 16. “At the early stages, it was just about getting out there and trying what worked and what didn’t. A coaching regime wasn’t a thing; it was hard to institute a philosophy. We didn’t have values or beliefs that I followed.”
“I just wanted to get people stronger and fitter. [In 2009], I earned some great certifications, and met some great mentors, teaching me a lot of really good [knowledge and techniques] that I still use and share with the world today. I just wanted to build relationships in the first year or two, allowing me to grow fast as a coach.”
Ed lacked a physical facility to train his clients (until Coastal Fitness opened their first location in North Point in 2013) and would drive to people’s houses offering outdoor sessions and training in clients’ personal training studios. Nine months into opening, Ed was booked full of one-on-one sessions, which led to him hiring his first coach team alongside his brother Ant Haynes.
CrossFit, Coastal Fitness’ primary focus with its fitness programming, did not make an appearance in Ed’s coaching regime until 2010 and later in 2013 with the North Point opening.
“In 2010, one of my trainers began experimenting with CrossFit, a methodology I have never really explored before with snatches, cleans, deadlifts, and squats. With his level of fitness, body composition, and general level of athleticism, he saw a massive transformation in a short amount of time. It looked fun and different to what other people were doing in Hong Kong,” he said. Ed says CrossFit did not have a foothold in Hong Kong pre-2009, with the fitness guru claiming Coastal was the first to offer classes.
Andy, Ed’s employee, began to run CrossFit classes in Happy Valley, constructed by watching online workouts from the official sports website. The first iteration of classes held a regular of 20 to 30 people, using kettlebells, sandbags, TRX, and bodyweight movements. At the end of the two-year period in 2012 hosting the classes, Ed said almost 300 people would routinely attend their “SMACK” workshops on the Island and in high schools.
The transition from a mobile coaching collective roaming Hong Kong’s four corners to a permanent location came in 2014 when the business necessitated Ed to house Coastal Fitness in a physical space. The first location, opposite today’s space in North Point on Watson Road, nurtured “a reputation of a gym that had a real interest in CrossFit,” Ed says.
“We were the first in Asia to begin a revolution of CrossFit gyms opening. By 2015, we saw nine to 10 new gyms open in the region.” With the launch of their North Point location, Ed too sought to bring his growth to new heights not only training to become a CrossFit coach but joining Asian and world-level competitions. “Every coach wants to be an athlete too, that’s how we thought brought credibility to us coaches. If you could be an athlete competing at the top of the game, people would respect you more and that would eventually lead to more business.”
“However, I learnt the hard way that I couldn’t juggle coaching and competing. I suffered burnout in the end of 2016 where I was forced to make a change. I couldn’t do all these things at once and expect to excel in all of them. That was really where I let go the competitive endeavours for me and focused more on being a coach.”
As the gym grew, so did its internal community of trainers recruited from overseas and its fired-up membership base. In community, Ed cares a lot about instilling communal values and nurturing a shared philosophy with training and Coastal Fitness. “The team is the most important part of this organisation; we are a people-based organisation and with all the services that we run they involve building relationships with our customers.”
"Our goal is to build a championship winning team. We have some really lofty, ambitious goals that we want to achieve as a team. Our reputation as a business as a whole is strong. We have values and behaviours which we talk about a lot with our customers; philosophies that our employees believe in. They're printed on our walls, so when people come in, they can see and resonate with those values, they want to be a part of this journey too.”
Of course, in current times, operating a fitness centre in Hong Kong has not been easy, with the industry facing the worst of lockdowns at the behest of imposed government restrictions, forcing Ed and his team to innovate and position Coastal Fitness as a leading gym not just at home, but worldwide.
When lockdowns, social distancing measures, and restrictions came as the world bore the brunt of the first of many waves of COVID-19 infections, and gyms saw their closures for months, Ed launched The Process Programming, a free online training programme allowing members to sustain gymless mixed-modal fitness training at home, only using a backpack.
“We wanted to create a free programme to help the world. Now, we have more than 4,500 members following [our programme five days a week]. We are affiliated with six gyms around the world that are members of our Process community, assisting them in mentorship. We have created a Coastal [Fitness community] in their own gyms and they are part of our family!”
In addition to the six-tiered programme campaign operated at Coastal Fitness, gyms in Hong Kong, and beyond, the team at Costal Fitness also hosts a weekly podcast show, titled the Process Podcast, that aims to unpack the philosophy and thinking of their programming, reflecting on the team’s CrossFitting journeys, discussing mental and emotional health, and ethical fitness.
“I've always wanted to do a podcast. I feel I have a wealth of experience [surrounding fitness] that I want to share with the world. But I also love having conversations with people around anything to do with health and wellness and training. To share this links back to our mission of trying to impact people’s lives. You just never know how many people you're actually helping.”
“We have so many people who now join The Process Programming because they listen to the podcast. We have people join coastal because they listen to the podcast!"
Fourteen years deep into his journey with Coastal Fitness and still championing the principle of impacting people through fitness and health, Ed is dogged about driving Coastal bigger and better. “[In August], we restructured our business, where unlike most coaching organisations [in Hong Kong], all of our staff have now become paid full-time salaries. We want to build a bunch of great leaders who can help with really exciting projects, helping further grow the process.”
“We want to have 12 affiliates around the world by next year. We want to be getting back on the road, [running and] joining athlete camps and experience weekends with our community across Asia and Australia, New Zealand.”
“Long term, I want to have a facility somewhere in a beautiful location [where people can travel to and connect with our coaching team], with a swimming pool, massive grass area, Functional Diagnostic testing next door, physios, chiropractors, and an amazing gym – that's the dream one day, have kind of like a massive facility that delivers everything [to] people in a beautiful destination.”
“Our main goal is to continue to educate the world that training doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your health. It should be something that supports the other endeavours [we] have in our life. [W]e need to find a way to do this sustainably.”
Subscribe to The Beat's newsletter to receive compelling, curated content straight to your inbox! You can also create an account with us for free to start bookmarking articles for later reading.