Diablo CrossFit: Row'd Royalty Founders Embrace The BikeErg
Craig and Yvonne Howard founded Diablo CrossFit in 2005. Over the past seventeen years, what started out as a modest initiative developed into arguably one of the largest and most recognized CrossFit boxes in the world. One way to keep their 500 members happy is to provide them with great equipment, including sixteen Concept2 BikeErgs.
Almost twenty years ago Craig read an article about CrossFit in Men’s Journal, proclaiming it to be “the hardest workout you’ll ever do.” The tagline intrigued him, and he was hooked.
Like many others he started working out in his garage, but he soon realized that he lacked equipment like ropes, racks and other things people don’t usually have at home. Without hesitation, he affiliated to CrossFit, and his gym became one of the first recognized CrossFit boxes in the world. Today, there are more than 15,000.
“We wanted to share the methodology with others,” Craig says. “It was so simple and quick. I came out of triathlon at the time, riding, running, or swimming for hours. The appeal of a 10 to 20-minute workout was high.”
The people who joined, according to Craig, were intrigued by the challenges that CrossFit presents. “Everything is a little bit grittier and rougher around the edges. When they come in and suffer together, an amazing kinship develops,” he says.
There is plenty of competition between members though. Some of which led to a global indoor rowing competition using Concept2 RowErgs called Row’d Royalty. “We had a number of people claiming to be the best rowers in the gym, myself included,” Craig says. It had to be settled once and for all.
A competition was born, initially over three distances: sprint, medium distance and a long one. The gym actually crowned the king and queen of the rowing machine. After three years of staging the event inhouse, they opened it up to the rest of the world. Now, almost 2000 athletes from over 40 countries participate each year. With Concept2 as a sponsor, the Row’d Royalty competition auctions off five rowing machines to participants. Cash prizes are awarded to the winners, some of whom are Olympic athletes.
Even with this success, Craig does not envision the event growing to giant proportions. It’s also not monetarily driven. “If it gets to 5000 or 10,000 people that’s awesome. I’m mostly interested in keeping it true to its original mission, which is to get people excited about the RowErg, to have different ways to use it and have fun with it,” he says.
Craig is excited about the whole Concept2 line of products. “We’ve always had a competitive environment, which has led us to want to provide the best equipment possible to help these athletes train. That bleeds over to our community.”
The gym has used the Concept2 RowErg since 2005, and the SkiErg since 2014, but things really took a turn when Craig ordered 16 BikeErgs in 2020. “The BikeErgs have been awesome. Absolutely love those,” he says enthusiastically. Craig applauds their smoothness and steadiness, and with his triathlon experience he adds, “it seems so real. There’s no coasting: it’s a constant effort.”
The gym has an aerobic class they call their “fit class.” This includes running, the SkiErg and BikeErg, to provide good variation. “The classes are programmed to build aerobic capacity, so we do long intervals. In some classes we use the BikeErg only. We also have members that don’t want to, or can’t, run and this is such an awesome substitute, and keeps them engaged,” Craig says. In his experience, a 400-meter run translates almost exactly to a 1000-meter ride.
But the main thing for Craig and Diablo CrossFit is the measurability and repeatability of their workouts. They use the instantaneous feedback on the monitor, whether it’s meters, minutes or Calories, to set goals, measure output, and mark progression.
“And that’s really frickin’ cool! There’s a result that comes out of it: how many meters did you get, how long did it take you to get to that distance, how many Calories did you put down on the erg?” Craig continues enthusiastically.
He pulls up the Monday program of their Fit Class, a longer aerobic capacity workout, an old-fashioned "sweat sesh."
“In an ‘Every Minute on the Minute,’ or EMOM format, we try to teach people how to manage their work effort. We would do, for example, 15 minutes of 10 Calories on the minute. The first one is easy, but by 15 you might be blowing up,” he explains. According to Craig, this workout structure teaches members what their level is and how to manage their energy output, which they can apply to other workouts.
Craig’s favorite exercises have some longer intervals: “I love the E2MOMs and E3MOM’s for 15 or 20 minutes. I’ll try and hit 1200 meters in two minutes.”
When asked what sets Diablo CrossFit apart from other boxes, Craig touts being around from the beginning. “We have that longevity,” he says. That experience leads to knowing what members love. Craig adds, “it’s all about accessibility: we make it a point to be open as long as possible. We have areas where you can work on your own, and yet also offer more classes and more coaches.”
And he’s clear about having grade A equipment: “The members love the BikeErg. There are times when we have to tell them to put it away. They would be happy if we only kept those bikes.”