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DEKA: A Fitness Test for the Masses


Fitness is vital for everyone in order to have a good quality of life. 

However, the reality is that much of the U.S. population does not engage in fitness, with rates of inactivity ranging from 15% to 47.7% depending on the state you live in according to the CDC. Only 20% of the population are members of gyms, with even fewer participating in common participatory sports such as marathons, triathlons, obstacle racing and others. 

The team at DEKA is striving to change these statistics by creating a program that appeals to everyone — from the very beginner to the elite athlete. 

DEKA is a spin-off of Spartan, a sporting event that can be found in 30 countries and that puts participants through a variety of extreme obstacles. It has attracted more than seven million athletes across the globe. 

However, the founder of Spartan, Joe De Sena, and his business partner, Yancy Culp, knew they could reach far more people if they created a product that was accessible to the average person.

“We were maniacally focused on providing that low barrier of entry start line for all levels of fitness,” explained Culp. “We wanted to create a brand where in the same arena, on the same day, using the exact same standards, all levels of fitness could come together and celebrate fitness.” 

DEKA was born, a program with 10 zones designed to be a well-rounded functional test for all levels of fitness. The zones harken back to the basics of human survival and involve lifting, carrying, pushing, pulling, kneeling, jumping, stepping or climbing over something, getting down on the ground and standing back up, and the three basic forms of transportation — rowing, skiing and cycling. These are tests essentially anyone can complete, no matter their fitness level. 

“No adult who has ever walked this planet has to be taught how to do any of our zones,” said Culp.

The next step was bringing DEKA to the masses. To expand their reach, a bolt-on DEKA Affiliate program was created that allowed the team to partner with gyms, clubs, studios and CrossFit boxes all over the country. Through the Affiliate program, clubs can offer DEKA races — DEKA Strong or DEKA Mile, which includes a distance component — inside their facilities. They gain an offering that increases member retention, generates leads, drives revenue and is easy to manage.

According to Culp, there are just two barriers to entry. The program is $159 a month, and you need one line of equipment encompassing basic tools such as dumbbells, medicine balls, dead balls and plyo boxes, and two pieces of specialty equipment including the Torque Tank and the Spartan RAMroller. 

Once these requirements are met, you can become a DEKA Affiliate right away. In return, DEKA provides a turn-key program for hosting trainings and events, marketing and business support, gamification and leaderboard capabilities, and more. Affiliates receive 60% of revenue share for hosted events and own a certain radius — meaning the club down the street can’t become an Affiliate, providing a differentiator. 

The brand has partnered with 160 Affiliates across the U.S. and has proven to be an extremely valuable and inclusive offering. 

For example, most gyms charge $39 for participants to take part in a DEKA Affiliate event — which generates a gross revenue of $3,900 per 100 participants. 

“We give the gym 60% of that — so we’re going to cut you a check for $2,340 for one day of celebrating fitness,” said Culp. “You can pocket that or you can invest in more equipment, whatever you need. So that’s one way of generating revenue through the program.”

However, the program is also a great lead generator by exposing gyms to potential full-time members — building even more value into the offering. 

“Our analytics show about 60% of the 100 people are going to be a member of your gym — but around 40% have never walked into your gym before in their life,” explained Culp. “Some of your members who signed up talked a friend, family member, coworker or neighbor into participating as well. Many have never been in your gym before or don’t have a home gym. A lot of great operators are able to convert these leads into full-time, paying members.” 

And the icing on top of the cake? It’s extremely easy to manage. 


“We do everything for you behind the scenes,” explained Culp. “All you have to do is schedule the events, execute the trainings pre-event, get together on game day, have enough volunteers and just celebrate fitness.”

Ultimately, the goal for the team at DEKA is to create a sporting event that’s inclusive to the masses, and to create a test that becomes the gold standard for evaluating a person’s fitness level. 

“I would argue there’s never been a global test — one that never changes and is accessible to the masses,” said Culp. “We’ve tested professional football, basketball, hockey and baseball players, UFC fighters, professional Olympians — a lot of professionals have stepped up and many will tell you it’s the greatest, well-rounded functional test for all levels of fitness. Five years from now, I want 90% of people to know exactly what DEKA is, because it’s extremely accessible to millions of people.”

As a testament to this goal, DEKA has recently launched the DEKA FIRE program, a simple bodyweight test that’s open to the public. It requires no equipment — just open space and a timer. 

“It’s free because we wanted to create something where you could ‘test’ the world,” said Culp. “It’s a really neat gateway drug to all things DEKA.”

In addition, DEKA hosts large-scale consumer events centered around the program’s principles, further expanding its reach. This includes the DEKA World Championships, November 19-20, 2022, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. DEKA Affiliate events actually serve as feeder systems to the championships, with those who perform top 12 overall and in their age group automatically punching a ticket to participate. 

Between the Affiliate program, DEKA FIRE and their larger-scale events, the team at DEKA is hell bent on making the sedentary lifestyle a thing of the past. 

“We are maniacally focused on making everything we do with DEKA focus on that 80% who aren’t members of gyms,” said Culp. “With Spartan we pulled seven million people off the couch. And this is the next step.”

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko

Rachel Zabonick-Chonko is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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