10 years, 10 lessons

By | August 31, 2018 | Read Time: 6 minutes
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Since Bang Fitness opened in 2008, I’ve learned a lot. About exercise, about running a business and about life in general. I could probably write a book about all I’ve learned in the last ten years, but for now (in the spirit of our tenth anniversary!) I’d like to share ten of those lessons with you.

1. Take away before you add
Our grandkids are going to laugh at us. We live in a time with unprecedented access to information and barely any filters. We are swimming in so much information that it’s making our brains pruney.

People don’t need more information.

Those who need change most often have the least amount of bandwidth for it. It’s not fair or reasonable to pile another thing onto them—no matter how well-intentioned. So instead of adding to the pile, we’ve learned to help people simplify. Sometimes, this means information management or eliminating unnecessary stresses from their daily lives (for example, if social media triggers anxiety but delivers only 5/10 entertainment, it might be time to seriously limit the time you spend on it).

Here’s something to think about: can you find something that takes up a minimum of 15 minutes of each day, is counter-productive to your goals, AND is not enjoyable? Would you miss it if was gone? Would you be better off? If so, consider jettisoning it. And then safeguard that window of time!

Vampires will knock on that window and ask to come in. Don’t let them. Keep it reserved for practices that build instead of diminish you. Or maybe just keep a few beautiful, quiet pockets in your life.

2. More aggressive is sometimes safer
People often come to us while they’re still rehabbing an issue. They want to get better but have felt stuck in a pain-loop for a long time. The loop often looks like this:
Rest and rehab
Pain symptoms diminish
Return to exercising
Re-injury (and a repeat of the entire process)

Some people never even get back to exercising–at least not in the same way they did before. They just feel fragile (which is not a great feeling at all).

One of the best things we’re able to do for these people is to help them find places that they can push hard physically and still be safe. For someone walking around like they’re made of glass, grabbing the sled and pushing it can be revelatory. This is an example of an exercise that is safe and accessible for almost everyone.

Showing people where and how they’re durable is great for their bodies and their brains.

3. Mental skills are the real MVP of GPP

GPP (general physical preparation) is the heart and soul of physical performance. Only when the exercise is turned into a sport (run this far, lift this much, hoist that jib), do we really begin to game the system with specialized equipment and technique. Everything else has a less sexy but more fundamental benefit. To fit under the umbrella of GPP, something must meet two criteria:

1. It elevates system-wide function
For example, if you have only ever exercised by sprinting and we introduced push-ups to your training program, we’d expect an improvement to sprinting–even though the push-up is apparently unrelated.

2. It does the above simply by bringing it up a level of competence
In the above example, you might be encouraged to become a push-up expert in the hopes of continued improvements to her sprinting. But the benefit comes from general motor skills and restoring fundamental strength deficiencies.

Turns out that you don’t need to be a champion pusher-upper. Getting to competence offers the best ROI. But, after a certain point, you will stop seeing improvements

4. People overestimate the amount of difficulty required for optimal results
I came across a magic number set forth by author Steven Kotler. 4%. We want to set challenges exactly 4% beyond someone’s current ability level. He says this is the sweet spot for focus, performance, curiosity, and confidence. Those psychoemotional states are key to productive, enjoyable, long-term progress. That’s what the kids call flow (and the old folks call being in the zone).

When it comes to choosing a new path, most people overshoot current ability levels dramatically. That’s humans for you. We tend to doubt the value of any challenge that isn’t very hard at first glance. I know because I think about this stuff a lot and still catch myself making that mistake.

If you’re wondering if there’s a catch to lowering the barriers for effort, there is. There has to be a minimum effective dose of physical of emotional discomfort every time. That means training can be (and often is) enjoyable but it’s seldom truly easy, no matter how strong or fit you are. Even then, consistency is our top metric. It’s the framework required for any true progress.

5. Marketing is maybe ok
Whoo boy, I struggled with this one. My knee-jerk reaction to marketing was to slam it as the witchcraft of dishonest jerks. I did this for years. But, as Bang Fitness has grown, I’ve embraced the importance of sharing our process with more people without compromising our values.

I’ve learned that marketing can be anything. And, by extension, it can be anything that you (or I) don’t personally find to be gross.

The list of what we won’t do is long. It includes 30-day challenges, bikini shots, weird before and afters, and generally just making people feel bad about themselves or treating them like idiots.

You know what we will be doing? Taking more material that we believe will truly help people and then sharing it. It’s part of our mission and—perhaps just as importantly—doesn’t give us yucky feelings.

6. Movement is the gateway that all physiological adaptation must past through
When we design training programs, we are trying to create specific adaptations. To accomplish this end goal, we impose specific stresses on the body. Those stresses are codified into sets and reps and rest periods.

But you cannot just design a program and expect it to work for every single person.

Slow, continuous squats with no pause, for example, are designed to develop slow-twitch fibres in the legs (and a fair bit of mental strength). The tempo is important. But none of the details matter if that technique is inconsistent. If you’re performing 10 squats and they’re all over the place, then the adaptations will be all over the place too. Only by building consistent, adaptive (as opposed to robotic) movement can we optimize the physiological adaptation we’re after.

It all starts with movement

7. Play is the highest expression of learning
The idea of trying to contract a specific muscle is often missing the point. I used to think that people needed specific cues to engage the right muscles. That we had to tell them what to concentrate on. “Engage that core! Fire those glutes! Tote that barge! Lift that bale!” But we have to remember that humans survived millennia of fires, floods, famines, and wars without anyone ever reminding us to squeeze our glutes. That’s not how we’re wired.

Humans are creative, adaptive, and love to problem-solve. So, when we want to move in a certain way or to engage a certain thing, we have to create puzzles. Get from Point A to Point B within these parameters. If you create the right game or puzzle, the body will work in harmony and produce the results you want. Including freshly-squeezed glutes.

8. Respect your elders–but especially when they can beat you in a streetfight
We can learn from elite performers in every discipline. Powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, you name it. These are groups who have distilled their training into its most fundamental essence. But the people we can best learn from are the ones who have been training for at least two decades and are over 50. The handful of people who make it through that filter have some things in common—hey share traits like strength, mobility, and coordination. But they tend to emphasize joint-friendly training and focus on extensive (vs. intensive) strength training.

Record-setting 20-year olds are cool to watch. But 55-year old badasses are the ones you should set your compass by.

Above: Paul Taras Wolkowinski, Cole Summers, Steve Maxwell, Keiko Fukuda

9. Self-guided discovery beats “expert” insight
We launched the earliest version of our Hybrid model in January 2010. It was an experiment—an alternative to the default delivery system of personal training. You know what? It works better for almost everyone. It took me a while to figure out why but the reason is now burned into my brain: for people to truly progress, they have to learn. And learning is far more powerful when you figure things out for yourself.

So instead of micromanaging the process, we create programs that offer just the right level of challenge. We do more behind-the-scenes organization and less of the in-session direction. It took some getting used to but we’ve stayed with it and continued to refine the process—simply because it’s what serves people best.

10. People will help you. You just have to ask.
If I had truly understood the amount of effort required to run a successful business back in 2008, I might have run away screaming. In the past decade of running a business, I have had to learn almost everything from the ground-up. But in my stubbornness, I always felt like I had to go it alone. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In every area of life, there are people who not only will help you, they want to help you. Sometimes, you need to invest some time in making yourself more helpable. But most of the time, all you need to do is ask.

If you’ve been one of the many people who has lent your support, guidance, expertise, resources, or love to Bang Fitness over the years, thank you, thank you, thank you.