Interview with Alex Hormozi
Note from Matt – This interview was recorded from a phone call and then transcribed by me. Some sections may be edited slightly for an easier read.
Matt: Can you give us a bit of background on how you first got into fitness and eventually made a career in the industry?
Alex: I started lifting when I was 15 very seriously. I pretty much jumped right into it and started lifting every single day I could. I was lucky to find a teacher at my school who was super jacked and he took a liking to me. He would train me every day after school for two hours. He was just huge, something like 240, and natural. He had a bodybuilding background so I was initially much more into aesthetics when I first started. When I got to college I met a guy named Anthony Steel who was the first guy I’d seen pull 600 pounds at the age of 19. I was just thrown off because I was so much weaker than him. Anthony totaled something like 1410 at 181 so he was just incredibly strong. We became friends and started lifting together. He turned me on to programming and basic periodization. I was really into the nutrition side of it all because I still wanted to look jacked and tan. We would trade lessons learned with each other throughout college. It was great.
After college I started working in consulting at a boutique strategy firm that specialized in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance for the military. After two years I had saved up a little nest egg and wanted to get into fitness. I emailed 30 different gym owners to see if I could shadow and/or apprentice with them to learn more about the business side of fitness. One guy emailed me back so I shadowed him for three months and then opened my own gym. There was also a non-profit called the Free Training Project in there before I started my gym that helped me transition from passion to profit. Basically the premise was that people would pay $500-1000 to the charity of their choice and in exchange I would train them for free. This way they would still value what I was offering in return. When I stopped earning an income from consulting I just asked if they would pay me a normal rate after they had gone through my non-profit program and they all said yes. I transitioned this into an online business pretty easily which is funny because I would have been someone who used StrengthPortal at the time to help manage them (laughing).
Matt: Awesome! Who was the coach that got back to you and what lessons did you learn from him that helped you grow your own business?
Alex: His name was Sam Bakhtiar. At that point I had no previous exposure to the group training fitness model. I really thought there was only personal training or that you trained at a facility. I knew nothing (laughing). Sam told me about bootcamps which are similar to Crossfit. While shadowing him I saw the power of how lots of little things can add up to a big thing, which is really what your business is about too. I learned how important culture was, from the top down. I learned how to work with clients, how to track results, and how to empathize with them. I found that you could pretty much ask whatever you wanted as long as you provided more value than what they were asking for. Those were my biggest takeaways.
Matt: In my recent interview with Greg Nuckols he told me that you’ve had tremendous success so far with your gyms and clients. You opened a second gym within a year, is that right?
Alex: Yes! We also have two more coming in January 2016 which is super exciting.
Matt: Cool! Can you tell me a little bit about what your bootcamp gyms look like right now and what your clients experience is like over the first few months?
Alex: I’ll start with the premise that the business is based on which comes from something Tony Robbins always says, “Do more for others than anyone else will”. The more you can help and give people the more value you have. It was a very nice crystallization of what I was trying to go after. There’s a million boot camps out there. Before I dive into this it’s important to say that I don’t even think we’re a boot camp anymore. We’ve transitioned our workouts almost entirely to strength training and I just have tons of barbells and dumbbells so we can accommodate bigger sessions. Anyways, when I’m trying to genuinely help someone lose weight I look at every single obstacle they could possible have. Showing up to the gym, preparing food, purchasing groceries, how to save money while purchasing groceries, making the food taste good, etc. We had to approach every single one of these issues one by one. We had to make out recipe books with week by week instructions, have them check in each week, and add times for phone calls to answer questions. There’s a lot of effort put in to make sure our clients actually stick to the program. The thing that Greg and I talked the most about was how important psychological buy-in was for the results of a program versus theoretical knowledge. When I first got into this business I was so invested in doing everything the right way. I was writing my clients these beautiful, intricate nutrition and exercise programs. My success rates were abysmal. I was trying to figure out what was wrong because scientifically everything should have been going great. I called my Dad up and he was just like, “Son, they are just not following your plans.” I was like, “You just don’t understand insulin sensitivity!” (laughing). After a while I realized that he was actually right. I knew what I was doing, but I couldn’t get anyone to follow my programs. I had to rehaul my entire business and simplify everything. One person who is really good at this is Dr. John Berardi of Precision Nutrition. He’s done a really good job of breaking down habitual change into small reasonable steps. This is something we try to replicate as well. In terms of long-term success, however, as much as I would love to have someone lose one pound a week for two years I would say about 85% of your clients won’t stick with you. The reason is that they don’t want to follow a plan that encourages slow, steady progress (laughing). Even if they’ve listened to me and know that it’s the best way to do that they don’t care. I probably tell people to workout a little longer, a little harder, and put them into a bigger calorie deficit than I would if I was prepping someone for a show, but these are general population clients. They just want to look better and feel better. They don’t care about meal prep, they just don’t. They aren’t at that stage yet. I just do everything I can to make their experience at my gym exceptional while they are here and help them lose weight. We just focus on that and get referrals. That’s how it works.
Matt: So you’re not only able to get quicker results when compared to following a standard evidenced-based fitness/nutrition plan, but you’re able to get long-term success as well. Can you tell me a bit about the numbers you’ve seen so far?
Alex: Absolutely. What I found is that people need short-term wins when making a change. If you tell someone we’re going to change a few things and eat at a 500 calorie deficit you have to realize that it’s an enormous change for that person. The two of us might be able to make that adjustment easily because we’ve been doing this for so long, but for someone in the general population that’s huge. For a massive change your client feels as if they should be getting a massive payoff so we try to do that. We track all their metrics including their weight and measurements. We encourage them to take pictures along the way just so we have as many tools as we can to show progress. The biggest killer for motivation is working hard for a month and being at the exact same weight or measurements. People get wrecked by that so we make sure they are going to move towards their goal each month. About 85% of our clients lose 20+ pounds in the first six weeks and after twelve weeks over 50% have lost 35+. For my longer time clients we have a ton of clients who have lost 50+ pounds, but usually at that point the weight loss starts slowing down because the clients are gaining muscle or they’ve already hit their goal. 40-50 pounds is a lot of weight. For our clients who weigh in the 300’s they’ve usually lost 70+ pounds after 7-8 months.
Matt: After a client has been working with you for six months and lost a ton of weight what are you doing to prepare them for this drastic change in terms of life beyond the gym and programming? What do you do to make sure this is sustainable?
Alex: Well there are probably two things there. I tell all of my clients that just about everyone I’ve met in the fitness industry starts extreme and then levels off over time. I, for example, was a wrestler in high school and was eating all protein, low fat, and zero carbs. That’s just what I thought worked at the time. I got crazy shredded, in part because I had good genetics, but tons and tons of fitness professionals who started huge weight loss journeys with something extreme like this. It’s no different for my general population clients. Something switched in their head where they said that they needed to do this now so I don’t want to slow down that train.
In terms of weight training there really isn’t a transition. They just add more and more weight over time and get stronger. Regarding nutrition we have them diet for 12 weeks and then have them reset for 4-6 weeks. We walk them through the fear that their weight will fluctuate a little bit. As long as they don’t gain more than five pounds we’re cool. They try to maintain this for about a month and then we’ll figure out the best course of action for each client. You can periodize nutrition in the same way you can periodize training. We let them know they just can’t keep losing weight linearly forever. I have 4-5 clients who were 400-500 when they first started. That’s a long journey to take them through so we do our best to keep clients educated and prepared.
Matt: I have to ask this question. Greg told me that you have an insane problem with a significant portion of your new clients. By the second week some may be coming in for 3-5 workouts a day and you actually have to tell them to go home. Is that true?
Alex: Yeah that is true. I’ve had clients try to come for two sessions in the morning and two sessions in the afternoon. They just get so married to the idea of seeing dramatic changes that they want more. They get addicted to the results, you know? I tell my clients some things regarding nutrition where you, as a trainer, have to be really cognizant of who you’re talking to. Greg’s really good about saying that. I might get crucified about this online, but for general population getting them to count macros is just not realistic. I used to be on my armchair saying THIS IS THE TRUTH! As time has gone on I’ve been way more humbled in terms of the approaches we’ve taken with clients. It has to work with them and if they get super excited about it then it’s going to work. I have some clients who want to do a marathon and when I ask why they say it’s because they like running. That’s cool! Do I think it’s the best long-term decision for long-term weight loss but if they are excited about it then I’m not going to pop their balloon and tell them to not be more active. My background is in powerlifting and bodybuilding. It took a big change in my own mentality to figure this out and listen to my clients. Some people just really like cardio and that’s ok.
Matt: So the business model you’ve set up clearly works really well for weight loss in general population. You’ve even been able to successfully transition your clients into regular weight lifting, which is awesome. Do you think that this model works for other types of fitness outside of a pure weight loss focus?
Alex: You have to have some metric that can change dramatically in a short amount of time. That can be strength, for someone who’s never lifting before, or weight loss. Pounds of lean body mass gained over a period of time just won’t do it. That’s going to be rough. If I gained six pounds of muscle over six weeks I’d be stoked. General population clients would be super confused. “Six pounds? You can’t even see that.” And they are right! I focus on weight loss because that’s what most people need.
Matt: Touching on the model again, your business is remarkably similar to one of the most successful gyms I’ve come across, Mark Fisher Fitness in New York. He has his six week intro program called Snatched In Six Weeks. New clients go through this, learn the basic movements using kettlebells, and also are put on a calorie deficit tracked with MyFitnessPal. These new clients buy-in to their short-term results but they stay long-term because of the amazing culture that MFF provides. This is a business model that obviously works for both parties involved. How do you think this model will help the industry grow and evolve over the next few years?
Alex: Well there will be more (laughing). Gym owners and personal trainers are going to have to figure out who they are catering to. I know my market down to a T and I’m not going to share it because I like my market (laughing), but owners/trainers really need to figure out who their target is. Could this model work for strength? I’m sure it could. But could it work for promoting strength to 55 year old women? Probably not. I’m just using that to illustrate my point, but I think that gyms will become a bit more segmented in terms of what they are offering. That’s in terms gym culture, programs, what people are looking for, services provided, and even the price points. Those are all things that will be coming soon to a gym near you.
In terms of helping the industry evolve I think that having trainers focus on actually getting results is a good thing instead of just billing hours which happens for trainers at most corporate gyms (laughing). Instead of getting a client to re-upp their $2000 program for 3 sessions a week for 30 mins. Micro gyms are a great thing because people actually get more service and can get results. I may be at odds with tons of trainers in terms of their methodologies, but it will still probably be better than someone doing nothing on their own. That’s what I mean in terms of a paradigm shift that trainers are going to need to realize. Most of the time just getting their client to do anything at all is a move in the right direction. Is eating clean a stupid concept? Yes. But if I hear my client saying that they’ve been eating clean and losing weight I’m going to say that they are doing awesome. Keep it up!
Matt: This may be backtracking a little bit, but how do you think the bootcamp gym fits into your clients long-term health/fitness engagement? A bootcamp is designed to attract clients who are ready to make a change and you’re showing that it’s possible to transition them from short-term into long-term clients, but what happens when they are looking for something new with either programming or community?
Alex: To be honest it’s something I haven’t really ran into yet. After the six week program we put our clients through they are transitioned into semi-private, or even private, training depending on where they are at. Our goal is to create a long-term relationship so we can adjust our service to match what they need to make that happen. These weight loss journeys are often much longer than the clients anticipate so we want to be there for them the whole time to ensure success. You’d think that once results start to get slower and slower over time they’d lose interest, but our clients believe us because they bought in to our system after seeing short-term results. When they start transitioning into strength training they are comfortable with only seeing five pounds added to their squat each week. They believe us now.
Matt: So you’ve put in bids for two other gyms to open in 2016 which is super exciting. Along with these projects what else are you working towards with your business? Same question for your own personal lifting career.
Alex: Well I’ve really neglected my online business because the gyms have taken up so much of my time, but I think I’m going to start doing business coaching for gym owners. I’m working on building out our step-by-step process to help other owners figure out where they are at and what steps can we immediately take to move them in the right direction for long-term success. You can’t just fire all of your trainers and rewrite all your programs overnight (laughing). It has to be done in small increments. So, I’m working on putting together a repeatable process to increase profitability. What most of these trainers suffer from is working too much. They work 12-16 hours a day and get burnt out from doing everything. I know because I did that. So, I’m looking to reach out to other trainers who were like me. In terms of my training I would just like to be really motivated about it again. I’ve been blessed with good genetics so I’ve always stayed lean and fairly muscular, but I’m trying to recommit myself because I think I only lifted eight months out of the last year. Taking four months just completely off was new for me. I’d never done that before. The business side of growing my gym takes it’s toll. The first thing I’m doing here is actually going to a big box gym instead of trying to train at my own gym. It was my dream to work out at my own gym when I started, but I just can’t do it. It’s where all my stress is and it took me a while to figure this out. Just like we do for my clients I’m just doing what works for myself.
Matt: Big thank you to Alex for sharing his story and insights with us. If you’d like to follow Alex’s work pleas check out the links below:
Business Website –https://gymlaunchsecrets.com
Gym Website –http://www.unitedfitness.com/
FB Page – https://www.facebook.com/unitedfitnesshb
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