Steve cares about PURE STRENGTH. period. Health and Fitness Specialist. NSCA-C.S.C.S. writer. lover. Owner/Coach at AMP Fitness – strength training studio near Boston Common.
Note from Matt: This interview was recorded from a phone call and then trascribed by me. Some sections may be edited slightly for an easier read.
Matt: Steve, tell me how you first got involved in the strength and fitness world. At what point did you decide to make a career in this industry?
Steve: I think I started in a similar way as many other coaches out there through playing sports in high school. I wasn’t super athletic, but I loved to train. I got my first weight set when I was 16. It was the Weider weight set with the screw locks. I started training to build a better body and it sort of snowballed from there. Fast forward to when I was 18 I really had no direction with what I wanted to do for college. I started to go to the gym around that time and it was what led me down this path. I was doing mostly bodybuilding workouts in the early days. The first book I bought was Arnold’s “Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding”. Chest and tris, backs and bis. Even back then we never skipped leg day (laughing). I think I cycled through that exact training template for almost five years. I really had no idea how to train back then. Like most kids eventually figure out you don’t know what you don’t know. Anyways, I had started college for information systems and I really thought that’s where I wanted my career to go. After a few semesters I realized I was really good with computers, but this wasn’t where I wanted to spend my time. The more I read through things like Men’s Health and spent time in the gym I realized that I had grown up very unhealthy. I started to pass along what I was learning to my family and friends focusing on teaching healthy habits. That was when I decided to switch from IS to Physical Education in my sophomore year with the goal of pursuing a masters in Physical Therapy.
Matt: How did you end up moving back towards the Strength and Fitness side of the industry after originally aiming for Physical Therapy?
Steve: After four years of college I knew generally what I wanted to do which was exercise physiology, but our school didn’t teach us too much about the fitness industry. I knew that another 3 ½ years of school for physical therapy was going to be pretty expensive so I ended up getting into training and coaching. For me it was sort of a ying-yang experience. I was hired as the training manager for my first job out of school just because I had a degree. I had no clue what I was doing. My job was to get people signed up for gym memberships and set up uneducated trainers with clients. I ended up staying for only six months. I knew that the environment wasn’t set up in a way that would really help people. So, I left that and got a job in the restaurant industry. After a while I gave coaching another go and was hired by a bigger commercial gym in Boston called Fit Corp. I wanted to work at a gym in the city and after receiving multiple job offers from my interviews I took this one. The philosophies at this place spoke to me. The team was really focused on community and provided a ton of education for the coaches. It clearly showed in their work. I was just blown away at how different it was from my previous experiences. I know commercial gyms aren’t really known for provided education but one of the things Fit Corp did was provide access to PTontheNet. Our head coach was very well connected with Perform Better and we had a few RKC coaches. It was just a great learning environment for me. The community took me in and I focused on learning as much as possible to become a better coach.
Matt: What had the highest impact towards you improving as a coach during that timeframe?
Steve: Definitely PtontheNet. To advance as a personal trainer at the gym we had to go through modules provided by their company and read articles from some of the best in the space. Mike Boyle, Grey Cook, Eric Cressey, Alwyn Cosgrove and more. We were able to learn quite a bit in a short amount of time. It helped me identify who was the top performers in the industry so I could follow them through their own blogs. I would read all of their websites daily and it lit the fire for my own personal education. It blew my mind as to how much I learned doing this compared to what I had learned in college. This all led to me starting my own blog which really helped me convey what I was learning to my own clients. By doing this I was able to connect with them even further by answering a lot of their questions through my blog. Rather than starting an online business I just wanted to connect and help by doing this.
Matt: What led to you deciding to move on to the next stage and open your own gym?
Steve: At some point I realized that I had a good amount of skills as a coach doing assessments, programming, and the other skills it takes to be a good coach. I had a solid client base as a result of that. Despite this I realized that there just wasn’t going to be much room for growth at Fit Corp working in a 1 on 1 private setting. I knew I could create an environment that allowed me to grow a space where I provided oversight to programming and helped clients at a larger scale. It was a bunch of small things that led to me making the jump. The location I worked at, Fit Corp, was sold to Boston Sports Club and I left shortly after. The community that I had benefitted from so much in the earlier stages was going to change, so I moved on. I set out to get my own business started and really had no clue what was necessary to do this successfully. I just knew I wanted a small space to get started and where I could really focus on the clients. We got started and put together a pretty awesome system to work with clients that has worked so far.
Matt: What did you do to reach successful growth as quick as possible when opening your own gym?
Steve: We started really small. I certainly had a lot of learning to do as a business owner. I knew the coaching side, but I knew I needed help. I give a lot of credit to Fitness Revolution team which we signed up with. They guided me along the process from locating the space, working with a broker, negotiating the space, and creating the systems necessary to grow. This was just super helpful for me since I was doing this all for the first time. They kept me very focused. Most fitness professionals don’t innately have the education or knowledge to handle the business side right away. The guidance I received from Fitness Revolution and starting really small were very important to getting off on the right foot.
Another thing I did that was extremely helpful was network. I reached out to a lot of connections I’d made who owned gyms and focused on learning what really helped each of them when getting started. I wanted to get the systems right before we opened our own space.
The last thing I did was make the switch mentally from coach to gym owner. Previously I’d spent my time getting my hands on every fitness book I could, but now I had to switch over to books about business, marketing, and leadership. Books like “Good to Great”, “Zero To One”, anything by Seth Godin, and so on. I really wanted to grow the business the right way which helped quite a bit.
Matt: So now you’re running Amp Fitness in the fantastic city of Boston. Can you tell me a little bit about the community you’ve built?
Steve: Absolutely. So our focus as a team is creating a strong community for our general population customers who are busy professionals. Like I said before, when I worked at Fit Corp the thing that really separated us from the other commercial gyms in the area was our community so I knew that was what I needed to focus on. We work to pull in our clients and make them as comfortable as possible when getting started. When clients come to our gym it might be the first time they’ve interacted with a gym or at least one that is really focused on improving their long-term health and fitness the right way. We have to create a warm and friendly learning environment where they will want to continually come back to.
Matt: Since you’re introducing many of these clients to strength training what do you focus on in the very beginning to get them started? What’s your goal with them after 3-6 months?
Steve: From the moment they walk in the door we’re working on coaching them to a better understanding of where they are right now with their bodies. A lot of people have a clear idea of where they want to be, but it’s important for them to really understand their body and how they can get better. Our philosophy is to get better every day. So, no matter where they start every time they come in we’re working on helping them to get better. It could be hitting a small PR with weight or improving their technique with a certain movement. We use everything from kettlebells to barbells. My wife and I just went through the StrongFirst certification this past week and will definitely be incorporating more from what we learned from now on in our programming. Our main focus is coaching our clients towards moving and feeling better. From the moment they walk in the door we start them with an individual assessment so we have a crystal clear idea of where they are. Their first month of training is pretty much all an assessment so we can judge their movement proficiencies and identify how to move forward from there to get stronger.
Matt: What training services do you offer at AMP Fitness?
Steve: We have two main offerings. We do semi-private training which is at a 3:1 ratio. We create individualized programs for each client that are typically in the 4-6 week range. Sometimes it takes up to 6 weeks to gain proficiency in a certain movement. For our more advanced clients we’ll do more traditional 4 week programs geared towards powerlifting or standard athletic training for our general population clientele. That’s really what I started the business for. I love that atmosphere. I learned a lot through shadowing at places like Cressey Performance, Mike Boyle’s gym, and others. Semi-private is definitely the way to go for clients who want that 1 on 1 feeling but can’t afford private training. Our second offering is due to having extra space including in our space downstairs that we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Instead of renting it out to someone else we decided to offer small group training classes in the space. These classes are still pretty intimate and use an 8:1 ratio. It’s sort of generalized programming that can be easily scaled up or down depending on where each of them are. Mostly it’s covering the basics. We do a lot of kettlebell training in those because it’s such a versatile tool. We sort of reverse engineer the program and start week one with a deload week instead of having it where it traditionally is on week four. We focus on doing a good warmup and teaching them nuances of the bigger lifts. We want to watch their technique and make sure they aren’t forming bad habits. We just let the program run and use an iPAD for a timer to manage the groups at the moment.
Matt: There are many trainers out there who start with knowledge and experience gaps in business, marketing, and sales. Now that you’ve moved into the role of owner and manager what are you doing to set up your team for long-term success?
Steve: Right now it’s just the three of us. Myself, my wife, and our co-chair, so I don’t have to manage too many coaches. It is something that is very new to me because I’ve always just had to focus on coaching within a larger business. Now I have to be a leader for two other people and will have to continue to do so as our gym gets bigger. I’m constantly working to improve my own leadership skills and the systems to make our business easier. I certainly have a lot of glaring weaknesses so to help with that I really have to encourage my co-workers to take leadership roles to fill my gaps. It empowers them to be a bigger part of the business beyond just the coaching as well.
Matt: What your plans for AMP Fitness moving forward? Where do you see this headed in the next few years?
Steve: I know it sounds cliche, but just like we’re focused on with our clients we want to focus on being better everyday ourselves. We’re definitely aiming for that as a company along. Constant growth. Beyond just the clients I really want to create an environment that allows coaches to grow successful long-term careers as well. We’re looking to offer even more solutions to what we’re offering now as we expand such as nutrition services. We want to expand our space. The current location is about 5000 square feet. 3000 of those are for our semi-private training space and 800-900 group training room. We’re looking to double the size of that to offer more smaller group sessions as well as have a larger space for our current client base. I’m not quite sure if we’ll be looking to scale the business yet. Right now we just want to focus on what we have and make sure it’s one of the best facilities in Boston.
Matt: What are you excited about for the fitness industry and it’s growth over the next few years?
Steve: There’s always going to be the next “big thing”, right? When I started TRX was huge, then functional exercise, then correctional exercise, then the industry seemed to go back to the fundamentals, and then lifting heavy got really popular. All of this should give us clues as to what works best with our clients. As an industry we’re always striving to figure out what’s going to best for the client. To me all of the trends really lead to the question why should we try to reinvent the wheel? The guy who invented the wheel isn’t the most intelligent, it’s the guy who added three more, and then guy who added a motor. If you look back to where technology was twenty years ago it’s mind-blowing when you think about where it is today. It’s only going to get better. Regarding how media and popular culture treats health and fitness, I think it’s getting better every year as well. I’m excited for the direction we’re headed in.
Matt: A big thank you to Steve for sharing his story with us! Can’t wait to see what the AMP Fitness Boston team does over the next few years. If you’d like to follow Steve check out the links below:
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