Note from Matt: This interview was recorded from a phone call and then transcribed by me. Some parts may be edited slightly for an easier read.
Matt: How did you first get involved in the strength and fitness industry and when did you know that you wanted to pursue a career as a coach?
Sahil: I used to do karate back in high school which led me to gymnastics. Because I was involved in these two activities I was intrigued by the strength aspect of it all. I’m a smaller guy so with karate I had to use technique and learned how to take down people bigger than me. In gymnastics we did a ton of bodyweight training, but because I started later than normal (competitive gymnasts start training at a very young age) I had to find a way to catch up. I was basically looking for hacks to get to the level where I needed to be. Anything that would shave off 5-10 years off of my learning curve. The easiest thing for me at the time was strength and conditioning so I started to lift weights. Just like any other guy I started to look at the magazines with all the bodybuilding routines. I followed the routines and got results because I was a newbie, but when I started plateauing I began to research strength and conditioning. I had never done any heavy stuff before that and had really only focused on bodybuilding splits like chest/back, etc. I still remember the first day I did a proper strength and conditioning workout with deadlifts, back squat, overhead press, and bench. From there my strength just skyrocketed. My friends noticed the results I was getting so they started to ask for tips and I would pass along what I learned. At some point I started a blog just because I had been through all the bullshit and I saw how the bullshit was being spread across the industry by marketers and stuff. I knew what they were saying was wrong and didn’t work so that’s what lead to fitjerk.com. I would just basically troll on people and bad supplements. It was a way for me to vent without having to put my name or face out there. I was this online faceless guy (laughing). I started to become more evidenced-based because in the beginning all I could do was write about was my personal experiences. People really appreciated the content I put out and eventually I started to get a ton of questions and requests for coaching. There was almost no one that did online coaching at the time, it just wasn’t a thing yet, so I figured that I could give it a shot. I just made up a program and signed people up for my online coaching course. I didn’t know what to charge so I said something like $50 for a month of training. It was very crude back in the day. I would send someone a Word document, they would edit it, and then send it back so I could see what they did. It just grew from there. At some point I realized that I was getting really good at coaching, my strength levels were going up, and my friends were saying that I should compete. Now I train National level lifters, MMA fighters, wrestlers, and more. I’m going to be working with a national level tumbling champion soon. I’m doing her nutrition plan for her. So yeah, that’s how I got into it.
Matt: You told me before we started this interview that you began doing online coaching back in 2009 which was extremely early in our industry. Did you see someone else doing it or was it simply the requests that led you to start offering this coaching service?
Sahil: Yeah so I started FitJerk around 2007 and around 2009 was when I started getting requests from people. I didn’t really see anyone else doing it and it took a while for people to understand what it was. They would say, “Oh you train! Awesome! What gym?” and I had to tell them that it was only online. We just use the internet to make it happen, how cool is that? Trainers would ask me all the time how it was even possible. I’ve always been into technology and have looked for the easiest and best way to do something. Besides powerlifting I also coach tumbling. Lately I’ve been giving people my SnapChat, which is TumblingCoach, and when they are in the gym working on something they will Snap a handspring, for example, and send it to me for feedback. Or they will set it up as a story and ping me to watch it later. I’ll take a look at it and send them my thoughts. People love it. So, I’m always looking for new and interesting ways to do things in my underwear (laughing).
Matt: Over the past few years you’ve seen the online coaching market really start to grow. Besides the technology, what’s changed?
Sahil: The market awareness has changed. The market is really primed for it now. Back then it wasn’t hard to sign on clients, but it wasn’t easy. You couldn’t charge the prices you do now. For consumers a personal trainer was someone who is right there with you, counting reps, and setting up the weights, coaching on form. It’s very personal. I had to do a lot of convincing for potential clients to let them know that online coaching was 90% as good as working with someone in person. You could get the results.
One thing that I had to learn for myself very early on was that you have to weed out clients who don’t fit. I learned exactly who to take on as a client, the one’s who would get results. Some people just need to work with a coach/trainer in-person. They need the interaction and to work on technique/form. They might have physical issues that I can’t help them with by coaching them online. My initial questionnaire is designed to filter these individuals out so someone else can really help them. Overall, online coaching is much easier than it was. Fitness consumers understand the value proposition now so you don’t have to work as hard to close.
Matt: Do you like the direction that the online coaching market is headed in?
Sahil: No I hate it! All this competition with new coaches who are trying to take my clients! No man, I’m just kidding. I love it and it’s amazing to watch. It’s abundance, right? I mean something like ⅔ of the American population is overweight. We can’t get enough online coaches. If you’re a personal trainer who only trains in the gym get online now. You’re missing out, I’m telling you. I’m currently testing out StrengthPortal right now and loving it, but if you’re just starting as an online coach you can just do it the old school way and use Google Docs to start. Upload videos, create programs, and shift in-person clients to online. For your clients who have been working with you for more than six months online coaching is a great option for them. They know all the lifts and know how to lift with proper form/technique. You don’t have to be there to count every single rep. You just have to create a program and get them to do it. So transition to online. It’s going to save both of you time and be beneficial financially. I love the direction the market is headed in. The more coaches who are getting the awareness out there the better. It’s a big market and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Matt: Where do you think the market will be in 5-10 years?
Sahil: I think there will be a lot more automation on the tracking side or at least I hope there will be. The runners have it fucking good right now with all their gadgets and everything. I hate the fact that a runner can put something on their arm, go out on a run, and then all their data and stats is there waiting for them when they’re done. StrengthPortal makes it easier because there’s a phone app involved, but I really want to be able to get to the point where’s there’s something that I can take to the gym and track everything I do. Once I get home I want to be able to see my sets, reps, weight, tempo, RPE, etc. All that shit would be awesome so I don’t have to think about anything except doing the work. I’m looking forward to this. If I had to give a timeframe I think in five years you should be able to do what I just described.
Matt: There were two reasons I thought it would be really interesting to interview you. The first is that you’ve successfully grown several fitness blogs, which I will ask about in a moment, but you also coach clients in-person. What have you learned from coaching tumbling and gymnastics in-person that’s translated well to online coaching?
Sahil: The biggest thing is patience. Let’s say that you have the least competent client in the world, you can probably still teach them how to do a basic dumbbell bench press in less than ten minutes when you’re coaching someone in-person. When you talk about gymnastics and tumbling, which is what I do as a coach, trying to teach someone how to do a backflip is not a one day thing. It’s a multi-month process depending on their aerial awareness, their conditioning, etc. I’ve had breakdancers and strong guys come in who can learn how to backflip in a few days. I’ve also had girls come in who do cheerleading and need to be able to do a backflip for tryouts to make the team in three months. Considering where they start from their learning process could be longer than that, you know what I mean? You have to find ways to make that happen. So patience is one. The other is always trying to find ways to be creative and find different angles. One of the things I believe is that there’s always a way to reach a client if they aren’t getting it. You just have to find it as a coach. I’ll give you a good example, I just signed a new client a week ago and his goal is to do a powerlifting meet in six months. I’m looking at his technique and he’s a strong kid, but if he goes to a meet right now he’ll get redlighted for every event. One of the things we’re working on is his bench press. When you switch to powerlifting technique it’s very uncomfortable if you’re not used to it. You have to squeeze your back, squeeze your glutes, and drive through your legs. He’s very confused by the last part of that, he doesn’t get how his legs can help his bench press. I’m just looking for different ways to explain it to him and we’ve only spent two days on it so far. I know once it clicks it will be smooth from there but I just have to find the right way to reach him. Before I had the in-person coaching experience I would have wondered why he didn’t understand it. I mean, it’s just a bench press, right? Patience and trying to find new creative ways to teach someone is what I would say.
Matt: One thing that a lot of novice online coaches I talk to struggle with is marketing their services. Can you talk a little about what led to the growth of FitJerk?
Sahil: First thing I would say is that if you’re struggling with marketing, don’t worry. Even the best marketers I’ve met struggle with marketing. They don’t make hits all of the time. 60% of the time their shit doesn’t work at all and if they are good maybe 40% of the time it does. That’s a good marketer. For someone starting off maybe 90% of the stuff you try won’t work so your job as a novice is to get your numbers better. The second thing I would say is that if you haven’t got a clue about what to do right now then content is the way to go. Content is king for a reason but also promotion of the content. You have to write things that people would want to share. Some people just put out content for the sake of putting out content because they know content is king. 5 tips for eating healthy or something like that. Bro, that shit’s been done. That ship has sailed. No one is going to share that. Maybe a 45 year old mother who’s never read a health blog in her life, but no one else (laughing). That’s old news. You have to write articles that are creative, unique, and/or have a new angle. It takes time. I spend hours writing my shit. A recent post I had, “The 10 laws of Fitness, Fat Loss, and Strength” took me like three days to put together. It got a lot of shares, comments, and hits. When you think of your ideal customer you have to think whether it’s something they would want to share with their friend. If your article or podcast doesn’t give someone that urge then you need to up your game. Write better content and then do whatever you can to promote it. Just go and ask people. Gary Vaynerchuk is someone who is really good at this. He did a video around 4-5 years ago where someone asked how to make money off of his blog. He just said, “You just have to fucking ask!” He literally went onto Google right there, typed in beer (because the dude had a beer blog or something), and clicked on the paid ads on the side. It was a site selling beer mugs. He clicks on the ad, finds their phone number, and calls the guy. He talked to the dude and made up something about him having an awesome beer blog getting X number of hits and asking if the guy would be interested in putting an ad on his site. The guy said that sounded good and then Gary hung up. That was all it took, just one phone call. That’s bravado at it’s best. I’m not nearly as hardcore as Gary, but I’m getting better. All you have to do is just ask.
Another strategy you can try is to give results in advance by writing and giving away good amount of material for free. I give away a full intermediate deadlift program if you go to badassstrength.com. If you’re someone who’s just starting powerlifting then this program could add 30 pounds to your deadlifts. I’ve had a lot of people download the program and have great success with it. That’s results in advance. Some obviously haven’t seen the 30 pounds, they see maybe 10-15, but the best result I had was increasing someone’s deadlift by 45 pounds just from going through that program. When he finished the program he loved it and wanted to train with me.
Matt: Your strategy with FitJerk in the beginning was mostly to just troll, like you said, but what do you think helped you get beyond those earlier stages and really separate yourself from the crowd?
Sahil: Yeah, FitJerk was a really unique thing. I had two things. The first is that I wasn’t afraid to say what I wanted to say. I think people are attracted to shear honesty and they like characters. If you look at the UFC you’ll immediately start talking about Chael Sonnen and Conor McGregor. Those guys are characters. They talk a lot of shit but they are also really good fighters. Chael almost beat Anderson Silva, the greatest of all time. Conor is just on a roll right now. It’s kind of like they talk trash but they back it up. In the same sense that’s what I did with FitJerk. I was a nameless and faceless person when it started. Eventually I revealed who I was, but at the time people would question me all the time. I would get messages asking what my squat PR was and saying that I was probably just some fat fuck sitting behind a screen. I would send them pics of my abs without showing my face just to shut them up (laughing). Anyways, because of the way it was set up I think I spent extra time on my writing to really develop my style and humor. I think humor is key especially when it comes to infotainment. You’re informing people but you’re also entertaining them along the way. If you can find your mix of infotainment then you’re golden. With FitJerk it was trolling and making a lot of people laugh. I had this one article that I’m going to re-release called “5 Ways Fitness Can Help You Get Laid” or something like that. It just went crazy. You can’t be afraid to be who you are or to stand for something. Since that time to now I’ve never liked Crossfit, especially since I’m a gymnastics coach. Most people don’t know that Greg Glassman was a gymnastics coach and every gymnastics coach who’s worth anything hates him. He makes his athletes do ring muscle-ups and calls it gymnastics. It’s just a conditioning exercise and one small part of a huge athletic sport. You can’t just squat and say you do powerlifting, you know what I’m saying? Powerlifting is squat, bench, and deadlift. You can’t go to a meet and just do one. You’re not a powerlifter if you do that. So, I wrote a bunch of articles exposing him and how he’s not even legit as a gymnastics coach. I stood for something and made people laugh. Every post I wrote had some type of take away so you could learn something. Even it was a trivial piece of knowledge it was something that could help make that readers life better in some way. That combination really helped me take off.
Once FitJerk really started to take off I hired a guy to help me take it to the next level with SEO. He was a blackhat guy and did a lot of stuff on my blog that worked at the time. I didn’t know anything about SEO. I just knew I was getting a shitload of traffic and I wanted more. Anyways, I hired him and he’d send me reports each week. Little did I know he was paying for all these links and getting spam links. I guess I got what I paid for because it worked for a while, but when Google’s algorithm changed my URL just tanked and he disappeared.
Matt: So you’ve obviously recovered very well from that with your new online brand, HardCore Training Solutions, and coaching gymnastics/tumbling in-person. What are you working on now?
Sahil: My personal goal as far as lifting is that I want to deadlift 500 pounds. I’ve been constantly writing that down for the past month so I’m working on it. Initially my goal was to deadlift 500 pounds at a certain body weight so it would be this massive thing, but I’ve done so many cuts over the past few years from 145 to 129 that I’m tired of cutting. I’ve just put a blank goal of getting 500 pounds off the floor. Whatever it takes without getting fat and huge. The other thing I want to do is release a few books. I’ve already released one, The Cheer Diet – Female Edition, because the sport of all star cheer is getting really big. Very few of the tumbling/gymnastics athletes I come across eat well, so I released this one for my female athletes and will be releasing one for my male cheer athletes to add to it. I’m also working on a powerlifting book. It will be called BadAss Strength. The last thing I’m working on at this moment is getting my podCast off the floor. It’s called The PreWorkout Show. It’s basically 3-5 minute motivational podcast that you can listen to right before you go to the gym. Maybe you’re feeling lazy and don’t feel like going to the gym, well my goal is to get you to throw this on to fire you up and get you there. I initially made this for my clients but I figured others could benefit from this as well.
Matt: Well I can’t wait to see how it all goes! Thanks so much for giving me some of your time and sharing your story Sahil.
If you’d like to follow more from Sahil you can check out the links below:
Subscribe to StrengthPortal Blog
Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox