I’m a little late in writing this – I tend to start most articles with that preamble. I travelled to New Jersey in July to meet Zach. It was a journey that was about 2 years in the making and here is a little background to my story, I’ll try to keep it as short as possible!
I had initially become aware of Zach while looking for strength programs for grapplers when I began training BJJ almost ten years ago. At the time I had probably never swung a kettlebell or knew that tyres were for anything other than wheels but I was curious about Zach’s training methods. As with everything, life got in the way and with all of the online ‘noise’ I had gotten side tracked from Zach’s information amongst the crowds of internet experts screaming for my attention.
It wasn’t until after a serious knee injury in 2007 that I was forced to completely re-evaluate my training methods and I decided to look deeper into ‘combat conditioning’ and strength training for grapplers.
Some more time passed – I had changed careers once again and left web design for personal training and after recovering from my injury and regaining my ability to train BJJ, I decided it was time to pursue my dream and open up my own ‘garage gym’.
At the time there was a lack of anything like this in Dublin – or Ireland, and there were very few gyms that focused on service and client experience. The landscape was still full of ‘globo gyms’ where the focus was on cramming as many people onto the gym floor as possible and freshly qualified trainers who wanted minimal contact with the members.
Zach’s websites and information started to reappear on my radar but this time it was more to do with business systems and looking at how he grew his garage gym and online businesses.
I had seen a few of his videos on his youtube channel and also through the Crossfit Journal and the one thing that hit me immediately was Zach’s passion and energy for what he was doing. This was literally jumping out of my monitor at me. Every time I would watch one of his videos I would be fired up to do something to take my business to the next level. It became a ritual, on those days that I had to get work done or light a fire under my ass, I would spend 5 minutes watching one of his videos and that was the kick I needed to get going.
Now my initial start was nothing short of kamikaze. I was previously working in a personal training studio in the city centre and one day decided that time was up and I needed to start my own gym as soon as possible. I gave 2 weeks notice, I had my last weeks wage in my pocket and from there found a small garage in Harold’s Cross and that was the beginning of my journey.
Pretty much everyone – including Zach, would advise having some sort of financial safety net or even a part time job before you make the jump but due to a number of reasons – my impulsive personality (disorder) being the main one, I decided to jump.
The stress of taking that plunge alone was immense, then factor in the worst winter on record (which meant no business for pretty much everyone in the country) and due to loyalty reasons to my old boss not taking any previous PT clients with me, I was literally starting from scratch and that was a very scary thing.
It was little things like referring to Zach’s videos at this time that would reassure me and give me the push needed to work through the times of fear, anxiety and depression that all come with starting a business.
Not long after setting up the garage gym, I decided to take the next big step and sign up for Zach’s Underground Strength Coach Certification. Again, I didn’t exactly have everything in place – I was going to sign up, pay for the Cert and then basically paint myself into a corner and figure out how I would be able to afford flights and accommodation at a later time, all while starting up a brand new business with absolutely no savings.
Amongst all of this, I was unlucky with my choice of property and landlord which led to subsequent threats of legal action from Dublin City Council following misinformation from said landlord. As the weeks passed, legal letters built up and the Cert loomed, I had to make the extremely demoralising and stressful move and email Zach and tell him I wouldn’t be able to make it.
Zach is constantly talking about talkers and tyre kickers (I have come across many since running my own gym) and now I was one of them. This shame was up there with being a kid and my parents telling me they ‘weren’t mad, just disappointed’ at me for one thing or another.
Zach emailed me straight away saying it wasn’t a problem and that he would send me out some business dvds and also made sure I was on his business newsletter mailing list.
True to his word, within a week, the business dvds turned up at my door. I listened to them straight away and got to work on growing my business.
Almost two years had passed. In that time the climate had changed significantly, the recession was in full swing and now garage gyms were as common as petrol stations, with the low start up costs (mine probably being the lowest around) everyone seemed to be opening up gyms.
One day for whatever reason I was prompted to email Zach, just to make the connection again but to try to clear my name and show that I wasn’t a tyre kicker, talker or time waster. I had informed him of everything that had been happening at my gym (including having Matt Wichlinksi over – and I’m sure Matt told Zach I wasn’t a complete lunatic, only during a full moon) and that things had been growing steadily, though not quickly progressing. And I had informed him that I would be over to him as soon as the next Underground Cert was announced.
After a few emails back and forward, Zach being the gent that he is, offered me a spot in both of his gyms to intern for a few days before the next Cert came about. Needless to say I jumped at this chance.
It all happened very quickly, after the emails, I had found myself in Edison within 2 months.
I was nervous about meeting Zach initially – I was preempting that he might still be annoyed about me bailing on the Cert previously or that he might be viewing this internship as a chore. Not a bit of it. On the first day I got there Zach picked me up at the hotel and drove me to the gym in Edison. He actually did this every day.
These car trips were amazing as it was a chance to grill Zach with as many questions as possible about running a business, social media, programming sessions, training groups and then numerous times the conversation trailed off into discussions about MMA as he is a huge fan too.
Arriving at the gym in Edison was a surreal experience – I had seen the gym online so many times but all of a sudden I was here. The energy in the gym was palpable, I have been to numerous gyms around the globe but as soon as I walked through the doors of the Edison gym, I just wanted to train!
The first day I helped coach some of the kids and got to see Zach coach first hand. The first thing that I noticed is that he is very involved. Its not a case of the workouts going up on the board and then he sits back and watches his athletes go through the motions. He is there coaching for every rep and I know first hand how tiring this is, yet he was as enthusiastic during the last class in the evening as he was during the first class of the day.
But even little things like getting food after the sessions seeing him interact with the local business owners – Zach has boundless amounts of energy and you can clearly see other people light up when he is around, his enthusiasm for everything is contagious.
The second day we trained and coached at the new gym in Manasquan. I loved this place, it had a very different feel to the gym in Edison but I have no doubt that this gym will have a unique energy of its own in time.
Again I was impressed at how Zach was able to cater for every individual in the group sessions, depending on ability, injuries etc. Not only that but he knew everyone by name, their parents and what was going on in their lives – he genuinely cares about everyone in his gym. This is something that I try to replicate and whenever I get off track on things, I bring it back to the above points, first and foremost serve your clients and work to improve THEIR lives.
I was also keen to talk to Zach about programming and trying to cater for all the different people that come into the gym and that may be training at the same time. He was talking about how it comes down to being able to adapt things on the spot and that is something that comes with experience. Again, this was reassuring as I find myself having to do this regularly and feel like I am going against the general consensus of having a rigid plan and sticking to it regardless.
Day 3 was back to Edison and I can honestly say it was one of those situations where I had to keep reminding myself to enjoy every minute as much as possible as I knew it was coming to a close. I asked Zach if I could jump in on a session too and it was no problem. I was paired off with a young college wrestler who I had about 30kg on and I was having a hard time keeping up with him!
That evening I tagged along with Zach to a local high school to attend a wrestling camp and see how Zach sets up public speaking gigs and leverages business for his gym. It was great to see how once again he modified his workouts – lack of equipment, not knowing how many kids or for how long he’d have them to train, no problem, EVERYONE got a great workout and then Zach put time aside to answer as many questions as possible post workout.
Zach was nothing short of amazing during my 3 days in New Jersey. All of his help and advice was a huge boost for me. It was also very reassuring to see that a lot of the hardships that I faced or am facing are similar to what he has been through and it also lets me know that I am not spinning my wheels or going backwards.
Even 3 months since I was in New Jersey, I am getting excited and feeling energised writing about the experience. One of the big take away points for me was that I was foolish to go this long without reaching out and looking for a mentor. I would be the type of person to view asking for help as being weak but without doubt it is necessary to connect with those that are down the path that you intend to travel. We absolutely have to overcome our own obstacles as that is what makes us become the person that we are but to have someone there to reassure you that you are on the right path makes a huge difference.
The experience was without doubt one of the most positive of my life and I will be back in Edison and Manasquan again soon and Zach is always welcome here in Ireland. If you are looking to get set up, need advice, mentoring from someone that has been there, done it and does more than just talk a good game, get in touch with Zach, sign up for his certification, it will be the best investment you make.
I’ll leave you with some motivation from the Big Man…