Learn business strategies from successful strength training studio owners – Join HIT Business Membership
Lawrence: Lawrence Neal here. Welcome back to highintensitybusiness.com, the podcast where we discuss high intensity strength training and provide you with the tools, tactics, and strategies to help you grow your strength training business.
If you prefer to read, you can download the PDF transcript for this episode over on the blog post for this podcast on highintensitybusiness.com. This is episode 364 and today’s guest is Skyler Tanner.
Skyler is an exercise physiologist and owner of Smart Strength in Austin, Texas. Skyler and his team at Smart Strength focus on helping clients gain strength, boost energy, improve mobility and balance through evidence-based strength training.
Welcome Skyler, great to see you again.
Skyler: Yeah, thank you. And thanks so much for having me. It was about February last year when I was last on so it’s been a while.
Lawrence: Yeah. I know we’ve been trying to get something booked for a while. It’s hard because you’re really busy with your business which is amazing to hear and I am pleased by that. I think you had a spot come up, didn’t you, and you looked into my calendar and there wasn’t any availability and you assume that’s because I’ve been successful.
Skyler: Well, you are just managing your time really well. You got two businesses. And all mine it is always short notice. It’s a client late canceling or something the whole reason it exists because I had to cancel. I’ve been shrinking my day just to take care of my son, he’s my oldest son, so now I need to be on top of him.
Lawrence: I hope he gets well soon and I appreciate you…
Skyler: The roster yesterday I went to go and pick up my daughter because she is in the same portable as my third son. The roster in his classroom, the stomach bugs has been going through everybody, they have 12 kids and only 3 were there. All of them were absent. It was some sort of stomach bug. I mean, it was just, the mortality table just…
Lawrence: Yeah, well, that’s incredible. By the way, this is episode 365, so not 364. I just need to make that clear.
Skyler: Got it.
Lawrence: No, mistake that on my part. What I first want to ask you about is your new space because you recently moved, new location. Tell us about that.
Skyler: Let’s see. When I was talking to you in February it was on the radar. We’ve been eyeing, in the center that we’re in, this larger space behind us that used to be one of these shops where kids can go and make ceramics for their parents or women can do wine and make pots, or cups, or something like that. Of course, as a tradition, you can’t do virtual ceramics during COVID so it went out of business. They’ve been there for 25 years and she’s been using it like a quasi-retirement thing even though she had owned it, sold it, and came back when the other person couldn’t make it work. She was just really part-time with it. It was a space about 500 sq. ft. larger than we had at that time. Last May I think it was when we made the move. Basically, we had this open space concrete floor so we laid down some carpet, fresh paint, replaced some counters, got all that, bought some more equipment, moved in and I’ve been running that ever since. And since we’ve also added a few more pieces the goal is to get another two hopefully by the end of the year.
Lawrence: So 500 sq. ft.?
Skyler: Extra. It went from 940 sq. ft. to I’ll just not quite 1400 sq. ft. Right in that range.
Lawrence: Oh well, okay. That’s a nice increase. How much of that is workout space?
Skyler: Most of it. The old space had almost a dead space and the hall where it was the waiting area. And then it had a sealed office like a secondary room.
Lawrence: Yeah, I remember.
Skyler: Much more of it is the training floor so we got a little office nook. And then I’ve just recently, I need to do another video of where the spaces are right now. I created a quarantine waiting area that forces people to stare at a TV that is cycling the pushing, upselling our trainers and their experience, and then reminding them to leave Google reviews of the QR code, and also showing the workout of the week that we will have cycling depending on what week it is. Things like that. And then we’re about to have a Discover Strength clinical rotation. We’re going to advertise that on the TV as well and just keep clients ready to have that in our space.
Lawrence: Can you do me a favor and shoot a tour video for this blog post?
Skyler: Yeah, absolutely.
Lawrence: I’ll just embed it on the blog post so people can see what we are talking about when we talk about the studio, and the machines and stuff.
Skyler: Yeah, absolutely.
Lawrence: Awesome. Thank you. What machines do you have now?
Skyler: NO! I know. There’s something funny…
Lawrence: I didn’t realize that.
Skyler: I’ve got a MedX Prone Leg Curl.
Lawrence: Because all that Skyler talks about is just MedX Prone Leg Curl.
Skyler: It’s the best. It is purple. It is amazing.
Lawrence: You stole that from me. Are you aware of that?
Skyler: The Prone Leg Curl?
Lawrence: Yeah. I was interested in that and you were like all over it.
Skyler: Here’s why. Because Bill Casto. We’re not entirely convinced he isn’t Drew Baye. They sound the same on the phone. A year ago when I sold my SuperSlow Systems leg curl, he said, “Hey, I’ve got you on the top of my list for the first Prone Leg Curl that comes up. You are it.” It had been almost a year and that popped up. I just gently reminded him of what he had told me. He said, “You’re right. I’ll give you 24-hours to confirm that you are buying this”, and then I reached out to a client. I talked to a client about it and he said, “Okay, I’ll float you.”
Lawrence: I love that you have clients who are willing to do that. I mean, that’s not the first time, right? When you first started out yourself you had clients that…
Skyler: I mean, when I made this move to this new space I had long-time clients paid basically 3 years in advance to give us the moving war chest.
Lawrence: That is just incredible.
Skyler: I’m on the hook for them. They are now my 3 years accreditor but they are consistent and they’ve been around long enough. Even though they are in their 70s, they are in pretty good keep.
Lawrence: What do you think enables you to build such good relationships that people are willing to do that and to invest in you, in your space, in the machines? What is that and how can we replicate that? 18 years?
Skyler: No, no. But you can have people who are really experienced and they are technically proficient and they are not good at building relationships. I sincerely believe that part of it is the trauma that I had as a kid moving at critical points and feeling like an outsider. I’m already wanting to be a helpful person as it is. So having to figure out how to make friends and be relational and agreeable but at the same time having a spine. All of this too. And also just providing service like trying to over deliver on this stuff. I don’t know why. It is just building relationship, being confident. Don’t take yourself seriously but take what you do seriously.
Jim Keen, he is so funny. He always likes to say, “What I have can’t be taught.” There is a little bit of that. I can piece it out. And we know this. We’re trying to upscale employees or convey things to clients and you go, “Here’s what it is.” And you have the image in your head and you try to explain it as fully as possible. You say, “I want something that cooks food.” And you have an oven in your head. And then the clients come back with two sticks and a rock. Or the trainer comes back with two sticks and a rock. And you go, “That does cook food. That’s not what I had in my mind.” Some of that is just trying to get… I don’t know. I’m good at small talk. Actually, it drives my wife crazy. My wife hates small talk. She would rather stick a knife in her eyeball than have small talk. Whereas, I’m all out small talk. I will chat, chat, chat, run my mouth.
Lawrence: You are very relational actually. You are very, very warm, welcoming and great at building rapport. That’s really evident.
Skyler: My mom was good at that.
Lawrence: The same here. I’m similar to be honest. It is interesting because I had a really awkward meeting recently with one of our clients who is a lawyer. I have a therapist. I was talking to him about it because this interaction went really badly. It actually took me out for a whole two days. That is all I thought about. Did I do something wrong? I have a bit of a people pleaser bias to me. I got over it after a week and I thought I’d bring this up in a therapy session because we can deconstruct it and it will be good. Anyway, in a nutshell it sounds like I was trying to build a relationship and he was not interested in that. And to give people some context I was trying to ask questions about his experience as a client and he just didn’t want to have that conversation. And it was just incredibly awkwardly intense. There’s more to it but I won’t…
Skyler: I mean, that’s a great point. One of the things that I’m endlessly trying to do when I’m bringing somebody in as a client. I’m trying to weed out the people who want to control the session. I would never try to micromanage my surgeon, the surgeon doing my colonoscopy. I’m going to talk about the options I have for imaging. I remember my mom’s primary cancer was colon cancer. I have to be on top of this and I’m going to have a discussion, and think about treatment plans or, not treatment, I don’t have cancer. But sort of here are my options for imaging or sort of following up on this. What is actually the best for me? I am thinking about this because I don’t want to be invasive and then he can be like well, this, that, or the other thing. But then at the end of the day I am hiring the expert for a reason.
I’m always trying to convey that to somebody else coming in like, “Hey, if you could do this on your own you would already be doing it.” I don’t mean that in a dismissive way but I mean that just statistically. The people who can lift weights by themselves are already lifting weights. They have already prioritized it. They have it in their time. You might know how to do it but without the accountability you are probably not going to do it. We are the experts and we are going to take care of everything. You are just here to show up, get ready to work really hard, and give us candid feedback so we can iterate the process as we go along and deliver you the best workout possible in these 30 minutes. If somebody just can’t let go or they want to try to micromanage, we want them in our space. I’m always trying to filter that and we need candid feedback.
I tell this to Zack, our new trainer. I was saying, “Look, you can say…” I actually asked this of [unclear] He says, “I don’t want to train legs. I do a lot of pilates.” I’m saying, “You’re going to train legs for all of these reasons that you can’t get in pilates. Now, we have a lot of exercises that can address that but we are going to address it in some ways. If you don’t like options A, B, and C, then we need to find D, E, or F, and then we’re going to progress it.” But you can’t come in and say, “Hey, I need your help and I’m going to tell you exactly how you and your expertise are going to help me.” It’s more of we’re going to have a discussion.
Lawrence: Yeah. No, I like that. Notice when I’m saying that I’m not saying it in a way that is… This is some of the experience too, right. This is like I don’t have impostor syndrome. It’s almost like good luck finding somebody else. As knowledgeable as me, that’s not cocky. It’s just like, look, this is how it works. The price is the price. Our process is the process. We have lifelong fans because they get results. We want to show you what we do because that gets the results. But if you are not interested, if you are interested in trying to control the session then we are not going to be the place for you.
Lawrence: You are that. You have so much career capital that you are so rare and valuable that it’s just reaping rewards for you now and it’s so cool to see.
Skyler: It is very cool to see. You’re right. I’m very cognizant of how there is a point where there’s just almost dessert in the middle and you are like, “Does this count. Am I doing it? Am I ever going to be good at this?” I could see this in Zack who is our newest employee because he is our youngest employee. He is 26 or 27. He is a great guy and he is super knowledgeable. He has taught exercise physiology at University of Texas at Austin. He is working on his Master’s degree. Compared to somebody his age, he has a lot of educational background and experience but he doesn’t have enough reps saying… I think you were talking about this changing the, or Owen was talking about changing one of their core values from customer service to communication. It is more important to say, “Here’s why we are going to do what we are going to do” than it is to have the rapport, “I want to do more of this.” I sent that video or the audio of how we do a quarterly check in with a client. If I say, “Hey, you want to work on your shoulders more? What do you want to do?” And they say, “I want to work on my legs.” It’s like, “Cool. Great.” We are going to put that together and we are going to do a workout. It’s going to be a Smart Strength workout. It’s not going to be Total Body, right? You have given me feedback and I can take that feedback and make a great workout for you but you’re not doing the program by yourself. You are not dictating. You can help dictate and build the content of the workout but you can’t dictate the structure of the workout. I think that’s very important.
Lawrence: Yeah, I like that.
Skyler: Unless there’s an orthopedic issue. Let’s be clear. You are training through pain. But that’s the only reason. If I pull a trainer’s card and I don’t see certain categories of movement. I’m like, “Where are they hurt?” Because otherwise it should be on here. Or did I just pull the week before a marathon and that’s why they are not training their legs. What is going on?
Lawrence: Yeah, and I appreciate you. Skyler recorded an audio of him demonstrating the stay interview before a marker workout or a strength test workout to want to progress. It was just 3 or 4 questions and he went through the whole thing. You basically roleplayed it. I thought that was so good that we’ve implemented it. We updated our existing process because it just made sense. It’s way more efficient.
Skyler: It just needs to be quick too. It’s the perfect conversation. You want to do it. And that’s part of the reason we move to marker workout rather than some sort of strength test out of the sports science world because clients are still there for a workout. I think they are still there for a workout.
Lawrence: Bryce made a really good point. He says I don’t feel I can do it as a separate thing and says I’m efficient because it is just consuming more client time. And I thought, yeah, you make a good point. And then you showed exactly how you do that. Anyone who is listening who is interested, we have that inside HIT Business Membership where Skyler let me upload that audio there so you can actually learn how he runs that stay interview. It’s really smooth and quick.
Skyler: It’s really quick. Obviously, I’m acting as if the client has the answer right at the top of their head. It can take more than the 40 seconds I went through it. But the point is the marker workout is a shorter workout. It’s one of the few times we can talk about this too. I’m actually telling them you are going to sell out on every exercise. You are going to go so I can’t do another repetition in good form. I’m actually going to failure on this workout. First is within the context of most Smart Strength workouts. There might be one exercise that I haven’t sold out on. Every workout and the rest they are either getting to fatigue or they are going up to the top of the rep range and getting some sort of advanced overload. But I’m not having them, “I only want everyone you got. Let’s go”, kind of thing.
Lawrence: Why only one exercise they sell out on? I’m just curious what’s the purpose of that?
Skyler: Let’s step back briefly and talk about this in the context of when we talk about being evidence-based exercise, evidence-based fitness, we can actually go back to my rant that I put on Instagram. You look at the preponderance of the literature, people testing this stuff, is that if you are starting a client off brand new… The James-es have done this research and there are a lot of other people. People can do one or two repetitions and have no idea whatsoever how many repetitions they can actually do in a set. So they go, you’d pick up, “How many you can do?” “Oh, 8.” And then you let them do 14. In that context in the beginning, taking somebody to muscular failure or task failure which we’ll talk about Al Coleman’s distinction. It’s an important one.
The task failure is all part about learning what actual task failure or being near failure feels like. That’s why getting beginners or novices to failure produces great results, better results, up to 50% better improvement when you do a meta-analysis. Yes, I know. The James-es will cover you about meta-analysis. Let’s say for the sake of argument that all the researchers are acting in good faith and they are measuring to the highest fidelity that our humanness can approximate with going to failure. That’s probably because most people don’t know what actually getting close to fatigue feels like. They are not familiar with hard work so in order for them to become tuned into what it feels like to be close to fatigue where the most effective repetitions are, then we need to go to fatigue. We need to get there. But then in the middle to the long term just getting close produces very similar results to getting all the way.
In that sense, then you look at a lot of the research like Wayne Westcott has done using the ACS guidelines of the things of this nature. Or it is like old Darden’s stuff where we have a rep range we want somebody to be in. If they get above that, I’m giving them some sort of advanced overload because they’ve had a great workout. And I’m increasing the weight next time to hopefully knock them back and meet that rep range to fatigue or close to fatigue when the form starts getting really squirrelly. If they get all the way, if they go outside of that rep range, great. Or if they don’t, if they get to fatigue or they go outside of rep range. If you get to fatigue, great. If the next repetition fatigues, great. If it doesn’t, great. Because you’ve gone to the top of the range. One of two things are going to happen. Either you are going to have the maximum stimulus, the maximum of repetitions. Because as I like to point out, there is no more stimulus past the rubicon of fatigue. Blasting clients with 27 repetitions past failure or whatever doesn’t seem to produce the results that you would expect it to. Just getting to failure is huge and doing that consistently week after week after week and keeping the ball rolling.
I mean, we’ve all done this where we say, “Hey, if getting to fatigue did this for us. What is beyond fatigue?” And the answer is a lot of soreness and dread but not a tripling of results. As long as they are moving with control. We don’t assign a cadence or it’s on speed up slow down depending. Unless they are starting off with us to do a pure Super Slow protocol. And then in the middle to long term it’s descriptive. Control the turnarounds. Don’t let gravity take the weight. Don’t use momentum to lift the weight and whatever that speed is the rep speed. Keep it clean or it doesn’t count is actually their call in line. We kind of work off of that, so that’s why.
Lawrence: Did we answer the question?
Skyler: Yeah, that’s why.
Lawrence: Nice little cookie here. The reason we don’t go to fatigue on every single exercise is that once people know how to get close to fatigue and we have a history with their performance over time… I’d rather progress the weight on a more consistent basis and keep the repetition of a high quality than chase fatigue at all cost because it just doesn’t seem to produce better results in the middle to long term. You want middle to long term clients.
Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. Just getting back to your studio and the machines you have. I’m curious why you get rid of the Super Slow Leg Curl?
Skyler: I didn’t even tell you all the equipment I have. But I will tell you why I don’t use it.
Lawrence: No, I’m curious about that in particular and then we can…
Skyler: Unless you are doing pure Super Slow with it it’s a terrible machine. It is a fantastic machine for Super Slow. It was built by Ken to do Super Slow. But if you deviate from 10-10 even a little bit, the cam is too radical, the transitioning sit becomes too violent even at modestly, even if you move to 5-5. Clients are like, “Wow!” As the thing it yanks forward. And then you always have to be messing with the crank.
Lawrence: Yeah, very manual.
Skyler: That is why I got rid of it. And also, Owen and I were talking about this where he said he has the MedX Seated Leg Curl and he had the MedX Prone Leg Curl at the first Live Oak. He felt like he could just get more out of the Prone Leg Curl and so I said, “Okay, I’m sold.” Originally I was seeking it for a client who had muscular dystrophy so I could pin it up and have a target for her to do a static against and we could see when she would lose the ability to control one side of her body against a target. And then she moved to Boston to be near one of her daughters so it didn’t matter anymore. To do negative accentuated work it would be a useful tool because it is just easier to do in a prone position.
Lawrence: Yeah, we just got a few new machines for those interested. We are waiting for them to be delivered. But they should deliver them a bill for June which is really exciting. We’ve got the MedX Seated Leg Curl. It is not the Prone. It is a leg curl which we don’t have. MedX Hip Abduction/Adduction and MedX Bicep Curl. It’s the most important one obviously. And the Torso Rotation. We are very excited.
Skyler: I love the Torso Rotation. It’s a good one. Do you know if it’s the old style restraint or the new style restraint?
Lawrence: I don’t know to be honest.
Skyler: Have you seen it?
Lawrence: I mean, yeah go on.
Skyler: The new style restraint looks like the lumbar. It’s got the giant beam and you can slide the feet forward and backwards and the restraint forwards and backwards. The old style restraint is like a crank pull. And so depending you let me know and I can tell you.
Lawrence: I think it’s the former.
Skyler: Well, if you’ve done a lumbar then you would know how to restrain..
Lawrence: Yeah, exactly. I’m familiar. We’ve got the Lumbar Extension. I’m trying to think the Torso Rotation wasn’t on our must have list of machines because oblique you can get with other exercises. We have a lot of other machines already like Big 5, plus MedX Lumbar, plus the Hammer Leg Extension, and we have PowerBlocks in the bench. We have a must have list that I put together which was for the remaining but those machines weren’t available so we’ve got on that list were the Abduction/Adduction, Seated Leg Curl.
Skyler: You have a Hammer Leg Extension, right?
Lawrence: We do. Which I also use for our calf raises occasionally because the front you can load up one of the sides and hold it. But anyway, the Bicep Curl is kind of a bonus and we got a really good deal. We know the chap and we negotiated a nice deal there. And the Torso Rotation was like a bonus. There’s still a few other gaps but I feel like with these, with what we already have, we have such a good arsenal now of really delivering great workouts. I mean, we are already giving great workouts but I feel now we can so I’m excited. Sorry, I sabotaged that a bit.
Skyler: Well, and this is why we wanted a bigger space because yes indeed Big 5, Big 3, whatever. There’s not much more time to be a little bit more comprehensive. I think back to Mike Bradley’s talk with you about injuries and how people… We walk around on two feet but we tend to get injured in one joint. Just to have those tools like right now I’m dealing with a woman who has a frozen shoulder. She is a longtime client but every member of her family had frozen shoulders in both shoulders. She has just a congenital predisposition to frozen shoulders. And so the ability to do unilateral pullover and some of these other exercises in a unilateral way would be really difficult. It would be really difficult to get her a quality workout without having these tools available to us. So it’s like training as much healthy muscle tissue as possible. Keep as much muscularity as possible and keep her metabolic rate as high as possible.
I’m coming back full circle. What equipment do I have? You can see me doing this with my hands. CAROL, MedX Pullover, Prone Leg Curl, Gluteator, MedX Leg Extension, Fettle which is a remanufactured Hammer Strength with some tweaks, Fettle Plate-Loaded Abduction. And then we have a Life Fitness G5 Cable Column which is like a Swiss Army knife, MedX Lumbar, MedX Dip, MedX Rotary Torso, an old ARX Alpha, an old ARX Omni, Nitro Pec Fly Rear Delt, Nitro Row, MedX Chest Press, MedX Lateral Raise, and Nitro Leg Press, and then we have a chin up bar that’s recently been mounted to the ceiling.
Lawrence: Is that the one in the kitchen?
Skyler: Yeah, it looks like it’s the kitchen. That’s just an extension of the space.
Lawrence: I see.
Skyler: You’ll see in the video. The space extends into that.
Lawrence: You have so much equipment. I didn’t realize you had so much.
Skyler: By the end of the year I want to ditch the Omni which I’ve been trying to sell for two years. And then I want to get a MedX Torso Arm, the new style handles. And maybe a MedX Overhead Press. And then at some point a 4-way neck machine. That’s got to be a MedX Four-Way Neck machine or Dynamic Health and Fitness makes basically a remanufactured with tweaks version of the Avenger 4-Way Neck. The tweaks allow you to isolate tilting and nodding from the rest of the neck movement. This is flexion and this is extension. Tilting and nodding is literally just moving it to the last possible space in your head. All the movement is up here the rest of my neck is unmoving. They have set it so you can isolate that.
Lawrence: Why is that important?
Skyler: When we think about flexion, flexion is sternocleidomastoid. These guys right here running all the way down. The movement begins and ends above the collarbone. Neck Extension. If you haven’t seen Doug’s video about how to train your neck.
Lawrence: It’s so good.
Skyler: It’s so great but the point is that you got a lot of these neck extensors that run all the way down to your tailbone because [unclear] lumbar extensors running three layers from your tailbone up to ribs, sort of middle up the ribs and then the back of your neck. And similarly a lot of the neck extensors and all the way down [unclear] movement. But you’ve got these… I’m forgetting the name of them. Bryce I apologize. You’ve got these little tiny pairs of muscles that basically attach the skull to the top of the neck and so this isolates their movement and you have some people. Oh, what’s his name? He used to work with Mark Asanovich. He calls himself the intelligent exercise researcher. And his entire research at Virginia Polytech was about… Ralph, not Ralph Carpinelli, he is the researcher. It’s another guy. It was all about how you can potentially get ahead of concussion prevention. I know James Steele says no exercise study is ever good enough. But the argument that is being made is that if we can control, if we can decelerate the head sooner, or with more control, with more eccentric control then you are going to shake the head around in the skull less. The argument also that Doug is making for strengthening the sternocleidomastoid, and he is corroborating this against the medical device called the Q-Collar which fits around here and it squeezes right at the jugular vein, and it increases a negative pressure gradient of blood into the brain. I want to say cerebrospinal fluid but I don’t remember that for sure. As a result, your brain isn’t just against your skull, it is floating in liquid. If you have this increase pressure gradient, the brain can’t smash around in your skull as quickly because it has a consistent fluid pressure blocking excess movement versus if you have a lot of fluid that’s drained out of your skull or a reduced fluid load in your skull then the brain can move easily within your skull. Doug goes into the anatomy of this in that video. You should really check it out.
Lawrence: Yeah, I’ll put that in the show notes.
Skyler: The idea is having this really strong neck period. And then even if you’re an impact sport wearing a Q-Collar is just a nice bonus.
Lawrence: I think this is good. Just very quickly. You did a really good job of explaining that with first principles. But James made a good point that there isn’t science to test that.
Skyler: No. James’ point is that the study that we want to do is you have one group doing neck work and you have another group not doing neck work. It has a large enough size to be statistically significant for us to say yes that thing that we did on that intervention actually created the outcome we want which is to reduce concussions or head injuries. Those studies are actually being done because they [unclear] and they’re like, “James is crazy. James is busy playing golf and doing his VR drumming crap.” I am not busy with four kids, but really I don’t play golf. I don’t have another hobby to take me away from my strength training love and obsession so I dug into it. And there are a number of clinical trials that actually trying to do what James is saying is hard to do. I believe it’s hard to do. He is the researcher. I’ve only dabbled it in graduate school so I know it’s not an easy thing to do. But people are trying to answer that question in that way because a lot of people are as you said they’ve made a first principles argument. Medicine is littered with first principles arguments that in the black box of the human body break out.
Lawrence: Right. Exactly. Which is why science has to test it and to prove it.
Skyler: We call that lab coding years ago on Lyle McDonald’s forum where people would bring together studies. This study shows this, and then this study shows this, and this study shows this, and if you take them together we should have this outcome, which bodybuilders have done for years. Before it was biohacking it was just bodybuilders being bros. That’s all it was. Because all that stuff, the biohackers did, we were doing in the early 2000’s with other supplements but it was just to get jacked. It wasn’t to improve our mitochondrial density or whatever.
Lawrence: Awesome. You’ve gone through the space. You’ve gone through some of the additional machines you want to get. Sorry, I know we went on another interesting tangent there.
I’m interested in clinical rotation. A lot of us are enamored by Discover Strength and how good their trainers are and how much we can learn from them. And obviously, their intent is to learn from you. I’m just curious. How are you feeling about that? What are you excited about in terms of seeing from them and learning from them and imparting on them?
Lawrence: I’m sure David will appreciate this. It was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
Lawrence: So it’s Matt. Okay.
Skyler: Because we talked at REC back in October and he and I had just great rapport. He had a lot of great questions. It just seems like one of those Peter Attia for as much as we [unclear] has a great saying where he says, “I don’t want to be right. I want to know the most stuffed.” And so knowing the most stuff means being wrong or being willing to relearn something. I sent him a message and said. So Matt says we are going to do this thing. Great and I reached out to David and I said, “David, Skyler Tanner here. Matt just reached out to me about doing a clinical rotation. And I just don’t know if it will be helpful for DS. I’m just going to teach him how to make incredible brisket and tacos. I’m not sure if that’s going to benefit future DS clients. And David immediately is like, “We learn a ton by spending some time with you. We’d help to set up a call. We really value what you do.” David, we love you. This is why you got the big title because you take this stuff seriously and you want to make it right.
Lawrence: He is a professional.
Skyler: He is very professional. I, on the other hand, just tell jokes all day long. The point I make to Matt is we’re going to learn a ton. But Austin, we love hospitality like Southern hospitality is real. We are going to take them to some great restaurants. We are going to have the Austin experience. He is going to crush some clients. We’re going to learn a lot from him because there are a bunch of ab exercises that he didn’t get to do with the last REC that I was like, “Our trainers need to know that.” And so Matt is going to do that. We talked about why we do things differently than DS in some ways but also philosophically why the core is chewy. The peanut buttery center of our M&Ms is basically the same.
Lawrence: Yeah, absolutely. Are you thinking of sending out your trainers on clinical rotations? Do you think it’s going to do?
Skyler: I’d like to do that. At some point I don’t know what that looks like. Realistically, it’s probably not a week. Realistically something like that is just on a cost basis. It’s probably going to be like a 3-day thing. Alright we are going to send it to Owen in San Francisco. I’m going to send you out on Thursday night. It would probably be Wednesday night and come back Saturday night. Something like that. I would like to do that. But we got to have enough revenue. No margin, no mission.
Lawrence: I had that one before. I like that. I was looking at the website just to get a refresher on your business a bit more. I noticed you are not taking any bookings. No more clients at this stage.
Skyler: I’m not. I actually need to update that a little bit. I have a 2+ year waiting list. I don’t mean I have people waiting in the queue ready to go. It means that I’ve not had any availability.
Lawrence: Will they not train with your team?
Skyler: Oh no. I mean, this is what I’m saying. I have clients who already train with me once a week. I’m waiting for that second time to open up and become available on my calendar. Or even I’ve got a couple of clients who are like, “Skyler if you overtake for a third workout, please.” And I’ll explain how we might do that if you want to go into that. How we might do a third workout even though we advertise an hour a week. I’ve not had any availability. It’s the most stable client roster of my life. I actually tell everybody that. When they’ve been referred to me I say, and I got this line from Sherri McMillan. When people come in I’m like, “Look, I have no availability. My waiting list is 2 years. You don’t want to train with me anyway because I also have to run the business. That’s all I can do. To just keep the clients I have. The trainer I’m going to set you up with, they are solely focused and interested in delivering a great experience for you. You are going to have a wonderful workout with them.” Yeah, that’s where I’m at. Edwin for a while because he was doing about 50 sessions a week. That’s about as much as he actually wants to do right now. And then I think at some point if the business grows to a point where we have multiple locations, we actually need a managing team. He’d probably upskill into being our Director of Marketing or something like that.
Lawrence: How many sessions are you doing in a week in total at the moment? If you don’t mind me asking.
Skyler: This is tricky because we also just absorbed Zack from a Super Slow facility that went out of business recently. I can tell you that right now, we had our best first of the month charge ever this past month. I can go and dig into MINDBODY and that’s not important. But we are doing it somewhere in the neighborhood.
Lawrence: Just approximately.
Skyler: Yeah, let me think. I’m doing 80 sessions a week. Edwin where he is right now 44-45 sessions a week, and then Abigail on top of that another 10, so 135-140 sessions a week right now. Zack was doing 50 sessions a week over at the place where he was coming from. I don’t know how many of those people are coming over. I don’t know if that will fully realize because we are coming in the summer. Especially where we are in Austin, they’d go somewhere else for the summer. They disappear for a number of weeks in the summer. The full realization of this bloodless merger without the acquisition cost is going to not be realized until August or September. But I fully expect that by that point we are doing north of 150-160 sessions a week.
Lawrence: Yeah, great. Excellent.
Skyler: In one location that’s not even 1400 sq. ft. I’ve got a client who keeps on wanting me to open a second location. And I just point at DS’s website and go, “If we can make it look something like this then…” Luke is leading from the front but we are going to make it… Let him take the bumps and then we are going to learn from him as far as the build out and the quality of the build out and the experience of being in the space. It’s hard to argue with what they’ve done.
Lawrence: Is it private? Remind me. Is yours private?
Skyler: It is always a 1:1 ratio. We had three trainers and three clients going the other day and my head is on a swivel like this. Hold on here. This is a great opportunity to talk about this. In the beginning, when you are working at our space, we are doing pure Super Slow in the same order, the same build out, the progression is the same, the same questions after every exercise, the same coaching points. Once we get to the point in which we are out of the start smart programming and we are starting to diversify the routine, then I leave it up to our trainers and myself that if somebody… You are trying to keep the client in the tunnel. They come in and they are going to be boom, boom, boom, go through their workout. If somebody is on your piece of equipment that you’re going to go to and some other trainer is coming down the pipe on that piece of equipment next, you need to be quick on your feet as a trainer and go, “Okay, within this category what can I do right now.” What can I use to train them in this way right now? Is that the order of the workout changes. The exercises will sometimes change based on the busyness of the floor and so the workout itself no longer is a viable tool to measure progress from workout to workout.
It is a stimulus and one that has now a little bit of variation as a function of the realities of being on a busier training floor. This is why I like the idea of a marker workout. Because if you are in a marker workout then you are saying, I’m telling the team marker workout. They all know the order of the exercises I’m going in.
Lawrence: Non-negotiable, yeah.
Skyler: It’s non-negotiable. It’s the same and I tell people if you are doing a start smart you are doing a marker workout. I’m working around you. You have the exercises in the order that you’re going through them and I will re-organize my client’s workouts to accommodate that. The trainer gets the big iPad. I get a small iPad or my phone. I’m trying to background myself as much as possible. In marketing I’m trying to make it about our incredible team. I’m not trying to make it the Skyler show with a thousand helpers. Even if I’m so full I want them to have an environment that is conducive to maximizing their skillset and delivering a great experience for their clients as they build up their client load.
Lawrence: Just to give the listeners some view on revenues. What is the price point per session?
Skyler: $67 a session is right out. Some people are either buying 4 sessions a month or 8 sessions a month. Sessions expire at the end of the month. [unclear] you can train with any of our trainers even though you have a head coach who is wanting the traditional personal training with the way DS does it. If you need to reschedule, you are going to reschedule and I’ll put you on Zack’s schedule, or Abigail’s schedule, or whoever’s schedule. We are going to do that. And actually speaking of that, [unclear] sees one thing while I’m thinking about this now because…
Lawrence: Yeah, that’s okay.
Skyler: I was thinking about the Slack because I dropped some people on Abigail’s schedule here. Let’s see. [unclear] This is literally in real-time.
Lawrence: While you’re doing that. While Skyler is doing that, if anyone is interested. Apologies for plugging the Membership again. Skyler was talking about the importance of how you manage exercise order when you’ve got multiple trainers training multiple clients. Luke recorded a tremendous podcast on this in the Membership. Something like how to generate maximum profit out of your machine lines or something like that where he had really clear filters like these are the rules that we follow when running a client through a workout, when we’ve got multiple sessions going at the same time and the machine is taken which is your next machine. He has rules about what you can do…
Skyler: We do too.
Lawrence: Exactly, right. You can do upper body and lower body and then the order you just have to do the upper body in the same order. Meaning, if you’ve got chest press, row, tricep extension, you can keep that order so long as you… You can still put leg exercises in between as almost to keep that order. Rules like that for example in order to provide a little bit more flexibility to enable a smooth workflow basically. You can go to highintensitybusiness.com/membership to get access to that and lots of stuff.
Skyler: That’s actually why I like the idea of a marker workout because if you are keeping this client experience because you are not going to be able to… and you have to switch the order. You have to accommodate everybody on the floor, exercises are going to change. I’m not as worried about going progress workout to workout within a program, within a 12-week block because of that number one. Because if all of a sudden you’re going to move the chest press around in relation to the exercise that came before it, your performance is going to be different.
I’m less concerned about the number. And we’ve talked about that in a previous podcast where as long as we’re getting close to fatigue, the stimulus is happening.I want to see that number progress over time. We are much more, like I said, I’m not interested in driving the rubicon of fatigue. I’m much more interested in micro loading of weight and seeing strength go up over time because it is the name Smart Strength. Hypertrophy at the end of the day I’m not much bigger than I was 10 years ago even though I’ve spent a lot of mental resources trying to figure out how to have that. Luke, I love you. You are not either. James Fisher, I love you. You are not either.
The only thing that grows into infinity is cancer. Mike Bradley said with the athletes, you are going to see really early gains of most of the size for strength training really early on. I was reading about this, when you have the gift, the gift shows up early. What was his name? Dave… I did this [unclear] Here’s this Mr. Olympia whose name I’m forgetting.
Lawrence: Oh, Phil Heath.
Skyler: Heath. Thank you. Yeah. He looked muscular then and then when he met some powerlifters that he just came across and within 2.5 months he was stronger and bigger than any of them. He had the gift obviously. It showed up really early on. As soon as he started deliberately working on this stuff he took multiple Mr. Olympia.
My focus is not on… Mike Bradley said the first 30 years of his training he is trying to get big and strong as possible. And now he is trying to be as strong and lean as possible. Yes you can go into it about co-contraction and acquired ability. But at the end of the day if you are training on a consistent enough basis, there is nobody out there who is bench-pressing 400lbs. who is like 100lbs. If they are, it’s because their arms are this short. There is a relationship. It could be a very weak one as Jeremy Loenekke will talk about between strength and muscularity. And then you also have what Mike Gittleson talked about back in 2008, where Keith Baar who is in the University of Davis talked about. What we used to think was just being really well wired was a really integrated musculotendinous junction. I like to think on a dad strength basis. My dad was not very good at lifting weights when he was training. And he trains at the Planet Fitness and he is better than he was and his health is good but he could always wrestle an engine block out of the car and get it to the front yard and clean it off. I can do that and I could lift more weight than him so I wonder if some of that is just as we age you have this increased integration of the musculotendinous junction. And that was Gittleson’s point from that presentation all those years ago was that stretching is about maintaining this mid-range where the tendon doesn’t creep deeply into the muscle that you lose the pliability and flexibility at the expense of just brute force strength and automatic structural integrity. And then keep [unclear] that he thought were helpful as far as maintaining that pliability.
Lawrence: Total random tangent. You got me thinking about this because I’ve been talking about it with some people recently. How do you feel about TRT?
Lawrence: Yeah. There’s obviously a lot of talk about it recently in our little WhatsApp group. I’ve had a good friend of mine who’s been public about it so I can say his name – Scott Myslinski – who is just packed on a serious amount of weight like 160.
Skyler: Yes. Hold on, wait a second. TRT let’s remind all the viewers at home, that’s doing steroids. I’m not saying that in a judgment call but you see it is a very white collar. It is a class washing. It’s a, “I’m doing TRT for longevity.” First of all we have lots of lifelong steroids users who aren’t living longer than average. Whatever theoretical first principles weigh in which some physicians are arguing that you should take 200mg of Test Depo a week. And that’s a small dose and you are going to the upper end of the range. The outcome study of interest, we don’t have it. We have outcomes that more lean tissue and more strength lead to better all-cause mortality outcomes. But that isn’t a sample that is a population sample. Most people aren’t taking exogenous testosterone. And there is something to be said where for whatever reason it seems like exogenous testosterone even though it is testosterone at a given dose getting you to a certain point in the distribution seems to be more anabolic than just being at that amount of testosterone to begin with. Because that amount of testosterone your body naturally has.
And I say this is why on my next visit to my GP I’m going to get a testosterone, like a number, free testosterone, sex hormone-binding globulin. These sort of things. Because you could be in a normal range but you are at the upper limit. If all of a sudden your number starts to track down to the middle, your GP actually has a point in history with you individually saying, “Hey, you used to be in the upper, let’s get you back there. You are going to feel more like yourself.” Versus somebody who was always at the upper end of the limit. They come down to the normal end of the limit. And the doctor is like, “You’re fine. You are at the normal limit.” They go, “I feel terrible.” Your normal testosterone was in the high end of the population average or the population belle curve within the diaspora of the rest of your physiology. All of a sudden you are adding to the milligrams of testosterone to get you to the top of the normal distribution curve. Yes, you don’t have as much as Phil Heath as far as the amount of testosterone you are adding to your body. But it is still far more than you had in relation to all of the other hormones in your body and it seems to be more anabolic as a result of that. So Mike, because he’s been very public about it. He messaged me years and years ago about early osteoporosis.
Lawrence: This is Scott you mean. Sorry.
Skyler: Scott. I’m sorry. Yes, Scott. About having osteoporosis at a really young age and really having sarcopenia being in a sport of rowing which prioritizes having the lightest chassis possible for a given [unclear] and then it rewards poor eating behaviors. So people see Scott and they’ll go, “Ah, is that carnivore diet?”, “Ah, it’s moving away from HIT.” And I go, “Ah, it is supplemental testosterone.” I cannot express this enough to you. Give elderly people testosterone and nothing else and they’ll put on 5-7 kilos. Nothing else. They’ve done no strength training whatsoever. It is that powerful, that anabolic. Carnivore diet, whatever, testosterone. It was always the testosterone. I’m glad he’s continuing to train through it. Not Dave Draper. It might be Dave Draper. He is the Ohio bald powerlifter, EliteFTS I think.
Lawrence: I wouldn’t know. No, Dave Draper was a bodybuilder, wasn’t he?
Skyler: Is that the Blond Bomber?
Lawrence: Yeah, that’s it.
Skyler: Okay. Then there’s Dave. He is a powerlifter out of Ohio. Has a company called EliteFTS.com and they build a bunch of equipment. And he had a great line that is whatever level you have to do drugs, the next level you’re going to be an [unclear]. So if you are a high school football player and you have to take testosterone, you’re just going to be on the bench in college. I can’t stress enough, anybody who says testosterone doesn’t work is just ignoring the literature or they haven’t looked at it. It is incredibly powerful. These people who are, they are not getting two linebackers with testosterone. It’s amazing people at REC are openly talking about TRT. And then they are also trying to sell you on the efficacy of their training system, or their tool, or their machine. And I was like, “It’s the TRT.” It’s the TRT. It was always what it was.
Lawrence: Well, the resistance training and the diet enhances the response obviously.
Skyler: 100%. It just allows you to recover faster. You are not anymore anabolic but you’re able to train more.
Lawrence: I’m just curious as well. Does it enable you to partition more calories if you overeat? I mean, a lot. Does it allow you to partition more calories into muscle tissue that otherwise would be stored as fat or wasted, or whatever. Do you know that?
Skyler: Well, probably not as much. But then a lot of bodybuilders for a while they also supplement insulin because they were trying to hammer the nutrition into their muscles. There is a joke. You go back thinking about all these MuscleTech ads. Which is great because Jay Vincent did some MuscleTech modeling. There is always this old [unclear] who is like 5’3” Australian bodybuilder, a really muscular dude. [unclear] as if the MuscleTech supplements made him ripped. He is like the [unclear] powerlifter, dad bod [unclear] even though he is on a lot of anabolics. Maybe but there is a limit. And if you are more muscular you have more storage capacity. That is also contributing.
Lawrence: Yeah, exactly, right. What about yourself? Would you consider taking it at some point?
Skyler: Remember, Patrick Arnold invented 4AD which is a pro-hormone. You can buy it as a DMSO gel. The same way you buy TRT. You can buy testo gel and rub it on here or here and it absorbs in the skin. And through a chemical process in the body would result in increasing your testosterone. It was quite anabolic. And then he just went one further. He didn’t invent 1-Testosterone. When people think about steroids it is illegal. What they actually mean is these steroids that were most effective and used by the bodybuilders in the 60’s and 70’s are illegal. There are a bunch of other steroids that just weren’t as effective that weren’t outlawed. The 1-Testosterone was one of them. I think it was stereoisomer testosterone. But don’t quote me. But it was an anabolic hormone like Dianabol. And Patrick Arnold came out with it. You could buy it. You could buy the pill. Methyl-1-Testosterone so it’s methylene. You can take too much of [unclear] Or you can go to GNC and buy a VPX product that was 1-Testosterone with a syringe. People were injecting themselves as a supplement from GNC. Let me tell you. 4AD and 1-Testosterone are very powerful substances. You are going to put on a lot of water. You gain a lot of strength. It resulted in some amount of extra lean tissue. But then you have to start asking the longevity question which I started with.
Lawrence: This is what I’m getting at.
Skyler: Arnold stopped the steroids a long time ago. I mean as far as we know. Maybe he is on really low doses of 1-Testosterone but not the amount the bodybuilders have. He is still not to the normal limit of longevity. Clarence Bass has documented extensively his steroid use for the 6-12 months he was using steroids in his early 40s. He is 85 now. He just says, “Look, yes, I’ve got some extra lean tissue. I was already Mr. America. I didn’t like the side effects.
Lawrence: What kind of side effects?
Skyler: Water retention, irritability. Because at the end of the day testosterone…
Lawrence: Is it the same as roid rage? Is that synonymous to that?
Skyler: It just makes you more of what you already are.
Lawrence: unclear] about this.
Skyler: It’s what I’m explaining right now. Testosterone has two functions – fuck it or kill it. That’s it. And they run really close together. You have some of the highest reported natural testosterone levels in present populations for good reason. If you are normally mild mannered and all of a sudden… Because remember testosterone is mostly being taken by white collar individuals because they can afford it. Because you can’t just sporadically take it. You have to be on it.
Lawrence: Then you’re on it for good pretty much, right? Because you can’t produce it indigenously.
Skyler: Yeah, indigenously. It depends on the dose. This is why the testicle shrinks, you get it from somewhere else… But you fuck it or kill it. If you are a normally mild mannered dude and all of a sudden traffic is going to irritate you. But if you are already an asshole. If you were already the bro in the gym who is already a piece of work and you take testosterone, then you’re that guy. You’d do that roid rage. It makes you the worst version. There’s a great This American Life from 12 years ago that an old girlfriend of mine introduced me to. This American Life is a radio show, NPR here in the States that went about testosterone. It’s fascinating because one was about this man who for whatever medical reasons he had no testosterone whatsoever. Suddenly he had no testosterone and now he has experienced that. There was some third story about a man who transitioned from being a woman and about what the testosterone was doing in their body and the experience of seeing an ankle and all of a sudden being flooded with pornographic imagery. And things of that nature like we are all 15-year old boys once too. I remember when that was just like, “Hey, that girl’s ankle.” “Oh god! Focus, Skyler. Get your head together.” It was to no fault because that was testosterone. Yeah, that’s my rant about testosterone. I’m not going to take testosterone unless I really need it.
Actually Clarence Bass is very funny. He’s gone to the Cooper Clinic every year for so long. In one of his recent I think it was 79, 80, 81, somewhere in that range. He had his highest reported testosterone level ever.
Lawrence: In his exogenous testosterone? Just living a healthy lifestyle?
Skyler: No. Yeah, you could go on. He would tell you what he is on. He is on some sort of beta blocker. No, not a beta blocker. He had an ablation recently in his heart. I think he was on some sort of rhythm control drug before that happened. He is on a small set I think [unclear] I mean, he talks about all that. Clarence’s story has been very candid. No, because I don’t want to be on that stuff forever.
Lawrence: Is it also potentially because of risks, maybe cancer growth and things like that?
Skyler: Yeah. I mean, just for me and my family history of cancer, it’s a better hedge. Again, we don’t have that outcome of like, “This guy has testosterone for 30 years and has cancer more.”
Lawrence: We don’t have the data for any of this stuff.
Skyler: It’s all principle and sort of bench science to make this guess. Which is why Dr. Spencer Nadolsky.
Lawrence: Okay. I’ve never heard of him.
Skyler: He is great. Go on his Instagram. He calls himself the chief memeologist because he communicates in memes. His residency is in family medicine. His fellowship is in obesity and lipidology. He is very critical of some of the longevity doctors because they are making a mechanistic argument but they don’t have the extra outcome piece that they are talking about which is what I say.
Here’s my sales pitch. Ready? I want to be weaker and out of breath more often said nobody ever. But what they have said is I’d like to be stronger and fitter but I just don’t have the time. At Smart Strength our team of experienced exercise physiologists will help you look better, feel better, and perform better in about an hour a week. You got time for that, right?
Skyler: We work upstream of medicine and with two big levers that we can pull – strength and lean muscle mass, cardiovascular capacity as measured by VO₂ not mitochondrial efficiency and all this stuff. When you look at this big population study people with more muscle mass are stronger tend to have better all-cause mortality lower relative risk. People who have the highest VO₂ within a population average. Not 90. Not like Lance Armstrong at his peak. 90 VO₂, within the population norms have the lowest relative risk and the highest, the best all-cause mortality.
Within my programming I’m looking to optimize that within an hour a week or maximize that. That’s why I have a CAROL Bike because resistance on a bike really drives VO₂ or augment, or prioritize VO₂ development. It doesn’t cannibalize or have the concurrent effect of resistance training by tamping down resistance training improvements. I also focus on performance and looking to increase the weight over time with a client rather than just destroying them with failure because it doesn’t seem to be that. And McGuff has talked about this. The studies that we used for our evidence-based is evidence-based practitioners with a high intensity training model are not done with impeccable form or some garbage, right? And so all the people who are making form based arguments like Al Coleman, I love them. I’ve used this idea of, and because I’m FMS certified and I had all the motor learning already so I understood him. But it’s one of those things where his take on it was interesting that the moment you change the spine, spinal position, you are changing the muscles that can be involved in that movement if the machine is engineered well. And then you’re done. That is a task failure. If you go from doing a chest press to trying to do this with the chest press, you are trying to turn it into a garbage shoulder press because you’re so tired that the muscles that the machine is intending to train are out. They’re done. So you are seeking something else and task failure. You’ve stimulated, you recruit no more fibers, you cannot up code their weight of contraction anymore. That’s it. Think about this. This is a chest press. This is an overhead press. This is a dip. My spine is in the same place. Here I am with my arms in the middle. I’m doing to change my spine, well, that’s an overhead press. That’s a dip. We tend to think about the plane of movement by where our hands are moving through. But Al’s point is a good one. If your hands are fixed you’re changing your spine, you’re doing the same thing. And often what happens when people go to fatigue and then they are going to do reps past fatigue or whatever. There is no study that I am aware of that demonstrates that that actually results in anything substantial or improved above just getting to fatigue so we focus on that for the longevity sake. If we do that then we’re going to prioritize to the extent that the client can get. Strength certainly and lean tissue, decent lifestyle, age and strength. And then we use the CAROL Bike sprints to augment VO₂ just a little bit more because it’s 8 minutes extra in the workout.
Lawrence: Yeah, I love that. We’ll definitely have to talk more about what holistic health and fitness looks like another day and get your latest thoughts on that. Like I did with Bryce that time when we talked about “Is HIT all you need?”, and he talked about a bunch of stuff. But I’m just conscious of time and I’ve got to look after my son, so we’re going to need to wrap that one up there. But before we do, how can people find out more about you, Skyler?
Skyler: You can email me email@example.com. That’s one word, no hyphens. I’m not on Twitter. Sure there is a Smart Strength Facebook Page somewhere because we paid the marketers to do that all those years ago but we don’t touch it. We do have an Instagram account which is @smartstrengthaustin. Or actually go to Discover Strength and then look at the followers, I’m sure you’ll find us there. You’ll find the one. My Instagram account is private. If you’re following me on Instagram it’s because I’ve let you follow me on Instagram.
Lawrence: Fair enough. Cool. Alright. And for everyone listening, to find the blog post for this episode and download the PDF transcript if you prefer to read it back; I think people are more inclined to listen to your charming voice again Skyler, please go to highintensitybusiness.com and search for episode 365. Until next time. Thank you very much for listening.