Mike: Today we’re going to be talking about what it’s like to own a gym. Matt you already mentioned having the doors open at your place, it sounds like SSPT is a no-AC kind of place.
Matt: We joke that we provide a free sauna in july and august. It can be hot but we find that most people like to be warm while they train. We try to keep the door open when people train. It lets the sunshine in and gives people the opportunity to walk in and out. Since we are only 2000 square feet, it makes the gym feel bigger.
Mike: Both of you own gyms. Matt you own SSPT, and Paulie you own South Brooklyn Weightlifting Club. Matt when did you start SSPT?
Matt: We opened our doors in January 2009, so we’ve been in business for around 6 years now. The idea was born prior to that and it took us almost an entire calendar year to
Mike: Paulie what about you, when did SBWC become a real thing.
Paulie: Becca and I had a screen-printing business and it started out of my own personal need to find a place where I could train the way I wanted to train. It’s very similar to SSPT in that we’re only about 3000 square feet. It’s kind of funny, we keep the garage doors open and in the winter, we’ve had the problem of people learning how to actually get in the gym when it gets cold out.
Mike: So it kind of evolved from your need to find space to train. Matt do you have a similar story?
Matt: Souix-z and I were training out of another facility and the owner allowed us to commandeer a corner of the gym where we did train. We started growing out of that space and we desparately wanted to start doing our own thing. We thought, we can do this better on our own and we can set our own expectations with our equipment and just do it our way. Out of that corner we wanted to expand a little bit.
Mike: Although we’ve been saying gyms, they aren’t really gyms in the traditional sense, but rather they are more like barbell clubs.
Paulie: Yes absolutely. We have to take time to differentiate by saying that we’re more of a training facility participating in two primary sports: Olympic weightlifting and powerlifting. It’s worked for us to be able to explain in that way. People generally understand.
Matt: I agree with Paulie completely here. I use the analogy that there are 9 other fitness facilities and we really aren’t competing with them because we are the only niche market game in town for what we do. People are completely polarized one way or another. We are exclusive with what we offer and what we don’t offer. People are attracted by our attention to detail, coaching, and equipment. And that either exactly what they want or they are completely blown out of the water and they want the sauna and the juice bar and that’s not what we are about, so we send them on their merry way down the road.
Mike: I think that is a really good point and important for any business is to have a good idea who your clientele really are. If you are in a spot where you can’t appreciate that we have Eleiko plates and you want to play squash then this just isn’t for you.
Paulie: It’s much easier for us as well. We’ve clearly defined ourselves for what we are and what we are not. We’re surrounded by CrossFit gyms and rock climbing gyms, an archery center, a fencing center, two chain gyms in addition to all the gyms in this area. We really don’t work really hard to sell people on joining this place. People do their homework and if they want a place to powerlift and to get strong then this is a great option for them.
Mike: I think that’s really cool. You mention that there are two chain gyms opening. You don’t seem to be concerned about it. That has to do with how you differentiated your product. It’s something that you aren’t going to get at a 24 Hour Fitness. Any gym owner isn’t going to be concerned if a Burger King opens down the street, it’s not even the same thing. And I think you are getting that same feeling.
Paulie: Absolutely. As a gym owner we stick to our game and it gives us confidence as we’re going forward. Things have changed a lot in the last 5 and a-half years, and we’ve created our own voice. SBWC is its own organism unique to gyms.
Mike: When you first started was it that way or did you need to evolve?
Paulie: I think so. It’s kind of like sourdough. It doesn’t automatically come with the flavor. It takes time. We always end up talking about food here in Brooklyn. Anyways, it took time to develop the gym culture and time for that to proliferate. Our gym is growing up and as people move they are taking that culture with them out to the rest of the world.
Matt: I would say that SSBC also has a similar tenor. It’s taken some time for us to evolve. Our voice and the way that we do things has come around. Our focus was narrow and we hit the nail on the head and now we are living and breathing the way that we want to be. Both of our training facilities are Platinum status in USAPL and both are known nationally. Paulie and Becca do a great job with their members and they have an extended family that is around the country now.
Mike: Shifting gears a little bit. Seeing as you both have facilities, what sort of advice would you give to somebody who is just starting out?
Paulie: There’s a lot of advice, but it’s up to them if they want to listen. (laughs) My kneejerk answer is “Don’t do it”. And I say that because I want to temper people’s expectations because people automatically assume they’ll have all the time in the world to train and it’s going to be awesome. And for the first few months it is. But then you get tired and you realize that you have to make money and you have responsibility for people’s lives and make decisions about peoples lifting careers. And then you have to keep the lights on.
Mike: It’s like that coaching relationship. You can be friends and have that relationship but there is a bit of professionalism that goes with it.
Paulie: Absolutely, these are all people but we are face to face three to four times per week and you have to sometimes be tough with people because you are their coach and you have to be impartial at times. I have a reputation for being the grumpy one, but it’s the agenda of the lifter that drives it. I’ll look after everybody and push them toward their goals as much as they are able to be pushed.
Mike: Ok Matt, what’s your take on opening a gym.
Matt: Ditto to everything Paulie said. But three main pieces of advice. One, start small. Everybody has these delusions of grandeur but you have to pay the bills and keep the lights on and additional square footage means more cleaning and higher rent etc. If you open and you start out too big then you are going to be in trouble. Secondly, be almost singularly focused. Much like SBWC, SSPT focuses on powerlifting and weightlifting. We consider ourselves some of the best in those disciplines. You’ve got to realize that in the first 3-5 years you’re going to be losing money.
Mike: Did that come as a surprise?
Matt: I don’t want to say we were surprised. But we opened in 2009 when the economy was bad but we did our due diligence and had a solid business plan and we were able to retain 99.9% of our clients and we were able to make realistic projections. We came in with flawless credit and zero debt. We didn’t need a loan, but we took one anyway as a cushion and paid it off really quickly. That’s fine, we’re not saying you need to be like us, but you have to be ready to take a few steps back before you take a few steps forward.
Paulie: In addition to that, you cannot make decisions based on any emotions. Before you do anything you need to sit down and look at the numbers. Same with coaching. Do your homework, do your homework some more and make rational decisions going forward.
Mike: Was there anything surprising when you first opened?
Matt: We didn’t realize the hours would be as crazy as they were. For a long time we put in a ton of work for the first 6-8 months before we could find another employee to cover some shifts and perhaps close the gym in the evening for us.
Paulie: Just realizing you have responsibilities is pretty sobering. I’d say 95% of our sessions are run by Becca or me. We’re pretty much working 12-hour days. The surprise is being able to replicate our culture in other staff members. A lot of people that we’ve hired in the past, it seems like they want to start their own gym inside of our gym. There’s a lot more to it than just opening the doors and turning on the lights.
Mike: What is the training atmosphere like at peak hours for SSPT?
Matt: Our facility is different than SBWC, but we operate like pretty much any other gym. They can purchase a membership and train whenever they need. If they want one-on-one coaching it’s by appointment only. Depending on the day, during prime time for us is the late afternoon to early evening. If we happen to be on the floor training with the other members they are either training themselves or working with a training partner or one of our other five coaches. Our sessions aren’t done in groups, different from SBWC, but rather clusters that train together.
Mike: Paulie your sessions are more coached?
Paulie: It’s different from other gyms but not necessarily from SSPT. Just in the sense of the quality of the training that goes on. We are on the floor coaching all the time. Our evening sessions run from 4:30-9PM and peak is from 6-8 when people are getting off work. People that show up at the same time tend to become each other’s training partners. We’re always giving oversight and answering questions depending on what the training works out. We assign members to one another based on a few different variables (ability, height, experience) so that everybody can learn from each other. We don’t have music and we don’t have mirrors. I don’t allow people to wear baseball caps or headsets with music. If you come to our gym you want to be coached.
Mike: That’s a very specific coaching atmosphere that you’ve made and a lot of people appreciate that sort of mentality. That goes toward making a really sustainable atmosphere. Matt you guys have music but it’s nothing crazy.
Matt: Yeah it’s more of a background music type thing for the most part.
Mike: Both of your gyms have produced super high quality top shelf athletes and that leaves a ton of clues for sure.
Paulie: It’s definitely not for everybody and we’re happy with that. We’re not a huge gym and we wouldn’t be able to accommodate everybody. We want people who want to work and people who want to get strong.
Mike: That’s not just a gym owning thing. That’s a business thing. It’s about knowing your target audience. I’d rather have 1000 raving fans than 10000 who are just lukewarm. How can people get in touch with you guys.
Matt: We’ve got www.supremesportspt.com and we’re listed as a platinum level training center with USAPL. We’re on Facebook, etc.
Paulie: You can find us on the web at www.southbrooklynwc.com or just google us. We’re also a platinum regional training center. If people want to powerlift in our region, they’ll definitely find us.
Mike: Thanks a ton for your time.
Mike: Hey everyone welcome back to the RTS podcast it’s been a little while since we got together for an episode thanks for bearing with us through the break today we’ve got a really cool episode planned. We’ve got myself here, Mark is here, Paulie is here, and we’ve also got twio guests today I’m really excited about talking to these guys we’ve got Troy and Laddie Gibson here with us. Troy is a 93kg masters world champion and world record holder, and Laddie is a 83kg masters world champion and world record holder. So kind of a cool thing going on today we’ve got 4 world record holders in 1 podcast Lets start off talking to Troy and Laddie
To start off with some bio questions; can you tell us a little about yourselves
Troy: we are twins born in the Bronx and shortly thereafter moved out to Suffolk county at an early age and joined the marines where we picked up powerlifting. I saw a bunch of big guys training at the gym out there and we were mesmerized by them. When we got out of the marines in 1988 we went to our first state powerlifting meet.
Mike: I didn’t’ realize you guys were in the marines. We both of you in the marines?
Troy: Yes we were never stationed together but we both went through the same boot camp. Laddie wasn’t’ really in to powerlifting when we were in the marines. He was more into running. I used to go to the gym to try and stay in shape and when we got out and fell in love with powerlifting at our first state meet.
Mike: How did that go? Were you guys talented from the beginning? We’re trying to find out how great lifters started.
Laddie: We lived on long island, our first meet was the 1988 American drug free powerlifting association up in Albany. We rode up to Albany in a van and slept the night before the meet in the van. We didn’t even have a hotel we just stayed in the van. We lifted the next morning and we both won first place and I got best lifter and ever since I’ve been hooked. It’s very interesting, Troy actually did a bench competition in the marines in 1985 then when we got out I had a car and troy didn’t so I used to drive him back and forth to the gym. I got tired of driving back and forth to the gym so I asked, let me stay and train with you rather than going to do my calisthenics and running and that’s how I started powerlifting
Mike I have a hard time imagining you guys doing calisthenics. You’re both such wide human beings. You’re obviously built for lifting weights I have a hard time imagining you guys running. I guess it happens though, you guys were in the marines and I was in the air force
Laddie: all the running went out the window when we started putting size on.
Mike: so you guys don’t keep up with that nowadays do you?
Laddie: we thought running would possibly take away from our lifts. One of the things that we didn’t do a lot of was mobility which if we could change something going back we would have done a little more mobility.
Keep up general athleticism. While you touched on that what sorts of injuries have you dealt with?
Laddie: I have had 2 knee surgeries sore my patellar tendon in 95 and the meniscus in my right knee n dive been dealing with shoulder impingement issues off and on for the last 10 years or so. About 4 weeks out from the world champs I was really struggling. i probably wouldn’t have gotten white lights with 350lbs on bench.
Mike: Just for comparison what kinds of numbers were you hitting in Finland?
Laddie: prior to the meet I was on track to hit 402lbs maybe even 407lbs prior to having shoulder issues and training was going great
Mike: So the injury impacted you pretty dramatically is there anything you’ve done over the years to make it go away any faster
Laddie: As soon as I got the initial injury, it was one of those things where every once in a while you have an injury like this where you don’t remember what event caused it. How did this happen? I have a great medical team and af
Troy: I’ve had quite a few injuries myself, knee surgeries, herniated discs, partial rotator cuff tears these things over the years have seemed to heal from getting more involved with mobility which is something when we first started we never would really do. Leading in to worlds when we started working wit you mike I had tendonitis in my knee happened before 2014 nationals I got really lazy with mobility and the knee was worse I basically had to lay off and work around it but I got lucky when I started actually listening to you and putting it together.
Mike: Sometimes you have to work around these issues. Mark you have a few things to add regarding injuries
Mark: oh yeah, I was just laughing at Troy’s comment about not backing off during training early on. I remember a commend you made to me mike a few years ago when I tore my bicep and I was lifting 50times more than the doctor recommended… the typical powerlifter. I guess it takes some maturity and wisdom
I hate to say that its something that comes with age and experience going back to my academy days when I first started coaching how do I teach these guys with 4-5 years’ experience to lift like they’ve been doing it for 15-20 years and to have a sense of their own body. How does the saying go? There’s no teacher like experience
All of us tend to want to push things to the limit but you have to learn where that edge is individually. If you go over that line you’re going to get set back and it’s going to take longer. Experience is huge
Mike: Paulie what do you think?
Paulie: I’m just wondering 3 out of the 4 world record holders here are masters lifters… have you guys learned your lessons yet? All these injuries and issues… everybody just came off classic worlds… what are you guys going to do differently going forward to be healthier and set a good example for the youngins’
Troy: That’s a tough question. Always before you get injured training is going well when something bad happens. Then you try to push the envelope and something happens… a little nagging thing. You’re never going to want to stop completely which isn’t the right answer so you work around it to try and get it to heal fast. Another lifter will ask what to do and I’ll give the advice to back off or try something else. I generally have to hear it from my brother or somebody else if I need to back off.
Laddie: I think that’s one of the good things that troy and I have. We both listen to each other when it comes to injuries and we are both pretty stubborn.
Mark: my training partner chad rexrode gets asked by me for advice on what to do a lot.
Mike: I end up training by myself a lot so I don’t have the benefit of having a consistent training partner in the meantime it’s a lot like what troy is saying. Things will be going well and sometimes that’s when you need to watch out. Something might be creeping around the corner. You don’t want to pull eh plug to early but its better to be a little to early than too late. It’s a really hard thing to do when you are making a lot of progress and riding that gainz train. All of the time that’s good but don’t get stuck there. Some coaches put a limit on it and they say after this ‘x’ percentage gain we’re going to pull back the throttle a little bit. I’ve done that with a few lifters, Hey man we’re going to take a de-load week because you’re getting too strong too fast.” That’s a really hard sell sometimes. That’s the route that I’m trying to take but we’re working on putting that into practice
Paulie: so basically everybody its all easier said than done and you need to have some trusted people around you.
Mike: my wife asks me a lot of times when I’m venting… what would you tell one of your athletes in this situation, but that’s a really good way to frame the question.
Paulie: now we have to follow that advice.
Mike: You guys said you did your first powerlifting comp in 1988 so you’ve both been lifting for 17 plus year… how do you stay motivated to pursue this for that long despite injuries. It’s fun getting stronger but it’s not always fun.
Troy: Still being in the military, after 1988 desert storm came up, then we got out and went to 4 different police academies between laddie and i. you do a couple meets then take time off… injuries come up. I remember in 2014 when we decided to do the RTS seminar in Brooklyn. When we went to that we went because we weren’t motivated or interested in getting back into powerlifting. We came out of that with some real motivation to step up our game. We went to nationals and got a lot of motivation back. Every once in a while something like that comes along that really lights a fire.
Laddie: We love the sport of powerlifting, but we always stry to challenge ourselves and that’s another way to get motivation.
Mike: so everybody is kind of in the same boat here. Everybody is in
Laddie: nobody is going to continually win all the time. The only person you are really competing against is yourself.
Mike: listeners will get mad at us if we don’t talk about training at all
Laddie: we’re working with RTS now doing more RPE system, but we’re actually doing a lot less volume than we used to. We would just keep going with training
Mike: did you spend more time doing assistance work or competition lifts before
Laddie: we used to do a lot more assistance work. And after all these years of training, we’re finding that
Troy when you think about it when we first started we would only squat bench and deadlift once per week and everything else was assistance work. The assistance work didn’t really carry over to our main lifts. We’ve learned that isn’t the right call for us
Mike for where you were at the time, shifting from program that was assistance heavy that had more emphasis with high frequency competition lifts, you’ve seen good improvement?
Laddie: this past cycle prior for worlds I felt this was the best cycle I’ve done in the past 10 years
Mike: some people seem to feel that if they can train the lifts with higher frequency they actually feel better injury wise. Have you guys felt that way at all?
Laddie: I’ve noticed that doing the actual powerlifts has really helped with injury prevention and now that we are focusing more on the powerlifts injuries have gone down
Troy: I haven’t really had time to evaluate whether assistance work would help the injuries but I do think higher frequency competition lifts does help train that particular lift
Mike: I know that some people have achy knees etc. I trained with a guy in ND who said that if he went for a week and didn’t squat but as long as he squatted once per week his knees wouldn’t hurt
Troy: I would get into the gym on Saturday and I have noticed that I don’t have any problems with depth because I feel warmer sooner.
Mike: Paulie you’ve coached a lot of lifters. Is that something you’ve seen as well?
Paulie: Yes when we do increase frequency for the competition lifts. Troy and Laddie, have you felt that too where you had to look at
Mike: High frequency training is way more popular now than it was then.