Gym Owner Shifts to Online Weight Training (and Thrives)

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Perhaps no industry has been more disrupted by the internet than education. Online training is booming — from 1-hour courses to college degrees. Take Barbell Logic, for example. It provides one-on-one strength and conditioning training, entirely web-based.

Matt Reynolds founded the company in 2016. He described the instructional process to me, stating, “Our clients video themselves doing weight lifts and movements. We break those down within 24 hours and then post our analysis and improvements. It’s all via an app.”

Fast forward to 2020, and Barbell Logic has 1,000 clients and a burgeoning Academy program, which trains future coaches. He and I recently spoke about the business, attracting coaches, and acquiring clients, among other topics.

Our entire audio conversation is embedded below in the feedback section, followed by a transcript that has been edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Tell us about yourself and your company.

Matt Reynolds: I was a gym owner from 2008 to 2015. I started coaching online in January 2016. The company is Barbell Logic. We’ve got a staff of about 80 expert strength coaches for personal training. Our clients video themselves doing weight lifts and movements. We break those down within 24 hours and then post our analysis and improvements. It’s all via an app.

We also have an Academy where we teach up and coming barbell coaches. The business is going well. We’ve got roughly 1,000 clients. We love what we do.

Bandholz: Every coach is presumably a bit different. How do you maintain consistent standards?

Reynolds: I’m very particular about systems, the standard operating procedures. We list our standards for coaches.

We hire the best coaches and let them coach as long as they follow the basic standards, which include providing reaction within 24 hours, keeping it simple, and don’t suggest tactics that will get clients hurt. We stick with the basic lifts, like the squat, the deadlift, and the bench press — also basic conditioning like rowing or riding an Echo Bike or things like that. Ninety percent of our instruction is in that wheelhouse. The extra 10 percent is flexible.

Bandholz: Your company produces a lot of content.

Reynolds: Yes. Our content is a free value-add for clients and prospects. We put out everything we know about fitness, strength and conditioning, and nutrition. It’s all expert quality — and free.

Our YouTube channel has short, high-impact videos. Our podcast, which is also called Barbell Logic, is approaching its 400th episode. And we have an incredible collection of articles on the site. We’ve got a great editor-in-chief who writes a lot them.

We want to be the place to help folks learn how to squat or eat or exercise.

Bandholz: How do you acquire clients?

Reynolds: We get referrals than from coaches and existing clients. We have relationships with prominent folks in the space, such as Brett McKay from The Art of Manliness, who send clients our way.

Beyond that, we’ve got a full-scale marketing team, including a chief marketing officer and graphic designers. We advertise on Facebook and Instagram. We also used Google and YouTube, but our return on investment is not quite as good there.

We also emphasize organic search. We rank near the top for keywords like “strength training” and similar.

We also publish a lot of ebooks. And they aren’t pure advertisements for our company. We try to provide genuinely helpful info.

Our primary goal is to improve our clients’ quality of life. That mission skews to an older demographic — from the late 30s to about 60.

For the most part, they’re settled in life. They’re not flighty. They don’t get tired of strength training after six months and shift to Hot yoga or CrossFit. They tend to stay. They’re financially stable. They can pay for a premium product.

We’re one of the more expensive online coaching companies. It’s because of the high-touch service that you get. We pay our coaches well, incidentally.

Bandholz: Speaking of coaches, tell us about your Academy program.

Reynolds: It’s our method of training future coaches, similar to a curriculum. It’s entirely online. The cost is $79 per month for 12 months, or $849 upfront for the entire year. That’s for the Principles Course, which covers all the basics to be a coach. Then there’s a tier of Master Classes on anatomy, kinesiology, biomechanics, programming, and the business of coaching. Those are deeper dives.

Bandholz: It seems like a ton of investment, the Academy.

Reynolds: Yes, it is. We’re on the third version of the curriculum. It’s 26 modules, similar to chapter lessons. But again, we’ve got a great staff.

We have expanded into the B2B markets — military, corporate, and government. I’m terrified that the government’s going to approach us and say, “We have 2,500 soldiers we need you to train.” And my response is, “I can’t do it because we don’t have the people.”

To put it in perspective, the latest Academy curriculum has been a full-time job for three people for the last year with no return on investment until it’s ready to go. But imagine if we need to close a large corporate or government contract and we can’t because we don’t have the coaches.

So the Academy is probably the most important thing we’re doing right now. It provides the largest repository of expert strength coaches in the world, which is critical from a revenue perspective.

Bandholz: You had some partner issues, a lawsuit.

Reynolds: I did online coaching for the first year after selling the gym. It wasn’t called Barbell Logic at the time. I paid my mentor for a license to use his brand name. It went well for several years. But then our business started growing faster than he expected. Eventually, his company filed a lawsuit for trademark infringement. Then they pulled our license. That was June 2019. The lawsuit ended in June of this year. I’m happy that it’s over.

It was the most stressful thing I’ve ever gone through. It was not good for us financially. We lost clients. But once we got through it, there was this tremendous relief. We were free as a brand and a company. 2020 has been very good for us.

Bandholz: How can people follow you and reach out?

Reynolds: I’m easy to find. Start with our website, Barbell Logic. My email address is there. You can also find me on our podcast and our YouTube channel. We’re on most social media, including Instagram. I would love for listeners to reach out.

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