Meet Geoff Girvitz, Owner of Bang Fitness [Interview]

Get the Basics...

  • Emphasizing the basics and proper technique
  • Making fitness simple, fun, and accessible to the general population
  • Embracing collaboration in entrepreneurship

Life is stressful and confusing enough on its own, isnt’ it? Choosing to start your own fitness business will be an uphill endeavor, but that doesn’t mean you have to complicate things even further by trying to reinvent the wheel.

Today, we’re talking to Geoff Girvitz who uses a simple approach to effect extraordinary results from his clients. He will explain how he has doubled-down on the basics to help create a fun and successful fitness practice.

If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.

Meet Geoff Girvitz

geoff-girvitz-bang-fitness

Schimri Yoyo: Welcome again, this was Schimri Yoyo exercise.com and today we are continuing our series of interviews with fitness experts and today we have Geoff Girvitz, the owner of Bang Fitness in Downtown Toronto with us.

Geoff, thank you for joining us.

Geoff Girvitz: It’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Schimri Yoyo: We’re just going to jump right into it and get to know a little bit about you so the audience can get a feel for your background. So can you describe your journey into the health and fitness industry?

Geoff Girvitz: Hi. I didn’t come about this through the normal path. When I was growing up, I was not an athletic kid. I was not a coordinated kid and somewhere around the time I was 16, I was like, “I’ve got to change this.” And I wasn’t sure what to do.

I wound up finding martial arts and to me—I mean, I was so terrible at it. I was so bad. It was like learning a language. I had to learn movement like I was learning a foreign language and I would have to break down and translate each step to myself.

But I loved it and I would put in hours every single day. And after a lot of pain and hard work, I did become fluent and I think I never in a million years thought at that point in my life that I would be getting into this industry.

When I look back, I realized that was absolutely essential to my process as a coach because that’s my job now—basically, to translate movement, to look at how do great movers, how do great athletes, just sort of operate intuitively and reverse engineer that and make that same stuff accessible to anyone.

Schimri Yoyo: That makes total sense. So when you said you weren’t much of an athlete, did you do any sports growing up besides martial arts or was martial arts your main thing?

Geoff Girvitz: I did little league soccer. Team sports were never my jam. I think that was one of the reasons I sort of gravitated toward a martial arts, solo endeavor. So yeah. It’s not that I didn’t like playing around. I was just terrible.

Schimri Yoyo: No. Now I did a little research on you in preparation for this interview and I found out that you’re fluent in Chinese. Is that correct?

Geoff Girvitz: It certainly was. I don’t know if I can claim fluency anymore. It’s been a long time, but yeah, there was a time my Mandarin was pretty sharp.

to-exercise-sports-mandarin

Yùn dòng 运动 Sports

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now, which is tough, which was tougher, learning to read and write and speak in Mandarin or reading a negative client review?

Geoff Girvitz: Neither one works if you don’t listen. Yeah. Both have their own challenges.

Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s a good response. Now, as you started to work full-time in the fitness industry, who are some of your mentors?

Geoff Girvitz: I’ve been fortunate. I remember, well, the first really big piece of continue education I did, I did with Mike Boyle and that was wonderful. I’ve been very lucky to have had an ongoing relationship with a lot of the key people at Precision Nutrition, people I respect a lot. John Berardi and Phil Caravaggio, his co-founder, Krista Scott-Dixon, which has been wonderful.

These are folks that walk the walk, in terms of their core values. It’s actually—it’s really lived within the organization. They’re running an ethical business and they’ve managed to also be really successful in a more objective sense or a financial sense. So that the Venn diagram there, that is a tiny sliver of businesses that can really claim that.

So when you see that, I think that’s kind of a unicorn and you want to acknowledge that. Speaking of unicorns, Mark Fisher and his business partner, Michael Keeler have been great. I’m part of a peer group with some guys that I really respect, most of whom have been in the game longer than myself.

That was put together by my good friend, JLHoldsworth. We’ve got folks like Mike Robertson, Andy McCloy, Scott Schutte, Nathan Kesterson, and Mitch Shooks. The last few guys aren’t Internet famous, but they’re so good. They’re so competent.

And I’d recommend anybody, if you’re not already in a peer group, find some people. I think the government should appoint you a therapist. Then secondly, you sign your small business license. So you’ve got to find some people to commiserate with.

You don’t want to be the best guy in the room. You don’t want to be the worst guy in the room. But yeah, I’ve been very fortunate. I’m thankful for that.

Schimri Yoyo: And that’s good. It’s funny that you mentioned Mark Fisher because we’re actually going to be interviewing him later this month. We find all the best people out here at Exercise.com.

When you’re not running your business or you’re not training, what are some other things that you’d like to do for fun?

Geoff Girvitz: I’m pretty much full-time Dad-ing outside of the business. I have a three-year-old son and I spend as much time as I can with him. It’s always family first. But business is so—I mean, to run something is so huge.

I actually just came back from Mark Fisher’s place. I flew back last night. I was in New York over the weekend, but any available time I’m with my kid. I was in Jujitsu for years and years and I’ve been out of it for a while and I’m kind of missing it. So I’m thinking about getting back into that.

Schimri Yoyo: Keeping the martial arts gene strong within you. So you can’t quit it.

Geoff Girvitz: It’s important to get the ego beat out of you on a regular basis I think.

Fluency of Movement + Fun = Bang Fitness Success

Schimri Yoyo: Now speaking of your philosophy of training, what one word would best describe your philosophy and methodology?

Geoff Girvitz: One word. I’m going to use a hyphen it, I’m going to cheat and I would say a master-generalist or expert-generalist. That is the goal here because we’re not doing highly specific stuff. We are looking for a general transfer. Someone were to come and say, “Hey, I just want to learn the foundations of Olympic weight lifting or powerlifting or whatever.” Yes, that is a huge pleasure.

If someone wants to compete at a high level, I’m going to send you to a specialist because we like to kind of be great at all of the basics. And, we’re relentless in fact about the basics and just coming back and always working from there.

Schimri Yoyo: Yeah. You know what, it sounds to me that your word would be accessible. Because even as you talked about your translation work and the fluency from movement when you’re doing martial artists—you kind of make those movements that our great athletes have accessible to the everyday population.

So maybe that’ll be—I cheated and I answer your question for you. That’s what a master-generalist does: he makes the complex accessible to everyone.

What have you seen is the relationship between strength and conditioning, injury prevention, and then also rehabilitation? How do they all work together?

Geoff Girvitz: Serious question, man. It is mostly just a question of dosage. It’s the same stuff. It really is the same stuff. We have to factor in—there’s some extra complexities maybe with injury or pain where we’re coordinating maybe with the clinical side of things, where there may be some biomechanical issues around where you have pain or like neurological pain or fear or apprehension around movements.

So that we have to be careful how we unpack while still kind of pushing boundaries. But really it’s all the same stuff. It’s just a question of dosage.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Yeah. Like, they’re all on the same continuum.

Geoff Girvitz: Yeah, absolutely.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. In connection with that, how are the speed and strength and the mobility or flexibility related? How do they work in conjunction as well?

Geoff Girvitz: These are such big questions, Schimri. Again, I think of us, we do general means. we’re generalists. And let’s say we take somebody who cannot squat well. They don’t have the mobility or the mechanics or the strength for whatever reason. And all we do is we clean up their squat. My expectation is there’s going to be general transfer.

They are going to have improved performance across the board. Even if it’s stuff that doesn’t look like a squat. So that is, that’s what we’d file under general physical preparation. It’s not specialized but it impacts the whole system.

So I would think of these things. So, we had what? Strength, mobility, and speed, right? So these are different explorations of the same thing. Does a movement have integrity? Okay. So we have a squat and we loaded up the squat and it’s solid.

Okay. Does that hold up when we add speed? Great. Or is there some other kind of breakdown? Does it hold up when we challenge mobility? We always want a buffer a little bit beyond what our demands might be. And those might be sporting demands as might be demands of just activities of daily living. They might be fitness demands, kind of where we want to be.

But strength is the first thing that jumps into my mind is, it’s a question. It’s okay, you move. You have a movement strategy. Does it scale when we—because the load will tell us a lot about how well your movement strategy works [or] if it breaks down.

Because I know that if it works under 300 pounds—without getting too in the weeds about specialty or specialization—but if it works for 300 pounds, it’s going to work for 100 pounds, no problem. If it works for 100 pounds, I can’t guarantee it’s going to work for 300 pounds. So we just test these things out in different ways.

Schimri Yoyo: No, that makes sense. Would you say then that you focus more on teaching the proper technique as opposed to, like you said, specialization? Or how important are the mechanics as part of the foundation of your training?

Geoff Girvitz: Yeah, movement is everything. So we’re not beholden to—we’re sort of agnostic in terms of what approach do we use. We might have—I mean sometimes folks come in and they are adamant they work with a barbell immediately, and I’m not your dad. We’re going to support you if that’s really important.

But most folks just, they want to perform better overall. And we’ll generally take our time before we get to the barbell because we’re going to use some other tools to bring movement up. Whatever works best for people. So, that by the time we put a barbell in somebody’s hands, it’s not a jump. There’s not a lot of technical coaching required.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. That makes sense. Now, how, if at all, do you address nutrition with some of your clients?

Geoff Girvitz: Nutrition’s kind of tricky because, in theory, we’re working with everyone. Folks come in, they’re hungry for change. We want to show them optimum nutrition strategies. We really want to guide this. But we work primarily with the general population. Okay?

And so the truth of it is, and I think anyone who runs a facility that works with gen pop will recognize this, most people have a limited capacity for change in their lives. They’ve got enough stress, they’ve got enough stuff going on. And for a lot of folks, even showing up to your gym or beginning a regular exercise regimen is a tremendous amount of change.

So the truth is a lot of folks just want to put a pin in it for a minute. So if someone—it is very rare. It is very rare for somebody to come in and we say, “Oh, this was a knowledge issue. You just didn’t know about protein timing or you just didn’t know.” Pick a thing. Right. Almost everybody has pretty good knowledge.

In fact, almost everybody will tell you that right away.  “My nutrition’s pretty good. I know what I need to do.” We all know by and large what we need to do even without any new input or information. It’s just execution. So when the folks who are really ready for change, we’ve got the tools for that.

But a lot of what we’re really doing is slow-cooking stuff and looking for ways to take stress out of their life to take [excessive change] out of their lives and make this stuff simpler. So a lot of it is just little adjustments, little micro-revolutions of their mechanics day-to-day. Getting better at the basics again. And so when they are, if they are ready for big change, they’ve already got the foundational systems in place.

Grow and manage your fitness business better with Exercise.com

All fields must be filled out!

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Make sure not to get the cart before the horse.

Geoff Girvitz: Well, people want—as I’m sure you know—a lot of people request, “Hey, I’d like a meal diary or premiere or a meal plan.” Cool. And when we look at it, they don’t really track anything. They don’t measure or know how to measure. They don’t shop consistently. They ordered their food out multiple times during the week and we were really getting ahead of ourselves.

And we can do this. We can make progress with much simpler things, with a much lower pain point, where it won’t be frustrating if it doesn’t all work right away. Right.

It’s not frustrating to not make great progress, but it is frustrating to put a tremendous amount of work and suffering into something and not make great progress. We try to be judicious about when to make those moves.

Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s smart. You guys were incremental about it, as far as the process. Because like you said, you don’t want to give someone something that’s going to be overwhelming if they haven’t laid the groundwork or have the prerequisite tools to be able to sustain it. None of that.

Yeah, that’s unique. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that response to that question. So you said, I gave the profound questions earlier. You gave a very profound answer. So touche. We’re having a little sparring match right now and it’s good.

Now for you, what are some of the ways that you, you talk about incremental progress, but what are some of the ways that you measure progress either empirically or subjectively for yourself and for your clients?

Geoff Girvitz: For me, consistency is everything. This is our foundation. Right? And is it meaningful? Does it have an inherent value? One of the things I try to shift people away from, and we may not start the process this way, but we will definitely, if they’re around long enough, evolve into this is where exercise is no longer transactional. It’s no longer this question of, “How many calories can I burn,” or “How smoked was I?”

By the end of the session, it is. It certainly should be an enjoyable, inherently meaningful process, so what that winds up being for any individual, I don’t know. We have to tease that out and experiment and be curious and ask questions and try stuff, but ultimately, I want this stuff to just have a value that’s completely unrelated to your fitness outcomes.

And then anything that we can do once we’ve got that platform, anytime we want to add to that, we’re in a great position to do it because we also have earned patience where we’re not in such a rush to do this. That we immediately are [not] filled with stress the second it’s not delivering the way it’s supposed to. And nothing will [deliver] forever.

If your goal is to get leaner, you will experience diminishing returns over time. There’s only so lean a human being can get. So we don’t want all of our emotions, all of our values tied to these external outcomes. That was really recipe for frustration. And if we’re agreed that this is lifelong, then that’s the last thing we want to do.

Schimri Yoyo: How do you find that right mix between pushing the clients to their physical peaks but without burning them out?

Geoff Girvitz: Yeah, that’s another good question and [the answer] is experimentation. I always think about—I call it a neck tendon workout. So you’ll see people, they’re looking good. Movement is smooth, it’s natural, it’s intuitive. There are subtle variations and you see a point where they begin to rev so high that those neck tendons are out the shoulders come up. Breathing is erratic. Now we’re going into compensatory patterns.

We’re not doing the same stuff anymore. Now we’re practicing a different type of movement and not ideal mechanics anymore, but we’re surviving exercise. We’re just trying to survive it and we cut it off before that. Now we want to flirt with the line a little bit. There’s got to be a physical—I mean, we have to disrupt. There has to be a level of physiological stress. That’s non-negotiable.

And I would say the same thing. There also has to be a level of pushing mentally or emotionally. “I’m uncomfortable and I’m going beyond this because—” Again, we talk about transfer. What are the most transferable skills in the world? Yes, strength, mobility, speed.

These things apply to everything. But even beyond that is autonomy, not giving up when the pressure’s on. Positive self-talk, emotional regulation. These are the most universal things. This, if we can help guide that process, this is going well beyond just exercise.

We’re really helping people improve their quality of life in multiple dimensions. So, that’s what we want to see. So we’re not too rushed. That’s another word I would use I think to describe our approach patient. This is for the rest of our lives.

It’s like, “This can be imperfect for a minute,” or, “We can make some mistakes or suffer some setbacks as long as we’re learning from that.” So we’re not in this desperate need or rush to burn an extra—what is an extra a hundred calories—just by tanking ourselves and flooding the system with stress hormones to do it.

Schimri Yoyo: So how much would you say of your coaching is coaching physically and how much of it is coaching the right mentality for your clients?

Geoff Girvitz: They’re so interrelated. This stuff is almost a metaphor, right? So whenever we can, we are applying the most general cues. What queuing work works for this exercise, but also maybe works for 80 percent of the other exercises that you’re doing.

Usually, you’ll see when people have, say compensation patterns, they have things that they do, they’re not isolated. They tend to exist in multiple places. So we’ll structure our coaching for that. But even more universal than that is how you’re approaching it. Are we coming in here with a mindset of curiosity and exploration?

Are we getting them to build their awareness so they can make better decisions? I can’t be the arbiter of your movement. Right? I can guide questions, but you’ve got to run this show. So we want to just build those skills within people.

Seeking Simplicity in Entrepreneurship

Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s good. That’s good. Now, how do you personally budget your time and energy between the many professional interests that you have?

Geoff Girvitz: Always a challenge. Always a challenge. My wife was making fun of me this morning because I took the morning off to just hang with the family and I was like, “Oh, it’s a short day.” She was like, “You’re working normal hours. You’re doing somebody else’s 40 hours a week.”

So it is what it is. I mean that’s table stakes, I think, for being a business owner, but a lot of it is, again, if I have a really clear vision for what I want to execute, I’m after that. I’m really committed to that.

But I think so often, and I would say this same thing for fitness goals. We’re not super clear. We have some ideas about what I would like and if it’s all for free, I’ll take all that stuff. Do you want to give me a six-pack and a 600-pound squat? Incredible mobility?

If I can have all those for free, fantastic. But when we get into what am I actually willing to pony up for it, when I really understand the opportunity costs, then we have to be a lot more judicious. And if we don’t know, if we don’t have great clarity on what that is, again, we just go back to fundamental mechanics. Just make it more efficient and make it run cleaner. Get rid of the stuff you don’t need.

So just continually to look into the business for—or to look at the business from that perspective has been not just helpful, but has also given me a lot more calm because part of this is there’s no playbook and you’re sort of, I’m always willing to do the work, but I don’t always know what to invest that energy and that time into. So just bring it back. Bring it back. Be an expert generalist.

Schimri Yoyo: Return to the basics. Keep it simple, right?

Geoff Girvitz: Always.

Schimri Yoyo: Brag about yourself a little bit. What makes you and your team at Bang Fitness unique?

Geoff Girvitz: I would actually—I would not say that we’re unique. That’s not our defining characteristic. I’ve actually, and I’ve written about this before, but I think too many people jump into that. What we are trying to do is do the same stuff better and do it with greater depth. So our differentiator is we’re not—

What about the gym down the road? What makes us unique compared to them? Not the tools we use, not what we teach, but maybe the depth that goes into it. Maybe the amount of care that goes into it, but that’s not different. That’s just doubling down on the stuff that is really in line with our values.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Well, I mean, that in itself is unique because I’ve checked in researching you for this interview, Bang Fitness shows up on just about every list from Notable Life and Best of Toronto—you guys were consistently in the top three, top five, top ten as far as best health clubs and best gyms in the Toronto area.

And one of the ways that you guys are described, it seems over and over, is that it’s a fun atmosphere, a fun place to be. And most people, when they think about the gym or going to the gym, don’t always think about fun.

So how has it been that you guys have been able to create this fun environment and what for you is the most fun thing about Bang Fitness?

Geoff Girvitz: Well, for me personally, I’ll start with that. I have such pride and it makes me just so deeply happy when I walk in and it’s a busy night and the gym’s full of people training. Everyone’s moving with intent and with integrity. There’s nothing messy, there’s nothing random.

Everybody understands the why behind how they’re moving. They are not perfect, but they’re clear on what great execution looks like. It meets the criteria for deliberate practice. I love that on such a deep level. I don’t even know why I love it so much, but it makes me so happy. There was a second part of that question, sorry.

Schimri Yoyo: No, I mean it just, how were you able to create that fun environment as well for your clients?

Geoff Girvitz: I think what this is and why that is is because we are not here to tell them how this needs to look. We’re here to explore that with them. They lead that discovery process and we support it. We support it with technical expertise and curiosity and with a lot of love, but they’re really running the show. So we’re just trying to make that discovery process more efficient and smoother.

And because I think it’s their own, and I would like to think that anybody who spends any amount of time here, the way they perceive movement, the awareness they have, their experience with exercise will be changed for the rest of their lives. That is my hope.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now you guys offer chiropractic and physiotherapy services at Bang Fitness. What are some of the benefits of each of those services and how are they incorporated as part of the training?

Geoff Girvitz: Yeah, like anything quality varies, but we always work with people that are great and in line with our values. I would say that what we have or the great advantage we have is an integrated model, where if somebody works with our chiro and they have some insight into, “Oh, this is what maybe this type of movement is contraindicated or this is what we’d like to explore, we want to do more of this.” We’re taking that, we’re running with it, putting into the programming.

Most manual therapists have this ongoing frustration of, “Well, I give somebody homework, which they proceeded not to do.” It’s a very small percentage of people that actually take those exercises home, and I can’t guarantee someone is going to do that every day.

But if a chiro physio thinks it’s important and we’re all on the same page, that’s going to go into their programming and if they’re training with us three or four days a week, they’re going to do those exercises three or four days a week with a high level of quality.

That we’re continuing to explore and to get into and to make it meaningful. And that’s how we get the job done. It is any movement-based solution that is possible, that is available, we’re going to explore and handle that. And that is where our—And I usually tell folks, usually the kind of people that we work with on the manual side are more progressive, think more about movement, aren’t just like not just cracking backs, making adjustments.

So they tend to be more movement-focused. And I’ll always tell them, it’s like, “Well, you’re going to get ready to do a lot more manual therapy than you’re used to because we want to handle every movement-based side of this or component of this.”

Schimri Yoyo: Now, what is the Anti-Gravity Society at your gym and how does it affect the culture?

Geoff Girvitz: So the Anti-Gravity Society is, that is our—So our model is mostly, we call it “hybrid personal training.” So we’ll have up to four people with each coach, often referred to as semi-private training.

The Anti-Gravity Society is small-group strength training. So it is a little bit more like a collegiate strength and condition environment, where everyone’s running the same program, but then we’ll make small variations. Group training to us is still about eight people. It’s small by really any sort of standard for classes. And folks come up there. There’s sort of a progression.

So you might—you earn your way towards squatting with the bar, for example. Definitely a strength focus. It is in a gym that is very introverted. If we look at our culture and the kind of people that come to us, we see a lot of introverts. They’re the more extroverted introverts, the folks that really wanted to have something for the folks that get juice from training alongside other people. So it’s been a lot of fun. That’s one our most recent addition.

Schimri Yoyo: Sounds pretty cool. And what ways do you leverage social media or technology to promote your services?

Geoff Girvitz: I don’t have much of a strategy to be real with you. That may change. For now, where I’ve landed—We’ve tried in the past and there’s some, there’s value in that for sure. But where I’m at now is simply to go look, “Do I think this is meaningful or do I find this funny?” Then it gets posted. That’s about the only strategy that exists right now.

I know part of marketing is just let people know you exist, their knowing why you’re good at what you do and hopefully show your culture. So show your personality so that the right kind of people find that and if it resonates with them, those are the folks we hope to see.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Well maybe after this interview we’ll send you a link and you’ll be able to post it on whatever platform that you have and that’ll get the ball rolling for you again.

Geoff Girvitz: There we go. There we go. I love it.

Schimri Yoyo: A few more questions before we go. Again, thank you again for your time, Geoff. What has been the biggest challenge for you as an entrepreneur and what has been the biggest reward?

Geoff Girvitz: I think the freedom component answers both questions and I kind of mentioned that before. Some days I really wish I could just show up and someone would say, “Hey Geoff, here’s a list of stuff. Get through this. You’ll get paid the same. Everything will be cool.” And there’s no guarantee.

So a lot of times I have to sort of take a leap of faith or say, “Okay, I believe in this, let’s flesh it out.” And these things don’t always work. A lot of the experiments do not work. So I have this tremendous freedom to be able to do that, but I also live and die by that same stuff. This is the stuff I support my family with. So that can also be nerve-racking. That can also be really scary.

Schimri Yoyo: That’s spoken like a true entrepreneur. Now, what is next for you and your business? Anything out on the horizon that we should be aware of?

Geoff Girvitz: Well, we’re going to continue to focus on our internal systems. A lot of folks will ask me, “Okay, are you going to open up another location,” or we’ll get that request a lot. I think we will push more into the online space first. That is next on the agenda and just continue to really get this place running in the way that I want to see before we worry about trying to replicate. I’m not in a hurry to do that.

Schimri Yoyo: Okay. And lastly, Geoff, do you have any books or resources or podcast that you’d recommend to our audience that you found valuable for you?

Geoff Girvitz: Well, there’s a ton of good stuff. There’s so much good stuff, right? There’s so much content of value. The real challenge is to be selective about it and to really pair it down. John Berardi has a book coming out called Change Maker, which is great. I was honored to be asked to kind of give them some feedback on initial edits and that’s coming up in October. And I would really, sincerely recommend that to anybody coming up who does want to make a dent in this industry.

I would say—so we talked before about peer groups and mentoring and everything. I would also really urge people to look outside of the industry. There are a lot of people doing some, a lot of really innovative, special work outside of fitness.

We’re sort of, a lot of times we’re behind the times with some of our approaches. So don’t get stuck only looking within the industry. I look a lot to software, software development. I think that’s, that’s where a lot of innovation and great thinking happens. So you have to find something that really resonates with you that’s interesting and that you think you’ll be able to take back and apply to your business.

sergey-brin-software-developer

Sergey Brin, Software Developer and Co-Founder of Google

Schimri Yoyo: Oh, that’s great advice. Well, thank you again, Geoff, for your time. We look forward to seeing how your business grows and maybe the online component of it, and we will circle back with you in the future.

Geoff Girvitz: I appreciate it.

If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.