Meet Josh Bowen, Owner of Aspire Fitness [Interview]
Finding the proper motivation to get yourself going can be tough, can’t it? Finding the proper way to motivate others can be equally as difficult without the proper tools and perspective.
Today, we’re talking to Josh Bowen who will share how he uses empathy and emotional intelligence to connect with his clients and staff and to get the most out of them. He shares his experiences building and running his successful fitness practice.
Meet Josh Bowen, Owner of Aspire Fitness
Schimri Yoyo: This is Schimri Yoyo again with Exercise.com, and we are continuing our serious of interviews with fitness experts. Today we have Josh Bowen, who is the owner and fitness professional at Aspire Fitness. Thank you for joining us today.
Josh Bowen: Thank you for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, let’s just jump into a little bit of background information about yourself. How did you first begin or develop a love for health and fitness?
Josh Bowen: When I graduated high school, I was 140 pounds soaking wet, and I’m about six feet tall, so you can only imagine how that looked on my body. I always had admired professional bodybuilders and even professional wrestlers who had these wild physiques, and so I just got inspired in one way or another and just started working because I wanted to and needed to put on some weight in order for me to not to look so sickly. That’s what jumped me into working out.
I dibbled and dabbled in it many times over my life. Played basketball in high school, but other than that, I really didn’t do anything, other physical activities, and weight lifting just was something that I grabbed ahold of and got really passionate about.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now you mentioned that you played basketball. Did you play any other sports growing up?
Josh Bowen: Uh-uh. I’m from Kentucky, my friend. The only thing we do is play basketball.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. That is awesome. Speaking of that, I know that you earned a degree in exercise science from the University of Kentucky, the Wildcats, right?
What was your favorite class in undergrad? And which class do you think has helped you the most in your profession today?
Josh Bowen: Two, I accidentally got myself into a graduate-level sport psychology class, and the entire class was about something called emotional intelligence. I had absolutely no idea what this was, but the class basically was teaching you how to read people’s emotions and thus their behavior patterns, it would come after that. I think that was probably the most impactful class that I’ve ever taken in my life because, as a trainer and dealing with people one-on-one, you have to be able to read their emotions, the tone of their voice, in order to be able to help them.
And then through that, there was also this concept that they taught us called motivational interviewing. I was able to be able to redirect and reframe people’s mindsets in order to help them motivate themselves, not me motivate them, but they get motivated or inspired or whatever, to accomplish whatever goal that it may be.
And then secondarily, my favorite class outside of that, was exercise physiology because we got to do all the cool things like hydrostatic weighing and all the body fat tests and the strength tests and all those things, and that was just a ball for me.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, as you were going through your studies, did you ever utilize or employ a personalized trainer for yourself?
Josh Bowen: No. Throughout my career, I’ve had several different trainers that specialized in things to train me. I had a guy who trained me the Bulgarian bag and absolutely annihilated me several different times, but it was a skill that he learned. He was in the Marines, and so I wanted to learn that skill, so that’s what I did. But, as far as the knowledge that I’ve gained, yeah, I mean, I’ve been trained several different times by different trainers just to try to get their perspective and their knowledge base.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay, now would you say that you had anyone in particular who was like a mentor or someone you sought counsel from as you were working your way through the fitness industry?
Josh Bowen: Not from a training standpoint, as far as training me personally, but I’ve been a member of many different Mastermind groups, and I’d have to say that probably mentor-wise, Todd Durkin would probably be one of my top mentors. And then, obviously, other guys throughout the industry that you see on Instagram, or you go to conferences and whatnot, that I’ve been inspired by, too, not only business-wise, but also just in how to be a complete personal trainer.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now, just a personal question, what were some of your favorite books that you read growing up? I know that you’ve authored a couple of books. Are there any books that have inspired you?
Josh Bowen: Oh, yeah. Many books. A lot of books that I used to read were leadership books. John Maxwell, I’ve probably read every single book that he’s ever written. There have been other exercise-type books. I probably read through the NSCA CSCS book probably 15 different times, just to try to garner as much knowledge from that as possible.
The Alchemist is another book that I’ve read that has really helped me in my career. I mean, I’ve got a whole bookcase here in the front of my studio of just books that have helped along the way. A variety of different things.
There’s a book on motivational interviewing that also has helped with the way that I talk to clients, the way that I go into a client evaluation or a client assessment, and then how I talk to people every single day to try to get them to believe in themselves and really them being the catalyst to make the change in their lives.
So, from a book standpoint, no one book stands out, but so many books throughout the years have helped me make me who the trainer that I am today.
Emotion, Empathy, and Motivation
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. That sounds great. Let’s get a little bit into your philosophy and methodology of your practice. If you had to describe your training philosophy and methodology in one word, what would it be?
Josh Bowen: Emotion.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s a good one. That’s a good one.
Josh Bowen: Emotion drives behavior, right? So, if I have an emotional response to something, my behavior will be derivative from that emotion. When I meet with someone for the first time, I want to know what drives their motivation. Why did you come here today? What are your why’s? Why is this important to you? And then that is going to help me design a program for them.
I’m not the greatest programming personal trainer. I’m not going to sit and write out all the exercises and the reps and the sets of what we’re going to do. I’m going to feel it. So, when they come in, and they’re sitting with their head down and they’ve had a bad day, I know that I need to be a different trainer than I was the last time when they came in skipping through the door. It’s really a feel.
It’s based on emotion and how their emotion is for the day. We all have emotions. Some people hide them, and some people wear them on their sleeves. It’s really being able to figure out what makes a person tick is really the secret sauce of being a successful personal trainer.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now, in keeping with that, since the emotional intelligence seems to be foundational with your training, how do you use that emotional intelligence to balance out how much you’re going to push your clients to reach their physical limits or their physical potential without burning them out?
Josh Bowen: I think everything is based on habits, so if we habitually get into a routine that’s going to positively impact our end goal, then we’re good. So, I don’t look at the workouts being that if I have a client that needs to lose 50 pounds, that we’ve got to kick their butt every single time. Because, number one, to your point, from an emotional standpoint, some days they may not be ready or equipped to do such.
I gave the example earlier that they may come in with their head down, and I know that I have to be a different trainer than I was the day before when they came in skipping and they’re ready to go. So, not only from a physiological standpoint of rest and recovery but also from a standpoint of psychology.
“What happened today? Who are you today that you were different the other day?” And that’s going to dictate how I train them. It may be from the standpoint we may only get 20 minutes of exercise in a 60-minute session because we’ve got to talk about several things that they need to talk about.
Right, wrong or indifferent, we end up being somewhat of life coaches or psychologists or whatever to try to impact these people, but yet they still get the working out portion, which is what they need. I mean, you’re not going to lose 50 pounds in a day, and that’s what I always remind myself is this, they may have this certain goal.
As long as we’re working towards that goal every single day, then we’ll get there. This may be a day where we need to reduce the amount of volume, reduce the number of exercises, get a little bit of a sweat in, yet they need this time to vent or to whatever. That can reach a point, and people can criticize that and say whatever, but you have to feel it based on your emotion, [I have to lead] based on their emotion. It’s something after 16 years in doing this, it’s just something that you just feel. You just know what to do.
Schimri Yoyo: And you mentioned rest and recovery in your training, what would you say is the relationship between the strength coaching, the rest and recovery, and then also the injury prevention? How do they all work together?
Josh Bowen: It’s a fine line because if you really dive deep into the physiology, you know that people need sleep, and you know that most people don’t get enough sleep, and you know that most people don’t get enough micronutrients or even macronutrients in order to be able to push themselves every single day.
So, my encouragement is always this: You need to do something every day, and you need to dictate that intensity level based upon how you feel, how you truly feel. You can’t go balls to the wall every single day because if you did, then that’s truly not balls to the wall.
There has to be an intimate relationship between strength and conditioning, rest and recovery, nutrition, and how they balance their entire life. It’s a philosophy. It’s something that no one is truly got it all figured out, but depending on the goal of the client, that has to be an intricate part of it.
It can’t just be, “We’re going to come in, and we’re going to beat the hell out of you and then send you on your way.” It has to be a 24-hour, seven days a week, 365 mindset that you have, no matter what your goal is.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, in your opinion, how are speed, strength, and mobility all related?
Josh Bowen: Well, in order to be strong and fast, you have to be mobile.
Schimri Yoyo: Right.
Josh Bowen: It’s something that I struggle with personally is trying to increase the mobility of my joints, so I employ a massage and foam rolling and stretching things that in the past I was against, personally. So, we refer out, too. My girlfriend is a massage therapist, so that’s an easy [referral].
From a standpoint of mobility, we’re going to focus on that mobility, and if they have a desire to be fast, then we’re going to build the strength in order for them to be able to generate the strength and power necessary to be as fast as possible. But they’re all interrelated because you really, truly need all three. Even Grandma at 90 years old needs to have some type of speed, definitely needs to be mobile, and absolutely needs to be strong.
Schimri Yoyo: Yes. That makes total sense. Thank you for that thorough explanation. Now you’ve talked about, with your emotional intelligence, helping clients to find ways to motivate themselves so that it’s not you doing the motivating, which is understandable.
In your opinion, as you judged, as you’ve watched different clients and the ones who’ve had the most success under your tutelage and under your training, what are some commonalities or some common traits or values that they’ve shared?
Josh Bowen: Well, the number one thing is that they’re able to create this mindset of “This is a habit.” This isn’t something that is going to get fixed or solved or happen overnight. They know that every single day I have to do the little things in order to get the big thing. It’s reversed engineering, working yourself backward from your goal.
Even if you don’t have a concrete goal, you want to make this a lifestyle, and you enjoy it, you have to do the things every single day, like making sure that you eat lean protein in every single meal, making sure that you’re getting two servings of vegetable a day, making sure that you’re sleeping at least seven hours a night, making sure that you’re getting all the water that you need, and then every single day you build upon that.
Those are the people that are the most successful. They don’t look at it as this is like a finite thing. There’s no end road here. This is an infinite thing. This is something I have to do for myself for me to be the best version of myself, so I know I need to do these things routinely and habitually. That’s the thing that I stress to people.
It’s a process. You have to be comfortable in the process, and you have to love the process. When you die, there’s the year you were born, and then the year that you’re dead, right? There’s that little point in between. You got to make that point count.
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Entrepreneurship is Enhancing Your Community
Schimri Yoyo: Make sense. Now, let’s talk about the specifics of your business and what you’re doing at Aspire Fitness. What makes you and your team at Aspire Fitness unique? Brag about yourselves a little bit.
Josh Bowen: Okay. The number one thing that I think makes the gym unique is the fact that we have done an outstanding job of community work, charity work. We’ve combined—I think we’ve raised over $200,000 for a variety of different charities. We’ve done a lot of community work. We have our own charity where we give these specialty bikes to kids who have these special conditions like cerebral palsy and a variety of other things that inhibit them from moving their arms or legs or both, to keep them active. From the standpoint of that, we’ve done a fantastic job inside the four walls.
Really, it has to do with the fact we train all walks of life. There’s a community inside as well. Clients know each other. Clients like each other. They’re all there for really one common goal, which is to make themselves a better version of themselves. I think we do a great job of refocusing people on that.
You’re here to make yourself better. You’re not here to look great in a bikini on Instagram.
You’re here to make your life better because fitness is a vehicle, and it doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in, whether you’re a lawyer or a doctor, whatever, you’re trying to get people [to achieve] a result. You’re trying to get people a better result to make them better. We just happen to use fitness to do that. I think we do a great job with that.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. And you mentioned the word community as part of that answer, which is great because it leads to my next question: How do you use your platform as a means to serve your community beyond just the charitable aspects? What are some ways that help you to stand out in your community or create that community?
Josh Bowen: Well, I have to go back to the charitable activities because every year we run a 24-hour Fitness-a-Thon of sorts.
Schimri Yoyo: And you guys are located in Kentucky, correct?
Josh Bowen: Lexington, yes.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah. Okay.
Josh Bowen: So, the first three years, we’ve done it four years, the first three years, I trained for 24-straight hours, so I did up to 30 people on the hour, every hour, for 24 hours. This last year, we took it and made it a fitness community thing.
So not only did we do it for 25 hours, we had Orangetheory come and teach two classes of the 25 hours. We had different, other fitness boutiques come in and take an hour and then bring their community in from their gyms. I mean, we saw over 500 people in a 25-hour period and had 12 different fitness outfits contributing.
That takes your community and just multiplies it. It’s all for a great cause. We raise money for an organization that does surgeries for free for people who can’t afford them, so what would be routine for you and me could be ultimately life-ending for them if they can’t afford to get their gallbladder removed or have any of these other types of surgeries that they do. That’s how we focus on the community.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s awesome. So you utilize your strategic partnerships, and instead of having competition, you guys banded together to strengthen and enhance the community. That’s a great way to use your platform.
Josh Bowen: I don’t believe in competition. I’m not in competition with anybody but me. It was strange when I would pitch the idea to people. It’s like, “Well, hold on, so you’re going to bring Orangetheory in with their people and mix them with your people, and they’re going to teach two classes? That doesn’t make sense.”
It makes perfect sense to me because it’s all for charity, you know?
Schimri Yoyo: Now, how do you budget your time and energy between being an owner and trainer and entrepreneur?
Josh Bowen: So, time isn’t everything. Everybody has the same 24 hours. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. I get up in the morning at 3:30 AM every morning. I get to the gym by 4:30. I utilize any time that I have to work either on the business or in the business or anything personal that I need to do.
I have a gap in the middle of the day that I’ll sit down, and I will make sure—I’ve got a to-do list right here that I’m looking at that I need to get done over the next couple of days that is business-related. It’s on the business. It’s not in the business.
And then every Sunday, I come in and I work for five or six hours where I write my blogs. I go ahead and schedule the social media that we need to do, I do all the accounting things. So I would say I’m pretty decent at budgeting my time to know that if I’ve got 45 hours on the books of training, that I’m going to have to put in an extra 25 to 30 hours on anything that’s external that’s working on the business. You can get lost working in the business and not on the business.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s very true. Now, you were honored as the 2018 PFP Trainer of the Year. Congratulations on that again.
Josh Bowen: Thank you.
Schimri Yoyo: How has that recognition impacted the visibility or the commercial aspect of your practice?
Josh Bowen: I think it’s really impacted it. For argument’s sake, two things. Number one, you’ve contacted me to do this interview. That’s something that’s awesome. A couple of weeks ago, I got asked to do a speaking engagement as a keynote speaker in San Juan, Puerto Rico in December—all because of the fact that I was named PFP Personal Trainer of the Year because that’s how they heard about me.
So, it’s taken things to another level. It’s an honor that I will always hold near and dear to my heart. Any time that you can be recognized for your work, I think that’s a great thing.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, how do you use technology and social media to promote your services? You mentioned your blog a little bit, but what else do you do to promote your business from that front?
Josh Bowen: Well, we blog. We send out different types of articles on nutrition and fitness to a variety of different people. Social media, obviously, is a huge driver of getting your word out and your mission out, who you are, what you’re about. I’ve hired a virtual assistant, and she has taken some of these things off my plate and then enhanced it because while I’m sleeping, she’s working.
It’s helped with creating an online platform for me to garner some clientele online, to help with some of the social media, to help with the technology things that I’m okay with but not great at. I can go ahead and put that on somebody else’s plate. So, that answers your question.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, you’ve written a couple, or have been part of writing, a couple of different books. Can you just give us a brief summary of each of your projects and explain your writing process?
Josh Bowen: Okay, so I’ve written three books. The first one was a fitness-only book called The 12 Steps to Fitness Freedom. I wrote it in probably, I think, 15 hours. I wrote it from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina all the way to Lexington, Kentucky because I was on vacation with my parents. I wrote the whole book there.
The second book was called Your Time is NOW. I wrote that in a hotel room in Colorado. I had a client of mine and a near, dear friend have a tragic event, and it inspired me just to get in a place and write. I was at a Todd Durkin retreat when I did that.
Then I wrote a book called To the Grave on Empty, which is about expelling all the talent that you have before you go, making that dash really count. I wrote that book in a very short amount of time. Writing process for me is I write it, and I put it aside. I hire somebody else to edit it and to do all that stuff with it, but I write in bunches, I guess, is probably the way I would—
My favorite artist is Tupac. I used to say that Tupac would get in the studio, and he would write and write and write and write, and as soon as he recorded it, he was done with it. I think that’s kind of, not to compare myself to Tupac, that’s how I am with my writing style.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s great to hear. I know I tend to like to write in chunks of time as well, so I get it. Everyone’s a little bit different, but that makes total sense to me.
A couple more questions. Thanks again, Josh, for your time. What has been the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur, and what has been the biggest reward?
Josh Bowen: The biggest reward for me is just being able to impact people. I know that’s so cliché, but that’s so true. Just people. I love to just impact people in any which way possible. They may not have gotten any results with me as a trainer, but they’ve improved themselves and they’ve gotten better. They’re a better version of themselves, and I think that’s a win.
Biggest challenge? There are so many challenges in business and so many challenges in being an entrepreneur. I think probably everyone’s challenge is time. How do you use your time? And how do you leverage your time? We all have the same 24 hours, and how do you use it is what your result is going to be. I think that’s a huge challenge for me. I think it’s a huge challenge for everybody. To answer your question, the best thing is, is the impact I’ve had on people, and the hardest thing is just utilizing my time in a way that I can be the most impactful.
Schimri Yoyo: Yes. That’s a common answer, but that’s great. And finally, what’s next for you and for your business? What’s next for Aspire Fitness?
Josh Bowen: Well, Aspire Fitness is going to keep on trucking because we’ve got a big fundraiser coming up in January. Our fifth time doing Sweat4Surgery, so we’re going to keep that rolling. From a business standpoint, we’re just going to continue to serve the community of Lexington, Kentucky as the best as we can.
I am working on a few projects to get some online business going so that I can impact more people than just what I can see in person. And then I do some consulting for some other brands, and I like to do that. I like that motivation and inspiration and creatively, so we’re going to keep that going as well.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s good, man. Good luck to you. We definitely would like to circle back with you again in the future. Maybe give some exposure to one of your fundraising efforts.
Josh Bowen: Absolutely. I would love that.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright. Thank you again for your time, Josh.
Josh Bowen: Alright.
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Schimri Yoyo is a writer for Exercise.com and a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses. In a past life, he covered Villanova Men’s Basketball and Big East Football for Examiner.com. Schimri has also produced freelance copywriting, editing, and proofreading for various websites and online publications for over a decade. He is an avid sports fan, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco 49ers. Schimri is an educator and a storyteller who is eager to assist individuals and families to stay financially and physically fit.