Meet Mark Fisher, CEO and Ninja Master of Mark Fisher Fitness [Interview]
Being physically fit and mentally healthy is a universal need and desire for all people, not just the athletes among us. But if that’s the case, why do so many gyms and health clubs cater only to the accomplished jocks and extreme grunters of Bro Culture? Far too many fitness facilities have adopted this approach, alienating many people from even considering gym membership.
Today, we’re talking to Mark Fisher who has shifted that paradigm by seeking to make tried and true fitness fundamentals accessible and fun to the general population. He will detail how he has helped to transform many former fitness outcasts into fitness enthusiasts by creating a culture of inclusivity and education and support that has led to his building a successful fitness practice in New York City.
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Meet Mark Fisher, CEO and Ninja Master
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back to our continuing series of interviews with fitness experts. This is Schimiri Yoyo with exercise.com, and we have the pleasure today of having fitness expert, Mark Fisher, of Mark Fisher Fitness in New York City with us.
Mark, thank you for joining us.
Mark Fisher: Thanks for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, let’s just jump right into it. Let’s talk about how did you develop your love for health and fitness?
Mark Fisher: Yeah. Mine definitely came, I think first and foremost out of insecurity, with a dash of narcissism. My desire to look a certain way. I was the classic 1960s skinny kid getting the sand kicked in his face before he found Charles Atlas, kind of transitioning into the industry.
I was somebody that got into fitness first and foremost because I was unhappy with the way that I looked and had, like a lot of people, a challenged relationship with my body. I was very gratified to see the positive feedback loop that in fact, I had some flesh in my life, and if I ate a certain way and trained a certain way, things would change and my body would grow and evolve.
Like many people that make a career in the industry, ultimately I found that just became a gateway for me to be interested in I think the psychological benefits of exercise, not just that exercise physiologically makes your brain function better, but exercise as a proxy for agency in your life. I found that very gratifying not only for myself but ultimately, I found a lot of joy in helping other people experience that transformation themselves.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s great. Now, did you participate in any sports or any other physical activity growing up?
Mark Fisher: Badly, yes. I participated poorly in a few sports. I never really did anything very serious. I mean, I played roller hockey, and I kind of played basketball. I probably wasn’t terrible, terrible, but I certainly was by no means a naturally gifted athlete.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, before becoming a personal trainer, had you ever used a personal trainer before?
Mark Fisher: Not before becoming one, no. I read books. I read magazines. Once I was a trainer, I had hired people on-off over the years, and even in today’s day I still will on-off hire online coaches. I’ve certainly done a fair number of done for you programs that I bought, but yeah, no, I became a trainer before I had a trainer, weirdly.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, when you’re not training or running your business, what are some other things you do for fun in your spare time?
Mark Fisher: I’m a very prolific and passionate reader. Now, this relates to business, though, admittedly a lot of things that I read are probably only obtusely related. But I think as somebody that is interested in a business and human performance, it’s interesting because you can’t really study business.
You can study psychology and you can study psychology as it relates to consumer marketing, and you can study mathematics as relates to finance. So at this point, I tend to be most interested in things like philosophy, psychology, that kind of stuff. Technically, that’s not work, but it’s kind of a cheat answer because I do find it’s pretty applicable to what I do.
I do have an unfortunate hobby of craft cocktails, which is not the most fitness-focused, but I’m very passionate about that. That goes along well with another thing that I love to do that I do quite a lot for work, which is travel. I love to travel. I love to see other cultures. I love to go to Burning Man. Those are some things I do that are not directly work-related.
Schimri Yoyo: Hey, listen, if you put in the time and work, you can have yourself a treat cocktail every once in a while, right?
Mark Fisher: Yeah, I definitely do.
Find Stuff You Like and Don’t Hurt Yourself
Schimri Yoyo: Now, if you had to describe your training philosophy and methodology in one word, what would that be?
Mark Fisher: Just one single word?
Schimri Yoyo: You can elaborate further.
Mark Fisher: I can hyphenate.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, exactly. What best encapsulates that?
Mark Fisher: At MFF, we broadly often talk about “Ridiculous Humans. Serious Fitness.” Which for us means to have fun, be irreverent, but be very good at the actual fitness piece. Another thing we often say is: “Have fun, don’t get hurt,” which is to say that the first rule is do not hurt others, do not hurt yourself, know enough about the body to understand what is injurious to joint function.
Then within that, there’s a lot of room to play. I think a common misstep that I see, particularly among people that are pursuing health and fitness goals, is obsessing over optimal when really they should be looking for whatever it is they can be compliant with.
I’m pretty agnostic about fitness. I think if you look at the data for—particularly when the goal really is just the base health benefits, the longevity benefits, the cognitive benefits—there’s a pretty marked return on a pretty minimal investment for a lot of people through just walking aggressively three times a week after being sedentary. That’s going to be meaningful.
So I tend to be pretty agnostic about what people do. I certainly have my perspectives about things that are going to be more efficacious, but, ultimately, for me, it’s really, “Find stuff you like and don’t hurt yourself.”
Schimri Yoyo: That’s a great philosophy. I think that was my philosophy in dating growing up. No, I’m just kidding.
Mark Fisher: Oh, you managed to do that without getting hurt? Well, we gotta talk then. I would have benefited from your counsel.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s funny. Now, could you describe what’s your approach to functional training? You talked about movement and the benefits of that, so can you describe a little bit of how you approach that with each client?
Mark Fisher: It’s interesting because, again, if people look at Mark Fisher Fitness, particularly if they don’t look closely at what we do, I think it’s very understandable that people assume that we are probably yahoos cause we call our clients ninjas and mascot is the unicorn. We don’t call it the gym. It’s Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams.
So, it’s a very unusual delivery method, but in fact, the training is quite state. We aspire to be brilliant at the basics, not unlike most progressive trainers. Our background is actually in pretty academic. I think collegiate strength conditioning and prehab best practices.
For us very broadly, it’s maintaining competency at core human movements. There are a lot of different ways to slice that up, but for us it would be things like pushing, pulling, squatting, hinging, crawling, and learning how to do those movements while keeping joints in good position.
Now, we offer what we call Health and Hotness. I do think if somebody’s goal is purely aesthetic and part of the goal is hypertrophy, you’re looking to gain muscle, there probably is a time and place for focusing on muscles over movements. There probably is a time and place perhaps even for a partial range of motion.
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But for the most part, again, dealing with population that mostly just wants to get a real bang, big bang for their buck with three hours per week, we prioritize using robust variety of human movements that are executed while keeping joints in neutral positions using mostly muscles as opposed to joints, ligaments, tendons, bones, and ideally taking muscles through full range of motion, using moderate amounts of loads so you’re also challenging the muscles, and then, particularly when we have a limited amount of time, doing so with minimal rest periods and noncompeting muscle groups done in supersets.
This is a term I think Alwyn Cosgrove coined called metabolic resistance training. So another way we often refer this, one of our trainers, Beast (aka Kyle Jackson-Langworthy), came up with this simple paradigm—we do, in our semi-private training, more traditional weight training, and then our classes at MFF are cardio done with weights. We say, “We do weights with weights and we do cardio with weights.”
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with doing cardio. I think certainly past few years I’ve come around to some real utility in the value of some steady-state cardio, but the inherent challenge with a lot of modalities are doing steady state cardio if they’re not being done with technical proficiency, you’re getting an incomplete range of motion.
You might be getting impact, you might be getting overuse injuries. So, for somebody with a minimal amount of time—a lot of our clients, they get bored very easily—we like to give them a cardiovascular training effect while doing weight training, so we’re still getting the benefits for, ideally, joint mobility and muscle maintenance, strength, power, evolvement, etc.
Schimri Yoyo: That makes total sense. You guys have that wide range of things for the general population as opposed to focusing on a specific niche from that standpoint.
Mark Fisher: Yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: Now, you kind of mentioned this in your answer. I just want you just to elaborate a little bit more about the Enchanted Ninja Clubhouse of Glory and Dreams, and the whole ninja theme in your gym.
How did that come about and what do your clients think of all that? And do they get involved?
Mark Fisher: At Mark Fisher Fitness, our specialty really is helping people that don’t like and/or hate working out in gyms, finding a fitness home that they actually enjoy, they love, and that they’re willing to do for the long haul. So because from day one, coming from a background as somebody who had been a professional actor, working with other actors, people in the Broadway community, various people that didn’t identify as athletes and they were often off-put by traditional fitness culture.
I wanted to speak to them in a way that was aspirational, that was interesting, that would draw them in. There are two benefits to that. One just from a branding and marketing perspective, it was differentiated. It was different because everyone else was doing similar gym stuff, which is cool. I like gym stuff, but it certainly stuck out, creating what Seth Godin called Purple Cow marketing. But outside of the marketing piece of it, I think also signaled to the people that were looking for something different.
I think everything we’ve attempted to do with the brand, with the iconography, with the color, with the images is to create—to make it clear what a kind and inclusive and nurturing and supportive space Mark Fisher Fitness is. Because our passion is to find the people that are afraid of gyms and people who don’t feel like they fit in. People that maybe were picked last for the sports teams, people that perhaps ate lunch alone in middle school in the bathroom stall. Those are our people.
And I just—we felt that by speaking to them and having something a little bit more aspirational, something that captures their imagination, it would really help people self-select into our culture if they were the right fit, and that has borne out to be pretty true.
Schimri Yoyo: It seems like there’s an inclusive culture and climate in there that you’ve been able to foster. So how do you, within that context, measure progress and success for your clients within that inclusive culture?
Mark Fisher: Yeah. I mean, it really depends on their goal, right? For some people—the first thing I’ll say is for some individuals, really their definition of success is just that they work out, and that’s great. So for an individual like that, again, particularly if you’re coming from being sedentary. If we can get you just consistently working out a few times a week, we are already doing a lot of great stuff. I’m already happy. And if they’re happy, I’m happy. Where it starts to change and the metrics that we track will change a little bit, depends on what the individual’s goals are.
A lot of people—there are definitely some that show up just because they know they need to work out. They are afraid about what their doctor has told them, and they’re just desperate to find something that can have some positive impact on their biomarkers. Great. Show up. We’re going to get a lot of stuff done. You got a lot of low-hanging fruit there.
However, for some people, their goals are a little more exact things. So if the goals are around fat loss, now the game changes because now we have to track other goals relates to that, which would be things like the scale. We find circumference measurements are actually are a little bit more useful.
The scales, it’s just very fraught for a lot of people. So, waste and hips measurements can be useful. We do use the InBody body fat scanners for a lot of people whose body fat percentage is obviously more useful than scale weight anyway.
It’s interesting because the other thing that we always have to educate ninjas about is when they start to work with us, is you can’t out-train your diet. It’s very, very unfair. It just feels like, “After we’ve had a Herculean effort at the gym that’s going to lead to burning fat,” and it doesn’t quite work that way.
Same thing with spot specific reduction, another pernicious myth that is counterintuitive. It feels like, “If I’m doing a lot of sit-ups and those muscles are burning, well surely, I must be burning the fat over that muscle.” Unfortunately, fat loss is global. It happens systemically.
So, when individuals have a fat-loss goal, those will be the things that we track. Then, the other thing that a lot of people gravitate towards over time, which we tend to keep an eye on, is strength. Strength goals. Now, most people will not come in with strength goals. It’s very rare a general population person comes in and they’re like, “I really want to deadlift more.”
They might have some general goals around getting stronger, but one of the things that’s really cool, and I think you find this in a lot of the more progressive facilities, are people will often come in with a fat-loss goal, which is completely fine, and then, over time, they just get interested in the game, so to speak.
Over time, they start to have goals, such as, “I want to do a bodyweight pull-up,” or “I want to do five bodyweight pull-ups,” or “I want to do five weighted bodyweight pull-ups.” Then, when that starts to become a goal, we’ll start to track that as well.
A lot of the tracking itself for our regular memberships, for the most part, we rely on the clients to do that in and of themselves. However, if somebody is doing specialized programming, that will often force us, as their coaches, to make them be a little more rigorous for the tracking.
So, for instance, if someone is doing a particular program on nutrition with the goal of fat loss, we’re going to want to track stuff. We have a six-week makeover program called Snatched in Six Weeks, and in that program, we’re taking body metrics on a weekly basis so you can sort of see progress.
Then, interestingly enough, in response to the last thing I spoke about which is people’s goals shifting from purely aesthetic to performance, we have a program called Snatched Project X, which is, in fact, true a strength training program where they train via an easy strength undulating periodization protocol—though we don’t use any of those words because that would absolutely be gibberish to them—so that they can set some personal records on a handful of core kettlebell lifts while doing some heart-rate-based, interval training.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s very thorough. You guys got the complete effect. You can take them from novice all the way up to as advanced as they want to go.
Mark Fisher: Oh man, yeah. It’s cool too because for some people they don’t want to do that stuff, and that’s cool. Right? Because different people are motivated by different things. There’s a certain type of individual that really wants to have a goal and wants to have a thing to train for, and for a lot of people, fat loss is not a forever goal because number one, they might achieve their fat loss goals and then, “Well, now what?”
Number two, for a lot of people, frankly, they’ll discover at a certain point—I think they’ll reach homeostasis, where they’ve lost some weight, their health is better, and they’re just not willing to make the social and emotional sacrifices they would have to make to get down to 7 percent body fat with veins on their abs. Which ultimately, one discovers is not actually going to change your life in any meaningful way anyway. You might prefer to have a little bit more body fat, still be very healthy, and then spend time with your loved ones.
However, for that type of goal-ended person, it is enjoyable to shift them over to performance stuff over time. But even then, it’s interesting because when you’re dealing with training people for years and years and years at a time. The reality is, Mrs.Rossini—who I always joke is my metaphorical made-up person—Mrs. Rossini is probably only going to get so strong at the deadlift, right?
Like three, four years in, at a certain point she’s going to start to plateau. Particularly on our model, right? Because anybody that is a strength conditioning nerd understands at a certain point, linear progression doesn’t work. It’s not a matter of just put five pounds more on the bar every week because if you did that, everybody in the world would be walking around deadlifting 1,000 pounds.
So the loading parameters, the loading protocols get a little bit more complicated. You have to start playing with chains and bands and all those kinds of other things. And at a place like MFF, we’re not really set up for that.
So the other thing that does happen sometimes, which we take some pride in, is occasionally ninjas graduate from MFF. I’ve only got 60 minutes. I have constraints, so we have a 650-square-foot space. I can’t really have a lot of ninjas be doing 10 sets of 2.
And if that’s what they need to do or they suddenly get very interested in Olympic lifting, we’re just not set up for that. At that point, sometimes they graduate and go onto other things, which we miss people and are very proud when that happens.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s cool. Now you mentioned a little bit about nutrition. Can you just talk about how you have that conversation or how do you incorporate that with some of your ninjas?
Mark Fisher: Yeah. Relentless repetition. Repetition is the mother of mastery. We address the nutrition piece a lot. Again, I will say there are some people that sign up for MFF that have no fat loss goals. They don’t have aesthetic goals, they just want to exercise. Great. Happy to have you here. Done.
You just show up. We will get some exercise and maybe we’ll lose a couple of pounds, but we’re going to likely see a lot of the positive health things you’re looking for. We’re just going to take care of that because you just show up, we’re good to go.
The challenge is when the goal is something aesthetic in nature, particularly for fat loss. A large percentage of your results is all the things you’re doing while you’re not in the gym. So how we address that is we just hammer it over and over. Everything from the Health & Hotness strategy session to all of our onboarding membership emails. When somebody signs up for MFF, we educate them over a couple of months on all the things they need to know to be a ninja. In the ninja baptism, our very first workshop class, we will hammer it over again and again.
So, we’re just constantly reminding them of this, even though again, 20 percent of people aren’t going to care, but they’re never really mad to have it reviewed. But for the 80 percent of individuals that need to know that, we hit it again and again, because oftentimes the very interesting phenomenon is—
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And you see this, frankly even with longtime ninjas, they intellectually believe that. They intellectually understand it, but they still kind of think they’re going to out-train their diet. They believe me if I cite some of the—and admittedly some of the data’s hard to get here—but a lot of the best data when you look into it, they say Olympic-level athletes are burning 600 calories per hour or something, which is not that much compared to the fact you can pretty easily undo that with a really errant meal.
People intellectually understand that, but there still is human nature—which I don’t judge; it is what it is—for people to try to out-train their diet. People will be like, “Aw man, I ate really bad last night so I’ve got to go really hard today.” It’s like, good luck to you. It won’t work. I’m like, “I like you. You’re still safe and I still love you. And this will be an unsuccessful strategy.”
If you want to achieve aesthetic results, we’re going to have to really focus on tying in the diet, which as I think I’ve implied, we do handle differently. That’s not something that—intensive nutrition coaching is not included in the regular memberships. You get general guidance, but nutrition coaching for a lot of people requires a lot more in-depth stuff, particularly because for a lot of people the issue isn’t even really the knowledge gap.
I think for a lot of individuals, in six to 12 weeks, we can basically teach them most of the things they’ll probably ever need to know about nutrition. But helping people understand how they apply it based on their psychology, their lifestyle preferences, their logistics, that is a process that frankly never ends because even when somebody gets it and they find they’re really in their groove with their nutrition, they will accidentally have a baby or they will accidentally move to new apartment and get a new job, but different hours.
So, I am also a fan of helping people see the benefit of embracing the process because you never really get it done. I think it’s psychologically problematic to think like, “Oh, one day, I’ll get this done and then I don’t have to do more.” And unfortunately, life doesn’t quite work that way.
Time Management + Delegation + Collaboration = Achieving Glorious Business Dreams
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s good. Well, I want to be respectful of your time, Mark. You’ve been great. So I have three more questions for you. Just one, how do you juggle your time between being the ninja master and also an entrepreneur?
Mark Fisher: I have a great team. I also teach time management, so that is helpful. In fact, one of the things I teach through Business for Unicorns, which is our other company, is time management. So I think I’m pretty proficient at setting up my days in ways that really work for me. There are a lot of pieces to that.
One that immediately comes to mind that I think I’ve used to great effect that has been very helpful to allow me to be productive at a very high level is simply knowing my own body, my own rhythms, knowing when I’m most effective, and really being meticulous about setting up my day so that when I’m at my highest energy levels, I’m most creative, which for me is pretty much between 7:00 and 10:00 AM.
That’s the time I’m doing my most cognitively demanding, highest possible impact things that are really going to move the business forward. So for me, that’s going to be things like writing, email copy, creating courses, creating content, working on presentations that I deliver at seminars throughout the country, throughout the world. And that has been incredibly helpful.
I think the other thing that has been very useful for me to get a lot of stuff done is learning how to effectively delegate, which is I think both a mindset and a skillset. I think the mindset piece is just trusting that you can find people to do a lot of the things that you’re doing and being willing to give people the trust and the ability to do things for you, and then learning the skills of delegation management.
How do you effectively explain to somebody what the standard operating procedures are? How do you take the things that you might be doing intuitively and make them into a system that you can give to somebody else that you trust and have them do them for you?
So, that’s how I balance it, but admittedly it’s balanced and moves around. Much like posture, I don’t know that there’s the correct posture. Good posture is one that’s moving and flexible, and I think scheduling time management systems need to be similar.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now, how do you use technology and social media to promote your business?
Mark Fisher: Well, I have, once again, I have a team that does a lot of that for me. I don’t actually do too much that myself in today’s day and age. I use Facebook mostly for Facebook groups to interact with the Unicorn Society, which are a group of fitness business owners that work with my business partner and me throughout the year to help grow their businesses.
I use it for Business for Unicorns courses, where each course will have a private Facebook group, and for the Mark Fisher Fitness Groups, which are both the community forum, which is all on MFF members, and then the Snatched groups. That’s mostly what I use Facebook for.
On Instagram, I’m the first to admit, I don’t do tons of posting. I’m mostly there so if people want to connect with me there and direct message me, they can. It’s just one more channel for me to interact with people. However, the MFF team and at Business for Unicorns, we have people that do post on a regular basis because social media is a big piece.
I don’t think there is any way around that. I think it is a very rare business in today’s day and age that’s not going to get a lot of benefit around mastering not only organic social media but also understanding how to use paid ads. So, we use those both to a great extent, but I oversee the strategy of the people that oversee the people that are executing it on a daily basis.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s a great answer. Actually, I’m glad that you kind of delved into that because I ask that question pretty much to all my interview subjects, and it’s great to—some of them feel like they need to do all the social media themselves.
And I’ve tried to kind of coach them a little bit that “No, you can hire that out or get some young, 20-something intern hat would be able to do that.” but like you said, they just need to oversee it. So, that’s great advice.
Mark Fisher: Yeah. It’s really another form of delegation, right? Admittedly, the other thing too I’ll concede is I, in the beginning, I did do a lot of it myself. So I developed some proficiency. And I think that is another best practice of both management delegation. It is difficult to manage someone or delegate someone on something that you have no competency around. Ideally, these people are, in fact, ultimately better than you, and that’s part of why you hire them.
But Mark Fisher Fitness was built—I was very active on social media for a long time. And frankly, listen, there’s probably an argument to be made. I probably could leverage my personal brand more robustly. It’s something I’m considering, but again, going back to the time management piece, I’m considering the cost/benefit and the return on investment of that time versus the other ways I could use my time to create products and do the kind of deep work that I think can create products that are meaningful and impactful and can grow the business that way. So, once again, it’s a balance.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, that’s right. You have to be present. Like you said, your business presence has to be there on social media, but you physically don’t have to be the one managing it. That’s good.
Lastly, thanks again for your time, Mark. It’s been great. You came as advertised, so I want to thank Benjamin Pickard and Geoff Girvitz, both of whom mentioned you and said, “You need to get in touch with our guy, Mark.”
Mark Fisher: Yeah. Unicorn Society members. Great guys.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s right. Finally, we just want to know, do you have any resources—you’ve mentioned you’re a reader. I’m a reader as well—but any book, magazines, podcasts that you would recommend to our audience? It doesn’t have to be fitness related either. Just things that you would say, “This is good content for you to have.”
Mark Fisher: Yeah, I think the best thing to do is go to businessforunicorns.com, and if you go to my blog, I actually have a recently updated list. I think it’s my 48 books broken down by topic, and that relates to various different business functions. Everything from leadership to marketing to finance, for people that—as I mentioned, I’m also interested in just being the best human that I can be. So I spent a lot of time reading psychology, morality, ethics.
On my Instagram page, if they find me @MFisherFitness, if they scroll down, they will find there are maybe three or four pictures of a lot of books. And if they click on them, I know one of them is my most recently updated top 10 and then actually top 20 books of all time.
That’s always an imperfect and impossible assignment, but essentially what I’m looking to do is I ask myself, if I were to give 10 or 20 books anonymously to a 22-year-old and I’m looking to set them up for success in life by understanding what it means to be human, what it means to be a good human, how to be of service, what are the various ways their brain is going to trick them and prevent them from thinking as clearly as they could, how do they clarify what as they want that if their life, that’s definitely a post worth checking out. Certainly, the best I got as far as, “Alright, here are the books that, for me, have been the most impactful.”
Schimri Yoyo: That’s great. So again, thank you for your time. This has been great to catch up with you, and I definitely look to circle back with you sometime in the future.
Mark Fisher: Yeah, man.
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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.