Interview: Josh Henkin, Ultimate Sandbag Training [Tips + Technology]
Get the Basics…
Perseverance and Persistence Over Perfection
Process Over Product
Patient and Purposeful Personal Development Over Popular Opinion
When starting your own fitness business, it’s always good to prepare well and to have a solid business plan. But sometimes, it helps to encounter some fortuitous circumstances on the way to making a fortune in fitness.
Today, we’re talking to Josh Henkin who will discuss his lucrative accident in discovering and developing the technology for his ultimate sandbag training. He shares how over the years he has not only refined the tools of his craft but also the techniques and procedures to help sustain a successful fitness practice.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Josh Henkin, Co-Creator of Ultimate Sandbag Training
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with exercise.com, and we are continuing our series of interviews with fitness experts. Today we have Josh Henkin, who is the founder and co-creator of the Ultimate Sandbag Training with us today.
Josh, thank you for joining.
Josh Henkin: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, let’s get a little bit of background information, we like to do that, get the audience to get to know you a little bit. How did you first begin your journey in the health and fitness industry?
Josh Henkin: I grew up as kind of an overweight kid, and I think that made me very self-conscious about being physically active. I was also a taller kid, so one of those physically immature—the way I grew into my body, I’d say you’re awkward, plus you’re a little heavy set—isn’t a great combination to inspire you to do a lot of physical activities.
Although, my older brother would try to take me to the basketball court and try to get me to play basketball. I don’t know if he wanted me to play basketball or just beat me at something. I’m going with he just wanted to beat me at something. That got me at least encouraged to, maybe I could do something because I was just taller than everyone, and when you’re at that age, being taller than everyone helps, especially at basketball, right?
So I got interested in that. That got me growing into my body and so forth. I started to gain an appreciation of sport and to be physically active. About that time when I was 14, I suffered a really bad ankle injury playing basketball. I landed on a crack in the sidewalk and turned my foot all the way upside down, that was my first introduction to injury.
That was a really bad, nasty injury. I always tell the story that I’ve never seen my stepmom get nauseous or anything, but she took me to the emergency room—it’s the only time I’ve ever seen her almost throw up when they almost turned my foot all the way around. I just ripped up everything.
I was one of those—I was just moping, not knowing—being 13, 14 years old—how to deal with this. My older brother was like, “Hey, I’m not going to let you sit around. Let’s go to the gym.” That was the first time I ever went to the gym.
Again, I don’t know if he had my good intentions at heart or his own, because, of course, he and his buddy had me get on the bench press, there’s no weight on the bar. I go to do the bench press, and I’m pinned by the bar. I’m wiggling around like dying, and of course, they’re laughing because that’s what brothers do.
Eventually, when they got the bar off of me, I just have this innate, stubborn personality, I think it comes from our family, I wanted to show him. Almost that experience made me fall in love with working out, because I’m like basketball, and I loved basketball, that was my sport for so many years.
Eventually, you’re going to be limited, people jump higher, they run faster, they’re just more athletic. Something about the weight room, made me feel like if you put the time in, you were always rewarded with something. Unlike sport sometimes, no matter how hard you work, you just run into people that are better than you.
So that gave me my love, and during that time too I got introduced in high school to a coach of ours that was also assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Chicago White Sox at the time. I didn’t know there was a world of strength and conditioning, I’m like, “What is this? This is pretty cool. Do you get paid to train athletes? I want to do that.”
Ever since I was in high school, I went to college just to get my degree in Exercise Science so I could go off and do this strength and conditioning thing, and so that was really the jumping-off point. Obviously, life took me in a very different direction, a direction I would never have anticipated, but that was what got me into having that background.
Having been overweight and uncoordinated, I can be very sympathetic to people that are very de-conditioned, or trying to start a fitness program to someone who has worked with high-level athletes and known what the strength and conditioning life is like.
It’s nice to have that ability to relate to all these different areas and those experiences of being someone who’s been badly injured, or someone who’s been working with people of high performance. It just allowed me to have a different thought process, I think, going into this industry.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good, you took initial hardship of being overweight and also a severe injury and then flipped it to make it a lifelong profession, that’s pretty cool.
You mentioned that you had a strength and conditioning coach that was sort of a mentor for you, what was his name? Let’s give him a shout out.
Josh Henkin: Tim Lang. To be honest, I don’t know if Tim’s working anymore, Tim might be retired, hopefully. That was when I was in high school, so, Tim, I’m hoping you’re retired at this point very happily. He was an awesome guy, he eventually was a strength and conditioning coach for the Texas Rangers. I got to visit him in Arlington one time and go to the clubhouse, that was super cool, especially, I think I just started college. He was always a very generous man to me.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s cool. We always like to pay homage to those who paved the way before us, even if they’re retired, even if they’re not still active, but that’s pretty cool. Now, when you’re not training, what are some other things that you do for fun?
Josh Henkin: For fun, well, if anyone’s ever followed me, they’ve seen plenty of dog pictures. I always make the joke that I like fitness a lot and I love training a lot, but I absolutely love our rescue dog. We’ve had over six rescue dogs over time, so they take up a lot of our time. We live in Vegas, which most people would think is a mistake, like, oh my God, I have to tell people, we don’t live at the Bellagio, right? There’s a lot of outdoor stuff, so we do a lot of outdoor activities, we try to do things that decompress us.
[Editor: Talk of outdoor activities in Vegas got us intrigued. Here are a few cool things we found:
Running a business and being coach combined can be, as many people can attest to, very mentally draining. You give a lot of your own energy, and you try to be very thoughtful, so having something that can refresh you is always very nice. Just having couple’s time, too, we’re a family-owned business. So my wife and I, having that time as a couple versus just being business owners is always really nice to make time for.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s cool. I actually was going to ask you a little bit about that, what the dynamic is, having a family-run business, do you find that’s a pro or can that be challenging at times?
Josh Henkin: I think I was fortunate because when I was young, my dad and my step-mom worked together, so I learned very early on. And I always love to tell the story, those boundaries you try to set forth, they’re made with good intentions, you have to set forth boundaries.
I remember as a kid picking up a—remember when there were phones with strings—that had cords with them? I picked up the phone and you accidentally pick up on a family member talking, I remember they were just shouting, and my stepmom goes, “F you Robert.”
And I’m like, “Okay, I better hang this up now.” So I think no matter what—I mean the toughest part is you do have to do different things. And I think that doesn’t necessarily just go with a family-owned business. I know a lot of people that got business partners, right? They partner with someone with the exact same skill set as they have rather than someone who’s complementary.
So I think the same thing in our regards. I think sometimes someone thinks I’m just passing them off to my wife, or my wife’s just passing them off to me when they ask us questions. But the reality is, we’ve chosen and we have to have very distinct roles. If we’re overlapping each other, that’s where things get messed up, and that’s where mistakes happen because we’re disturbing each other’s systems.
[Editor’s note: Check out the video below to hear what Gary Vee’s secret to working with family members in business.]
You have to have those systems in place as a business to function, so it’s just communication. I think the toughest part is knowing when to shut it up and being able to shut it up. And normally if you had a couple, they had different jobs, you come home and you vent to each other about your day and you just go, yeah, yeah, just listen, but now it’s like both of you own businesses now.
You need times where you need to pull back, and I interject as the other co-owner but as like the husband or the wife and just listen. That’s something that can be tough.
Schimri Yoyo: That makes a lot of sense, and like you said, having those complementary skills and being self-aware to understand that if there’s too much overlap, there can be the conflict that arises though. That’s pretty good, it seems like you have a good system in place.
Josh Henkin: Most days.
Movement, Mechanics, and Machinery
Schimri Yoyo: Now if you could describe your training philosophy and methodology in one word, what word would it be?
Josh Henkin: I mean, if we’re going for one word, I hate to use the word, because I think it gets abused a lot, but we really are I think functional. And when I say that, I know probably half the people either passed out, couldn’t believe I said that word. The other people were really excited but just confused like what makes us unique.
And I always tell people, the original term functional training came from physical therapists that basically realized, in the 70s that the bodybuilding influence was impacting how we prepare the body. So it wasn’t actually trained to the body as it’s designed to function.
So the whole goal of the physical therapist was to develop a model where we could develop, training and exercises to address how the body functions, now the reason I’m saying that is because when you say that in the fitness environment, the unfortunate thing is, we have a whole profession who’s supposedly knowledgeable about the body and muscles and they know movement.
But when it comes down to it, oftentimes when I talk to different professionals, we are really good about talking about things in the gym, but when we’re talking about how the body is actually designed to work, we’re very poorly educated upon that.
And so therefore that’s where all the misnomer about what functional training is or what it looks like, it comes about, and so I always tell people what most people tell me functional training is, generally it tends to be a philosophy, it’s like, why do I say, what does that look like on paper with the methodology, they look at me weird, like, I don’t know.
So it’s like one of those things I give the analogy of a computer that I may be able to fix my computer by banging on it or turning it off and on, but I’m totally guessing because I don’t understand how the computer works. I think sometimes we get very guilty of doing that with the body itself. We know a couple of things, we can make maybe a leap and a guess that might work, but we’re still guessing, we’re not more so knowing about what we’re trying to do and the methodology that we’re trying to put behind it.
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Schimri Yoyo: That’s good elaboration. We asked for the one word just to boil it down, but I always appreciate the elaboration and giving us the context to why you chose that word, so.
Josh Henkin: Yeah, I mean, because when you say the word functional, it’s very polarizing, right? And so I wanted to more clearly define what I meant by that.
Schimri Yoyo: No, that’s good, that’s good. We’re always interested in the philosophy, in like you said, the methodology behind the practice of an exercise, that’s why we have you on, we want to hear straight from the horse’s mouth.
Now how did you come up with and develop the concept of sandbag training?
Josh Henkin: Completely by accident, as all great ideas obviously come about. I basically, in college I realized that what I was learning in the university wasn’t what was being done in the industry, and it was just at the time that strength and conditioning coaches were becoming more celebrities if you would.
So this is the mid to late nineties, getting myself a bit here, but before that it was always like the bodybuilding coaches and the bodybuilders that dominated mainstream fitness, and now I think it was Muscle Media 2000, the people that started EAS, eventually they were the ones that started giving a platform to strength and conditioning coaches.
And so I started reading these different strength coaches, I mean names like Charles Poliquin come to mind and many others. It was interesting to see their thought process upon training. And so I knew in college that I had to do stuff outside of school to really become a good coach.
So while I was in school, I was already going to continuing education programs internships, I was trying to spend time with these people, like you said, learn the information from the horse’s mouth, I wanted to know everything, I was so hungry to have that knowledge. Going back for a second, after that ankle injury I told you about, six months later I completely blew out my lower back during a basketball game.
So since the age of 14 I’ve dealt with a lower back pain, and so, it was also a selfish endeavor where I’m like, I needed to find things that helped me, because here I am in my late teens, early twenties and in terrible pain, I couldn’t sit in class, I was the classic problematic person, but someone who also wants to be physically active and helping others do the same.
So all the information I wanted to learn, corrective exercise, strength and conditioning, all those things, and then basically some of that stuff helps, some of that stuff was interesting, but nothing made a big profound difference. It was about 2002 when a mentor of mine was basically like, you’ve got to go to this kettlebell program.
What I did at the time, I went online and Googled kettlebells and I looked at it, I’m like, I don’t know, kind of looks like what I can do with a dumbbell, right? I don’t get it. He said, “Trust me, just go the program.” So, was 2003 I went to the RKC at the time, I think it was the third one ever. And Pavel Tsatsouline came out, and Pavel, the person that reintroduce kettlebells to the US. And I fell in love with what he said right upfront, he said, “This isn’t about the kettlebell, we’re just using a kettlebell as a vehicle to teach you about movement.
[Editor’s note: Listen to Pavel explain the virtues of kettlebell training at one of his RKC workshops in the video below.]
And even with all the programs I had done, I never had someone talk about movement. We talked about lifts, we talked about muscle groups, we talk about programming, but no one talked about this idea of movement. After going that weekend, it was the first time I felt sniffly different in my lower back.
So I asked Pavel, of course, being hungry, I’m like, “Where do I learn more about this? And all this stuff I’ve read, no one’s talking about this, where do I learn that?” He said, “Read the old stuff, the late 1800s the early 1900s. And people listening to this are going like, “Why then?”
Well, the reason is that, to be most blatant, is that fitness wasn’t that corrupted yet. Meaning that physical education was just starting because it makes sense, before that time, we didn’t have a need for physical education because we were so physically active with manual labor or things like that, like farming. So we didn’t have a need to have formal education programs.
So in the late 1800s in Europe, they were developing physical education. So that whole idea of being able to be very mobile but incredibly strong, to be powerful but very agile, it was all the combinations. I think we would all say we would like to have today, but they actually did it.
And now in today’s world, we think of specialists like if you’re very strong, you can’t be that mobile, if you’re very mobile, you’re not that powerful and so forth and so forth. They were the ones that had sort of the collection of all of them.
And so I’m one of those people that I try to connect dots, so obviously the Internet didn’t exist at that time, so it wasn’t these old-time people could communicate with one another very freely. So they had these—their books and their ideas and so you try to connect the dots. And one thing they all talked about, in one form or another, was odd objects.
They also had, in one form or another, even though they didn’t have the science, their way of building core strengths, to stabilize your strength, integration, the body. They knew that these odd objects forced you to understand how to move more efficiently.
Being a former athlete, if you tell me what’s the hardest thing to do, I want to do that. So in one form or another, they all talked about a bag of something, right? And so I’m like, That’s something I can do. So I got the army duffle, duct tape, garbage bags and I made my old 80-pound army duffel bag of sand, worked out my garage and it kicked my butt.
So as a good coach do when it kicks your butt, is you do it to your clients, right? So I took it to my clients and they’re like, “Oh this is cool and awesome.”
It was for about a month or so, after that point, I started losing faith in it because it started to become problematic. We had sand dumping on people’s faces. We had knuckles getting cut up and skin getting ripped and more than that was—just because you were using something that wasn’t designed for fitness, right?
More than that, I just didn’t have the purpose for what we were doing. Like so many other people, my baseline for everything was barbell training, so I tried to treat it as just another barbell. And so, well, what do you do when you can’t increase it by five pounds? You just have to have 20 million of these?
That sounds inconvenient. How do we progress? What’s the training goal? And so when I started asking these questions, I didn’t have the answers. So I went and tried to find all the books I could about sandbag training—because as the Internet loves to remind me that I didn’t invent sandbags, but I never said it did.
So I tried to find all these books, and all the books I could find—I have a whole bunch of books, there’ll be five pages there, maybe 10 pages there—and they were more like, “Here are some cool drills.” It wasn’t like, “How do you use sandbags in a program?” I said, “What’s wrong with this? If this has been around forever, why isn’t this popular in training?”
So either it has to be that the implement is flawed, the system of using is flawed, or both. And so I started coming around to the idea that it’s both, that we didn’t have the right tool, and we didn’t have a system behind it to exploit its pros and to minimize the negatives about it.
So that was what started the whole process, and as we started solving those issues, that’s when the system and the implement really grew. So I always tell people they don’t want sandbags because most gyms don’t have them. If they haven’t had them for years—I remember I told a story in 2005 when I started this business. My first web guy, I’m just talking to him, he’s like, “What keywords do you want me to put in the search engines?”
I’m like, “Sandbag exercise, sandbag workout, sandbag training.” He says alright. A couple of hours later, he comes back and goes, “Nah, you can’t do that.” I’m like, “Why not?” He’s like, “Because no one’s looking for it.”
So we actually had to create a purpose. So I always tell people it’s not the sandbag, it’s our system behind what you do with it. It’s the point of having the software and the hardware work harmoniously to create a result better than you could do otherwise.
It helps to be able to learn and put a system in place to say ‘We have this issue with the shoulder or this elbow pain, this hip internal rotation issue’ and we’ve gone through it with 25 other guys. We’ve had good success with 24 of them so we have a game plan in place.
The flip side is if you get stuck in a rut and your systems don’t work and are not scalable you’re just like why isn’t this working. You can’t see outside the box at all. Systems help eliminate problems.
Founder, Revolution Sports Performance
Schimri Yoyo: No, that makes sense, that makes a lot of sense. So in that sense, it’s almost like you said with the kettlebells, they’re just tools as a proxy or a gateway to the movement into the exercise you want, that’s pretty cool.
Now, can you describe a little bit more in detail your working relationship with Jessica Bento?
Josh Henkin: Jessica is my wife. She’s got a background in physical therapy. And I always tell this story that when we were dating, I was just getting the business off the ground. So we’re at dinner and she’s like, “So, tell me what do you do?” I’m like, “I do this online thing. But no, not that thing,” because I didn’t want her to think the wrong thing. And Jessica is very direct, she worked in hospitals for many years, so she’s learned to be very direct. “So let me get this straight, you sell people empty bags.” And I’m like, “Well, it’s not quite that.”
I mean in the literal sense, I guess it ends up being that. But I was trying to explain to her, but she also had a background. She was a high-level swimmer, had suffered injury, and she in her early years of being a therapist, she really hurt her back trying to transfer a patient from a chair to a bed. So she’d had this back issue, and she hadn’t been able to really lift weights even though she was a therapist.
It was when actually working with her, that she was like, “Oh my God, wait, you’re the first person, I’m a physical therapist, I know other physical therapists, but you’re the first person to actually make me feel better. I want to be a part of this. I want to help develop this. I want to make this more usable for the clinicians as well as the coaches and the trainers.”
So she’s really helped me build a curriculum, because her lens of things are coming from the clinician side, the challenges that they have, and making it so that it’s accessible to anyone. So we wanted a system and a tool that could cross so many different boundaries of the health profession.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh that’s perfect, that’s exactly what I was asking. So it seems like you do a lot of the upfront marketing and training and then she does like that, create systems for the business.
Josh Henkin: Yeah, she definitely does a lot of the admin and she’s really good. I always think guys—we have these abstract ideas, and the women tend to be very good systems people, like they put our ideas into action like, “Oh this is how that actually looks like.”
But we cross over sometimes and they’re like, we do so purposely. For creating curriculums, she’ll have input in that, and if she’s creating a new system, we’ll talk about that. But it’s having different eyeballs and having different perspectives that makes it work versus one trying to be right or wrong, just having a different framework or where you’re looking at that situation from.
Solutions, Systems, and Strength Training
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, that makes sense. Now, how involved are you in researching, in developing new exercise equipment or technology that could supplement what you’re currently doing?
Josh Henkin: We’ve done some things over the years. Some things that are very simple, and some things that have been bigger endeavors. I warn others about this: the system of coming up with new things. People will be like, “Josh, what’s the next thing you’re going create?”
The first thing I always tell people is “We just need to get education out there more because a tool is only valuable if there’s something behind it that does something uniquely different.” I always say a tool has to be a solution to a problem, right?
If I need to put a nail into my wall and then you give me a saw, we’re not getting very far, right? So I always say like the education has to be first and foremost. Once we have the education, then we can also look at what are we trying to solve.
So every piece of equipment we’ve created, we’ve created simple things like our core strap, which is attached to our bags to position the bands so it gives us a different vector force. So that’s something we wouldn’t have been able to do in the past, but that’s a very simple development, but it was to create a very specific solution.
We created a very unique sled while there are many sleds out there, I felt like a lot of people had gotten away from the multidimensional part of sleds. So we have this very lightweight portable sled that’s very easy to change way out, but you can focus more on diverse movement patterns than you could with a lot of push sleds out there.
[Editor’s note: See the Ultimate Sandbag Sled in action in the video below.]
So again, now we took something that had already existed and just put our twist to it, and we solved problems that we perceived as coaches to that piece of the implement. So we’re constantly trying to do things like that, and whenever we introduce something, it’s got to be like, that’s got to do something uniquely different.
It can’t be like, “Oh, here’s another variation of this. Isn’t this cool too?” Mostly, because at my heart, I’m a coach and I’ve owned my own facility before. And I always tell coaches that the one thing you can never replace in a facility is space. So when you bring in something into your facility, it’s got a solve big need because there’s not only a financial investment there, but there is also a space investment to it.
And I’ve been guilty, as a coach, just bringing cool stuff that I thought was really cool, and then as I stepped back and I was a coach-slash-business owner going, “Which pieces of equipment help me solve the problems of my clients more?” I started to streamline my gym a lot more and find what tools were most effective for me, and then what’s much more efficient at solving a lot of those problems.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. Now, what is the process for other coaches to get DVRT-certified and LIFT-certified through your program?
Josh Henkin: So I know with our DVRT program we have both the option of doing live courses, which are always great, because we get to interact, obviously, and it’s hard to replace the environment actually getting to work with people, but we also realize there was a changing world where people want to do stuff digitally. So both DVRT and LIFT, our digital programs, are offered. So I know there’s a certain place in the world, there are certain places in the country we may not get to, so people can download the information.
And the plus side of that, because I was very much like, “How do you replace,” not even necessarily replace but, “How do you make sure that people get adequate educational experience from an online program?” The first thing I said is, “Well, we have to look at the benefits, and the benefits are, versus a live event, I am limited by time. Online, I’m not limited by time, so I can present more content to people, actually, than I could even in a live course. It doesn’t mean one’s better than the other, they’re just different.
So it’s one of those things, like anyone who attends a live course will get our online program. Anyone who does our online program, they’ll get opportunities if they want it to attend a live course, but we wanted to make sure that you didn’t feel like you’re missing out either way.
LIFT was a unique thing because I got this idea in my head last year. I don’t know if I liked myself halfway through it, but I was answering the problem of how do all these tools that we often talk about fit together. Rather than having a kettlebell station, a TRX station, Ultimate Sandbag station, how do they actually fit into a system, rather than, “I’m just going to pick out implements”? Because as coaches we should figure out what the problem is, figure out how we’re going to address it and then identify the most appropriate tool.
Unfortunately, what happens to a lot of coaches, they pick the tool, try to think of the issue they’re addressing, and then try to justify a problem. So they have reverse engineering because we don’t have that in place in our industry. We just have, “Here’s a barbell, here’s a kettlebell, this is how you use it.” But we don’t have systems.
So it ends up being a nine-module program, it’s like a thousand pages, which you don’t have to do all at once. But we have different modules that people can break down and go through because I remember my first experiences too—I don’t know how many people remember the name Paul Chek.
Paul Chek used to do these distance corresponds courses where you get—I’m dating myself—a VHS tape in the mail with a binder, and I loved that idea. And so we wanted to try to do that in a more modern era, where people can get a lot of instruction and feel very competent and they can figure out a problem.
So they can take any of those courses, they can take them just for their own education or if they want to become certified where we ask them to go do both a written and a physical test if they can’t do the physical, we have a coaching test too, so no big worries.
But we want to have demonstrations that you took away the important concepts from each and every program. And with that comes continuing education obviously from big organizations, and we have little thank-yous like special discounts we do for everyone as well.
Schimri Yoyo: Obviously, both you and your wife have some personal experience with injury and rehabilitation, and obviously that’s influenced a lot of your current practice. So, what are some methods that you incorporate in your training to help your clients to be proactive both in their training but also in their rest and recovery from training?
Josh Henkin: Well, I think first and foremost we have to understand we’re usually working with people that don’t initially love to train, whether it’s athletes or not athletes.
People have the misunderstanding athletes love to train. No, athletes love their sport, they may like to train too, that’s hit or miss.
But I think it’s earning their trust and showing them that they can do things. I tell coaches that rarely have I had someone come to my gym and be like, “Here’s my problem, I’m too strong, I’m too mobile, and I feel too good,” right?
It’s usually all those opposites, and so you have to put them in an environment of success first. So the reason we are so adamant about having a system is instead of us guessing where to start you, if we know where to start you, we can quickly make sure we’re putting you in the path of being successful. Whether that starting point is where you should be, and that’s where we’re going to work for right now.
Or “Hey, we started there, you’re doing a little bit better, let’s progress you, we know where to go with that.” Instead of trying to guess where to begin with you and where do we take you. We already have that map in place. So what we do with the tools and the methods that we employ is we also use the implements as another coach. So instead of just relying purely on verbal queuing and instruction, we use the tools to give feedback to the body.
So, again, if it’s how we’re using the tool, we’re not using it to actually necessarily always challenge the individual, we’re using it as a way for them to understand how to use their bodies more efficiently because some people are kinesthetic learners and they need to feel things.
And we’re in a very physical business, so I could tell you what something should be or how do you move your body, but if you’ve never done that before, how do you know how to do it?
So if we can use the implements to give you the feedback to direct your body, then we can create a more effective, efficient experience, which then gets you to want to train more, and so then you can buy into recovery easier, right?
You can buy into changing periodized programs, but we first have to get you successful, because we don’t get buy-in, you won’t do this stuff outside the gym, right? We know statistically that most people won’t work out unless they’re being held accountable by someone, and even then it can be tough, right?
So again, it’s one of those things, if they feel successful, everyone likes that, right? You feel more motivated to do things. I can employ recovery methodologies like, “Hey, on your off days, I want you to do 15 minutes of this,” right?
I learned from a friend of mine who worked at Men’s Health that the cutoff point for most people is like 20 minutes. If they hear more than 20 minutes, they don’t tend to like to do things. So if I can keep their recovery work in something that they feel better in 10 to 15 minutes, they walk up like, “Who doesn’t want to feel better from doing something, right?”
And if they don’t do it, and they don’t feel well, we have that point of conversation going. They know that if they do those things, they’re going to benefit from them. So, we also have to make the impact immediately because if they don’t feel it immediately, they’re not going to add more stuff there. There’s already a laundry list of things in their life that they think they have to do. So it has to become a priority because they feel like there’s a big benefit from doing it.
Creating Content and Concepts Over Peddling Product
Schimri Yoyo: Right, now I’ll give you an opportunity to brag about yourself and your wife a little bit. I know you talked about it a little bit, but what makes your training with Ultimate Sandbags unique?
Obviously you guys have these systems in different, like you said, implements, but from an interpersonal relationship, how do you relate with your clients? What makes you guys unique?
Josh Henkin: Something I heard very early on, and unfortunately can’t remember who said it,
“You can choose to be an equipment company, or you can be an educational company with a piece of equipment.”
So if we had just gotten the idea of, “Hey, all we want to do is sell sandbags,” we’d probably be done at this point, very honestly, because there’s always someone who can make something cheaper, right? It’s the common thing is a race to zero, right? Who can undercut? And so unless there’s a purpose behind everything, then eventually it’s like you said at the beginning, it’s harder to filter out who’s good and who’s not.
So when I started this, there was no model to work from, so I made a lot of the mistakes, but the intention was always to give people something unique and special. So, when people go, “What makes your stuff different?”
The first thing I say is that we had the original purpose and intent in creating this, so we know why everything is done, whether that is the implement itself and why it’s designed the way it is, which is actually a lot of work.
I know a lot of people don’t think like, “Oh, how could that be a lot of work?” Because we used to work with a company who had engineers on staff, they hated this piece of equipment, because most other fitness tools, if something is going to drop to the ground or be lifted up, you can compute how much force is going to be impacted upon the tool, how much force is going to be generated on the person and so forth.
But when you have something that slightly moves and shifts and every rep is slightly different, it’s very hard to calculate those things and predict the stresses that are going to be on the tool and on the individuals.
So it’s one of those things, I always said, “If I was going to have someone sell me something, what would I be so excited to have?” So you have to have a great tool, but then you have to have the system to use it, right? So the sandbag doesn’t sell itself first.
And, in fact, I was actually very surprised by this, there was a lot of cynicism when we first started and there’s still cynicism today, like, “It’s a bag of sand.” I’m like, “Well, there’s also a metal bar you put wheels on and people seem to go to the Olympics for that.”
It’s not the complexity to implement—even though there’s a great nuance to it—it’s what you do with it. And so as we got to platforms, I wrote very early on about training ideas. When people saw the purpose behind it and they started saying, “I want to do that, tell me how to do that.” Because as a coach, I know what the problems are that coaches are facing, so then I can provide them better solutions.
And so when we come from that perspective, that sandbag isn’t even the point of conversation, it’s what is the issue? How are we going to address it? And I feel like our company is the only one that actually does that. A lot companies, you go do educational programs, and it’s more of a user’s course, like, “Oh, here are 10 great drills to learn on.”
Even the Olympic lifting—Olympic lifting is cool and great. I’ve done USA Weightlifting in the Olympic Training Center. But [all it is] is to learn how to clean and snatch. That’s all it is, right? And it’s hard to do the Olympic lifts.
If I said you’re going to come to a course to learn how to do sandbags, people are like, “Screw off.” They wouldn’t see the value in that. But if I tell you, “Hey, if I can improve your shoulder mobility in about five minutes, would you be interested?” You’re like, “Yeah.” Can I help you squat deeper in about two minutes, would you be interested? Okay.
The whole basis of our company and what makes us unique is we start with a problem, then we offer you the solution because we’re coaches and clinicians, so we know what those problems are first and foremost because those are the same things we’ve dealt with. We’re not trying to sell people products, we’re trying to offer them a way to provide a better level of service to the people they are trying to make a positive impact upon.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s very thorough, and that’s very good. Well, thanks again for your time Josh, it has been great, I want to be respectful of that. Got a couple more questions for you, before we let you go. What have you learned in business that you wish you would’ve known when you first started?
Josh Henkin: Wow, I mean basically every part of our business, I don’t mean to be sarcastic. I was telling my wife today, there was a point where we were grossing a lot of money but we weren’t making a lot of money. It was just that there were things in place [about which] I just had no background and understanding: production, shipping, customer service, there are costs.
When people go, “Does it really cost this much to make your bag?” I go, “Well, number one, it does cost a lot because we’re putting out something high quality.” But secondarily, it’s the other stuff too. You liked the customer service, you liked all the resources, all that stuff. That has to come from somewhere.
Or manufacturing, there are specifics to manufacturing, they’re quite complex [issues] that aren’t very easy to deal with. Or shipping: People complain about shipping all the time. I don’t run FedEx and UPS. I wish I did, right? But there are just things that people would just never consider that come about, there’s a great book, Delivering Happiness, by the guy who ran Zappos (Tony Hsieh).
He tells a story about having a car tip over in Kentucky and all the shoes going over the road, and I feel like that type of stuff has happened to us, right? Just things that you can’t predict for, that you wish when you’re starting off the business, you knew that that had to go into your considerations, whether it’s pricing and things like that. It’s also being okay at some level where people will be like, “Hey Josh, did you have a patent on your thing? Because you should have had a patent.”
And I’m like, “You don’t understand how patents work first and foremost.” You may know, but a lot of people don’t know a patent can vary largely, meaning that number one, it took us four years to get our patent even reviewed, if that tells you anything.
[Editor’s note: Patenting ain’t easy. Check out the video below for a brief overview of the process of filing for a patent.]
They can give you specific parts of your patent. Classically, I’ll give you an example: TRX has a patent on their single anchor point so that’s why you see so many different suspension trainers out there because there’s a patent, but only on the single anchor point.
So patents can be very specific. So, unfortunately, nowadays it’s even worse where companies overseas can copy your stuff very easily. And it’s very unfortunate because I understand where the consumer’s coming from. They just want something less expensive, but they don’t understand what you put into something, meaning the little details that make it a more positive experience.
I always tell people that I don’t get upset that someone said, “Hey Josh, I tried a sandbag from X company.” I get upset that they did that, they had a negative experience, and now they’re going to write off the whole methodology, because of that negative experience. Because that means I never get the opportunity to show you how great this can be.
So it’s one of those things, like all these different aspects of a business and it’s been food over time because when I started, social media wasn’t a big thing. Then, you introduce a whole giant monster like social media, that changes the business completely.
So it’s all these aspects, from little things like making sure you really know your numbers to things that you can’t predict for like the advent of social media, that changes how consumers shop, how they perceive things, what they’re looking for, and how they will get material.
So I think it’s a complex thing. There’s probably a book I could write about making mistakes. I don’t know if I could always offer solutions, but I think all those things have been the reasons that we’ve had to evolve over time.
And I think one of the things that we’ve been very good at is being able to pivot as we see changes, whether it be in manufacturing or in consumers and how they view things and technology, how they’re digesting things and so forth.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s a very good answer. And actually leads me to my next question, you mentioned the advent of social media and how that forced you to adjust the way you think about your business and to conduct your business. What are some of the ways that you’ve been able to use social media to leverage your business and to promote your business?
Josh Henkin: We made a decision early on, my wife and I, she worked very hard to get her degree. I only have a four-year degree, so, it’s funny. In her office, I’ll have my degree and then she has like three of hers, next to mine. I’m like, “Now you’re just showing off, that’s just mean.”
But we made that decision that we weren’t going to be the ones that got followers or feedback by doing the classic, “We’re going to sell sex.” That wasn’t what we wanted to be about, that wasn’t, it’s not what we’re about as people. We wanted to be genuine helpers of creating solutions for both professionals and enthusiasts.
So we just decided to use the platform as a way to share education, we knew that was going to be a longer game plan, type of thing, but I also think it’s far more rewarding to us because we get to make a bigger impact upon those people rather than, “Okay, here’s the 50th guy showing off his triceps and biceps to you even though don’t care.” Instead, I wanted to be someone like, “Hey, I’m going to solve a problem for you today. I’m going to show you something and you’re going to be able to immediately use that to make an impact upon your training.”
So again, it’s one of those things like, “Is it always the sexiest to look at when you’re scrolling through something?” Probably not. We try to do things to catch people’s attention and give them progression, but to us it’s more important to convey the education and find ways to make that digestible for people, and something that they’re interested in learning.
We don’t want this to be a boring classroom in a textbook. We want to make science fun, we want to make learning about the body enjoyable, we want to make people interested in knowing how to properly train, coach and implement workouts.
[Editor’s note: View the video below to see others dedicated to making science fun.]
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s good. The last question for you, and again thank you for your time Josh, this has been fascinating for me to just hear your experience and just the longevity you’ve had and the trials and tribulations.
Josh Henkin: That was very nice, calling me old, that’s okay.
Schimri Yoyo: No, it’s a good experience. It’s good to see some of the challenges and the rewards that you’ve had as an entrepreneur. We set up these interviews for our audience to learn from, and to be real. This is real life. It’s not all—entrepreneurship is an exciting thing, but also there are some little challenges. And so we thank you for being candid and being honest about that.
But the last thing I want to get from you is: Do you have any resources that you would recommend to our audience, whether books, podcasts, magazines that you think will be helpful? I mean, it could be fitness-related, business-related, maybe even positive mentality, but something that you benefited from and you think would be a benefit to our audience?
Josh Henkin: Sure. When people do ask me that, I always say, “What are you interested in at this point?” Obviously, you named a couple of different things. So if people want to be on the coaching side of things, I tend to recommend they follow good people, right?
Follow people like Mike Boyle [Editor: Boyle has been using Exercise.com’s software to sell plans online — see below], Gray Cook, Thomas Myers‘ great books. So you can read—and I know people don’t like reading too much anymore from what I hear—but follow the people. Something I did very early on, and the reason I found a lot of good coaches was, I found someone I thought was reliable and they mentioned another name, I went, “Well, who’s that?” So I’d go read that person’s book and find out more about them. So, I suggest people do the same.
The Exercise.com team is amazing, and their all-in-one software is more than we ever expected! All of this is made possible by a high-quality team.
Co-Founder, Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning
I also suggest people slow themselves down. I always say there are a couple of benefits of being old. One is that you have time to develop a filter system, right? I can tell you now, after these years, and because I didn’t get flooded with the amount of information that probably a lot of people do nowadays, it allows me to filter out what’s good and what’s not, who’s good and who’s not.
But if I was a young coach, it’d be very overwhelming because there’s so much coming at you. So having the ability to spend time and work with the material. I don’t feel—I don’t have this FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) like, “Oh my God, if I don’t do this today, I’m going to fall behind, and everyone’s going to be better than me.”
No. Become really good at something, spend time with it, and make your own decisions about how it fits in what you do. Some things won’t and some things will really well, but you won’t be able to speak well about it if you don’t spend time with it.
I remember I used to spend three months in between going to programs, and now I know people go to programs every weekend. So that’s something as far as business development and personal development, I mean, one of the earliest books I read, it’s probably still good today, but Stephen Covey’s, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
It’s a simple read, it’s a good read, but it just keeps you mindful of things because as you mentioned, entrepreneurship, people want to say, “Oh it’s so great working for myself,” and then like six months into it, they’re complaining on social media, “Do you know how hard it is to be an entrepreneur?”
[Editor’s note: Alibaba founder Jack Ma describes the difficulties faced in entrepreneurship.]
Yes, it’s really, really hard. So you have to have a good perspective and good methods of dealing with that stress and the problems that come along with it. If you think it’s going to be rainbows and unicorns, you’re going to be sorely frustrated and discouraged early on and may want to quit too early.
So it’s one of those things you still have to have a good plan. Also, there are great books, I think there’s a book called Raving Fans, which is a tremendous book. It’s a simple read, it’s just basically developing the idea of how do you develop people that are just in love with you?
And so it goes back that marking idea of you only need a thousand people, if people haven’t heard of it, it’s I think especially nowadays in social media, it’s really worth mentioning people think I need 10 million followers to have impact, but if you have a thousand raving people, you can have a very successful business and make a bigger impact than you ever could imagine.
It’s about building those relationships and doing the little things that a lot of people won’t do, to build those raving fans and people that would do anything to come see you. So whenever people, I consider, we don’t have customers, I say we have partners, because we’re both trying to solve these problems together. So when people invest with us, I take that very seriously then to solve their issue and their problem.
So again coming from that [perspective]: How do I make every person we work with somehow a raving fan? So it’s everything from giving that unique experience to connecting with people to having the expertise to be able to deliver when people actually say yes.
So you need that combination of being a great professional in your industry, while also building a well-roundedness of understanding your business, understanding the weaknesses and strengths of your business and basically how to optimize those and be able to evolve as the business changes over time. Because whether it’s, like you said, technology, or just the nature of your business, things will change.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, thank you, Josh. That’s great advice and some good resources for us to follow up on. I especially love what you said about not falling for the trap of FOMO, the fear of missing out, and just taking that time to really fact-check and filter out and evaluate the information that we’re receiving and then use it.
Because even good information is not always applicable to every situation, and so you have to be able to be honest and self-aware enough to know what things and what advice will fit your business and fit your lifestyle and how you want to build your practice and then implement that in the correct way. So that’s definitely good to hear.
So thank you again for that advice and for those resources, we wish you and Jessica much-continued success out in Vegas, and definitely we want to follow up with you if any new innovations come on down the road, or things you want to help promote, we definitely want to help you with that and shine a light and highlight that for you as well.
Josh Henkin: I appreciate it so much. Thank you.
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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.