John of The Bug Lab Talks About Owning a Gym in a "Fitness Desert"

Good afternoon, this is Peter from FringeSport here again, and I've got John from The Bug Lab online today. I'm really excited to talk with John today because John has been a long time Fringe customer. I remember many iterations ago of Fringe, old warehouses, stuff like that, where John and his wife Tracey would drive in. How many hours outside of Austin are you guys John, by the way?

John: About two and a half hours.

Yeah, so John and Tracey would drive two and a half hours to come and pick up stuff from Fringe, and we would always chat when they were here. Also, they are in between, so they live in West, Texas ... Sorry, that's not west Texas, that's West comma Texas.

John: You got it, the comma.

There you go. When we would drive up to Dallas to do different things in Dallas for FringeSport, we would often stop off in West to either drop things off, or maybe catch a quick workout, something like that. So very near and dear to my heart. John, what did I miss? That was a quick intro. Tell us a little bit more about yourself. Tell us a little bit more about The Bug Lab. What do you got going on up there?

John: Well, my name is John Matus. We've been doing this I guess, about five and a half years in my backyard. We had an old shop that we had built our house out of that was full of junk, and leftover material. One by one, we have converted it, person by person, into a makeshift gym. We call it The Bug Lab, because we live on a road called Bugtussle, and that name kind of stuck. We had called it the Bugtussle Lab for a while, but The Bug Lab got shortened down.

We started out just kind of standard marathons, triathlons, and all that stuff, I guess about 14, 15 years ago. The new kind of wore off of that, and we were looking for something different, my wife and I. Those days that would always show up on our training schedule that said rest, or cross train, were always days where we would rest. We always neglected cross training. It wasn't maybe 10, 12 years into it, that I figured out, you probably should start strengthening some other things because your legs aren't going to last forever.

My wife, the first thing that she purchased from you was a barbell, and 95 pounds of bumper weight. I still have that original equipment, and I still use it. I used it yesterday.

Awesome, I love to hear that. So tell us a little bit about West. I think if most listeners know something about West, they might know about the fertilizer plant explosion a few years back. It was a fertilizer plant, right?

John: Yes, it's a small farming community. We had a fertilizer plant that was on the north, east side of town and it had exploded. There was a fire there, and ammonium nitrate had caught on fire. Then, obviously the large explosion where we had lost 13 people in the blast, and I knew several of them. The night that the accident actually happened, I was inside the gym vacuuming and cleaning the floor. I had looked at my phone thinking that we had a storm coming in because it was supposed to rain that night. I looked down, the radar was clear, so I just kept vacuuming. The wife came outside and told me that dinner was ready. We went inside the house, and the next thing I know, she tells me that the fertilizer plant exploded.

So I gathered what water and supplies, bandages, and stuff like that I had here at the house, drove into town, and we started loading, we started applying functional fitness. We started loading people that could not even pick up their own body weight, into school buses, through the back of the school bus. We're talking breathing machines, people that are in wheelchair, 60-70 year-old people that have been in rest homes. It was the craziest night of my life, as far as seeing something ... The unknown, and unknowable. After that, the town mostly recovered. There's a couple of vacant lots, but most people have gotten past it and rebuilt. However, every year, we still do, our own little Hero WOD here at our gym, for the people that we lost in that event.

Wow, thank you for sharing that powerful story. Can I ask what Hero WOD you do, and what's the date?

John: We call it Volunteers. We do it in April, did it a couple weeks ago. It's long, and it's a lot of stuff. It's a little emotional for me to talk about so if you don't mind, we'll just move on.

Yeah, no worries, we'll move on. Thank you for sharing. Sorry, I didn't mean to-

John: No problem-

Go so deep and get in there. Tell us a little bit more about The Bug Lab. Is this a full time thing for you guys? How many members give or take do you guys have, and where are you going with that?

John: It's unique. This is not a full time gig by any means for my wife and myself. We've gone all over the US to get training from various places that we think offer the training that we think that we need. In doing so, we did that, just so that we could bring this level of fitness, to the neighbors that live across from us, who are down the street, or the mom and dad that live in town, that have kids that play t-ball, or whatever. We're in a fitness desert out here. There's not much to choose from. So with us having somewhat of a background in it, and knowing who and what, and how to do these things, we try to provide it as low cost as we can, to our neighbors, just so that we can break even.

By no means are we even going to really make a profit. We didn't get into it with the intention to do so. We are as garage gym as it gets. If we can pay our electric bill, and our air conditioning bill, which we did put an air conditioner in our gym, we do believe in comfort ... If we can handle those things, and keep the equipment up to speed, everything is working, and repaired, and functional, then we're happy with it. We have at the most, probably had 50 members in a month. Being that this is at our home, in a shop, out on the back of our property, to have 50 people come in and out of your place is ... I won't say hard to manage, because everybody did really well, but it's a bit much. It's a little overwhelming, and it really cuts into your family time.

When we were peak, we were at about 50 members. People had lives. They do what they do with kids and all that, so it's hard for people to maintain a membership at a gym, and be consistent. So that number is cyclical for us every year. Baseball season starts, football season starts, volleyball season starts, people go on vacations in the summer, and we see that number go up and down. Right now I think we are probably at maybe 35 people, and we've had that number for about two years. We really don't have any, I don't want to say ambition to grow, but we're happy because everybody that we have is becoming better. We've got a strong nucleus of people. It's great. I wouldn't change it for anything.

So, tell us a little more about, you talked about going out, and getting training, and then kind of coming back to this fitness desert. What coaches do you follow, or who are your coaching influences?

John: With the social media out there like it is now, if you start to dig a little bit deeper, and see not just the athletes, but the coaches that are behind some of these athletes, there's some genius level stuff going on in strength and conditioning. I don't know if it's 10 years or 20 years that we've seen the whole thing be kind of revolutionized. Some of the stuff, the old stuff, the charts and some of these things that have really been around for decades. Some of these guys are still using ... But they've put their touch, their spin on it, and it's tested every single day with some of these high end athletes. I personally try to seek these people out, and either go to their gyms, because every year we take a vacation. Spring break, and then at summer, and we'll do a road trip, and we'll go find a gym, where we think some of the best coaches are. I'll try to go have a meeting with them, and just pick their brains, and see how they think, what they think about stuff.

Last year, it was last year we went up to Crookville, Tennessee. I guess two years before that we had gone to Eugene, Oregon, made our way that way. As far as just social media, and following some of the people that are on the internet, I'm a huge fan of the Conjugate System with Mr. Louie Simmons. I think the guy has change the game in so many ways as far as power lifting, and being able to apply that to other things. There's a fella-

If I could interrupt you for a minute there, on the Conjugate Method ... So I personally never followed Conjugate Method. One common complaint, or criticism that I see of Conjugate online, is that Louie is also a very large proponent of let's say exogenous hormone supplementation, if we're being polite. If we're being impolite, PEDs, or steroids. So what I've seen some people say is that hey, for Conjugate to work long term, your athletes need to be on steroids. What do you think about a statement like that?

John: For one, I think that natural is the only way to go. I think that you are doing yourself more harm if you're going to start supplementing with something that's really not made for your body to consume. Actually, we have standing, unwritten rules in our gym, that if we ever find out something like that happens, it's plain and simple, you're done here.

As far as Louie saying something like that, or somebody else saying that that needed to happen, I have issues with it. I would never push anybody to do something like that. However, if you do look at the track record of the Conjugate Method, and two of their really good athletes, they were both busted for PEDs. One of them was pulled, actually I think both of them were pulled out of the CrossFit Games, or the regional competitions. I don't know how that ended up. I don't know what they're testing for. I just know that they were not allowed to compete at the games, or regionals, whatever it was. So-

Got it, and we don't have to go too deep into that, it's just something that I've heard of before, and me not ever really following Conjugate ... Although studying the programming a little bit, it was just something I was really interested since you were a fan of it. So not meaning to put you on the spot or anything.

John: No, no worries. The reason that I like the Conjugate Method is, I do like the changes in programming, as far as that. You know, if you're going to do bench, which is the age old lift. At some point in time, it's just like running a mile. If you keep going out trying to run a mile, and run it faster every time, you might do pretty good with some hill work. Well if you vary your bench, why would you not, just do a little something different, bands, or boards, or chains. I think all those things do give you a good stimulus, and I think that you can get some changes out of that, positive changes. Yeah, as far as the doping, I don't know man. That's beyond me. It's not something I concern myself with.

I hear you. So what other coaches do you follow online? You were kind of talking about the social media side.

John: I like Doug Chapman, CJ Martin, who else ... Logan Gelbrich, who owns DEUCE Gym down in Venice. Man I think that guy is one of the sharpest minds out there. I think he was a professional baseball player, turned strongman, or maybe he was a strongman turned pro baseball player. I don't know which way that happened, but he has a great mind, and he's got some really good stuff. He was one of the ones that we had gone to. We went out to California and did some training out there. Of course, the day that we got trained, one of the GRID athletes came in, which I have huge respect for, Taylor Drescher. She's a GRID athlete, and she's also, or at the time was a lieutenant in the marines. When she walked in the room, my wife and I were both just like, this is the most giant woman we have ever seen, and I would not even attempt to talk back to her. Logan, which is one of the coaches that we had, he's got a good blog on DEUCE Gym out in Venice. I follow that quite a bit.

Who else? Michael Winchester, which was one of the CrossFit Central guys, Austin, I think it was downtown. I think coach Winchester is a genius. When I get a chance to see something from him, man I always pay attention to those things.

Yeah, Winchester is a friend. His gym is actually just a few miles away from our new location of Fringe, down here in south Austin.

John: Jääkarhu.

Yeah Jääkarhu. I always call it "Car who", because I can barely pronounce Jääkarhu or whatever the name is.

John: Awesome man. Yeah, that guy, I enjoy reading the stuff that he does, watching the videos that he's got.

Awesome, I'll have to check it out a little more. So one of the questions that you had kind of primed me for before the interview was to ask about your Friday ritual. What is your Friday ritual?

John: We are as laid back of a gym as I can think of, that I've ever been to. Fridays for us means that we survived the week. Some times man, weeks are tough. I've got a full time job, and this gym is just a hobby, something that we do. Had I turned it into a full time career, I'm sure I'd be burned out many years ago, and I probably wouldn't be doing it. So in an effort to finish the week strong, we usually do a pretty tough workout, and the group that comes on that Friday, we stay and we have a couple of beers, and talk about the week, and kind of get that out of our systems. Then Saturday and Sunday we can kind of live those stress free, without any worries of the past week. It's kind of just how we put the bookmark at the end of that chapter, and that usually involves some adult beverages.

I love it, nothing wrong with that. Well, this is about how much time we've got for the normal portion of the interview, we'll move into the lightning round, unless you've got anything else you'd like to mention.

John: I'm ready.

Awesome. So for the lightning round, first thing I ask is what is one amazing, tactical business tip, that's helped you in the past 30 days?

John: We bought an RMR machine, a resting metabolic rate analyzer.

I've never heard of that actually, maybe I'm behind the times. Tell me about it.

John: What it does, it tests your resting metabolic rate. You'll breath into a tube. Guys about 20 minutes, girls about 10 minutes, and it will tell you how many calories you burn at rest. So, if you weren't to get off the couch all day, if you Netflix and chilled, or maybe just Netflix all day, then that's how many calories you would burn. Off of that, you can set a bunch of your other stuff for portion control, and caloric control of how much you eat each day. It's a big deal for one of our classes that we have at the gym, one of our boot camp classes, weight loss classes. It helps the girls kind of get a better control of how much food that they need to eat each day.

That's awesome. How much does something like that cost, just ballpark.

John: About $5,200.

Oh wow, so that's not a small investment.

John: No, no, we pondered that one for a while, and saved for a while. We are trying to get those sold. We do tests. We do three tests. We spread those out over three to four months. The three tests for us are $100 for that session of three.

Got it. What's the best business book you've ever read.

John: That's a really good question. I don't really read any business books.

All right, well where do you learn something about business?

John: The gym has taught me quite a bit about business, about what you can give away and what you can't. I guess that's real world experience. I work in the construction field so I deal with contracts every day. I deal with people who do not want to pay for stuff every single day, and I deal with customer service, hands on customer service with people every day. A small, an attempt to help people, will go a long way.

Got it, I love it. What's your favorite piece of fitness equipment?

John: I'm going with, and I tell this to people all the time, if there was one piece of equipment, I'm going Kettlebell.

Awesome, so what's your favorite workout with that Kettlebell? What would you do with it?

John: Turkish Get Ups.

So are we talking a heavy Kettlebell, and relatively low reps or-

John: Yeah-

Okay, got it.

John: I'll go 53 pounds. I'll go with a 53 pound Kettlebell, which I bought from you. I still have it. It's my favorite piece of equipment that I use in the gym. I take it with me on vacations and everything. I'll do EMOMs, I'll do AMRAP type stuff where I'll hit 10 calories or the SkiErg, and then six Turkish Get Ups for 15 minutes. Those kind of things are just ... I think it feels like getting hit by a truck. I mean everything inside of your body, you feel it.

I was about to say, it sounds pretty brutal. Well cool John, it's been great talking with you, and if our audience wants to get ahold of you, what's the best way? Go to the Facebook page? What would you like them to do?

John: We do actually have, The Bug Lab Boot Camp is actually a Facebook page. So they can look for The Bug Lab on Facebook, and that's pretty much the only way that they're gonna get in touch with me.

Got it, that sounds great. Well, keep lifting. We look forward to seeing you down in Austin the next time you and Tracey can make it this way, and next time I'm up to Dallas, I'm gonna send you a text and maybe we can train on the way up.

John: Sounds good man, any time it's open for you.

Awesome, take care John. Thanks for having me on, be well.

John: All right, you bet, bye.

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