Starting a gym from practically nothing and why there's no deadlifting at Atomic Athlete with Tod and Jake

Peter Keller: All right. Hey guys, back here with Jake and Tod from Atomic Athlete, and my co-host for today, Adam White with Vaughn Weightlifting. So we're at Atomic Athlete in Austin, Texas. Jake, why don't we start with you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jake Saenz: So I power lifted in high school. I was always in to the idea of training and strength and honestly, I just wanted to be a badass. I never was when I was younger, I was always the thinner, less athletic guy that never made the teams. Freshmen year in high school, I had a class called Athletic Conditioning, and it was run by one of the football team's coaches. So all of the other sports that were not football, baseball, basketball, kind of got lumped into this one class. So it was tennis, golf, and a few other random things. And so, this was basically the weight training class for all the non-athletes in a typical Texas sense of sports.

Very humbling day, the first day we did power weighting, we did sprint times, run times, and there's actually a sophomore cheerleader who beat me in the power weighting. So pretty much from that point on, I was very interested in lifting and training. Got out of high school, I did some competitive power lifting for about two years in high school. Did fairly well, I wasn't like a monster or anything. I got to regions a couple of times.

And then I went into the military. So I went over to the Ranger Regiment in Fort Benning, GA. Spent four years there. Continued to train a lot. Saw a lot of big errors in methodology with the way they train soldiers, had no rhyme or reason behind it. It was always just like grind, beat them up, beat them up, try to break them mentally.

I didn't agree with most of the things I saw, at least physically, in the military. Got out. Did the college thing, and when I graduated with a business degree, I really didn't see myself going into traditional business, in the sense of long sleeves, button down shirts, ties, and all of that. And there was a guy that me and Tod used to actually run with a lot who was a pretty good business man back in the day, Paul Carrozza here in Austin, TX. He owned RunTex, he was in charge of a lot of the big races that were in the downtown area.

Peter Keller: I didn't know you knew Paul. I knew Paul a little bit.

Jake Saenz: Yeah, yeah.

Peter Keller: Wow, that's cool.

Jake Saenz: He was his first run coach [gestures to Tod], for me, he seemed like a business mentor. I want a job like that. Where I can wear whatever the f*ck I want all day, I'm always around athletic individuals like my individuals, and not be stuck in that kind of office grind. So I guess it was about 2007, we kind of started dabbling with some different training methodologies. I came from mostly a power lifting and kind of body building background. I was much bigger back in the day, like 200 pounds.

Peter Keller: Were you taller, too?

Jake Saenz: No. About an inch. According to some records 68 inches. I'm not 68 inches anymore. I blame all the squatting. But then, I met up with Tod in about 2007/2008 with a mutual friend who I actually started getting into endurance sports. So I started doing some road cycling and obviously my 200 pounds went to 160/170 really quickly. He was a training partner of Tod's. Tod came from an endurance background.

So, at that point, we kind of started dabbling with the idea of interval training and high intensity stuff. This is right when Crossfit started getting some popularity. We had a mutual friend who owns Westlake CrossFit, Joss McKernan. His brother's Rory who works over in the Crossfit HQ. He's like, "You should come over to my gym and do this thing, this Crossfit stuff." And so we went over there, did it, it was fun, and he kind of pointed us in the direction of a guy that he thought would mesh more with what we were trying to achieve, and that was the military mountain athlete guy up in Jackson, WY.

From there we did some programming seminars with Rob. Tod actually ended up being a full time employee up there and a coach for about a year. I was a contract coach so I traveled around with them and did programming. Atomic Athlete kind of came full fledged about 2009/2010. And it's kind of where we're at right now.

 Peter Keller: Awesome. Tod, tell us a little about you.

Tod Moore: So I had a little different high school career than Jake. I was probably the worst athlete you could ever imagine. But I played high school football, which is big in Texas. You kind of have to. I was always overweight but we had a very prolific football team. I was around giant men the entire time. We almost won state twice. So like the average man I was around was like 6'2", 240 pounds. It's very different from our world now. But, just kind of busting my ass, I was able to kind of compete with these guys and at least at the training level.

I really kind of fell in love with the comradery in gym aspect of that. After high school football, there's nothing for you in Texas. You're just kind of a broken hump of sh*t. So you've got nothing to do. I just kind of piddled around.

I got into running with a buddy of mine that was when I met Paul Carrozza. That was one of the first structured regimes. We'd lift weights and you do the flex magazine, I'm going to get that bigger chest, but I never had the patience for it. It was never one of those things. I always wanted to be lean, jacked, all that shit. So I started running. I got to be a pretty good runner. Ran a couple of marathons, got a little bit faster, kind of got into it, just with the volume of work and the quality of the individual we were training with.

And that parlayed into a triathlon, which was a pretty sad point in my life. I would say any time that you devote 25 or 30 hours of your week to riding a bike alone is a pretty sad day in your life. But again, it taught me the systematic aspect of training and putting time in. It also introduced another great coach, a swimming coach named Whitney Hedgepeth and that was one of the first structured things in my life where there's a drill. So you did consistent drills all the time. No matter how hard you went, that didn't effect your speed. The more drills you did, effected your speed. But intensity didn't. Even at that time I couldn't quite grasp it, but it was starting to kind of tickle the back of the brain, where it's like, "Oh, oh no. It's quality of work not quantity of work." So that was one of the first indicative things.

And then I got into cycling and cycling was when I first paid for a coach. He wrote out all these work outs and they were super structured. Jake and I were actually riding bikes together at the time, and it was amazing how good I got. It was amazing how I could not check my ego and I just wanted to go harder when I wasn't supposed to go hard, and do more, and do all of this stuff, quantifying it. I just wanted to fly. I just wanted to do my own thing.

But also about that time, I got into Muay Thai and kickboxing. That lead to a trip to Thailand which was a really interesting trip because the volume of work those guys do and the repetition and all those things. When I got back, Jake had got real into Jiu-Jitsu.

So I started training Jiu-Jitsu with these guys and this was where the seeds of Atomic first started happening because we had a lesser skill set, but we were so much more fit that, provided somebody wasn't just heads and shoulders better than us, we could make people, at least put them in a bad position. Which it goes against everything that martial arts is about. You shouldn't be able to do that, the more skilled person always wins. But we had this big volume of work from cycling, running, and all these things, and we were good at it. We were too cheap to do Crossfit because Crossfit was expensive.

Jake Saenz: Yeah, yeah.

Tod Moore: But raw sentiment was that that was the first time we did this work fasting and I think I was sick for like eight hours after that. I still remember everything about it. Just covered in dirt, it might have been six minutes long, I thought I was an athlete.

Peter Keller: What was the work out?

Tod Moore: It's the one on the board right now: 10 burpees, 25 meter sprint, 10 squat jumps, 25 meter sprint, 10 push ups, 25 meter sprint, 10 jumps lunges for 5 rounds. It was one of those... it was just crushing. You're looking at this guy online and he was just talking about how you don't need fancy gear. It was crucial for us because we didn't have money starting out. I mean we were broke when we were starting out.

Jake Saenz: We used to get those air balls that you stand on. Not the ...

Tod Moore: Swiss balls.

Jake Saenz: Swiss balls. We would take those and fill those with water. And carry those up and down hills.

Tod Moore: It was miserable.

Jake Saenz: Before we knew how to program, we would just think of what is the most awful thing that we can do. Even in my early days of coaching, that was kind of how I coached. You knew, I'm going to make these guys do today, they're going to flip the tire for 30 seconds then we're going to do sledgehammers, then we're going to do burpees, then I'm going to run them up this hill and I'll stop when the first guy throws up. That was the early phases of coaching and training which obviously now has evolved.

Tod Moore: The big key to that was the group of people we had, too. Like the original guys that we were doing it with are still friends of ours. We were actually all roommates. So that was like our Wednesday, we'd get up really early, go run a group with Paul Carrozza, then we'd come back, we'd eat a little bit, then we'd go to Jiu-Jitsu. Then we'd come back and we'd do the first Atomic works. We live on a wonky hill which is a really steep hill, so we're flipping tires up a hill, don't ever do it just for safety reasons. Then running with, we call it the water baby, and all those things. But that was just a typical day of kind of what we would do that once or twice a week with these guys that are still around here doing this stuff.

It was kind of cool to see the very very beginnings but we weren't exposed to Crossfit the way other people were. Like even with our friends that were doing Crossfit, they wanted us to come do other stuff at their Crossfit gym. So I think if we'd been more exposed to it, then come up in that, we'd probably have a little bit more Crossfit inkling than what we had. But the first Crossfit workout I ever did was Fight Gone Bad, like a competition and Jake did one or two before that, but we just didn't have the exposure.

And the Crossfit guys were like, "Check out Rob. Check out Mountain Athlete." We start to check that out and Rob's doing these things with sandbags and other things. So it's like, "Oh then maybe we don't have to buy a barbell or we don't have to do this to get started." And admittedly, as soon as we got gear everything got better.

Peter Keller: Of course. A barbell makes everything better.

Tod Moore: But for us starting out, we were cheap by necessity. We were properly bootstrapped, I mean Jake ...

Jake Saenz: We had an old Suburban full of about 1,500 to 2,000 pounds of weights. We would drive out to Butler Park and we're doing ...

Tod Moore: 20 minutes to pull it out.

Jake Saenz: Yeah, 15 barbells, air plates, sand bags, and it was a little portable gym, and that was kind of how we started out.

Peter Keller: Let's dig into that a little bit more because how many athletes did you have at the very start, the very first work out when you went out to Butler Park?

Jake Saenz: The very first one, I think it was like six females.

Peter Keller: Holy crap. I tried to get six girls to come out.

Jake Saenz: And they're all girlfriends. Yeah, literally the idea kind of struck like I can do this, I can start applying for these positions, and typical business operations or the standard kind of cookie cutter route that you do when you do post business school. None of it interested me. So I figured, "Maybe I'll try this training thing." So I called up like six girls I knew. I go, "Hey. I want to start." I did the little basic personal trainer certification and then brought them out to the field out there by Butler Park. Couple of kettle bells, couple of medicine balls, and went to work. And that was it.

Peter Keller: Did you charge them or was it free to start?

Jake Saenz: No, I just kind of wanted to try it out. I was like, "Hey, let's get seven or eight of you guys, let's just start doing it and then anyone who comes afterwards will be paying athletes." I at least wanted the appearance that I was successful and knew what I was doing right.

Peter Keller: So when you had those first six or however many it was, did they stick on or they ... No?

Tod Moore: Nope.

Jake Saenz: No. Initially we were trying to, I think what most businesses do when they start, was they're kind of thinking, "Maybe I should change what I'm doing to accommodate, to get more customers in." So you're kind of at that point where it's the primary goal to succeed. So my primary goal was to financially succeed in the business. Which was a little different than how we look at business now. So now it's like there's certain accommodations we make based on demands, and there's other ones that just aren't worth it. So at that point, I'm just trying to get people in the door, get them at the track, get them at the park, and get them training.

Peter Keller: And how did you grow from those first few free people to start charging people?

Tod Moore: All word of mouth.

Jake Saenz: Yeah.

Peter Keller: Okay, that's what I was going to ask.

Tod Moore: Every single ones. Even our growth entry now has been almost exclusively word of mouth. It's pretty funny, the very first people, which I think Tom Bailey is one of our first athletes.

Jake Saenz: Yeah.

Peter Keller: Oh wow.

Tod Moore: And he's been around here for a long time. Thomas Grant and those guys, I mean, they're old dudes now, they've been up for like six years. They've seen all of it. But it was strictly there, they would invite a friend or somebody else, and they might not come, they might come. But then somebody from another job would come and as soon as somebody from a different career or different job would come, they would bring three or four friends.

Adam White: Yep.

Tod Moore: Two or three of those guys would stop coming, but you got two. And then somebody else would come, and that was kind of the rotation. Then people would see us and the track was big. Butler Park never really brought that many people. But being at the track, which was such an awesome high track. At the time, we were one of the only groups out there. There were just a few other guys, David Brasso, and some of those other guys.

But now you go out there and it's a zoo. You know, you can kind of pick what you want to do. But that was where people would be doing their own thing. Anita Thompson was out there, she brought Joey and Sara Dunlap and ...

Jake Saenz: Sara Martinez.

Tod Moore: Sara Martinez. It's very grass roots.

Jake Saenz: Andy Bogg.

Tod Moore: Andy Bogg, yeah. And then we started getting the Crossfit athletes. And so that was the next kind of step that we were doing something mildly right. Because then our first programs with Rob, we still didn't have the gear to properly do strength stuff, we didn't have a rack, none of our barbells spun. So even though we would try to do Olympic lifting it was ...

Jake Saenz: It would drive this one nuts [gestures to Tod].

Tod Moore: Yeah, well our first bumper plates are out there. They're the old school, metal plates, covered with rubber on the very outside.

Peter Keller: Like ancient rubber.

Tod Moore: We picked these up off a kid. In Dripping Springs. And his brother had just left for the army and he didn't tell his brother that he was selling it. But we were Craigslist fools, too. We were just on Craigslist trying to get gear. One of our first heavy kettle bell was a 16 kilogram kettlebell that I got Jake for his birthday. That was a big deal. He still has it.

That's also all the money that we had. That Suburban was never full of gas.

Adam White: Yeah, now so I have a question about that. So you said you two were living together, you were training people, you were training yourselves all day long, so what did you do to get some income? Like what kind of job were you doing, odd jobs, did you have a job?

Tod Moore: We were both bartenders, so he was actually managing a restaurant and I was bartending the whole time. We actually worked at the same bar for a while which, that was also a really good mouth piece for the bar. The timing worked out really well for us, because it was a bar on Rainey Street, it had just happened. One of us was always there, all the guys at the bar, more or less, trained with us. So it was just kind of a word of mouth thing that was spreading through the bar and that worked out really well, too.

Adam White: Yeah, that's really awesome. You're in that environment and you could just say, "Hey look, this is what I do." I'm sure you looked in shape, and I'm sure you got some questions about like, "Hey what are you guys ..."

Jake Saenz: The worst part was, running that Saturday morning session. So we would actually "rock, paper, scissors" like, do you want to coach it or do it with them? We were playing "rock, paper, scissors" to see. Two to three hours of sleep, and then you're hitting. Most of the sessions were like general fitness, like work fast, it wasn't like we were trying to strengthen out there, because of limited equipment. And no racks, no benches.

Tod Moore: We lacked knowledge of either. We were still just trying to bring people. I forgot about that. Yeah, if you didn't coach, you had to train with the athletes. Because, just to kind of set the standard, that was hard. That was rough.

Peter Keller: So when did you guys make the leap to actually getting your own spot? You know, out of being in your own Suburban or training in other people's gyms.

Tod Moore: That was another time thing. We've gone up and done the certification with Rob.

Jake Saenz: Yep. Military Athlete.

Tod Moore: And we spent the week up there, and it was interesting to see, it wasn't just a garage gym, he was running a business. So it was just different. Because he was the high school strength coach, he was this and that. And he offered me a job to come up there and at the time, Jake had just left the bar job, and we were moving into Dane's Body Shop's side thing. But there was no more money. There was no money in Atomic anyway, and now somebody needed money. It would have definitely been a labor of love on my part, and at the time I had been a bartender for like 15 years straight. So this was a pretty good opportunity to go up there.

And it worked out really good as a brick and mortar location with a side business. He could tell you more about the beginning stuff at Dane's but it was, from my understanding, two guys that weren't really sure what they were doing on the coaching side or on the business side, so it's just kind of like, what's happening in Austin? Which is cool to see how busy he is now and how busy we are, that it was able to happen.

And then from my side, seeing the business aspect, I think at the time Rob had monetized his website, he had thousands of online members, he had his in-gym members, he was dealing with professional athletes, we were doing coaching certs in Alaska and DC. So it was really interesting view of all those things. The local athlete, the professional athlete, the military athlete, so you're getting all of those slices of life.

But yeah, it was great to have mentors and to see other things that were going on.

Awesome. Well let me redirect the conversation a little bit and let me talk about something that's interesting in my mind. So you guys are not Crossfit. Yet, if somebody is driving by and they see you guys flipping tires they're going to say in their mind, "Oh there's a Crossfit gym right there." So, can you talk a little bit about maybe the different training methodologies and why do Atomic Athlete hang your own shingle, versus hanging out at Crossfit. Which we touched on a little bit in this conversation.

Jake Saenz: Yeah. It's still not that easy one line answer. People always go, "Oh so it's like Crossfit?"

Peter Keller: Well, we've got time.

Jake Saenz: No, it's like, "No, not really." I try to say that we strike the median between like a collegiate weight room and what Crossfit does. So we're not sports specific athletes, you know, we're hybrid athletes. We're trying to make you as strong and fast as possible.

Peter Keller: Would you call it GPP?

Tod Moore: Yeah.

Jake Saenz: Yeah, that'd be one terminology for it as well. General Physical Preparedness. There's kind of that fine line of where Crossfit is this hammer, hammer, hammer, hammer. Everyday is a test. We're doing random programming intentionally because we believe that's going to create the best stimulus, right? Then you have the collegiate weight room side, where everything is so individual, so meticulous. I know Tod recently went to a University of Texas coaching seminar, and he said every athlete had their information inputted into a system where they walk up, walk in, had their numbers, had cameras filming them from multiple angles, measuring their rate of force development. He was very, very individual, very specific to the sport they played. So, here we are, we're kind of in between these two ideas of we're still trying to follow a very progressed program, everything we do has a purpose.

But that being said, we're not also, for a lack of a better word, coddling and protecting our athletes. We actually want to push them. We want them to get stronger, we want them to kind of reach that dark spot and not only physically, but mentally become stronger as well. So it's kind of like in between these two kind of methodologies. That's usually what I try to explain to people, it's not Crossfit because we don't believe in random programming, we don't believe the gym is a test, the gym is a training environment. And ultimately, your test is going to be individual to you. His test will be on a platform, my test maybe in the mountains, Tod's test maybe on the mat. So it's very individual, it's very specific to the individual and their goals.

But for us, the gym's a training environment. Not a testing environment.

Peter Keller: To expand on that a little bit though, what about the marketing aspects? I mean, I know a lot of people think, "Hey, if I am CrossFit, insert city name or street name here," people are just going to come into the door because they see CrossFit Games on ESPN or whatever. So, can you speak about that a little bit, from the marketing side of Atomic Athlete?

Tod Moore: That's kind of a difficult one, because we grass rooted everything. And we know that just because there's a name on the door, it doesn't work. We've seen all the Crossfit gyms, like down south, fold in on each other. So the cream is kind of rising to the top. So it's whatever makes you different. Or sets you apart. So, Olympic lifting ability, I mean what we do, which is definitely a little bit more of the GPP aspect of things. Ultimately, people that are more serious about their fitness, will find you, depending on what their goals are. It's one of those advertising ...

Most people in Austin know who we are. When an athlete shows up right now, it's never like, "Man, I never knew you guys were here." It's like, "Oh, I've heard about you guys for a while, I'm just curious to come in and check it out at this point, because I've moved, or I've had an injury, or I've had this or I've had that and I heard this is a different aspect of training."

Adam White: So your reputation is more along the lines of people hear about your gym, hear about the training protocols, building athletes. And they come in here, so you don't get too many say, "Hey look. I've never worked out before." Do you still have that level?

Jake Saenz: I think we do.

Tod Moore: Yeah. We have some basic athletes, and that's a cool thing when they come in, too. Because this would be such a great exposure for the new athlete. And we're getting more of them now that we have a little bit better system to deal with it, things like that. But initially, we were probably too proud of our programming. Because the way we described it. Definitely a little bit elitist there for a while. It's awesome, but ultimately, people just want it to hurt, they don't want to get hurt, and they want to look good naked. Provided you could do those three things, you're going to be a pretty successful gym. But if you could only do two of those things, you're bleeding, you're already bleeding. If you can only do one of those things, or not do any of those things, you've got some issues you got to deal with.

Jake Saenz: We've actually owned a Crossfit affiliation at one point.

Tod Moore: I forgot about that.

Jake Saenz: Yeah. That was ...

Peter Keller: I remember that but I wasn't going to mention it.

Jake Saenz: That was a $3,000 waste of money.

Peter Keller: What was the affiliate name back then?

Jake Saenz: I don't even remember the name. They wouldn't let us have Atomic Athlete. We had an idea of who was in the games, we had some pretty decent athletes that still wanted to compete, some of our coaches or former Crossfit athletes. It's like, "Okay, we'll get one we just won't really use it, we'll just use it for, the open or try to get a team to go to regionals." So we did have that, and honestly it was the cost, like, "Hey, I'm not going to pay these guys $3,000 or whatever the affiliate fee at the time, to just to use their name."

It's one thing, if you pay a franchise fee to McDonald's or Alamo Drafthouse, whatever it may be, you get a very distinct package. Like, this is how you do things, how you run your business, this is how you train your employees. I wasn't really interested in paying the $3,000 just to use someone's name. Then plus you throw in the $1,000 cert as well. So for us, it's like "Hey, we see what they're doing. We have a different view point." Even then, I kind of like was, "I don't know about that." It's fun just to do random workouts but I feel like there's better methodologies out there.

We decided to go our own route. We actually mirrored the idea off our mentor at the time, he was focused on athletes. So he used the term athlete not client. It's like, "Hey, I treat every person in my gym as a competitive or professional athlete. I'm not going to call them a client. I'm going to train them like an athlete, even though they're not a competitive athlete, I'm going to train them like one." So that kind of shift in mindset really helped us solidify what we were trying to do.

Peter Keller: So you guys have an online platform as well.

Jake Saenz: Yes.

Peter Keller: Where you do remote programming and take on remote athletes?

Jake Saenz: I think from the perspective of programming and from the perspective of a coach, my product is something I want to be good at. Since I don't compete in Crossfit, and I don't train high level Crossfit athletes to go to the games, to go to regionals on a regular basis. But what we specialize in is the more hybrid athlete and what we also recognize is there's a limited training time. Like you're a busy guy, I'm a busy guy, we can't spend five or six hours a week training all these different movements and techniques, right? So, the gymnastics element, although it's awesome and it's fun, some people don't have the time for it. If they only have three hours we can train, we want to use the tools that can work the best.

Adam White: Yep.

Jake Saenz: Which honestly is lifting heavy, the modality of running, although a lot of people don't like to run, it's a very effective modality training whether it's work capacity or aerobic based, it's functional, so we try to stick to the meat and potatoes, the exercises that are not insanely technical. The exception being the Olympic variations.

Peter Keller: Yeah, I was going to mention that you do have a very intense focus on the Olympic lifts which some would argue are strictly technical.

Jake Saenz: They are. I would say it's probably one of the most technical lifts there is, and extremely technical. Guys go to the Olympics, they have full time coaches, so you actually train them on some exercises. So that is a very very technical skill and movement, but we feel the benefits that come from that are worth the time doing it.

Tod Moore: And the carry over aspect. I've always said if you can clean 300 pounds run a 500 mile, you're a handful. You could do a whole bunch of double unders. It's not quite that same carry over, but it's also, for us, the Olympic lifts keep it exciting, too.

Peter Keller: Yeah.

Tod Moore: It's always the coaches...

Peter Keller: Frustrating.

Jake Saenz: Frustrating for the athlete...

Tod Moore: That falls into the coaching aspect of things, which we should really really try to hammer that part of it home with what we do here. It can be frustrating as the coach. Not in an Olympic lift cycle as well, but when you start seeing carry over, and you see the athletes perform better, and you see them moving well. Your like, "Okay, I've not only made that athlete a little bit more fit, now they have a skill they can take with them somewhere." Which is what I think about when we do Jiu-Jitsu or anything else like that. Where it's like no matter what, no matter what my level of fitness, I will still have the skill. So if you teach somebody the basics of doing a clean, and they can safely do the clean, and they know how to moderate weight, and now how to do all these things, it's like, "All right, I'm totally comfortable with you going to, drop into a new Crossfit gym and saying that you're one of my athletes and you're totally fine doing any of those things."

The Olympic lifting, some people hate it, some people love it, but it's fun.

Peter Keller: I'm just giving you a hard time.  Another ten years, it will be great.

Tod Moore: Exactly. But that's about right for Olympic lifting, too. And that also falls into a different category of the long game. So we go back and forth all the time with people that are like, "I want to be good now." Jake had to have a talk with a guy the other day, it's like, "Man, you're 37. You're not going to be good tomorrow."

We've been doing this stuff for 7, 8, 10 years. And I consider myself slightly mediocre. You know, just barely picking the scab off. But the more tools, the longer the game will get. The more you can start adding variety when you have the bases covered, then you can start expanding things a little bit. But if you don't have that base covered, if you can't squat well, if you can't move well, if you can't press, if you don't know the basics of Olympic lifting, if you can't run a mile, for us the sandbag get ups are a big one, if you can't do sandbag get ups without totally having a mental breakdown then you're shortening your career a little bit.

Versus we have ego, or lack of ego, and the ability to come in and suck at something and really suck at it enough to improve it. Then all of a sudden, you're not playing a three or four year game, you're playing a 15 or 20, or maybe even a 30 year game. Which, it depends on how long you want to do it. I mean you're training for the Olympics in eight years or six years, I guess?

Adam White: Yeah six and eight years.

Tod Moore: So I mean that's a proper long game. So it's like everything you do now is going to effect things down the road. How much wear and tear would be doing Fran three times a day? How much wear and tear would be doing Fran three times a day on your body? You know?

Adam White: I don't touch Fran.

Tod Moore: Exactly. It's not going to have the best carry over for your time.

Adam White: No.

Tod Moore: And I'm sure you're not throwing crazy heavy weight around right now, because you're trying to build base for those things down the road. So it's hard to manage ... I feel for athletes though, I really feel for them. Because it's frustrating and we've had guys in here that are in here for five years now. So somebody comes in and they're like, "I want to be like that guy." It's like, "Yeah, me too."

Peter Keller: Well, so, I've got another question for you guys because you guys train me. One of the biggest questions that I get from people that I talk to is deadlifting.

Tod Moore: No, no, no.

Peter Keller: Is why we don't dead lift?

Jake Saenz: I dead lifted last week. I think it's great exercise. But the bottom line is, from a coaching perspective and maybe even from a business owner perspective, an athlete gets hurt, unless you program around injury, which we usually do, they're still very gun-shy and it's also a loss of revenue for the business. So not only did you (A) injure your athlete, (B) now your business is going to suffer. And one thing we noticed is, we really focus on the psychological side of things, the mental fitness, the resilience, that idea. There is a big, big, big barrier, or I guess an obstacle, when it comes to trying to get guys to leave their ego at the door, the dead lift is a fairly easy exercise to accomplish, it's a fairly easy exercise to get heavy load on the bar, and it's also an easy exercise to lose form and injure yourself.

So we used to dead lifts, quite a bit, and just over time, what we saw were a lot of athletes were getting injured. No matter how well you coached the movement, and even if you started moderating their loads, the next thing you know you turn around and there's more weight on them, and someone can't go to work the next day.

So what it basically came out to was, it's not worth it for us to have our athletes dead lift at loads 85, 90, 95 percent, or one that is maxing that exercise. Especially when we can get a similar carry over by doing the Olympic pulls. If we can have them do snatch pulls, clean pulls, if they're pulling from the ground, trying to add velocity to the bar, move the bar fast, they're still getting the same training benefits.

Like I said, personally, I like to dead lift. I did it last week, it's one of the programs I wrote for our online platform. It has dead lifting and it uses gym equipment. It is a great exercise when it's done correctly, I think.

Tod Moore: Yeah, the number one rule is just don't hurt your athletes. And it was funny, we would have cycles where nobody would get hurt the particular day of dead lifting, but the next day, you would have another volume day that was important for the cycle, and they're just all of a sudden, "My back. My back. My back. My back. My back." And it's like, "What about is this day that's hurting every body?" It wasn't that day, it was the previous day of dead lifts.

What we talked about earlier, what's the most carry over you could get out of those lifts? So how much carry over do you actually get out of a dead lift? It's super important to have a strong back, but it's also important to be able to train three to five days through the course of the week. And you start talking about real power lifters, real dead lifters, they touched it about once every 21 days and they do variations between there. We do a lot of RDLs, we do a lot of pulls, we do a lot of other things.

But that's also to say that we hurt a lot of backs early on. I mean, the first time I ever dead lifted, I dead lifted 405 and from that day, that was my favorite exercise. That's all I wanted to do. And then my numbers never went up. Not one time. And when I finally hurt my back for about 16 months dead lifting, when I still did it, I still worked through it, but it was one of those, it was an injury that followed me around for a really long time.

When you hurt an athlete in the gym, it does something to you inside. It's one of those where it's like, "I feel your pain. I've done that before." It's like, "How important is it? You know, how important is it? I want you to be able to pick up your kid. I want you to be able to run around. I want you to be able to play." If you want to feed your ego, feed your ego on the snatch.

Jake Saenz: The only recurring injury I have, is from high school and dead lifting. And that was 15 years ago. And like I said, if you do it the right way, it's fine. But the hard part is getting a group of 20 athletes, all doing it the right way, with the correct loading, and also make sure their egos are checked.

Adam White: And with the dead lifts, you can't control what people do with the rest of their lives right, you know? How long are your sessions for your business?

Jake Saenz: About an hour.

Tod Moore: An hour.

Adam White: About an hour, right? So you have an hour with someone a day, to get them properly warmed up to do all these things, and maybe they sat in a chair for eight, nine hours previously, and they only got two to three hours of sleep, now putting them under a bunch of heavy load. So it sounds like you go very very oriented on if you're doing a clean pull, it's not going to be heavy. And there's like more of a purpose behind it on the technical side. So I really like that. It's fantastic.

Jake Saenz: Yeah. You have to get Louis Simmons a compare and contrast. One guy doing all Olympic variations and heavy pulls and all that, another group did a dead lift protocol. When they retest their dead lifts, I don't know how many weeks it was, maybe it was 12 maybe it was 20, the guys who did the Olympic variations actually tested better. So that right there, that's a high level power lifting coach that tested it out and found out that you can still build that same strength by using less intensity, less loading, and still have the same benefits without the risk.

Peter Keller: Awesome.

Tod Moore: And that's effected our stuff a lot lately, is that, you know how taxing is it on the body? Can you go do something afterwards? If you can't go do something afterwards, then it's not really general physical preparedness. It definitely kind of falls in there.

I definitely understand that people like to dead lift. But we just try to get them a little bit more of a skill something they can take with them.

Adam White: Awesome. I like that.

Peter Keller: So, we're going to wrap this up, but if our listeners want to find out more, so obviously, if they're in Austin they come by the gym, right?

Jake Saenz: Totally, yeah.

Peter Keller: That's the best way? And you guys are running a pretty awesome promotion in a couple weeks? It'll actually, probably be passed by the time we put this out. But tell me about that a little bit because it's funny.

Jake Saenz: So we read these business books and we hear these business podcasts, and some of it's great, you know it's great in theory, but we kind of have our own, I guess the gym has its own personality. It's kind of grittier, it's like when Crossfit come out we're kind of the black sheep of the group. We're friends with everybody, we know all the guys at the Crossfit gyms, we're all buddies. But the idea of having a community workout to kind of build where it's a familiar brand and your company is the idea. What we realized is we don't want the kind of passerbyers, we want like the second ring of people, like the athletes friends. We want them to come in because they have an idea of what it is.

So we decided to do one of our de-load weeks, that way we're not coming in and not dropping any week seven or eight of a progressive cycle, we decided to have a week called "Fuck Your Friends." So basically, during our de-load week, we'll take a break away from the barbells, the Olympic variations, and all the progressions, and athletes can bring in their friends to actually kind of experience it. We'll tailor the programming for more novice, intermediate level athletes. We'll have the sandbags in there, I know Peter loves them. Sandbag it up, how soul breaking they are.

Peter Keller: I'm a huge fan of the sandbag, it's kind of my jam, but it kills everybody.

Jake Saenz: Yeah, it's a good humbling ... I've seen Crossfit level game athletes come in and just get totally crushed by that exercise. I've seen females also, at the same time, crush marines with it. It's a real interesting movement, it's a good equalizer, very humbling.

But yeah, so we're going to have that week basically, the idea is to kind of get the name out there. One of the biggest challenges we face as a business is we kind of created a reputation for ourselves that it was too crazy, too hard. So I think it was Ingrid Kantola actually, it was her or ...

Peter Keller: It was a games athlete.

Jake Saenz: Yeah a games athlete, or it might have been another one, not sure which one it was but they said ...

Tod Moore: Carey Kepler.

Jake Saenz: Was it her?

Tod Moore: It was Carey.

Jake Saenz: I can't remember. But anyways, it was some high level Crossfit athlete, and she was trying to explain what we did, and she goes, "Oh, it's like Crossfit, but on crack." So here we are, taking a whole different approach of programming, and try to do things where it's well thought out and puritized and progressed, and with a module of intensities based on the work that we're doing. But then we're getting this reputation like, "Hey those dudes are fucking crazy. They run around with sandbags for an hour and a half, they do a thousand burpees," and all this, which is not the case.

As time has gone on, our programming has definitely evolved and we're looking at the big picture. Everyone in the room, except for you, is in their mid thirties, right? So it's one of those things, you know like we think of that long game now. So the idea was to bring in all the people who are kind of intimidated by the idea of training here. When there's no reason it should be. We have athletes that have been 300 pounds, they're training and you can scale everything, the same exercises, the same protocols, just less loading, it's real easy to do.

The only prerequisite we have in this gym, is that you come in and you work hard. So I'm more impressed by the guy who's out of shape who's working hard than the guy who rolls in with a six pack and is fast.

Peter Keller: I thought you were going to say Peter Keller who'd run into the class five minutes late.

Jake Saenz: So next time he gets onto you about being late.

Tod Moore: Set your watch 15 minutes ahead or something. Slightly got it figured out.

Peter Keller: Awesome and then for the online athletes. So athletes in Austin, come check you guys out. For the online athlete, how do they find it?

Tod Moore: It's And basically, on the online portal we have about 160 athletes in the gym. It's all the programming and all the training they do in the gym, after they vetted it. If something goes horribly wrong at the gym, and we blow out a hundred backs, which we haven't done yet, but we've definitely made some mistakes. It's fixed, moderated, and put on the website. You get videos from me and Jake. You get all the exercise demonstrations, written outline of the cycle, and the day's sessions. So we kind of have all that stuff set up. We also have individual training plans for sports specific things.

Jake Saenz: Basically try to bridge that gap. It's $200 in training at a Crossfit gym or a gym like this in Austin, and that's a fairly high price. For the guys at home, or the guys who work out at Gold's Gym and they want to follow a good program, the goal is to bridge the gap between the online athlete at home, and what we have here at the gym. So we try to give them all the tools they need. They get videos of athletes doing a session, we get the exercise demonstrations, they get the introduction. The same introduction that the athletes in the gym get. The only thing you don't get is the on-the-spot correction. You know, we can't watch the camera and see you actually do every single clean and every single movement. But you get all the same information that in-house athletes get.

Tod Moore: We try to give them a lot of tools, too. So a lot of correctionals, a lot of things like that. It's ultimately changing that, "I'm going to work out today. That I'm going to go train. I'm going to follow a program. It's got a set design, a set structure, and a set goal. So I'm going to see improvement after the fact." Versus randomly kind of running through stuff, which it's starting to get a little bit more of a steam roll effect. So we're starting to see more training, more desire, with people wanting to do sport specific stuff. At least it's starting to work in the right direction.

Peter Keller: Awesome. Well, thanks a lot guys.

Adam White: Yeah, we really appreciate it.

Tod Moore: Cool, cool.

Peter Keller: Cheers.


Atomic Athlete
3907 Warehouse Row
Austin, Texas 78704

1 comment

  • Matt Winger

    Very cool interview . Thank you for putting that one on. I follow Atomic Athlete programming and it’s great to see where the programming comes from and where these guys come from, as well.

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