How to Get Strong Without Getting Hurt—and What the Gym Can Teach You About Business
An interview with Eric Bach of Bach Performance
In a crowded fitness industry full of men with six-pack abs promising to get you jacked and help you look good naked, Eric Bach manages to stand out through his combination of down-to-earth, realistic advice and sardonic humor.
I’ve known Eric for several years now, and over that time I’ve watched him make the transition from up-and-coming online fitness coach, to someone known for being both a personal trainer and business coach for other trainers and fitness professionals.
Eric is the founder of Bach Performance and the Bach Performance Physique Coaching Program, in which he helps busy professionals look great without living in the gym.
In this interview, Eric shares the strategies and techniques he uses to help clients—ranging from tech geeks to fitness models—get lean and strong while staying safe. He also explains how he designs fitness programs that fit with a client’s lifestyle and why getting into shape can teach you some valuable lessons about business.
How did you first start Bach Performance, and what made you want to get into the world of online fitness coaching?
I first started Bach Performance right out of college. Many of the coaches I followed had websites and were writing for major publications. To build the businesses they had, I figured I’d follow similar steps.
My content really came together when I focused on solving the problems and answering the questions my clients were having. Once I put out quality information, the same demographic of people started reaching out for coaching both in Denver and online.
Unfortunately, I saw the ugly side of the fitness business early on. I realized I wanted more control and power over my income and my future. Between putting out information that was solving the problems of my ideal client and a desire to take control of my destiny, my online business was born.
What exactly do you mean by the ugly side of the fitness business? Can you go into more detail about that?
The reality is that even in an industry predicated on helping people, financial numbers are still the bottom line. The gym was cutting corners on service to members for cosmetic benefits, reneging on promises to employees, and, eventually, falling short of promises to employees before changing business models and dramatically cutting training commissions.
What do you see as the significant differences between in-person and online training? Which clients do best with each style of coaching?
With online coaching, you need to regress many lifts to ensure safety and optimal technique. When working with someone in the gym, I can easily adjust the client’s technique to put them in the best position physically.
In the online world, it becomes more important to use tools like video and, as a coach, learn to effectively communicate via the internet to get clients into the right positions. In this case, in-person training is better if you’re learning technique or an elite-level athlete.
Online training does have several benefits. It allows you to train as it fits your schedule, rather than trying to vie for the same lunchtime spot as everyone else. Online training also teaches clients how to become more self-sufficient. Because you’re paying for a digital service, it’s still ultimately up to you as to whether you do the work or not.
I’ve found online training challenges my clients to become more accountable and more proactive in making decisions that are in alignment with their goals. You can’t go wrong with either. But if you want to “fully” take control and become self-sufficient with your fitness, online training is a great way to get the expert coaching you need while challenging yourself to own the process.
What kinds of people do you typically work with?
I train both men and women, but the majority of my clients are men between 25 to 45 years old with demanding careers and little time to waste. A good majority of my clients are attorneys, CEOs, salespeople, entrepreneurs, and a good number of other fitness professionals. Even coaches need coaches.
In your opinion, how much of a distinction is there between training for strength versus training for hypertrophy? Do you view them as totally distinct training goals, or do you think they mostly go hand in hand?
Everyone should focus on getting stronger as the first goal in the gym. The reason being that strength is the foundational component which makes every other aspect of training more productive.
When you’re stronger, you can recruit more muscle fibers to build lean muscle.
When you’re stronger, you can generate more power.
When you’re stronger, you can move a relatively heavier weight for more reps, boosting your ability to build muscle.
Oh, and there are major links between improving/maintaining strength, lower rates of cancer, and all-cause mortality.
My point? Focus on getting strong first. Once you’ve built up a sufficient base (let’s say you can deadlift 1.5–2x bodyweight and do 10 chin-ups), then focus on specializing for muscle growth.
If you have a client who wants to bulk up, how much cardio do you have them do?
I recommend everyone walk for at least 30 minutes in the morning, or aim to get 10,000 steps per day. When building muscle, this stands.
Beyond basic walking, I don’t recommend much cardio because the main reason clients don’t bulk up is they’re not eating enough. I need to lock in a caloric surplus first. If after a month or two they’re gaining but adding too much fluff, we’ll add two days of intervals in.
How many sets per workout, per week, and exercise do you typically have people do?
Honestly, I don’t sit back and calculate the number of sets or have a typical routine. A few common rep schemes we use are 5x5, 5x5–4–3–2–1, 4x8, and 4x10, 8, 6, 20. But as far as calculating the number of sets per workout, I’ve honestly never sat back and used that as a big focus point in my programming.
What psychological differences do you see between novice, intermediate, and advanced trainees?
Most novices look for more information and generally think there’s something they’re missing. They tend to fret about every minute detail and often question every aspect of a program. This is the biggest struggle most people face today: information overload and, coincidentally, never sticking with anything long enough to succeed.
Mentally, intermediates have found something that works for them and, in many cases, lock in on it. Intermediates tend to a be a bit more dogmatic because they’ve found something that lead to progress and begin seeing that as the “best way.”
More often than not, the only way to graduate from intermediate stage is to realize everything can work, and what got you to where you currently are probably won’t help you get to the next stage.
Advanced trainees realize anything can work, it simply takes the right dose at the right time. Those who are advanced realize how simple training really is at its core and understand consistency is king, regardless of goal. Advanced trainees also fall in love with the monotony of training. There’s no sugar-coating it: Sometimes you’re going to hit a wall, and it’s going to be boring. But the only way out is through.
Which training techniques do you find most useful for maximizing the ratio of growth stimulus to fatigue?
Rest-pause training. It’s a more advanced tactic, but it helps lifters focus on gradually warming up, then diving headfirst into one all-out set.
Here’s how it works:
Rest-pause training breaks one heavy set into several short sets. You do a set, rest 15–30 seconds, then continue doing smaller sets until you effectively double the number of reps in the set or reach technical failure. You can use this method with a variety of exercises.
Here’s what to do:
- Warm up by doing three sets, ramping up in weight with three to five reps per set to fire up your central nervous system. Then move to the rest-pause set.
- Your rest-pause set will use about 85% of your one-rep max, or a weight you can do for five to seven reps, depending on your strength levels and muscle-fiber composition. Go a little heavier if you’re purely focused on strength rather than size gains; I find 85% to be the sweet spot for a mix of both.
Here’s an example if your 1 RM is 315 pounds:
- 65% x 5 = 205 pounds
- 70% x 5 = 220 pounds
- 80% x 3 = 250–255 pounds
- 85% = 270 pounds
- 270 pounds x 6 reps, rest 15–30 seconds, then…
- Do 1–3 reps, rest 15–30 seconds.
- Do 1–2 reps, rest 15–30 seconds.
- Do 1–2 reps, or as many reps as needed until you double the rep goal.
- In essence, you’ve gradually warmed up without killing yourself. Then, you break up a hard set into multiple other sets and do more reps with a heavier weight than you would otherwise be able to. Just use a spotter and stick with it.
When, if ever, do you think it’s worthwhile to train to muscle failure?
Yes, sometimes it is—but first, a few words of caution.
Most people train plenty hard to build muscle. The missing component isn’t related to their training, it’s often their diet, lifestyle, and consistency. Those areas should be cleaned up first.
When it comes to training to failure, it’s best to reduce the complexity (and risk) of exercises when training to failure. Using machines is great in this regard, as you’re able to take muscles to complete failure in a more controlled environment.
What do you have clients do to avoid repetitive stress injuries?
We do three things:
First, we use microprogressions. Microprogressions are slight adjustments to exercises, like changing grip width, stance, or external rotation in your feet on a squat or deadlift. These small tweaks are enough to change muscle recruitment patterns without throwing out an entire movement, keeping joints healthier and avoiding overuse.
Second, sleep and proper recovery. There’s no other way to put it. If you want to recover physically and mentally, you need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Those little aches and pains can be kept at bay by making sleep a priority.
Third, use proper exercise programming. Repetitive stress injuries come from a combination of poor biomechanics, a lack of balance, and failing to account for movements that are already overused. For example, if we have a client who’s a programmer and spends all day in front of a computer, we’re coming to program twice as many horizontal pulling exercises like rows to horizontal pressing exercises like bench presses to battle the “computer guy” posture they’re in all week.
When designing programs, it’s essential to think about more than the balance of the program. You need to consider the balance, or lack thereof, in a person’s lifestyle.
You’ve said that much of what you know about business, you learned in the gym. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Funny you should ask. I wrote an article on this recently. The premise?
The discipline, laser-like focus, and willpower you use to transform your body serve you well in succeeding in business.
What you don’t do determines what you can do. There is a staggering amount of information out there on training and nutrition. The same holds true for building any kind of business. While being educated and informed is important, it’s imperative you learn how to find a few trusted resources and take action.
If you try to do it all in the gym, you’ll end up spreading yourself too thin in too many directions. The same happens in business.
In both cases, simplify and execute.
Consistency is more important than perfection. Many businesses fail because they never get off the ground in the first place. Your new marketing strategy or sales funnel will never be perfect. If you continuously chase perfection, you’ll never get anything accomplished.
Which is not to say you should just “take it easy” or release an inferior product. I’m saying, do great work, then course correct as needed.
If you want more, do more. Lost in the world of hacks and secrets is a simple truth: If you want more, you’re going to have to do more.
In fitness and business, you must be willing to make sacrifices the average person isn’t ready to make if you want exceptional results.
In fitness, you’ll need to train harder, longer, and say “no” to a night out on occasion. In business, you may need to get up earlier and sacrifice sleep or date night.
You may need to invest, get a loan, and take a risk. Whatever the case, the choice is yours. It’s up to you to decide what you want, what sacrifices you’ll make, and ultimately, where you choose to be great.
Play the long game. Crash diets and crazy photoshoot-ready routines can help you get dramatic results for yourself in the short term, but they come at a cost.
Take this picture, for example:
After following an aggressive fat-loss diet and pre-shoot hydration strategy, I was shredded, not to mention ready to devour donut ice cream sandwiches, a few IPAs, and cheeseburgers around New York City.
Gluttony aside, here’s what you don’t see with pictures like this:
My blood biomarkers for organ stress were all elevated, and my testosterone levels withered like a raisin. As a reference, my testosterone levels were down to about 400, the equivalent to a 60-plus-year-old, compared to my normal levels of 820.
Had I stayed the path, I would have done long-term damage to my health and hormones. The lesson? Despite how they’re marketed to you, challenges, tweaks, and aggressive fitness plans must remain short-term.
Only take on aggressive, short-term plans with professional help and a plan to return to sustainability. If you rely on them or stick to them too long, you’ll run into long-term issues.
The same lesson applies to business, especially those who sell out for a quick buck or rely on constant sales and challenges to generate business. Yeah, sales and small gimmicks can temporarily plug a leak, but you need a proven product and a real strategy to succeed long-term.
Sure, a short-term sale can improve cash flow, but it can’t be the lifeblood of your business. If you make a habit of discounting your services, people will wait until the next discount. You’ll become the Groupon version of your industry, rather than the Apple.
Another example would be the influencer crowd. Popular media personalities attach themselves to any brand willing to dole out a 30% discount code on form-fitting tights or protein supplements so they can pay their bills.
But as we often see, companies go bust whether it’s due to poor management or something more sinister, like lying about their product. When you attach your brand to another (or 20), you’ve now linked yourself to any bad stuff your partner does.
Choose wisely. Play the long game. Protect your name and your integrity. Much like you need a long-term focus on transforming your body, you need a long-term plan for creating a sustainable business.