“There are NO overnight successes, just good story telling. — A good PR person can make anyone sound like their client had it easy, the truth is every successful person I have ever met has failed, struggled, and busted their butt to get to where they are now.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Joey Thurman. Joey is a health, fitness and nutrition expert, social media influencer @joeythurmanfit, owner of JoeyThurman.com, and the author of 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life. Thurman connects his professional experience with personal struggles to motivate a diversity of audiences, from the TEDx stage to wellness events. This breadth of experience and deep compassion for his clients has made Thurman a sought-after expert for top tier media outlets, bringing his expertise to millions as a host of the new Facebook Watch series Home Sweat Home and through regular appearance on The Today Show, the Harry Connick Jr show and dozens of local broadcast programs. Thurman’s work has also been featured in publications such as Men’s Health, U.S. News and World Report, NPR, People Magazine and numerous health/fitness publications.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born in Savannah, GA and raised mostly in Appleton, Wisconsin. When I was 13, my family moved to the Saint Louis area where I stayed through college at 23. As a kid all I knew is that I wanted to be a hockey player and then in college something crazy happened: I started actually liking to learn, especially about how the human body works and reacts to the environments we create around it.
After graduation, I set my sights on pursuing a career in health and fitness. I packed all my stuff into the car and drove to Chicago. Spending a few years in a big box gym exposed me to a lot of different clients and for the first time I saw how different people are with their wellness needs and beliefs — — including fellow “experts.” There wasn’t a “once size fits all” approach to health and fitness and our obsession with unachievable standards does more harm than good. So, I decided to carve my own path and started my own personal training business. Most of my regulars came with me from that corporate gym and to my own surprise I started working with celebrities and professional athletes. Whiles business was steady it was very quickly made clear to me that while I’d spent years learning about fitness and nutrition, no one actually teaches you how to turn it into a livelihood. Between sessions, I was giving myself crash courses on accounting, management, and, perhaps most important, marketing.
My first experience with media was really an outlet for me to try to reach more people and create a place to more openly educate people and challenges some myths along they way. What started with a local Chicago holiday fitness segment grew into more and more local appearances, phone calls asking to be quoted in stories, and eventually I found myself partnering with national media to help tell powerful stories of personal transformation. On that long drive to Chicago all those years ago, I never imagined that this meathead hockey player would be working on a TODAY Show special series, cooking live with Harry Connick Jr., hosting a show on Facebook WATCH, or speaking on a TedX stage — — but each time it happens I pinch myself, count my blessings, and then call mom back at home to set the DVR!
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company
Funniest story? I’d have to say it’s the one that earned me the nickname “crop top guy” on national television! One of the women who I was working with as part of a TODAY Show series loved dancing, so we turned that passion into a cardio routine she would have fun sticking with. When TODAY asked us to do our segment and picked a J-Lo song, I decided to really go “J-Lo” all the way down to her infamous outfits. So during a break, I took off my workout tank to reveal a cut-off white undershirt just seconds before we came back on air!
“I gotta ask, what are you wearing?!” asked Hoda.
“Don’t even ask!” Snapped back Kathie Lee.
“Oh lord.” And off we went into our J-Lo inspired dance workout.
After the segment, the show had on a English actor who started his interview by asking if they saw that guy in the crop top. “I’ve never seen anything like it?!”
Soon later I found out that during production meetings, bookers would suggest calling that “crop top guy.”
The best part….
I kind of forgot to tell my wife about it. She got an interesting call from me that morning after the segment!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes me stand out is that I truly care about my clients, followers, and I really do practice what I preach!
I was (and probably still am) that guy who takes any opportunity to talk to people about food and exercise. I’m that guy at parties always going deep with someone about what they struggle with and am rather vocal in debunking unhealthy falsehoods about our bodies. One day I finally sat down and put my thoughts to paper. That exercise in organizing my thoughts led to my first book, 365 Health and Fitness Hacks That Could Save Your Life.
Spending all day in a gym, reading those health magazines and picking up modeling gigs really showed me how fake and unrealistic expectations have become. I’ve been working really hard to challenge these norms and it’s not easy, especially when people expect their trainers to look a certain way. Sometimes it’s little things, like being honest on Instagram about the entire pizza I ate one weekend. Or sometimes I challenge myself to not just talk about big misconceptions, but find ways to explore them first hand. That’s why I do things like getting my blood work done and going vegan for a month or trying the “newest” workout to see what I truly feel about it, and documenting the real experiences, not knowing where it would end up when I started.
I truly try to be one of a kind and as honest as I possibly can in this two dimenstional world that we now live in. I get that I have to be on social media now, but I do not stand for the trolling that’s going on and the fat shaming, skinny shaming, or the others. I was bullied as a kid and called Gumby beause I was so awkward and skinny. Like anyone who was bullied as a kid or struggles with themselves, we all cope in different ways. Often building armor. Mine was fitness. I committed to being physically stronger than my bullies and thought I could muscle through my anxieties…
But I was wrong…
From birth we are branded as individuals. And now, social media creates a new level of pressure on who we are “supposed” to be. “The first impression” has been forever changed. At a quick glance, it’s decided if we get swiped left or right. Who we are as people isn’t decided at the first meeting, it comes from a creeping.
But social media is a necessity…the modern day resume. Clients look at my instagram and so do producers. I even had one editor tell me she couldn’t use me on the show until I had 300,000 followers. I had 30,000.
Sure, social media and all this accesss creates opportunity. It allows us to reach people, inspire, teach, learn, have fun and laugh at ourselves. But it comes with a price and creates the illusion that we must attain someone else’s unattainable goal. A perception of perfection. And working towards someone else’s goal made me feel unworthy, irrelevant and forever climbing. I hope that this self-realization helps create authenticity and a level of trust and that there’s enough folks out there who appreciate it enough to work with me and hear what I have to say.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My wife Maria. Have you ever heard behind every great man is a great woman? Well, Maria isn’t behind me, she’s always two steps ahead encouraging me, pulling me forward and picking me up when I stumble. When my wife and I first met I didn’t know where my life was going, I didn’t know who I was, or even where I could be. When I started dating her she made me understand that I could be much more than the person I was back then. I was going out every night, partying, and not making the most of life. The first time I got on TV it was such an honor, I had been trying for years to get on TV and when it happened I asked her to let me know if I ever took going on TV for granted, let me know this feeling I had at that moment. Well, it didn’t take long for her to fulfill her promise. I got booked on a show and I was complaining about having to prep for the show after a long day at work. She told me “Joey, do you remember how excited you were to get on TV a few months ago for the first time? Don’t lose sight of that!” After that moment I never took my media opportunities for granted. Find someone in life who will call you on your BS!
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
This question is so timely. Over the years I’ve always explored opportunities outside the gym but the birth of my son really put things in perspective this year. I’ll be honest, personal training is a tough business. The hours are unpredictable, you’ve got little control of your own schedule and we all risk “aging out” eventually. As my kid grows up, I want to be the dad who can coach pewee hockey and be there for PTA meetings. This drive to diversify my business and create more predictability has taken on new energy. I’ve taken a hard look at how I can create more balance for my family while continuing to do the work helping people.
I’m overhauling my online training programs to reach more people in ways that they want to work out. The gym isn’t for everyone and training can get expensive, so I’m creating new fun ways to go at your own pace with workouts and diets like Sculpt System, At Home Workout, Fat Shred, and Dadsome (the anti-dad bod program) on JoeyThurman.com
One thing I hear from clients over and over again is how much the workplace impacts our ability to stay healthy. That’s why I’ve been working closely with organizations and companies looking to re-think employee wellness programs. With custom program development, workforce engagement and on-going advising, I’m so happy to help create more health conscious workplaces.
It’s also critical that we really tackle healthcare holistically. In collaboration with medical organizations and exciting new startups, I’m consulting with medical and healthcare companies on how to ensure that exercise and nutrition are part of prescriptions for healthier living.
And my work in media has evolved and continues to be an outlet to help inspire change by elevating the stories of real people who are making big changes to be healthier — — and are an inspiration for others to do the same.change. That’s why I’ve been working more with brands I believe in to figure out how we can use social media as tool to help people live healthier and partnering with production companies to shake-up the status quo and debunk a lot of the garbage passing for wellness these days.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We get bombarded with fake news, fake images online, and fake promises with how easy it is to get “your best body ever!” I’m honest with my personal struggles, I have been depressed and still struggle with depression and body issues. I don’t try to hide who I am, and neither should anyone else. When we truly become honest with ourselves is when we truly can make an impact on others. Remember that these people that are online are known as “influencers”, but who is truly influencing your life that is right in front of you?
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
Ready, fire, aim by Michael Masterson. Sometimes you need to take your shot in business and aim later!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Never be the smartest person in the room, hire the smartest people! — I know I’m good at some things, but I’m horrible at others. I have surround myself with people who are smarter than me in business, media, copywriting, and more. I then learned from them and expanded my skillset.
Once you realize that you know nothing is when you know everything. — I was told this during one of my first personal training jobs, I thought because I “looked” the part of a fitness expert then I could be one.
If you aren’t honest with yourself, you will never truly be honest with anyone. — Once I started being real with myself about my faults, strengths, and fears is when I truly started gaining traction in my business.
There are NO overnight successes, just good story telling. — A good PR person can make anyone sound like their client had it easy, the truth is every successful person I have ever met has failed, struggled, and busted their butt to get to where they are now.
Figure out if what you want to do is a good career or a job. Being a personal training is a great job out of college, but soon after I realized that it’s incredibly hard to make it a career. You start making a good hourly rage for beating people up but soon you reach a ceiling as to how much you can make. Find ways to make money outside of the gym with ancillary income.
Be the bigger person! — I used to get very emotional at work, with my coworkers, and with my bosses. I thought that saying whatever I felt in the situation would get me further because I had something to say. In my ripe old age of 35 I have realized that assessing the situation and addressing it from a cool and intellectual manner is much better than pure emotion.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)
Ellen! As a kid I used to watch her sitcom with my family. I was enamored with her light sense of humor and presence When her show was canceled because she wanted to stay true to herself I couldn’t understand why. Here is this amazing person who knows who she is. Everyone wanted to put her in this box, she refused and it cost her so much…but she didn’t lose herself. I cannot begin to imagine what she faced. I hope that I’d have even a sliver of that courage. How can I be more authtentic and transparent? How much would I give up to stay true to myself? Sometimes we all see someone and it’s easy to forget all they’ve done to get there. They see the good that we let people see, but nothing happens over night. It takes work and it take being able to lean on those who love you to keep going.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!