Episode 97 – Interview with Nerdstrong Gym Founder Andrew Deutsch

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Episode 96 – Interview with Motion Graphics Designer and Director Niels Prayer
September 12, 2017
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Episode 98 – Interview with Disney’s Senior CG Animator Nicolas Prothais
September 26, 2017
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Episode 97 – Interview with Nerdstrong Gym Founder Andrew Deutsch

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Episode 97 — Interview with Nerdstrong Gym Founder Andrew Deutsch

Hey, everyone!

This is Allan McKay. Welcome to Episode 97! I’m speaking with Andrew Deutsch from Nerdstrong Gym in North Hollywood, CA.

Health is an interesting subject because so many of us in visual effects neglect it. We prioritize work over fitness. Others keep it on the back burner, especially when dealing with work deadlines. This is something I never wanted to share but enough of my close colleagues have pushed me to do it [because] I’ve had some major wake-up calls in regards to my health. When your health goes — so does everything else. For me, it changed my life. (I will be putting my own Episode on this subject, including one with Jeff McMahon who is a virtual trainer: http://www.totalbodyconstruction.com).

I feel like in the gym culture, there are certain categories of people. Nerds for whom being fit isn’t a priority, going to a regular gym may be a bit intimidating. That’s what Andrew has done: He’s built culture that embraces everyone. Nerdstrong Gym has games and people can come in costumes, and all this other cool stuff. So let’s dive in!

 

FIRST THINGS FIRST: 

[-49:22] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. Typically, we go on job interviews and either shoot ourselves in the foot by saying we charge less than we’re worth and getting the gig — but indirectly leaving tens of thousands of dollars accumulatively over time, on the table; rather than asking what we should be charging. At the same time you don’t want to alienate your employer by asking for too much and leaving yourself out in the cold.

I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your information — your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be worth. This is something I’m going to continue to build and flush out over time.

The key thing is, I don’t want to just showcase how much you should be worth — I want to hand you the tools to grow and learn:

– to negotiate better,

– to ask for the right amount of money in the right way

– lots of other tools!

The information is FREE! Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! Put in your information and you will get instantly notified with how much you should be charging per hour, as a VFX Artist.

 

INTERVIEW WITH NERDSTRONG GYM FOUNDER ANDREW DEUTSCH

Nerdstrong Gym, located in North Hollywood, CA, combines physical fitness with passion for games, movies and storytelling. To attract its membership, Nerdstrong’s Founder Andrew Deutsch created an environment with a nerdy theme and gamified fun. Starting out with Dungeons and Dragons inspired workouts for a friend, in his own garage, Andrew established a strong following and opened the doors to Nerdstrong in 2013.

All the classes are group workouts based on a favorite film, game or franchise. “Our nerdiness / geekiness comes from the heart of the gym: its members.” Andrew says. “We are nerds. We are geeks. We love scifi, comics, math, science, cosplay, books, movies, TV, pop-culture, RPGs, computers, video games, board games.”

Some of the workout themes and challenges are inspired by Harry Potter, Space Invaders, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars, Star Trek, War Craft, Wonder Woman, Dungeons and Dragons. Just a few examples of the workouts are:

– Dropping into a plank position until it the Eye of Sauron passes.

– Kicking down dungeon doors.

– Defeating the Death Star.

– Raiding ancient temples with Indiana Jones.

In this Episode, Allan McKay and Andrew Deutsch talk about the original inspiration for Nerdstrong Gym, some of its unique workout themes and its outstanding philosophy.

 

Nerdstrong Gym Website: www.nerdstronggym.com

Nerdstrong Gym on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nerdstrong/

Nerdstrong Gym on Instagram and Twitter: @nerdstronggym

Feature on Nerdstrong Gym in The New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/15/style/workouts-for-nerds.html?_r=0

Article about Nerdstrong Gym on UPI.com: http://www.upi.com/Odd_News/2017/05/04/Californias-Nerdstrong-gym-helping-LAs-geek-community-shape-up/6971493932580/

 

[-47:57] Allan: Do you want to give a quick introduction on who you are? Just name, rank and serial number?

Andrew: Yeah. My name is Andrew Deutsch. I’m the Founder and the Head Coach at Nerdstrong Gym in North Hollywood, CA.

[-47:41] Allan: Tell me the story of how this came to be: Where the idea for Nerstrong Gym came from?

Andrew: Yeah, it was very grassroots. We started in my garage 3.5 years ago. I’d been been collecting equipment in my garage. I’d been going to a CrossFit gym for about 4 years and wanted to do some extra reps at night. In that time, I was all by myself. A friend of mine was going through a divorce and was staying with me at my house. I couldn’t get him to come with me to my CrossFit gym, so I thought maybe he could work out with me in my garage. I lead him through a few workouts, but he didn’t want to do it.

He’s done Dungeons and Dragons with my D&D Group. I suggested, “Let’s do a Dungeons workout on Sunday.” It had three rounds: You bust down a door, fight the monster for 2 minutes and if you’re successful at your reps count, you move on to another room. There were 7 rooms. You had a certain amount of time to get through each room. We had a white board inside of my garage and I drew it up like graph paper. That seemed to connect with him. It’s not me creating new moves but using my imagination.

[My friend] started tweeting about it. Every Sunday, I’d come up with a new routine depending on whatever board game or video game I was playing, so people could think more about that than the work they were doing. Someone responded over Twitter, then I had two people. Then, I had 3-4 people. Then, we were doing it several times a week. Then people started paying me.

So I thought I should turn this into a business. We struggled early on. Who would do this: Create a gym for people who don’t want to go to the gym? It was a slow burn. We slowly got more and more people. Most of our people came through social media or word of mouth. We don’t really market it much and we don’t really need it. A lot of people travel long distance to Nerdstrong. We’ve been going for 4 years now.

[-43:40] Allan: That’s amazing! I love the fact that it happened organically. You’re making a change in people’s lives. I’m sure you have plenty of stories [about having that] impact. Whether it’s gaming or just sitting at a computer all day long, there is a hundred excuses for not wanting to work out. One of the big things is not having enough energy. 

Andrew: It tends to happen over time. As much as I want to tell them that [exercising] or a good diet is good for them, they don’t really connect until they see the benefit of it in the gym — and then the larger benefit outside of the gym. One of my favorite stories is: We have a guy at the gym who has a titanium knee. He has every excuse in the world not to run or jump. He stopped blaming his leg and started coming to the gym. He then went to the Comic-Con and when he came back he said, “This was the first Comic-Con where he could walk the entire floor without any pain.” It was the first year he enjoyed himself. It was such a simple hurdle to get over.

I’m not doing the work for him. He is the one putting his feet down and coming to the gym. When you talk about people at their desks, with poor diets — it’s because they’ve invested in that. They don’t think that they’ve invested but that’s what they’re doing. They can then walk into a gym and have an expectation to get rid of all that in 90 days. It’s preposterous and we have to break them out of that thinking little by little. They also have to see it out there in their own lives: Are they more awake in the afternoon, for example? It happens overtime.

[-39:17] Allan: I think that’s so true. It’s when you’re able to see these small changes in your life. It’s not about being able to run a marathon. One of the big psychological issues that people have is they sign up for a gym membership and scratch that itch. They’re paying for the result — without actually pursuing it. Do you find that the way your gym works, there’s more sustainability and less churn? Do you find that people are being more consistent?

Andrew: There are couple of different personalities [at the gym].

– There’s the one you’re talking about, the serial Groupon-ers. They try something out and quit it and say that nothing works. We’ve had some people come in and discover it’s really simple. It’s about making a commitment to yourself.

– And that’s the other personality: Either someone told them that something would happen (“You’re going to be a diabetic unless…”) or something happened in their lives that made them make that decision. They start hunting around for what fits who they are. Some people like to work out by themselves. Others feel lonely and want work out with other people, or have a coach.

We try to know more about people who come in: What do they want to do and where do they want to go? By and large, whatever their goal is — it’s about feeling better. People just want to feel better. If it’s looking in the mirror and feeling better; or just about going up a flight of stairs without feeling tired.

We’ve tried to build an environment where community is key. We create fun team work workouts, especially on weekends. We’ve always tried to be transparent as to who we are, as people. We try to be their friends. They’re not going to get that experience at a lower membership gym [where] you’re just a barcode there. If that’s what does it for you, you should do that. But a lot of people just want to be acknowledged.

[-34:16] Allan: I love it! If you want to do yoga, there is 5,000 types of it. When it comes to the gym, you’ve got Gold’s and 24 Hour Fitness. Gold’s has become a culture. For a lot of people, if you go to 24 Hour Fitness, you’re a barcode. There’s lots of equipment. You’re going to get thrown in there. If someone is new to it, where do they start? Your gym sounds like the missing link: It’s fun and people can find their tribe. I love that you’ve filled that void. 

Andrew: I don’t want to sound like I’ve invented this. You’ve got the CrossFit gym (box style gyms) that could be intimidating to people even though they have created a community as well. It’s generated into a per gym brand. But the gym itself doesn’t do events. It’s the community that does the events. The community at our gym goes camping, or dancing, or to brunch. Or do meal prep days, or help each other move. That’s been really heartfelt for me.

[-30:46] Allan: That makes me think of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s biography. Whenever he relates to the gym in the 80s (which is Gold’s), you had your team of people because you’re a family. 

Andrew: I have a membership to 24 Hour Fitness because I don’t have all the equipment at home. Sometimes, I can’t work out at my gym just because I’ll start cleaning things. It’s a big choice for me. I see people doing things wrong and I want to help them out. But it’s not my gym.

[-29:06] Allan: What’s your background? Did you have a background in physical fitness?

Andrew: I have zero background in physical fitness. If you were to look at me 4-5 years ago, you’d say, “That guy shouldn’t run a gym”. I’m 5’7”, 160 pounds. I’m athletic but not an athlete. I was an art director and a graphic designer. I had a day job when I started Nerdstrong and I had it for about 3 years. I was definitely a desk monkey, so I can definitely understand that experience.

There are people who help me run [Nerdstrong]. When we talk to each other, we try to employ systems from our day jobs, to get things organized.

– Since I was an art director, I did the logo, our website, our t-shirts.

– We have a project manager and someone else who deals with customer service.

– We have a VP of marketing.

We have a strong robust team which helps us be a contender in Los Angeles where some of the best gyms exist, I think. We do have bonafide geeks running the gym. Me, I’m a generalist: I love all things, but am an expert an none. One of our trainers is a paid pro Dungeon Master. We all have our nerd-doms.

[-25:43] Allan: How would describe some of the stuff you do at the gym and what makes you special? One of my team members discovered [Nerdstrong]. Hearing everything about it, it sounds fucking brilliant! It took 10 seconds of explaining.

Andrew: By and large, the gym acts like a gym:

– There are barbells and kettlebells, and bumbbells.

– I’ve thrown in a couple of weapon type things, like maces and steel clubs. I think everybody wants to bash things in their daily lives.

– We have pull-up rigs, a lot of body weight work.

– It’s a small space, but there’s strength training, and cardio training, and interval training.

– We have skiers and rowers.

– We have a parking lot that’s an eighth of a mile loop that [the members] can run on.

– We throw in odd objects like sandbags.

It’s a mix of things that have always interested me in fitness. We combine those into challenging workouts. It’s all group classes by certified couches.

We do a lot of storytelling in our workouts: 

– We did an Adam West workout today because he had passed [and because] the clientele that comes to the gym love him and have even met him. There is a little clip of Batman where he is carrying a giant bomb. We did a workout based on that film. We played the Batman soundtrack. 

– We go beyond that. A couple times a year, we do a five chapter storyline: You come into the gym and there is Dungeon Master there and he’s leading you through an adventure. The people in the class are your party. You enter into a tavern and look for adventuring. Maybe some zombies come in and you have to do a workout. There is a bigger creature at the end of each chapter. But there is an overall storyline.

We think of ourselves as storytellers and that’s the kind of thing we like to bring into our workouts. Whether it’s a moment in time in a comic book or a movie, or an overall theme based on a character we know and love, or it’s a game mechanic that I know people love to tap into. We have a lot of rolling dice workouts and there are consequences depending on what your roll. Some people may say it adds too much randomness into the workout but I really don’t think that people care. People just want to have a good time.

[-20:42] Allan: And you, guys, have a lot of cosplay and pop culture references, right?

Andrew: Totally! If there is a Star Trek workout, you’ll see a lot of yellows, reds and blues. We had a Power Rangers workout, so people definitively had full outfits. We don’t encourage real cosplay you’d see at a Comic-Con, but a workout version of that. If we tell people ahead of time what the workout would be, they definitely tap into it. Gym selfies are a big deal at the gym.

[-19:27] Allan: When you first opened, what was the public reception?

Andrew: I don’t think anybody thought it would be a real thing. We had a really small space where we had an opening. (It’s LA, you have to do that.) But then there were a couple of months I thought we’d have to shut down. It was just me teaching the classes. I don’t think people understood what it was. We struggled for a little bit. What we do is harder to explain to some people.

[-18:15] Allan: It’s hard to summarize it really quickly so that it resonates with people. What are the levels of intensity to your workouts? You’ve categorized them from Padawan up to Jedi Master, correct?

Andrew: Yes, that’s a little bit of language involved because we have a beginner, a mid-level and an advanced level working out side by side. There’s workouts that are fairly intense. You may find yourself doing triple digit reps. On Tuesday nights we do a class called 18-Double-Zero which goes back to the rules of D&D where you could roll a percentile dice. You could get a 100 percentile so you could be the strongest in the game based on two rolls. That class involves heavy lifting of some kind and explosive bodyweight movements. We ask people to have a certain basis before coming to it.

We always make sure people tap into proper form. Not every workout is meant to make you the best in the world. Sometimes, it’s just fun. Today, we had a workout where at every round you got a new piece for this cart you had to build. You had to take those pieces around the track. It was interesting to see the commitment and the communication. Some people actually created a cart out of gym equipment which I didn’t think was possible.

We make sure people are challenging themselves. That’s a conversation we tend to have more often than not. Most gyms attract athletes so they don’t need to have those conversations. A large percentile of people who come to our gym have never gone to a gym or don’t have a competitive bone in their body. They have no knowledge of their potential. Now, we have people who come six times a week. If they don’t come to the gym, they feel like they’re having a bad day.

[-13:29] Allan: It sounds like you’re changing people’s lives. I love it! What kind of games or franchises are represented at your gym?

Andrew: I do a lot of PC Gaming, so I like achievements and side quests. We do Guardians of the Galaxy workout which is like a playlist workout. I developed a workout inspired by the soundtracks of the last two movies. We’ve had D&D come into play, DC, Marvel characters. Maybe some graphic novels. We had requests for historical battles and someone has done a research on an actual pirate ship battle. It’s whatever the person is nerdy about that comes into play. We have a coach who obsesses about the Nancy Drew PC games, so that’s going to come into a workout eventually.

Do you remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books? I had no idea how horrific some of those were. I’d take chunks of those books and ask people to choose a page. If they chose poorly, they ended up “dying” and going back a few pages. Those are the things from my childhood. Some people at the gym are so young, they’ve never heard of these before.

[-10:28] Allan: One of the ones I’ve heard about was the Eye of Sauron sweeping across the gym. What’s that about?

Andrew: Yes. It’s you and a partner. You’re going up the stairs toward the middle of the third movie. And you’re carrying burden, which are sandbags on your shoulders. Every 3 minutes, I roll a dice. If I roll 11-20, you have to drop into a plank position and hold it until the Eye of Sauron passes. If I just wrote that on the board, it would be just a workout. But because I actually [pass through the gym], people actually duck down. It’s a lot of fun!

[-08:51] Allan: Sometimes, giving people the reason why other than “I have to do this”, they get into it. Are there any other ones? I think there was a Space Invaders one.

Andrew: 

– We’ve had Indiana Jones: You had to do a certain number of movements before a boulder crushes you. The boulder is always there so it motivates you to go fast because that’s the emotion in the movie.

– We have a Star Wars workout where you’re approaching the Death Star. You’re doing different movements with your partner. You’re going through a trench. At the end, you throw a ball into a box to see if you can actually hit the exhaust port. That’s lot of fun for everybody!

– We had Wonder Woman workout this past weekend. So many people came! Everyone did these Amazons style movement. Interesting to see how much people are actually showing up.

[-06:45] Allan: That’s cool! And during Comic-Con, do you guys organize meet ups?

Andrew: We shut down. The gym shuts down. There are so many people who go to Comic-Con, it wasn’t even worth opening. We have a panel at Comic-Con this year. We hang out and answer questions for hours.

[-05:09] Allan: Because you’ve built such a strong community, it’s a great way to get together and hang out. It’s sounds like you’ve built a massive following. Where would people find you online if they want to find out more?

Andrew: We’re located at www.nerdstronggym.com. The Instagram and Twitter [handle] is: @nerdstronggym. We’re on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/Nerdstrong/. If you message us on Facebook, it comes to me or one of us. There is always a human on the other end to answer your questions.

[-03:55] Allan: Thank you for taking the time to talk about this!

Andrew: I know your Podcast is about visual effects. I wanted to do that when I was a kid. I got the first Industrial Light & Magic book and that’s what I absorbed. That dream never happened but it always fascinated me.

[-03:17] Allan: When I was working at Blur Studio, there was a D&D group. I think it’s important to find our community, our tribe. In a way, you’ve created that.

Andrew: Thank you again for having me!

 

Thank you again, Andrew, for doing this Episode! I can’t wait to get back to LA and check out this gym. Take a moment to leave a comment on iTunes. That would mean a lot to me!

Next Episode, I will be interviewing Nicolas Prothais from Disney. He is one of the Senior Animators there.

On the subjects of guests, if there is anyone that you would like to have — or to have back — on the Podcast, shoot me an email: amckay@allanmckay.com. Right now, we have so many cool guests coming up: a VFX Sup from Marvel, a few people from Weta including Bay Raitt who created the original Gollum. So many cool Episodes coming up! My team and I are always brainstorming on big subjects. Maybe it’s a good idea to open it up to your suggestions. Again: amckay@allanmckay.com.

That’s it for this Episode. Talk to you soon!

Rock on!

 

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