Last year I got an email out of the blue from a guy named Tod Moore inviting me to a special event his gym, Atomic Athlete, was putting on in Austin, TX called Vanguard (see my review of the event here). In the email, Tod described Vanguard as “36 hours of learning all of the man skills your daddy never taught you or you may have forgotten over the years.” And it was the perfect description. During a single weekend I shot pistols, did land navigation, butchered a rabbit and a chicken, and was taught how to fight by Tim Kennedy. It was awesome.
While I was at the Vanguard I got to learn a lot about the fitness programming they do at Atomic Athlete. The emphasis on overall strength and cardio conditioning appealed to me, as I was in a season of getting ready for multiple mud runs, as well as a GoRuck Challenge. So I went home and signed up for their online programming.
And, boy, the workouts smoked me. Their Hybrid programming took me back to my football days. Total sufferfest.
Today on the podcast I talk to the owners of Atomic Athlete — Jake Saenz and Tod Moore — about the philosophy behind their workouts, how you can become “stronger, faster, and harder to kill,” and why it’s important that fitness serves a purpose beyond just doing exercises.
- How Jake and Tod’s backgrounds in the military, mountain sports, muay thai, and football led to Atomic Athlete
- The philosophy behind Atomic Athlete programming
- Why programming is important in developing overall strength and conditioning
- How Atomic Athlete is different from CrossFit
- The benefits of Olympic lifts
- Why mental toughness is an important part of Atomic Athlete programming
- How your diet should change when you take part in high-intensity workouts
- Events that Atomic Athlete does outside the gym in order to build community
- All about the Vanguard — a weekend of shooting guns, butchering animals, and learning how to fight
- And much more!
If you’re in the Austin area, be sure to check out Atomic Athlete. Great people there. And if you’re not in the Austin area, but would still like to get a taste of the Atomic Athlete experience, sign up for their online programming. If you’re into intense functional fitness, the Hybrid programming will be right up your alley.
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Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. So last year I got an email out of the blue from a guy named Tod Moore, he said, “Hey, Brett, fan of the website. We’d love for you to come down to Austin, we’re doing this weekend of just man skills. We’re going to shoot guns, butcher animals, do obstacle course races, rappel, do jiu jutsu.” I was like, I’m there, no questions asked. I was down there.
Anyways, this event was called Vanguard. I wrote about it on the site, if you haven’t already, check it out. It’s put on by a group … a gym called Atomic Athlete. Atomic Athlete is interesting. It’s a gym that does something like crossfit but it’s not crossfit. Their goal is overall strength and conditioning, in fact a lot of individuals going into special forces and the military use Atomic Athlete in their programming to get ready for the vigorous training that goes on there.
Today I have the owners of the gym on the podcast, Jake Saenz and Tod Moore. We’re going to discuss fitness, strength, conditioning, the psychology of being strong and fit and the mental toughness aspect of it. We’re also going to discuss Vanguard and what goes on there and their goals with it. Really interesting podcast with a lot of great takeaways, so without further ado, Jake Saenz, Tod Moore, Atomic Athlete.
Jake Saenz and Tod Moore, welcome to the show.
Tod Moore: Glad you’re having us, man.
Brett McKay: So you guys are the co-owners of a gym down in Weird Austin, Texas called Atomic Athlete. Before we get into what Atomic Athlete is and the philosophy you guys have, let’s talk about your backgrounds because it’s pretty interesting. You both have very interesting backgrounds.
How did you get to the point where you opened up the gym, what was your stories?
Jake, let’s start with you, and then, Tod, we’ll talk about your story.
Jake Saenz: I always tell my friends about this because it’s kind of funny because I guess, for the past 15 years I’ve become fairly fit but when I was going to high school, I moved to Northern California, which is a totally different environment than rural Texas.
And I had a pretty good initiation into the high school football scene, it was very much like Varsity Blues. I came from mountain viking and playing soccer in the mountains and hanging out, and then, got dumped right into small town Texas football scene, wait rooms, coaches yelling at you. I was in a class called Athletic Conditioning and that was a class that all the, I guess, what Texas considers lesser sports – the non-football, baseball, basketball athletes – got lumped into. But they basically put them into a very structured strength and conditioning program, so my initiation into the strength world was getting crushed by a sophomore cheerleader.
And ever since that day I’ve always been interested in training strength, becoming faster and stronger. I ended up doing powerlifting all throughout high school, I got stronger and stronger. I was never that good at it, I was a smaller guy, a thinner guy. And then I really had an infatuation with the military, and once I got out of high school I enlisted in the army. I went over to the Ranger Regiment for four years. I was a team leader there, I met a lot of good dudes. Even then though I could see a lot of issues with what they were doing with training. It was more of, “Let’s break these guys,” versus “Let’s build them up” attitude.
Spent four years there, ended up getting out right before Iraq, after Afghanistan. And then went to college about 2008 or 9, I was kind of at that crossing point of like, “What do I want to do?” career wise. And as I started looking at different professions, whatnot, most required experience, and it’s a big field. And one thing I had experience and passion in was training, whether it’s strength, conditioning, endurance, all that stuff.
And so I started Atomic Athlete in 2009.
Brett McKay: Okay, so Tod, your story?
Tod Moore: I was always the absolute athlete in the gym, still am. I mean, in our gym of 200 athletes, I’m hands down the worst. Playing football in Texas, you just had to worker harder. My dad always helped me and looked at weights and really got into that. It was just … I was always just a bad athlete that worked really hard and liked to work with weights.
After high school, I got really into running, got into marathon running, that turned into triathlon, which oddly enough is not that fun of an enterprise but it did a lot of good for my cardiovascular. It got me pretty fit.
Somehow I got into boxing, which got me into Muay Thai, then I went out to Thailand a couple of times and trained out there. When Jake and I were living together at the time, when I would come back, we would do these crazy workouts outside. Really ridiculous workouts which weren’t crossfit, they weren’t anything else. They were just this combination of lifting, running, and breathing.
We would start doing other things and everybody was like, “You’ve done this before!” I was like, “No, no, no, we’re just pretty fit guys.” So we started to see the beginning combination of fitness early on. We just didn’t quite have a track to follow it. Just putting in hard work.
Brett McKay: It sounds like your guys’ life history with training led up to the creation of Atomic Athlete. It seems like you’ve taken the best of what you experienced, whether it was in football, Muay Thai, the military and brought it together in this program.
For listeners who aren’t familiar with Atomic Athlete, what is the overarching philosophy because you do have one. What I love about you guys is a lot of gyms or online programming or fitness guys don’t really have an overarching philosophy. It’s just like, “You’re going to lift, you’re going to look good.”
But you guys have something bigger going on, what is that?
Jake Saenz: I think for us, we always tell athletes, they come in, “I want to look better.” I was like, “Well you’re in the wrong place. That’s going to be your diet, your discipline outside the gym.” What we really want to do is make you, like what motto says, “Stronger, Faster, Harder To Kill.”
Although it’s a great thing to put on the back of a t-shirt, it really has a lot of meaning to it. Our goal is to make you a better functioning athlete outside the gym, although the gym is an amazing place. We do tests in the gym, we don’t put a lot of emphasis and a lot of weight on what actually happens in the gym.
For us, the gym is just an artificial, very controlled training environment. What we want to do is make you a more capable human being outside the gym.
A good example would be myself. I took Tod and two other athletes on this mountain hunt last week. So we spent six days up in Western Colorado, add altitude and snow, carrying packs, freezing out in sub-freezing weather. That, for me, on a regular basis is the test environment.
These guys all wanted to go, they weren’t even hunting, they just wanted to test themselves outside. The big underlining philosophy is train in the gym to perform outside the gym. That’s our main purpose, it’s just to make you more capable.
Tod Moore: We do that both mentally and physically, so that’s a huge emphasis on it too. So when the athletes come in, we put a lot of thought process into what they should be thinking about, what they should be feeling, what they should be doing. How they can take that outside the gym. A big thing we’ve always said is, if you’re going to fail, we want you to completely fail, completely have a meltdown so it doesn’t happen outside the gym.
This is our controlled safe environment, so if something bad is going to happen, we want it to happen here, so you can address that problem. Fix that problem for anything happens in the outside world.
Brett McKay: Awesome, well we’ll get into the psychological, mental aspect of what guys do, but before we do that, let’s talk about the programming you do.
The main one you guys do, or I’ve done before in the past, is called hybrid. When I’ve tried to explain it to people it’s hard for me to explain, because it’s sort of like crossfit but not crossfit.
How would you guys explain the programming you do at Atomic Athlete?
Jake Saenz: We’ve tried to come up with a one line answer for a really long time.
Brett McKay: I know, it’s hard!
Jake Saenz: Because when you walk into the gym, you see a big warehouse and you see kettle bells, bar bells, dumbbells, sand bags, a big open space, mats. So if you just kind of walk in off the street, you’d be like, “Oh, it’s like a crossfit gym. You guys do crossfit.”
And it’s like, no, we definitely don’t. Some of our best friends own crossfit gyms and they’re great coaches, but no, our main philosophy is different. We don’t view fitness as a sport, we view it as a tool to use in whatever endeavor that may be. Whether it’s rock climbing, hunting, jiu jitsu, fighting, soccer, whatever it may be.
It is a hard question to answer, and although everyone in the gym knows it’s different, if you ask most of our athletes they really couldn’t put words to it as well. But the big thing I think is we kind of talk about the purpose in the programming. Our main purpose isn’t to be good at exercise, but to develop a high level of fitness to perform outside the gym.
We do that by programming. Our term for programming is creating a well thought-out plan. We don’t believe in confusing muscles, we do not believe in random daily sessions. Everything you do has a purpose in our programming. And it’s all in embedded in the bigger picture. Use traditional methods like periodization, which is training in blocks with b-load weeks in between. And progression, which we like our sessions to build upon one another.
I believe you’re doing … are you doing starting strengths right now?
Brett McKay: Yeah, I’m doing starting strengths … I’m working with Matt Reynolds and it’s sort of a split between starting strengths. It’s kind of weird.
Jake Saenz: Got you. The basic concept of progression and progressive overload is each week you go in when you’re squating, you’re squatting a slightly heavier load. We’ve done the random thing before way back in the way and what happens is there’s a lot of time wasted. Instead of it being at a very specific workload, you’re taking time trying to figure out or your technique is off, you’re like, “Aww, this exercise, I haven’t done it in six months.”
We just found over time that it works much better to follow a well thought-out program and a well thought out plan.
Tod Moore: And if we follow that plan, we have enough athletes in here that we can sell exactly what works and what doesn’t work. So with 200 athletes, when we decide we want to do something, we can have a pretest and run the athletes through it and have a post-test. So whatever we developed we know exactly if it is on point or if it isn’t on point, and we could make those changes along the way.
And if we did things randomly we wouldn’t have that path to follow. It really helps us out, it gives us structure, it also gives purpose to the programming where you know every day you’re doing something that’s making you distinctly better. You know how it’s making you better and you know it’s just going to be enough of an increase in intensity or volume or what that might be, that you will see improvement but that it’s not going to break you.
Brett McKay: So what I love about you guys is you do a great job at combining both strength training and cardiovascular conditioning. My question is when I was doing the programming, there was a lot of Olympic lifting and for average Joes on the street, they’re like “Man, why do I have to do this complex snatch. It’s like the hardest thing in the world.”
What is the benefit that Olympic lifting provides to guys who aren’t Olympic lifters? What is the benefit of that?
Jake Saenz: We in the gym really, really like to Olympic lift. As a coach it’s very stimulating for us. It’s fun to coach. But as athletes we experienced at one point, it’s very difficult to teach yourself how to Olympic weight-lift. You can read all the books you want, you can watch a lot of videos but without having trained eyes, it’s really difficult.
So for our in-house program, we do include a lot of Olympic weight-lifting. For our sports specific programs, we don’t put too … and if we do put them in there, it’s very basic. We like to use them in the gym because it’s a great tool to train proprioception, which is basically knowing what your body is doing and movement. As well as the mobility benefits we get from that deep squatting and overhead positions we do.
It really depends on the athlete and some of the programs online that we have don’t have much Olympic weight-lifting because it’s just one of those things where it’s too difficult to teach yourself and unless you have a trained eye watching you, which you may have experienced yourself in the program at one point, it’s really, really difficult to know if you’re doing it right. And you can’t really train at a heavy load until you are doing it right.
Tod Moore: We also like it because it adds another tool in the chest. Sometimes you can get bored with squatting and pressing and stuff like that and then you can drop into an Olympic weight-lifting cycle, and you’re not only getting stronger, you’re also learning a skill.
You’re learning something that you can take with you other places, the ability to move that barbell confidently and safely. And like Jake said, the cool thing about weightlifting is because it is a skill-based sport, as your skill increases, your strength increases. But if your skill isn’t high, you’re just not moving that much weight. We don’t see that many injuries, actually hardly any at all with weightlifting. The athletes are a little scared at first but when they get into it, they really seem to enjoy it.
Again, everything is a tool so you can definitely do a barbell clean or a sandbag clean or just jump with a sandbag, you can see the same training benefit. But if you’re training for two or three months, it’s not that important but when you start training five, seven, nine years, all of a sudden you want to a little bit more variety, things to do, things that you can see improvement on, to see where you’ve come and where you’re going.
Jake Saenz: I think you talked to when you were training with Mark, he was talking about the hip drive and the squat, and basically just said having that hip squat and explosivity in that mid-section is a very, very powerful tool. And you see that in gymnasts, with jiu jitsu practitioners and that’s one of the best exercises that we can do to actually train explosive power.
Your total body strength sections are going to revolve around some variation of an Olympic lift, whether that’s a power snatch, a muscle snatch, a full snatch, clean, clean and jerk, so some variation of those is a very effective training tool when done correctly.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Here’s a question I have, so I think I talked to you about this, Jake, on the snatch and the low bar squat, that thing is the hardest thing to do. And I remember I was like in the workout one day, one of the programming, and I watched the video you put up there the previous day … the athletes doing the workout at the gym and I was watching these svelte girls doing overhead squats with twenty five yellow plates on each side. I was like, “I can do that.” They were just cranking it out and I get up there and I couldn’t do a single one.
Why is that position, the overhead squat, so difficult to do? Is it a strength thing or is it more of a mobility issue?
Jake Saenz: I think it’s more of a mobility … A lot of practitioners and coaches, when they want to do a movement screen, they’ll use an overhead squat as a baseline assessment of what you’re mobility is. And it’s amazing, some athletes walk in, have never trained with a barbell ever, a female. And she can do a perfect overhead squat. You could bring a guy who played high school or college football and as soon as that barbell goes overhead, he tries to squat, everything just falls apart.
That, the snatch, that’s probably the most complex exercise that we do and possibly in the world because if you think about these guys who do Olympic weightlifting, they’re training for ten plus years with a coach on just two exercises. Their event consists of two exercises, they’re dedicating a lifetime of training to master those two exercises.
The nature of Olympic weightlifting is very much like a martial art and even me and Todd, we bring in a couple of national level weightlifters and they coach us. And we’ve been doing them for four or five years and every time, they can just point out so many things you’re doing wrong. But the overhead squat, if you’re not a mobile athlete, it can be a very, very frustrating exercise, especially for a lot of males.
Tod Moore: Yeah, usually the issues start with the bottom because it starts with the ankles and knee mobility or hip mobility, but the weight is loaded to the top so it’s definitely an up river, down river lift. But it can definitely be frustrating for the new athlete but we tell our guys in here and they hate to hear it, but it’s not free. You just have to spend the time in doing it.
Brett McKay: Yeah, all right, so let’s talk about some of the cardiovascular conditionings. That’s one of the things I liked about it. What I think drew me to the Atomic Athlete was that it reminded me a lot of football conditioning. You start off with the barbell, the strength conditioning, and then you end it with cardiovascular conditioning.
And you guys have some fun with it. What are you guys’ favorite tools for conditioning exercises?
Jake Saenz: One of the things we put on like a coaching certification or we tell our coaches that are in training is that an exercise is just a means to an end. If you’re trying to develop aerobic endurance, aerobic capacity or even anaerobic capacity, what you actually do is not super important. Your body doesn’t really recognize “Am I running, am I rowing, am I doing weighted step ups, am I climbing up a hill?” Your body is ultimately going to recognize duration and intensity. How long it’s working and how hard it’s working.
That being said, unlike most crossfit gyms, we really like to run. If we have our whims as a coach, we want our athletes running because it’s as functional as it gets. It’s a real world activity that everyone needs to do. But as far as using different modes, a tire drag is a great mode for athletes who are bigger or have injuries and can’t run. Simply getting a harness and a tire and a plate and dragging that, extremely challenging. We use it a lot for getting ready to go to the mountains.
Airdyne, weighted step ups, working on hills, those are all single mode activities that are really easy to do pretty much anywhere. And then you start getting into the more traditional stuff: sandbags, kettle bells, body weights, obviously exercises like burpees, sandbag gets ups, kettle bell snatches. Those are all really good metabolic exercises that provide conditioning.
We look at the whole cardio thing in kind of two components. One is your aerobic base, that easy pace and just clocking in the miles or the minutes. And then we look at the more intense stuff which is going to be more work capacity.
Tod Moore: Another big thing with that, Brett, is we try to stay away from our athletes being limited by their skills for their cardio. And what I mean by that, and this is not a knock on crossfit, but crossfit likes to do the high rep Olympic lifts or the skill-based activities, but if an athlete doesn’t have that skill they’re not seeing the cardio effect. So their skill is limiting them.
If we make the exercises … I’m not going to say dumber but anybody can lay down and get up with a sandbag and I don’t know if you’ve done it before but it’s remarkable challenging.
Brett McKay: I have it. It sucks. It will kick your ass. It is one of the worst things that I’ve done.
Tod Moore: But it’s one of those things where it’s really hard to hurt yourself. You could work as hard as you’re willing to work. We’ve seen guys in here just do some amazing things where it’s like, “Man, I can’t believe you wanted to work that hard.” It’s right up there with running a five minute mile, it’s super intense. But by making those activities, I’m airquoting “dumber” here but just something that you don’t have to think about where you’re just doing the activity and controlling that heart rate. That allows us to control the intensity and what the athletes are doing. And like Jake said, and then we can carry that over to other aspects.
Jake Saenz: Keep it simple, keep it hard is one of the things we like to apply.
Brett McKay: I love it. One of the things that you guys did that I hated was … I think Curtis P, was that what was called? Those things suck.
Jake Saenz: Do a 100 of those every Christmas Eve if you’re not doing anything.
Brett McKay: A hundred of them on Christmas Eve. Can you explain what is involved in a Curtis P so people can get an idea what’s going on?
Jake Saenz: Curtis P, we got that from one of the guys that worked with back in the day and he was an oil rig worker. Some kind of brute kinda country boy and so they developed this exercise and he called it Curtis P.
It’s basically a handless squat, clean lunge, lunge, and a push press. And it’s not one of those exercises where a specific muscle group fails. It’s kind of a sandbag get-up. It just taxes everything, it taxes the muscles, the heart, the lungs. It really just hammers the whole body and it’s all full of use, especially in a high rep scheme. So it’s one of those things, we don’t do it too often because it is so awful. But every Christmas everyone comes in, we’ll have 50, 60 athletes come in and do it. And doing a 100 for time is … that’s a proper gut check.
Brett McKay: Are people wearing Santa Claus hats? I imagine it so.
Tod Moore: Mostly just crying.
Brett McKay: Okay.
Tod Moore: And it also doesn’t really matter the tool you use, we’ve had to use them with kettle bells to make it a little bit easier. That doesn’t make it easier. Tried it with the sandbags, that doesn’t make it easier. It’s pretty much … You’ve realized everything wrong you’ve ever done in your life while you’re in the middle of that lunge, that push press.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about this. You talk about outside of the gym, the things that determine success. Diet is a big part. And with a high intense program-like hybrid, how such diet change for someone in order to account for that? That calories they’re expending, the energy they’re expending?
Jake Saenz: Well I think first off, the majority of athletes and people out there … you know when you start looking at nutrient timing and how much you should eat on certain days, most people have a lot bigger fish to fry as far as just cleaning up the diet in general. Just making sure they’re getting adequate calories, making sure they’re not overconsuming or underconsuming. Making sure they’re getting mackerel nutrients in there.
As far as getting to a point where say, you have high intensity days and you’re doing this and you’re doing a higher level of carbohydrates and a higher level of caloric intake, that’s getting a lot more complicated than what most athletes need.
I think most athletes need to go back to square one, find out like, “Hey, am I at my optimal body composition? And if I am, how many calories is that on a weekly or daily basis?” And then making small adjustments from there.
A lot of people can get a little too down the rabbit hole with something like that up front when I think initially, the best thing to do is to eat clean and train hard and train consistently. Once you have those three things down, then you can start getting down to the nuts and bolts and the weighing the food and how many grams of carbohydrates versus proteins on my training days and non training days.
But we usually tell athletes when they come in, they’re asking all these questions, they want a whole bunch of information. Like hey, do A, B, and C first and we’ll worry about those things down the road. Because those things, while they’re important when you get to a high level, for like a newer or intermediate athlete, you really need to focus on consistency, training hard, and just cleaning up your diet in general before you start counting those little individual numbers.
Tod Moore: Brett, this also falls in with the “having a training plan or progression,” because you can manipulate your food down the way and if you’re doing similar workouts over and over, you can directly see how that affects your training. So if you have a day … I remember you initially said you were intermittent fasting and you were really low on carbohydrates and you said you were crashing during these workouts. If you’re consistently doing those workouts and you can start messing with those carbohydrates and you can eat more or eat less and see how you perform, so that it’s not a speculation on you’re doing, you have a direct reference on how you’re performing with what you’re consuming and how you’re doing it.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. Keep it simple again.
Jake Saenz: Like I said, a new athlete will come in and they’ll start asking all these crazy questions and it’s like, “Hey, man, I can tell by looking at you and watching you move, it’s like, you really need to train hard and consistently up front. And once you get those problems knocked out, let’s now dialing in nutrition.”
The hard thing is from our perspective, we always tell people when they come in, “I kinda want to look good. It’s like, “Cool, man, read this book. It’s nutrition based, it’s got a lot to do with genetics and how your body will react to food and training.” And the hard thing with athletes is it’s totally on them, nutrition, you have five to six times to make a mistake. When it comes to strength and conditioning, as long as you walk into the gym or you walk into your garage gym and you train, you follow that program for that one hour, three to four days a week, you will see results, no questions asked.
The diet thing, there’s so many opportunities to fail. Little small decisions, “Oh, I’ll have one more bite, maybe I’ll go for ice cream tonight,” and what happens is that takes the power of us as coaches, it takes it away. We can’t control those factors and it’s very difficult to base success on something you don’t have much control of.
It really comes down to an individual athlete’s discipline is how they’re actually going to end up looking as well as their daily nutritional priorities.
Brett McKay: Gotcha. So let’s talk about the psychological aspects of training. You talk about that, you build this into the programming, there’ll be instances where you say, you’re going to do this just so you’re going to become more resilient or become mentally tough.
How do you do that beyond … how do you develop that grit in an athlete where they’re like, “I can keep pushing on even if my body says no, I can’t. You can’t go on.” How do you develop that into a person?
Tod Moore: Well, Brett, it kind of comes back to the programming. It initially starts with just showing up every day so that’s the first thing we tell our athletes. When you come into this gym, you need to show up three times a week for four weeks. I don’t care how tired or sore you are, we can change the workouts. Anything can be changed. As Jake said, anything can be moved around, it doesn’t really matter. It’s consistently training yourself to show up every day.
You had Eric Grighton on the podcast and you said the biggest thing with being successful in selection is just showing up and even when Jake added this hunt last week, if I just got up at 4 thirty in the morning and got my boots on, then I knew I was going to be okay. And it’s the same thing in the gym.
And we had athletes talk about, they just sit in the car, they’re nervous. And all they have to do is get out of the car and walk into the gym and the first step is done. It’s the very first step. After that it’s just repeated exposure to different stresses. Because as I said earlier, if you’re going to have a breakdown, we want it to happen in the gym and provided you’re being coached well and you know what’s going on, you’re not going to have a total meltdown. You can kind of see where the wheels fall off and we know Jake and I do the workouts. We see the athletes do the work outs, everything’s embedded. So we know pretty much what’s going to happen when it happens. And through time, we’re just able to ramp up the intensity or ramp up the expectations and we just tell our athletes in the beginning of every session, this is exactly what we expect to see. This is exactly how we expect to see you perform and there’s just no gray area with that.
And you notice guys will come in here and it’s kind of like that Fight Club look and you’re just kind of like a ball of dough and after five or six months, man, they’re mentally just rock solid. Able to get in there and man, I would follow that guy anywhere.
It’s pretty interesting to see, it’s the biggest single carryover … the mental fortitude to consistently drive through these workouts and train.
Brett McKay: Besides the gym down in Austin where people if they’re in the area, go check it out, but you also offer the programming online. How does that work? Besides the hybrid program that you offer, what are some of the other programs people can find online?
Jake Saenz: Well basically what we did with the site, bottom line is, training in a facility like ours is not cheap. It’s fairly expensive, the average crossfit gym or conditioning facility is going to be anywhere from 150 to 250 dollars a month. A lot of times there’s not a facility next to you so we kind of solved that problem and thought, hey, why don’t we create an online coaching portal that can solve the majority of these issues. Unfortunately we can’t have eyes on the athlete and giving them corrections but we can provide them with programming, exercise videos, coaches’ notes, talking about what we saw, what our athletes did. What problems athletes experience and how to overcome them. And then watch a video of the actual athlete doing it so you can kind of get plugged into this online community of other athletes training and the keyword there is training. We’re not working out, we’re training.
Working out is like waking up like, hey, what am I going to do today? I’m going to go for a run or today, I’m going my bis and tris. We use the term “train” because you’re following a specific plan and you’re working towards a specific purpose. And the online platform has all those tools and there’s programs of all types. We’ve got everything from what we do here in the gym, which is more of a hybrid-based program designed to get you stronger and faster and more mentally resilient. We’ve got sports-specific programs for guys going to military selections, we have running based programs, we have arm hypertrophy programs, we got core programs, body weight-based programs. Like the one our athletes are working through right now is called “short on time,” it’s great during the holiday. It uses minimal equipment and it’s a 40 minute session, and we’ve been doing them with our athletes and man, they’re hard.
Tod Moore: They’re really, really hard.
Jake Saenz: They’re not easy, you know. Our programming is so diverse, we’ll do a 16 week strength cycle which gets really, really geeky with one rep maxes and percentages and we’ll do isometric, eccentric, concentric type movements and sometimes we go back to that “keep it simple, keep it hard” mentality which is what we’re doing right now. And they are just as challenging, it doesn’t matter if you’re using body weight, if you’re using kettle bells, or bar bells, those are just means to an end. And so you get a little bit of everything, so if you’re like someone, “Hey, I want to get faster, or hey, I’m trying out for a SWAT school or a SWAT team and I’m twenty five pounds overweight, I need to get my lungs up, I need to get my legs rolling,” there’s a program there for you.
We’re always adding to it too, so there’s a huge diversity of programs available and it’s basically, you’re getting everything our athletes get but you just don’t get our eyes on you, actually watching you.
Tod Moore: There’s also the fact that these programs have all been vetted so our hybrid programs, 200 athletes go through that so Jake and I coach these morning sessions so if we see athletes getting sore backs, sore shoulders, that program is modified and changed before it’s ever put on the website and sold.
Our selection program, we’ve got five guys that have gotten through the selection this year. Or something like that, so it’s tough. These guys follow these programs that have worked for them, we have before and after data that follows that up.
It provides us with the ability or this gym and the programming, it provides the ability to put out a very solid product that we’ve run athletes through, we know what works. That’s on the website, what doesn’t work, we went ahead and pulled off and plugged stuff that worked in.
Brett McKay: One of the things I love about Atomic Athlete and when you guys first reached out to me, I was really intrigued by the gym and what you guys are doing is that it’s not just the workout aspect, there’s more to it than that. You guys do other events with your gym members for like ruck type events, the Vanguard, which we’ll get into more detail in a bit.
Why is that? What are you trying to accomplish with these other events that you do outside of the gym, because most gyms would be like, “Okay, we gave our customers a good workout and that’s it.” But you guys seem to be going for something bigger here, why is that?
Jake Saenz: I think what it is, is that initial conversation we had on purpose and we want you to be better outside the gym. So we kind of want that to be a reality check for our athletes and remind them, “Hey, this gym is a very controlled, artificial environment and outside is not controlled, it’s not artificial. You’ve got rain, you have inclement weather, you have low light conditions, so we like to do is take the athletes outside the gym and let them test their fitness out there in an environment a soldier or a military guy would experience on a regular basis. A mountain guide, a big mountain hunter. Guys you know who are IT dudes who work here in Austin and they don’t get to do stuff like that, that’s a good kind of eye-opening experience and a good revelation for them, like “Hey, this is why I train, just in case, because if this happens, I’m capable, I’m competent, I know I have the fitness to mentally and physically to continue on and get the job done.”
It’s a really interesting culture, it’s also revolved around the gym where usually if someone comes in and they don’t really want to work hard. And they kind of naturally get weeded out fast so the culture that permeates the facility and the gym itself is one of hard work and not complaining, and we see that get transferred to the outside pretty often.
Brett McKay: It also seems like you’re building a tribe in a weird way. You’re also building a community within your gym.
Tod Moore: It’s definitely here. I was telling the guys the other day, I was like, “You come in here, you work every single day, you might want to cut a rep one day, you might show up late, you might do this, you might do that, but you might not think everybody notices but everybody notices.” So down the road there’s the group of people that’s working hard and there’s the other guy. And they pull together and they push each other and it’s really an interesting thing to see where you look at the girls in this gym are just bad-asses. They are just amazing in what they’re able to do and just drive the guys as well.
To see them push and pull each other and do some really physically and mentally amazing things is impressive.
Brett McKay: It’s like that Rudyard Kipling, I think it’s like “The strength of the wolf is the pack and the strength of the pack is the wolf.”
Jake Saenz: Yeah, yeah, because I mean, doing this stuff on your own, no one there to hold you accountable is very challenging so we tell a lot of our online athletes, “Hey, get a training partner and hold yourselves accountable.”
That’s one of those things where you’re doing a side by side with someone and you’re feeling sorry for yourself and it’s awful, you’re just getting crushed by a session and you look to your left and there’s seven other athletes with you, then that kind of builds that tribe mentality.
There’s something that’s amazingly built when everyone suffers together. And I experienced it in the military, all four experienced it this past week in the mountains hunting. And whenever you have those experiences that are just awful, physically, mentally, there’s a strong bond that’s actually built there.
Tod Moore: You’ll definitely learn more about somebody during a hard, hard training session in an hour than you will sitting in a cubicle next to them for ten years.
Brett McKay: For sure. It’s gut check time. Talk about Vanguard because that’s the big event and you guys invited me to that, and I remember the email Tod sent me. Which he basically was like, “Hey! Brett, we’re doing this thing, we’re going to shoot guns, we’re going to gut animals. Do you want to come?” And I was like “Yes! Of course I do!” Didn’t even have to check it out, I wanted to be there.
Can you tell us a little bit about Vanguard and why you guys started it, and what you guys do there?
Jake Saenz: To be honest with you, we sat down with our accountant one day and she was asking about an expense category that had a lot of stuff on it. It was mostly firearms and training, equipment for these kinds of recreational activities that we all pursue, and I was like, “Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that.” She basically said, “You need to do an event of some sort that will justify these expenses.”
And I had a buddy, an SF guy out in Fort Bragg, we always talked about, “It would be cool when we retire to start a man-camp where we we go out and show these skills where we learned over the years,” and that was sort of my first idea. Hey, let’s just put this weekend long man-camp and luckily for me and Tod, we have access to really, really well qualified individuals with military backgrounds, fighting backgrounds, they own jiu jitsu academies, guys that worked for Marmet, and Solomon. And so we had this group of friends that are all diverse and really good at what they do and so we put together this … Last year was kind of like a very intense, hectic pace. It was like a 36 hour event. And we did everything from rappelling on the 100 foot tower to a full-sized military obstacle course, we did slaughtering and butchering small game, we did self-defense, we did medical stuff, we did firearms training. We got another one coming up here, which is in about ten days, and it’ll be a similar format, a little bit longer. We’ll add a knife kind of race challenge to it as well, and we’re also adding carvings this year, so it’ll be some mid-distance rifle work.
Brett McKay: Very cool, I wish I could’ve made it out this year but things got in the way unfortunately.
Jake Saenz:Family can do that, work can do that, but you’re also up in Oklahoma so it’s more of a commitment for you. But honestly, Vanguard is an event that really gets people out and gives them the exposure, it’s really brief exposure. We can’t become a world-class butcher in a three hour class or get a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu in a few years, much less three hours, but what it does is give everyone exposure. It’s kind of like … You use the term a lot in your site, “primer.” A primer to …
So they’re getting a little bit of exposure by someone who’s a really qualified instructor, and what that can do is give them a taste of what’s out there. Maybe one of those things where, “I really like this whole thing of grappling, or hey, maybe I really want to get into hunting.” Or the guys that are Williamson County tac medics are coming out and they’re doing the first day in trauma management. So it’s one of those things where, “Hey, maybe I should start carrying a trauma kit in my vehicle in case something happens to a member of my family or someone who’s out on the road in a car accident.
So the idea is giving all these people these skills that over time, our society has started to neglect and just started to forgot.
Tod Moore: We got really lucky with our group of friends because they’re all so good with skill-sets and teaching those skill-sets and you guys experienced all that. But to have a group of guys like that who are willing to volunteer their time and are so knowledgeable and entertaining and able to instruct, it’s really a cool experience.
Brett McKay: Definitely, for sure. So Jake and Tod, where can people find more about Atomic Athlete?
Tod Moore: Www.atomic-athlete.com
Brett McKay: Go check it out, guys, it’s pretty cool. I think you’ll dig it. Well Jake Saenz, Tod Moore, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Tod Moore: Yeah, man, thank you, Brett.
Jake Saenz: Thanks, Brett.
Brett McKay: My guests here were Jake Saenz and Tod Moore. They’re the owners of Atomic Athlete gym in Austin, Texas. And if you’re in the Austin area, go check it out, you’re going to like it. And if you’re not in the area, you can find more information about their online programming at atomic-athlete.com.
I’ve done it, it will kick your butt, it’s a work out for sure.
Well that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com.
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