Posted October 17, 2014

How I Almost Drowned In Debt and What It Means To Your Fitness

When I started university, I got a credit card. It was a big help to have especially when I had to work part time to pay for food and rent and bus passes to get to school, and also when student loans didn’t quite cover the cost of books or other supplies, and especially when I was in the middle of studying for finals and wasn’t working nearly as much. That credit card helped me to survive and finish my education.

When I graduated and got a job as a trainer, the credit card helped me to live while I built up my clientele. Working in a commercial facility, I know how challenging it can be to establish yourself, and you’re essentially making a third world paycheck each month until you have a robust number of clients to help make awesome and jacked and stuff. Until then, it’s a huge challenge, and many trainers will quit before they even get rolling simply because they’re going broke trying to build their business.

That credit card helped me stay afloat while developing my business. It helped when our club was re-located suddenly to a space one fifth the size and we saw 10% of the checkins each day, and half of my clients stopped coming. We eventually moved into a new location, but it was 6 months trying to scrape by. My girlfriend at the time (wife now) and I had just bought a new house the previous year, and she had quit her job to start a new one, which was a complete nightmare and didn’t pan out, so she was looking for work, which was right around the time the world economy collapsed in 2007.


On top of that, we had student loan payments, car payments, and the pesky requirement of eating to stay alive to worry about. Credit cards (by now there were multiple) helped to allow us to stay alive during this period. It was tough, but we survived. Lindsay got a new job, we moved into our new club, my old clients came back, and we started to redouble our efforts to pay off debts.

The trouble with getting into debt is it’s incredibly easy to stay there and very difficult to get out. We never lived extravagantly or made big purchases without thinking and researching them for weeks or months on end, and tried to find cheaper options to do things whenever possible. However, each month that a balance was carried also resulted in a new interest totalled on to the total debt load that had to be paid off. Each month, the goal was to pay more than the interest so we wouldn’t wind up going backwards even further.

By 2009, our debt load was at its all time high. In total, we had over $50,000 in credit card debt between the two of us and 5 cards. I had another 6 years of student loan payments, and another 4 years of car payments to make, which meant we were collectively spending around $4000 a month on debt management.

Fast forward to 2012 and we still had the same total for credit card debt, but we were expecting to have the student loans and car paid off the following year. We were just married the previous year, my website was starting to turn a small profit for me, and I just released my first video product that November. I was logging 70 hour weeks at the gym to try to keep making payments, putting in another 20 hours a week to establish some form of online business and presence that could generate some passive income.

2013 provided the first actual break in debt reduction. We managed to pay off both the car and student loans, and then paid off the first credit card. This dropped our monthly payments from $4000 down to $2800. Instead of taking that additional money and putting it further towards debt reduction, I put it into savings each month, and after 1 year of living a monastic life, we had a down payment in place to start building our new house.

2013 also saw the emergence of workshosp co-taught with my buddy Tony Gentilcore, where we held court in front of packed houses in Boston and Edmonton, and lead to this year hitting up London, Washington, and Los Angeles. All the while, I continued my own education, knowing that the only way I could be the best, charge what I do, and continue to expand my business was to further my knowledge to help more and more people in more and more ways. In this way, education was not an expense, but an investment.

October 2014 is going to be a life altering month. It already has been in some ways. I was able to present at the NSCA conference earlier this month, and as we speak I’m heading back for Tony and I to teach a workshop. We also broke ground on our new house this month, and should hopefully move in 7 months from now.

Screen Shot 2014-10-16 at 7.43.55 PM


The far right corner is where the squat rack is going to go. The disco ball will be more in the middle, naturally.

I launched a new video series as well, my clients saw some awesome gains and I helped a few people do things they didn’t think they could before, helped some people have less or no pain for the first time in a long time, and that’s all cool and stuff, but this month will be monumental for another reason. For the first time since 2001, my wife and I will collectively have absolutely zero debt outside of our mortgage.

The mere thought of that alone is mind blowing to me. I’ve had multiple monthly payments as long as I’ve been an “adult,” what ever defines that. But by the turn of the calendar, I won’t have any more payments to make, no more interest accumulations. No more.

So I’m sure you’re asking how this has anything to do with fitness? Well, the parallels are pretty big.

Imagine if I were telling you this story, but instead of using personal debt, I discussed weighing 400 pounds. Being obese is very easy to maintain and take a lot of dedicated work to see small incremental changes. It’s very easy to slide backwards and takes constant effort to continue on, almost like pushing water up hill. It’s not a one day thing, but rather it takes a lifetime of effort to see real sustainable results.

It could also be like trying to gain muscle or strength. These are processes that typically don’t happen overnight for most, so trying to focus on the short term typically only produces excited energy and heartfelt depression when the results aren’t matching the effort.


Regardless of your goal – whether it’s losing weight, gaining muscle, getting stronger, or getting out of a mountain of debt – it’s a long term process that is going to need constant effort and work to maintain momentum. It’s not easy. There’s going to be times you want to give up and go in the opposite direction. That’s normal, but doing so won’t produce the favourable outcome you’re looking for.

The way I was able to stay focused on getting rid of debt was thinking of clearing off one payment at a time. The first was the student loans since it had the smallest balance remaining when we moved into the new club and my clientele started to come back. I increased payments on to that one, paid the minimums on others where possible, and worked on paying it off quickly. This is known as the Snowball method of debt reduction, and works really well for people who need a tangible goal to shoot for, like me.

Once the student loan was paid off, I was able to pay off the car loan a few months later, then we set in on paying off the smallest credit card balance, and then the next smallest, and with each card we paid off, we freed up that monthly payment to devote to other things, like the new target or buying groceries.

For fat loss, you could do the same. Focus on the tangible short term goals, like getting meals prepped for the week, sticking to your plan, and working out each day. One week is a small enough chunk of time that it doesn’t make a huge effort to plan out, and can be easily thought through by anyone. Once you’ve done this a couple of times, it adds up to a month, and then 6 months, and then a year, but it all has to start with those small steps and tangible goals.

If you’re looking to gain muscle, it could go the same way. Get your food prepped (probably a little more than if you were losing weight), get your workouts in, and then do it all again the next week.

In any instance, the one week won’t make or break the long term goal, but the collection of weeks will add up to success. If a vacation or work function or some other unknown pops up, you can easily get back on track by just thinking of the next week plan and getting into the habit of having it ready and prepared ahead of time.

Most people wind up paying half of their paychecks towards some form of debt reduction, whether it’s mortgage or other forms of debt. The average non-mortgage debt of an individual is between 10 to 50% of their annual income, with the total credit card debt being $7281, which will cost $15,607 to pay off. The average North American is also overweight, with more than 30% considered obese based on BMI, and is carrying an additional 10-17 pounds of body fat. Assuming a strict rate of 3600 calories per pound, that will cost 61,200 calorie deficit through a combination of diet and exercise to achieve that weight loss.

Neither goal is an overnight thing. That doesn’t mean they’re impossible, but that they will take considerable self control, sacrifice, and effort to achieve, but they can both be done. Any goal worth working towards will always take effort and sacrifice.

15 Responses to How I Almost Drowned In Debt and What It Means To Your Fitness