Brian Alexander – Getting the Right People in the Right Seats


Hey, Fitness fans welcome back this is
Eric Malzone with the Future of Fitness Podcast and the fitness marketing
Alliance and this is lucky episode number 13 and we have Brian Alexander
from CrossFit illumine so Brian has two gyms in the Chicago area and he is one
heck of an innovator there’s a lot of really really good information in here
in things you can easily take away and apply to your own business and I thought
some of the interesting things was recently within his his growth as a
business owner he’s really focused on putting the right people in the right
seats and it makes perfect sense a lot of times it’s constantly overlooked
especially in our industry and he also talks about how he got his MBA through
failure early on he owned a restaurant didn’t go so well but he took a ton of
lessons and he’s got a growth mindset he talks about that as well so that’s
really important and some of the other things I really enjoy which I have taken
ideas from him and made him my own as well as the idea of excursions so he’ll
explain all that and how you can apply it to your business and I think you’ll
really enjoy it so before we do that let’s talk about our sponsor busy bar so
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on there and check it out and without further ado Brian Alexander of illumine
fitness everybody this is Eric with the fitness
marketing alliance and today I have the extreme pleasure of sitting with Brian
Alexander who is the owner of cross-fertilization zout the Chicago
area he’s also a mentor for two brain business and Brian brother thanks for
coming on really appreciate it yeah yeah thanks for having me
yeah man so we love stories everybody loves stories right everyone I’ve talked
to in the fitness industry has a fitness story right how they got into it how its
progressed so tell us like what’s your fitness story how’d you get into this
industry what led you to it and all that good stuff okay yeah so um I was always
the the bro guy that would do you know benching in biceps the triceps are
working out with my was 17 and it had always been all show and no girl rail
about the physique or the aesthetic piece of it all and not necessarily
geared towards any performance so I started when I was 17 I did that for
nearly a decade you know works when you’re young but as you start to get
older you know it’s the things that you have done no longer work as well as they
used to that worked how old are you open I will be 37 on October 30th young good
cool yeah you know a little lame I guess a
little blend of the stories is you know I had two conflicting lifestyles I was
in in the nightlife in the restaurant business but then it would go to the gym
you know like an export workout I’d have a cigarette you know in between sets
with my muscle milk and yes is when I was like 22 23 when no you know
everything right I’m not left in the world to be learned and little
egotistical and always a good guy but you know just young right young and dumb
yep and ended up you know kind of approaching my my 30s and
but always told me that I should do CrossFit I looked the part I looked like
I was fitting in shape people would always ask me questions and kind of like
you know pretend like I knew what I was doing because they were there looking at
me like I was the you know the expert they’d always ask for advice but I
wasn’t living the lifestyle right phony and I felt like a fraud you know I took
my shirt off I wasn’t really lean it just looked like I was you know big
chunk of muscle and I didn’t like that about myself and I never did so I saw my
picture of myself at my bachelor party in Miami mill shirt on in a pool and it
was when we had gotten back from the trip and I was like man is this that’s
really what I look like right now you know spring an hour a day on cardio in
the morning and then going to FRC to lift weights during lunch like this is
this is it throws a day and this is the best I can do yeah it’s like how we
think we look know you can help me look at a photo right right enough to seem
that I was like well I got to do something drastic because whatever I’m
doing isn’t working so you know I googled the closest CrossFit after
people feeding me the the theory in the name of it I really didn’t even
understand what the hell it was I just signed up and I went in big
baseline you know the 500 meter row 40s plus 30 sit ups 20 push-ups 10 ring rows
at that time actually was pull-ups with bands at the old gym that I used to go
to home and it crushed me and it was like wow that is humbling and you know
this this is what I’ve been looking for my entire life that I’m happy I finally
found it and for unlimited right away and the rest is kind of history they’re
awesome yeah I actually started with that same
exact workout okay San Francisco and I remember I just
wasn’t right for about five hours yeah Oh shocking so you uh you’re very
cerebral person right you tend to think quite a bit you you’re very much in a
personal development I know you read a lot I know we probably follow a lot of
the same people who are some of your mentors when you first started in
business and who are they now you know when I first
started in business of opening my own gym yeah so nobody when I opened my own
gym nobody in the fitness business but I would say more life mentors so when I
when I first started working in my corporate job so little brief history is
I invested in and owned and operated a restaurant when I was 23 ah got taken
for for every single penny by friends crushed me mentally you know emotionally
I went into super dark time in my life where I was in the nightlife and just
not doing great things for myself or other people and ended up getting a
corporate job when I was 25 and I hadn’t worked for anybody for 7 6 7 years no
structure in my life and it was it was a wake up call I hated every single minute
of it but I remember the first month I was at CDW one of the Senior Account
Managers that the role that I was in in sales spoke to the entire Academy who
was like all the new account managers or salespeople and I was really really
impressed so I offered to take him out for coffee to take him out for coffee so
I pick his brain and he was really like the first person that really believed in
me before it leapt in myself when that set off this chain reaction of success
at CDW personal development you know going from a fixed mindset to a growth
mindset just understanding that you know if you work hard enough and you really
are vested in anything you can do anything
part of that I didn’t believe that right I just thought people were good at
specific things and they’re not and you know some people just get lucky don’t
that’s what set it off and then the better I get at CDW like I see the odium
CrossFit when I joined CrossFit those happen at the same time right so I was
that CDW for a little bit and then I signed up for CrossFit so between the
two of those they really really played into each other really well in sales you
have a leaderboard right you’re they literally post
how many calls every salesperson made how many you know how much you’ve sold
to them how much profit you made and also how much money you took home so all
public all posted every day how many houses they put your your income on
there as well yeah so there’s it was the mineral white board so when I found
CrossFit it was very familiar right this is this is kind of the same thing nobody
wants me at the bottom of the white board and it says you know intrinsic
drive to be like well if this guy just got a three minute friend I know it’s
possible I don’t know how the hell I’m gonna get there but I know at least it’s
possible because that guy did it and he doesn’t look that much different than me
that was anything and seeing a guy who made a million dollars at CDW not
selling a million but literally taking in a million dollars of income he looked
no different than me not necessarily much smarter than me so
to see that this guy is a really decent normal guy making a boatload of money
it’s possible how do I do it I need to surround myself with those people right
yeah a very long-winded answer question but it kind of fills in the background
of kind of how I got to where I am today from like a mindset standpoint in from
there it’s just an exponential that’s my like personal growth for myself and it’s
never over but me today versus me last year I’m a completely different beast
and I hope to do that every year yeah well that’s great so how did you
and I are similar cuz I did go from a corporate and I started my business and
there was actually some overlap time – how did you personally make that that
switch when you went from corporate back into because you already had a touch in
entrepreneurship in the selling cos that was a great learning experience let’s
put it that way with restaurant it was my MBA and in life yes perfect and so
how did you four because maybe there’s people out there who are doing – right
now they’re doing a corporate gig or they’re doing something and they really
want to go full-time into into their fitness careers how did you bridge that
gap so when we opened our gym I had been working at CDW for a while and I already
had begun to do well so I’m gonna open the gym it was a hobby
it was you know all right we’re gonna have three classes a day I’ll coach the
5:30 a.m. and then the six in seven o’clock you know regular class in
on-ramp and then my wife will courts 9:00 am super simple business model
we’ll make it work and then you know I kept doing well at CDW that was a
consuming job the gym began to grow that became more and more difficult to manage
as it grew and it came to a point where I was making a lot of money at CDW the
gym was going really well and after having made a lot of money I realized
that money was not the thing that was making me happy it was the pursuit of
not money but the pursuit of building so I I loved building and creating and I
just realized I’m like well you know I’m working 16 hours a day here the gym to
get it to where I want it to be I need to really focus on on that and I have
failed big enough before to make failure less scary for me to say well you know
even though I’m making a lot of money at CDW and it’s stable and you know you
would think you finally made it right in sales it takes 37 years well really like
four years and then three good years of making a lot of money but took a while
to get there right a lot of hard work you know a lot of phone calls and stuff
I hated to do but I didn’t want to let that impact my decision and again having
failed catastrophically when I was 23 with the restaurant it just eliminated
all of my fear of failure fear failure is always there but I knew I can I could
reinvent myself had this not worked out right but I would never forgive myself
for not trying yeah and it ended up being when I make decisions it’s like if
I make the decision it’s it’s a done deal
right like there’s no like coming behind for months and months on end and it was
a month before my daughter was less important so working 16 18 hour days
between CDW running the gym I’m like blah I’m not
gonna be able to have time to be a great father or even a good father I’m already
not a great husband even though I tried my best but from the time that I was
able to spend with my wife outside of gym
it wasn’t perfect right it was just CDW that you know in lumen and 18 hours and
she was in there somewhere but it was more often in passing or at the gym so I
just decided I gotta cut the cord I’m gonna make this all work and if I’m
gonna get illuminance where I wanted to go I need to burn the ships and cut off
all safety and not give myself a way out yeah that’s really interesting I think
you know when it comes to decision making my business partner I talked
about the rocking chair test right if you if you’re sitting in a rocking chair
when you’re however old you are 70 80 maybe if you’re making a 90 or you’re
gonna look back and say I really regret trying right yeah no one says you know
what you’re gonna regret is not trying 100% of the time laughs so let’s talk
about where you’re at now because I had the pleasure of going to your gym was
that back in June yeah brain summit and I could I could see you
just have a lot going on like your membership has a lot of options
you know actually one of our colleagues referred to as a nuclear isotope of
ideas tell us kind of what you were the formula you’ve come to now with with the
lumen and I’m curious to you on a kind of a sub-sub question on that is when
you have all these d ideas how do you sort out which ones you want to follow
and pursue and which ones you want to just back burner so the ideas never
never stop and I’m a big idea guy I’m an innovator creator you know that’s that’s
kind of like my go-to when we first opened through maybe maybe even three
years ago I’m sorry last year so from we opened
four and a half years ago up until maybe a year ago it was Brian comes up with an
idea he begins implement
and then he tells everybody what’s going on come and get it and then the idea is
kind of like you know they work but not quite as optimally and it takes a little
time to get people bought into the idea after it’s already been rolled out so
trial and error you know learning about my my own strengths but also know how to
work with people and get people to buy into these ideas and figuring out like
okay well that did not work the idea was solid but why didn’t it work you know
can I be reflective on that process and then maybe do it better the next time
right so it’s been this constant evolution of of that but at the same
time you know what my personal mission statement is relentless with your vision
I’m still looking your actions and empathetic in your interactions right so
the last four and a half years I’ve been trying to figure out how I can continue
to be relentless with my own vision because I really believe in my vision in
detecting the perfect form of something right but also getting people to buy in
and understanding that maybe not all people move at the speed that I move
maybe me moving at the speed that I move is not the best for everybody or
illumine and then trying to figure out how to fill my gaps with people who
understand and believe in my vision but can also help implement these things
well and the last year has been spent solving that problem right and it’s it’s
been a very interesting year for me again this last year has been the most
exponential personal rosier that I’ve ever had when it comes to be being a
better leader and understanding people and understanding like how to actually
mean everything you want to do happen in a solid team around you to support you
that makes sense yeah it does make sense extrapolate on that a little bit so what
is what is the last year maybe give us some examples of things that happen or
aha moments you know where you got the head was something that all of a
sudden ready right what give us give us a little background on that
so um really it’s all about making sure that you have the right people in the
right seats you know I think we as gym owners we all do a very good job of
hiring great culture fits like we’re really good at picking out really good
people and then having opportunities for them and because they’re a good person
and you have an opportunity we try to to mesh those together but what I think
everyone finds is that’s not always the best approach
so finding people who are or passionate about you know the vision is number one
but also who have the capacity to do the job the way you want the job done
whether it’s you know running a gym if it’s a head coach if it’s an operations
manager or a GM member experienced person whatever it might be and putting
the pieces of the puzzle together a little more like strategically and
taking a good person having an opportunity and say okay well we’ll see
how that works right yeah yeah I’m very guilty of just throwing it together you
know it’s funny because someone close to me mention like five years ago like Eric
are you where that people don’t think the way you do and that’s a huge it
sounds simple and funny but it’s a huge realization like oh wow people don’t
think like me it is and that’s something I’ve learned along the way is volley it
was a shock because you know our bias I think is we just assume people in the
world through the same lens that we all view the world through in every
individual you know I I’m like really deep into like personality traits
there’s like this coding index that talks about the conative part of the
mind and it’s so much more what was that bright the Colby index is
okay LBE I bet so beyond just nurture and in our
experiences that lead us up to our perspectives and viewpoints like there
is literal traits there are literal traits that are kind
of hardwired into us right in the ‘we wiii take action or we
problem-solving that’s what I’m that’s my new obsession is you know how do i
how do i bully setting people up to fail because at the end of the day if i put
somebody in a position and they failed yes they failed but is it my fault for
not recognizing that they weren’t going to be a good fit for that I think people
will you know jump on grenades for for the leaders of communities and gyms but
it’s it’s challenging because we’re all kind of learning as we go there’s some
of us weren’t general managers we’ve never hired people before so it gets
pretty interesting when you begin to think of it in that light and that’s
kind of like what I’m really really focused on for the last six months it in
forever now is how can I more intelligently approach problems and
piecing teams together for better synergy yeah that’s huge and it takes a
while to even to even recognize it yes I don’t want to know I own a gym for
better part of nine years I don’t know if I actually ever recognized it until I
I sold right like it took a long long time and
one thing I loved about what you do and I think this is something a lot of
people can get some ideas from was the idea of excursions yeah Maj system
that’s cool that’s cool shit like that gets me if I was a member of your gym
I’d be like I want to collect badges right so maybe explain what that is and
how you came up with that concept and how you rolled out yeah so on the
excursion is the aluminum name for a specialty program and really the idea is
you know like if if CrossFit general group classes are the the cruise
ship you get you know 80% of what you want to get out of that Huckabee setup
novelty around diving deeper into the specific disciplines and going off to
explore them well keeping everybody under one like roof or under one trip if
you will right right um so we set up the the excursions it started off small
meaning just one program and it was Olympic weightlifting and then
being added pose running endurance we edit Russian kettlebell OCR in it’s just
been this natural kind of evolution over the last four years or so of identifying
needs and and wants from our clients identifying passions of our coaches and
then matching that those two are fusing those two so now we have a pretty
in-depth I guess we’re a deep breath of offerings within our excursions and it
just allows for again novelty I always like in CrossFit to like mm mm a of a
fitness nice so you know if MMA has jiu-jitsu Muay Thai boxing and all that
and you have to learn a little bit to be really good at MMA you know CrossFit is
very similar in the fact that you could dive deep in any of those disciplines
but they’ll all make you better at CrossFit right if you do that yeah you
know it’s funny my former business partner Traber he he he referred to
CrossFit as MMA for guys who don’t like to get him in the face that’s it that is
it three or people people sighs and it’s you know again it’s just uh it’s this
moment of survival or moment of Zen you know Joe Bergin talks about it in
jiu-jitsu um CrossFit you know when I hear
children and speaking about jiu-jitsu in that way it connects with CrossFit as
well it’s that that you know maybe five minutes of your entire life where you
are in survival mode and you’re not thinking about anything you have to do
you can’t afford to write you’re not thinking about your honey-do list or
your bills or your problems if you are present for that short amount of time
and I think that’s the same thing that people get when they are you know doing
MMA or whatever it might be true Jitsu yeah I agree I mean when you’re trying
to put if you’re trying to snatch over 200 pounds you’re sure shit not thinking
about the dog food you have to pick up on the way home right that’s like your
multivariate present Brian you you’ve done you market your business in a lot
of interesting ways how have you because the name of this
shows the future of fitness how have you kind of harness the digital age and
technology and how have you used that to grow your business both from a marketing
standpoint and from the people your current clients eternally and then how
do you see that changing or whether that your eyes looking at moving forward all
right that’s a huge question right go ahead
that is so being that I enjoy I would say incubating anything and everything
so if there is a better way to do anything you can assure I’m spending
hours researching or playing around with the new software or trying something I’m
not afraid to spend a month or two months or three months working on
something that I think may help the business work or marketing or whatever
it might be but it doesn’t work I’m also not afraid to after three months abandon
it and then begins to see us fight so we’re just starting to you know dive
into the world of digital marketing but before that it would just be members
stories organic shares that story which is very important still yeah Facebook
algorithms I remember the point when they began to apply their algorithms
there all of the sudden your reach was way less I’m like wow that is so smart
because what we used to get for free we’re gonna realize we really missed
that reach and you don’t pay anything to get it back
yep and they were dead-on right it’s it’s amazing once you give somebody
something and they get used to it and you’ve taken away if it was useful to
them they will do anything to get that back just to get to been back to a
baseline right right please do so I remember that I remember as it was
happening I’m like wow that is genius and I hate every second of it because
they’re taking from me what I was using us a free tool but I appreciate it
because I’m like that is that is exactly what they should you right right
leverage yep um but for me it’s all about always been about technology like
when we first opened our gym you might belong to
who had like you know paper and journals and people write it down and half the
people would use it half wouldn’t it’d be impossible to go back and look for
your old scores and times and then I when I opened I saw wanna fly at the
time and they’ve been through their little ups and downs they’re on the
right path right now okay it was it was you know it was different than anything
out there when we opened our gym and I’m like wow this is this is a great tool we
need this because it solves a problem but the way I approach everything is I
try to solve is this problems whether they exist now or if I think they may
exist later and I try to do that using technology and people cool where do you
see where do you see your business in the next two years and do you have a
roadmap to get there or you just kind of take and day by day yeah so we do
typically a year out of time lining so we identify you know I’ve really spent
this entire four years building the perfect archetype of the business that I
think is going to be a a guiding star for many other gyms to follow thanks by
innovating and innovation is painful because literally of incubating any idea
innovating is painful because you are the first one right there’s no there’s
no path to follow but I’m creating that path and I’m documenting it alright so
the gyms like two gyms right now our group CrossFit are individual design our
specialty programs are nutrition program our workshops that’s kind of like the
mean potatoes of it all we do goal-setting sessions you know
everything that we built up into this point now we can allow to run very well
it doesn’t mean I’m not going to find more trouble to get myself into when it
comes to innovating but I think we’ve we’ve innovated most people in now it’s
time to kind of you know work on just I call them buckets but the backstory on
that is I once thought that 300 she members was going to be like you know
heaven right I’m gonna be filthy rich right but when I got there two years ago
or a year and a half ago I realized that I wasn’t happy with what I built right
it’s like creating this piece of art our artwork and realizing it’s not quite
right and you know I’m the kind of guy that will just wipe the whole damn thing
clean and start all over rather than just try to fix things here there and I
realize you can do it a lot smarter and a lot better and I started creating
these programs right so you know if you have group CrossFit I think I can manage
200 people really well with that we have the infrastructure the coaching the
systems processes all that but then I think I can have about 75 spark members
and spark members are non barbel kind of hit functional training we call it the
enlightened approach to bootcamp yeah but then I think I can have 50 to 75
Legends members who are 50 years old and up and they can be in their own little
group and then 20 ID clients and then you know nutrition is its clean beast
that can dip into the existing pools or we can pull from the outside and then
you begin to piece it together like that and it’s a little easier to
strategically fill those buckets up you know when you sit down and talk to
something in a no sweat intro you know what bucket is best for them to
accomplish their goals and since you can have many different options it’s easy to
say this is your best bet not we have CrossFit we can make it work for you now
we have legends we have spark you know we have all these different programs
that is best for them not we can make it work for you right yeah so whenever when
people are interested in joining our gym they always start off with with a
consultation right yeah and then and I said was it you that they can coin the
prescriptive model so Chris yeah Lenya okay I’ll be done the goal setting
together it was just a need or a gap that that had to be filled for sure
because I think it’s interesting when you start looking at the client path
right from start to finish you know and what was different I think when you look
at lot of any kind of whether it’s CrossFit
or any kind of group model it’s like okay we’re just gonna hammer that square
peg into the into the round hole I guess just way between its all we know and
then you guys start think about well maybe if we just sit down and talk to
people right do a little bit of Investigation if I know what they want
and then as the coach as the professional that you are you tell them
what they should be doing right I mean not in any kind of forceful way but I
think in a way that people will understand
so is there you know if you’re talking to like a kettlebell trainer right now
right or someone who’s listening who’s not in CrossFit how would they take that
model and run with it on on their own so I mean kettlebell would be a little
unique and different but you know a lot of the principles would remain the same
really and just sit down and talk to people about what their specific goals
are ask them point blank you know are you more comfortable in group classes or
one-on-one personal training um the mistake I think many gyms have made
for it forever is you know our biases because group fitness and CrossFit did
so well for me or for you that it should be for everybody and if people just give
it a shot and if they just try hard enough and they don’t quit they’re gonna
see the results in in theory CrossFit could be for everybody I believe that
100% in practice it doesn’t quite work as black-and-white though you can apply
CrossFit or kettlebell training the first step is what do you feel more
comfortable with group classes of personal training but beyond that
there’s so much more to it right so if we can just talk and identify what
people’s goals are we can begin to say well you know what maybe like this
person has no business doing a three by five that’s about an 80% or an overhead
squad if she’s you know I always use the 45 year old soccer mom who has 50 pounds
to lose over its bob with an empty PVC pipe like
if they need to lose weight is that gonna listen any response to help them
lose weight or be just teaching them like a really
party trick ya know where it’s quoi greater so you can snatch with the PBC
right well I don’t disagree that it’s important for people to learn new skills
so I don’t want to be missing for that but I promise you that if you have
somebody in that situation doing a 5 by 10 heavy goblet squat with the
kettlebell you’re gonna get a much better result you’re gonna help them
achieve their goals faster rather than forcing you know Sally into doing a
overhead squat the PVC 500 reps because she can’t load it because she’s had
shoulder issues or even worse the soccer mom that hurts herself and tears a
rotator cuff because she’s doing kipping pull-ups and all she wanted was the
loose of fat right now she can’t work out for two years and she’s you know
distraught about it and she goes off an eating binge and never seen fear again
you know everything we do at aluminum is under constant scrutiny and that’s why
we changed so much because if there is a better way to do it we have to like
there’s no question about it we have to scrap what we’ve done in favor of the
better way to do it right and this is how you evolve yeah yeah I totally agree
and just you know looking for a personal anecdote I’m 41 now and my when I go
into we drop in across the class that’s my wife and I were traveling quite a bit
right now so we’ll drop in and I’ve finally got to the point where like how
strong do I need to be yeah about how strong is strong enough and then what
point I’m at risking injury and what about all the other things that I love
to do meanwhile Erik of five years ago would
be like I got a champ in the open do it I don’t care if my knee hurts I don’t
care if my shoulder hurts right so it’s like you have to catch people where they
are within a life – and that’s a big part of it
so kind of staying in that round tell us what you’re up to now because I know
you’re working on the blueprint just the best
right I think you says that’s still project you’re working on or it is yeah
so tell me about that but tell us yes the blueprint is you know I hesitate to
call it life coaching but it really is it’s why do you hesitate I just kind of
like the word personal trainer I just I I think there’s a lot of crap get are
associated these terms right it’s bearable really
what it is it’s sitting down with people and having them identify specific
actionable goals for specific you know I call them colors of your life while
there’s travel and leisure health and fitness this is an financial career we
have six different pillars and you can’t just focus on one or two out of the six
and have a fulfilled life right you can’t be happy if you’re heavy on too
and light on the other four so we try to teach people how do you nurture all six
so first you have to identify like what you think you want your life to look
like in each six of those categories and then we help them identify specific
action items to help them get there and then we hold them accountable right
because we know all the best laid plans are useless without accountability I
know it myself I’m a highly motivated individual I’m a self-starter but if
somebody’s not holding me accountable like nutrition or other things easy to
put it off and it’s easy to just brush it under the rug and say I’ll get to it
later right but when somebody’s holding you accountable it really really pushes
you to stay on target with your focuses and and then you know every year year
over year if you’re actually doing these little micro things to get you do these
finger goals you’re gonna look back you can make like you did it but you first
you have to start right yeah and I think that’s a huge a huge component of having
client longevity too it’s getting them to see hey it’s not about the next 30
days it’s about the next 30 years and I’m gonna help you I can offer value
there and I was in the Chicago area I would train your gym hand down Brian
where where do people get ahold of you if people want to talk to you might ask
you questions or just kind of follow you what where do they go so the the main
address I try to funnel everybody through now if it’s not to sign up for
the gym it’s just Brian at to rain business calm muscle that’s the easiest
for me I have way too many emails out there
way too many you know flat channels and and all that but yeah that’s typically
the easiest way to get hold me okay great well I have a lot of respect for
what you do Brian I think you do a great job and probably in your own your own
mind your your your biggest critic I would imagine my wife would agree yeah
so just keep it up man just keep doing what you’re doing keep refining systems
and thank you very much I appreciate your time that’s been great talking to
you awesome thanks for having me on man yeah thank you for listening to this
episode of the future of fitness podcasts and webinar series we’re
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farewell until next time

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