Starting a business is brutal on your mental, emotional, and physical health.
You’re under tremendous pressure. And when your to-do list seems endless, it’s tough to stay on top of habits that keep you (and your business) healthy. You replace meditation with emails, salads with fast high-calories options, and exercise for whatever fire cropped up today.
As a founder, Jay Cohen totally gets this. And as the owner of Locomotion Fitness, he has a lot of experience getting around this. In our interview, he shares candid tips on how you can stay fit as a founder, even if you have little time and no money.
What to watch for in this interview:
- The origin story of Locomotion Fitness
- How Jay built an “MVP” for his gym via Black Friday
- Why keto and high-intensity exercise don’t go together
- The killer workout you can do in just 5 minutes
- What to do if you can’t afford a gym
- How to get past hating exercise
- What Harvard discovered about longevity
- 2 lessons Jay learned about business
Okay, first of all, I'm interested in your origin story. How did you go from the Marine Corps to a business owner?
So this all started back in 2007, when I joined the Marine Corps. I was an F-18 mechanic and one of my gunnery sergeants in the Marine Corps turned me on to CrossFit. I hit my first workout with a platoon of Marines and it laid everyone out. These were 50 guys that are bad-asses and really fit. Everyone was on their butt, and I was like, "What was that?"
Everyone was on their butt and I was like, "What was that?"
— Jay Cohen
Come 2009 or so, the Marine Corps was starting to move more toward the CrossFit side of things. Somehow, I got a meeting with a Squadron commander on base, and I talked him into adding CrossFit equipment to the gym on base in Beaufort, South Carolina. Because I’d been doing Crossfit for a while, I took a volunteer-type role and started coaching there and making sure people were safe.
We looked at the data for the people we were working with, and their fitness was going through the roof. They wound up sending me to get my level one CrossFit certification. That's how it sort of started
We looked at the data for the people we were working with, and their fitness was going through the roof.
— Jay Cohen
After I got out of the Marine Corps, around 2012, I came to the College of Charleston. When I went back to school, I was training at a gym downtown. After three or four months, the owner of that gym asked me to come on as a coach. I started coaching 20 or 25 hours a week or so.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years, I'm finishing up my degree and taking offers or interviews from investment banks in New York City. (My degree is actually in finance, so I have a business degree.) I got an offer from a bank in New York City and was about to pull the trigger when the owner of that gym downtown asked me if I wanted to come on full-time as the GM and head coach.
For the next three years, I was essentially the owner of that gym. I had complete autonomy and did whatever the heck I wanted to do throughout that process. We sat down early on, and I told him from the beginning I wanted to own a business. If I was going to do this, I was eventually going to own a gym. But we weren't headed that direction quickly enough for either of us.
I told him from the beginning I wanted to own a business.
— Jay Cohen
We decided to part ways, and it was a totally amicable split. But it was an opportunity, and I knew it was now or never. So we started looking for buildings.
Was that scary?
Yeah, super scary, because I had no income coming in at that point, you know?
What I did is build a concrete pad in my backyard—a 20x20 pad. On Black Friday, I bought $2,500 worth of equipment and just started seeing people. Call it a minimum viable product, I guess. I just started seeing people in my backyard and doing a lot of personal training. I was trying to grow my base in Park Circle, which is where our gym is and where I live.
On Black Friday, I bought $2,500 worth of equipment and just started seeing people.
— Jay Cohen
The goal was to have a building by April, and we didn't get anything on the radar until May or June. Then we still had to work through the lease and do all that stuff. We didn't actually get open until August 2017.
To be honest, my impression of CrossFitters is they’re people who like pain.
Yeah, that came about from the sport of CrossFit. Around 2012, there was sort of a shift.
There's CrossFit the training methodology, which I'm in love with and believe in wholeheartedly. And then there’s CrossFit the sport. Unfortunately, a lot of people think CrossFit is like the sport, but it's far from that.
Okay, tell me about the training methodology.
I have two big missions for our clients. Number one is: I want to turn you into a kick-ass 90-year-old. I want you to be the great-grandpa that's able to go play 18 holes of golf and then run around with your great-grandkids, not the one stuck on a couch sucking in oxygen the whole time.
Mission number one: I want to turn you into a kick-ass 90-year-old.
— Jay Cohen
I want people to be well in their old age, not just live till they're a hundred. With the way medicine is right now and the way we're headed, I’m terrified people are going to be incapacitated at 70 and live until they're 130. Chronic disease is hitting earlier and earlier and earlier. I want to fight heart disease and hold off diabetes. That's mission number one.
Mission number two is, I want you to be able to enjoy your life now. To go and hike Machu Picchu, or go skiing for a week, or run a 5K for a cause you want to support. I want you to enjoy your life and not have to worry about being fit enough to do that.
Any trends in CrossFit or fitness driving you nuts?
The idea of the quick fix. Everyone thinks they should be able to snap their fingers and things will be better in six weeks, which isn't the case.
Also, the idea you can work out as a punishment for eating crappy food. As opposed to using food to fuel your body so that you can work out.
So, you can't work out and then eat pizza every day?
And while we're on the entrepreneur front, you also can't get zero sleep, be stressed out all the time, and work out every day. I tell our people, "I need a one-to-one ratio of working out vs. active recovery time. If you're going to spend an hour in the gym, I need you to spend an hour doing this other stuff as well."
What else? Keto drives me freaking absolutely insane. Keto is a diet that was developed for children with epilepsy and then found some use in chemo patients with cancer. It isn't appropriate for 95% of the population.
Keto drives me freaking absolutely insane...It isn't appropriate for 95% of the population.
— Jay Cohen
And most people on keto aren't actually in ketosis most of the time. They just f*ck it up, excuse my language.
👉Psst! Check out our interview with a nutritionist and sports dietician for more details on the keto diet and how your body processes energy.
CrossFit and keto don’t have to go together?
They do not mix, period.
The work we do is high-intensity work. Your body prefers stored glycogen in order to do that type of work. If you are in ketosis, you do not have that available to you. It's not an athletic diet, period. It's just not.
Any good thing can be abused. When does exercise go too far?
It's like anything, you can just do it too much, right?
If you are more stressed and tired, or feeling worse off than you went into the gym, something is wrong. Either you went too hard when you were at the gym, or your body was already too broken down and you shouldn't have been working out that day in the first place.
If you are more stressed and tired, or feeling worse off than you went into the gym, something is wrong.
— Jay Cohen
Another big one: a lot of people are doing two-a-days. They're waking up in the morning and coming in in the afternoon, and you just don't need to do that.
I would much rather see you go into the gym and be really diligent and work hard for the hour you're there, versus needing to get in more volume. There's a quote by Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, and he says, "Be impressed by intensity, not by volume." We want you to work hard, not work long.
If it's taking time away from your business or time away from your family, that's an issue. It's not needed. You can be really, really fit if you work out four days a week for an hour.
Do you have to lift weights to get the benefits of working out?
No, you don't.
Now, that being said, it definitely helps. It will make results come more quickly. And you need a baseline level of strength. It's going to help in lots of other pieces of your life.
But I'd rather you do something than say you don't work out because you don't want to lift weights.
What about time in the gym? Do you have to go for an hour?
This is a huge thing we talk about. No. No, no, no.
If you have five minutes, there's a workout called a Tabata. It takes four minutes, literally. It's 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest. A 30-second cycle. You do that eight times. It’s four minutes. I'm telling you, if you do Tabata squats, that’s a good workout.
If you have five minutes, there's a workout called a Tabata. It takes four minutes, literally.
— Jay Cohen
If you want to spice it up a little bit more? Do what they call a bottom-to-bottom Tabata. Which means in the 10 second rest period, instead of standing, you stay in the bottom of your squat. That's another really good one.
We tell people, "Get to the gym two, three times a week and hit a good workout. Then, on the days you're off, just get in something." I own the gym, and I'm only there two or three days a week.
So it's not an all or nothing thing?
Far from it. If you've got five minutes, take five minutes. If you've got 10, take 10.
If you have no time whatsoever, a great way to accumulate reps is: every time you go to the bathroom, knock out a set of 10 of something. Do 10 pushups before you go to the bathroom or after you get out. If you've got a door hanger pull-up bar, do 5 or 10 pull-ups. Over the course of the day, you've got 50-60 push-ups or pull-ups, and that starts to add up. It makes a big difference.
Gyms cost money. What if you're currently broke?
There is so much you can do with bodyweight.
You could do an interval run using telephone poles. Go two telephone poles walking, and then run as fast as you can for the next two telephone poles. If you do that for 20 or 30 minutes, trust me, your butt's going to be kicked pretty good.
Or maybe it's: drop down, do 10 pushups, come up, do 20 air squats, and then sprint a hundred meters down a field. Then do the same thing on that side: 10, 20, sprint back. Do that for five rounds and you'll feel pretty darn good.
...there is so much you can go and do outdoors like stand-up paddleboarding, bike riding, or skateboarding.
— Jay Cohen
We're in Charleston, and there is so much you can go and do outdoors like stand-up paddleboarding, bike riding, or skateboarding. The options are endless and if you hop on and do a quick Google search for bodyweight workouts, you'll get a never-ending list.
👉 Want more bodyweight workouts? Check out these 15 simple options on Locomotion’s blog.
Entrepreneurs’ schedules are nuts. Do you have any advice on setting a routine or habit?
If you can get out there in the morning without sacrificing your sleep, then it's better to get it done in the morning. Because as entrepreneurs, stuff is going to fall in your lap or pop up. You're going to have to put out a fire somewhere, and you never know when that's going to happen. That's option A.
If you can get out there in the morning without sacrificing your sleep, then it's better to get it done in the morning.
— Jay Cohen
Option B is to be really, really diligent—and most people do not have the discipline to do this, myself included—with time blocking and scheduling. Make sure you build it into your day. Then when that time comes, you tuck all your stuff away and you say, "I'll be back to it in 75 minutes to an hour-and-a-half."
You have to treat it as a meeting with yourself. If you have a hard time with this, and you're further along in the entrepreneurial journey where money isn't a limiting factor anymore, then personal training is the route to go. Then you're in somebody else's schedule, and it literally is a meeting.
You have to treat it as a meeting with yourself.
— Jay Cohen
I did this the other day because we just started a business owners’ group for our members. Our gym has 30 entrepreneurs and a lot of them are on the personal training side.
Some people don't enjoy exercise, or don't think they enjoy exercise. How do they get past that mental hurdle?
Most people don't enjoy exercise. And the reason for it is, they haven't found the thing they like. Everyone likes exercise, once they find that activity that works for them. How could you not like a rush of endorphins and feeling better about yourself?
The thing is, they don't like the activity they're doing. Maybe they think they have to go to Planet Fitness and hop on a treadmill for 45 minutes and then do a machine circuit. Or, they have to go to Orangetheory and do cardio for an hour long.
Everyone likes exercise, once they find the activity that works for them.
— Jay Cohen
But there's so much out there. If you like to surf, surf. If you like to play soccer, play soccer. You need to find the activity you enjoy doing. One thing that really helps—and one thing our gym does really well—is finding a community of people who are fun to hang out with.
I like to think that people come to our gym because we have good workouts and because we have great coaches and we have a nice facility, but I know better than that.
One thing that really helps...is finding a community of people who are fun to hang out with.
— Jay Cohen
They come because they get to hang out with their friends for an hour, shut their brains off, and just have fun. It's the one hour where somebody's telling them they’re doing a good job, and they don't have to think about the million other things they have to do. They just get to have good conversations with good people.
I’d love to hear more about that. Everyone knows exercise is good for your health. But what other benefits are there?
Yeah, so interesting study. Harvard followed a pretty large group of people who lived fairly long lives. They were searching for causes. Everyone assumed it was going to be not smoking or drinking, working out a few times a week, and having a healthy diet. Those were all semi-connected, but the number one correlate had nothing to do with any of those. It had to do with the number of meaningful relationships you have in your life.
Relationships caused people to live well into their eighties and nineties.
— Jay Cohen
I'm not talking about Facebook friends here. I'm talking about people you see in-person, have conversations with, and really care about. Those relationships caused people to live well into their eighties and nineties.
At Locomotion, we preach what we call “The Five Pillars”: training, nutrition, recovery, mindset, and relationships. Those are the big five things we believe makes a healthy person. Those are what we try and give the people who come to our gym.
Number four—the growth mindset—is probably pretty powerful for entrepreneurs, right? #
Yeah, of course. If you're not familiar, it's Carol Dweck, full disclosure.
The idea is there's a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. You're not necessarily all fixed or all growth, but the fixed mindset says, "I'm born a certain way and I am doomed to that reality. There's nothing I can do about it.” For example, I’m bad at math or I will never be able to do the financial side of my business.
...the fixed mindset says, "I'm born a certain way and I am doomed to that reality. There's nothing I can do about it.”
— Jay Cohen
Whereas the growth mindset says, "You can't do that stuff right now, but with some dedication, practice, and wisdom-learning, you could.” So every time you have an opportunity to do something, instead of thinking about how hard it is, you're looking at it as an opportunity to get better.
Is there anything you thought you couldn't do in business?
So many things.
There's tons of times when I've felt that there's no way I could come out of this. I'm fairly open with this story, but I'm a former opiate addict. For a long time, I thought I would never be able to do anything with my life, honestly.
That's what caused me to join the Marine Corps in the first place. This is where my growth mindset really started, because the Marine Corps makes you do some shit you don't think you can do. Then you do it and you realize, "I guess I can. If I'm willing to work hard enough, I can make just about anything happen."
For a long time, I thought I would never be able to do anything with my life, honestly.
— Jay Cohen
Another thing that ties into this is beginner's mind—being okay with being bad at stuff. People don't try things because they don't want to be bad at things. I'm here to tell you, you're bad at everything when you first start it, right? It is what it is.
People don't try things because they don't want to be bad at things.
— Jay Cohen
I picked up surfing four years ago and I was atrocious. I'm still not great, but I'm a whole lot better than I was four years ago. You have to be willing to be crappy at things, so you can get better at them.
As you come up on your two-year anniversary as an entrepreneur, what’s the biggest lesson you've learned about running a business?
I’ll give you two.
The first one is, find a really good mentor—somebody who's done it before you and can help guide you along the path. I was fortunate enough to have some people before we opened, and I'm still with them now.
When we opened, we had 30 members and did about $5,000 a month in revenue. Right now, we're at 159 and do about $35,000 a month in revenue. Just get with somebody who knows what the hell they're doing, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.
...find a really good mentor—somebody that's done it before you and can help guide you along the path.
— Jay Cohen
Number two is Parkinson’s Law: work expands to the time you allot for it. If somebody gives you 24 hours to do a task, you're going to do that task in 24 hours. If somebody gives you four days to do a task, it's going to take four days to get it done. The same goes for the stuff in your day-to-day.
If you don't give yourself start and stop times for things you need to get done, you’ll work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When you do that, you are going to get burnout. This comes back to making sure you're taking time to take care of yourself. Get in workouts, meditate, and have a really solid morning routine in place. Then you can take your business to the next level. Otherwise, you're going to be stuck where you are forever.
We’ve edited and condensed this interview for clarity.
If you’re in Charleston, check out what Jay is up to at Locomotion Fitness. They work with everyone from Jay’s 74-year-old mom to Division I athletes. And if CrossFit intimidates you, don’t worry. They also offer bootcamp and yoga classes.
If you’re somewhere else in the world, Locomotion’s Facebook and Instagram has loads of recipes and wellness tips.