Debra Giunta (Design Dance)

I went to a party at Debra’s dance studio to celebrate that it was full of toxic mold and that it was shutting down.

That could have been the end of Design Dance, but – after getting fired from a call center that “a dog could work at” – Debra decided to start calling schools to see if they needed an after school dance instructor.

10 years later, Design Dance isn’t the studio she originally envisioned. Instead, they run after school programs teaching dance all throughout the Chicagoland area. And Debra runs a non-profit called Prismatic focused on teaching students entrepreneurship in the arts – because not all companies have to be started to create some sort of app.

Check out this conversation to hear:

  • How a mold-infested dance studio morphed into a company focused on dance education
  • How to balance the needs of multiple stakeholders in a business: school administration, students, contracted teachers, and parents
  • How to handle being talked down to and minimized as a female business owner

Listen Here

Check out more from Debra and Design Dance

Oh, and also here’s Debra’s TEDx talk, which is highly recommended as well:

Show Notes

  • [01:39] A physical studio with some problems
  • [07:37] Getting fired from a call center: “A dog could work here”
  • [13:13] The dream doesn’t have to be owning a dance studio…
  • [21:19] Developing enough technical proficiency in an art form to be creative.
  • [32:09] Transitioning into hiring people – and managing remote employees
  • [38:49] Running a business with three stakeholders: parents, students and schools – and protecting your culture
  • [49:07] Challenges of being a female business owner – “Go tell your boss…”
  • [01:02:15] Operating both a for-profit business and a non-profit – Why create two separate organizations?

Links and Resources Mentioned

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The Perils of Infinite Scrolling

This was originally sent to my newsletter list. Most of my writing never makes it to the blog – so subscribe at the bottom if you want more of this type of thing.

As someone who has been a chronic disparager of social media and its impact on our lives – it’s tough for me to admit that I’ve been thinking a lot more recently about how to utilize Instagram and Facebook appropriately for my fitness businesses.

For South Loop Strength & Conditioning – as a brick and mortar gym – our website and the customer experience of our members are far more important than our social media presence. And – in the past when we’ve experimented with attempting to drive more leads and business through our social presence and through advertising – we’ve found the long-term retention of those members to be severely lacking.

For Legion, however – as an online coaching company – Instagram seems to be a legitimately viable driver of consistent business. This is a difficult pill for me to swallow, since I find the way that most people in the CrossFit community relate to social media to be toxic and counter-productive.

This seems to be a pretty solid case of “If you can’t beat them, join them,” though.

The challenge is that the posts that generate the most engagement are often not the posts that are what I consider to be the most “valuable.” Our most engaged with post to date is of our strong young man Mark Stenberg squatting a personal record of 550.

When you’re @mark_stenberg85 squatting 550lbs doesn’t look too tough. Re racking the bar is a different story – Mark just completed a testing week as he joins The Legion in search of becoming a better athlete 🏋️‍♂️🏊‍♂️🤸‍♂️🏃‍♂️ – In 2012 Mark was one victory away from representing USA wrestling 🤼‍♂️ at the Olympics. In the last year he’s turned his attention to @crossfit and competed in his first @crossfitgames open this year which saw him finish top 10 in the world on 18.2a, cleaning 386lbs – Now he’s set his sights to improving the rest of the skills needed to get to the top level of CrossFit – Interested in learning more about individualized programs? Click on the link in our bio and send us a message to learn more! #CrossFit #legionsc #legionathlete #squat

A post shared by Legion Strength & Conditioning ( on

Sure, this post is cool – but i don’t think it really teaches anyone anything. And, it honestly just probably makes a lot of people feel bad and stress about their squat numbers relative to Mark.

We do have plenty of other posts about movement, motor control and program design, though that I think are legitimately helpful. Problem is – those posts struggle to flip the algorithm switches that drive engagement.

So, figure I’d share one of those here since I think it will actually help a bunch of folks reading this who struggle with catching ring muscle-ups.


Now this is a post that I actually think makes the world a better place.

There’s a bunch of people wasting their time doing silly ring muscle-up drills and doing progressions to improve their upper body pulling strength to get better at ring muscle-ups – but they don’t have the control over shoulder extension (the ability to bring the arm behind the body) that they’d need to actually perform the movement effectively.

This pisses me off – since there’s a lot of people working really, really hard, but they’re wasting their time focusing on the wrong thing.

Check out this quick assessment of shoulder extension to see what might be limiting your ability to get through that transition point on top of the rings.

When athletes struggle with the catch position in the ring muscle-up, it can often be related to limitations in shoulder extension (which actually refers to the ability to reach your arm behind you – not overhead) – In this video, @lperson5 shows us what it looks like to struggle with shoulder extension – There can be all kinds of reasons for this limitation. In Lauren's case, she has a painful shoulder and pain can create motor control issues. Best option here is to find a qualified therapist for treatment – For other folks who struggle on the catch in ring muscle-ups – check out this test to see if you have adequate range in shoulder extension. If not, you may get much better results from focusing on improving the mobilty or stability of the shoulder joint in extension than you will from attempting to increase your upper body pushing and pulling strength – #CrossFit #legionsc #legionathlete #muscleups #shoulders

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Speaking of social media…

In Borges’s 1976 short story “The Book of Sand,” a series of unfortunate individuals are tormented by a demonic, infinite book – in which – no matter how you open it or flip through it – you never see the same page twice.

This is deeply and darkly relevant in 2018, when we all have our own infinite books riding along in our back pockets.

Here’s an audio version of the story from The New Yorker’s monthly fiction podcast.

Independent of the privacy and data-mining concerns that Facebook has run afoul of recently, I think the bigger issue is the way that these social networks prey on our attention and upregulate the most negative status anxiety pathways in our primate brains.

But, I also think it’s important to recognize the human beings that make these social networks are often good-intentioned humans responding to incentives and trying to figure things out in a messy world.

This recent interview with Mark Zuckerberg from Freakonomics shows the level of thought and concern that companies like Facebook have for how their product is impacting the world – and hopefully we can see some changes in the coming years (if not months) with how these social networks interface with our data and with our more base human instincts.

Bruce Dickinson – Tattooed Millionaire

Sometimes it’s a good idea to dig into the questionable material from some of your favorite artists. Most bands that have been around for decades have all kinds of material outside of their classic or canonical work – and some of it can be surprisingly great. But that’s not always the case…

Bruce Dickinson’s first solo album was released while he was still in Iron Maiden. The reality is that most of this material is not very good – and many of the songs are obviously derivative of other hard rock styles. “Ok, let’s write a song that sounds like Aerosmith.” “Ok, let’s write a song that sounds like John Mellencamp.”

And – of course – “Hey, let’s write a song that sounds like Def Leppard.”

The title track off of Tattooed Millionaire is a pretty blatant copy of “Photograph” in both riffing and structure – and this is a good thing.

I know, I know. I probably haven’t done much to sell this song – but please check it out.

Mike Lee (OPEX)

Mike Lee is the Director of Coaching at OPEX – and he’s worked with some pretty big names in the competitive CrossFit community like Tennil Reed, Marcus Filly and Amanda Goodman.

I met Mike at one of the OPEX CCP Level 2 courses a few years back, and – since then – he’s gone on to take over the coaching of most of the competitive athletes in OPEX’s system.

This year, OPEX has also brought several sponsored athletes onsite to train at their HQ in Scottsdale, Arizona (which we discussed in this previous podcast with Megan Benzik and Austin O’Neal).

Mike and I get into the nitty gritty of:

  • How to manage egos, emotions and social dominance in groups of highly competitive athletes (Hint: it’s not all the hugs and high fives that you see on Instagram)
  • The difference between real coaching (allowing athletes to take responsibility for their own results) and play-acting as a coach (lots of emotion and screaming and overly detailed instructions)
  • The process and best practices for training the elite of the elite

Listen Here

Check out more from Mike and OPEX

Show Notes

  • [01:55] The emergence of dominance heirarchies in groups of competitive athletes
  • [07:55] How do you prevent competitive athletes from going too hard in training when they’re training together?
  • [14:22] Qualification in CrossFit is a zero-sum game – how do you communicate with your athletes surrounding that?
  • [21:57] People who are good in the sport of CrossFit are probably going to be good no matter what they do.
  • [24:49] How do you balance minimum effective dose with maximum tolerable dose in training for CrossFit Games competitors?
  • [21:57] How do you prevent being beaten regularly in training from becoming psychologically damaging for individuals?
  • [36:33] How coaches are actually supportive – and weird fake coaching” behavior”
  • [43:33] Being forcefully reprimanded by Charles Poliquin
  • [48:50] How do you continue to learn and evolve your prescriptions in a sport like CrossFit that is relatively young?
  • [54:33] How much sport specific training is necessary for success in the sport of CrossFit?
  • [01:02:47] What is the role of innate genetic potential in the development of a CrossFit athlete?
  • [01:12:55] How to find out more about OPEX.

Links and Resources Mentioned

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The Micro-Skills of Coaching

Any complicated, multi-layered skill is made up of potentially dozens of other “micro-skills” – and coaching is no different.

It’s not enough to have book knowledge of energy systems progressions.

It’s not enough to have an eagle eye for movement flaws and an over-flowing toolbox of ways to correct them.

Nor is it enough to be charismatic and engaging with clients.

The intersection of these skills – as well as plenty of others – are what defines a great coach.

In this solo effort, I break down some of the major elements of coaching, as well as the “table stakes” quality of each skill and some higher order manifestations as well.

Check out this soliloquy to learn:

  • How great coaches compare movement to an idealized version of a pattern in their head to figure out flaws
  • How coaches use higher order pattern recognition to help them in correcting movement flaws – and how the best coaches are able to quickly iterate their cuing to get what they want from an athlete
  • How to zoom in and zoom out when working with an athlete so you can find the lead domino that makes all the next steps easier
  • How to build trust so that your cues are taken seriously by a client – rather than getting eye rolls, argument, or non-compliance

Listen Here

Show Notes

  • [0:53] The many different skills required for great coaching
  • [3:53] Coaches must have the ability to see movement and recognize flaws
  • [11:45] Once a coach sees a problem, are they able to correct it?
  • [16:46] Seeing and correcting are table stakes – then we need to be able to prioritize
  • [29:26] How do you create the emotional buy-in and trust with clients to get them to invest in the process of improvement with you?
  • [40:12] Asking questions rather than being directive is one of the best tools for a coach’s communication toolbox

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Daniel Shea Interview

“Actually choosing to try to be an artist as a terrible idea. Nobody should do it.

It’s really fucking stupid. It’s like one of the stupidest things you could do with your life.

And it’s really hard. And you’re an idiot if you think it’s a good idea, or that it’s going to be easy.”

Well, I guess it’s kind of sad that my friend Daniel decided to ruin his life through art.

You’ve probably seen Daniel’s photographs, although you may not realize it. He’s done plenty of high profile journalistic and commercial work – most notably photographing Barack Obama for Fast Company.

And – although many people would kill to have the types of job offers that Daniel regularly gets, he turns most of them down to focus on his artistic practice.

Why does he choose to turn down lucrative photo shoots that will be seen by millions of people? To make a photography book that will only have 1000 copies printed, of course.

Check out this conversation to learn:

  • How to face the embarrassment and fear that comes when you create something – and how to put it out into the world anyway.
  • How Daniel chooses to balance commercial photography with his artistic practice – and what skills and frameworks are universal across the different modalities
  • How to justify “selling out” to your younger, punker self
  • How to balance the tension between having free, unstructured “creative time” with the demands to meet deadlines, respond to emails, and have a schedule

Listen Here

Check out more from Daniel and get a copy of 43-15 10th Street

Show Notes

  • [2:34] Embarrassment over being confronted with “the early work” and relics from the past due to having to clean out old stuff from your parents’ house
  • [8:55] Feeling awkward and hating your work – and putting it out into the world anyway
  • [16:39] So, what was the most embarrassing art from your past?
  • [20:17] What is the tension between having an artistic, a journalistic, and a commercial photography practice?
  • [26:03] How would you justify selling out” and “commercialism” to your younger self?
  • [43:34] Do you have any practices relative to improving your skill as an artist?
  • [49:07] How do you collect and curate images for a cohesive work – specifically relative to 43-35 10th street?
  • [01:02:06] The ineffectiveness of art as a medium for communicating a specific message
  • [01:11:54] The influence of punk and DIY principles on later entrepreneurship and creative behavior – and disastrous early touring experiences
  • [01:17:42] The tension between being creative – and actually having to follow-up with people, meet deadlines, and have to-do lists

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

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Cal Wysocki (Fulcrum Education Solutions)

Cal Wysocki is the founder of Fulcrum Education Solutions, a company dedicated to improving the quality of instruction in our schools.

As South Loop Strength & Conditioning has grown, we’ve found it more and more important to re-focus on the quality of the product that we’re offering in our facility – and the main arbiters of that quality are our coaches who are working with our members on a daily basis.

We’ve begun to build several systems for continuing education, dialogue, and feedback with our coaches – and we’ve seen massive changes in what’s happening in our classes. Logistics run more smoothly, workout explanations are more clear, and our coaches do a much better job of handling the social dynamics of delivering coaching and correction to members who may be frustrated, distracted, or confused – without running into nearly as much pushback.

In this discussion with Cal, we focus on the strategies and tactics that he uses to elevate the processes by which schools improve their own teachers. This is not a simple discussion of a few “quick tips.” Instead, Cal is thinking in multi-year processes surrounding building trust with staff, getting quick wins for teachers in the classroom, building trust with students, developing consistency in order to change the dynamic of feedback in a school’s culture, and integrating all of this with long-term professional development strategies.

As a person who is concerned with the quality of coaching going on in my gym on a daily basis, I found this discussion invaluable – and we’ve immediately implemented some of the ideas from this conversation at SLSC. From the bigger picture of a person who is concerned with the quality of education and the pitfalls of misaligned incentives in the school system, this conversation gave me a better foundation with which to think through the problems that we encounter as we try to improve the quality of our public schools.

Listen Here

Check out more from Cal and Fulcrum Education Solutions

Show Notes

  • [2:13] Teachers having meltdowns and abandoning children due to improper feedback
  • [6:36] When tactics fail – why building trust before implementing changes is paramount
  • [8:54] What is the process that Fulcrum Education Solutions uses to work with schools? And how do you actually improve teaching performance?
  • [17:30] How do you build trust and cut through skepticism with teachers since you’re an outside consultant”?”
  • [22:37] What are some of the typical quick wins” that you see work well for teachers to immediately improve the quality fo their instruction?”
  • [28:42] Using role-playing to practice skills of classroom management with teachers.
  • [36:00] What is the assessment process for figuring out what a teacher needs to work on – and what a school needs to work on asa whole?
  • [45:47] The nuts and bolts of the observation and coaching process for improving teacher performance.
  • [59:28] How do you coach teachers to handle students who are disruptive or who push back?
  • [1:04:06] Creating systems for deliering feedback effectively to create behavior change – and avoiding resentment and mistrust
  • [1:16:46] The many parallels between the fitness industry and education consulting.

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

  • “I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
    -Haim G. Ginott

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Carleen Matthews (3x CrossFit Games Athlete)

Carleen Matthews is a multiple time individual CrossFit Games competitor. It’s always interesting to hear how people competing at the highest level in a sport think and operate on a daily basis – but Carleen’s story has another layer.

She has a history of addiction as well as eating disorder, and this gives her insight into the mental battles people fight underneath the surface that we don’t always see.

Carleen owns and operates CrossFit St. Helens in Oregon, and also runs a program out of her affiliate specifically for people who are on the path to recovery from addiction.

Through some enterprising members and her connections in the local community, Carleen was able to get government help to fund this program. If you’re interested in working with the recovering population in your area, Carleen almost certainly has some insight in terms of how to set up a program, hurdles you may face, and how to potentially get help from your local government. Direct message her on Instagram if this is something you’re interested in: @teamcarleen

Listen Here

Check out more from Carleen and CrossFit St. Helens

Show Notes

  • [01:35] How was coaching today? And first CrossFit workouts.
  • [05:38] Steady improvement in the sport of CrossFit every year
  • [09:58] Finding motivation for the daily grind of training – and re-evaluating her why” after finally making it to the CrossFit Games”
  • [19:20] Turning focusing on the journey” into more than just an inspirational quote”
  • [25:39] Getting coaching on proper mindset for competition
  • [31:38] How do you get into the zone” to compete?”
  • [36:09] Carleen’s personal battles with addiction and the recovery process – On suffering and being comfortable with the uncomfortable
  • [45:40] How do you coach people who are in recovery?
  • [58:13] How CrossFit St. Helens developed its program for working with people in recovery
  • [01:02:40] Recovering from a neck injury at the 2017 CrossFit Games

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

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James Pligge of Harm’s Way

From the above photo, you may think that James is an intimidating and frightening man.

But, it turns out that he is one of the weirdest and funniest people I know.

It’s difficult to appropriately categorize and convey all the disparate traits that exist in this enigma of a man, and hopefully this interview does his character justice.

Check out this discussion to learn about James’s long-standing fascination with Fear Factory, the process of stealing riffs for Harm’s Way songs, and how he trains for powerlifting while injured and on tour.

And check out Harm’s Way’s excellent Metal Blade debut “Posthuman” right here.

Listen Here

Check out more from James and Harm’s way

Show Notes

  • [2:15] Being recognized by students while substitute teaching – and denying it
  • [10:19] The influence of metropolitan Chicago’s melting pot of extreme music
  • [15:52] Learning about bands, digging in the crates, and becoming Youth Crew James
  • [24:26] Passing the torch from one generation of extreme music to the next
  • [31:04] Meeting Billy Milano from the Stormtroopers of Death
  • [34:27] The writing of “Posthuman” – writing riffs, writing transitions, collaborations amongst band members, and how to write songs when you can’t actually pay guitar that well
  • [47:38] A treatise on stealing riffs
  • [57:38] A disagreement on nu-metal
  • [1:03:23] Training while touring – a change in mindset from maximizing performance to maintaining strength while working through injuries

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

Title Fight
Morbid Angel
Famous Hulbert
Fat Wreck Chords
Record Breakers
Gorilla Biscuits
Youth of Today
Minor Threat
Fireside Bowl
Kung-Fu Rick
Empire Productions
Weekend Nachos
Max Cavalera
Sepultura – “Chaos AD”
Billy Milano
Peter Gabriel
Hate Force
Like Rats
Black Sabbath
Mercyful Fate
Celtic Frost
Kid Rock
Celtic Frost – Os Abysmi vel Daath
Jacob Bannon
Primitive Future: Tom Warrior Interview
Battalion of Saints
Are You Morbid?: Thomas Fischer
Fear Factory
Machine Head
Iron Maiden
At the Gates
Insane Clown Posse – “The Great Milenko”
Jared Skinner
American Barbell Club
The Reverse Hyper
Jesse Norris
Peter Thiel
Joe Rogan Experience #1066 – Mel Gibson & Dr. Neil Riordan
Longmont Potion Castle
The Blood Brothers
The Locust

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Austin O’Neal and Megan Benzik of OPEX Athlete

They’re all grown up.

Austin and Megan have both spent significant amounts of time at South Loop Strength & Conditioning as both athletes and coaches, and – last year after competing at the Central Regional – they’ve moved out to Scottsdale, Arizona to be part of OPEX‘s sponsored athlete program.

The goal of this program is to allow athletes to train full-time – and not have to worry about coaching classes, working a day job, or running from gym to gym throughout the day. Getting better in training is all about maximizing your ability to respond and adapt to stressors – which means minimizing the stress in your life outside of the gym.

Check this episode out to learn how Megan and Austin have learned to trust the coaching process (and avoid self-doubt and constant questioning of what they’re doing), what they do to prioritize their recovery outside of the gym, and how they approach the mental grind of training on a daily basis.

Listen Here

Check out more from Austin and Megan

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

Show Notes

  • [3:12] What is the OPEX Athlete program? What does it look like to professionalize the process of training for the sport of CrossFit?
  • [7:45] Transitioning from a remote coaching relationship to working with a coach on the floor – and how to accept constant feedback and what could be perceived as criticism
  • [14:06] The dynamics of being around so many high level athletes. How do you stop yourself from just constantly doing more training?
  • [24:30] Balancing external stressors and finding your own personal “why” – and what do Austin and Megan actually think about during tough sessions?
  • [30:50] A slight SD card error – and how to be consistent over tie. What personality traits correlate with maximizing time spent outside of the gym, and how do you make decisions on what to prioritize as far as recovery and stress management?
  • [38:53] What is the biggest learning you’ve had from having a coach watching you on the gym floor?
  • [42:30] Competing for Instagram followers
  • [45:51] What does prepping for the Open look like? How do you maintain a culture with a healthy competitiveness amongst so many elite athletes without them starting to bicker and cut each other down?
  • [56:00] How do you handle the pressure to succeed during the Open – and how do you prepare emotionally for the stress that will come during the Open?

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Angelo Sisco of O’Hare CrossFit

“An alpha hippie is a tree-hugger who can rip out the tree and smash you with it, too.”

I’m not huge on inspirational quotes, but I think that quote has inspired me.

Angelo is one of the most interesting people I know – which is saying a lot because I know a lot of freaks (and you may have heard some of them on the podcast).

We first met way back in 2011. I was a new CrossFit coach and he had recently opened O’Hare CrossFit. Since then, we’ve both continued to learn and soak up information – which is pretty fascinating to see from two totally different personality types.

Angelo has built O’Hare CrossFit into a thriving business, which is much, much harder than it seems in this market, and he was also head of coaching for Barbell Business/Barbell Logic – which means he was overseeing the coaching for 100s of gyms.

Check out this conversation to learn what bizarre depths Angelo will sink to in order to keep learning, how he finds mentors, how he changed how he changed his on mindset and relationship with conflict despite having tons of success, how he helps business owners prioritize what they need to work on, and why strange men harass him because of his chest.

Listen Here

Check out Angelo and O’Hare CrossFit

Resources and Individuals Mentioned

Show Notes

  • [2:55] Angelo showed up to a kipping pull-up clinic at Atlas CrossFit that was intended to be just for members. Why put yourself out there and go into situations that you don’t totally belong? How did Angelo learn about CrossFit and training methodologies when there wasn’t a ton of information online?
  • [7:35] Having a bootleg pizza business selling pizza outside of bar – making really good friends with everyone and making sure that relationships are not one-sided
  • [11:58] Starting to train people in the “early adopter” days of CrossFit – and why people skills have become much more important over time as the marketplace changes
  • [15:11] Tipping points in the growth of O’Hare CrossFit over time – how becoming a better listener and unlearning emotional habits that had led to a certain level of success were both crucial to long-term business development
  • [20:13] Becoming an alpha hippie – “An alpha hippie is a tree-hugger who can rip out the tree and smash you with it, too”
  • [27:08] Finding a mentor in Jason Leydon – Taking a trip to Milford and staying at a seedy motel,
    and relentlessly following through on advice given
  • [36:23] Jason Leydon’s fear of male nudity
  • [40:38] How to prioritize areas of focus for business coaching clients – aligning your perfect day with your vision for your business and making sure that your product is good enough to achieve the level of success that you want
  • [50:20] Creating a specific client experience in a gym – “People are coming here for an emotion”

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