Ep9 – The Whole Life Challenge and a CrossFit journey with Andy Petranek

Fitness expert Andy Petranek discusses how to build healthy fitness habits, the Whole Life Challenge and his early CrossFit entrepreneur journey.

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Andy Petranek, a fitness expert, shares insights on cultivating positive fitness habits, delves into the Whole Life Challenge, and reflects on his early experiences as an entrepreneur in the world of CrossFit.

The podcast with Andy Petranek covers:

-Fitness journey from adventure racing to CrossFit.
-Starting and running a successful CrossFit gym.
-Creating a successful wellness challenge.
-The Whole Life Challenge and its impact on people’s lives.
-CrossFit and its accessibility for various fitness levels.
-Aging and maintaining physical abilities through exercise.
-Learning to ride a unicycle and overcoming challenges.
-Fitness tracking and habit change.
-Neuroplasticity and habit formation through 8-week challenges.
-Fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle changes.

Speaker 1 0:07
Welcome to another episode of headfirst with Dr. Hill. Today’s guest is Andy pertronic, a athlete and CrossFit entrepreneur, Co Co Co Founder of the whole life challenge podcast and all around fitness guru. So Andy, how you doing today? Good. I’m doing great. Great. Thanks for coming in today.

Unknown Speaker 0:23
It’s great to be here.

Speaker 1 0:24
It wasn’t that hard. You’re you’re in Los Angeles. So I got to captive, a CrossFit expert here in the house, given

Speaker 2 0:29
given the amount of rain we’ve had in the last two months. I’m kind of glad it’s a nice sunny day. Yeah,

Speaker 1 0:33
it’s a little ridiculous. So Andy, tell us about yourself. I of course, plugged your your CrossFit roots but you’re sort of CrossFit OG you were one of the first people who really sort of saw the the CrossFit light and really leaned into that a little bit. So it

Speaker 2 0:48
was a weird it was a weird thing. You know, it was a weird time I had been I’d come off of adventure racing. So my background before that was in long distance endurance sports, okay. And I was a mountain biker and, and climber and mountaineer and less for the less for the purity of each one of those and more for the kind of excitement and adventure of them. Okay, so when the sport of adventure racing came around, I was like, oh my god, I got to do that

Speaker 1 1:11
adventure race. It’s like, like, like Vin Diesel, triple X kind of stuff. Jumping off a helicopter. No, no,

Speaker 2 1:16
no, no, no, it’s not that extreme. It’s not that exciting. It’s pretty extreme, but it’s much it takes much, much longer to get it done grueling. So it’s a very boring movie, because you’d have to watch it for like eight days, you know. So, you know, you go like, you know, you go like 350 miles with a team of two to four people, three to five people. And you have to do all your own logistics you have to do all your own navigating with a map and compass. And you find your way in the in the I was an avid team navigator and hopefully, and you find your way in the mountains or in the in the rivers or, you know, whatever, all while you’re on locomotion. So

Speaker 1 1:49
mountains river so you’re mountain biking or hiking, you’re running your kayaking, what is stalking,

Speaker 2 1:54
your kayaking your rock climbing if they’re if they’re sections of the race that are, you know, cliffs and whatnot, you’re rappelling, you’re rock climbing, you’re going up, you’re going down,

Speaker 1 2:03
I have this image of you now with a kayak strapped to your back. On a shear map,

Speaker 2 2:06
you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to do that. So like so when when you carry your gear, you carry your food, yep, you carry your clothing. But if you get to a transition to a different style of locomotion, they provide that for like, you want to strap your bike and your kayak and all that stuff to back up ragged. Like I like the idea. Right, right. That’s what I’m thinking.

Speaker 1 2:25
Okay. All right. So I still respect for you, but

Speaker 2 2:30
it’s a little easier than you originally thought. And those races were, you know, five to five to 10 days. But then I got involved in the shorter distance ones, shorter distances in quotes, because it’s like three hours, right? That was a sprint distance marathon, but Right, right. And then, you know, I kind of put my cleats up from doing that stuff, and was in a personal training space, you know, and I was looking online to see what how he’s going to take my business online. And I bumped into CrossFit, I stopped, literally stumbled into it. And I remember my experience originally was, where’s the section of the site that you have to pay for something, couldn’t find it, I couldn’t find it. And I couldn’t figure out what this thing called a wad was. And it turns out, that’s the workout of the day. It’s right there on the homepage, the first thing you see is the wad. And I, for some reason, decided I was going to try it. And, you know, it leveled me the first time I did it, and I, I then did an experiment. So I consider myself a strong athlete. And so anything that leveled me was if this is this is outside of the norm of what I’m expect sure you know how to outperform. And I decided to go out and run a 5k Because some of the literature I read an article by Greg Glassman, who’s the founder called what is fitness and totally resonated with all my philosophies around Training and Fitness. And but one of the things he said was, you know, cross the short, intense workouts can take the place of endurance of like, long, drawn out stuff, like, Well, I’m not training for anything, why don’t I try it? So I did an experiment, I ran a 5k. And I started doing CrossFit for all my workouts, reduce my training volume, probably by less than a half of what I was doing before in terms of time, and ran the same 5k About three months later, and I was two and a half minutes faster

Unknown Speaker 4:21
in my 5k. Wow. So it didn’t didn’t impair you certainly

Speaker 2 4:24
know, it made me faster, and everything got better. You know, all these things got better. And I just was like, Okay, I’m doing this. I went up to Santa Cruz to their headquarters and met Coach Glassman, and, you know, we became, you know, one of the very early adopters 2004 Which, you know, for me, that was the one of the exciting parts. I’m kind of an early adopter guy. So finding something new and exciting and it fit with my kind of personality of of adventure years adventurous wasn’t adventure, like the outdoors, right? But it was, you know, you’d finish it workout in the gym, and people would look at you. I mean, literally, you’re, you’re draped out on the floor in a puddle of sweat. Nobody else knows what the heck it is you’re doing right across it. There’s no social acceptance to this thing back then yeah, back then. And you know, and then the gyms I was doing it and they were like personal training gyms where there was the, the average age of the clientele was 50. And I was a freak. And it was and it was fun, that was fun. And open up CrossFit LA, learn very quickly, that was your CrossFit gym. That was my CrossFit gym. It was pertronic Fitness when I first opened, and then we morphed into CrossFit la found out very quickly that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about running a business, okay. And I’ve discovered that to other works. Man, I’ve spent more money in coaching, and business coaching and life coaching and like learning how to do this stuff. If I could have all that money back. Well, first of all, I’d be out of business if I didn’t have the advice. So Nevermind, I can’t have them right back. Right, right. Um, but yeah, it took me a lot of head banging and learning and throwing stuff against the wall to see if it stuck up. And fortunately, it did. And fortunately, I ran into some people, I hired some people that were that were really influential in helping me establish a solid business practice. And I you know, we built it from nothing to 300 350 members, you know, it took like three or four years to do that. It’s not bad. And just sustained it. You know, like the the business model sustained itself. I’d love to say continued growing to 567 100 but we were very limited in space. You know, we have 1000 square feet. Santa Monica is not known for its spacious spaces

Unknown Speaker 6:50
is still there. Still there? Whether it’s

Speaker 2 6:54
near Bundy and Santa Monica Boulevard. Okay, the easiest Yeah, sure section. It’s a little bit west of there on Santa Monica. But that’s probably the most well known Are you still involved with the CrossFit i I’m still coach two times a week, I coach classes and go in there this afternoon, actually, to do a workout myself. So I’m really good friends with the new owner, his name is Kenny Kane. And so you sold the gym, I sold the gym. Okay, so the gym two years ago, the whole life challenge really took over, in. And that’s kind of the that was my next adventure, really, because I was in the middle of doing what I was doing at CrossFit LA. And one of my challenges always as a coach was how do I get people to? How do I get people to take what they’re learning in the gym? And then go back to their life and not do the same dumb? Can I curse on this? Sure. Not do the same dumb shit that they did the day before. Yeah, like the same dumb stuff that they came to the gym to not do in the first place, whether it’s posture, or it’s eating crap, or it’s, you know, only sleeping four hours a night, or it’s, you know, not stretching, no no mobility. And so that was really the motherlode for me, I didn’t, I felt very limited as a as an influencer, when I only saw somebody two hours a week or three hours a week, you know, and then they went back to their life and, you know, try to charge charging was the way the whole life challenge came. Well, we’ve been doing fitness challenges for many years, okay, which we’re doing workout, Train for eight weeks, do the workout again, and see how much you’ve improved kind of like my original test? Sure, sure. We used to do with prizes, and give giveaway all these things. And it was super fun. We’d have 150 people show up for these events that we do. And my head coach, my now business partner, Michael Stanwyck and I were we had attended a nutrition seminar, we really wanted to incorporate nutrition into the gym, into the culture of the gym. And we tried it. We tried doing it in a way that was educational. And it was just, it was so boring and dry. And like a class like something you’d go to UCLA to take class where yeah, that it? You know, I think the program we set up 12 People started in three finished and you know, it’s expensive, I think we charged four or 500 bucks for it. And that just doesn’t have an impact when you have a community of 300 people. Yeah, yeah. So we’re like, Okay, well, let’s go back to the drawing board. How do we take nutrition? And then what are some other elements we could do, you know, like, stretching and exercise. And at the time, we said supplementation, we’ve we’ve we’ve since changed that to sleep. Hydration, okay. And then the other extreme, not extreme. The other x factors when it comes to health and well being like gratitude, like, like, compassion, like meditation and consciousness. How do we incorporate those things? And we came up with this very rudimentary concept, this game concept where you can score yourself, you get points. And we our plan was throw it up in a spreadsheet on Google Google Excel. Spreadsheet. Yep. And let people sign in and keep track of their stuff. Well, we had two people that were software engineers who said, Don’t do that. That’s just bad. I mean, we had big reservations. Because if you have, say, 150 people playing a game, and somebody makes a mistake on that spreadsheet, and put something in the wrong spot, or racist, somebody else’s score, or can’t really lock it out, right, make one line accessible to one person in one line. Yeah. So we knew there were pitfalls with that. But we were just fortunate that two of our two of our clients were software engineers, and they were like, let us let’s build some for you. We’ll trade a membership for it. And we had the first challenge. And we had the the reason it became what it what it’s become, which is this kind of crazy, was simply because it worked. I mean, it just it did everything we wanted it to do in terms of the culture, the conversation, empowering people to make decisions on their own. Not relying on us, as coaches, we, you know, like, I never wanted it to be Andy portronics Whole life challenge. So yeah, like, there are a lot of there are a lot of great trainers in the world who have made it all about them. It’s just a different way. You know, like Jillian Michaels is all about Jillian Michaels is great. It totally works. She’s phenomenal. But it’s not what I want. I want people I want to be kind of out of the picture. I don’t want people to have to call me to find out what to

Speaker 1 11:34
do I understand that exactly. So that’s what

Speaker 2 11:38
that’s what we experienced in that first hole challenge. And we said, Okay, let’s do it again. And we did we did again, we got them to invite their friends and family. We grew from 150 people in the first one to 300 people. And then we went to a former colleague of mine who’s a consultant, he was working with a bunch of CrossFit gyms, and we said, we will give you exclusive rights to the first hole challenge. And he is a master at enrollment. He got 7000 People from these 300 gems to enroll in that next challenge. Wow. And that gave us our foothold. Yeah. And we, you know, we created a business model that supported financially, the businesses that joined they earned a revenue share back on those on the signups signups that they brought in. And, you know, we were off and running. We had a lot of pitfalls along the way, we suddenly became a software company and we’ve no idea what I was doing, you know, developers and the amount of money that that costs. It’s like a, it’s like a firehose of of cash.

Unknown Speaker 12:45
Going out to me out. Yeah, going out. Yeah.

Speaker 2 12:49
So now, you know, we had 23,000 People in the current whole life challenge in January, wow. And 23,000 people 23,000 All over the world. We’ve had him. We’ve had reports of people doing it in every continent except Antarctica. So we’d love Antarctica, right until they’d like to go there and play the next whole life challenge. We’re looking for that

Unknown Speaker 13:10
person to open up peak brains

Unknown Speaker 13:14
begin much walk in traffic.

Speaker 1 13:15
I bet there’s a market for Wim Hof Method down there. The best destination for Wim Hof Method. Absolutely true. Yeah, to get all the you know, all the serious athletes in the world to pay 20 grand and go down there for a week. And yeah, something like Like, like, like, like the bulletproof weeks and things. Yeah, right. Right. I mean, it’s marketing, right. There’s, it’s all market, there’s a drawdown there. That’s good. So

Speaker 2 13:36
yeah, so that’s, that’s where we are, we do three of them. And you Oh, and we also do three of them a year now. So you know, instead of instead of 150 people, or 300 people once a year, it’s 23,003 times a year. Wow.

Speaker 1 13:47
So this is essentially people doing it on their own checking in with the community having a sort of support system and excitement around what they’re doing.

Speaker 2 13:54
Yeah, it um, it’s an event. So it’s very unlike most apps out there. We have an app. It’s a it’s a we haven’t we have an Android app and an iPhone app. But it’s a it’s a it’s gonna say sidebar, but it’s not a site. It’s it’s accompanying app to the game. The game takes place online, but it takes place in your life. Yeah. So you sign up. It’s it. We do one in January, one in May and one in September. If you’re if you’re listening to this podcast, and it’s March, sorry, there’s no there’s nothing. I wish, you know, there’s nothing for you to do except to register and get ready for the one in May. Right. But it doesn’t start until May. Yeah. And everybody in the world is doing it at the same time. It’s kind of like the original concept for that came from my experience doing marathons and doing events, like you can go out and run 26.2 Miles anytime you want. Sure. But it’s no the same to it. It’s not the same as going out running, running the New York City Marathon. It’s just a different experience. So we wanted that camaraderie and that community around everybody doing it at one time. And there are pitfalls in that business model. But sure, you know, absolutely.

Speaker 1 14:55
And of course you have other things besides the challenge of a podcast. HOD

Speaker 2 15:00
cast as it is accompanying to the to the challenge. So, you know, like we’re we’re really our intention is to become a valuable source of information for people who want to make small improvements to their life, small or big improvements to their life. And so we have a stable of blog writers who write articles for us, we partner with people who are exercise experts who are mobility experts who are who provide video content for us. We do the podcast and the podcast, I bring people on like you came on my podcast. That’s right, you guys, you analyze my brain and found out I was add.

Speaker 1 15:43
Wasn’t your mom involved in the background? My mom was shouting stuff. Well, she

Speaker 2 15:46
happened to be there. And she’s like, Oh, remember when you fell on your head? And you were one year old? I drop you down the concrete steps. No backyard. Like, oh, I don’t remember that.

Speaker 1 15:57
I found it. And I found that in your brain. Yeah, here it is. Yep. That was great.

Speaker 2 16:02
So yeah, that was pretty darn funny.

Speaker 1 16:06
Yeah, I’ve never had a podcast guests. Mom be chiming in from the background. That was That was That was lovely.

Speaker 2 16:10
I didn’t expect that. I mean, how do you know, she just came? Because she’s interested in what you do know, like, never been to a place like, sure, sure. Little did I know, she was gonna provide that actual, useful information.

Speaker 1 16:21
So you have a lot of the CrossFit community worldwide a massive sort of movement at this point, we do.

Speaker 2 16:26
You know, that was one of the interesting things. When we first started, we were very pigeon holed into CrossFit. Yeah, it was, I mean, all our images, all of our marketing was all CrossFit. Because it’s, that was your thing. But, you know, we very quickly realized that the real power behind the whole life challenge was in non CrossFitters, CrossFitters. While certainly CrossFitters are up for it, yes, we’re just gonna do it. And it and it actually is effective for everybody. The people in the world that that need the most help with, with empowerment with community with building great habits are not doing it on their own already, right, you know, and so it’s the CrossFitters, who bring their mom in, it’s the CrossFitters, or the people who are already hard, strong athletes who do agree to do it. But they bring in their sister, their brother, their co worker, and their and their best friend, or they or they have a community of lawyers, that their their office, their workplace, and they all decide to do it together, we have companies that are contacting us now who wanted bringing in as a Corporate Challenge. Sure, sure. So, you know, we had to really go back to the drawing board in terms of making the the pictures, the imagery, and the marketing and the the what it looked like and when our content match the people that were our, our customers, which are the which are the people that are not doing that stuff. They’re not already hardcore, you know?

Speaker 1 17:46
So for those people, I’m sure there’s many people listening who aren’t CrossFitters Can you just back up a little and explain what is CrossFit? Because I have a sense of assurance from the outside, it seems a little bit not Well, let me but

Speaker 2 17:58
it’s funny because I thought you were gonna say what is the exercise part of the whole challenge? The exercise part only is 10 minutes.

Unknown Speaker 18:04
Okay, so it’s not purely and it’s not physical, it’s

Speaker 2 18:06
not defined. So if you consider what you did today, exercise, you don’t get to count it. It’s Yes, I did it. Great. I get my five points. Okay. You know, there’s some days when I walk my dog, literally, and I would count that out now.

Unknown Speaker 18:22
So it’s not an on ramp onto the CrossFit way of doing NO,

Speaker 2 18:25
DON’T EVEN CLOSE you can do my sister did this. She my sister is notorious for not listening to me. Maybe it’s like most sisters. I gave up a long time ago, trying to get her to do anything that I’ve shared, you know, wanted her to do. And so I told her, I’m like, Look, here’s the challenge. I’d love you to do it. Here’s a I gave her a free entry. She goes, You know, I really want to see if I can run every day for 56 days. Because she wasn’t a runner. She did not do this was not a consistent habit. She goes, she goes, You know, I know it’s probably better for me to do the whole whole uptown. But I’m just going to focus on the exercise part. I’m just going to try to do 10 minutes of running and walking she counted walking to and she did it she had a very funny looking graph because we have seven colors. It looks like a rainbow chart. Yep. And, and one color is for exercise. And her graph was one color. All the way through one strip. Yeah, all the way through the a very low score. It didn’t matter like that, actually, you know, she runs marathons. Now, she missed her goal three and a half, three and a half years later on. So, you know, it’s very, very gentle, you know, 10 minutes of mobility, 10 minutes of exercise. self defined, how much sleep do you need? Well, you get to define at the beginning of the challenge, you say, you know, good night’s sleep for me, I’m only getting six hours now. I know perfect would be eight. But it’s realistic for me that six hours and 20 minutes would be good would be a compliment. You get to put that down. And anytime you do six hours and 20 minutes you gave give yourself a check to great got it so very gentle CrossFit. Is it is not so gentle.

Speaker 1 20:02
That has been my impression. I’ve driven by a lot of CrossFit gyms and I’m like, oh, that’s that CrossFit thing? Oh, it’s okay. I don’t know along there, it’s fine. It’s fine. It’s

Speaker 2 20:11
interesting, because if you go to the right place, and you join a community of people who are who are similar in maybe age or similar in, in kind of category of life, have you? Wow, you won’t be as fit as they are, because they’ve been doing it for a year or two years or three years, you will them your mindset will be very similar to those people because, you know, they’re not training to go to the CrossFit Games, they’re not training to be elite athletes, they’re most of them are not training to go run, you know, do the race across America. Right, right. You know, go do some other strongman competition or something. So you can, you know, CrossFit, really the the roots of CrossFit back, when I got involved with CrossFit, it was really about creating us utilizing functional movements, which are compound movements, that are universally scalable, and universally applicable to life movements in life, they mimic what we do in life. Sure. And doing those in a way that allows you to get better at your life, you know, scaling them in a way that makes them supportive of where you are. So you know, my mom who’s 83 years old, she doesn’t say she does CrossFit. But she does. Yeah, I mean, she does my very what I’ve taught her how to do, she does the version of CrossFit that I’ve taught her how to do which she you know, she incorporates squats, she can actually hold a squat the bottom of a deep squat over a minute now, it’s great. At three, none of our none of our friends do

Speaker 1 21:51
that. But Gerontology perspective, one of the biggest signs of health and wellness and gerontology, geriatricians will have you stand up from a chair without using your hands, actively just stand up, just stand up that and they’ll drop their keys and have you pick up their keys, if you pick up their keys off the ground without falling over. If you can stand up without using your arms to push yourself up. You’re engaging the largest muscles in the body in a very balanced way. Right? So the fact that your mom can squat and hold a deep squat suggests that her quads, your glutes, everything is really, really good. So geriatricians would say, you know, you’ve decreased the risk of long term falls balance issues, etc. Because of that exact workout, right? Exact exercise. Yeah,

Speaker 2 22:28
no, it’s really, you know, she, she lives in a retirement village. And not people are terrified of getting on the ground going on the ground. Yeah, she gets she most of her workouts start with her on the ground, she gets up and off the ground all the time, like is huge. And she tries to get her friends to do it with her, but they there’s just a fear. And you know, people stop doing it. And they start falling into chairs, yep. And then using their arms to get out of chairs, and then falling onto the toilet, and then using bar grab bars to get off the toilet. And, you know, 20 years of that, and suddenly, you can’t do it. And of course, you’re scared, you’re gonna fall over and you can’t

Speaker 1 23:07
get up. Yep, yeah, there’s these cells in the brain, the motor system called Betts cells, we only have 30,000 of them, that’s it. And they control the ability of the leg to spring to catch your weight going downstairs that that flex that catches your weight. And starting to by age 30, those cells start to die off, really. And this is why around 50, or 60, some elders have this sort of stiff legged kind of gait. So it’s a lack of the actual tissue that supports catching your weight with Flex. Where do those cells live? In the motor in the primary motor system and brain? Yeah, yeah, they’re descending motor cells,

Speaker 2 23:41
so that they actually send the signal to the muscles to do what they need to do the weight

Speaker 1 23:46
as it flexes, we still have other systems that can bend can can do so you can still walk. But it’s one of the two predator sort of systems that that allows animals to really be springing. So if you keep doing it, you don’t lose them, right? We don’t know that cells is so few of them. And there’s these giant cells that are kind of fragile, that they do seem to have a sort of notice. It’s not pathological aging, they do seem to be lost. But of course, the brain can always change. And so you can do other things, probably to get some of that feature back. Even if you’ve lost the flexibility.

Speaker 2 24:15
I can tell you, I’m 50. And I just learned, I just did something called Move NAD to this certification and in a natural movement, and one of the things we worked on is is getting up above a bar or like a tree branch. How would you if you’re hanging below a tree branch? How do you get yourself up above it? And once you’re up above it, how do you get down? So we practice these things called Depth jumps, okay. And then you learn how to do a depth jumps, dump jump, depth, jump with a hand slap, so that you you dissipate the energy from your feet and legs into your hands, okay? And then you learn to do the depth jump, hand slap, forward roll. So if you’re doing it’s more of a parkour Yeah, you know, like move, and I’ve recently started doing them off the eight foot pull up bar in the gym. And it’s freaking so much fun. Probably gonna need those cells, I cannot lose those cells. holy crud, yeah. And

Speaker 1 25:07
you probably are maintaining them. I mean, I don’t think there’s any, any good studies showing folks that get older but but that is generally how things work. If you use it, then they are present, they’re preserved or repaired, right. But we’re all just discovering more and more every day that we have new brain cells generated every day. You know, of course, there’s a pluripotent sort of neural stem cells and a few regions of the brain that continue to pump out cells. And they were sort of considered to be very sort of narrow areas, like two or three weeks ago, there was a study showing that there’s also a sheath of that cell generating tissue outside the brain that wraps the entire brain. Wow. So we actually have the ability to make cells a lot more reliably than we thought we did your whole life your entire life. But cells respond to challenge learning. So they have to be doing things to create the circuits the cells will live in. Otherwise the cells are being born don’t survive. Yeah,

Speaker 2 25:56
I was, you know, equate. Not equate, but I always tell people look, your your body is inherently I use the word lazy, it upsets people. But but it’s, it’s designed to be efficient. Absolutely. efficiency means shutting off the things that don’t need to be up note, don’t need work, minimize

Speaker 1 26:12
your expenditure for the best rewards you can get, right? If you’re gonna reach for the shelf and eat the sugar. You know, your body’s like, Alright, stand up. Don’t do anything else legs off. Exactly. Right.

Unknown Speaker 26:21
So you move it or you or you lose it, I

Speaker 1 26:23
guess. Interesting. So anyone else who are working on these days, what other kind of projects or?

Speaker 2 26:27
Well, like I said, I was doing I did that move? Nothing. I’m learning how to ride a unicycle. That’s another project.

Speaker 1 26:34
I mean, that sounds great from a brain imbalance point of view. But why the hell are you learning how you just like? Well, it’s

Speaker 2 26:39
a very funny story. I was talking to a buddy of mine, and I was telling him about this guy that’s on my Instagram feed, who posts his pictures of his uncle, Ronnie, Ronnie Teasdale. He’s a CrossFit guy. He runs a gym, CrossFit gym down and down in downtown LA. I don’t really I don’t think I’ve ever ever met Ronnie in person. But he’s a very. He’s kind of an extreme crossfitter. He’s very capable of pretty much anything. He does a lot of slacklining. He does a lot of ballot stuff. But he’s very strong as well be a competitor. And I’m like, I’ve always wanted to, you know, like, maybe try. I wasn’t committing to doing it. And so I got on Instagram. And, you know, Ronnie’s got 1000s of followers on Instagram. And I sent him one of those private mess private messages. Hey, Ronnie, and tiptronic what does it take to start unicycling? I’m just curious. He goes, want to come down to the gym and pick one up? I’m like, Oh, shit. I didn’t hold my blood. Yeah, I wasn’t prepared. And literally two days later, I had a unicycle in the back of my car, I still actually have it, I need to get it back to Ronnie because I need to get my own. But I got on it. And I just it became another one of those things for me like the things that I glom on to in my life. Sure, it’s counterculture. Not many people can do it. It’s really cool if a 50 year old could do it, right. Compared to the other 50 year olds on my blog. Sure. And suddenly, it became a really fun thing for me to work on. And it totally fit my personality, even though I was terrible. I mean, it took me I was counting the hours of training, okay, that because I have a fence outside of my house. And so I would take the unicycle out and get along the side of the fence and get myself up on the unicycle and hold on. And there, there are different strategies that people talk about. One is don’t do that. And just push off

Unknown Speaker 28:32
and false. Just find your balance. Yeah. And

Speaker 2 28:35
the other is to hold on, and I was like, I’m holding on and, and it took me about three hours of combined, not in one time, but three hours total, before I was able to take probably, I don’t know, five or six pedal strokes, like free and clear. I’m not touching the to the railing. And then, you know, it kind of works like a lot of things in life where you have these breakthroughs. And you know, I’d be going five or six pedal strokes and then all of a sudden I’d go 20 pedal strokes and legal Holy crap, what just happened, right? And then, you know, I pedal down to the corner. And I’m like, you know, that didn’t happen again for you know, another 20 attempts. But now I can I can get on the unicycle. I don’t practice I haven’t been practicing as much because of all the rain in the weather. Yeah,

Speaker 1 29:21
but usually so yeah, yeah. Um,

Speaker 2 29:25
but I can get on the unicycle now. And I can pretty much make it to the corner, you know, not at work not at whim. I mean, not not, when not when the voluntary not Not, not like on the on the spot. If I was to take the unicycle out of the back of my car right now, and we, I would probably get on it and make a fool of myself. Because typically, that’s what has happened for me like I wanted to show some friends at a party we were having that I can use cycle, and I literally couldn’t take one stroke without it crashing to the ground. You know, so I wouldn’t put myself on the spot like that. Okay, but most of the time If I can make it down to the corner is it hard to

Unknown Speaker 30:03
go up or down hill

Speaker 2 30:09
that’s great. i My vision is that I get a mountain what’s called a mountain unicycle, which has treads and it’s a much bigger the wheel I’m learning on I think is a 20 inch wheels. Okay, and the mountain unicycles are 26 or 29 just like a bike if a break so when you’re going downhill you can I guess Yeah, I can’t really comprehend quite comprehend that yet. And these guys do these crazy they go on these mountain bike trails on a unicycle, and

Speaker 1 30:37
I can’t really imagine they’re easily fixes like that. There’s no gearbox. It’s the pedals are tied to the Yep, hub.

Speaker 2 30:42
Yep. Okay, so so that’s when you need a 26 or 29. So that you can keep up with speed, certainly. But that would be interesting. If I can do that someday. I need to get one because right now the bike the unicycle I’m on is Ronnie’s first of all, yeah, it’s kind of a training unicycle. And but I imagine they’re pretty the same pretty, you know? That’s great.

Speaker 1 31:03
So let me let me Let’s back up for a second. You’ve been a coach for a long time, you’ve been in fitness and all kinds of areas personally, you know, professionally. Let’s say there’s some folks listening who would love to be more fit, but have no idea where to start. Because either they’ve gone decades without being fit, where they may have some physical limitations, or they’re just new getting into this idea of trying to be fit if they’re a young person. What are some inroads? What are some some ways that that people can, you know, be calming aside from when I think they probably should join the whole life challenge? But what are some No, yeah, what are some general you know? So

Speaker 2 31:37
I think one of the coolest tools that I learned over the years of coaching people and doing stuff is the stopwatch. The stopwatch is a, that doesn’t mean you’re racing. It’s just a way to mark time. So if you don’t do something, now, it let’s say you come home from work, you prepare dinner, you sit down on the couch, and you watch TV until you fall asleep. Let’s say that you’re not sure. Anything more than that is a is an improvement. Anything? Yeah. So why don’t we say one minute, walk out your back door with a stopwatch and walk for one minute, come back in, don’t do more than that. Don’t chew off tiny bites. Don’t because you don’t want to do so much. The one of the problems that people do is they’ll enroll in a boot camp. Yeah, they’ll there’ll be they’ll go from couch to boot camp. Yeah. And, invariably, that one of the reasons the yo yo thing happens is they just can’t sustain it’s painful. It’s it’s watching the biggest loser and without support. Yeah, and, and trying to live your life. And, you know, you crash and burn six weeks later, and you go back to a worse state than you were in before. So taking a very, very small step, like so small that you think this is just silly. Of course, I can do a minute,

Speaker 1 32:56
go for a walk for a minute, was that couch to marathon or couch to 50k? Or there’s a guy that does those programs that goes calculate the first day you get up and walk around the house and sit back down or something right? Like it’s very incremental.

Speaker 2 33:08
And you can do that with any body movements. So, you know, I always tell people look running wild well is great and natural as running is for the human being. It’s it does not move your it does not force you to move your body through full ranges of motion at your hips or your knees and it can if you don’t do those things, it can cause imbalances and pain and suffering. So you know, use the stopwatch with squats, learn. If you can’t do a squat, get a Swiss ball, put it up against against the wall on your back and do wall sets or wall squat. Yeah, you know, you use the advantage of the Swiss ball and go down as far as you can go down and hold for 10 seconds, come back up.

Speaker 1 33:49
Remember those things we say I was the captain of the UMass Amherst fencing team for a year and we used to do also you’re unbalanced.

Speaker 2 33:55
You have one leg? That’s probably or you did, I did. You had one leg that was probably twice the size of the

Speaker 1 34:00
other actually, I used to teach the team and I’m left and I’m left handed but I would teach right handed so I would actually switch all day long. It’s great

Speaker 2 34:08
because I worked with a couple of fencers. And I mean the difference between they’re loud. They’re, they’re I think it’s the front leg right? That’s the power leg

Speaker 1 34:15
you push off the back. So it’s the opposite of your strong hand usually

Speaker 2 34:19
I can’t remember which leg it was that was their larger it’s huge it’s usually the

Speaker 1 34:23
back leg that’s all your weight and your thrusting your exploding off of it the front leg actually just gets out of the way and they land on it okay but yeah I for a while with development huge imbalance yeah imbalances so yeah, yeah, I only competed left handed. I have a very strong left wrist. So my rest are very unbalanced. Even still, as a you know, 2530 years later handstands. I’m working on that. I do a lot of yoga and I down dog is great. Yeah, the vinyasa is the stronger has a transition of his basic sanitation yet tween every pose. Oh, cool. You’re doing a sun salutation so you have the opportunity to do about 10,000 downloads. Every time you do it but my laser pretty balanced because I could quickly you know pick up a different weapon switch gears teach somebody right but in competition and all the really serious practice I would do it was all lefty and I ended up with a giant Popeye forum on one side right? Right You know it just it happens the bot bodies adapt they that’s what they do. It’s exciting because you can you can control that, but they can you know, go weird directions to Yeah.

Speaker 2 35:24
So yeah. So I would I recommend to people all the time, grab a stopwatch, come up with some way to measure a fixed amount of time. That seems very small compared to what you’re doing now. And okay, okay, ready? 321. Go do as many pushups against the wall as you can in one minute. Yeah.

Speaker 1 35:39
Then you’re done. That’s great. So incremental. Measure it quantify it.

Speaker 2 35:43
Yep. And then write it down, write it down. You got to you’ve got to you get a journal, you get an Evernote use on your Google Sheets, like you’re describing? Absolutely, they’re great. And you need a way to measure it, simply because it’s important to want to see and yeah, you’re doing what you’re up to.

Speaker 1 35:58
Yeah, you know, I’m, I’m a gerontologist, I teach courses on Gerontology at UCLA, to great lengths that me and I have a course I teach in the winter, called psych of aging, and I make all my students do what’s called a modifiable behavior exercise. Because in gerontology, the focus is not so much on curing things, but it’s changing the trajectory of decline, flattening, it seems so you see you, you know, sail into the last year of your life with all your features intact, instead of declined for 30 years. And there’s a big focus not only on the life course, things you do early in life, and how they affect your aging, but in actually changing healthy habits early in life, big things like you know, smoking, or little things like dropping sugar, increasing fat. And so I make all my students for a week track, sleep, and something else that they think might be worth changing, and quality of life. And then for another week, make a small change and keep tracking everything. And some of them, you know, struggle with it. And they usually aren’t quite sure what they’re doing. And it’s a weird assignment, because I’m not asking them to like write a paper. But by the end, they’re like, Oh, my God, I had this incredible experience. Now I can I discover I can do things and change how I feel, right? And I’m really from a general point of view, talking about, you know, decades of perspective. But you can feel some of these changes. Like if somebody went from the couch to walking for one minute a day, it would actually be perceptible subjective. Yeah. Difference. Quickly, within a few days. Yeah. And so I love when I can, you know, for slash encourage young students to do stuff like this. It’s one

Speaker 2 37:26
of the, you know, that’s one of the premises of the whole challenge is we, you know, we’re trying to get people to change their context from thinking, I want to be fitter in six weeks, or eight weeks. The challenge, the whole challenge is eight weeks to, I want to be fitter 10 years from now, what do I need to do in the next eight weeks to take, take measurable steps to improve that are sustainable after the eight weeks? Yeah, yeah, that’s, and that’s really the, that’s really the message that we’re trying to get across. Even though it’s, it’s got points, and there’s some competition and while

Speaker 1 37:57
you’re gamifying it to make it engageable have an uncountable word, and it’s more fun,

Unknown Speaker 38:02
you know, otherwise, it’s kind of mundane and boring. It’s great.

Speaker 1 38:04
I do personal five week sprints, generally. So I tend to like, you know, I’m an entrepreneur, I have lots of jobs and lots of activities. So when things get out of control, I find that I’d been like crap for a few days and haven’t worked out for a week. And so every so often, I buckled down and for five weeks, do everything, you know, tightly. And I think five weeks is the magical time, because that’s how long it takes neurons in your brain to be born, turn into the kind of cell that they’re gonna be and traveled to the place where they’re going to be in a network takes about five weeks, okay? Half the neurons that start that journey die. What is a criteria for you know, living if you’re a proto neuron is making connections with your friends making actually setting up shop in a circuit, okay, and so that requires using the resources. And so for me, people tell you, Oh, you can do this thing in a week. Like I’m in the neurofeedback field, people always have these camps that are week long. I’m not a big fan of the short intensive frames don’t change that quickly. Eight weeks, like you’re doing is definitely enough time to instantiate not only new cells, but habits.

Speaker 2 39:04
It’s interesting and I never really thought of it from the neuro the nerd, what do you call the neuroscience, the neuroscience point of view. We made it eight weeks because five weeks, there’s a there’s an agreement among most people that participate in the whole challenge of five weeks is doable. Five weeks feels strong. Like there’s not a lot of drop off after five weeks. But after five weeks, it becomes the things we hear back from a lot of people challenge arts now. It’s boring, it’s mundane, give me something else to do. Give me and that’s kind of what we want it because that’s your life. Yeah, your life becomes boring and becomes mundane. I have to keep doing it. You have to keep doing it. You have to be continued to be conscious and as as much as you know, we’re I think we’re in this in this pattern, this societal pattern where we expect the app or the program or the watch or the phone to buzz or beep to make us do something and There’s only so much that an app or something else can make you do. It’s, it’s your life. And, you know, so we wanted to keep it at eight weeks, but we were very much the philosophy is do it for eight weeks, come off for eight weeks, do it again for eight weeks, come off for eight weeks, do it again, like that. I’ve done every challenge that we’ve had 15 now, and I make different changes every single challenge. I use them as training cycles, and then I relax for those eight weeks, and then I get back on for eight weeks. And then I get back off for eight weeks. And it’s very, very useful to have that kind of a habit.

Speaker 1 40:32
And you’re sort of scaffolding behavior for people with the gamification the competition everything else for the eight weeks and the community and the people that are on board with you. So and then during the intervening eight weeks, do you find that after especially a couple of times of doing these challenges, people start generating more internal disciplines? Yeah, I

Speaker 2 40:48
call it I call it the converging lines. So you know, at first when you first take on the whole, I challenge you your goal is to win. Yeah, goal is to get to take off the biggest bite you can possibly to, to get every point be perfect all the way through the whole channel. Holy cow. That’s like way up here. Your normal life down here, right. As you become more whole life challenge mature. You you learn that because chances are after you do that, that the rebound is I’m going back to ice cream and pizza and beer every weekend. And I don’t care what you care.

Speaker 1 41:17
Yeah, you know, I was successful doing that extreme thing. Give me a break. Right?

Speaker 2 41:22
Right, it can look it can work. And for some people, maybe that’s the right way to do it. What I found and what a lot of people have found is that as that as you gain more maturity and whole life challenge, you realize that the points aren’t really the mother lode, the mother lode is the 10 year change. And and if you want really want the 10 year change in the sustainable change, take a much smaller bite. So get that bring that line down of what you’re willing to chew off. And slowly your life will start to come up to meet that line that’s coming down. And so now it’s done changes your baseline change you get you get a little bit like your your bad days become not as bad. I still have them. Sure I’m gonna have birthday, my son turns 10 This weekend, and I’m gonna have birthday cake, right? That’s right. I love ice cream cakes and 31 flavors, and I’m having it right, right, right. I might not have three, three pieces, which I’ve had before, maybe

Speaker 1 42:13
depends on what kind of you know, energy burn the past few days, how much you feel like it’s gonna throw you down. Right,

Speaker 2 42:18
right, of course. But I found that if you were a fat two year

Speaker 1 42:21
old who had never worked out, you’d be in your eating American diet, you’d be pre diabetic. And those three pieces of birthday cake would throw up your vtls for the next two weeks, and you have increased heart disease and, but you can handle a sugar hit every so often, in a way that somebody who’s not conditioned. But what I found

Speaker 2 42:39
is I don’t need the same kind of sugar hits, I don’t need the same amount of pizza to satisfy this. Because there’s an emotional tie stuff. And I don’t need as much anymore. You know, like, I don’t like last night, my dessert was dates, I’d like to put almond butter or some kind of nut butter on dates. So sometimes I overeat I had for last night which is quite a lot. But, you know, in the past that’s not that wasn’t satisfying from that was what I did, because I’m in the challenge and I didn’t want to lose points. Now. It’s what I do, because actually like it sure and I don’t need the I don’t need to have an ice cream sandwich, you know, in order to feel good after dinner. Right? You know, so my, my emotional ties are changing, you know, my snack foods are changed or have changed. So it’s just interesting. It’s not so much that because I’m fit. I can handle the that was almost a negative. Yeah, back in the back in the back. You know, 15 years ago, when I was adventure racing, I can eat whatever the heck I want because you’re burning so much fuel that you’re good at. I could go to Krispy Kreme, followed by you know, followed by the Olive Garden. Well, that was one of my favorite places to eat. Unlimited breadsticks. Unlimited pasta, unlimited salad salad, who cares about pasta, whatever, right. And I could do it and never look any different right now and never performed? Well. I don’t know if I would have performed different because I you know, I’m only a test case of one sure didn’t have I didn’t have a

Speaker 1 44:08
but you could handle cycling high levels of glycogen in and out of your system without even thinking about

Speaker 2 44:12
Absolutely. And so there was really no impetus to improve the quality at that at that time. There would have been Now had I had the same knowledge that I do now back then. But and

Speaker 1 44:23
you’re a little older now. So I’m a little reading that way now it might do more. It might slow you down more it might

Unknown Speaker 44:30
be way more now.

Unknown Speaker 44:33
I was thinking more like that cholesterol going up and things like that.

Speaker 2 44:36
But that’s just the x nested superficial, you know, ramifications of the bad the bad diet. Maybe I don’t fart more. Maybe it’s the same and I just noticed it more, maybe.

Speaker 1 44:48
Well, on that note, Andy, thanks so much for coming on the show today. If our listeners and viewers want to check out the whole life challenge want to check out your show your podcast and other things you’re doing where can they find you?

Speaker 2 44:59
So hold on. homes.com That’s our main website. I’m very findable. The whole of John’s dot com forward slash podcast is where the podcast is. And I’m at Andy pertronic. Everywhere. I’m in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, I’m, you know, I’ve got this social media, love hate relationship. So I’m not obsessed by being on social media. You know, like, I logged into Facebook today for the first time in a couple of days, and I had over 100 notifications. Yeah. And for me, that’s kind of good. That means I’m not checking too sure, sure. If I log in, and there’s less than like, 20 I am getting a little too much too much in Facebook. Gotcha. So those are the places to find me and I’m responsive and you know, love to answer questions from people. And yeah, great.

Speaker 1 45:43
Well, any any pertronic Our guest today, oh, gee, CrossFit, modern reach redefining what we’re doing with fitness getting us to think about how to be fit and how to change lifestyles over time. So really eliminating thanks so much for dropping some wisdom today. And, folks, this has been another episode of headfirst. Dr. Hill take care of those brains.


Andy Petranek

Andy Petranek is an athlete and CrossFit entrepreneur, cofounder of the Whole Life Challenge and the host of the WLC podcast.