What does it take to look like Wonder Woman?
“Wonder Woman was incredible for a different reason. It was the first time in Hollywood that we were going to put a group of women on screen that had that physical prowess, together, in an amazing new kind of vision of femininity.”
In today’s Your Revolution Podcast, we meet Pieter Vodden: cast trainer for Wonder Woman and the Justice League, among many others. And now part-owner and founder of one of the coolest and most progressive gyms in the world – Pharos.
Originally from the UK, I met with Pieter as he was setting up his new facility – PHAROS – in Los Angeles. We talked all things fitness, business, movies, motivation and how he feels about the new feminist wave he’s found himself involved in.
Jane Erbacher: Hello and welcome to the Your Revolution Podcast. Your Revolution Podcast is a collaboration between Revolution Personal and Performance Training in Melbourne and the Me Project. The purpose of the Your Revolution Podcast is to inspire you on your mission of betterment. Each week, on the podcast, you’ll meet game changers who have created extraordinary lives, and you’ll listen to stories and lessons to empower you to make the changes necessary to your life. The Your Revolution Podcast is committed to fitness, health, nutrition, mindset, community, education, empowerment, and betterment, and we hope that you can take what you learned here and apply it to your very own revolution.
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Are you trying to make an impact on people’s lives, but you’re too busy, stuck in the hamster wheel, barely making ends meet, without the energy to do anything about it, and no idea where to start even if you did? Six months ago I started working with entrepreneur and systems coach Jake Linus, and the advice he gave me changed the way I do business, and turned my life upside down.
Jake Linus: The reason I chose the fitness industry is that a coach saved my life, and since 2014 I’ve started what became a very successful business, and, unfortunately, the better my business did, the worst my health became. I gained 35 kilogrammes, and was on the fast track to death at 50. My chance meeting with a coach called Matt Murphy turned that around, and set my life on a totally different path. Unfortunately, fitness is a hard business to be in. It means early starts and late finishes, it means sacrificing your personal time for the time of others, it means you’re constantly giving away your energy for other people, and, too often, it means struggling to make ends meet, prioritising others over yourself, and constantly chasing your tail but never getting anywhere. My way of giving back is to take everything that I’ve learned over the years in business, and use it to save the lives of fitness professionals. To give you your time back, and to let you live your life on your own terms, and to make the money that you deserve.
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Hello, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Your Revolution Podcast. My name’s Jane Erbacher, and I’m your host. I am so excited, it is the last day of my US tour, and I am in LA. I’m actually in Echo Park, which is a really cool area.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Jane Erbacher: It’s very up and coming, and I really like it. I found my favourite coffee place around the corner. But, I am sitting here with Pieter Vodden, and I only met Pieter a month ago, but I’ve been following him for, probably, a couple of years. I came across him through Gym Jones, and he is just so great, and I met him a month ago, because I came to his new gym that he’s opening in the next week, or two, Pharos, and it is amazing. The first thing that strikes me about this place is it’s such a beautiful space. It’s like a, I’m going to say it’s an old barn. Is it a barn? Or like a stable?
Pieter Vodden: You know, it was originally an old window factory, and then, we’re not quite sure what it was. It may have been a brothel, at some point.
Jane Erbacher: Yeah. It has story and heart to it. There’s exposed brick, there’s, what do you call these things?
Pieter Vodden: Beams?
Jane Erbacher: Beams, yes. I know I’m not understanding mechanics of anything, but it is amazing.
Pieter Vodden: It’s beautiful. I mean the main thing that really appealed to us when we first walked in was the light. You have so much natural light beaming through, and that was a huge appeal for us, because I’ve worked in spaces before that were either underground, like in the UK I worked in gyms that were underground that were dark, and that, after a while, that kind of space becomes very oppressive.
Jane Erbacher: Yeah. It’s not somewhere you want to go.
Pieter Vodden: It’s not somewhere you want to go, so the idea for us was we wanted to build a space that people would think of as an, “Oh my God, I want to go there. It’s light, it gives me energy.” This is somewhere if I’m working till 6 PM, and I’m trying to motivate myself to go to the gym, I don’t want to go somewhere dark and dingy, I want to go somewhere filled with light, and that’s going to give me energy, and I’m going to have a better experience. When we were looking for spaces, that was one of our main thoughts, and then when we saw this space, it was like, “Oh my God, this is perfect.”
Jane Erbacher: It’s actually perfect, I love it. And, the funny part about it, is it’s the kind of space I actually don’t want to leave. I’m looking around at the equipment, and how many different things there are, and I’m like, “I could spend all day here.”
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. And that was really … Another thing was, we’ve talked about this before, but in LA you had situation where people were going to different spots for different things. So, I’d go to one spot for my indoor cycling, I’d go to another spot for my yoga, I’d go to another spot for my crossfit, another spot for my boot camp style class, whatever. They were going to all these different spots, paying a different premium for every different space, and paying for the travel in between. To us it was just, “This doesn’t make any sense.” Why not build a space that can house all of these things, coach them all to a really high level, and build somewhere that people want to come and they want to stay all day. We have a club lounge, where people can just sit, and work, and chill out, and have juices, and drink coffee, and that kind of thing. Then they can attend a yoga class, then they can attend a strength conditioning class, or an indoor cycling class. You have all these different variations available to you, all within the same space, without any additional cost.
So, immediately … We’re not a cheap gym by any means. If you look at the cost of the gym, we’re relatively expensive, but we’re certainly cheaper than going to all these different spaces for these independent disciplines.
Jane Erbacher: Exactly, and what you’ve captured is the most important element, I think, in fitness is the community side, and that’s one of my favourite things about you, is that this is so deeply ingrained in you, in having an impact on people’s lives. What I noticed, running in Urban Heartbeat to California is there isn’t any one place you can go to that you can get a membership. Everywhere that we were going really reflects a non committal consumer of fitness. So it’s like you buy a five pack, or you buy a ten pack, and you do your spin here, and you do your yoga here, and you do your strength here, and there’s nobody checking up if you’re coming, and there’s nobody that misses you, and there’s no way for you to just stay and spend time with the people that-
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, which is strange, because America is kind of built on the search for community, just by nature. I think LA’s kind of evolved that way, because it is such a transient place. People come here for a reason, and, once that reason expires, they leave, so it can be a very come and go kind of place. But I think there’s a real demand, need, for something like this that rebuilds that community. I have seen it in some gyms around, to be fair. I think one of the biggest gifts the crossfit community has had to the world of fitness is that rebuilding of the community. Something that was lost in the Globo Gym era has resurfaced, regrown, and our train of thought was always to take the best things that we’ve seen over the years, and put them all into one space. Because, no matter what your loves or your criticisms of gyms, or spaces, or anything that you’ve been to, whether it be a boot camp style class, or whether it be a spin class, or even a Globo Gym, there are good things to take from all those spaces, and if you can just draw on that goodness, and forget about the stuff you don’t like, draw on the goodness, and put it in one space, and just do it as well as it can possibly can be done, then you’re going to have a winning formula.
Jane Erbacher: 100%.
Pieter Vodden: I think people tend to be very negative about things. “This is bad, because of these reasons, this is bad because of these reasons,” without thinking about the positives. Okay, yeah, you can say that these things aren’t correct, or you don’t agree with the principles of this space, but, if it’s successful, and people are enjoying it, then there’s something good to be learnt from that.
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: And, often, it goes back to what you’re talking about. It goes back to people having a sense of belonging, a sense of community, a good feeling. It’s one of the primary things of business, is it’s about how you make somebody feel.
Jane Erbacher: 100%
Pieter Vodden: And if those spaces are making somebody feel good, then they’re on to something. So, if we can do that, if we can make people feel good, if we can give them that sensation, and we can give them correct training protocols, and we can grow them in the right way, and we can give them the right information, and empower them with that knowledge, then you have something very special, which is what we’re trying to do here.
Jane Erbacher: I absolutely love it. You’ve touched on everything that drives me in my life, and one of my favourite things to discuss with people is the human element of everything, and I think that we’ve come out of the digital technology age, and people are really craving human connection.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, for sure.
Jane Erbacher: And you’ve recognised that in even how the space is set up, in the product delivery, but how the absolute foundation and the core of what you’re doing is to make people feel valued.
Pieter Vodden: Exactly. Exactly, and put the emphasis back on them. I think a lot of the time, people get caught up in the sport, or the challenge-
Jane Erbacher: Performance.
Pieter Vodden: Or the performance. And it isn’t really about that, it’s about, like you said, making people feel valued, making people feel like they belong, making people happy on a daily basis.
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: We don’t get up every morning, go to work, have an amazing day, go home, go to bed. We all have our troubles, we all have our woes, we all have our problems, but if you can build somewhere that feels somewhat of a sanctuary, like it gives them pleasure, it gives them happiness, it gives them joy, it gives them community, it gives them successful interactions they don’t necessarily get in their daily lives. Some people, they might not necessarily get on with their work associates, or their family, or their time at home might, currently, not be the best, but if you can be a light in someone’s light, if you can be a light in someone’s day, and make them smile about something, make them feel like they’ve achieved something, give them that sense of joy, then you’ve changed someone’s day. What’s better than that?
Jane Erbacher: And you don’t know what, exactly what you’re saying, you don’t know what people have come from to come into this space, and I think that there’s this movement in the fitness industry where we focus on our programming as if it’s an art or a craft, and people just have to follow it blindly, and what you’re recognising is that someone’s coming in here and this is, potentially, the best hour of their day. And results will come from the application. The results will come from them showing up every day, not necessarily it being the most perfect programme. But that’s not saying that the programming is neglected.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. I think motivation is such a big thing, and that’s why we wanted to offer a multiplicity here, or like a hybrid gym. We want to offer these different disciplines because different people enjoy different things, and, as much as you believe in something, if you try to force it down someone’s throat who’s not into it, then they’re going to give up pretty quickly. But if you can give them different avenues, and say, “This might not be right for you, but this might be right for you,” and then that lessens the barrier of entry, it gives them a way in, and then, once they experience that, it might lead them to experience something else, then experience something else, and, as that confidence builds, they start to grow as a person, and they start to have that more ambitious, more adventurous spirit, which might lead them to different places.
A lot of what we talked about when we first conceived the project was, how do we reduce the barrier to entry, how do we make people feel more comfortable from the moment they walk in the door? If you’ve been in a gym your entire life, which I have, and I don’t really suffer from intimidation when I walk into a gym just because of my experiences, you have to remember many people do feel that way. They do feel intimidated. If they walk into a space and, immediately, there’s a million barbells flying around, and people are grunting and shouting, and that kind of thing, then it can be a daunting prospect, but if you can reduce the barrier to entry, if you can give them a way in, and then, once you’ve given them a way in, you can show them these different things that helps them just, step by step, grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, and then, eventually, they’ll become something completely different from the person who walked in the door in the first place. You have to give them those avenues. You can’t throw them in with the meatheads at the end of gym, because it’s not going to work for them in that way.
That whole thing of motivation becomes one of the most significant things in programming. Like you just said, you could write the best scientific programme in the world with all the right percentages, and all the right movements, and all of those stuff, which is, of course, as coaches what we will try and do, but the most important thing, and what’s going to give someone the biggest result, is consistency and motivation. If you can get someone to come to the gym consistently, and you can motivate them daily, then you’re going to have a much bigger chance of success. And that’s what we’re all about, really.
Jane Erbacher: 100%, I love it. And, it was so funny, because, before we started, I was saying how I really love when conversations just go in a direction. And they just go, and it’s funny, because, usually, I would give my guest on a podcast a proper introduction, but I didn’t. We just jumped straight into it, which is kind of what we did when we first met a month ago, because we’re in total agreeance in what we do, and so we get really excited and both of us just keep talking the whole time. But you have a really interesting past, and you have a really interesting story that has led you to Pharos, and I think that that adds even more value to what you’re doing here. You have been training on a bunch of movies, and the most recent one is Wonder Woman. And you’ve also done Suicide Squad and prep for Justice League. What did you learn from those experiences?
Pieter Vodden: You know, I learnt a lot. It was … I’ll backtrack a little bit to how it all started. I originally was working in London for a long time. I lived in London for 14 years. I became a trainer kind of out of … Originally it was my B job. I was an unsuccessful actor in London for about six years, and I’d always trained. I grew up in gyms. I grew up with sport. It was always my passion. It was actually a girlfriend at the time said, “Why don’t you become a personal trainer? Why don’t you go down that road just as a way to supplement your income?” And that’s what I did, and, me being me, when I decide to do something, I throw myself into it completely. Once I did my … In the UK you get what’s called a diploma in personal training, so I had to go to school for the best part of a year. It’s a different system these days, but, then, this was the system. I got a diploma in personal training, and then I just kept studying. I did a lot of stuff with Charles Poliquin, I read all the class texts like Zatsiorsky’s The Science and Practise of Strength Training, Mel Siff’s Supertraining. I was throwing myself into all these incredible old school texts that paved the way for training now. I was always interested in gaining more knowledge.
I started working at a gym called Gymbox in London, which, at the time, was one of the pioneers of the modern gym, in that it was the first kind of hybrid facility, in that it was originally a boxing and regular gym gym, and then they started introducing more functional cross fit type stuff as they grew, and that became the trend. I saw that evolving, and I remember a friend of what became a friend of mine, Darren Brown, came in for an interview, because I’d build myself up to be the head of personal training at Gymbox, and I would interview different trainers to come and work there. And this guy, Darren Brown came in and I asked him about his background, what he was studying, and that kind of thing, and he mentioned this company, Gym Jones, and I said, “Who are Gym Jones?” And he said, “They’re the guys who trained the actors for The 300.” Now, I’d seen The 300, and a lot of people’s reaction to that movie was, “God, I’d love to be a Spartan warrior,” all that kind of shit.
Jane Erbacher: Every guy I know, yeah.
Pieter Vodden: My reaction to it was, “Oh my God, wouldn’t it be great to train those actors for a movie like that? Wouldn’t it be amazing to be involved in that project?” And that fascinated me, just the process of transformation of taking a bunch of people, changing them, transforming them, and then having this immortal thing on screen that no-one could ever take away from you. Like, you did that. You made that happen, and it’s immortalised on screen. It was an amazing thought for me, at that moment. I remember, straight away, I booked a seminar in London. It was the first time Mark and Rob had come to London. I went to that seminar, and that was the start of my journey with those guys. I just fostered that relationship over a number of years, became the first certified instructor in Europe, and continued to work with them, and, eventually, I’d trained a few actors here and there, while they were in London for various projects for the second 300 movie, and a couple of others, and then the opportunity came up to work on Suicide Squad. I just got a phone call from Mark one day, and I was in Florida, and I was about to go and work on a different project. I’d been hired to open a strength conditioning gym in Kuwait.
I was always excited by travel. It was a very exciting, daunting, completely different opportunity for me, and I’d accepted it, and I was gearing up for it, and I think I was about three weeks out from moving to Kuwait, pretty much permanently, and I remember I was in Florida, and I get the phone call from Mark Twight, and he’s like, “Look, we’ve got this project coming up, would you be interested?” I’m like, “Oh my god.”
Jane Erbacher: This is what I’ve wanted.
Pieter Vodden: This is what I’d always dreamed would happen with that relationship, and, of course, I accepted. I turned the Kuwait thing down, and, before I knew it, I was training the principal actress, initially in London, then in Australia, then, ultimately, in the States and Toronto. It just was an incredible journey, and it started out just working with one actress, then another actress, then another actor, and then a whole group of actors, and then I ended up training the whole cast and crew who were on the project. We talked a bit earlier about building a community, it was the first time for me … I mean, I’d kind of done it before in Gymbox, I’d build little communities through classes, and group training, and that kind of thing, but it was the first time I really took a project, and was able to build my own team community thing successfully in a space. It wasn’t people who had signed up to a gym. It wasn’t people who’d suddenly thought, “I want to transform into a fitness person,” it was people who were working on a project that it wasn’t their job to train, they didn’t have to train, it was people that just wanted to feel better.
Usually when you do a film project, you start the film off, and, gradually, you get worse and worse and worse as the project goes on, because you tend to eat worse and worse food, you tend to sleep less and less, you get fatigued, you miss your family. All those different things come in that deteriorate your experience. What we managed to do during Suicide Squad was reverse that process, so people actually got fitter, healthier, stronger throughout the filming process, just by turning up every day and doing something good for themselves, as opposed to turning up every day and doing bad things for themselves, so we managed to reverse that process. That was just this huge sign, to me, of what’s really achievable when you get consistency, when you get good feeling, when you get good people who genuinely just turn up because they want to learn, and they want to improve, and they want to grow. They don’t have to be there. They’re not being forced to be there, they’re just doing it out of the need to feel good.
Jane Erbacher: And you don’t have to do it, either. This is the better part about this story, is you actually did it because you wanted to make everybody’s day better. That sounds so Mary Poppins rainbows, but you genuinely cared enough about people to invite them in on that.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, because, like anybody, I need motivation, and that motivates me. Having an impact on other people’s lives motivates me as a coach. On a movie project, sometimes, if you’re just seeing the principal artist one or two hours of the day, the rest of the day can be a little empty, unless you fill it with good stuff. My whole thing was “Let’s fill it with good stuff. Let’s open the doors, and give all these other people a journey.” When people think of movies, they think of the people on the screen, and the heroes, and the principal, but, really, there’s all these other people behind the scenes. The stunt people, the producers, the make-up artists, the costume people, everybody involved in that project is on their own journey, and so why not give them a positive experience, as well? So that was that experience, and we went on this incredible journey together. It really was like a family. I felt very emotionally close to those people, and, when the project ends, you’re kind of torn because you got to close to this group. It became such a meaningful thing, on so many levels, that when it ended you’re a little bit empty.
But, in the back of my mind, I knew the Wonder Woman project was coming up, so I was just treading water until that kicked off. I’d had the Suicide Squad experience, and the positivity of that, so I went into the Wonder Woman project guns blazing. The Wonder Woman thing was incredible for a different reason, because it was the first time, really, in Hollywood, that you were going to put a bunch of women on screen that had that physical prowess together in an amazing new vision of femininity. When I got there and we first started talking to people who we thought would form the Amazons, which they eventually did, we were trying to communicate this sense of, “You are involved in something special. This is the first time this has happened.”
Jane Erbacher: Yeah, it’s really redefined [inaudible 00:25:16].
Pieter Vodden: “Let’s redefine the vision of femininity in Hollywood.” Previously, women had this thing in Hollywood they had to be thin and skinny, and they had to live up to that old stereotype, and this wanted to rewrite the rules, you know, “Screw that, let’s present a different vision. Let’s have strong, powerful women on screen who are going to show the generation of tomorrow that, you know-
Jane Erbacher: What women can be.
Pieter Vodden: “What women can be, what they can really present themselves like, and how strong they can be, how powerful they can be.” When you’re communicating that to this group of women, they’re suddenly filled with this, “Oh my God, this is amazing,” and then you’re all on that journey. As hard as training was for them, and it was very, very hard. We did an eight week boot camp in the beginning, it was full on, and every day they were with us four hours a day of solid training, and then, on top of that, they’d have stunt training, and prescribed diet, and all that sort of stuff, and it was very, very hard on them, but, in the back of their minds, they knew they were involved with something very special. And so all the hardship goes away, because you know you’re involved in something special. As that project grew, and grew, and grew, the same kind of feeling of being involved with something that is building a community, that is building that deeper human connection, that same kind of spirit of change, and transformation, and adventure, and strength just grew, and grew, and grew. We started in London, and then we were in Italy for a period of time. Again, it was just an amazing, amazing group of people, who really came together, and enjoyed this incredible experience.
You knew you were involved in something that was going to be groundbreaking, just from the way it was being done, the way that Patty was, the way that the women were performing, it was just a very, very special experience. Something that changed me, and I’ll never forget it. Both of those projects, in different ways, revealed to me, again, the power of the human spirit. I know it sounds kind of hippyish, but it did.
Jane Erbacher: No, I love it.
Pieter Vodden: The power of the group dynamic. When you have people that come together on a similar journey, and throw their passion into these workouts, it’s a very special thing to observe and to be a part of. Especially when you’ve had … A lot of these women came from either a dance background, or a gymnastics background, not necessarily the kind of stuff we were doing. A lot of the stuff that we did was new to them, it wasn’t like they were familiar with them. They had to learn, and once they’d learnt they had to actually do it, and see it through. It was all a very positive energy that was created just through this learning process, this educational process, this practise process, and I think we all learnt a lot, both about ourselves and about each other. It was amazing to be a part of. The Suicide Squad thing was great because it was my first time building something, and then the Wonder Woman thing was just an extension of that. I knew what was possible, and then being able to really enhance upon that and create this whole new thing, was an amazing thing to be a part of.
Jane Erbacher: I love it. One of my favourite things about everything you’ve said is one of the cores of what you do is to create connection between you and a person, and them and what they’re doing, which is such a powerful gift to give somebody, and I’d be really interested to know have you stayed in touch with people from Suicide Squad that were more on the crew side of things-
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. For sure.
Jane Erbacher: Yeah, and have they continued what you started with them?
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. It’s amazing. Actually one of the producers on the Suicide Squad movie, Sabine, Sabine Graham, she came to me, and she wasn’t particularly happy, the way her training was going, the way she was feeling. Both from a performance standpoint, but also, to a degree, from an aesthetic perspective, as well, and, when I was there, she went through this amazing transformation, this amazing journey, not just in terms of the way she changed physically, but the way that she changed mentally, and what was the most incredible thing, was the effect she started to have on other people. It was like a pay it forward kind of thing. She went through this transformation. Once she’d gone through this transformation, she wrote to me a year later, telling me about the effect she’d had on her children, her friends, all this stuff. She’s now doing all these different Spartan races, and running events in Canada, and affecting other people, and encouraging other people to go on a fitness journey. It was this great … When you have someone like that, who takes it, and just runs with it, and …
Jane Erbacher: Totally. If you’re somebody who’s here that’s driven and motivated by having an impact on others, what better reward for having an impact on others that other people are then having a better life?
Pieter Vodden: Exactly, exactly.
Jane Erbacher: And that’s what it’s all about, which is so great. I always ask everybody that’s on the podcast, at the very end, usually, what they feel their purpose in life is, but, because we’re, kind of, on this tangent right now, I want you to articulate to us, the best you can, what you feel like you’re here to do.
Pieter Vodden: First and foremost as a coach. I love coaching. But, really, I want to build these communities. This Pharos project is going to be the first project, and then we want to continue to grow it. So, really, it’s to affect as many people as possible in this positive way, give them the tools to give themselves a better life, and a better experience, and keep affecting as many people as possible. Then, hopefully, in turn, they will pay it forward, and they will pay it forward, and they will pay it forward, and this whole thing keeps growing.
Jane Erbacher: Where do you think this came from? What has driven you to have this mission, do you feel, or is it just something you think you’ve just always had?
Pieter Vodden: I think I had a very good mother and father, I had a very good family, growing up. My dad instilled this hard work ethic in me. I’ve always been very hardworking, and that comes from him. He was a very hard worker. He was an engineer. My mom, same kind of thing, she worked every day when we were kids, they provided the best life possible for us, so I had really good role models. I just remember, from a very young age, I liked helping people. I remember kids in the playground that were bullied, that were the unpopular kids, I’d side with them, try and protect them, that kind of thing. I always wanted to be this protector and guide, and I don’t really know where it comes from, but I did. Then I think that’s probably what drew me to become a coach and a trainer. Not necessarily because I love fitness, but also because I was always able to build connections with people. I was always able to find a common ground and communicate with people, and find something tangible that you could work with. I think that helped me build connections, and those connections have helped me build a career, essentially.
Two people do the same course, and one person excels, and one person doesn’t excel, I think a lot of the time it comes down to communication, friendships, and the way that you relate to people. For me, I think I’ve always had that skill of like I could find a common ground with someone. Even if you come from different walks of life and different places, if you can find just one piece of common ground that makes you relatable to them, and they can see something of themselves in you, and like you, then vice versa, then you’ve got something to go froward with. I think I’ve always had that, and I continue to be inspired by that. The ambition of making, or the ideal of making someone else’s life just that little bit better, is enough to keep you going, and keep you wanting to build, and keep you driven. It’s an incredible rewarding thing.
Jane Erbacher: It’s the best.
Pieter Vodden: Like we said before, what’s better than giving someone’s day that little bit of happiness, that they may not otherwise have had? And yeah, I think, to a degree, as well, the performance side of things still fascinates me. I’m still fascinated by performance, and strength conditioning as a discipline, so I want to continue to improve as a coach. I know a lot, but I don’t know everything, and I want to continue to learn, and learning still fascinates me. We actually are, currently, working on an educational programme, so, as well as Pharos being a gym, we’re also working on an educational programme to go forward with. Because, essentially, what we have here with me and my business partners, Emy and Jeff, we have this mechanic strength conditioning protocol. Everything is built on a foundation of mechanics, right? So I’m only ever going to be as strong as my mechanics are. My wife, Emylee, is a mechanics specialist. Her whole thing is integration, so how my mobility, and how my mechanical structure can enhance my sports performance. You can take old school yoga, and stretching, and that kind of thing as a basis of it, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s how can I prime my body for the movements that I’m about to do?
At Pharos, we have this repair and prepare kind of system where we prepare people for the work they’re about to do with these sequences, and then we repair from them. And we are only ever going to be as strong as our structure allows. I know from my own staff, my one [inaudible 00:35:36] aren’t necessarily where they need to be. Not because I’m not strong enough, not because of my central nervous system, but because my mechanics aren’t strong enough, and that just comes from years of neglect. Whereas, if I’d have gone through this mechanical correction a lot earlier, my ability would have been a lot better.
Jane Erbacher: Totally. And you can start that now, as in it’s-
Pieter Vodden: And I can start that now. It’s never too late to work on that stuff. We have this mechanical foundation, and then we have an emphasis on strength, because we should all be getting stronger as human beings. That doesn’t have to be in the sense of everybody want to lift a car, but more in the sense of everybody wants to be stronger, because, if you’re stronger, you’re going to have a better life, you’re going to have a longer life. If you have a good degree of muscle mass, if you have strong tissue, you’d have strong ligaments, strong tendons.
Jane Erbacher: And it reduces the risk of injury, like in normal life.
Pieter Vodden: Exactly. Yeah, reduces the risk of injury, healthier, all that stuff with comes with lifting, and performing well, and taking your body through those movements, and being more functional, or whatever term you want to use. Then the conditioning side of it, we also believe in a good deal of conditioning. I think a lot of the time, gyms tend to focus on one or the other. You have those gyms that just focus on strength, which is great. Then you have gyms that are more conditioning biassed. We like to think, again, of ourselves as a hybrid, so we value conditioning hugely, which is why we’ve invested so much money in the SKILLMILLS that we have here from Technogym, the SkiErgs which we love and you love, and the rowers, and the bikes, and all that kind of thing, and we do a lot of running outside.
Jane Erbacher: Those SKILLMILLS are awesome, too.
Pieter Vodden: They are amazing, yeah. So we have a high value on conditioning, as well. We’re currently building this educational programme based on those foundations. We’re going to educate people in mechanics, education people in strength, education people in conditioning, and then education people in how to tie it up altogether, and build this better athlete through those foundations. At the beginning it will start with how we build and train our coaches, and then it will extend into the greater community. But, yeah, that’s an exciting thing for us, because we’re all very, I hate to use the word teachers, but we are all teachers, we love education, and if we find education apparent for us, we know it can be apparent for others. The gym shouldn’t be somewhere you just come, do some shit, and go home.
Jane Erbacher: Exactly, and just do what you’re told.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, it’s somewhere you come and you learn, and through that learning you can then …
Jane Erbacher: Totally. And people get so excited about that, and that’s something I’ve really noticed in the last few months running my Project Row and my Project Ski, is that people want to know why they’re doing what they’re doing. It’s funny, because I think that it just comes out of laziness, that people aren’t educating, because we care enough to know, and the people that come in the door care enough to know, and that’s what’s going to keep them coming, as well, because then they want to keep getting better, too.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I’ve seen it so many times, and I know you have, the empowerment people get from just that little bit of knowledge, and realising that it isn’t rocket science. It’s just a few pointers here and there, like, “This is what you’re doing, and this is why you’re doing it.” The why is important, right?
Jane Erbacher: Yeah, it’s my favourite.
Pieter Vodden: Because a lot of people forget the why. It’s just like, “This is what we’re doing today,” and nobody knows why. But if you can tell them … Me and Jeff sit down to do our programming every week, and our whole thing is, “Okay, what’s our purpose? Why are we doing this? What’s the point of it? What’s the purpose?”
Jane Erbacher: Speaking my language.
Pieter Vodden: Because if we don’t know what the purpose is, then we can’t expect them to know what the purpose is.
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: So we talk about that, and we make sure that the workout fits in with that purpose, and that definition. So, yeah, that’s big part of what we do and what we’re interested in doing. The other thing is with this community, Pharos is … We don’t want fitness to exist in a vacuum. We want it to be part of someone’s life, and how it ties into their other aspirations, so we have this club house at the front where we will have music nights, and film nights, and that kind of thing, so people stop thinking of fitness as a completely separate thing, it’s part of their experience. Just as if they’re an artist, if they’re a painter, if they’re a film buff, if they’re a media guru, whatever they are, it’s all part of the same experience, and it all ties in. I think that’s the beauty of my fasciation with film and training, is it’s all tied in. The art of creating a movie is the same as the art of creating a character. My whole thing with training actors was always … Film is the world of make believe, but if we can build these people in the gym that believe they are strong, and believe they are powerful, and believe they are warriors, or whatever they’re meant to be, then that persona on screen is going to be all the more believable.
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: If you just build … if just put someone in a gym who can’t really do the stuff, and can’t really move, and doesn’t really believe in themselves, then the character on screen is less believable, but if you can give someone that empowerment that when they get on screen they’re going to feel like a million dollars, then they’re going to be all the more believable. Sometimes people get it, and some people don’t. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But that should be the ambition, to make people believe in themselves to a degree that they’re just …
Jane Erbacher: Because why can’t they be?
Pieter Vodden: Because why can’t they be? There’s no reason why they can’t be.
Jane Erbacher: Exactly. It’s amazing your passion oozes out of you, I absolutely love it, but one of my favourite things about you, is that you’re so genuine. You genuinely care so much about whoever it is in front of you, and it’s just amazing, I think it really shouldn’t feel so revolutionary, but it really does, meeting somebody like you, and it’s amazing. Just a tiny bit longer.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, no worries.
Jane Erbacher: One of the interesting things I’ve picked up on, is you said you were an unsuccessful actor, and you came into this career from that, and I think it’s so interesting, like the name of the podcast is Your Revolution, and I talk a lot about people’s turning point in their life, and how you can use a turning point, or a challenge, as a real pre-cursor to success, or failure, and I think it’s amazing that that didn’t work, because part of the reason it probably didn’t work is because your mission in life, and it’s come from a place that you can’t even really define, is to have a positive impact on people.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. I think, for me, there’s been a couple of big, big moments in my life. The first was that transition where I had reached a very unhappy place in my life with all the acting stuff. I was working at a job that I hated, I felt very insecure, I didn’t really know where I was going to go from there, and then the training thing kind of happened, as I said, on somebody else’s suggestion, and, as soon as I went down that road, it was right. Then there was another point in my life where I had to really dig deep and do a lot of soul searching, and embark on what, I now know, is a growth mindset. But, at that time, those definitions weren’t apparent to me, but a growth mindset was everything that happens to you, you can learn from. Whether good or bad, you can learn from it, and grow from it.
From that point, I’ve always had that growth mindset of, “Whatever happens to me, I’m going to take what I can from it, and learn, and grow, and improve.” And that can be really, really hard at times, and it can be very scary, it can be very daunting, it can fill us with insecurities and all these ugly things that exist inside of us, but I kind of reached a point of resilience of … And we’ve all had it at times in our life, when we think everything’s against us, the world’s against us, someone doesn’t-
Jane Erbacher: Why’s it so hard?
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. People don’t want us to succeed, or so and so’s against me, or-
Jane Erbacher: It’s because of them.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. Someone’s trying to ruin my career, or whatever it is, we’ve all been at that point, and we can either sink or we can swim. The whole growth mindset is, “I’m going to be a swimmer.”
Jane Erbacher: Yes.
Pieter Vodden: “There’s no way that this is going to destroy me. There’s no way that this is going to pull me back. I’m going to just take it and grow.” And that’s what I try to do, and, to this point, fingers crossed, it’s going pretty well. But yeah, we’re super excited about the Pharos project. Funny, we’ve kind of touched on this a bit, but I had an interview with a journalist the other day, and she said, “How long have you guys been working on Pharos?” And it’s like, “I think it’s been 10 years.”
Jane Erbacher: Yes.
Pieter Vodden: Because it really is the culmination of all these experiences. Whether it was in Gymbox, back in the UK, whether it was on Suicide Squad, whether it was on Wonder Woman, whether it was everything between, whether it was Emylee’s experiences, whether it was Jeff’s experiences, it’s really everything we’ve learnt in the last 10 years, is going into this space to create this hybrid facility that takes into account people’s needs, people’s feelings, people’s motivation, what people really need to get them engaged in a gym, and to give them an experience that’s fulfilling, meaningful, transformative, all of those positive things. When we started on this project, we all listened to three podcasts a day. Whether it be a business podcast, or whether it be an athletic education podcast, we all went in with-
Jane Erbacher: Covering all bases.
Pieter Vodden: … with our lights switched on, because we need to know this stuff.
Jane Erbacher: 100%
Pieter Vodden: I think, often, the mistake is when you’re a coach, or you’re a trainer, you think it’s all about the training, but it isn’t. If you’re running a business, you’re running a business, and the business has to be successful, and I think a lot of businesses have failed because they thought it was all about the training, and they didn’t consider the business side of things.
Jane Erbacher: And if they just had the best equipment, and they had the best … Yeah.
Pieter Vodden: Exactly, so for us, it was like, “Let’s go in with our eyes open. Let’s really understand the process. Let’s educate ourselves on the business side of things, because we know we can do the training side of things.” But the business side of things needs attention, and it needs to be understood, because, on one side of the equation, you have your principals, and you have what you believe about training, and your ideal facility, and what should happen. Then, the other side of the equation, it’s like, “This has to make money.”
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: LA is an expensive place. This is a big building. If the numbers-
Jane Erbacher: Yeah. A lot of competition of all different things.
Pieter Vodden: A lot of competition. If the numbers don’t add up, the business fails, and you’ve helped nobody.
Jane Erbacher: Totally. Exactly.
Pieter Vodden: In order to continue to help people, you have to consider both sides of the story. Yes, it has to be in line with your principals, your core values, everything you believe in as a coach you have to bring in here. But you also have to realise that, on a daily basis, it has to make money, so you have to do your sums. So, the membership, you have to look at how much will a membership cost? What is the value of that membership? And our thing was, if we … We’re making the membership relatively expensive, but our thing is, let’s just put a shit tonne of value into that membership, because the more value I can add to the membership, the less it feels like a hardship, right.
Jane Erbacher: 100%, yeah. And what’s the price someone’s willing to pay to change their life? This is the thing, this is what I’m always thinking.
Pieter Vodden: It’s relatively … It’s funny, because you go out in LA, and you can spend easy $100 on a meal. Easy, in one night.
Jane Erbacher: Yeah. $50 for parking.
Pieter Vodden: Exactly. For sure. So the cost of a gym membership is relatively low for the experience that you get, and the effect it has on your life. Because how much effect did that one meal have on your life? Not much.
Jane Erbacher: Exactly. And alcohol, or-
Pieter Vodden: How much effect can the gym have?
Jane Erbacher: Yeah, exactly.
Pieter Vodden: Or alcohol, or any of it?
Jane Erbacher: It is only a dollar to park near here, I’ve found.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, Echo Park’s cheap to park in.
Jane Erbacher: It’s perfect.
Pieter Vodden: It’s true. What is the cost relative to the value it adds to your life? And I guarantee, it isn’t much. And it can be, especially if people aren’t used it, they walk into a gym for the first time, and they don’t really understand what it is, or what it can do for you. They just think it’s going to give me some abs, or something, that kind of thing, then yeah, it seems expensive, but if you consider what it genuinely does for you on a daily basis, and how it positively impacts your life, and what that can lead to in your own life, your own journey, then it’s relatively cheap.
Jane Erbacher: And Pharos is a culmination, like you just said, of yours, and Emylee, and Jeff’s learning experiences your entire life. You said the last 10 years, but it’s like what price is that? That’s who you’re training with, that’s who has created this community.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. I mean, neither of us went on a weekend course then opened a gym.
Jane Erbacher: Exactly.
Pieter Vodden: This has been a, like we said, a lifelong enterprise of education, experience, and, like I said, we have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge from other people’s excellence. Whether it be across a cross fit gym, whether it be Gym Jones, whether it be a Globo Gym, a lot of these people have done things very well, and done things right, and we’ve had the privilege and the fortune of learning from them.
Jane Erbacher: But you’ve opened your eyes up to learning from them, you’re not too proud to.
Pieter Vodden: Exactly, I’m not too proud to, and, like I said before, people can be very dismissive of other people’s projects, or other people’s values, or the way that people do things.
Jane Erbacher: But it’s worked for a reason.
Pieter Vodden: But it’s worked for a reason, and it has value, and you have to draw value from what they’ve done. A lot of positives can be drawn from those projects that have come before us, and we’re very lucky to have seen that, to have witnessed that, and have experiences in that.
Jane Erbacher: It’s so exciting, because I am like, “I have to move to LA and train here.” I’m so excited by you, and I’m so excited being in this space with everything that you are doing, and I cannot wait. We were talking right before the podcast about what you want to be doing in six months, and 12 months, and everything with Pharos, and I think it’s really great, because so many people I talk to that are in the process of, or have just opened, a gym, they open their gym and then they go, “Haa, it’s done,” and you’d find it perfectly with a growth mindset. You’re like, “How is everything that I’m doing going to help me grow, even more?”
Pieter Vodden: Yeah, for sure. “How can I continue to learn from this process? How can I continue to grow as a person?” I think we’re all in that mindset. Our ambition isn’t just to open a gym, it never was. It’s a brand, but it’s not just the brand that’s sits on its hind legs, it’s a brand that wants to continue to educate itself, to grow, to improve, to help, and that’s the way we’ll move forward. Always growing, learning, educating, helping, just always seeking, always moving forward. The whole Pharos thing came from … It was the first lighthouse. Pharos Island in ancient Egyptian times, and when we first opened the gym, everyone was like, “Oh, pharaohs. Pharaohs.” It’s like, “No, no it’s not pharaohs. [inaudible 00:50:53] pharaohs. It’s Pharos, it’s the Pharos island, it’s the lighthouse.” Because we had this image of the lighthouse, in our heads, of being in that kind of guide. That guide is either helping people on their journey, or helping people come back. So, that was our thing, we wanted to be that lighthouse. And then, as you’ll see, the way that we’ll present social media and the website, and all that thing, going forward, you’ll see more and more imagery of this lighthouse thing. The light that comes with the natural light with the building.
Jane Erbacher: Yeah. It’s perfect.
Pieter Vodden: Because there’s this huge analogy, for us, with light, and knowledge, and experience, and we want it to be that influence in people’s life, the lightness coming through. It’s funny that whole Pharos, pharaohs, Pharos, and we were like, “Oh my God,” to the point where we almost changed it, because we’re just tired of people seeing pharaohs.
Jane Erbacher: Didn’t want any confusion.
Pieter Vodden: But it’s Pharos, it’ll stay Pharos now. I think, like with anything, as you grow as a company, and you become more and more well known and successful, it will become Pharos, and people will know it’s Pharos.
Jane Erbacher: Totally.
Pieter Vodden: In the beginning, you feel like you have to re-educate people all the time, [crosstalk 00:52:03].
Jane Erbacher: Totally, and you don’t always want to be explaining things, but, do you know what? What a cool story it actually is. Even in a correction of pronunciation, you get to talk about what your mission is, which opens it up. Whereas, if it was a word that people knew exactly the meaning and everything, you wouldn’t have that conversation.
Pieter Vodden: For sure. It’s a powerful image for me, because I grew up on an island. The Isle of Wight, in the UK, and one of the main images of the island is the lighthouse, because an island has lighthouses all around it to protect the ships coming in and out, so, growing up, it was always paramount in my mind, and then, when I was on the island a few years ago, it came back into my consciousness, and when it came back into my consciousness, I started this blog in the UK, called The Lighthouse, and it reached a connection with Jeff, who said, “What about this whole lighthouse thing?” And then we found Pharos, he found Pharos, and we then we were like, “Okay, it’s Pharos,” and that was that. Pharos was the first lighthouse, this is the first gym, this is the first Pharos.
Jane Erbacher: I love it. It is so great. It is so incredible to meet you. I love hearing everything that you had to see, and I’m so excited to see what you do.
Pieter Vodden: Thank you. Well, you too, I’m so thrilled to see everything that you’re doing, and it’s very inspirational to see other coaches doing these amazing things, and travelling so much, and I think, from what I see of your projects, it’s the same kind of thing. You’re travelling the world to help people, and I think that’s incredible. Like I said, it inspires me to continue to learn, and to continue to get better. I’m somewhat envious of your travelling, because I used to travel all the time, and, now I have this space, I can’t travel as much, anymore.
Jane Erbacher: Don’t worry, I’m envious of this, so we can do a little trade for a few months.
Pieter Vodden: We’ll trade at some point.
Jane Erbacher: It’s so great. Thank you so much.
Pieter Vodden: Pleasure. Anytime.
Jane Erbacher: Thank you, everyone, for listening. Oh, one more thing, I want to know how people can work with you. Tell us where Pharos is, and tell us if there’s any capacity that people have to work with you if they’re not in LA, or if they can just drop in when they’re visiting, because I know a lot of people visit.
Pieter Vodden: Sure. Yeah, we love people dropping in, we love to see you here. We are in Echo Park, in Los Angeles. We’re at 1316 Glendale. You can check us out on Instagram at @pharosechopark. Or you can check out my personal Instagram @pvtlighthouse. You can check out our website, www.jointhepac.fit. Just hit us up. We’d love to see you. We’d love you to drop in at Echo Park, or reach us online if you’re interested in remote prep programming, or need any help with anything. We’re always happy to help.
Jane Erbacher: And one of the first things that struck me is, when I walked in the door, how welcoming everybody here was. Everybody came up, introduced themself, there was … By no means was I an imposition, and I did go into Equinox this morning, because it was right next door to my hotel, and I did not stay long, because it was very interesting, because the people there were just like I was an annoyance to them. And we’ve talked it before in terms of how intimidating a fitness space is, and whether you’re intimidated or not, I still get extremely intimidated going into fitness space, even though I’ve worked in the industry for, probably, 15 years now, and this was not like that.
Pieter Vodden: Yeah. For sure. I mean we said from the outset … I mean in the beginning it’s, obviously me, Jeff, and Emylee are pretty much here all the time, and it’s kind of our baby, so we’re very upbeat about it, obviously, but, in conservations we have about potential employees, we’re always like, “We would rather hire good people, than excellent, really well qualified coaches,” because, to us, it starts with a good person, because a good person you can teach stuff to, you know that they’ll grow, you know that, like you said, when someone walks in the door they’re going to be nice, they’re going to be friendly, and you can really work with that good person, and educate them, and improve them. Whereas, if someone comes in, they’re the best coach in the world but they’ve got a terrible attitude, it’s very hard to change that.
Jane Erbacher: Totally. Don’t care about people. I hear what you’re saying.
Pieter Vodden: Very hard to change that. Our whole thing is hire good people, who are good on the inside, and then help them grow.
Jane Erbacher: Educate them. I love it. You’re the best. Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you everyone for listening.