As a distinguished observer of the human condition, I can say with certainty that Matt D’Amico, head lifestyle engineer at The BodyLab, is one of the most interesting men I’ve ever encountered. He has this innate ability to tune into what is happening in the mind of a person—especially if that person happens to be exercising. He’ll see one of his clients, exhausted, fumbling with his shoelace or looking around to see if other people are still going and he’ll answer the question, snap you out of it. He’s extraordinarily quick-witted and maybe has ADD. He’s too good looking, but he’s not a meathead, a bro or a pretty boy. He’ll dress up in jean shorts or a unicorn sleeveless hoodie just because it’s funny. He’s in on the joke that is his stereotype.
I hear things. I wonder stuff. So, I cornered the infamous Denver fitness freak to grill him in what has resulted in an epic transcription. I mean, I know him. I know my results. I know his finesse. But, what about all of those years at the Anti-Gym and what about that Coors Original commercial? Someone had to settle it. So, after hours of interviews and six months of direct contact, here’s what I’ve figured out.
Matt D’Amico is not some average mammal (his word, not mine). He’s the guy who measures pain by how it compares to a wire brush up his ass—a life-shaping metaphor delivered to him by his granddaddy. If he was a movie director, he’d be James Cameron. I bet his next career will be as an experimental sketch comic. He’ll sign off on just about anything that constitutes having a good time, but he knows what matters–like his wife and kids.
His course to Denver’s fitness hall of fame wasn’t a straight line—just another fake award from another hypothetical institution (if pressed, you will find that he has many). D’Amico is the fittest person D’Amico knows. Making light of the fact that the Tough Mudder isn’t about winners and losers, D’Amico “won” it, just like he did the Presidential fitness test as a kid and just like he does his own BodyLab fitness tests.
Originally from Colorado, D’Amico grew up in Houston, went to the Air Force Academy for college until he went AWOL (see the story below), transferred schools, worked on a trade floor and was even a slave to house music (maybe still is?). He found himself in Denver in 2005 when he met Michael Karolchyk after watching, with fascination, the corporate types around him spiking their weight for years. The two of them partnered for the Anti-Gym. At first, the establishment was effective and its marketing, just funny. But, it took a turn from being edgy—throwing cupcakes at people much in the same way the trainers at BodyLab tease me and maybe not someone else—to going to what most people considered an inexcusable extreme. Lucky for BodyLabbers, D’Amico wanted to do his own thing anyway. And, it didn’t come without some trepidation. “Can I still be as risky, as edgy? The switch definitely caused me to think. But, if I come off as a pussy in this interview, it will be worse than pissing someone off,” he says. And so, there you have it. D’Amico will be true to himself. And, as was the case with the Anti-Gym, The BodyLab is a place where, ultimately, you’ll just have to try it for yourself—that is, if you make the cut.
So, what was up with the Anti-Gym?At the end of the day, I’m unapologetic for all of that. People seem to want to have an
aplogy. The people who got rubbed the wrong way by that, it’s because of their own shit, like everything else in life. It hit a nerved. It
was so honest. Good, bad, indifferent. What Michael and I came up with works. It’s like saying the people at Nike are idiots. I don’t run on their shoes, but it’s a good company. That’s how the Anti-Gym is. Awesome product, but the marketing shit is silly.
What did you always want to be when you grew up, as a child? At eleven years old, I wanted to be a Navy SEAL. I was an all-American kid. Stallone, Schwarzenegger and all those movies—that’s where the working out came in. My cousin, who was five years older than me, got into body building, and I thought it was the coolest thing. I always won the Presidential fitness test. I watched movies and read books about service academies. […] I was in a right-wing Christian environment. I was ultra-fit, in student council and went to the Air Force Academy for school—I wanted to be a special ops guy. When I got there, I was like, What the fuck am I doing here? I got in because people told me I couldn’t. Then, it was like, Now you gotta go, ’cause it’s a huge honor. By the end of two years, I didn’t know what I was doing there. I was looking around at these guys like, Damn, you guys have been quoting Top Gun every day since you’ve seen it and clearly want to do this for the rest of your life… So, I totally went AWOL—I was supposed to shadow an officer base in Florida. I took a government van unauthorized, picked up two of my friends, drove to Pananma City, called my dad and told him I am gonna stay at this hotel and I’m gonna use the credit card. I blew a shit load of cash, met girls, got a hotel on the beach. The military police came after me, flew me back, sat me down and said, “We aren’t going to kick you out, but you don’t get a car junior year, every weekend you have to be in military uniform in your dorm with the door open, you have to do 150 tours and do 300 hours marching in the square.” I just said no. Then, transferred to Texas A&M. The truth is, I’m not military and I’m not special ops. The more I hung out with those guys, the more I realized it was just a different breed. I’m super fit and I’m sure I could kill someone if I had to—but I’m looking to joke around. The military thing…I was just naive about it. In 1997, I heard about power trading—that’s when Enron was blowing up; guys in their twenties were making $500k, $750k + a year. So, I got myself in line to get the right degree for that. I went to the trade floor after school—commodities trading. I traveled, loved the boondoggles, watching the rise and fall of Enron.
What inspired The BodyLab schtick of Laboratory, Lifestyle Engineer, etc? The theme appeals to our clientele. It’s the academic style. It’s the type of thing that resonates with them—data, science, objectivity, education—the place being empirical.
What makes The BodyLab different than other personal-training only gyms? I wanna work with well-equipped people. So, it’s a highly structured program and we do hard work. The workout is going to be intense, complex and interesting. Trainers get complacent with people and just train the same shit over and over again. I’ve never met a trainer—outside of The BodyLab—where the workouts change as frequently. There’s a lot more planning in our approach. It’s a one-of-a-kind group dynamic that you can’t get in a one-on-one lesson or two-on-one. We do a small group, no larger than six. This builds momentum and community—there’s competition and nobody wants to be the one holding up the workout. It differs from boot camps ’cause the group is no bigger than a handful of people. With twenty people, you have to have simple movements. Basically, it’s Chipotle versus Capitol Grill. And, everything else about The Lab doesn’t exist anywhere else. Having said all that, Let’s just assume that the general population won’t be able to see the difference between BodyLab’s workouts and other places’, the accountability aspect of The Lab is completely different. You think other gyms or trainers actually care if you show up? They are happy to sign you up and bill your card. At The Lab, the whole point is holding people accountable for their decisions, for showing up. That’s what I’ve worked on for the past seven years. If a client doesn’t show up for a workout or turn in their meal plans, they will hear from us.
What inspires you? When someone can take an idea from cradle to grave and execute it. Other entrepreneurs and leaders, obviously; rebels pushing the status quo; people like Dogfish Head who can take an industry and turn it inside out. My business partner–I admire his expertise in his field, but he is the most morally and ethically focused business person I know (and I’ve seen the worst). And, of course, my wife. I respect her so much, she’s such an impressive person. It’s amazing to have her as my partner.
What is your favorite part of a day? A week? My alarm goes off at 3:05 a.m., I get out of bed and get my coffee going and I’m psyched. I’m laughing about something I’m gonna say to my clients. I’ve heard that it’s called the hour of the rat, from 2-4 a.m., when your creativity peaks. I bang out some emails on the step mill, and from 5 AM-1PM, I’m with clients, training. I love those people. I love those groups. I run through fifty people in a day, which is fucking unheard of. For a trainer, the most you can run through is twelve, if you don’t take a shit or a lunch. […] Evenings, weekends with my kiddos, I’ve actually learned to turn work off. It’s a great balance—being a business owner is running a marathon. I have an on and off pattern. I try to leave my phone in the car and my computer off when I’m with my family—it’s really healthy for me. But, the operative word there is try.
Every six weeks, your clients have to take a fit test. What’s that about?There’re people who want to cover their bases, they
want more proof than just looking better and smaller pants. It allows my clients to hold me accountable, too.
What is your number one pet peeve as a trainer? As a business owner? Anyone questioning the program. The critics. I meet so many people that are saying, The BodyLab is cool, but this should be done better. I’m not talking about the critic who counts. I love to learn and grow from bright people who’ve proven themselves. But, if you don’t have a track record and you’re picking my business apart? You don’t know shit.
How do you keep the balance of extreme trainer guy and regular guy who does regular things? It’s easy for me. I wear different hats, but I’m the same guy. As a trainer, I’m just a silly, highly caffeinated, extra bizarre version of myself.
Does it feel like a performance? It does feel like performance—there’s thought put into it and it’s planned. Intellectual people are easily bored and want to be entertained… It’s shock value. It’s breaking monotony.
Can you tell when someone is having a break through? Can you tell when someone’s about to quit? Totally. I can read people in this business. From the moment they walk in the door, I know if they’ll sign up, and I know if they’ll be one of those two types of people. I can tag people—80 percent of the time, I’m 100 percent accurate on saying this person is going to do well or not. We turn people away, because we know we know they’re self-sabotaging. This isn’t jail—this is the ivy league of fitness products. People who come here are ready to do the work. If you want to rebel, you’re not going to get results in the program.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job? When a client loses twenty pounds and says he hasn’t weighed this since he played rugby—and people chiming in on Facebook telling him how great he looks. It’s amazing to me, ’cause some of the dudes in here wouldn’t train with anyone else. They are a certain way. Like a rocker, a smoker, egomaniacs (it takes one to coach one)—the people who don’t fit the workout molds, they have a different set of interests, real into…whatever, workaholoics.
Are you competitive? Ultra competitive. […] I have that switch where I have no governor. I never shut it down. I think, I’ve been through worse, I probably won’t die. The human body is impressive… I was the guy waking up before school to do workouts. It’s my wiring. Among my friends, I’m the least successful. When you’re that weird growing up, you find other weirdos. You say to your friend, “I like to get up at 4 a.m. and swim for an hour,” and the ones that stuck were like, “Me too.” It’s an ingredient.
Are you friends with your clients? Yeah, definitely. Yup. It makes sense with everything I talked about—wanting to work with people like me that I like that I relate to. Naturally, they will be my friends—eight out of 10 of them.
Ever play Cupid in a BodyLab love connection? Yeah, that was the joke for a while. It seemed like for a while, I was doing it quite a bit. I’ve set up a date for a certain time and place many times. Networking—business or dating—I think about how I could formalize it…
What’s your favorite BodyLab costume? Why do you do it?I love the old school ’80s zumba pants, tight-rolled at the bottom
with the fanny pack, a skinny tank top, permed wig. I want a legitimate piece that has people wondering, Is that his real hair? You would’ve thought I found a box of cash when I found that tight-perm wig.
What sort of boss do you think you are? I don’t like to think of myself as a boss. I don’t feel like the people are my employees. That’s job-talk. I’m the owner, and those are my team members. There’s a fair amount of ambiguity. People who don’t do well are the people who don’t do well with that. I give my team a shit load of rope to implement thier ideas, as long as they can get their ideas done. As long as it makes sense. Working for me, you probably feel that I take it very seriously and you don’t want to fuck up. I’m a very straight talker—this is why, this is what, don’t do it again. I’m gonna call them out, but I’m not like some of these guys that pout or hold grudges. I don’t take things personally. This is business, so let’s move on. If you enjoy that, you love working with me… And, just when you think it’s getting serious, I’ll bust something screwy out. It’s nice to make people laugh. It’s one of my best skills.
What’s next? What’s coming up? I can’t really answer any questions about this yet, but I’m getting ready to launch a food product in Denver.
Intriguing… When can we look for it? Later this year, I’ll likely have some samples. You’ll heart about it. I’ll market the shit out of it.
What’s the best way for someone to find out if The Bodylab is a good fit? You gotta hit the website, Facebook and yelp! Spend ten minutes on each—then you’re good to go. It’s formal on the website, Facebook gives you a feel for the community and yelp! let’s you hear what clients think.
Laura Standley is the editor in chief of 303 Magazine. She’s been blogging about fitness since January 2011. To read her past blog posts, click here.