Interview with Todd Durkin

Todd Durkin, the guy that I often refer to as the Tony Robbins of the fitness industry. I mean, Todd works with high profile clientele, professional athletes from just about every sport. He’s one of the most influential people in our industry. Clearly recognized trainer of the year, speaks on the Perform Better Tour, speaks everywhere.


His gym is really my favorite gym I’ve ever visited, Fitness Quest 10. Recognized in Men’s Health as one of America’s top 10 gyms each and every year, and well deserved. Above all else, Todd is an influencer, he’s a leader, he’s a guy that’s making our industry better.

Todd’s Backstory


I believe that everyone has a life worth telling a story about. Whether someone’s just starting out in this great industry of ours, or they’ve been a seasoned veteran of 20-25 years plus like myself who’s certainly had their shares of lumps and bruises and bumps along the way. I kind of got into the fitness and sports performance training industry by mistake. I was always an athlete. I always loved fitness. I always loved sports. As a matter of fact, I played professional football overseas. I was a quarterback and it was there in 1995 that I blew out my back. Herniated three discs, spinal stenosis and degenerative back disease. Left me motionless on the football field.


I went on this five-year journey to try to heal my back pain without having surgery. I already had my undergraduate degree in kinesiology from William and Mary and my massage therapy background from a school down in Atlanta, Georgia where I went in one of my off seasons. I really dove deep into what my purpose was, because since the time I was five years old I just wanted to play football in the NFL, and now it wasn’t an option any longer. Low and behold, I sought out all these gurus and healers and doctors and chiros and physical therapists and massage therapists, yogis, you name it, I tried it. That led me to eventually moving from the east coast of New Jersey all the way out to LA where I became a massage therapist and personal trainer to someone in Hollywood. Discovered that despite living in Malibu and working with all the stars, that’s not what really ultimately made my heart happy.


“I never knew I wanted to open a business, I just knew I wanted to help people.”


I went to grad school at San Diego State in the late ’90s, got my Master’s degree in Biomechanics and Sports Medicine and it was there that I was able to create my dream of opening my own studio. I had no clue what the heck I was doing. Literally, no clue. I just knew I wanted to help people, and it was January of 2000 to be exact when I started Fitness Quest 10. I was fortunate enough to have a mentor that I had met by chance to help me with some of the early lessons I learned like negotiate three-months rent free when you get the keys so it can help you start up business. That’s when things got started.


The first few months I remember I was in phenomenal shape because I had no clients. I literally had zero clients when I started, so I was working out, like, four hours a day. I was training myself and thinking, “How am I going to get clients in the door to eventually pay rent?” Fortunately I got a few clients and that started to allow me to pay the bills. It was a very scary time for me because I never knew I wanted to open a business, I just knew I wanted to help people. Sixteen years later, Fitness Quest 10 is now operating at a very high level. We have 38 employees. We have 18 strength coaches, massage therapy, Pilates, chiropractors, physical therapists, yoga, nutrition, and a host of other opportunities. It’s been quite a journey in the 16 years that I started Fitness Quest 10 and all the great experiences along the way.

From Start-Up to a Well-Regarded Business


Our team has grown, certainly the number of clients and members that we work with have grown and our opportunities have grown. I think a lot of our core values that I set have remained the same. One thing that I have always been true to is to stay passionate and love what I do, and really, truly care for people. That’s a mantra of mine and always has been. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. It’s now even more important than when I started, because there’s times when I don’t know every single client that comes into Fitness Quest 10. We serve over 500 people a week, and there are a lot of sessions going on.


The culture here is to be a caring, positive, and energetic environment. When I started Fitness Quest 10, that’s how we built it. There were no fancy marketing efforts. It was nothing except pure serving people, truly and caring for people. Going above and beyond to serve them to make sure that they got the results that they wanted. It just so happened that I set some intentions in 2001, I wanted to train more athletes. That’s when I became the sports massage therapist to the Chargers. That’s when I met LaDainian Tomlinson. LaDainian brought in Drew Brees. Then in the athlete market, it’s word of mouth. People always ask me how I got started with the athletes. It was because of an intention.


“I think that comes around when you really serve people and you do everything you can to make people happy and to put smiles on their faces.”


Then the 2,000 square feet grew to 3,000 square feet. Then six years into business I had the intention of opening “my world class training facility”, and we did that. We had a half-million-dollar expansion so where we live right now is 8,000 square feet. It’s split, we still have our original 3,000 square feet and now we have our 5,000 square foot space that’s located about 125 steps away, I’ve counted them many times. The roots is where we started 16 years ago and in 2006 and ’07 when we expanded, is where we do a lot of our performance training and a lot of the other aspects of our business.


It’s always been under the ideals that we have to truly care for people. My team has to be made up of ones that have hearts, that care for people. If we’re in it for altruistic reasons, then it’s the right reason. Yes, I want people to have a career. I want us all to generate the type of money that they want, but I think that comes around when you really serve people and you do everything you can to make people happy and to put smiles on their faces.


It’s interesting we have all these technological devices, heart rate monitors, My Zone and the Polar Training Zone. All these things I believe in and love, but we don’t have a parameter to measure the number of smiles that we put on people’s faces. That truly is going to dictate the experience that a client, customer, or member has in a facility. That’s truly what’s important. If we can get the physiological results and change one’s body fat and inches and body weight, along with how one feels, then I believe we’ve captured someone for life and that we can truly change their world.

Best Part of Their Day


I think it’s important for any fitness professional to remember that when people come into your business for the first time, they’re intimidated, they’re scared. I mean, as a fitness professional, this is our comfort zone. We’re used to being in weight rooms. We’ve been around weight rooms our whole life. When someone is overweight or they have low self-esteem or they don’t feel good about themselves or they’re fighting disease, when they walk in, it’s not very comforting for them, it’s not their comfort zone.


I study world class brands, I truly study them. I visit them, I stay at them, I read books on them. When I come in contact with a person that runs a world class brand I do everything I can to pick their brain about what makes that place world class. How do you deliver customer service in an exceptional way on a consistent basis? Especially initially when people are intimidated or scared to come in. In the gym business, that’s something that we have to be really, really aware of because if they look intimidated or they look fit, people are judging you. We have training and we train our system.


“If we can get the physiological results and we can change certainly one’s body fat and inches and body weight, along with how one feels, then I believe we’ve captured someone for life and that we can truly change their world.”


I jokingly call Fitness Quest 10 the magic kingdom of all gyms. I jokingly say that, but I also love studying Disney and I love studying Ritz-Carltons and I love studying Nordstrom and Starbucks. What makes these operations operate at such a high level? It’s the experience that they have. How do I fire up my team of 38 people on a consistent basis, regardless of what’s going on in their personal lives, to come into Fitness Quest 10, with a smile on their face, even if you’re not feeling great that day? There are literally things that we do to help drive that. Today, I had a guest in one of my classes from Atlanta. He had heard about Fitness Quest 10, came in and had an amazing experience. He took my class, had a massage therapy session and then he was on his way. He commented on just what a positive experience he had.


Our directors of first impression at the front desk truly set the tone from the start when they gave him a tour and had a small interface asking him about who he was and why he’s here. Of course, he had a great workout and a great session because our trainers and our fitness staff and therapists are all world class. It takes time and effort by the leaders of an organization to install systems and to reinforce systems and to give feedback on systems. I think the best of the best businesses have systems, and they continually update and provide feedback on their systems.

Becoming a Global Presence


The landscape is different today than it was back in the year 2000. Even back in 2007, 2008 before the economy changed, before there were smartphones and before there was all of the social media that exists now. It’s much easier to reach out to people and connect people beyond your zip code.


I want to clarify and emphasize, you do not need to be a brick and mortar owner to create success today. You don’t need to do that. I would say as a matter of fact, you must know that it’s your purpose. You want to have a gym or you want to be a brick and mortar owner if you truly want to have a gym, because it is a full time job. You have to know that you have every passion in your bone that you want to do everything that you need to do to make that place successful. The competition is much, much keener today than it was even five years ago, let alone 10 or 15 years ago. We’re in a much different landscape today.


Fitness Quest 10 is all I emphasized and focused on for the first six or seven years of my life. Then I had more speaking opportunities, and Todd Durkin Enterprises grew as a result of the growth of our brick and mortar. I got busy. I got so busy that I started hiring more people and more and more people. I still got busy, I’d raised my rates, still got busier. I had a lot of inquiries from trainers because of the athletes I was working with, so I created a seven set sports performance DVD.


“You have to know that you have every passion in your bone that you want to do everything that you need to do to make that place successful.”


I started a three set video series on optimal performance bodywork, which is a form of bodywork that I learned from my mentors Double E, who taught zen body therapy, Rolfing, structural integration, Feldenkrais, and energy work. My optimal performance bodywork DVDs were some of my earliest ones, and I started to see that I could scale my message beyond just my brick and mortar here in San Diego and started to do workshops.


The first workshop I ever did had five people at it, and three of them were employees. Basically, I had two people at my first workshop. Sometimes people think you’ve got to be on the platform on Perform Better or Idea to be successful. I’d say start in your own studio or facility. Even if you’re not the owner and maybe you’re in your 20’s or 30’s or you’re green in the field and you want to get going, just start serving your existing people and being a hero in your own community. Watch what happens, because then if you want to, you can always create programs, products, coaching programs, manuals, whatever it may be that really is aligned with your purpose. That’s how it happened for me. It was very organic.


Fitness Quest 10, which is still my anchor, 70% of the business comes here in the sanctuary at Fitness Quest 10. I do a lot of work through Todd Durkin Enterprises now. All my speaking, all my education. I do 40 speaking events a year worldwide. I run a mastermind group with a couple hundred trainers, which is just a virtual way for me to continually coach coaches to greatness. I have my live mentorship once a year, which is a very deep immersion in business, leadership, and personal development. I really, really study personal development.


I always say that you can only take a client on a journey as far as you’ve taken yourself. How far have you taken yourself? How deep have you gone into yourself to really make sure that you are your best. Whatever your potential is, I believe there is always more in the tank than you even think or that you know of. The mentorship is designed to get the most out of you and to discover your deepest purpose so that you could live with passion, and then create the maximum impact that you want. That’s the organic growth of Fitness Quest 10 and Todd Durkin Enterprises. We’ve got some exciting things on the horizon in the next three years.


Key Points to Build an Ideal Business


I think when we look at success and we look at significance, I’m always searching for significance. I think success is fleeting and dangerous. We want to be successful, but I always ask, “Am I being significant? Am I making a difference in other people’s lives?”


There’s some key points that I try to heed attention to. Number one is, do things that move your soul. As matter of fact, what are the five things that most move your soul? Are you busy doing the right types of things? I know for me, I have identified the five things that most move my soul. When an opportunity comes along, if it serves one of those five things then I say yes. If it’s not related to what I want out of life, it doesn’t really move my spirit, then I’m not going to do that.


“I always say that you can only take a client on a journey as far as you’ve taken yourself.”


For example, I love training. I love being in the trenches. I love coaching people. I love leading. I love leading my team. I love leading classes. I love being a leader in the industry. I love the leadership role. I love to write, it moves my soul. I love speaking. When I’m on a platform I study it. I don’t just get up there and I’m not prepared. I study how I can be the best to move someone’s emotions when I’m up on a platform to get the most out of someone to say, “Today is the day for me to take action. Today is the day that I’m going to align my purpose with my passion.”


The last thing, the thing that I love to do that moves my spirit is family time. I’ve got a wife and three kids that I’ve got to prioritize because I work seven days a week in my business because I love working all the time, but I also love my family time. Any of the five things; training, leading, writing, speaking, or family time, when the opportunities come, if they relate to those five things, the answer would be yes. Otherwise, I say no.


Identify the things that most move your spirit. Otherwise you’ll be doing things that you hate to do. One that’s related to that is, do what you do best and hire the rest. If you get so bogged down in things that you don’t love to do, you lose your passion and your energy wanes and then you don’t feel great.


Learn every day. If I was to add a third thing, number one, the five things that move your soul. Two is do what you do best and hire the rest. Three is learn every day, and that could be reading a book for 30 minutes or it could be listening to a podcast. Possibly you get one thing out of listening to a podcast. Part of my rule is, I’m going to spend at least 30 minutes every day learning.


Next, attend live events every year. I say attend two live events. One in the industry and one outside of the industry. Another one, get more mellow yellow time and blue sky time. Mellow yellow time is when you’re away from work. I call the time when you’re working green machine, that’s when you’re making money. Mellow yellow time is when you’re traveling. All your big ideas come when you’re away from the trenches. When you’re out in the mountains and you’re hiking or you’re skiing, or you’re on the beach and you’re going for a run or you’re working out.


“I study how I can be the best to move someone’s emotions when I’m up on a platform to get the most out of someone”


Your blue sky time is your strategy time. That’s when you sit down with a mentor, your mastermind group or by yourself and map out where you’re going. Another point is to reverse engineer your life. You have to strategize for your life. When you’re part of a mastermind group or a coaching group, then you have a select number of people that are like-minded. It’s like fertile soil and they can help you build your dream. Get your mellow yellow time, get your blue sky time. Be part of a mastermind group. Get out and get strategy time, and then be willing to take action.


A couple more I would just add in, because I’m a big list guy, is to work on your leadership. Maybe you’re a one man or a one woman show, you still have to work on your leadership. When you look at your team, and your team can certainly consist right now of your accountant, possibly your attorney, your spouse. Your spouse is part of your team, you need to communicate to your spouse.


If you happen to have a team like I have a team, you have employees or independent contractors, it is absolutely critical in our industry that you set expectations. Trainers need expectations and they need feedback. Sole-preneurs or entrepreneurs or managers of a fitness facility typically fail if they don’t set expectations and they don’t give feedback. Maybe you’re not comfortable giving feedback because you think you’re going to hurt someone’s feelings. If you want a winning organization you must give feedback, because feedback’s the breakfast of champions. Everyone needs feedback, and when you get that, when you get the feedback, that allows for you to improve.


Fitness Quest 10. We all strive for perfection in our health and our wellness and our life.


I want you to identify your best practices in life, and adhere to them. I write, I know what all my best practices are. For example, I don’t turn my phone on in the morning until my early morning routine is done. My holy hour, my early morning time is critical. I don’t check e-mail, I don’t turn on my phone. I don’t Tweet, I don’t Instagram or Facebook. All of those things I love to do, but it never happens, ever happens, before I get my morning routine done. That allows me to control the day instead of the day controlling me.


I know what I need to eat. Trainers, we need to make sure that we’re in the best shape of our lives. We need to eat world class, and I mean that. This is a wake-up call for a lot of us fit pros. Think about, how can you tweak your routine to make yourself more world class? To make yourself more like a pro athlete?


“If you want a winning organization you must give feedback, because feedback’s the breakfast of champions.”


I happen to train pro athletes and lead athletes, as well as fitness enthusiasts. I want to be in as good of shape as they are. I might not run as fast as I used to or jump as high as I used to. I can still talk a mean game and I can talk smack, and I’m going to train as hard as I used to. Intensity is intensity, and I’ve got a list of best practices. My challenge to you guys as fitness pros, is do whatever it takes to make sure that you live your best practices, and always, always do your best to live those out.


Then I’ll end with, my word is impact. Impact is an acronym. Live inspired, Master your craft, Play at world class. Play at world class is a mindset, so get your mind right. A is take Action on anything that you learn if you get a great idea, if you don’t take action, it’s just an idea. Everyone has a great idea. Everyone wants to be great. Everyone wants to look good. Everyone wants to feel great. Are you going to do the little things that it takes? Are you going to cut out the bad habits that you need to cut out, whatever they are? Whatever you want to change, then change it. Take action. C is Condition for greatness, and then be Tenacious.


There’s a laundry list of habits, things I would advise there. These are just lessons, I am not perfect. I have made more mistakes and learned a lot of lessons than most people. I guess that just means I’ve been around a lot longer, too.