Josef Brandenburg of True 180 Personal Training Talks Growing Up the Fat Kid, Staying Motivated and
Updated: Mar 27, 2019
What made you decide to get into fitness?
One summer when I was eight years old, my parents sent me to a local summer camp. While playing a game of baseball, my campmates started singing “Wild Thing” at me—but they changed the words to “Blubber Thing.” My initial motivation was to solve my own problem. After many, many years something completely unexpected happened: someone asked me for help with their fitness.
So you didn’t play sports growing up?
Not if I could help it! I would pretend not to be home when my neighbor needed someone to play basketball with. I was clumsy and easily exhausted because I carried around so much extra weight. Even on the days when there were no other kids to play with, my neighbor would still make fun of me for being fat and terrible at basketball.
How long have you been a personal trainer? What made you decide to open your own gym?
I’ve been a trainer since 1998. My wife Natillie and I have been owning/operating fitness studios since 2009.
The average personal trainer only lasts in the profession for 18 months, because most commercial gyms are, honestly, horrible places to work. These gyms require trainers to work for minimum wage (or less) from 5-9 a.m. and then come back to work from 5-9 p.m. Many folks don’t know that the gym staff competes with each other for clients while enduring a new manager every three months. Furthermore, there’s typically no unifying philosophy (ask five trainers the same question and get five different answers) and a void of continuing education.
So, when we started our first training studio in Washington, D.C., we set out to create a place for trainers to work that, frankly, didn’t suck.
What’s different about your fitness studio?
True 180, located in Ballantyne, is a safe and comfortable women’s-only personal training studio where we work with the whole person. We use a small-group personal training format, so women can get the individualization and accountability they need, but with the community and affordability of classes.
When you take fitness classes, you’re often lumped in with 20+ people. But not everyone can or should do the same exercises. Further, the instructor can’t possibly know your specific goals, medical history, preferences, functional movement abilities, etc.
Conversely, traditional one-on-one personal training is very expensive and lacks social support. That’s not even mentioning that having someone watch every second of your workout gets weird.
We’ve found an effective middle ground that’s proven to work.
Is it challenging owning a company with your wife?
Umm…not if she’s reading this!
The short answer: yes. But the rewards of being able to simultaneously build a family and a business with your best friend far outweigh the benefits. This has tested us, but that stress has also pushed us to be much better at communicating with each other(most of the time).
What's the biggest misunderstanding that you've seen over the years about fitness and weight loss?
The biggest misunderstanding is the concept of the “silver bullet.” People believe that body fat is like a werewolf—you just have to shoot it with one right magic bullet and it’s gone.
This silver bullet concept is popular because it sells. Look at the last 20 diet books to crack the top 10 New York Times bestseller list. They’re all selling a silver bullet: gluten-free, “clean” foods, less carbs, more fat, all protein, etc. Our brains love simplicity, so a compelling and simple “solution” hooks us emotionally.
But, the truth is, it’s not diet or exercise. It’s both. It’s not cardio or strength training. It’s both. It’s not food quality or quantity. It’s both.
You were unhealthy as a kid. What was your turning point? When did you get serious about your own health and fitness?
If this was an infomercial, I’d say there was this one time when someone made fun of me for being fat, so I resolved to “show them.” And while I had absolutely had those thoughts, they never motivated me for more than a month.
The truth is, there was no turning point.
Taking care of myself—whether that’s eating decently, exercising consistently or getting a reasonable amount of sleep—is hard work. And, the more responsibility I acquire—like kids, a business and employees—the harder and more important it becomes.
So, while it’s totally a cliché, this old saying certainly rings true for me: “Success is rented and the rent is due every day.”
What motivates you to stay in shape now?
Like most people, there are days when I feel like I’m in great shape. And, on other days, I feel like a blob.
In my teens and 20s, I was motivated to stay in shape because I only cared about how I looked. I didn’t want to be the “fat kid” anymore. Today, I still care about how I look. But after marriage, kids and owning several businesses, looks don’t motivate me past Thursday.
Truthfully, if I don’t workout, I feel terrible. When I feel terrible, I am a terrible father, husband, boss, and coach. There is literally nothing else I can do that adds more to the quality of my life and relationships than taking care of myself.
I’ve always wanted to ask a personal trainer this: Do you eat perfectly?
No. I have streaks where I am really on point. Then, I have streaks where I eat terribly. It’s not easy. I work as hard as I can to make it doable, but no matter how smartly you go about nutrition and motivation, it’s still hard work.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Besides becoming a father, helping clients and teaching other coaches, I’ve also been able to author and co-author three fitness-related books over the past 13 years.
What many people don’t know is that I’m dyslexic. So, for me, writing is actually the most unnatural and excruciating thing possible.
Secondly, the problem with writing books is that five years later, I want to rewrite them because my philosophies have evolved. I am always trying to get better and refine what we do.
Are you a native Charlottean?
I am a native Washingtonian (pronounced Warsh-ing-tonian – “r” like a car). After our second child was born, my wife and I decided that we wanted to leave D.C. and move closer to her family in the Charlotte area.
Moving to Charlotte has upgraded our quality of life. Not only do we spend less time commuting (Charlotte’s rush hour is what we consider a good traffic day in D.C.) and less money living (a three-bedroom house in D.C. starts at $1 million!), but we now live in a much friendlier city where people actually say “hi” to each other. It’s been awesome!