As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill Zanker.
Bill Zanker, Co-Founder of GRIT BXNG, American businessman, author and producer, founded adult education company, The Learning Annex in 1980 with just five thousand dollars. Within three years, he grew The Learning Annex from five million dollars to one hundred and thirty seven million dollars. Bill went on to found The Great American BackRub in 1993 which he later sold to The Barclay Group and BrainFuel.com, one of the first eLearning companies which he sold for nine million dollars in the same month he founded it. In 2019, along with his children, Ediva and Dylan Zanker, Pitbull “Mr. Worldwide” and Tony Robbins, Bill launched GRIT BXNG, the first fitness studio with a full liquor bar, taking fitness to the next level.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
I’ve been into fitness most of my life and even more so throughout my adult life. Fitness to me is a release. As an entrepreneur, I never worked “traditional” hours. Work wasn’t (and isn’t) something that starts and stops at any specific time, work is integrated into my life. Exercise is a stress release, a way to clear my head, and get rid of any anxiety. No matter where I was in my career whether I was here in New York or on the road traveling, I always found a way to incorporate fitness. These days, when I’m not taking classes at GRIT BXNG, I run the reservoir in New York City’s Central Park. I started running marathons when I was fifty eight years old. A bonus for me was that I always got my best business ideas while working out.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I started The Learning Annex in 1982, I wanted to celebrate our first year in business. My team and I took ten thousand dollars, in one-dollar bills, and went to the Empire State building to throw them off the top of the building. At the exact moment I had arrived, two criminals had just robbed the bank at the base of the building. We collided with the robbers and our bags of cash went flying in the air, there were bills flying all over New York City. The robbers got arrested. I landed on the front page of The New York Times along with The Learning Annex. My business exploded!
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
When The Learning Annex was first starting out, I promoted a rafting trip for New Yorkers at the annex to go rafting in the Delaware River in Pennsylvania. I rented several buses for the trip at a very low cost. Two of the busses broke down on the way back to New York. My students for arrived home at 1:00am and were livid. To make up for it, I gave everyone their money back for the entire trip, for which they were very thankful. It turned out, one of the students on this trip was an investment banker at the time, she was so impressed with what we had done that she helped me raise my first round. It was at that time that I learned the importance of treating the customer right. That trip ended up being a financial loss for me in the short term but it was in fact a long term win. If you treat the customer well, good things will happen.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
I create brands and launch businesses. In fact, I knew very little about the business of fitness or wellness when I launched GRIT BXNG. I consider this a positive. I look at the space very differently than most fitness professionals. At GRIT BXNG, we have a full liquor bar in our studio where, in addition to cocktails, we serve mocktails, Kombucha and cold brewed coffee. I wanted to create a brand that turned heads but also provided customers with the best fitness experience of their lives. I gave myself a crash course in fitness, spoke to everyone I could about the ins and outs of the industry, enlisted Tony Robbins and mega-entertainer, Pitbull to help me build the brand. I brought in the programming team behind Orange Theory Fitness, the best of the best trainers and the ultimate audio and visual experience. My background in the events space certainly shows through at GRIT BXNG. Our goal was to create a true fitness experience where people get the best workout with killer lights and music and then get to socialize with their friends after class. My entire entrepreneurial career has been about pushing limits and breaking barriers, GRIT BXNG is no different. At GRIT BXNG, we are truly shaking up the fitness industry. I want to spread the message of community, fun and balance!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are many people who have helped me throughout my career. I am grateful for my lawyer, Andy Hyams. Andy is my best friend from grade school. He watches my back every single day so that I can move forward without looking back. I am also extremely grateful for my mentor, Tony Robbins who is also an investor in GRIT BXNG. Tony has been alongside me throughout my career and is one of the key reasons for launching the studio.
We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
In my opinion, three main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we know and integrating it into our lives are fear, consistency and comfort. When we launched GRIT BXNG, we knew that working out was painful. If you leave a workout class thinking it felt “nice” then you were certainly not getting enough of a workout. Working out should be challenging but not unenjoyable. We revolutionized the fitness experience by adding a one million dollar sound and light show, creating a fun fitness experience. We then incorporated a full liquor bar for cocktails and mocktails so that people could reward themselves after their killer workout. When I came up with the concept, especially the bar component, I certainly turned heads. I knew I would face many challenges and naysayers along the way. When people think fitness, they think green juice, cleanses and organic. Here it was, I came in with, Vodka, Tequila, Margarita and shots. If I let my fear of the challenge stop me from creating my business, I never would have succeeded. We have this innate fear of failing and this stigma that failing is a bad thing. I believe failing is a learning experience, if we don’t fail, we will never do better, we will never learn and we will never succeed. Consistency keeps us in our routines which can be good but not when we stay inside our boxes. We need to step outside of our everyday routines, try new things, and switch it up in order to succeed. I believe that comfort can be our worst enemy. Comfort makes us feel safe but it’s just a form of smoke and mirrors. If we remained within our comfort zones, we would remain stagnant. I believe it’s crucial for people to constantly push themselves outside of their comfort zones and try new things. Experimentation is essential in business, smart experimentation. If you find yourself always in your comfort zone, you are holding yourself back from success.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
My five non-intuitive lifestyle tweaks that will dramatically improve one’s wellbeing are:
– Eat for necessity not schedule. We are programmed to eat at specific times of the day. I believe it’s important to eat for fuel, meaning, eat what you need for your body to function and do so when you are hungry. Just because it’s noon doesn’t mean you must eat. This will help you understand your body and it’s needs.
– Instead of jumping out of bed when your alarm goes off, take just ten minutes to be in the present. Think about the things you are grateful for in your life. When you do this, you start your day off on a positive note, you will notice a shift in attitude and productivity. I find that when I reflect on the positives in my life, that is when I am most successful. One more thing that I recommend doing before you start your day is take a minute and look through your calendar for the day, identify at least one thing in that calendar that you are excited about, whether it’s a phone call with an old colleague, a new business prospect or just dinner with your family.
– Take a walk every single day. I make sure to incorporate a walk into my routine every day. I prefer to do this at the end of a long day as a way to unwind and process what happened during the day. This is also my time to check in with my friends and family. I try to leave my phone at home (or in my pocket) during this time. I recommend penciling this into your calendar to ensure the time, even if it’s a walk around the block in between meetings.
– Make sure you get enough sleep. Shut down your laptop and turn your phone off at least thirty minutes before bed. Take a bath, read a book, call a friend, do whatever you need to in order to unwind. As a serial entrepreneur, I never worked “traditional hours” which meant late nights and early mornings were the norm. Even with unpredictable hours, you can find a way to keep to a (fairly) consistent sleep schedule. Even though you might feel the need to stay on that late night grind, resist it and get that much needed hour of sleep. I promise, it will catch up to you. Sleep leads to increased productivity, better mood and overall better health.
– Challenge your mind. Whether this is by reading a new book, picking up a crossword puzzle or learning a new language. It is so important to keep our mind fresh and challenged. This will keep us sharp in business and in our everyday lives.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
I believe that aside from weight loss, the three benefits of daily exercise are confidence, focus and youth. Working out is a great way to stop, re-center yourself and focus. I find that I do my best work right after a workout because that’s when I get my best ideas. I make sure to sit down after each workout and write down my thoughts as this is when our mind is clearest. Working out is a great confidence boost. Whether it’s the emotional feeling of having just completed a workout, the endorphins running through your body or the physical results you start to notice, there is no doubt that working out provides the benefit of confidence. The third benefit I believe daily exercise provides is the feeling of being alive, being young! Think about it, you’ve just completed a very tough physical and mental challenge. What makes you feel more alive than that? The more we are able to keep our bodies moving, the younger we keep ourselves. I don’t believe in over exerting yourself nor do I believe that the way you workout in your sixties should be the same as in your twenties but I do believe that working out for your body at all ages is crucial.
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
I believe the three exercises that should be incorporated into someone’s workout routine are boxing, running (or walking) and strength training. There are so many benefits to boxing, de-stress and alleviate aggression, plus, it is great for endurance and strength. Boxing truly is a full body workout. Running (or modified by walking) is my preferred choice of exercise. Running is great for that high impact cardio rush, calories burn and mental clarity. For those who are not able to run, walking is a great alternative. Strength training is the third piece to the puzzle. Strength training is great for toning and muscle building. It is important to train smart and make sure you are not overexerting your body when you strength train. The combination of all three will allow for your body to constantly be shocked and never plateau. You never want to stick with the same routine if you’re looking for results. The key to keeps yourself in shape is to switch it up!
In my (the writer’s) experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
If you get sore after a workout (this is a good thing!) I recommend you keep going with it. Of course, if you’re sore due to an injury, please take care of your body and get it checked out. If you’re not injured, you should not let soreness stop you from working out. There are a few things you can do to tackle this. One thing you can do is switch up your routines by not working the same muscle groups two days in a row. This will allow your muscles time to recover. Another thing you can do is enlist in a trainer or take a group fitness class. Trainers will prescribe you with a routine that will target different muscle groups in a smart way, minimizing soreness. I would also recommend investing in a foam roller and incorporating stretching into your daily routine.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
I don’t tend to consider myself on any specific diet but I limit my intake of carbohydrates, avoid dairy and fill up on lots of vegetables. I recommend to my clients that they follow a diet that best suits their body and their lifestyle. Every person is different in the way they process certain foods, some diets work well for certain people and not for others. Find a diet that works best for you and make sure it’s once that is attainable so that you can stick with it.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The book that has made a significant impact on my life is a book that I co-authored with President Trump titled, Think Big and Kick A*S. Throughout our time collaborating on this book, I learned so much about how to reframe your mind and think differently.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, it would be to end obesity. We have a major obesity problem in this world. We need to change the way people view food, change diets and make healthy food accessible. We also need to get young people to love moving their bodies. We have this stigma that working out is just another item on our daily checklist. Working out doesn’t have to be a chore, it can be something we look forward to doing, a social experience. We need to make working out an enjoyable and fun experience. We have started to do this with GRIT BXNG. How do we make eating healthy fun? I don’t know that quite yet but I am confident we will get there.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “Persistence overshadows everything including talent.” I learned this from Tony Robbins. This quote is what motivated me to create GRIT BXNG and something I have instilled in my children. You can do anything if you put your mind to it.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I would love to have breakfast or lunch (or a cocktail at GRIT BXNG) with Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss. I think these guys have true GRIT (oh, and at GRIT, we accept Bitcoin!)
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow me on Instagram @realbillzanker
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!