The Mentality of Mark Twight, Gym Jones, and A Controversial Question (Is This The Future of CrossFit?)

CrossFit Board

By now, I’m sure you have seen the movie‘300’ directed by Zack Snyder?

It was pretty awesome, right?

Ever wondered who trained all the actors in the movie?

I know I did.

I kept asking myself:

How did those guys get so beefy and jacked-up?

During the movie, I kept thinking that CGI must have been used to make all those bodies look so perfect. At the time, I didn’t believe the physiques displayed on screen in ‘300’ were humanly possible. What really captured my attention was that it wasn’t just Gerald Butler who was in great shape; there were at least 30 guys with bodies of steel.

As an audience, we have come to expect a great body from leading males actors like Brad Pitt or Jason Stratham in their Hollywood premiers, but ‘300’ did things a little differently. They managed to absolutely nail the collective image of Spartan warriors.

So, how did they do it?

A thousand websites would love to share “their” version of the 300 workout, but if truth be told, their workout is not the actual workout.

There were a lot of different workouts. All were created by this guy, Mark Twight.

Seriously, this guy is not joking around.

For starters, Mark Twight’s attitude of not taking shit from anyone is thrown right in your face upon first looking at his site. Take a look at this guy’s views on copyright infringement: Warning!

That being said, I am going to try my best to give you a short introduction into the world of the monster that is Mark Twight and show you where he trains his Spartan soldiers. The goal of this article is to introduce you to Twight, his gym, his philosophy, and his training methodology. If you take anything from this article, I hope it’s the inspiration to work-out a little bit harder or in the very least, smarter. I have zero affiliation with Mark Twight or his gym and the last thing I want to do is distract or take anything away from the work that he has done or has to offer. This article serves as my take, my interpretation of the excellent example he sets and defines as what it means to work and work out hard. Trust me when I say Twight’s counterculture is not for the weak-hearted. Reading his website is super-motivating and almost all his articles provide me with constant encouragement and increased willpower to push myself harder. I hope this article will have the same effect on you.

His message is clear: Mark Twight works his ass off and his results scream loudly in your face. If he can do it, so can you.

For those unfamiliar with the history of Mark Twight, he is mostly known for his career as an extreme alpinist. He has climbed some of the most dangerous mountain climbing routes possible at some of the fastest speeds recorded. He feels at home risking his life on the slopes of dangerous mountains and climbing frozen waterfalls to the point that normal men would give up and cry (then, die.)

In 2003, he founded one of the most badass gyms on the planet, Gym Jones, which started in his home garage. With the success of his training program and students, Twight developed the Mountain Mobility Group, LLC helping to advise the Department of Defense in various aspects of Special-Ops training. Six of Mark Twight’s former students were part of the 30 soldier team, mainly Navy Seals, involved with the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Unfortunately, Twight lost a few students in a helicopter crash during the mission.

He has authored two books. His first book, Extreme Alpinism: Climbing Light, Fast, and High won the National Outdoor Book award in 1999. Reading Twight’s vivid details (scroll to the last page) on how to piss into a bottle during the freezing middle of the night’s climb is more than educating and seriously entertaining. Only a madman could have thought to write about the proper etiquette of urinating into a water bottle. His second book, Kiss or Kill: Confessions of a Serial Climber, gives us every reason to diagnose Twight as clinically insane and still want to follow him. Sound familiar? If he doesn’t manage to convince you that what he does and has been doing is border- line impossible for average men and women, then maybe mountain climbing is the long lost niche you have been looking for.

Besides his books, Twight has written a number of articles and essays about his training philosophy, his way of living, and the definition of what it means to really work out. Believe it or not, he is actually an amazing writer and one who I believe is seriously underappreciated in the world of fitness. This is my favorite motivational article written by Twight. I hope “twitching” inspires you as it has me.

Over the years, Twight has made his distaste for mass-produced corporate gyms amd their robotic-style of training known to the public. He refers to this as the Globo-Gym mentality and his goal is to destroy them. His response to the problem was simple: create the anti-Christ of gyms.

Welcome to Gym Jones!

For those unfamiliar with the infamous Gym Jones, it’s the premier place for training elite athletes. In 2003, Gym Jones was created in the garage of the Twight family. Since then, it has experienced tremendous growth and fame training numerous Hollywood actors, MMA fights, and Navy Seals.

Mark Twight knew his gym wasn’t going to be for everyone. His ability to think ahead and predict criticism before his rise to fame led to the decision to embrace the critics who would later compare his gym to a cult. The name Gym Jones plays on the name of People’s Temple leader Jim Jones, who was largely responsible for the Jonestown massacre of 1978, when he  managed to convince 900 of his followers to commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Even on his bio page, Mark Twight goes as far to say his favorite drink is Flavor-aid. In his words, the drink represents “the harsh-tasting alternative to Kool-Aid.” At least Twight seems to find some humor in comparing his gym’s revolutionary method of training as an analogy to voluntary suicide. In order to help his students commit the crime of getting into the best shape of their life, Twight has developed a complete system that incorporates his philosophy, methodology, and training practices.

Even though Gym Jones is an actual place in Salt Lake City, Utah where people go to train harder than most can imagine, it is more than just a grounds for physical training. It represents an ideology, a meme, and a new way of looking at the world. It is a new mentality. In Twight’s words, it is an attitude towards athletics.” The Gym Jones philosophy is more than crushed spirits, protein shakes, and lactic acid build-up from yesterday’s workout. It is a short guide to building a better life. Luckily for us, Gym Jones offers a lot we can appreciate and learn from before ever stepping into the Thunderdome. Here are a few lessons from Mark Twight:

The Gym Jones Philosphy: 10 Basic Tenets

  1. The mind is primary
  2. Outcome-based training (train for an objective)
  3. Functional training (high degree of transferability
  4. Movements not muscles (transferable training does not isolate muscles)
  5. Power-to-weight ratio (you must carry the engine)
  6. Train all energy systems (emphasize the important but not at the expense of others)
  7. Training is preparation for the real thing (train FOR something)
  8. The mind is primary II (eat for an objective)
  9. Nutrition is the foundation (eat for an objective)
  10. Recovery is more than 50% of the process

Since I first learned about Mark Twight and started studying the Gym Jones philosophy almost three years ago, my overall approach to training has changed and my individual results have improved. He has motivated me to examine my daily routines and study the little things I do as much as the bigger picture. It’s no longer about giving all my attention to proper lifting form, the proper ingestion time of protein shakes  (being within 15-30 minutes after a workout), or even how many pull-ups I can do. No, now, I focus on recovery and taking a day off to repair my muscles, building functional strength that I can use in my daily life, and sport-specific training like gymnastics that help with mobility and flexibility. Now, I feel like I am working towards more than just the mirror image of a good-looking physique. I want to be able to scratch my back, not be limited by bulky muscles that prevent me from enjoying a good itch. Most importantly, Twight’s philosophy has helped me how to forget the itch altogether. Even if the desire to scratch and relieve the itchiness presents itself, I have learned to allow the itching sensation to pass and move on. Strengthening and re-conditioning our mentality is something we can all practice.

The first tenet of the Gym Jones’s philosophy that caught the majority of my attention right off the bat was their non-negotiable attitude towards nutrition. Anyone interested in being healthy, exercising daily, and concerned with effects of muscle growth and proper recovery know that fitness is more about eating clean & healthy than focusing on how much you can bench press and bicep curl. Nutrition serves as the basis of any solid exercise formula. Making sure we get the proper nutrients before and after our workout are absolutely crucial. Drop any fitness program that doesn’t start in the kitchen.

Like most lessons in life, I had to learn the importance of nutrition the hard way when I first started lifting weights. After going to the gym for about two months and not experiencing any gains in strength, I actually became weaker. Something felt wrong.

It was.

About a month or two after I first started lifting weights, I began to notice my strength was diminishing week after week.

I was so confused.

With all my new strength training I was actually not getting any stronger.

Eventually, I became tired of this ordeal and asked for help

After speaking to a few buddies of mine, the problem was clear. If I was going to build any muscle I needed to start eating more. And so began my first adventure into the world of nutrition and experimenting with my body. Through the great advice of my friends, I started diving into forums on bodybuilding, nutrition, and read some books on various diets and how to eat healthy. Even now, after studying nutrition for over five years, all I have learned from my research on nutrition is that fitness and nutrition go hand in hand. In almost all the nutritional research and scientific journals, I’ve decided that almost any claim, benefit or detriment can be made about any specific food. Studies can prove and disprove just about anything. Eject enough Vitamin C into a mouse and something is bound happen.  It’s more important to look at who sponsored the research to determine whether the study is biased or not towards the results of the research. Dairy companies want to see positive results from milk research, not vice versa. At the end of the day, positive or negative claims can be made about any individual food. Forget the differences; forget trying to read every research study in the newspaper; forget dieting. Focus on eating as clean and balanced as you can.

A Taste of Commitment 

Almost three years after I started working out and changed my diet, I decided to start doing the highly-advertised exercise program P90X. It was here that my mindset towards nutrition and really committing to working out six times a week began to change and develop itself. Tony Horton and the BeachBody team taught me to take control of my life and convinced me to become more self-disciplined. During the three months of doing P90X, I was more focused than I had ever been up to that point in my life. I realized that drinking alcohol at night and then trying to fulfill my personal commitment to working out in the mornings before work wasn’t going to mesh well. After completing the initial week of P90X, I knew that my body couldn’t handle drinking, morning workouts, and 12 hour workdays at the restaurant. Something had to give. My final conclusion was to take more pleasure in building up my body, mind, and spirit through the challenges of a great workout program and drop the cheap thrills of alcohol consumption. For the next three months, I hardly drank more than a handful of times. I have never felt more empowered. I started reading books and learning how to cook something besides frozen dinners and picking up fast food.

My philosophy was that if I was going to push myself harder than I’d ever had, I wanted to see some results. I wanted to know what I was made of. I wanted to see if I had the mental strength to push through all the laziness constantly trying to convince me to skip working out for that day. I found my answers. You can too. Push your limits and find out what you are really made of. You can’t accomplish this by doing half-assed workouts, eating a crappy diet, and skipping work out days when you feel like it. Push yourself against the wall and see what colors you bleed.

If you want to improve your results, start with your own self-discipline. Practice sacrificing your comfort for greater results. Eat bitter vegetables. Sweat yourself to sleep. Move until you can’t. Again, do yourself a favor and drop any fitness program that doesn’t take into consideration the importance of eating a clean, nutrient- rich diet packed with a balance of food groups. Working out isn’t about doing the same exercises over and over again, eating shouldn’t be this way either. P90X introduced me to this valuable lesson. Gym Jones reinforced it. Mark Twight continues to preach it. I am still listening. All you or I have to do is apply the practice. Start with nutritional objectives and work up to the results you want to achieve.

 

The second part of the Gym Jones philosophy that I really appreciate is their particular focus on gymnastics training and the implementation of it as a part of their strength training. Gymnastics is arguably the best-rounded form of fitness in the world because it develops strength, endurance, flexibility, and functional mobility together. The only downside to gymnastics is that not enough people witness the benefits of adding gymnastics exercises to their current routine. For the most part, the benefits of gymnastics are seen once every four years during the Olympics and unfortunately, this is not enough time to substantially motivate enough people to change their workout routine.

For those of you who don’t know, I added a few gymnastics exercises to my routine last year. I started practicing on my own at home last year teaching myself to do handstands and planches. Since I have exactly zero experience in the gymnastics department, I didn’t realize the importance of wrist strength, wrist stretching, and the weakness inherent in my own wrists. Unknowingly, I had never made wrist strengthening a major concentration in my weekly workout. After three months of weekly practice with half-planches, dive-bomber pushups, and hand stands, I ended up re-injuring my right wrist badly. I was out of commission for any type of upper-body exercise for over a month. Being that I live in Thailand, I had to do my own research and decided to create my own at-home wrist recovery program. Thanks to some great websites, a few videos ended up working wonderfully for me.

Another part of the Gym Jones philosophy that caught my attention and resonated well is their attitude towards the mind. The first tenet states, “The mind is primary.” I can’t agree more with this statement. One of my major focuses with Peregrine Poise is teaching people how to un-clutter their scrambled minds. Our mentality, our daily attitude and approach towards the life in front of us, is the biggest and most brutal obstacle we will ever encounter. Without having the proper mindset before, during, and after a workout we can never reach the heart our goals: that vast feeling underneath all surface desire and want. I am talking about joy, not happiness. By understanding the limitations of our mind, pushing past them, and driving ourselves to the point of physical exhaustion, something amazing happens within us. Anyone who has been in this type of situation understands what I’m referring to, Twight sure does. It is this special connection that I share with him and everyone trying to grow past their limitations and reach their true potential. My first book, metaHabits, discusses this more in depth and serves as the major theme throughout the book. I cannot wait to share the finished copy with you and I hope to be finished sooner rather than later.

Before the release of my book coming later in the year, I have a small project for you to try:

Tear your mind down, see what’s left.

Exhaust your body, see what’s left.

The mind is primary. The mind is primary. The mind is primary.

Keep repeating this motto throughout the day, during your workout, and before you go to bed.

Constantly reminding my own self that knowledge has its limitations and understanding the boundaries of logic is the only thing that has kept me sane. Knowledge leads to wisdom. Our ability to think critically and ahead of time has tremendous benefits and serious consequences that both take root in primal functions. Learning to save food and water ahead of time could save your life in the wild. However, worrying and stressing about tomorrow or ten years from now doesn’t add a single day to your life.

The mind is primary. The mind is primary. The mind is primary.

I keep telling myself this.

The root of our problems is thinking. For without our thoughts, we have no problems, no worries, and no anxieties. But, perhaps, this may be an overstatement or an oversimplification, so allow me to be more specific. The problem is not the thinking itself, it is our lack of discipline towards our thinking. Our mentality is what we should be focusing on. The mentality of comparing and contrasting ourselves to others leads to evil roots based in jealousy, greed, hatred, and envy.

In recent years, I’ve been focusing on how to stop contrasting myself with others and find the ways that we are similar or the same. To a large degree, I think encouraging people to believe they are “more unique”  or better than others is a major flaw dominating our society. We keep telling our kids they are special which means of course that they are not special in their own right, but special “to us.” Compared to other kids whose parents are telling them exactly the same thing, whose kids are really special? Obviously, I am not condoning that parents should stop loving their children. But, we need to be truthful. Love does not lie. If every parent thinks their child is special, and all of the children think they are SPECIAL, isn’t the collective ordinary? In truth, we are all unique and at the same time none of us are really that different from one another. We are all made of the same stuff. All of us have problems. We share the ability of suffering. Knowing this, we can either choose to help make another person’s day a bit easier or worse. It’s up to us, the decisions we make, and most importantly, on our mentality, the way we interpret the world. It is this outlook from within that tries to convince us we are different, for better or worse, than others.

Life is… a gift… or a curse. It depends on how we look at it. Mentality matters.

The Controversy of Comparison

Over the past couple of years, there has been enormous controversy in the fitness world surrounding Gym Jones and the Crossfit community. As the story goes, Mark Twight was introduced to Crossfit by founder Greg Glassman. Pleased with the results he was achieving from Crossfit workouts, Twight broke away from the Crossfit culture and started his own gym and sub-culture now known around the world as Gym Jones. Today, both programs have developed themselves into premier training facilities and somewhat elitist cults. Both believe they are the ultimate form of physical development and mental training. By the end of a long day of arguing, both programs feel they have enough evidence to denounce the other’s superiority and claim their own as best. Crossfit athlete and Huntsville Crossfit gym owner, Russel Berger, went so far as to attend Gym Jones, critique Twight’s training methods, and write an article for the Crossfit Journal about his experience that essentially justifies his decision, his purchase, and the theme of the entire article: Crossfit is better.

Neither program need to prove their claim to me. To me, the bigger issue here is not which gym is better. It’s why people feel the need to constantly compare and contrast themselves with each other. Why do we do this? Why do we size each other up? Why must we feel bigger?

For an absolute stunning overview of this controversy, as well as the best conclusion in settling this dispute, check out Roark Gym’s amazing article which provides a fantastic metaphor to settle the differences between Crossfit and Gym Jones. Hopefully, this will help stop some of the banter. For a quick read, skim the article and read the quote at the end of the article referring to Charles Dicken’s masterpiece A Tale of Two Cities at the bottom. James White did an excellent job settling his argument.

Fitness is not about comparing yourself with others.

It about challenging yourself and beating that concept you have in your head of how good you are or better, finding out you are not as perfect as you think.

All of this goes back to what we were talking about earlier: mentality.

Your mentality.

What are you doing to challenge the concept of who you think you are?

Are you sure you really know who you are?

Exhaust your body.

Exhaust your mind.

Find out what’s left.

What is inexhaustible?

Let me know, by dropping a comment at the top.

Also: Let’s give a big round of applause as we welcome Mark Twight as the second member of the Human Potential Protocol.

***Oh, and if any of you guys make it to Salt Lake City before me, ask Mark what I have to do to get one of those awesome Gym Jones sweatshirts. I’m guessing I’ll have to sign-up. Until then, I’ll just keep training. In the meantime, here are some confessions from a serial climber.

 

About Stephan Stansfield

Stephan is the owner, creator, and editor of Peregrine Poise.
He is currently traveling and teaching around the world. When he is not helping others discover their true potential, he finds time to surf, read, and reflect on the important issues of living a good life.

Comments

  1. Raees Gillani says

    Awesome article!

  2. Great article Stephan.You have managed to successfully put forth the gym jones philosophy.Always look towards his writings to cut away the bullshit get the job done.Regards.

    • Stephan Stansfield says

      Thanks Samram!

      You are absolutely right.

      Any good fitness philosophy has only one goal in mind: active motivation. Anyone sitting around arguing about the specifics of a particular fitness program or routine is missing the point. It’s simple: exercise, today!

      Thanks for contributing.

  3. Hi Stephan,i live in Africa n i realy apreciate the article,jst made me realise how wasteful iv been with my workouts! I have so many limitations that hinder my growth(nutrition,gym access,wat routines to use etc) and i’d love to talk directly to you abt them and see how we can break thru all that. .so i wil realy apreciate it if we could talk via email. Thanx,kip up th good work.

  4. great article! just started doing his workouts a couple weeks ago and its all about pushing you past your boundaries. when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

    • Stephan Stansfield says

      Absolutely, Aaron. It’s important to test the mental limitations we set for ourselves on a daily basis. As far as physical limitations, we must understand there are boundaries. Our hearts can only pump so much blood, our lungs can only take in so much oxygen, our stomachs can only digest so much. We must be aware of boundaries. Listening to our body’s signals is equally as relevant as overcoming the voice in our head that says we can’t do something when we actually can. A great workout helps us understand the balance between both of these aspects.

  5. When you exhaust your body and your mind, you realize that what you thought about yourself is false.

    Best regards,

Leave a Reply to Stephan Stansfield Cancel reply

*