We talked to Director of Programming Matt Owen about why the Gym Jones Standards matter, when they don’t, and what they mean for you and your potential.


Photos by Kurtis Fraiser

The Gym Jones Standard has long been held in high regard–but why? From the outside looking in, the Standard may seem like a destination. But those who train inside these four walls they’re only the beginning of the journey. We talked to our Director of Programming Matt Owen about why the Standards have become a thing of legend, and how you should look at them instead. 

Why do we set standards at Gym Jones? At your gym [Project Deliverance in St Louis MO], almost all of your athletes are performing well above and beyond the standards. But you still communicate these standards to your athletes and deem them to be important. Why is that?

The standards are important as benchmarks. It helps me as a coach determine what kind of work an athlete is ready to do. For example, I get a lot of fighters coming to my gym wanting to get ready for a fight camp. We would never just throw an athlete straight into camp before determining they are ready for that level of training. I use the standards as a way to verify that an athlete’s base is built and they’re ready for more specific training. The standards are the entry fee. 

The standards can be diagnostic as well. They help me determine where an athlete’s deficiencies are. For my fighters, so many of them that come in are lacking strength, that’s the hole in their game. So we have a few strength standards we’ve come up with for them, including a double bodyweight sled push for 50 continuous yards. It’s not that the sled push matters in and of itself, but an athlete’s ability to do that is indicative of being ready to chase a specific performance standard that is important to them. But those baseline standards have to come first. We can’t just jump into a camp without making sure the base is there.

So the motivation to hit the standards is to earn the opportunity to do more work. 

Exactly. There’s this understanding around the standards that everyone who trains here should be able to do this. There’s no special prize or clout for hitting this. This is what we expect from you before you can chase something more specific. Typically nobody cares about the standards themselves. Nobody comes in here saying “I just want to be able to hit this list of standards you’ve set.” They come in with specific goals related to their sports or to their lives, and I explain to them that the standards give us a roadmap to get there. So that’s the motivation. It’s knowing that the standards are meant to address deficiencies that are standing between you and something you want to achieve, so the standard becomes a target you’re working towards; not just to get to the standard itself, but to go beyond.

Are there any athletes for whom the standards do not apply? 

The general Gym Jones standards that we list publicly, sure. I wouldn’t expect an elite powerlifter to be able to hit a sub-7 minute 2k row, nor would they ever need to. But we would certainly have a similar standard that is applicable to them, a strength endurance standard or something like that. A great example is one of our recently Certified Instructors Miyo Strong. She’s a world champion BJJ fighter and had hit every single standard to become a certified instructor other than the 2k row. Are we going to ask her to stop her sport-specific training schedule to train for a 2k? Absolutely not. So we tested her on 7 mins max sandbag getups with 50% her bodyweight. 

It seems that the narrative about the standards has definitely shifted away from what you’re describing and has become more of an end all be all for people. What is it about the Gym Jones standards that has become so enthralling for people? 

I think that people who see our social media and maybe our seminar material look at the standards and think that they represent the epitome of fitness. Like if I can row a 6:50 2k, then I’m really fit. But what that really means is well, you’re fit enough to row 6:50. And if you’re capable of that you’re probably capable of more. That’s the difference between coaching yourself based off of something you saw on Instagram, and being coached in real life. Instagram will tell you the standard is enough. Your coach would tell you you’re capable of more. A lot of people ask me if hitting the standards will earn them their Gym Jones shirt. And I say probably not, unless the standard also equals your absolute best. But the standard and what you are capable of is almost never in alignment, and as a coach I’m going to judge your performance based off of what you are capable of.

So you’re using the standards to set entry level benchmarks. How do you go about setting people’s expectations and giving them something to shoot for once they’ve successfully hit or surpassed the standards?

That is really going to come down to your skill as a coach and motivator. Because what someone is able to do is a lot different than what they think they are capable of doing. I remember Danny hit some sort of absurd 500m row. And I felt like it was my responsibility to sit him down and say listen, you’re in the discussion to hit some American or even World Records. If you put the work into this and really challenge yourself, you can really hit some impressive numbers. But you also have to help the athlete understand what is going to be required of them. And then, if they’re on board with what you think they’re capable of and what you are going to require of them, the new standard becomes the American record, or the World record, and that’s the next thing you’re shooting for. Standards to hit, records to break, they’re just targets to hit on the way to your true potential. Not the ultimate and final destination. It’s a target to let you know you’re making progress and are ready for someone new. That’s where it becomes the coaches’ job, to motivate someone to take the next step. But you give them something specific to aim for. Whether it’s the Gym Jones standard, the current world record or an arbitrary number you’ve deemed to be important, you’ve got to be striving for something specific. If you just looked at that list of standards and determined for yourself that those were your goals, it might be hard to move forward once you’ve hit them. You’d just say okay I’m done. I’ve arrived at where I want to go.

How does somebody’s training change when they’re trying to chase something specific and high level, vs. training to build a solid base with the standards? 

Well just to use my athlete Danny as an example. He’s got the second fastest 500m row in the country right now. Before we started training for that, we were doing a lot of heavy strength work. Once we zeroed in on the goal and started training for that 500, we shifted the training emphasis to power and force production. So there’s certainly a strength component to that, but we’re no longer chasing like that 600lb deadlift. He’s now strong enough, where he is now, to get the 100 or 500m row done. Now we’re sharpening lactate threshold, more specific fitness characteristics for the test we’re training for. 

So we’re releasing this program Danny followed to the public. Obviously not everybody is going to get the kind of results that Danny did. But are there prerequisites, or can anybody hop in and benefit? 

I would say given the conditions of the plan itself, it’s got plenty of strength work and plenty of power work to the point that anybody could take this and shave some time off of their 500m row, 100m row, anything really 1k and below you’re going to get a lot better. There’s a lot of quality interval work in there that’s going to run your speed up, and there’s enough strength and power work that it’s’ going to boost your power. I think you could expect some pretty significant power output improvements in ski, row or even bike, too. As far as prerequisites, Id’ say as long as you’ve attained all of our benchmark strength standards, you’re ready to hit it.


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