Paul’s Story: Why I Started Sand & Steel

From Biomedical Engineer to Patent Attorney to Gym Owner – Coach Paul shares his story as to why he started and Sand and Steel.

My Story and Why I Really Started Sand & Steel

In life, there are many pivotal moments that shape who you will become. At 41, I’m the proud and happy owner of an extremely successful CrossFit and Personal Training Gym. But I didn’t set out that way. There were three pivotal moments in my life that brought me here. And when you are thinking about joining a locally-owned and operated business like Sand & Steel vs a carbon-copy franchise gym like Orange Theory, Rowhouse, or F45, I think you should really consider who is behind the training that you’ll receive at your next gym.

I am a Passionate Coach

In my 10 years of professionally coaching, I’ve amassed over 30 certifications, read & reviewed about 120 books, trained over 5,000 members, and hired & mentored over 200 personal trainers. My certifications are in CrossFit, Mobility, Powerlifting, Yoga, Functional Strength Training, Training Seniors, TRX, and more.

More importantly, I’ve worked with people of all levels. From professional athletes and Army Rangers, to seniors in their 70s. I’ve helped members accomplish weight loss goals in the hundreds of pounds. But what I really do well is I teach you how to exercise safely. I build strength where is none, and I train you to move better with less pain. If you want to learn more about my experience, please check out my bio for more information.

This post isn’t about what I can do for you, it’s about why I do it. And I’ll be honest with you, understanding why your personal trainer chooses to be a personal trainer over all other career options is just as important as his or her experience and certifications. Passion to learn, passion to practice, practice to get better at coaching comes from the why. If your coach isn’t passionate about their job, maybe it’s time you started looking at other options.

So Why Am I a Personal Trainer?

I am a personal trainer because I know how it feels to lose someone you love to obesity and struggle with food addiction. I am a personal trainer because I’ve recovered from terrible injuries in my youth caused by my own ignorance of biomechanics and proper technique. And, because I know how it feels to have your health stripped away from you in an instant, and how hard it is get to back on track. I am a personal trainer because I had to endure a great many losses in my life. It’s from those hardships did I really appreciate the importance and value of being healthy.

Broken, Overweight & Unhappy

I lost my Father to obesity when I was only 17, and so I know full well the reality of what obesity can do to a family.  My father wasn’t even that overweight (maybe 50 pounds), but that’s all it took.  He tried for about two years to get his weight under control before his untimely death at 45 (heart attack while scuba diving).  If someone had reached out to him and given him a concrete plan to lose weight that was realistic with his schedule, his death could have been prevented.

Paul 28 percent bodyfat
Paul 28 percent bodyfat
Paul 14 Percent Bodyfat
Paul 14 Percent Bodyfat

Many people are shocked to hear that I have a biomedical engineering from Johns Hopkins, a computer science degree, and a juris doctorate.  “Why open a gym?

The answer is simple because I want to help families avoid the pain and suffering that mine went through.  Twenty years later, I still miss my father.  But now I have a chance to help people through Sand & Steel.

And that started with me.  On the left, you’ll see my picture in 2013 when I resigned my post at Foley and Lardner.  At the time, my total cholesterol was 276 and my LDL was 191.  I saw two physicians and they both told me the same thing: you’re going to have a stroke or a heart attack by age 45 if you don’t lower your cholesterol.   Well as it turns out, my body can’t properly metabolize statins like Lipitor, and taking statins causes me to have kidney damage and severe, relentless cramps.  That put me between the Scylla and Charybdis, either live on dialysis or suffer an early heart attack.  

Suffice it to say, I do know what it feels like to be fat.  I know what it feels like to fail at diets, to make excuses that you don’t have enough time.

Blueprint Nutrition Plan

Well my Mother is a dietitian and so I knew what her patients went through, and I certainly didn’t want to die at 45 like my father did, so I began researching natural methods to reduce cholesterol and lose weight.  Relying on my education in biomedical engineering, I starting reading hundreds of studies on the natural ways to lose weight and lower cholesterol.  What I discovered was that certain combinations of clean eating and exercise can and do lower cholesterol and body fat.  But not all people respond to the same methods.  So I began researching all the popular dieting methods (Precision Nutrition, Zone, South Beach, Paleo, Weight Watchers, Atkins, etc.)  Armed with that information, I started trying different diets.  Ultimately for me, a combination of Precision Nutrition and the South Beach diet worked, and I started losing weight.

My research on current diets ultimately led me to create about 100 rules which we call the Blueprint Nutrition System.  We help members follow them through utilizing shared compliance journals and food journals.  Every two weeks, we determine what changes clients need to make first, and provide them with a shared compliance sheet so that we can help them stay motivated when they are at home.

Our nutrition plan applies over 100 clean eating rules to your diet, determines what your biggest mistakes are, and one by one we start changing them.

Why you Can’t Run your Way to Thin

Running is a great fat burning exercise, but it has several key problems: the rate injury is really high (combination of shock, desk jobs, and biomechanics), it doesn’t build muscle, and it can be very time to consume (running twelve miles can take 3 hours).  So what you have to do is make the runs longer, which adds more shock and takes more time.  There had to be a better way… which was where I began studying how the body actually creates the energy used for exercise.  There are three distinct pathways, and manipulation of these pathways forms a big piece of Sand & Steel’s strength training methodology today.  Through creating environments where the body has to generate energy from different pathways in one exercise program, the body can be worked much more efficiently and much faster.  The average Sand & Steel workout lasts only 45 minutes, but that is more than enough time to get solid results.

Training in all three energy systems (anaerobic, glycolytic, and oxidative) is one of the major reasons CrossFit is so effective. When combined with mobility training and nutrition, CrossFit is the sine qua non to get you in shape quickly.

From Humble Beginnings

When we opened Sand & Steel in 2013, we had 5 clients and it was just Dawn and I myself doing everything. For the first few years, we did three things and we did them very well. Personal Training, Nutrition Coaching, and Fitness Assessments. Our members lost on average about 20-30 pounds during their first three months.

Eight years later, we still do these same three things. We do more personal training than nearly any CrossFit box in Virginia. But now we have a bigger gym, and we have CrossFit classes, Community Events, and Open Gym. We even have our own line of supplements. But what really set us apart was our focus on mobility training. We employ about ten coaches at any given time and at the time of this article, we have 160 members

Our Services at a Glance

Personal Training

Mobility Training

Nutrition Coaching

CrossFit Classes

Mobility & Yoga Classes

Powerlifting & Olympic lifting

Community Fitness Events

Open Gym

Fitness Assessments

More importantly, we have helped a lot of people get in shape safely, lose weight quickly, and recover from injuries. And that means a great deal because that’s we started Sand & Steel in the first place.

Paul Roberts, Owner Sand & Steel

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