Interview with Gary Deagle – Process And Experience

“…In my 12 years of coaching I have found if you can get the client to choose vs being told… they will do better and it will last.”
– Gary Deagle

Gary Deagle is a personal trainer and owner of Coastal Strength & Fitness in Virginia. In this interview, we talk about what it takes to open your own gym, finding fun finishers and why they work, programming breathing, and some skills needed to be a great trainer. Enjoy!

Gary Deagle – Owner of Coastal Strength & Fitness – Newport News, Virginia

Hi Gary, thanks for taking the time with me for this interview on What’s New Coach.

What excites you right now?

It sounds corny, but just the fact that my coaches and clients are so excited. Every day the coaches and I are excited to touch base and we have clients posting successes and sharing laughs at our gym and in our online groups. It’s great!

Excited is good! What do you think contributes to that culture? What separates you from the rest?

The number 1 thing for me is having a clear vision for what you want your business to be known for and being transparent and open with your team.

Making sure communication stays high and everyone is contributing and has a voice.

What was the point in your career where you decided to be a coach?

I lucked into it when I was young after getting into working out seriously when I was 20. I had just helped a friend lose 40 pounds and someone who worked at the local Golds Gym mentioned to me they were hiring trainers and that I should try it out.

A lot of us seem to get into the industry the same way. Looking back what is something that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

Man, picking one thing is tough. 🙂 I wish I knew how much of being a great coach comes down to interpersonal skills and psychology vs training and nutrition details. A lot of time was wasted ‘geeking’ out on different training things that really only come into play with a very small % of the population.

A lot of people in the fitness industry want to impress other trainers instead of worrying about what things make the biggest impact with their clients.

Can you tell me about an interpersonal skill that you felt you had to improve or are still improving upon?

Growing up I was painfully shy, but always got along with people well. Luckily, my parents made me get jobs starting at 15 years old so I developed a lot of great skills through the various jobs that happened to all deal with interacting with people.

I do very well one or one and with small groups, but had a fear of bigger groups. Last year I did a Voice/Public speaking type seminar to work on that.

Really, just wrapping that up into self-confidence and putting myself out there more is something I am always working on improving.

What’s one book that changed your mindset and why? What’s the one thing you took away from it?

The first one that comes to mind is the 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris. The title is a little tricky, as for me it doesn’t have anything to do with only working 4 hours ( You need to be prepared to work a lot of hours 🙂 )

More so it helped me shift my mindset from being just a trainer trading time for money to planting the seed of trying to build something bigger via trying to own my own business and create some flexibility.

Owning your own business must have been a big step. Whats something that you would tell a trainer who is looking to also take this next step?

Don’t do it unless you truly understand the extra stress, investment, and risk it takes to be a business owner. What I mean by that is you have to enjoy the nuances of business (similar to how you enjoy fitness and training) and understand you will have to develop different skills to be successful.

You will have to sacrifice being the best possible trainer you can be to become a better leader, to learn how to market and craft a voice for your business, to manage money, etc. You will probably need to go from training clients for 4 hours in the morning to creating content for marketing and your team.

Most trainers are not prepared for that. They just think it would be cool to own a business and try to still train all the classes and juggle everything else. This is a recipe for disaster and why something like 90% of gyms goes out of business after 3 years.

But if you are prepared for it… it can be very rewarding. Ultimately you can help more people and create something that has more impact and is just better than on your own.

Are you reading anything noteworthy right now?

I try not to consume too much information and like to keep focused on what I already know, so I haven’t been reading a ton of new stuff. I actually just re-read some of my favorites. Currently, that is “The One Thing” by Gary Keller.

Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?

My favorite kind of stuff to talk about. 🙂

Recently a client who has been working with us for over a year finally had a breakthrough with the scale and dropped 16 pounds. She was super consistent, positive, and motivated with her training and slowly worked on building her nutrition habits and skills. Over the first year, she did a great job of learning her proper portions, cooking skills, meal prep, and just getting a great handle on eating healthy.

The last hurdle was cutting out some of the things that were holding her back from her ultimate goals. Primarily, a bit too much drinking and weekend grub. I have found the ‘drill sergeant’ approach of telling someone what to do at first and/or making them feel guilty with negative reinforcement from the get-go isn’t a great approach for most people. Instead, we kept encouraging the things she was doing great and making sure to bring awareness to all her other choices, until one day…

It clicked. She mentioned how I said something about making your food and drinks be part of an ‘experience’ and not just a random Tuesday night type thing. From there she decided to follow that advice and essentially it cut out the weekday drinking and thoughtless food snacking and the pounds started flying off.

The key is SHE came to this decision and in my 12 years of coaching I have found if you can get the client to choose vs being told… they will do better and it will last.

Brilliant, I wish someone told me that when I started out. What are your top 3 questions you ask when you first meet a potential new client?

1. What are you looking to accomplish?

2. Why?

3. What else?

Essentially the goal is to get them talking, and then get to the REAL reason why. You always get a surface example with the first question. ‘I want to lose weight, I want to improve my cholesterol, etc.’ But these are not the real reasons why.

So it is important to keep digging by essentially asking why and what else over and over. Then you will get to the real, deep reasons that help people connect better and take action. Which leads to change.

It seems too simple, but in my 12 years of coaching I have found just talking less and listening more to be so much better. I have also used a ton of scripted questions which never felt right. So this simple approach is my favorite. I teach it to my coaches by always reminding them to “dig, dig, dig!”

It seems too simple, but in my 12 years of coaching I have found just talking less and listening more to be so much better. I have also used a ton of scripted questions which never felt right. So this simple approach is my favorite. I teach it to my coaches by always reminding them to "dig, dig, dig!"

How has your programming changed since last year?

My programming hasn’t changed a ton, but there is one small shift. I used to be against a lot of the “entertainment value” type stuff thrown in a lot of programming because ultimately the basics are the key. We focus on the risk/reward factor of most exercises and lean towards exercises that have a lower learning curve and still provide a great training effect.

Lots of dumbbells, landmine unit, trap bar, etc. For conditioning, we use lower impact tools like the sled, air bike, ropes, etc. Basically, stuff you can’t really mess up when you are gasping for air and super fatigued.

But, I have realized more and more the importance of the fun factor and that ultimately if people don’t have fun, they aren’t going to want to workout, and getting people to train consistently is the habit that leads to all the others, in my opinion.

So we program a bit more “fun” type finishers and games at our gym than we did a year ago. People love that stuff!

Can you give me one or two examples of fun finishers or games that you do with your clients? Especially the games!

For sure! Honestly, it is an art as much of a science. For us, we want them to be fun… but also not something that is really going to have a huge risk of injury. So we have found it to be less about having to kill people and make them do some insane barbell complex or something and more about making them laugh, interact with each other and feel like a kid again.

ex. The Big Ball Race

Stand in 2 lines facing each other, teams of 5. There are 3 med balls of increasing weight at one end of the lines. You have to pass them one at a time down the line to the end and then back as quick as possible.

5 rounds of that.

It gets in some rotational work, but people just love it, laugh, have a good time with it.

Stuff like that.

I love it! Have you done any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

I did a breathing workshop with Dr. Belisa Vranich that was awesome! Proper breathing is often overlooked and a key component of proper training and helps a ton with stress relief. Just about all of us can benefit from improved awareness to our breathing.

Do you get your clients aware of their breathing outside the session? and if so, how?

We do. But not by telling them to so much. We have learned over the years giving people stuff to do outside of the gym normally works out like giving kids homework. It doesn’t get done. 🙂

So we focus on working it in the gym and bringing awareness there. Naturally, as people see the benefit then it will make it into the other 23 hours of the day. So we will program in breathing drills like crocodile breathing as a “finisher” after a hard conditioning circuit.

Another example is the other week we went over and worked on nasal breathing before the workout and challenged them to only breathe through their nose for the workout. Making it more aerobic in nature…

Many people were blown away at how difficult it was and how poorly they typically breathe when gasping for air mouth breathing. Once people see and feel the difference and benefits they are excited to bring awareness to it the rest of their day!

What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?

Just simply keeping them focused on being consistent with the basics. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. If you are working with general population clients they simply need to strength train 2-4 x a week, walk more, eat more real food, and get to bed on time… consistently.

That’s it.

No need to worry about fancy pre-workout supplements or complex diets and trendy/fadish workout programs. Just focus on the basics and re-iterate the importance of being consistent with them over and over.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry that hasn’t been mentioned so far?

Get started for the right reasons and never forget those reasons. So many trainers get started because THEY love working out and think it would be cool to get paid to be at a gym all day. But to make this a career and last you need to truly want to help people. And people who typically hate working out (starting out 🙂 )

Then, never forget that is why you do it. After that just respect the process and get experience. I get a ton of young trainers messaging me how to start a successful fitness business and they have been a trainer for like 4 months. They just want to skip it all…

I started out as a trainer at Golds Gym doing 1 on 1 sessions 12 hours a day for 6 years and loved every second of it.

Gary, thanks so much, this has been a learning experience! How do we contact you?

You can email me at

Also, Instagram is a quick and easy way to get in touch: @garydeagle

Recommended Reading:

4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris

The One Thing by Gary Keller