As a fitness industry pro, odds are you've run across, or probably bought, some program created by John Spencer Ellis. Ubiquitous in our industry, Ellis heads up a conglomeration of companies that gross in the multi-millions and has innovated more business, training and personal development systems than one can count on two hands.Most trainers probably recognize Ellis from NESTA (National Exercise and Sports Trainer Association), a certification and education organization, or Adventure Boot Camp, one of the largest and most successful licensed boot camps to date. But his list of accomplishments and passions extends beyond those two big scores as he consistently searches out and capitalizes on coming trends.
He slept on the floor of his 380-foot Orange County, California apartment, coasted down hills to save gas and sometimes didn't have enough money to buy food. He began training people in their homes and got new clients by doing free body fat measurements at local grocery stores. He grew his training business to include corporate fitness and started training at Family Fitness (now 24 Hour Fitness). He learned much about training there, including that he must do things differently than other trainers to stand out and make more sales. Within a few years, Ellis bought a small condo and built a training studio within it, making that his primary location.
As his clientele grew, so did his interest in a new thing called the Internet. With a 386 computer, he struggled to find a way to harness the power the Internet promised in combination with his passion for endurance sports like cycling and triathlons. He formed NESTA and its first product, an online endurance sports certification.
"I saw that there were these fitness knuckleheads with no personal development skills to help their clients succeed," says Ellis. "And I saw there were these personal development gurus who were morbidly obese. And then I saw very knowledgeable trainers who were broke because they had no business skills.
"NESTA was conceived as, and still is, an organization to provide education in fitness, personal development and business strategies," he says.
And each year, NESTA has grown. With more than 45,000 members in 50 countries and 15 fitness certifications, NESTA certifications are recognized by many major gyms across the country. NESTA also boasts an NCCA (National Commission for Certifying Agencies) accreditation. Training clients up to eight hours a day in addition to building NESTA left Ellis burnt out. In 2000, long before boot camps had hit main stream fitness, Ellis created Adventure Boot Camp, a women-only fitness boot camp that appealed to the masses. With 40 people in his first camp, Ellis says he made more money in one hour than he ever had as a trainer.
"I knew I was onto something big," he says. "I remember trying to figure out how to teach the class as I went along." Ellis personally led an Adventure Boot Camp for seven years, at one point attracting the attention of the reality TV show, The Real Housewives of Orange County. When his camp was featured on that show, business doubled. Ellis' boot camp was on the show for two seasons.
Although he no longer teaches an Adventure Boot Camp -- he still has four camps in Orange County and has licensed the system to 375 trainers around the world -- Ellis says the program, with the help of master coach Kelli Calabrese, continues to grow.
But Ellis has moved on to bigger projects, like producing the movie The Compass, a personal development film similar in form to The Secret. His personal life went through a metamorphosis as well. As he interviewed some of today's leading self-help gurus for the film and hung out with them after the camera stopped rolling, he realized he had been living life backwards. "My biggest mistake, without a doubt, was thinking I had all the answers [about anything] and making my work about me rather than being in the service of other people," says Ellis. "Trainers are perceived as elite. We're very fit, have too much testosterone, and that skews our perspective. When I switched gears and asked how I can be of service, it made all the difference."
During that transformative time, Ellis also met his new wife -- they were just married in July -- Kelli Ellis (interestingly, that was her last name even before they married.)
In January 2010, Ellis created the MMA Conditioning Association, which is another division of NESTA. It is the center of his focus today. After studying Kung Fu for 12 years, along with a number of other disciplines like Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Krav Maga, Ellis recognized that MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) is the fastest growing sport in the world. Yet, like a giant soup, MMA is nothing more than a combination of many forms, many thoughts, many philosophies, but has no structure.
Ellis says he figured that if he got some of the best MMA coaches, exercise physiologists and personal development leaders, he could create a scientific basis for training MMA athletes. His MMA Conditioning Association was born. Ellis is currently teaching MMA conditioning to MMA athletes and regular fitness enthusiasts alike at LA Boxing.
MMA, along with harnessing the Internet for certifications and boot camps, is just another in a string of successful fitness trends that Ellis has positioned himself on the cutting edge. And because that doesn't happen accidentally, it most likely will continue to be a recurring theme in his life. For the past 15 years, Ellis has set aside the week between Christmas and New Year's to review his previous year's goals, set new goals for the coming year, and maybe most importantly, scour magazines and books to discover what's happening, what's new and what's interesting.
That one habit, he says, is key to being the innovator, rather than the follower.
And it's that key habit that will most likely transform Ellis' ultimate goal into reality. Ellis says that when all is said and done, he would like to be remembered as someone who helped make fitness a lifestyle for many, as well as someone who provided many with the opportunity for success.
"My primary goal is to serve the needs of new and upcoming trainers and coaches," says Ellis. "If I can make their journey to the top faster, smoother and better than mine, mission accomplished."
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