IAM774- Founder Makes Strength Training With a Barbell Accessible in the DMV

Podcast Interview with Maddie Watkins

Maddie Watkins is the owner and founder of 202strong, a local fitness studio in the DMV that specializes in making strength training, specifically with the barbell accessible to those who might feel they “can't” lift or aren't strong enough to lift a barbell. Maddie left her background in genetics and microbiology to pursue a personal training certification after she graduated college in early 2010 after discovering the barbell herself and how feeling strong completely changed herself and her life. 202strong opened in 2015 and today there are 2 locations plus a newly added virtual program, StrongLine.

  • CEO Hack: Being true to myself
  • CEO Nugget: Don't get so caught up in the anxiety or fear but embrace that as a learning opportunity
  • CEO Defined: Being a good leader, have a vision and empowering your team


Instagram: @202_strong



Intro 0:02
Do you want to learn effective ways to build relationships, generate sales, and grow your business from successful entrepreneurs, startups, and CEOs without listening to a long, long, long interview? If so, you’ve come to the right place, Gresham Harkless values your time and is ready to share with you precisely the information you’re in search of. This is the I am CEO podcast.

Gresham Harkless 0:29
Hello, hello. Hello, this is Gresh from the IAMCEO podcast and I have a very special guest on the show today. I have Maddie Watkins of 202strong. Maddie is awesome having on the show.

Maddie Watkins 0:38
Thank you for having me. I'm excited to be here.

Gresham Harkless 0:40
No problem super excited to have you on and before we jumped in, I want to read a little bit more about Maddie so you can hear about all the awesome things that she's doing. And Maddie is the owner and founder of 202strong, a local fitness studio in the DMV that specializes in making strength training, specifically with the barbell accessible to those who might feel they “can’t” lift or aren’t strong enough to lift a barbell. Maddie left her background in genetics and microbiology to pursue a personal training certification after she graduated college in early 2010 after discovering the barbell herself and how feeling strong completely changed herself and her life. 202strong opened in 2015 and today there are 2 locations plus a newly added virtual program, StrongLine. Maddie, are you ready to speak to the iamceo community?

Maddie Watkins 1:25
I am I look forward to it.

Gresham Harkless 1:26
Awesome. Let's do it so that I kick everything off. I wanted to hear a little bit more on how you got started and your background and your CEO story. We'll let you get started with our business.

Maddie Watkins 1:35
Yeah, so like I said, about 10 years ago, when I graduated college, I had this, you know, goal of getting a PhD in genetics and studying science. But I was always active and working out in the gym. And I had found the barbell from a personal trainer. And I just decided, you know what, I think I'm gonna get my personal training certification and work at my local gym. So I told my parents, they're kind of like, Okay, I'm sure that will be exactly right. They're like, you always have this degree you can fall back on, I said, I know, I know. But I really want to do this. So I, you know, became a personal trainer. And I worked with primarily women in their 50s. And I taught them how to deadlift and squat and do pull ups. And I just loved it. I love seeing their transformation, and bringing the barbell to this community of people who wouldn't typically lift. And so then fast forward five years, I decided I wanted to expand that community and create an environment where more people could come in and lift and you know, find their strong, which is our motto, and just be exposed to the barbell because it's it's intimidating. It's scary. If you don't know what you're doing, you can't just pick it up and start lifting really. So that's what inspired to to strong do come into fruition.

Gresham Harkless 3:01
Nice. I absolutely love that kind of even sounds like I'm definitely correct me if I'm wrong, but the barbell kind of sounds like it's definitely symbolic from being in creating that, that before and after, so to speak, that that transition period. And it sounds like with all that knowledge and experience that you have, you've been able to kind of help your clients be able to do that and do that within the community.

Maddie Watkins 3:19
Yeah, absolutely. And it's the most rewarding part of the job is seeing those transformation.

Gresham Harkless 3:25
Yeah, absolutely. Seeing and being a part of that growth is definitely something something phenomenal, and being able to kind of see that strong, as you kind of said as well, too. So I want I wanted to say draw down a little bit. I know you talked a little bit more about the community, can you take us through a little bit more about too too strong, and what you do to kind of help support the community and clients you work with?

Maddie Watkins 3:45
Yeah, so we are group fitness classes. So we bring the barbell into that group fitness space. And our classes are a smaller group size, so 12 to 15, we really want to bring that personalization, that experience into our classes. So when you think too strong, you think of the place where I walk in, I know I'm gonna get help with my form, I know I'm gonna learn how to lift, and I'm going to feel safe, doing so safe in terms of with your form, but also safe with the people around you. They're not going to judge you. It doesn't matter what you look like what your background is, and really creating that experience for the fitness community. Add that strength component because it's so important. And it's so rewarding and empowering. But people can find every excuse of why they think they're not good enough or strong enough to lift the barbell.

Gresham Harkless 4:46
Yeah, absolutely. So that's why I love kind of like obviously you see the fitness transformation, but it kind of even sounds like you have that, I guess individual or self transformation as well to where a lot of times I've always felt like sometimes So the best thing you can do is if you feel like you can't do something, but if obviously you have people around you to help you do that and be able to get over that hurdle, it helps out, obviously a fitness, but in so many aspects of our life.

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Maddie Watkins 5:10
Totally. And that's how the barbell changed my life and why I decided to become a personal trainer. Because it's so much more than the physical. You know, you can add weight to your deadlift, for example, but when you add that confidence into knowing what you can and cannot do and build that personal resiliency, that's, that's the magic right there.

Gresham Harkless 5:32
Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like what your parents said, you know about your degree, once you have that confidence, and you get over that hurdle. That's something that no one can kind of take away from you. So once you have that foundation, you can do you know, so many different things?

Maddie Watkins 5:43
Yeah, totally.

Gresham Harkless 5:44
Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. So now, I wanted to ask you for what I call your secret sauce. And this could be for you, or your business or combination of both. But what do you feel kind of sets you apart and makes you unique?

Maddie Watkins 5:54
Um, it's definitely creating that full experience. So the experience, it's not just a workout, it's not just a gym. But you know, being in the service industry, we are in the industry of creating experiences. So from the moment someone walks into the door, to the moment they leave, you know, how can we let leave our customers with a certain feeling that they remember and that they tie into, to a too strong, you know, so saying people's names, getting to know them, in the simple way of how you can critique someone's form and not overcorrect someone, but you know, encourage them and help them find their strong and realize that they can do this in a nice way. But also then adding that challenge. And let's challenge you, and let's like add a little bit of friendly competition. And so the whole experience is really what makes too too strong. And the secret behind that is your team of coaches. So your team has to believe in it, they have to live it. And then they have to provide that to every single class. And so you know, whether it's hiring because I've had my fair share of bad hires, and not as good hires, but hiring the people who you know, believe in the mission or believe what you're doing, and then training them to properly teach the deadlift. Right. So cultivating that team experience is, I think, the most important, and yeah, who helps you deliver your brand and your product?

Gresham Harkless 7:38
Yeah, it's actually really powerful. And I definitely feel like anybody who's hired, sometimes more than one person has experienced the ups and downs of sometimes finding the right fit. But I think what you spoke to at least what I hear is creating that culture in that environment, when you have that culture in that environment, on the people that do fit, your team fit, and they stay and they they blossom. And then it starts to kind of bleed or go to the people that come through the doors, you start to get that really great experience. And one thing when we were talking as well, too, I thought of this quote, where, you know, people don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care and being able to kind of say their names, be able to kind of correct you know, their form and do it in a way where you feel like you're you're being helped towards reaching your goals is definitely something that's powerful.

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Maddie Watkins 8:20
Totally, and I've learned one thing with hiring, you know, you can have someone who's the most knowledgeable in the industry, they have all the credentials on paper, and not the personality to match or, or not the personality that might fit your brand. And then you might have someone who might not know, you know, or have as much experience, but they have that desire to learn. They're their personality is spot on, you can teach the knowledge, you can't teach the personality. Yeah. And that I think goes into a big part of creating that branded experience so that it's universal for every class.

Gresham Harkless 9:01
Yeah, absolutely. And again, it starts to trickle through, and you know, having those coachable people, so to speak, but you know, sometimes, and I say this often that we forget, when we look at business, obviously you have to make sure you know your metrics, you make sure you know your numbers and all those things. But we often forget that people part, whether it be the people that's on our team, or the people that we're serving, and forgetting that sometimes we're missing the boat on how we're delivering those experiences that she spoke to and people get when they come into your environment.

Maddie Watkins 9:27
Totally. And for me and fitness industry, people.

Gresham Harkless 9:32
Yeah, absolutely. People First and I so I wanted to switch gears a little bit. And I want to ask you for what I call a CEO hack. So this could be like an app, a book or a habit that you have, but what's something that makes you more effective and efficient?

Maddie Watkins 9:45
Um, it's kind of it's a different one. It's not really like a book, but it's always coming back to being true to myself. So I think it's really easy to get lost in the noise to get lost in the competition. into what everyone else is doing. And so when I come back to being true to me, and what I want to do and what to to strong is about and why I started this business to begin with, it sets me on the right path again.

Gresham Harkless 10:15
Awesome, awesome, awesome. So now I wanted to ask you for what I call a CEO, nugget. And this could be a word of wisdom or a piece of advice, it might be something you would tell a client or if you hacked into a time machine, you might tell your younger business self.

Maddie Watkins 10:26
yes. So I would tell my younger business self or someone who's maybe starting out, to not get so caught up in the anxiety you might be feeling or the fear, and to instead embrace that and use it as amazing learning opportunities.

Gresham Harkless 10:45
Awesome, awesome. Awesome. So now I wanted to ask you my absolute favorite question, which is the definition of what it means to be a CEO. And we're hoping to have different, quote unquote, CEOs on the show. So Maddie, what does being a CEO mean to you?

Maddie Watkins 10:56
To me, being a CEO means being a leader. So being a leader in my community, for my team, for the members that come to my gym, because someone has to be at the top, someone has to kind of run the show, make the decisions and guide where the business is going. But ultimately, and it kind of goes back to what I've touched on before. Being a good leader and empowering your team empowers them to really believe in the business and believe in their job and give it their all, which trickles down into for me, the members and the community. And it just fosters this sense of, of a place where people want to be and they want to be part of, and if I don't inspire my team to grow and to become better, then they're just going to plateau. And then the members kind of feel that plateaus. So you know, I look at it, I'm kind of we're all together, we all work together. I'm not better than anyone. I don't sit above anyone. But being CEO is having the vision, being able to run with the vision, but then leading everyone to kind of follow along and be their best selves along the way.

Gresham Harkless 12:16
Yeah, absolutely love that. And I think that you know, when you take on the challenge and the incredible responsibility of starting and leading, you know, a team and obviously the the the clients and customers we work with as well to leadership is definitely a part of it. I love that empowerment piece that you kind of spoke to as well, too, because I think true leadership empowers others, to be their best selves to find their strong, so to speak, as well, too. And I think when we start to understand that we start to practice that in every action that we take, and thoughts that we have, and it really starts to create that really phenomenal experience.

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Maddie Watkins 12:46
Yeah, and really, without that, I mean, you can crunch numbers all day, you can write a business plan, all you want, I'm clearly not a numbers person, I'm a people person, but you you can have the best numbers in the world. But if you don't have a team that wants to be part of that, what does the numbers mean? Really, unless your business is a one man show, which there absolutely are some that are. But for me, you know, I can't do everything myself, I mean, awesome people to run this show with me.

Gresham Harkless 13:18
Yeah, and I think that, again, is a is a, you know, great show of leadership as well, too. Because I always say, you know, to start a business, you got to have to have an ego to believe that I can create this and make this successful. But at the same time, you have to have that ego that's small enough, or not as large enough to understand that I can't do everything. I'm not the expert at everything. So it's so important to have so many strong pieces and team members and organizations, sometimes even the partner with in place to make sure we we all reach our vision.

Maddie Watkins 13:47
Right? And because we need to collaborate, you need to find people whose strengths or your weaknesses and being able to identify your weaknesses. And stay like you said, like, I I'm not good at this. I need someone who's really awesome who wants to work with me to, you know, master this part, but I'm not as good at.

Gresham Harkless 14:06
Exactly, exactly. And I think we all have our lanes as I kind of talked about as well too. And understanding that it helps us to kind of stay true to our mission and lean more into the things that we are really great at in our gifts so to speak and when we can do that now and I think everything reaches a another level.

Maddie Watkins 14:22
Yeah, agreed. Totally.

Gresham Harkless 14:25
Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. Well, Maddie truly appreciate that definition. In that perspective. I appreciate your time even more. What I wanted to do is passionate Mike so to speak, just to see if there's anything additional you can let our readers and listeners know and of course how best they can get ahold of you and find out about the virtual programs, the in person programs and all the awesome things that are working on. Um,

Maddie Watkins 14:43
yeah, I mean, the last thing I would say is whatever industry you're in, be a well educated consumer of that industry. So you know what you're like in the for fitness. I like to know all the different studios in DC and everything. thing that's going on, but get caught up in that like stay in your lane. Do you go back to being like, why you started this and just kind of let the competition just not even be your focus because it's really easy to get caught up. And whatever else is doing and everyone else's Instagram posts and things like that. That'd be my last tidbit.

Gresham Harkless 15:25
Nice, nice, nice if people want to get ahold of you what's the best way.

Maddie Watkins 15:28
So Instagram, Maddie202strong. And then we started this online fitness program so you don't have to be in DC to join and that is strong line fitness on Instagram, though or 202strong on Instagram, definitely reach out Say hi, send me a message. I'm always down to chat and get to know people.

Gresham Harkless 15:48
Nice. I definitely appreciate that Maddie, we will have the links and information in the show notes as well too. And I definitely appreciate that reminder as well, too. I think obviously, you want to always make sure that you're an expert are very knowledgeable about what's going on in our industries and what's happening, what people are doing. But again, you kind of have to stay true to your why and stay true to that lane that we have and being able to kind of create that awareness but stay true to ourselves is definitely a balancing that with something that when you're able to do it well you really can take things to another level. Totally. Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. definitely appreciate you and I hope you have a phenomenal day.

Outro 16:22
Thank you for listening to the I AM CEO podcast powered by Blue 16 Media. Tune in next time and visit us at IAMCEO.CO. I am CEO is not just a phrase, it’s a community. Be sure to follow us on social media and subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts. Subscribe and leave us a five-star rating. Grab CEO gear a This has been the I AM CEO podcast with Gresham Harkless. Thank you for listening.

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