Top Books of 2020 for Gym Owners

Chris Cooper and title text.

Andrew (00:02):

Bookworms, this episode of Two-Brain Radio is for you. Here’s Two-Brain founder, Chris Cooper, with his top books of the year.

Chris (00:08):

Arbox is a leading gym management system offering a full suite of tools and features. Arbox provides gym owners with a dashboard that includes quick access to Two-Brain Business metrics that are key to optimizing your business. With a glance, you can usually review length of client engagement, average, monthly revenue, new versus lost members, and so much more. Visit arbox /TBB to schedule a demo and learn how you can take your gym to the next level. For Two-Brain Radio listeners, Arbox is offering a special deal where you can save 50% off your first three months using the platform.

Chris (00:41):

We were walking along the city streets looking for the best milkshake in Manhattan. It had been a very hard day mentally, and Todd Herman and I were walking from his office to this nearby shake shop. Todd was dressed like he belonged on the bestseller list and his book, “The Alter Ego Effect,” was a huge hit. It was on the bestseller list. We were talking about great books and how the classics inspired some of the current business bestsellers. When Todd mentioned “Good to Great” by Jim Collins, I almost walked out into traffic. I was so excited to share something with my mentor, that I pulled my phone out of my pocket. And without even looking up, dialed my voicemail. “Am I that boring?” Todd asked me. He was laughing. I didn’t answer. I punched in my voicemail password, skipped through a few.

Chris (01:34):

And then I held the phone up to his ear, listen to this, I said. “Hey Chris, it’s Jim Collins here,” the voicemail started. Todd’s eyes got big. Collins is a notorious recluse who rarely does interviews. And he almost never speaks in person. He wrote some of the quintessential books on business. ”Good to Great,” “Great by Choice.” And he coined some of the most popular business terms of all time. Like the hedgehog concept, pushing the flywheel and a bunch of others. Todd listened to the whole message on my phone. It was several minutes long. Collins loved the work we’re doing at Two-Brain. Then Todd handed me back the phone and said, that’s really amazing, but you know, Collins was wrong about something really important. So we went into this deep discussion about Collins’s hedgehog concept. Basically that businesses should be more like hedgehogs and less like foxes, that businesses should dig really deep into their one area of expertise and focus only on that to the exclusion of everything else.

Chris (02:36):

But Todd thought that the age of specialization was over; that businesses should pivot to match the needs of their clients instead of simply trying to be the best to draw clients to them. It’s not the hedgehogs who are on top anymore. He said to me, Collins was wrong. It’s the foxes, the foxes win. Then he said, when you know how to build an audience, you’re set for life. Todd’s words on audience building reminded me of Seth Godin’s important lesson. Don’t find an audience for your product, find a product for your audience. That was the one of the most important things that I learned in 2020. And it wasn’t in a book, but reading books led me to that connection, even though it came on a hot Manhattan sidewalk during a hunt for milkshakes. Most business books can be distilled into one or two great ideas. As Nassim Taleb wrote, most books would have made a good essay and most essays was made a good tweet, but the best business books share ideas that are actionable. And that’s why guys like Mike Michalowicz will always taught my list of best books of the year. One thing that I learned in late 2019, that might help you is to find the principle ideas in a business book, using a service like Blinkist. Then if the idea warrants further consideration or a deep dive, you buy the audio book. And if the audio book contains materials or huge ideas you’d like to come back to later, you pick up the hard copy and you fold or you photocopy pages. And if the author’s message really makes you look at life differently, you call the author and you ask them for mentorship. Blinkist costs about 120 bucks a year. The audio version of each book costs me about 12 bucks a month.

Chris (04:18):

I listened to around eight books per month on Blinkist. And then I buy about three audio books. And then I buy a hardcover book every month or so, but the real value here isn’t the few bucks that I’ve saved. It’s the value of my time and focus. The average book summary on Blinkist lasts eight minutes. If in an eight minute pitch, I can’t find one interesting idea, then I don’t have to waste six hours on the book. If anything, Blinkist, oversells big ideas. It’s a bit like watching a preview reel for a comedy, and then watching the movie to find all the good jokes were in the previews that you already saw. If the preview isn’t funny though, then you can probably skip the movie. When someone has truly achieved what you want to achieve, you go to the source and you say, show me the way.

Chris (05:01):

That’s what I did with Todd. It’s what I’ve done with all of my mentors. And while I don’t buy mentorship from every author I read, I did it more in 2020 than ever before. I paid for leadership from Seth Godin, Chris Voss, Risha Grant, Cameron Herold, Todd Herman, Mike Michalowicz, John Maxwell’s team. And some of the other authors that are going to appear on the list I’m about to give you. 2020 was a hard year. I needed mentorship more than ever. And I find my mentors through books. Here are the top books that I read in 2020. Fewer books are about business anyway were published in 2020, then in 2019, because well, it takes a while to write a book and everything we thought we knew in 2019 immediately became outdated when COVID hit. While I did buy dozens of books in 2020, I found myself returning to the tried and true. Most common question I ask my business heroes now is what book have you read five times instead of what are you reading now? So with that in mind, many of the best books I read in 2020 aren’t new, but their resilience makes them even more important. Book number one, “All Marketers Are Liars” by Seth Godin. Not only did I read this book twice more in 2020, but I also shipped almost a hundred copies out to clients this year. More than ever, 2020 taught us that the story controls our reaction. It isn’t the other way around. In many ways, the tail wags the dog, the story our media told determined the actions that we took during COVID. 2020 also taught many gym owners that they needed to tell a new story about fitness and their business. Communication really made the difference during the bricks and mortar shutdowns. And this book holds the key to client affinity and retention.

Chris (06:49):

The top lesson in the book: don’t find an audience for your service, find services for your audience. In other words, pivot your business to match what your clients need right now. You’re not actually selling CrossFit or personal training or group fitness or the paleo diet, you’re selling a solution, and a solution changes as a client’s needs change. The second book is the The 75 Hard Challenge by Andy Frisella. Now this wasn’t really a book you read, but a movement you follow and it should serve as an example to other fitness pros. I included this book because so many of our tinker level clients follow the program, and it’s very popular with CEOs. In fact, if you search for 75 hard on Amazon, you’ll find some tracking logs and some other self-published book of other CEOs doing the challenge. Very few books inspire fan accounts. That’s something for gym owners to note. The 75 Hard Challenge wasn’t really novel, but it was simple and actionable.

Chris (07:51):

The hallmark of genius is when you see a product and you say, I could have thought of that, or I’ve been doing that all along. I just didn’t name it. Or anyone could have done the same thing, but nobody else did. And that is the top lesson from 75 Hard. It’s not that drinking water is magical. The top lesson is that simplicity and clarity get results. I hope this pushes seventy-five other fitness professionals to write their own books, even if only their clients ever read them. The third book in my top books of 2020 is “Business Secrets From the Bible” by Daniel Lapin. Now this might be a surprise choice, but the book contains a valuable lesson that you’re rarely going to hear anywhere else. That business is good. That profit is good. And that creating value for people is the highest gift you can provide humanity.

Chris (08:42):

After many months spent in my basement during COVID researching and writing from 4:00 AM till 9:00 PM, I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear that lesson that I was doing the right thing, and Lapin, who’s a rabbi, repeats that message over and over throughout the book. The book is also a great example of how to use stories to make your points stick. While I’ve read most and repeated many of the lessons in the book, Lapin does an amazing job of tying his key points to stories from as he puts it, ancient Jewish wisdom. The downside, though Lapin and promises not to try and convince anyone to switch religions, some dogma does shine through. Still it’s well worth the lesson. The fourth book is “Vivid Vision” by Cameron Herold. And you just heard me rattle my CEO coffee mug. I also want to mention another book by Cameron Herold called the Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs. That was a favorite of a lot of people who attended our summit last year. But the top lesson of Vivid Vision is that most entrepreneurs don’t really know where their business is going. And if they don’t know, then they can’t lead their staff and their staff can’t lead their clients. But the hard part isn’t really coming up with a vision of success or a mission or a goal. The hard part is communicating that vision to your staff and teaching them to teach it to your clients. Cameron covered the Vivid Vision exercise succinctly in his earlier book, Double Double, but this book tells you exactly how to do the really hard part, which is getting people on board with your vision and moving toward it. It’s a very powerful book, but it’s a more powerful exercise. And if you read it, do yourself a favor, sit yourself in front of a laptop, play the book and work through the exercises as you go. Twice,

Chris (10:31):

I stopped this book and said, I have to get this stuff out of my head before I go any further. The next book is “Fix This Next” by Mike Michalowicz. Now Michalowicz is great at writing books with very clear actions to take. “Fix This Next” is probably his broadest book, but he still pulls off the ability to give directives things that you can take action on right away. Like every good directive project, Michalowicz it starts with a diagnostic. Readers can determine which part of their business needs their attention. Now it’s a great tool and like Michalowicz’s best ideas, it’s not a one and done. You need to repeat it. I think entrepreneurs who want to figure it out for themselves should probably read this book twice a year and do the exercises every time. More on that topic in just a second.

Chris (11:19):

Two-Brain Radio is brought to you by AGuard, providing elite insurance for fitness and sport. AGuard offers coverage for functional fitness facilities, mixed martial arts gyms and even events and competitions. You can also get access to healthcare insurance, discounted AEDs and discounted background checks. AGuard’s coverage options are designed to keep you safe. To find out more, visit

Chris (11:42):

The top lesson is that you can’t do everything. The most important thing you can do is take your business apart and objectively examine every piece, then focus on the weakest link for as long as it takes to fix it. Then you audit each piece of your business again and again and again, and this is really how mentorship works and it’s an objective third party auditing all of your options, prescribing the best action to take, keeping you focused on it and then auditing the outcome and then starting over again. But if you want to DIY this, Fix This Next is the closest book I’ve ever heard to mentorship.

Chris (12:19):

Our next book is “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” by Amy Morin. The top lesson in the book is that mentally strong people plan for challenges. And instead of thinking only of the steps in their plans, they think about the obstacles and they plan for those obstacles. So for example, one thing that constantly derails me is negative feedback during the COVID crisis. When the world’s emotional tolerance was exhausted, I got some really rare hate mail, not much, but even one rough email could derail me for a day. I should have realized that was going to happen when everybody was placed under stress and then made a plan to deal with it better instead of letting it distract me. Our next book is “The Wealthy Fit Pro’s Guide to Getting Clients and Referrals” by Jon Goodman and Mike Doehla. The top lesson here is, now I’m a fan of Mike Doehla and Jon Goodman is one of the very rare fitness business coaches who provides actionable directives.

Chris (13:18):

This probably didn’t get the attention it deserved because it was released in February and something else happened around that time that distracted all of us, but whether your business is online or in person, there are lessons in this book that you absolutely need to hear. Especially this one: Even though people can find workout videos online for free, they will still pay for fitness coaching. What they’re buying is someone who sorts through all the junk, all the options, all the ideas and says do exactly this. At Two-Brain, we call that a prescriptive model. People are really paying for clarity. Now the referral scripts alone in the book will get you a hundred X return on the purchase price and reading time from the book. So pick it up. Our next book is “Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol. The top lesson is that you need to identify the outcome you want and then work backwards to achieve it.

Chris (14:12):

Forget what you’ve done in the past. Those are sunk costs that have no bearing on your future. This book was a really good read for gym owners who needed to pivot to a whole new world in 2020. Many try to simply replicate what they were doing in their bricks and mortar gyms online by broadcasting a zoom class. And it didn’t work. Instead, they had to adopt a whole new model. Some resisted, and unfortunately they suffered for it. Some loved this new model, some tried the new model and they didn’t love it. Not because they didn’t love the new tools or having more time, but because change is hard and many missed seeing their clients in person every day. I can relate to that. And no owners wanted to give up on the gyms they had worked so hard to build, their sunk costs. But after reading this book, I felt more ready to make the hard changes that I needed to make to survive.

Chris (15:03):

My mission didn’t change, but I had to build a different rocket. My next book is “The Big Leap” by Gay Hendricks. The top lesson is you have a picture of yourself in your mind, that picture isn’t accurate and it’s probably holding you back before. You can really grow your business, you have to change your persona. Now, this book was a great compliment to one of my topics of 2019, the Alter Ego Effect by my mentor, Todd Herman. While Todd took the tactical approach of how to build an alter Ego, Hendricks actually backs up a few steps with the reasons that you need to shed your current ego or your persona. I found myself really like nodding along as I listened to it. 2020 made a lot of us grow up very quickly and adopt the persona of the person we had to become to survive.

Chris (15:52):

But that process starts with the realization that the person you are, isn’t the person you need to be yet. My next book is “Blue Ocean Strategy” by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne. I hope I got the French pronunciation, right? It’s been a long time since I studied French in high school. The top lesson of “Blue Ocean Strategy”. I actually read this book years ago, like over a decade ago, but I wasn’t ready for it because I couldn’t see the blue ocean in fitness back then. A year ago, I read it again because online coaching seemed to be the blue ocean into which only a few coaches are swimming. But COVID sped up the evolutionary process of every industry and like it or not, almost every coach had to move online or die in 2020. The key isn’t to find the thing that no one else is doing, the key is to find the thing that your clients need and can’t get anywhere else.

Chris (16:44):

And as I quoted at the beginning of this post, don’t find an audience for the thing you want to sell. Find the thing your audience wants to buy and get it to them. When I’m reading books, I look for commonalities and themes and common threads, and that’s really the only argument that I can make for reading a lot of different books. Most of the time, an entrepreneur should read one book several times and take as much as they can from it. But when you read a broader scope like this, you often find commonalities or threads that tie the big ideas together. And this was the thread of 2020, that we don’t own a gym, that we own a coaching business. And when the needs of our clients change, our business should pivot to meet those needs. Now a surprise. I have a new book and it’s called “The Gym Owners Handbook.”

Chris (17:31):

It might be called something slightly different by the time it gets published in mid December, but it’s really Two-Brain Business 3.0. It’s the best book I’ve ever written for gym owners. It’s clearer, it’s sorted into ideas and sections and it’s directive. You can open it up. You can read a chapter and immediately know what action to take next. There’s so much in there that I can’t put it on Blinkist. The knowledge and directives can’t be distilled further down than they already are because I’ve already boiled down all of my experience into irreducible actions, but I will put it on Audible and read it myself this time. In our next episode, I’m going to talk about the hard truths of 2020, the top 10 lessons that I learned this year. A lot of those lessons came from or were reinforced by the books on this list.

Chris (18:17):

If you don’t have time to read them all, that’s OK. Feel free to skim them. Feel free to start with something like Blinkist, feel free to ask entrepreneurs that you want to grow up to be like, what are the books that you’ve read five times? Don’t stop learning, but don’t stop focusing and filtering either, because as Jim Rowan once said, knowledge without action just leads to an education. Knowledge with action leads to wealth. You’re far better to read one book this year and act upon it than try to read one book a week and become overwhelmed by information. And so when I write my books, I try to make them as directive and actionable as I can, which is a lesson that I learned way back in 2010 before I was writing books, when I was just still publishing a blog. Somebody responded and said, yeah, but what do we do? And if you can’t finish a book and have an answer to that question, then set the book aside. If you can’t finish the first two chapters of the book and answer the question, “Yeah, but what do I do?” Maybe you should think about putting that book on hold and going to the next one. The most important thing that happens when you read a book is that you have clarity that allows you to take action.

Andrew (19:29):

Like business books? You can get the audio version of Chris Cooper’s Two-Brain Business 2.0 for free. Click free tools in the show notes to download it today. Thanks for listening. Please subscribe to Two-Brain Radio for more episodes.


Thanks for listening!

Thanks for listening! Run a Profitable Gym airs twice a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. Be sure to subscribe for tips, tactics and insight from Chris Coooper, as well as interviews with the world’s top gym owners.

To share your thoughts:

To help out the show:

  • Leave an honest review on iTunes. Your ratings and reviews really help, and we read each one.
  • Subscribe on iTunes.

One more thing!

Did you know gym owners can earn $100,000 a year with no more than 150 clients? We wrote a guide showing you exactly how.