Interview: Carl Paoli of Freestyle Connection [Exclusive]
Mathew Sims from Exercise.com: So Carl, can you tell us a little bit about your background in competitive sports?
Carl Paoli: I grew up in Spain doing gymnastics competitively. And when I was 8, 9, I learned what the Olympics were. So I set a goal to make it there. And by the time I was 15, 16 I was starting to get plagued with injuries and the teenage mindset, which led me to struggle until I was 18, 19. So I decided to retire from gymnastics and then got into action sports and eventually found fitness.
Lessons for Life
Mathew Sims: And how has failure shaped your success now? You talked about the foundational years and kind of realizing it sets you back. So how did that failure maybe set you up to succeed later on?
Carl Paoli: Yeah, it just gives you a sense of awareness. One of the things that I talk about a lot, this notion that trying to sell people on preventative medicine is practically impossible.
So one of the things that we want to do is we want to get people first excited about the things that they want to do, and then try to give them the tools to be able to develop those, with the assumption that you are going to fail every day.
But every single one of those failures is great feedback to be able to give you the insight that you need to make the next decision, take the next step and simply be able to adhere to a process that over time will give you an outcome.
Whether it looks like going to the Olympics, losing weight, moving more effectively, healing from an injury, regardless, you are progressing. And that’s what is to me, exciting. And that’s what failure has really taught me.
Mathew Sims: Awesome. How important is that? You talked about finding something you just enjoy when you exercise. How important is that?
Carl Paoli: For me, it’s extremely important. I personally do not enjoy going to the gym nor training, but I do like learning. I do like learning new skills. I do like the challenge. I do like playing a game. I do like hanging out with friends. I do like having a conversation and coming up with new things.
So the way that I think about training or fitness is in doing it from a perspective of enjoyment. And then within it, being able to find those edges and pushing myself there to really stretch myself and yeah, get the results that I want to get.
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Mathew Sims: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah, I think just enjoying stuff in general, it makes it so much easier. If you’re just dreading doing whatever you’re doing day after day for your fitness, it’s not going to last long term.
And I think we’ve already hit a little bit on this. There are some of the things you’ve said, but why is it important to continue to learn and grow and kind of what motivates you to do that? Just personally?
Carl Paoli: Yeah. When it comes to coaching, for example, one of my missions is to help other people get their needs met. And if you think about needs or the hierarchy of needs through Maslow’s lens at the highest level, there has to be this transcendence that occurs. So growth happens at that level, at the highest level of expression of human behavior.
So if we don’t have a system or an environment or a process that we can go through that can always allow us to get to that point of constantly being in a state of learning, then we’re not adapting, we’re not evolving.
And if we’re not evolving, then we are at the mercy of this world, which thankfully we live in a modern society. But if we didn’t, it would end pretty quickly.
Coaching and Crossfit
Mathew Sims: Yes. And that’s been something I’ve just been focusing on personally is just that constant growth. And it’s uncomfortable sometimes to put yourself in areas where you’re uncomfortable and need to learn and grow. So it’s not easy to do for sure.
So a little bit of a transition. Some people may or may not know that you’ve done some coaching in CrossFit. How has that kind of exploded nationwide and how did you get involved, and what attracts people to CrossFit?
Carl Paoli: Yeah, I think what attracts people to CrossFit is that it’s competitive, it looks a little bit different. It doesn’t look so done up like the stuff that you would see on magazines or typical infomercials. It’s a little bit more raw and organic.
And what people end up finding within CrossFit when they join is that they are very resourceful, meaning that every single person in this space is constantly trying to bring in the best from all different worlds, and aspects of strength and conditioning.
So I think once you find the edge of the CrossFit and you realize that there’s so much more, you just get drawn in. And I think that’s a very powerful aspect of what CrossFit has to offer.
Mathew Sims: Yeah. And can you talk a little bit about your time coaching in CrossFit? I know you’ve trained some professional CrossFit athletes, Annie Thorisdottir.
Carl Paoli: Yeah, coaching her was fantastic. And one of the things that allowed me to kind of set myself apart within the CrossFit space was my ability to teach gymnastics, which is a component of the methodology.
And specifically teaching gymnastics in a way where it was not about the technique itself but how those techniques would transfer over into all other techniques.
So for example, when you practice the pull-up, the pull-up would translate into holding a barbell better on your back. So when you back squat you have a more stable spine and are able to get more access to the hips, apply better force, and do that with all movements.
And when it came to working with someone like Annie Thorisdottir, it was all about getting her ready so she would have a baseline of fitness that she could apply to the CrossFit Games, which are the highest level of performance for a CrossFitter, but also be able to adapt to new challenges.
Because one of the aspects of CrossFit is that they throw out things that you’ve never done before. So whoever can adapt the fastest or learn the fastest tends to win. So that was also one of the most important pieces to developing someone like Annie.
Mathew Sims: And you talked about how your background with gymnastics has helped you train her, but I was just thinking even for your business now, Freestyle Connection, how has your background helped you develop the philosophy and the mission for Freestyle Connection as well?
Carl Paoli: Yeah, I think the overarching mission is to be able to help people move freely. And sometimes that looks physical, sometimes it’s mental, sometimes it’s emotional.
And one of the most important things that we believe in at Freestyle is to accept and respect all styles, all disciplines and to realize that we can learn from all of them. And it’s up to us to gain that information so we can have knowledge.
And then eventually what we do is we try to give our athletes and our communities the tools to apply that knowledge in context, which is now them being able to pursue their own expression of physical education, their own expression of movement.
And in gymnastics, it’s the same thing. Artistic gymnastics, although you abide by a code, the style, the way that you do things, the artistry is fundamental. So for us, presentation is extremely important.
Mathew Sims: I think that organic and kind of authentic approach is something that people nowadays appreciate in our society. It’s what a lot of people look for.
I think that kind of ties into CrossFit from the people that I’ve talked to who really love it, and they love the organic and authentic approach to it. So it sounds like that’s something really important to you.
Carl Paoli: Yes, very important.
Mathew Sims: And so why should coaches not only train people but also educate them? So instead of hey, just do this, tell them why and help them to understand the benefits and take that more teacher mentor approach?
Carl Paoli: I mean, you don’t need to, if you don’t want to grow . . .
. . . but if you care about evolving and you really care about your craft, which is helping other people get their needs met, you’re going to have to become a student of life. And life is ever evolving.
This is why there are so many history books. This is why science is relevant. This is why we have a political discussion. This is why there are economists. This is the reason why the cultures that we know to be true and relevant today are shaping the future that’s coming.
And we, us, as human beings, regardless of our discipline, are responsible for that future. And that future is really the legacy that we’re leaving behind for those who are coming. In addition to respecting this environment that we live in, which is this planet, which is just borrowed.
So if you’re someone who cares about anything besides yourself, I would highly encourage you to be a student of life.
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An Entrepreneur’s Spirit
Mathew Sims: As I was researching for this conversation we were going to have, I’ve just noticed you’ve had your hands in so many different things and it really resonated. Just that entrepreneurial spirit. You’ve done gymnastics, CrossFit, coaching, athletic shoe business, online training.
What advice would you give someone who has a similar entrepreneurial spirit, but maybe doesn’t know how to apply it or like what to do next? Like if you could tell that person one thing that was kind of stuck, but how that same spirit as you, what would you tell them?
Carl Paoli: Well, it would be two-fold. The first part of it would be to realize that if you choose, you’re not losing. If you choose, you win.
And I think there’s a mindset with people who are maybe very creative and have a lot of ideas or are entrepreneurial and can see the opportunities out there, to have this fear that if they choose, they lose. But the reality is that if you choose, you win because that gives you focus and discipline
And the second side of this, the other side of the fold is to not focus so much on the outcome of what you’re creating. But more so come up with what you’re trying to solve, in terms of the problem. And what is it that you as an individual or an organization does best in solving that problem?
And if you can be a specialist within a great world of opportunities, now you will start belonging. And with that, you will start transcending the specialty and the focus that you chose in the first place.
Mathew Sims: I think that ties in so nicely with your perspective on failure, on growth too. Like if you see failure as choosing the wrong thing and then not making a million dollar company, then yeah, it’s really going to be tough.
But if you see it as an opportunity to grow and learn and be a student and all the other things you’ve said, then it’s just an opportunity to continue to be a better person and grow.
And then you’re also multilingual. You mentioned living in Spain. But if someone asked if they should learn another language, what advice would you give them? And how has that experience in different cultures and learning language helped you as a coach and just as a person?
Carl Paoli: First and foremost, languages a lot of times are associated with linguistics. When in reality languages exist in various forms. Music is a language, math is a language, movement is a language.
And if we can just realize that, the first thing we realize is that we have more than one way to connect with the world and to make an impact. So if you’re thinking about learning a new language, first of all, realize how many languages you currently speak.
The second thing is if you want to learn a language, what you’ll realize is that eventually if you immerse yourself in the language, you’re going to have to immerse yourself in the culture. And when you immerse yourself in a culture, what will end up happening is that your belief systems will be challenged. What you have believed to be true up until this point, will change.
And the beauty of this is that whatever it is that you believe right now to be true, it doesn’t die, it simply adapts. And it gives you a greater understanding and a greater perspective to look at things from different points of view. And when you do that, what ends up happening is that you create new space to grow into.
And here’s the beauty of it, is that learning a language, whether it’s a physical movement, music, or an actual language from a different country, is that you’re going to gain some inspiration because you’ll realize that the world is bigger than you thought it is.
You’re also going to be a little enlightened. You’re going to get some insight into new ways of doing things and realizing that you have more to say.
And then you’re also going to be a little confused because there are certain things that you won’t understand, but that confusion, instead of being something that makes you feel defeated or stops you, just realize that it’s something that is opening you up to being able to grow. So take that opportunity to lean into being confused.
Building a Brand on Social Media & Authenticity
Mathew Sims: And then everyone talks about the pitfalls of social media. So we know a lot about those, but in your opinion, what’s the upside of social media? How has it maybe helped you personally or even with Freestyle Connection and what’s that been like for you?
Carl Paoli: Yeah. I built an entire business off of social media. And I’ve built an entire team off of social media, and I currently connect with every single person who has ever attended one of my seminars, which is over 35,000 people. I get to connect with them and reengage with them.
And as I continue to move the needle in my business and my work, social media continues to be the place where I can use it as a journal. I can connect with people, I can use it as a history log to go back in time and see where I was at, and measure how I’ve moved forward.
And it’s also allowed me to learn a new language because the language of social media is extremely powerful. And as technology evolves, if you’re not up to speed with social media, you are missing out on everything that has to do with growth, and how we are shaping human society at this moment.
So it’s a no-brainer to lean into it and to realize that there are a lot of upsides. And the pitfalls of it, the most important part for me is to create a group of people around me that keep me in check. If you’re posting only to make money, you’re going to lose. If you’re posting just to pose and to show the highlight reel of your life, you’re going to lose. It’s not going to serve you.
But if you start posting your process and the truth about who you are as an individual, the right people that you need at this moment are going to move towards you, and that you’ll be able to do something very special with it.
Mathew Sims: And you already kind of hit on this, but the next thing I was going to ask about was kind of that authenticity on social media and kind of avoiding the impostor syndrome.
And so I think, I don’t know if you have anything else to add but I think what you said there about being authentic and not just posting the highlights is really important. Because it really does give you a skewed view of your own life and also the people that you interact with as well.
Carl Paoli: Yeah. This is a big one. I mean the truth is, and this is what I tell everyone, I tell everyone who I work with, I say if I had it figured out I wouldn’t be here. Right? So the same thing happens with social media.
And I tell everyone, I’m a 37-year-old white guy that lives in San Francisco who is still trying to figure it out, and is figuring it out, and is simply sharing the process in the best way he can, whether you like it or not because this is all I’ve got.
And I think this applies to every aspect of our life, whether it’s family or business or the things that we care about within fitness or our hobbies.
Mathew Sims: I think that approach has a certain amount of humility in just saying, hey, this is where I’m at. Like I’m just kind of that learner teacher perspective. That has rings of authenticity on something like social media. So.
Carl Paoli: I think once you’ve been punched in the gut a couple of times you have no other option.
Mathew Sims: Yeah, that’s very true. And then how did you first come across exercise.com and how do you use it within Freestyle Connection?
Carl Paoli: Well, funny enough, exercise.com actually reached out to me. I didn’t know about it, and we started talking and that led to an opportunity to create a program and to test the platform. And as the years have gone on the platform has evolved and our relationship has evolved.
And it’s allowed us to simplify the way that we make decisions. That we present the content that we have been presenting for over a decade now on the platform.
And the fact that you have the app and you can schedule the times to train, it takes away a lot of admin work that we had to do, and now we can actually focus on the practice itself of coaching, which is phenomenal.
Mathew Sims: Yeah. And I think for someone like yourself who engages so well on social media, I mean you talked about the 35,000 people that you personally interact with. I think online training is a perfect fit because really we’ve got lots of people that want to make money online but don’t and really it comes down to that personal connection.
You still just like you’re training someone in person, you’ve got to have that same personal connection. And people have to kind of like you and you have to show your personality there.
So how have you, I don’t know if there’s anything different you’d like to add, but how have you been able to do that and kind of keep the authenticity that people appreciate with Freestyle Connection while also kind of growing your online presence as well?
Carl Paoli: Yeah, so one thing that we’ve done as of late, which has been great, is that we have, in addition to just the demo videos that are placed in the programming, for all the alternative videos, what we’ve created are our tutorials, so we have two minute videos.
And now what our students are doing is the day before their training, they study all the videos. So we have more than a program. We actually have a course that people go through.
And one of the things that we are really inspired by right now is this notion of the infinite progression.
Which is this notion that even though we may have a four-week Muscle Up master program for people to go through, it doesn’t have to be completed in four weeks, and if it is completed in four weeks, they can start over again because our tutorials are set up so that people have different focuses throughout their four-week cycles.
And this is really empowering because it gives people the autonomy, it gives people the option of focusing and mastering one thing, but still being fully aligned with their original purpose.
Whether it’s to get the first Muscle Up or be able to perform it with more repetitions or less pain or whatever the goal may be. So that’s been a very powerful realization for us when it comes to using the platform.
Mathew Sims: We really appreciate your time and talking with us. So this last question is kind of open house. Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you or Freestyle Connection? Anything you want to add?
Carl Paoli: Yeah, the only thing I would say is that if you know something, if you have information, share that information. And then be open to whatever comes your way. And to change what you know to adapt what you know, because what you know is a gift, but that gift can grow if you’re willing to share it with other people and not try to hoard it.