When his gym shut down in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic, Mitchell Crocker lost more than a place to train—he lost a whole community. The 39-year-old IT professional from Missouri City, Texas, went to his local health club as much for the people and the camaraderie as for the workouts. Stuck at home, Crocker found both his physical and mental health suffering.
“I went through depression at the start of the pandemic,” says Crocker. “I’m a very social person. I liked going to the gym mainly because of the social aspect. My friends were there, and we’d work out and get healthy together. So when my gym closed, I lost that. I wasn’t working out, and I started eating more.”
Luckily, Crocker’s trainer, Justin Penny, had an alternative. An Onnit-certified coach, Penny pointed Crocker in the direction of the Onnit Tribe, a private Facebook group of Onnit fans. The Tribe serves as a support network for people working on their fitness and life goals. Members post messages, photos, and video to encourage one another and to share advice. They also enjoy entertaining each other, showing their senses of humor and socializing—and from that, a brother/sisterhood develops organically.
The Tribe plays a major role for people following Onnit 6 programs—Onnit’s streamable six-week workout plans—and the Onnit 6 Challenges—transformation contests where participants follow an Onnit 6 workout program and try to set healthy habits for life.
One year after joining, and four Onnit 6 Challenges later, Crocker says he’s filled the void the pandemic opened in his life, and then some, thanks to the Onnit Tribe. In this interview, Crocker shares how he’s won friends, gained confidence, and lost three T-shirt sizes along the way—and why he’s now paying it all forward to his fellow Tribe members.
Onnit: When did you join the Onnit Tribe?
Mitchell Crocker: April 2020. When I signed up, it was the day before one of the Onnit 6 Challenges started, so I decided to do it.
What was your first Onnit 6 Challenge workout like?
It kicked my butt squarely, but I had so much fun. I’m the type of person where, if I go to the gym, I don’t just like to freestyle by myself; I like someone to guide me in my workout. With Onnit 6, I had somebody to guide me, and you build a relationship with these people that you’re working out with in the video, like Coach John Wolf. You feel connected to them, and then in the Tribe, you actually get to interact with them.
How do the workouts feel now? Different than one year ago?
Yes, because I put more intensity into them now. I’ve had to alter some of the workouts because of my size, but as my flexibility and mobility have improved, I’ve actually been able to rotate between all three levels of difficulty [editor’s note: Onnit 6 workouts offer different exercise variations based on difficulty, and users choose the move that’s appropriate for their level]. I started with the Onnit 6 Bodyweight workout on Level 1. I did very little Level 3 exercises on the Bodyweight program the first time around, but then I was able to do the harder variations more often as the weeks went along.
How many Onnit 6 Challenges have you done so far?
I’ve completed all six Onnit 6 programs and all four Challenges in the past year. I started April 27th of last year and I’ve taken advantage of every program offered since then.
Congratulations! Which Onnit 6 workout has been your favorite so far, and why?
Definitely Steel Mace. You just don’t realize how many things you can do with that tool. The next day, you really feel it in different muscles you’re not used to feeling. Steel Mace improves my mobility, and it’s just something I have fun using.
What makes the Steel Mace so fun to use?
I like to do things that take my mind off the exertion of working out and make the workout more enjoyable. My imagination runs wild when I’m doing exercises with the steel mace. When using that thing, your mind just goes to different places. I imagine myself as a warrior in a movie, or I’m fighting somebody with a medieval weapon [laughs].
What results have you seen from the Onnit 6 workouts?
I hate running, but now I can run a whole lap around the track. I can do a bunch of laps, running every other one, and I can maintain that for a longer period of time. So, my stamina is up, and I can lift heavier weights, too. Even my flexibility is better now, thanks to the yoga workouts in Onnit 6. I would have never done yoga before Onnit 6, but now I realize the benefits of it.
Outside the gym, my energy levels have been boosted, and people see me as more confident. I’m chosen for different committees at work now. If there’s an idea in my head, I can say it now. I’m not afraid to express myself. All of this has come from physical fitness.
I also have people coming to me asking for tips on fitness. At first, I was like, “Why are you asking ME about fitness? I’m not an expert on that.” [Laughs] But they’ve seen my progress. It’s a humbling experience. Man, I feel good.
Have you lost weight?
I have, yes. I don’t know how much, because I stopped weighing myself a while ago. I first started my fitness journey in 2016, and over the course of the following year, I lost over 100 pounds. But then my arrogance and fear got in the way, and I started gaining it back.
I say arrogance in that I felt like I deserved a reward for eating well and working out, so I would reward myself with unhealthy food. And fear because I had a fear of success. I had a habit of being brave during the hard parts, doing the workouts, but being afraid of the changes.
So now I don’t focus on weight loss; I just try to do better than I did yesterday. That’s my mentality. It’s like going to work every day of the week, or going to church on Sunday. Working out is just part of my daily routine.
I know I’ve lost weight, though, because now I’m able to wear XXL shirts. I used to be 4XL or 5XL, so that’s been one of the biggest rewards. I haven’t worn XXL since high school! [Laughs] I’m certainly on to something, and it feels really good to put on a XXL shirt like it’s nothing.
How has your eating changed since joining the Tribe?
My diet has changed tremendously. I used to eat fast food now and then, but I’ve cut fast food out altogether. Macaroni and cheese was my favorite dish before, and corn bread, but I don’t eat those kinds of things much anymore.
I use an air fryer a lot to cook my food now, and I make sure I have vegetables in my meals. I love kale and beets, and I’m grilling more, too. I have cauliflower rice instead of regular rice. I eat a lot less salt. I also try to eat fresh food instead of processed food. I don’t buy canned food. I love a good steak, and I like seafood, so I eat shrimp and tuna steaks.
Why do you think you’re seeing such great results? As much as we believe in our training and nutrition philosophies, there are a lot of people out there that know how to train hard and eat right but they don’t see the same progress. What’s been the difference-maker for you?
It’s all about the Onnit Tribe. I got in the habit of posting quick videos as a way to check in with people and say that I trained. I’d talk about the workout and how hard it was, but that I got through it, and you can too. People started looking forward to my videos. They expected them.
After the last Challenge, I went silent on the Tribe for a week or two, and I got posts tagging me and saying, “Where’s Mitch’s video today?” I didn’t know the videos touched people so much! I replied, “I’m so sorry. I didn’t know you all were waiting on me. I feel like I let you down.” I started posting again.
I was still working out, but when I felt like the Tribe cared about me and wanted to hear from me, the workouts became that much more important. I’ve come to look forward to shooting videos after the completion of a workout more than the workout itself, and that’s what keeps me motivated now. It’s not the workout… it’s the video that I post in the Tribe after the workout that keeps me accountable. I get through the workout by thinking about what I’m going to shoot in the video afterward.
It’s a pay-it-forward thing. You never know what people are going through. I’ve come to realize that I can’t just be silent, because people are using these videos to stay on track and stay positive.
People reach out to me and say, “Your videos helped me through a difficult situation… I look forward to seeing your smile,” or, “your enthusiasm,” or, “your effort,” and it just drives me. I never would have thought they would touch people like that. It’s heartwarming that I can help people get through life situations just with a video. So I do it for the people. Onnit Tribe has been a lifesaver for me, so I’m going to be there for Onnit Tribe.
How do you approach making the videos?
When making a video, I try to do something comical, because laughter is the best medicine sometimes. When people are laughing, they’re not thinking about their own problems or being discouraged about their workout not going well, or the fact that they missed the workout. So I open up with a big, friendly, “What’s up Onnit Triiiibe, baby!?” When I do those videos, people thank me, saying, “You inspired me.”
And it’s reciprocal. I look forward to their posts, and we’ve formed friendships. They need me the same way I need them.
Gyms have opened back up again, but I don’t feel the need to go back. I have a well-equipped gym at home now, thanks to Onnit. I have a steel mace, kettlebells, and now, instead of having people to support me in person like I had in my old gym, I have the Onnit Tribe online.
Are you saying that the relationships you’ve built with people in a Facebook group—mostly folks you’ve never even met face to face—are as strong as relationships you had with people in person?
Yes. I didn’t know you could build such strong relationships and bonds with people online. That’s something new to me. But the Tribe is a place where you’re loved and supported, and that’s very unique for an online space. Putting something online… that’s the scariest thing you can do. But in the Onnit Tribe, people pour their hearts out. They feel free, and that’s a big confidence-booster. They may be depressed or feel discouraged, but I’ve seen the Onnit Tribe change lives. It saved my life. Especially this past year, it’s been a big part of my growth.