Working out doesn’t have to be about your muscles alone. It can become a form of self-expression, just like writing, drawing, music, or any other kind of art. For Josh Pepping, 40, and his wife, Mari, 35, Onnit’s training tools have provided not only a path to better bodies and healthier living, but a way to vent feelings over a number of obstacles, frustrations, and a major family tragedy.
The Peppings, who co-own a chiropractic clinic in Milton, WA, took a gamble on the Onnit 6 Steel Mace program, and, through that, discovered the Onnit Tribe—a private Facebook group of Onnit fans who support each other’s fitness and life goals. We chatted with them about how the Tribe has helped them through dark times and helped their kids stay active, and why it’s great to #bethechicken.
Onnit: Let’s start at the beginning. Actually, even before that. How did you two meet?
Josh: I believe it was in 2007—she was going to school to be a chiropractic assistant, and I was in my first year of undergrad to be a chiropractor. I met her my first day of school. I said, “Oh, she’s pretty. I want to marry her.”
Mari: It took me a little longer to come around [laughs], but I did.
When did you go into business together?
Mari: Josh has been working in the office we’re in since 2014, and we bought the business together in June of this year.
So what prompted you to take up the Onnit 6 Challenge and join the Onnit Tribe?
Josh: We had both been using kettlebells for years. I owned a set of Primal Bells from Onnit, and I had read Aubrey Marcus’ book, Own The Day. Through Onnit, I found videos of coach Leo Savage using the steel mace, so I bought one. That’s how we found the Onnit 6 Steel Mace program, the Challenge, and then the Tribe. This was April of last year.
Mari: I was not an active person when I met Josh. He got me into kettlebells, but I was hesitant to try anything beyond that. He would try to present other unconventional tools and types of workouts to me, but I was always like, “Nope, not interested.” Then he showed me the mace and how Savage was using it. It looked like a dance, and that really spoke to me. When I saw Onnit had a program for the mace, I thought, “I guess I’ll try it.” I had only been doing swings and getups with kettlebells before, and now, since April of last year, I’ve tried all sorts of different workout tools.
What was your first impression of the Onnit Tribe?
Mari: Before I joined, I felt inadequate. I thought that everyone in the Tribe was going to be levels above me and that I was going to look like a fool. It took me a week, at most, to realize that that wasn’t the case. The Tribe is made of real, everyday people, like me, just trying to do better. I felt like I found my new home.
Were there any particular posts, or people, you identified with right away?
Josh: The members are amazing, but so are the coaches. [Onnit Chief Fitness Officer] John Wolf’s presence in the Tribe is huge. He’s like a servant leader. He runs the show, but he’s there to help you with anything you need. The Facebook Lives he would do, and interacting with all the members… He showed that he was really authentic, and he created a safe, comfortable environment.
Coach Wolf is one of the Tribe’s greatest assets. Can you describe what it’s like to work with John?
Josh: For one thing, he’s always there. When you see a guy in exercise videos, you don’t expect to ever have him really coaching you. But John is available all the time in the Tribe to drop words of encouragement, or otherwise comment on your posts. If you’re having trouble with an exercise, he’ll tell you to shoot him a video so he can fix it for you. And Shane [Heins, Director of Fitness Education] does the same thing. Even just having them there to say it’s OK to take a day off now and then can be a big help.
Mari: I don’t think I could have stuck out the Onnit 6 programs without the Tribe or the coaches. With most exercise programs, you can’t talk to the coaches who created them. It’s just a show you put on and watch while you’re working out. But with Onnit 6 and the Tribe, you get to know these people and they know you. They’re real, they’re vulnerable, and they’re there for you.
Josh: I’ll add that, when you do what I do for work, which is very physical, there are times when you get home and you just want to be a potato. But when you have the Tribe on your side, you think, “If Mitchell’s working out today, I’ve gotta do it.” I can’t get on Facebook and hear Mitchell say, “What’s up Onnit Triiiibe” and not want to move. I want to earn that “What’s up!”
What did you think about the Onnit 6 Steel Mace workouts?
Mari: That’s still my favorite program, even though I felt like puking after the first day [laughs]. I had never done a Tabata or HIIT workout before, and it was great to do an intense routine that doesn’t take very long—sometimes under 45 minutes. I’m a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her kids, and I work as well, so I wear all the hats. It’s really important that I can get things done in an efficient amount of time.
How else has the Onnit Tribe helped you be better parents?
Mari: It’s helped our kids be more active. We have three children: they’re 21, 12, and nine. We like doing activities outdoors as a family, and the pandemic made it harder to do that—even the parks weren’t open for a while. So we’ve been working out together for much of the past year with the Onnit programs. Each of our kids has their own HydroCore Bag, and we work out with them outside.
One time, our son, Oliver, was playing with a toy sword while I was doing a steel mace workout. He pretended it was a mace and did the workout with me. I put a video of it up in the Tribe and John Wolf commented on it. When I told Oliver, it made him want to do more workouts with me. He thought it was so cool that Coach John commented on his video!
What other physical results have you seen from the Onnit 6 workouts?
Mari: I lost some weight last year, then gained some of it back. But this year I’ve lost almost 15 pounds and kept it off so far. I have more definition in my shoulders, legs, and arms. I’ve also seen massive improvements in my posture—and Josh can attest to that because he’s a chiropractor.
I feel stronger too. The other day, I helped some friends move into their new house. Normally, I’d be incredibly sore after that, but this time, I wasn’t sore at all.
Josh: I’ve lost a little weight, but that’s not something I’m hyper-focused on. I’m not good at mobility, so just being able to touch my toes has been a big deal, and the Onnit 6 workouts have helped me with that. My stability is also vastly improved. My knees hurt less because I’ve built strength in different planes of motion. I’m more comfortable in a deep squat now, and I’ve gained quite a bit of shoulder mobility.
Mari, you’ve posted videos in the Tribe about the healthy habits you learned to establish. Can you share some of these and how you made them stick?
Mari: I’ve really worked on time-management and learning how to schedule out my day. I’m not a morning person, but I’ve learned to get up earlier. I’ve also started journaling. I journal twice a day now.
In the morning, I set a goal for the day for what I’ll do movement-wise—it could be an Onnit 6 workout or yoga. At night, I write about what I ate that day, how much time I spent moving, how I felt, and all the things I accomplished—whether that’s doing laundry, cleaning, doing something for the kids, or running errands. Then I can look back and reflect on what I’ve accomplished, and tweak things to maximize the next day. A number of the Tribe members journal… That’s the thing about the Tribe: there’s always this spirit present of everyone trying to do better. The Tribe makes you feel like everyone else is improving all the time, so it makes you want to do it too.
Josh: My approach to journaling is a little different. I look at movement practice as a kind of meditation. So I journal about how movement helps me mentally. I’m a big believer that we’re drawn to different programs for different reasons during different stages of our lives. During the last Onnit 6 Challenge we did, we were getting ready to buy the clinic, and I was fighting off some self-doubt. Thoughts like, “Am I good enough to be a boss?” Those kinds of feelings and doubts. I felt like I needed to go to war with myself, and that was represented in my choice to pick up the steel mace for that Challenge—because it’s a descendant of a war weapon.
When I want to find strength in myself because life has knocked me down, I pick up the kettlebell. Because I feel like if I can pick up this ball of iron, I can get back up from anything. So my journal practice dives more into what the movement represents and why I want to do this movement over another one. Recently, I’ve been drawn back to the HydroCore Bag, because I’ve had to endure some personal tragedy. The ocean is my happy place, so anything to do with water helps calm me down.
The Tribe has also helped me learn the habit of giving myself grace—not beating myself up when I feel like I can’t make a workout. It’s OK to not be OK and just take the day off. Before I got into the Tribe, when I had days like that, I just felt like I was being lazy, and that made me feel worse about myself. The Tribe has helped me see that I’m not alone.
Going back to the personal tragedy you mentioned, Josh, you were referring to your mother’s passing. How has the Tribe helped you recover from that loss?
Josh: Yeah, so my mom had been sick, and at first my family was told that we’d have a few more years with her. That quickly turned into, “Oh, we don’t have much time,” and then to, “Josh, you have to come see her next weekend before it’s too late.” She died in July.
I can’t overstate the Tribe’s impact there. Many of the members reached out immediately to offer support. “Call us if you need anything. We got you. It’s OK if you miss a workout.” I don’t think I’d even be standing today without their support.
Mari, you’ve dealt with some troubles throughout these Challenges too. Tell us how you handled that.
Mari: Yeah, we’ve done four Onnit 6 Challenges and completed three. The first time we tried Onnit 6 Bodyweight, it broke us. I hurt my back and Josh sprained his ankle severely. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with the workouts—we just had some injuries going in that made it impossible for us to complete the program. I tried Bodyweight again and, again, I had to pull out due to injury.
It’s really discouraging when you’re doing these workouts and you’re making progress and then you get hurt and you have to take a step back. But the Tribe always reaches out and checks in. They’ll remind us that we can get back to where we were, we just have to listen to our bodies now and take the time we need. They always have suggestions on what you can do in the meantime. The Tribe is so open and vulnerable. You can see that other people have these setbacks too, so you’re never alone. And John and Shane are available to modify the exercises so you can work around problems.
John suggested I take a step back and try the Onnit 6 Durability program, which combines bodyweight movements with steel club exercises—it really attacks your stability issues, so I came out of it much stronger. The pacing is also much slower and less intense than what you do in Bodyweight.
I had done all the other Challenges and I thought, “I’ll just give Bodyweight one more try so I can say I did it, and then I’ll never have to do it again.” I was pleasantly surprised when I made it past Week 1, and when I got to Week 3, I told Shane that my whole mentality on bodyweight training had shifted. I might even do the program again [laughs]. I’m much better at moving other weights than I am at moving my own bodyweight, but now I know I can do it.
Way to get back on the horse!
Mari: Yeah, I think that’s why I became a semi-finalist in the last Onnit 6 Bodyweight Challenge.
Speaking of overcoming injuries, Josh, you’ve been generous enough to offer some free chiropractic advice in the Tribe to help people with their aches and pains. Can you share some of your recommendations?
Josh: I’m a big proponent of cupping, rock tape, and flossing with bands to treat injuries. I suggest everyone get a foam roller or lacrosse ball in their home to roll out with. I’m also happy to jump on calls or video chats with Tribe members who need more specific care, although I always recommend they see a chiropractor in their area for treatment.
Most people need to work on balance and stability to prevent injury, and I think the steel mace can be very effective for that. Here’s an exercise you can do for ankle stability: Put the mace across the back of your shoulders and balance on one foot with the knee slightly bent. Imagine you’re standing on the face of a clock, and gently raise your toes up and tap them down between 10 and 2 on the clock. Tap your toes very gently, like there’s an egg under them. The mace provides an offset load that makes the ankle, knee, and hip work harder to stabilize you. You can do this with the HydroCore Bag too.
I also really like the mace for 360-degree swings. I think that’s one of the best things you can do for shoulder mobility.
What Onnit supplements are you using?
Josh: I like New MOOD®. I have a lot of sleep issues, and it helps me turn myself off at the end of a day. I tried Alpha BRAIN® and it gave me some weird dreams, which I hear some people get. I stopped using it, but I may try it again [laughs]. I take the Whey Protein as well. It’s really smooth, not gritty. It doesn’t have that really nasty protein flavor that most protein supplements have.
Finally, what is the story behind the hashtag, #BeTheChicken? It’s on many of your Tribe posts.
Josh: It started as an inside joke in our family. We had a couple rubber chickens placed around the house, just as a goofy decoration. During one of the workouts in our first Challenge, Mari and I were doing a yoga pose, and I’m not very good at yoga. I said to her, “I feel like a rubber chicken right now.” So we came up with this hashtag, “Be the chicken.”
Somehow, it spoke to people. It took off in the Tribe. Members started to use that hashtag too, and it came to mean that chickens aren’t as weak as they’re made out to be. They’re actually descendants of the T Rex—they’re pretty bad-ass little creatures. So #BeTheChicken is a reminder of a couple things: One, don’t take yourself too seriously, and two, you’re stronger than you think. You can be a descendant of a T Rex too. So that’s our motto now.