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“Exercise Isn’t Punishment Anymore”: Q&A with Onnit Tribe Member Tim Sibley

Written by
December 29, 2021

Changing your body often requires changing your attitude. For instance, if you see exercise as a necessary evil, you need to find a way to view it as something a little more exciting and fun, and a little less like a trip to the DMV. By the same token, if you think there will come a time when you wake up every morning just rarin’ to get to the gym, you’re sadly mistaken.

Your fitness journey, just like your journey through life, will have its ups and downs, and while you have to stay positive to see progress, no one expects you to perform like a robot who doesn’t have emotions, doubts, and the occasional defect. Tim Sibley, 40, of Wyoming, Minn., a continuous improvement engineer for a medical device company, reframed his view of fitness with the help of the Onnit 6 workout programs and the Onnit Tribe—our private Facebook support group.

We interviewed Sibley, a father of three, about the physical and psychological changes he’s made since discovering our community—and his delicious homemade maple syrup! 

Onnit: What was your experience with fitness before you found Onnit?

Tim Sibley: My experience with fitness growing up was through sports like football. Fitness wasn’t about a healthy lifestyle; it was competitive, and something you just had to do to stay in shape. It certainly wasn’t something I saw as fun. In fact, running was a punishment if we lost a game in football. There’s a reason we called sprints “suicides.”

In college, I went to engineering school, and I stopped doing all sports. My eating and my partying increased, and I put on 40 pounds my freshman year. But then I met the woman who became my wife, and in preparing for our wedding in 2009, I got in the best shape I’d ever been in up to that point. I was hiking, biking, and going to a gym. My wife had been a hockey player, so she was fit, and I wanted to keep up.

Then, a year after we were married, we had our first child—and that was the beginning of my fitness decline [laughs]. My wife put on weight, and while she was recovering from the pregnancy and taking care of our son, she couldn’t go for runs or bike rides, so I stopped doing them too. She was eating ice cream, so I did too. I put on a lot of what I guess you’d call sympathy weight.

We had two more kids pretty quickly—all three of our children were in diapers at one time—and my health got worse and worse. I wear dress shirts to work, and I couldn’t tuck them in anymore because they didn’t fit. I always loved mountain biking, but I was at a point where I wasn’t doing it as much, and when I did, I couldn’t keep up with people.

So what was the turning point for you, when you decided you had to change?

I saw a picture of myself one day, and I didn’t like the person I was looking at. I didn’t feel like I was setting a good example for my kids or my wife. In early 2019, I decided to lose weight, but I didn’t really know how. I literally Googled “how to lose weight,” and I didn’t come up with the best tools and resources. I understood that you needed to create a calorie deficit, but I ended up starving myself. I was eating around 1,200 calories a day, which is not enough for an active adult male. But I was somewhat successful in the beginning, and dropped about 30 pounds. 

I have a good friend who became a monk. He was living in a monastery, and I visited him. When I gave him a hug, he was just rock solid. Here he was, 35 years old with a beard down to his bellybutton, and six percent body fat. I said, “Man, what are you doing?” He showed me his gym space, and he had steel clubs and kettlebells and maces. I was really impressed, so I went home and ordered some steel clubs and maces from Amazon.

When did you discover Onnit?

I was talking to a guy in my office, and he does CrossFit and is in great shape. I told him I was using the kettlebells and maces, but I didn’t really know how to get the best use of them. He said, “There’s a company you should check out that has a program for steel maces—it’s called Onnit.”

I found Onnit online, and I saw the Onnit 6 Steel Mace program. At that point, it was early 2020, and the pandemic had started. I wanted to come out of it a better person, feeling stronger and healthier than ever, so I bought the program. I saw the Onnit 6 Steel Mace Challenge was about to start too, and I thought it might help me stay accountable with the program. It doesn’t cost anything, so why not?

After you sign up for the Challenge, Onnit sends you a note saying, “Why don’t you join the Onnit Tribe?” So I joined the Tribe. The Challenge started on a Monday, and I posted in the Tribe on the Friday before. I said something like, “Hey, everybody, I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I’m looking forward to getting in shape and seeing how this goes.” I didn’t expect much of a response, but I got feedback instantly—a bunch of people saying, “You got this,” and “Welcome.”

I wasn’t sure how to engage or interact with the Tribe, but right away, I saw that it was a different kind of community, and that Onnit offered a different kind of fitness than I had ever been exposed to before. The Tribe wasn’t a group of people trying to show off how strong they are, or competing to see who was the most badass. They were encouraging each other, lifting each other up. The more I saw that, the more I wanted to contribute to it and lift other people up too.

Initially, I was hoping the Tribe would just keep me accountable to myself, and it did. But it made me see that what I was doing—posting about my workouts—was resonating with other people and inspiring them. That was so powerful; it made me want to keep going with the program all by itself. The Tribe has been a blessing, especially during the worst days of the pandemic when there weren’t many social interactions happening in person. I really feel like I’ve made a bunch of awesome friends.

How did you like using the steel mace?

So I started that Onnit 6 Steel Mace Challenge in April 2020, and all I knew how to do with the mace before that was 360 swings. I had a 10-pound mace, and that was all I needed. The first thing I noticed about it was that I was having fun using it. I felt like I was doing something unique—training for a battle, as opposed to typical gym workouts of bench presses and curls. For the first time, working out didn’t feel like punishment!

When I do something, I jump in and do it the best I can, so I did everything the program said to. I did all the warmups, cooldowns, and the yoga. Before Onnit, yoga, to me, was something only patchouli-eating, meditating people would do [laughs], but I came to love it. I was never really sore during the program, which I think is due to my following all the restorative work it called for. I actually felt recharged after every workout. It was like I was putting energy back into my batteries.

Apart from making you feel accountable, what effects did the Challenge and the Tribe have on you mentally?

I lacked confidence for most of my life. I grew up in a small town where I was the only kid with red hair, and I was bullied and picked on a lot. I didn’t feel comfortable with my shirt off. I saw all of that change over the course of six weeks. All of a sudden, I was taking pictures of myself with my shirt off, flexing! I started posting pictures and videos just to show my progress and prove I was doing the program, but they made me start looking at myself in a new way.

When you go on the Tribe page, you’ll see people being very vulnerable and honest. They’re posting about having a rough day, missing a workout, and saying things like “I’m really struggling.” I can relate to that emotional roller coaster, and that made me feel comfortable expressing how I really feel. And when I did, I immediately had people respond, telling me not to be so hard on myself and pledging their support for me, which always makes you feel better.

A lot of people reading this might wonder, “He has a wife and a family. He has friends. Why didn’t he talk to them instead of turning to strangers in a Facebook group?”

That’s a fair question, and I guess the answer is that I don’t want to burden the people closest to me with those problems. I’m the kind of person who hides his frustration by putting a smile on. It’s not always easy to talk to friends, and I don’t want to bring them down. I don’t want to burden my spouse, and I love my kids, but they’re too young for me to share with them how I’m feeling. There’s something about the Tribe that makes you want to let it all out. There’s no judgment in there. I’ve seen Angi Sanders talking about her journey, which has been really hard, and if she can be comfortable putting that out there, I feel like I should be comfortable talking about my problems. The Tribe lets me feel like I don’t always have to be Mr. Positivity.

The more comfortable I’ve gotten with myself, the more inspired I’ve become to do more things. I used to write music on the guitar, and I had dreams of recording an album, but I hadn’t played much since the kids came along. The O6 Challenge got me to pick up the guitar again and tap into that creativity. I shared some of the songs I wrote with the Tribe because I felt comfortable enough to do so, and they responded positively. 

What physical changes did you see after the six weeks of the Challenge?

I weighed 230 when I started, and at the end I was down to 214. I gained a ton of strength and mobility, and felt 10 years younger. I ordered a size L T-shirt from Onnit because I hadn’t worn anything but a double-XL in such a long time—and it felt so good to wear it. I was declared a semi-finalist in that Challenge.

How have your kids responded to dad becoming a fit person?

My kids see me having such a good time when I’m working out and they want to jump right in. They love the yoga in the Onnit 6 programs. They always ask me, “Are you doing yoga today? Can I do it with you?”

My kids don’t see exercise as a punishment like I did when I was their age. They’re learning that being confident and leading a happy, healthy life comes from what you eat and what your daily habits are.

Have you been using any of the Onnit supplements?

I’m currently trying out Total Human®. I love the vanilla Whey Protein—it’s so smooth—and I sometimes like to mix it with the Tangerine HYDRAtechInstant. As for other products, I own a bunch of Onnit’s kettlebells now, the Quad God steel mace, and the Hydrocore bag. I wish Onnit would make a program for that piece of equipment!

You’re renowned in the Tribe for your homemade maple syrup. How did that happen?

We have a lot of maple trees on our property, and I’m an avid do-it-yourselfer. I like teaching my kids random life skills and that they can make things—not everything needs to come from a store. So I’ve been making syrup the last four years in the spring.

It’s very demanding work, and it really depends on how Mother Nature cooperates. It’s a seasonal product. You need specific weather for it to happen. It has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day, so the season can last a month or more, or just a couple of weeks—you never know. I’ll boil down 1,000 gallons of sap to get just 11 gallons of syrup, and that thousand gallons has to be hauled back from the trees in five-gallon buckets—so that’s a workout in itself. 

I would say the taste is night and day from the store-bought stuff. The flavor is silky, buttery, and a little smoky. I made a batch this year and I intended to sell it—it costs hundreds of dollars to make, so it’s not something I do for profit, but friends told me I should sell some. I announced I was selling maple syrup on my personal Facebook page, and told some of my Tribemates, who immediately asked if they could buy some. I warned them that it was an expensive product and costly to ship, so I may have to sell it for up to 50 dollars a bottle. They all said, “We don’t care; we love it and we want to support you.” Shane Heins [Onnit’s Director of Fitness Education] ordered two bottles from me, and then he announced in the Tribe how great it was.

I ended up selling out of my stock—100 bottles in a couple days—and shipped them to 15 different states. It was amazing. I’ll let everyone know this next spring if the syrup is coming back [laughs]. I love putting a smile on other people’s faces.

Onnit Academy is the most comprehensive database of information related to Unconventional Training, a unique new form of fitness methodology that focuses on functional strength, conditioning, and agility using the most efficient means and tools possible. The online database includes articles, videos, tutorials, and workouts featuring alternative implements like kettlebells, sandbags, steel maces, steel clubs, battle ropes, and more.
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