Photos from Brian Dobson and his website.
Faith & Fitness Magazine: Part of the excitement of going to Hollywood is the possibility of seeing a well-known actor. In Washington D.C. it would be to catch a glimpse of the president. Those in celebrated positions tend to capture our imagination and generate some excitement. In bodybuilding, your gym holds the distinction of having, “more winners than all the fitness centers combined.” What is it like to be in that environment daily?
Brian Dobson: God has truly blessed Metroflex with so many great champions over the last twenty-four years. For me it is really just part of my job. I always find it kind of funny when a visitor who has never been here comes in for the first time and looks at me like he just saw Elvis. I try to show them I am just a man that God blessed and anointed to train up champions. We are really honored to have visitors from all over the world. Some want to train some just want to see it and take a picture.
FF: How did you mastermind building the ultimate hardcore training facility OR did it happen by total accident?
BD: I don’t think of it as either a masterminded plan or an accident. For me it was something necessary to have a place where I could train. Back in 1987 when Metroflex started the old heavy-iron gyms were fading away and being replaced by the huge corporate family fitness center. The original Gold’s Gym that Arnold made famous was and still is a lot like Metroflex. Granted the big money doesn’t come from small 1-200 member gyms, but there is definitely a niche for a gym like Metroflex. It can be set-up at a fraction of the cost of a big franchised fitness center. I think in the future you will see more people training at places like Metroflex as they get disappointed with the cookie-cutter same-old-thing that is offered at corporate gyms. You don’t have to be a pro bodybuilder to train here just be the best that you can be. So back to the main question I started the original Metroflex to fill a niche for those of us who really want to push ourselves to the limit and to cater to the hardcore strength athlete.
FF: I’ll never forget the first time I walked the isles of the annual Arnold Fitness Expo in Ohio. It was so crowded with huge bodybuilders that whenever you bumped into one of them you got a really good jolt – sort of a bodybuilder’s mosh pit! At your gym the place must get pretty crowded with some really big egos. What happens when those egos go “bump”?
BD: There really isn’t much animosity among the big boys. Most of them respect each other. That isn’t to say we haven’t had our share of fights. But for a lot of the really strong ones they usually posture up and decide the risk outweighs the benefit. If it gets really bad we have boxing gloves or MMA gloves and let ‘em go at it outside where there is less equipment on which to fall and get hurt.
FF: Well help me understand the dynamics going on at MetroFlex. Most people (including those that operate a church fitness facility) would think that a “Christian” gym owner is going to create a place that is a slice of heaven – inspirational praise songs to God, modest apparel and everyone thinking totally righteous thoughts. This place IS NOT that. If Jesus came into your gym to hit the weights would He be able to “work in”? Seriously, I assume in your personal prayer time you’ve asked God, “How do I do this?” Do you feel like God has given you much guidance?
BD: Metroflex gym is Christian based but there are a lot of people who are not Christian that train here.
The bodybuilding world is certainly not what you would think of as a culture that gives God glory. It is generally a very dark world that has the “all about me” mentality at its core. I have come under a lot of criticism from Christians who don’t like the fact that we play some rather rugged music with inappropriate lyrics and that some of the champions may be using anabolic products. I personally do not use anything but don’t condemn or feel it is a salvation issue [with God] of those that do. Throughout history athletes have always looked for an edge over the competition and I think it will always be that way. I believe you can take Jesus into any arena and he will invade it and conquer it for His glory.
I am not nor is Metroflex Gym perfect. When people condemn us I think that if we had done it in a way that would have pleased them we wouldn’t have the influence that we have with members. Many lives have been changed at Metroflex. We have given hundreds of free Bibles to people. Many here have [turned to Christ for] salvation and experienced miracle healings at the gym.
A lot of the seeds that have been planted on behalf of Jesus here while Metallica blasted in the background and heavy weights smashed to the ground are yet to blossom. Jesus was criticized for hanging with prostitutes and tax collectors. When we get the "Christian" judgment on us I always think of that.
FF: Your website says that MetroFlex is not a health spa but is instead “hardcore”. Describe the characteristics of a hardcore gym.
BD: A hardcore gym is a place where you can go and really test yourself. It is pretty much impossible to hit a max deadlift for example without a little yelling, maybe a psyche-up slap or your partners screaming at you. Using chalk and dropping the weight with a loud bang isn’t going to go over well at most gyms these days. We also blast the music weather it be rock, metal, Christian or rap. Music here is to motivate you to push yourself to new levels of strength and development.
Something that makes us even more hardcore is no a/c. In July, August and September it is very common to hit 100 degrees here in Texas. When you come into the gym with the metal roof and a huge cinderblock wall that is hit by the sun all day long it is common to reach 120 degrees inside . There is not a lot of water retention here!
We are big time hunters here as well and it isn’t uncommon for us to butcher everything from deer, wild boar, bear, elk and catfish right in front of the gym. It is so common that most members don’t even say anything.
We eat this meat and share it with those who need food. This also supplies our once-a-month outreach in downtown Fort Worth. There are three-thousand to four-thousand homeless in the area currently. God uses us to give several hundred of them a church service and Thanksgiving style meal.
FF: In this type of gym environment members expect to be challenged – they want to be pushed beyond the threshold of pain because they know that is where they make huge gains. So, what happens when they’re pushed the same way spiritually? Are they like, “Man bring it on” or are they “Hey back off Jack”? Describe an instance where that has played out.
BD: As I said earlier there are a lot of people who aren’t Christian here. There are, Muslim, Jewish and atheists members that just want to train in a hardcore environment. I don’t force my beliefs on anyone but have found that those who aren’t Christian seek me out - especially when they have a tragedy in their life.
One day I was cooking up a big wild boar I'd caught and a member asked me what I was going to do with all that meat. I told him I was going to give it away to the homeless and addicted people in the area --- in the name of Jesus. That changed his life. Even though he doesn’t live here anymore he faithfully donates to the weekend outreach.
There are several scriptures written on the walls. That also makes for dialogue between the folks who are Christian and those who are not. I have found that my hard training can be a great witness to a young person who doesn’t believe in Jesus after I show him or her what a real hardcore workout is. I am not a trainer who asks my people to do stuff that I can’t or haven’t done. They realize I am drug free and 54 years old. That is a powerful witness I have. I give God credit for my abilities.
FF: Brian, you’ve been doing this bodybuilding a long time. How has the culture changed since you first started? What changes would you like to see (from both a practical and spiritual perspective)?
BD: The biggest change in bodybuilding from my view is that more and more top winners rely solely on the drugs and a thing called site injecting that causes the muscle to swell, giving a user champion level arms without putting in the work. I want my athletes to reach the top through hard work, hard diet and dedication. Better is never easier - but it is better.
FF: Briefly share your background. What was your early life like? How did you get into bodybuilding? Share about your family life, starting the gym and what caused you to get serious with God --- all that stuff.
BD: I have always been into sports and started training with weights at a young age when it wasn’t generally accepted. I was a big baseball player and was forced to choose between bodybuilding or baseball. Pro ball players didn’t make millions in those days. My coaches were mainly fat and smoked cigarettes. Though they had baseball knowledge they weren’t what I looked up to for a role model. The competitive bodybuilders that I met as a teenager were very impressive to me. I wanted to be strong and respected like they were. With my competitive nature it wasn’t long before I was hard at it.
My parents supported me but not like most parents today. If I wanted to compete that was fine with them. However, I had to pay my own way. I am glad they were like that. I see so many kids today taking for granted the easy life their parents give them and not appreciating [responsibility for] anything.
FF: I’m sure Metroflex is a huge part of your identity. Take a moment and describe Brian Dobson as the husband and father.
BD: To my kids I am just their Dad. To my wife a loving husband who takes care of his family. The gym life is just part of our culture. I am sure they are proud of the gym and me. But, they’re probably more proud to see me at an outreach or mission trip leading someone to God.
FF: You are also the “stranger”. You have (as we all do) opportunities to show compassion or make a difference in someone’s life that isn’t a family member, friend, client or fan. Jesus Christ talked a lot about doing service to God in private – when there is no obvious gain to be made. So, while it is awesome that Ronnie Coleman and others give honor to God on stage at the Mr. Olympia in Vegas, share a bit about what it is like for you and these guys to be obedient to God “off stage”. What are some of the things you’ve done and what impact do you experience when you serve?
BD: I trained a young man named Anthony Schlegel for football. He calls it keeping your head on a swivel. When you play football in the NFL like he did as a linebacker you have to keep your head on a swivel constantly looking for the opportunity to hit and avoid being hit. It is the same with the opportunity to witness for Jesus Christ.
The opportunities are there every day. They are at your workplace, a restaurant, the gas pump --- everywhere. You simply need to listen to God’s voice (be open to God’s prompting). Be kind to someone or stop and lend a hand. People can’t just say they believe in God, they have to demonstrate that belief. No one can out-give God. But, you need to do your best to be a giver.
FF: Not everybody is into physical fitness like you and your clients – in fact I’d venture to say that most people are not. For all those people, help them understand what makes the physical such an important part of your lifestyle? How does it impact every other aspect of life? For those churchgoers who poo-poo what you do as “over the top” describe how this lifestyle has helped you to have a “hardcore” faith.
BD: Hardcore training isn’t for everyone but for me and my house there is no other way. Learning how to overcome huge physical and strength goals teaches us to be able to overcome the fiery darts that the devil sends our way every day. God blesses pursuit. Be an over-comer. Be faithful. Learn the Bible and remember that a little bit of Jesus makes up for a whole lot of stupid. Don’t be defeated by a defeated devil.