In a burst of fitness creativity, people have been known to devise push-up games using a deck of cards. Those people are about to experience a why-didn't-I-think-of-that? moment.
Phil Black, a 34-year-old certified fitness instructor, former Navy SEAL and Harvard business school graduate, is taking that concept public in the form of FitDeck: 46 shuffleable cards featuring 46 diagrammed calisthenics (including stomach crunches, the "bear crawl" and six kinds of push-ups) that can be done at various skill levels.
Black played varsity basketball at Yale and did stints as a bond trader before and after his Navy career. He's a believer in total-body workouts that develop strength, stamina and balance. Yes, he uses FitDeck himself.
Black lives in San Diego with his wife and 2-year-old twin sons. His house is his office. He is FitDeck's sole employee. "It's just me. I'm pretty much licking the stamps."
Thanks to Black's entrepreneurial spirit, everybody can now play portable exercise games. FitDeck costs $18.95; $24.95 with instructional DVD. It's available online at www.fitdeck.com.
We caught up with Black between workouts:
Do you remember when this idea struck, when you first did a playing card workout?
I literally think it was when we were sitting around at college playing poker on a study break. I flipped over about 15 cards and did something like 70 push-ups.
We named it "PUG" for the push-up game. It was a funny study break as opposed to getting chili dogs at Wawa.
When did the light bulb go on to market this as a product?
I left my job in San Francisco a year and a half ago. I had written PUG down on a list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime. Why just push-ups? Why not other exercises?
I was sitting in my car in the garage, going through my options. My wife is a good check on me. She said, "Well, it sounds like there's some potential."
Who was the first person to say FitDeck was a dumb idea?
Probably one of the most significant people who said it wouldn't work is one of my business professors from Harvard. He said, "I'll be honest with you. I don't think this is going to fly."
That took the wind out of my sails big time. Since then I've had people who'd seen it in prototype form and loved it.
Have you heard back from that business professor now that FitDeck is being sold?
He's still reserving judgment.
Of all the exercises included in FitDeck, what's the most difficult?
Probably the hardest one is the dreaded Eight-Count Body Builder. It's basically one part squat thrust, one part push-up, and one part scissoring your legs. It's a killer. It's the one that uses the most muscles in your body.
Where's the most unusual place you've played FitDeck or PUG?
When I was in the Navy we played the push-up version of it all over the place - in Bulgaria, in Central America, on the 6-foot-by-4-foot engine cover of a Special Operations boat floating in the Mediterranean. We were deployed on this 30-foot boat for a three-week exercise.
What's your personal fitness routine?
Part of my own workout is training other people, but I actually work with a (20-pound) weighted vest and do some of the FitDeck exercises.
Sometimes I'll do the whole deck; sometimes I'll do half the deck. Sometimes I'll do a sprint workout and go through the whole deck in 30 minutes. Being that I have twin boys, I don't spend a lot of time going to the gym. FitDeck is pretty much how I work out now.
Is FitDeck best suited to working out when traveling or do some people use this for everyday conditioning?
I think it's a little bit of both. It's sometimes complimentary to a routine. Sometimes it goes from being complimentary to being the routine itself.
As a professional trainer, do you think people depend too much on weight-lifting machines? Do they tend to ignore "functional fitness" and not work groups of muscles?
I hesitate to disparage anybody using machines because they do a lot of good. But I do think people get pushed into the convenience of going to a gym. I think a lot of it is education. I don't think the average person understands the importance of stabilizer muscles and balance.
You bailed out of the bond world after just a few years to join the Navy. What kind of shape were you in back then?
I kind of fell off the wagon physically when I was at that job. I think I was in the job a year and a half and didn't take a day off. I gained about 30 pounds.
I remember standing on the corner on the way home from work one day in New York. It was 1:30 in the morning and the stars were out and I had this breakthrough moment: If I could do anything in the world with the snap of my fingers, what would it be? I said, "A Navy SEAL officer." I walked home with a spring in my step.
Has it been harder than you thought to get a business off the ground?
It took far longer and was far more expensive than what I thought. I've been in these gut-check positions before. This is one of the tougher ones since I have mouths to feed. I have more responsibilities.
What potential do you see in FitDeck?
The vision is for FitDeck to be the brand name, then to also have FitDeck Junior, for children, and FitDeck Senior, which would have lower impact exercises and much bigger fonts on the cards.
We already have a prototype for FitDeck Basketball. Other people are coming to me looking for Spanish-language rights.