Michael Pilhofer: Fifteen Years in Fitness and Counting

Michael Pilhofer: Fifteen Years and Counting

When his wife urged him to check out “that James FitzGerald” guy, Michael Pilhofer obliged.

“She saw him on a Robb Wolf podcast back in 2009, and she said, ‘you need to dig into this guy.’ So I did, and right away I was like, ‘I need to fly to Calgary,’” Pilhofer said of how he first became acquainted with FitzGerald.

So he packed his bags and flew to FitzGerald’s hometown in Canada.

At the time, 39-year-old Pilhofer owned a CrossFit affiliate—today it’s called MSP Fitness in St. Louis Park, Minnesota—and while he said he learned a lot from the CrossFit methodology, he also found himself seeking educational opportunities outside of CrossFit.

“I found that the basic tenets of CrossFit are rooted in mostly good values, but the application isn’t right. It quickly became the Wild Wild West of fitness. I wanted to dig deeper. That led to people like (world-renowned strength coach) Charles Poliquin and then James,” Pilhofer said.

He added: “So I found my way up to Calgary and this guy walks in. The fact that he was the 2007 CrossFit Games winner didn’t matter to me, but the way he communicated, immediately I was like, ‘This is the guy, this is the guy.’”

What especially drew Pilhofer first to FitzGerald—and eventually to the OPEX model—was that it doesn’t pretend to have all the answers.

(Coach’s Resource: Learn the OPEX Model for yourself here.)

“I loved that James is a man without black and white, concrete answers, because it’s all contextual. It’s about investigating the person or the situation or the context. Everyone always wants one plus one and here’s your answer type of solutions. But there are no answers like that when it comes to someone’s health. It’s frustrating, but I loved it and ate it up,” Pilhofer explained. 

A second area OPEX influenced Pilhofer was in helping him figure out exactly what type of gym he wanted to operate and what kind of clients he wanted to work with. 

“I think that’s the biggest gift he gave me: To really dig into what I wanted, the type of people I wanted to help and the type of facility I wanted to walk into. And the legacy I wanted to leave. (FitzGerald) helped change my vision and my values,” he said.

This led Pilhofer to the realization that he didn’t want to be predominantly a group class coach, nor did he want to be a personal trainer

“I hate personal training, but I love personal coaching. More often than not, personal training just turns into a really expensive rep counter buddy,” he said.

“I am so much about teaching the athlete and the clients, but I don’t need to be next to them every second listening to them talk about their work or their kids in between sets to do that,” he added. 

The more involved Pilhofer became with OPEX ideals, the more he realized he no longer wanted to be a CrossFit affiliate.

“I was no longer representing their brand,” he said. This led him to deaffiliate and become MSP Fitness.

Today, Pilhofer said his clients are way better served than when he became a coach 15 years ago.

“I think I’m just a lot better at what I do now thanks to James and the OPEX system, as well as other brilliant coaches I have worked with along the way. …I have a very clear picture of who I am and the type of person I want to serve. So I can be more genuine and authentic and it makes the process a lot smoother,” he said. 

Adding individual program design to his business was a big part of this, he explained. 

“It’s true one-on-one coaching. It’s really getting to know this person and then building this relationship with them to help them with their health and fitness. You just can’t do that in a group setting,” he said. 

Pilhofer added: “It’s a real opportunity to get your hands dirty and have these open lines of communication. It’s so much more fulfilling for me, and I think it is for the client, too.”

If you’re a fitness professional or want to become one, you need an education grounded in principles. One that prepares you for a career in the ever-changing landscape of the fitness industry. Enter the OPEX Coaching Certificate Program (CCP), the gold standard of education for individualized coaching and program design.

Developed and taught by James FitzGerald, a 25-year coaching veteran, the OPEX CCP has educated over 3000 coaches. This education not only bridges the gap between the classroom and the gym floor but also gives you the opportunity to develop your own coaching flair under the mentorship of James himself. We open 50 spots for the next OPEX CCP cohort quality, so space is limited. Apply to join our next cohort today and become the coach you’ve always imagined.

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