What we can learn from: Ben Patrick aka Kneesovertoesguy
About two-ish years ago, I started to see out-of-place ads on Instagram of a roughly thirty year-old guy jumping around, lifting weights, and talking in a fast and enthusiastic manner about “bulletproof knees”. It was a lot to take in at first, and I would quickly scroll past to see the over-curated, sanitized versions of life that friends, family, and acquaintances would post. Why was this energizer bunny of a guy dominating my feed and promising the world to his followers? Couldn’t he just leave me at peace to mindlessly absorb everything else social media had to offer?
Fast forward six months, and “kneesovertoesguy” (real name Ben Patrick: https://www.instagram.com/kneesovertoesguy/?hl=en) had blown up to an insane degree. His Youtube videos were getting millions of views, his ads seemed even more ubiquitous, and his enthusiasm and charisma seemed to grow with each passing month. With a critical eye — social media fitness is a fetid graveyard of horrible advice and snake oil salesmen after all — I began to watch his content without quickly passing by to the next thing. After trying some of his exercises and listening intently to his reasoning for building a “bulletproof body”, I became hooked. Not just hooked on his information, but on his personality and effusive manner with which he appeared to tackle life. There was something to learn here.
If you have yet to encounter kneesovertoesguy, or even aren’t that interested in the fitness world at all, I’d highly recommend a trip to his pages to check him out. The childlike wonder and energy might freak you out a bit at first, but I’d bet most visitors to his online world come away a bit happier and at least somewhat intrigued by his content. He now has over a million followers on Instagram, and nearly that many on Youtube, and I’m beginning to randomly see people incorporate his exercises in the gym and out in the wild (one of which is simply walking backwards to “reverse out knee pain”). For someone dealing with a seemingly niche idea of reimagining working out with unconventional training, why has it caught fire? And if I’m not interested in fitness, why should I care?
- THE OBSTACLE IS THE WAY: To me Ben Patrick is the ultimate example of stoic philosophy in modern practice. To paraphrase, his story is the tale of a guy whose dream of being a professional basketball player was derailed by countless leg injuries and surgeries. His athletic journey could have very well ended there and no one would have blamed him. It’s an outcome experienced by a countless many: sports careers cut short by our bodies that too often betray us. After the aforementioned surgeries, getting hooked on painkillers, and going through a dark period, he began to scour the ends of the Earth for solutions to his problem. Endless research. Experimentation. Bucking conventions. Through his pain and defeat, he somehow renewed his determination and created a system that worked wonders for his knees. Not only did he solve his pain, he went from a 19 inch vertical leap to a roughly 40 inch vertical leap over the span of a few years. To people who don’t know much about the topic, I doubt there are more than a handful of people in the ENTIRE WORLD who have doubled their vertical leap during their late 20s and early 30s. It’s something that should not be possible (and for those who think it’s too good to be true, Ben has posted footage of him playing basketball in high school/college v.s. now…it doesn’t even look like the same human playing the same sport). Ben took his sorrow and disappointment, and turned it into curiosity. Then his curiosity turned into a passion. And not that he seems to care that much outwardly, but his passion turned into an incredible business that I’m sure is now worth over seven figures. Too often in life (me included), at the first major road block we encounter, we turn the other direction. What if we became curious about our failures? What if our pain is the key to unlocking a passion?
- CHILD-LIKE ENTHUSIASM IS NOT JUST FOR KIDS: Modern life is tough. We are possibly the most overworked, overstressed, overstimulated, underpaid generation in human history. Just when we are hitting a high, the 24 hour news cycle finds something to bum us out. When we achieve a goal or milestone, someone does it better than us on social media and they look better doing it. It’s no wonder almost every 20s/30s/40s adult I know is constantly talking about being exhausted. I believe Ben’s content cuts through the noise because he finds a way to be joyful, non-judgmental, and playful in his communication of complex ideas. He is a living testament to the maxim “if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old, you don’t understand it”. His demonstrations are detailed, thorough, but hardly overcomplicated. I almost failed biology in high school, but I have a good handle on his methods and reasoning. We live in an age where earnestness is often frowned upon; most of the memes I see online are sarcastic, pessimistic, or downright negative. But Ben’s content is framed around an ultra-positive, wholesome, and energetic vibe that eventually wears down most cynics. While most people talking about synovial fluid, dorsiflexion, muscle imbalances, and tendinopathy would put me right to sleep, I find his videos unmissable (and millions of other people do as well based on his following).
- YOUR NICHE MIGHT NOT BE SO NICHE: I’m sure Ben got a lot of strange looks when he told people early on he was starting a business around “knee bulletproofing”. For one, the fitness world is full of wannabe trainers and personalities fighting for a piece of a limited pie. Additionally, particularly in western culture, there’s a simple pessimism and resignation surrounding the fact that as we get older our bodies degenerate and that’s just a fact of life. Our knees, backs, and hips start to creak as the parts wear out; deal with it. I even remember seeing a doctor at the age of 27 (hardly a geriatric number!!) who told me in response to my claims of fatigue and bodily soreness, “that’s just getting older ”. But Ben is the paragon of following your curiosity, no matter how misguided or against conventional wisdom it may seem. If he’d wanted to make a quick buck, he could have sold overpriced workout equipment or one of the many bullshit supplements that permeate the fitness world. But, he chose to pursue his “niche”, which turned out to be a pretty damn big niche after all. After all, just taking the US population into account, if you only appeal to 1% of people you might just find yourself with roughly 3.3 million fans. Trying to appeal to everyone likely makes you bland or a flash in the pan. Trying to appeal to yourself, your curiosity, and the little details of life that light your fire might just make you undeniable.
- FAMILY FIRST: I’ve gone on too long already, but I want to note how much Ben talks about his family and incorporates his wife and young son into his videos. He appears to make time every day for them, and supposedly has turned down huge monetary offers for private training so he can spend more time at home. While no life is perfectly “balanced” (and if you’re looking for a “balanced” life, the universe is probably not going to give it to you), but Ben certainly seems to live a “full” life. We can’t have everything we want in equal measure, but we can always draw the line somewhere.
I’ve never met Ben in person, so I write this not as an expert but as a casual fan and admirer. I rarely feel as enthused and energized as Ben does about ANYTHING, but lately I’ve noticed more small bits of joy after using him as inspiration. Plus, my workouts have gotten more fun over time as my knees (which have survived meniscus tears and other issues), feet (which have survived stress fractures and broken toes), and the rest of my body have become more comfortable in a variety of movements. Going to the gym is no longer an “I have to”; it’s an “I want to”. Even though I sometimes look stupid in public walking backwards up hills, the lesson of looking at everything from a different angle has been one I’ve fostered over the last year to much delight. I’m sure plenty of people walking or driving by have thought what a freak. But maybe every now and then, someone gets curious, and decides to dig a bit deeper. It might fix their body like it fixed mine. By not caring about appearance, and simply being curious, I’ve awakened more of that elusive child, awakened from its dormant slumber after being worn down by a few decades under gravity’s pull. Cheers to Ben who’s made that possible to me and so many others.