Building yourself up physically (packing on muscle, getting stronger, becoming faster and more powerful, etc.) is a concept you’ll hear us preach about at Rebel quite a bit. The type of strength we aren’t coaching on a typical day is the strength that you can’t physically see – the spiritual strength that exists on the inside. This is why I wanted to have Michael Cazayoux on the podcast to unpack his health and fitness journey because he brings a ton of important information to the table that I think goes unnoticed in our industry.
From winning multiple team titles at the CrossFit Games, to working as a strength and conditioning coach for LSU, to co-owning a fitness company, Brute Strength, to running Working Against Gravity with his wife, to now running Soul Searching Adventures where he takes groups of men out on epic outdoor adventures to do deep introspective work together… All to say, Michael’s lived and learned a lot.
The meat and potatoes of our conversation are surrounding fitness, health, and strength and how the three have evolved with him over time. We’ve all have had moments of reflection where we feel lost when transitioning from one phase of life to another, especially when our health and wellness are involved. Listen in to hear Michael unpack what it means to have an identity shift, what that actually looks like for a former athlete, and exercises you can do to become more intentional and gain insight for yourself.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- [08:07] The story behind how Michael got started with Soul Searching Adventures
- [09:22] How Michael thinks about health and fitness today compared to earlier days as a strength and conditioning coach and while competing in CrossFit
- [12:27] The identify shift you experience when you stop being a high-level, competitive athlete
- [13:21] The new values Michael has on fitness
- [17:48] Being self-aware enough when your goals and priorities have shifted from one phase to the next
- [19:27] What it means to transcend something
- [20:36] The ability to get out and express yourself in nature
- [22:31] Using physical challenges to gain insight in other areas of life
- [23:41] Two challenges for a former athlete in a reflective space
- [25:37] Exercises to become more intentional and feel more comfortable in reflection
- [31:24] Michael’s main goal to deliver in his Soul Searching Adventures
James Cerbie: Okay, fantastic. There we go. We are live with Michael Cazayoux. Michael, dude, I am so excited for this one, just because it’s been way too long since I got to just see your beautiful face and catch up a little bit. And two, I just always love talking with you. You’re an incredible facilitator. I always learned so much, always coming out of our conversations, just feeling so just jazzed about life in general. So thank you, my friend, for making the time. I’m really excited for this.
Michael Cazayoux: Yeah, man. And thank you. The feelings are mutual. I’m stoked to be here.
James Cerbie: Excellent. So let’s do this for the people tuning in who may have no idea who you are. I’ve never heard of you. Can you give them just a quick elevator pitch on Michael casual like who you are, what you do, and then we’re going to dive kind of into that journey here throughout the episode as well. But we can kind of frame it for people a little bit.
An Intro to Michael Cazayoux
Michael Cazayoux: Sure. Yeah. My name is Michael Cazayoux. I grew up in a small town in Louisiana. I lived there until I was 17, and then I left to go to drug rehab, went to a couple of different treatment programs, got clean, and for the next five years dedicated my life to recovery. Somewhere along that journey, I got into CrossFit and I got really into it, as you know, and I would go on to win the CrossFit Games in 2012 and 2013 on a team. When I stopped competing, I stopped competing because I had a big back surgery. I had to get a lumbar fusion done. And at that time, I retired and I became a coach. I started coaching CrossFit classes, and then I moved into the strength and conditioning world. I spent two or three years working at different colleges, Southern Utah University and then LSU. I got the opportunity to work with the football and baseball teams up there. And while that was a huge dream of mine to work for the team that I grew up being a raving fan of, it became very clear very quickly to me that that was not the profession for me.
And while I was kind of wrapping up my time at LSU, my good friend Matt Bruce, he’s the guy that got me the job at LSU. I said to him, hey, man, I want to kind of return the favor. What can I do? And he said, I know you’ve been programming strength and conditioning programming for some people, one on one, on the side online. Why don’t we combine forces and do this together? And the idea was for me to create most of people’s plans, but anytime I wanted them to do weightlifting, he would do the weight lifting. Matt is one of the best American weightlifters in the last couple of decades. And so we did that on the side. In between training the football players I would go to one of the offices and I would be writing my programs on the computer. And honestly I didn’t like it very much and I especially didn’t want anything to do with the business side of what we were doing. I just wanted to be a coach and Matt would do all of the business stuff. And then as I was transitioning out of being a strength and conditioning coach, I thought I was going to buy a CrossFit gym.
The Story Behind How Michael Got Started with Soul Searching Adventures
I moved back to Utah and I was going to buy a gym from our mutual friend Tommy Hackenbrook. He gave me a six month Grace period where I could go and test out running one of his gyms. And at the end of the six months, if I still loved it, I could buy it from him. I was doing that. I was running the gym and I was also continuing to program online for people with Matt Bruce. A couple of months into that, I started using Instagram for the first time ever. I never really liked social media, but I was hearing about people using Instagram and so I tried it out and it was really fun for me. I would crack like pretty raunchy jokes and I got to spit a little bit of poetic wisdom mixed in there and I was doing it under the handle brute strength. Brute strength. Tommy, Matt and I created a company called Brute Strength where we were programming together and it was really fun and it started to grow really quickly. And so it became really clear to me that the opportunity to impact way more people was there for this new online business than there was running a brick and mortar gym.
I also love the idea of having the freedom of when I want to work where I want to work. And so within that six month period I said, ask the gym, I don’t want to do that. And I went full on into brute strength. And Matt and I ran that company together for several years. It grew really quickly once I was fully dedicated to it. We grew a team of about twelve employees and after three or four years I decided I wasn’t super passionate about it anymore. And so I sold the business to Matt to join my wife Adie at Working Against Gravity. And that is a nutrition coaching company in the same space, but obviously nutrition rather than just the workouts. And we were super passionate about what we did. I saw the opportunity to have a deeper impact. It felt like a deeper impact on people’s lives than just their fitness. And so I really love that. I love the team that she had created and I loved the culture of excellence that she had created. And so as a leader, I just grew tremendously and we did that for another three or four years until we sold that business last May.
We’re still working at that business. We’re still working at WAG, which we love. And about a year ago, I started a company called Soulsearching Adventures, where I take really cool men like yourself on epic outdoor adventures and do deep, introspective work with them. And that is my highest calling in life so far. And then outside of that, I have a one and a half year old. I have an amazing relationship with my wife. And I think if I have a superpower in life, it’s my ability to cultivate and maintain relationships. I genuinely rate my marriage as a ten out of ten, and I feel just super blessed with the relationships I’ve got in my life.
James Cerbie: I love it, man. That’s fantastic. Actually, I didn’t know, like probably 70% of that backstory.
Michael Cazayoux: So that was nice.
James Cerbie: That was really good. Yeah. No. And I think the journey there in the story is so interesting because I’m imagining that we have people listening to this who I think as you move through life, obviously your goals, your priorities, the things that you’re focusing on, the things that are really bringing value and energy to your life are going to be shifting and changing. And so I would love to hear from you. When you think about kind of like how you think about fitness and health and wellness today versus maybe how you thought about it in those earlier days when you were competing in CrossFit or those early days as a strength and conditioning coach, what are some ways obviously it’s a huge topic, but what are some maybe like big rock or big themes in ways that has changed for you and how you view it now versus, say like eight to ten years ago?
How Michael Thinks About Health and Fitness Today Compared to Earlier Days as a Strength and Conditioning Coach and While Competing in CrossFit
Michael Cazayoux: Yeah, maybe we do, like before and after type of analysis. So before basically my whole life, what was important to me when it came to fitness was using it as a way to express myself in sport. So I grew up playing almost every sport imaginable. Like all of the regular sports that you might find in school, I played them competitively in high school. And funny, like, little side tangent. I went to a really small school, and so I was able to excel in pretty much every sport. And I thought I was a shit growing up because of that. And I think it was actually really great for my confidence. And at the same time later I would realize, man, I’m a really mediocre athlete when it comes to most sports, but it was really great for my confidence. So, yeah, fitness. What was important was to sort of chase excellence and just see what my body was capable of, see what I was capable of if I stayed focused on something. And I never really tried all that hard until I found CrossFit, because starting at age 13, I just had other priorities, drugs and women.
And so when I got clean and I found CrossFit, it was so fun and I had a little bit of natural talent for it, and I had the maturity to be really intentional about how I wanted to train my body. And so what was fun to me was just to try as hard as I could to be as good as I could at that specific sport. There was also a big piece of it that started out as I just didn’t want to get fat. I didn’t want to get fat. I wanted to have a six pack. And I remember going after treatment, I ran a marathon. I did really well in the marathon, but I was just so sick of running. And so then I went into a 24 hours fitness, and I was like, I have no idea what to do here. And I would go to the bench and use some of the machines. It was just so boring to me. And so then I got into CrossFit and I went through that whole journey. So, yeah, looks and expression of excellence or competitiveness. And to be completely honest with you, man, this is an area of my life.
The Identify Shift You Experience When You Stop Being a High-level, Competitive Athlete
I would say I’ve struggled with more than almost any other since I stopped competing. Since I stopped competing first, I had that back surgery, and that was like I just went through somewhat of an identity shift because I just knew I wasn’t going to be a high level competitive athlete anymore. And I had told myself a story for years that this is who I am. This is the value that I bring to the world. This is why people think I’m cool. All of those things. If I’m not that, who am I? That was challenging, first and foremost. And then once I really recovered and some of that internal chatter started to mellow out, I just didn’t have any goals. And without a goal, I kind of floundered. I felt lost for a while. And to this day, I haven’t been as consistent as I would like to train my body and move my body. With that said, over the last couple of years especially, I have some very clear new values when it comes to fitness. First and foremost I want to feel good in my body. I want to feel light, so it doesn’t mean my weight.
The New Values Michael Has on Fitness
It means I want to be able to jump off of the steps, and it feels good for my body to feel springy. I want to be able to go backpacking with minimal training, and do a 50 miles backpack trip with minimal training. I want to be able to do any physical activity that a friend invites me to do and not worry about some nagging injury. So in the past, I was so focused on competing that sometimes as an athlete, you know this, you have to put up with some level of pain in order to keep training and working towards PRS. Now, PRs don’t matter at all to me. I’ll probably never do another back squat again unless it’s really light. And yeah, I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel good to me anymore. So the North Star is doing more of what makes me feel good. So I do much lighter weights. I do simpler movements in the gym. I do a lot of yoga, so a lot of Yin yoga. Most mornings I’ll do like a 20 or 30 minutes session of just like, long stretches. And I just listen to my body.
If I’ve got nagging pains, then I just rest. And resting was one of the hardest things for me in the past. So feeling good is a North Star. That’s a high value. And then having fun is equally as important to me. For a long time, I would continue to try to be consistent with doing CrossFit workouts on my own or going to a CrossFit gym, but I just didn’t have very much fun doing it. I know that when I do CrossFit consistently, I look great. I love the way that I look when I do that, that form of exercise. But my body doesn’t feel great doing it anymore. And I just don’t enjoy it that much, at least doing several of those types of workouts a week. So now I do things like jiu jitsu, and I rock climb, or I go trail running and I give myself more permission to quit things if they’re no longer fun.
James Cerbie: I think a couple of really big things there. The first one is that transition with the identity crisis. I think that personally, I can 100% relate to that in a very deep way. That’s largely why I even started Rebel in the first place, because I can just think back to my story of being an athlete my entire life. That’s literally all I had ever known. And my identity was as an athlete. And then you go and you play sports in College and then you graduate College, and it’s just this Thanos finger snap moment where all of a sudden who I’ve been my entire life, my entire identity as a human being essentially is just gone. Like, hey, you’ve always done this. This has been your thing. Now it’s time to go get a job and have a nine to five and sit at the desk. And those years are behind you. And I think almost all the decisions that I’ve made, a lot of decisions I’ve made personally and then with Rebel in particular, have been trying to make it so that these people that have been athletes their entire life have a place that they can go where we actually understand that transition for them, and we can help them find what that training needs to look like for them moving forward in life.
Kind of like you’re describing if you still want to keep pushing the gas pedal and we still want to be aggressive and we still really want to get after it. And see how far we can push these attribute bars. Let’s do it. But at the same time, if you’re kind of transitioning away from being this type of person and you more just want to like one of the words that our people use a lot, they just want to be life proof, right? I don’t need to be hitting PRS anymore, but I just want to be able to confidently handle pretty much anything life is going to throw out. Like you mentioned, if I want to go rock climbing, I can. Right climb. If I want to go rock in the mountains, I can go rock in the mountains. If I want to try jitsu, I can. I just feel good in my body and I feel strong and I move well, and it’s okay for that transition to take place. I think that sometimes it’s really hard for people to accept, and I don’t want to use the word accept like you’re giving in.
Being Self-aware Enough When Your Goals and Priorities Have Shifted From one Phase to the Next
I think it’s just being self aware enough to realize if your priorities and goals in life have shifted from one phase to the next. And I think graduating College was a huge shift for me, and I held onto it super hard. The next big shift was going into grad school where my priorities really needed to shift. And then I started dating this girl that eventually became my wife. And now the priorities shift again. Like in each one of those phases, there was just so much friction and resistance to me, like trying to hold on to still being College James, whose only real purpose in life is like lift weights and play sports and then trying to still grow up and figure out how do I take this identity I’ve had and kind of not throw it away entirely, but bring it with me and make it part of the life that I have now because it is a huge part of who I am. I don’t want to just let it go. Right. But it needs to adapt as I grow and change as a human. But I think that journey is something that people are listening to and probably really relate to.
Any athlete I’m imagining can relate to that story because it’s going to happen at some point in time. Maybe it’s a high school, maybe it’s a College, maybe you’re Tom Brady and you’re almost 50 years old and you finally just stop playing football. Right. But I think that journey is so interesting for people because that self identity is so strong.
What it Means to Transcend Something
Michael Cazayoux: It really is. And I think it’s almost inevitable that it will be uncomfortable transitioning out of that. And I think you touched on something really important, which is when you’re going through a transition, you don’t want to abandon your old way of being. You want to transcend it. So when you transcend something, you rise above it and include everything below. So as we’re going through our lives we’re constantly transcending to higher and higher States of consciousness and just ways of being. And as an example, in my journey, what I did at first when I had that back surgery is I completely abandoned all fitness. I just didn’t want anything to do with a CrossFit gym. And it really messed me up, right. Because a love of movement and pushing myself and competing has always been with me. And so I’ve learned how to bring more of that into my life. It just might look a little bit. Might look a little different.
James Cerbie: Absolutely. The backpacking. And I think the exploration of nature starts coming into the picture of you in this realm, because I do think it’s pretty tightly linked to this topic and the things that we’re talking about, like the ability to get out in nature and to use and express yourself in that way. And then nature obviously has a pretty strong reflective component to it as well. But when did that start coming into the picture for you? Pretty seriously.
Using Physical Challenges to Gain Insight in Other Areas of Life
Michael Cazayoux: The first treatment program that I was a part of was a wilderness therapy program in Southern Utah. And so in that I lived in the desert for nine weeks, and I had an incredible experience. It was the first time in my life that I felt for the first time since probably nine years old that I felt like myself. I felt like I could be myself, and I didn’t have to worry as much what my peers would think about me. I noticed my mind just became so much quieter, and I just loved who I was more than how I was behaving back home. And that mixed with my entire experience of recovery, which was transformational in the best way, really led to this desire to be able to help other people with that sort of work, helping people connect to their emotions, helping people form better relationships, get clarity in their life, feel more confident. All of the things that I got going through my own journey, and I thought I was going to become a therapist and then a psychologist, figuring out over and over that those weren’t for me. I tried different forms of life coaching, but didn’t really enjoy any of them.
And then a couple of years ago, I did an exercise where a guy had me write or draw on a big poster board. What is the most adventurous thing I could imagine creating in my career? And this idea for soul searching adventures just, like, flowed out of me. The seed was going to wilderness therapy, and then the idea to mix coaching with that was that exercise and a big component of it and how it relates to fitness is I’m a big fan of crucible experiences or just using physical challenge to gain insight in other areas of life. The Sealfit Kokora camp was a really big crucible experience for me. For example, 50 hours of salacious events where they just beat you down physically and then they’re constantly teaching you. They constantly taught me different things about being a better teammate, what to do in your mind to get through the toughest physical endeavors. And so an element that I hope to bring to the trips is just beating people down a little bit physically so that they’re more in tune emotionally and even spiritually.
Two Challenges for a Former Athlete in a Reflective Space
James Cerbie: I think one of the things in this realm, because I’ve been on one of the soul searching adventures, and it was unbelievable. It was incredible. I’ll just go ahead and give the shout out and plug it here. If you’re a dude listening to this, it’s a no-brainer, you should do it. But I can tell you from my own personal experience in this realm and the things that I see with people that really do have this athletic background, they love strength and conditioning. They love the gym, they love training. I think two of the things we run into that get to be hard in this really more. I think reflective space is one that kind of gets carried over from the locker room. Right. Of, oh, you’re a pussy. It’s like you’re not allowed to cry, you’re not allowed to show emotion and to do all these other things. That was kind of the vibe I had a lot coming up the same, because if you show that, it’s just like you’re just weak. And so that’s something that I’m still having to spend a lot of time working on for myself. I’m still not good at it.
And then I think the other head of this a lot of times is like when we bring on new people and we kind of have conversations with them, and I’ll be like, hey, what do you do for fun if you’re not lifting weights? And I just get this blank stare of, what do you mean, what do I do for fun? And I think, like, those two worlds are so, like, really interesting because we come so ingrained in them, especially that more emotional side. I’m imagining that there can be some dudes listening to this right now who can totally relate to what I’m saying in that regard. How do you like to start trying to work on those things? What are some exercises that people can do to start potentially getting a little bit more, I think intentional and to actually dive in and reflect more on what they want out of their life? Because I think a lot of times people just are blindly navigating and moving their way through without ever having that really big introspective moment.
Exercises to Become More Intentional and Feel More Comfortable in Reflection
Michael Cazayoux: Yeah, got it. So before you can express to other people appropriately how you are feeling what emotions you’re feeling, you have to know what you’re feeling. And so the way I would start is to start working on naming your emotions to yourself. And I think the best way to do that is in writing. So maybe anytime or the next time you’re feeling an intense emotion, maybe you’re feeling angry at your spouse after the situation, whenever it’s appropriate for you to write about it, maybe just later that night or the next morning, whenever you think about it, sit down and write about that experience. And you might start by saying, I’m feeling angry. I’m feeling angry because she said she would clean the dishes and she keeps not cleaning the dishes. And from there, just sit with that sensation in your body. The clearer you can be about where you feel that in your body. And if it has a shape or color, the more quickly you’re going to be able to identify it in the moment later. And then especially with something like anger or embarrassment or something like that. Usually those are like covering emotions for something deeper.
So anger is often a cover for sadness or fear. Embarrassment, also fear. You might be afraid that someone is not going to want to be your friend or your spouse anymore for what you did. That was embarrassing. And so what I would do after writing, I am angry because is and I’m also feeling or what is underneath that is, and just finish that sentence and just see where it goes. So this is a practice of naming your emotions. If you have a Journal practice, then you might just add one or two days a week. Just name something that you’ve experienced either you’re experiencing right now in the moment or that you experienced yesterday. And then just start practicing talking about how you’re feeling to someone that you trust. If you have a partner, you have a parent, or even a child, you can start to talk about your feelings. And one distinction that I want to make is often when someone is asked how they’re feeling, they immediately start talking from their head and they start telling a story. They don’t talk about what they’re feeling. They talk about why they think they are feeling what they’re feeling.
So if I were to ask you why you’re angry at your wife, you might say you didn’t do the dishes and you keep saying you’re going to do the dishes and you never take care of the house and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That’s not actually how you’re feeling. The best way to talk about how you’re feeling is to, in my opinion, to start from with naming the emotion. So I’m feeling angry. And then from there, oftentimes I will even talk about the physical sensation. I’m feeling a lot of tension in my chest. It’s like a burning feeling. And then from there, talk about your own experience rather than pointing the finger. And the way to do that is to use the word I. So I’m feeling angry because I’m telling myself a story that you don’t care about keeping the house as clean as I care about keeping the house versus I’m feeling angry because you don’t clean the house. The first one is owning the emotion. And especially when you use the words I’m creating a story that you’re completely owning that you are responsible for your emotional state. No one makes you feel anything.
I make myself feel something with the story that I tell myself related to what you just did. So the first is an exercise in naming. The second is just to start to practice with people that are close with you and just be really patient with yourself. If you spent 30 years not getting in touch with your emotions and sharing your emotions, don’t expect this to clear up or you to be an expert in this in a month. This sort of thing can really take years. I suppose this is something that is a lifelong journey of staying connected and articulating ourselves.
James Cerbie: Well, absolutely. Yeah. I would agree, as somebody who’s been doing more and more work in this realm with the soul searching adventure kind of being a big trigger moment for me to work on this stuff more, just like opening my eyes to it and being like, oh, I probably need to work on this so that I can show up and be a better human and a better person for my wife and my family and my friends and our clients. Right. That’s why I think those sort of moments are just so powerful for people.. If you can have the people that come on that trip walk away with one thing, obviously you’re going to walk away with a lot.
But if you can have them walk away with kind of like one big moment. One big thing. What’s the big thing that you’re trying to deliver for them?
Michael’s Main Goal to Deliver in His Soul Searching Adventures
Michael Cazayoux: A connection to their soul, a deeper connection with themselves. So connection with the part of themselves that is wise as fuck, the part of themselves that has all of the answers to all of their challenges and problems in life, so that when they go back into their life, into their work, into their relationships, they’re no longer looking to the next book or coach or whatever for their answers. They have found a place of strength within themselves, and they realize that they have everything they need to have peace of mind, to have integrity, to have confidence. That’s what I’m trying to instill in people.
James Cerbie: What I love about that, to kind of I think maybe try to bring this a little bit full circle is I think that most of the time in this podcast and with what we do, we’re always talking about more of like a physical type of strength. Right. Like your ability to lift more weight, your ability to have more muscle. It’s a very physical outcome. This is much more of an inside spiritual type strength, which I think is equally as important. But we don’t talk about it. Right. Because we’re so focused on how I look and how much weight I lift or how high I can jump and how fast I can run. But this is kind of like this, just like inside fire and a spirit strength that I think is as important, if not more important. But it just doesn’t get talked about, especially in my industry, in what we do, usually 100%. Thank you, my man, for doing the work.
Michael Cazayoux: Yes, thank you, brother.
James Cerbie: Absolutely. Let’s do this. For people that have listened to this and think that your story is super fascinating and they buy the fact that I told them they should go do it. Where can they go to find out more about you? Where can they go to find out more about the soul searching adventure trips? I will say it’s only for guys, potentially some Coed things happening here in the future, but it’s primarily built for men to go and have these experiences together.
Michael Cazayoux: Exactly. So for the trips, you can go to Soulsearchingadventures.com and read up about it. You can see more details on there and you can apply there if you’re interested and good ways to just if you’re interested in the conversation that we had and you want to hear more from me. I do my own podcast called the Michael Cas podcast and then I have a newsletter and that’s my favorite form of self expression right now. You can go and subscribe to the Friday newsletter, firstname.lastname@example.org.
James Cerbie: Yeah, we’ll link to both of those and the show notes for people. I’ll say both the podcast and the newsletter are fantastic. I don’t listen to many podcasts regularly and I don’t read, really, honestly, any newsletters anymore, but I actually read yours.
Michael Cazayoux: Thank you.
James Cerbie: I find it to be actually super beneficial in this realm that we’re talking about because I think it’s incredibly important. Thank you, my man. Everybody, please go check out Michael, all the incredible work he has going on over at Soul Searching Adventures.
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