How I Accidentally Created a Fitness Product with Worldwide Demand

by / ⠀Entrepreneurship / October 11, 2013


Please be aware, this is not an article intended to brag or boast by any means. The intent of this article is to inspire all those fitness enthusiasts who have ever thought “Why can’t I do something like that” or “I would sure like to work in the fitness industry, but don’t know where to start”.

My name is Mike Volkin and I fell backward into the fitness industry.  My product started with my mother getting diagnosed with cancer and a military deployment to Iraq, and resulted in sales to over 12 countries in less than a year.  The product is Strength Stack 52 Bodyweight Fitness Cards, and this is my story.

On a September 11, 2001 I was awoken by a phone call from my father.

He told me to turn on the TV. I cussed at him for waking me up, then hung up on him. I turned on the TV and watched what I thought was a movie. I called him back, apologized for hanging up on him and then discussed with him the terrorist events that were unfolding. Only then did I realize that I never thought twice about the freedoms that were granted upon me by living in the U.S.  I got an “itch” I couldn’t ignore. Three days later, I quit my job, went down to the Army recruiter station and joined the Army, knowing nothing about the military.  One month later, I was eye to eye with a drill sergeant at basic training.

I was a skinny kid, weighing 135 pounds soaking wet from middle class suburbia who just graduated with a master’s degree.  I was sharing a room with 8 other recruits most of whom negotiated with a judge to join the military to get out of jail.  Needless to say, I wasn’t hanging with my normal crowd. More importantly, these recruits look like they could bench press me in their sleep and I could barely get to my top bunk without assistance.

I graduated basic training and specialty school a few months later and with 15 more pounds of muscle.

I was unable to fit in my civilian clothes. From this day forward, I was hooked on fitness.  I felt stronger and looked better.

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Just a few months later I got a letter in the mail stating I was being deployed overseas to fight in Operation Iraqi/Enduring Freedom.  I was among the first wave of soldiers that arrived and among my other duties I was assigned to be the company fitness trainer. But there was an obstacle: Since we were among the first soldiers to arrive, we had no training equipment, so I quickly became an expert with bodyweight exercises.  At best, I had sandbags to work with, but could only rely on my soldiers having access to their two arms and two legs.  As you can imagine, my workouts had to get very inventive and creative to constantly push the soldiers through plateaus with no access to weights.  About 3 hours of preparation went into each 1 hour workout, but at the end of a one year deployment I was awarded an Army Commendation Medal for the fitness programs I designed.

When I redeployed back to the U.S and had access to state of the art gyms and equipment, I found myself going to the gym and doing mostly bodyweight exercises.  I was constantly testing new ways to use my bodyweight as resistance, it became almost an obsession.

Fast-forward a few years and I pick up my ringing cell phone. It was my mother , a life-long fitness enthusiast herself, telling me she has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.   I was living in California and she was in Texas and I just felt helpless. What could I do to help her half-way across the country?  The chemo treatments were leaving her lethargic.  But then I got an idea, I started drawing bodyweight exercises on cards.  I drew 5 bodyweight exercises that I used in the military to train my soldiers on playing cards. I mailed them to her and told her to shuffle them and deal 3 random cards at a time.  She loved them and asked for more. The creation of my first five cards led to 20, which led to 50, and now I have 114 cards of bodyweight exercises.

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This is how Strength Stack 52 was born.

I knew they were portable enough for her to take anywhere, and the exercises required no equipment so she could grab a workout wherever she was, in the hospital, at home, wherever.  My mom was loving these cards and her energy level went up.

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I decided to make the fitness cards even more fun so people can play games and compete with each other. I started adding some neat features to the cards.  Now, all the cards are labeled by skill level, they’re all suited for playing games and numbered in order of difficulty. They’re even color coded by body type, so for example, if you want just a leg workout, you can pull out just the yellow cards.  I even added a QR code that when scanned with a Smartphone plays a video of me doing the exercise on that card. So with a full deck you can now turn a classic game of war into a fitness challenge, or bring the cards to work and play the coworker drop. I have customers even inventing games like Slap Me With a Frozen Squirrel.  Don’t be fooled by the name, it’s a tough game!

The more I thought about these cards the more I realize there are probably a lot of people that would like to use them all over the world.  The busy person that has no time for the gym or those that go to the gym and want something to bring with them to add variety to their workouts; Military personnel, crossfitters, families; who want to play fitness games as a nighttime activity, people who want to start working out or even the advanced exercise enthusiast who wants to break through plateaus. The demographic is dynamic and diverse.

So I did a small production run of these cards and hand them out to my friends.  My friend Brandon gets a hold of these and I tell him to play 3 games a day, eat whatever you want but the healthier you eat the faster the results.   This freaking guy loses 68 pounds in 5 months and he’s still losing weight!  You see the 10 minute games you play with these cards give you short bursts of energy, do it three times a day and your metabolism stays high throughout the day, burning way more calories than you did before.  Turning fitness into a fun competition is the best way to lose weight and build muscle because it doesn’t feel like you’re working out.  Think about how many calories you burn playing a fun game of basketball with your friends. You could be out there jumping around, changing directions, sprinting and stopping for over an hour, burning loads of calories. That kind of intensity is rare in a gym, but when you turn something into a competition, that competitive nature is brought out and your mind goes into overdrive.

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These fitness cards were recently featured on NBCs the Today’s Show  showcased by the senior fitness editor of Women’s Health Magazine. I couldn’t believe it!  At that point, I was thinking I have something great here.  To this day, just about a year after I launch the product, I have sold Strength Stack 52 to customers in 12 countries.

You too can create a great product.  When you get an idea for a new product or improving an existing one, act upon it. With today’s technology you can send your product to warehouses all over the world and for a small fee, they can fulfill and ship orders while you market your business.  10 years ago this wasn’t even possible.  I hope this article inspired you to act upon your next idea, your next “what if” thought.

Michael Volkin is a U.S. Army veteran, author, and entrepreneur. He is the inventor of Strength Stack 52, a unique deck of bodyweight fitness cards designed to get you in shape faster than ever before. Mr. Volkin has authored 3 military books aimed at helping recruits prepare for basic training.   Strength Stack 52 is now in official launch stage on Kickstarter.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.