“If it weren’t for bodybuilding, I would have never learned the life lessons that drive me to success.”
Before I write this overview of what my column will be about, I want to get two things out of the way. The first: what a tremendous honor this is for me! The first magazine I ever read was Muscular Development, during my freshman year of high school back in the '90s, or the “golden era” as the 40- to 50-year-old demographic proudly boasts! This leads me to the second task: letting you know who I am, where I came from, and why I wanted to write this column so badly!
My name is PJ Braun, and I started bodybuilding in the eighth grade to put on muscle for sports! I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuildingfrom cover to cover. With an old set of antique sand weights passed down from my biological father, I taught myself how to train. One of my few bonding memories with him was when we went to a local Barnes & Noble, where he bought me my first MD and a Playboy for good measure! It was a great day for “reading the articles” Ha! After that, my buddies and I would wait every month for the next issue to come out and get together at Barnes & Noble to read it cover to cover and learn! Back then, 15 years before social media, this was all we had!
By the time I was out of high school, bodybuilding was my life. I had figured out that although I worked as hard as I could and as smart as I could, my genetics were average at best, so I had to learn more! I wanted every advantage I could get. So at that time in my first year of college, I got a job managing a GNC. I studied for my NASM personal training certification and started my first business, Braunfitness (personal training). I did my first show, the 2003 NPC Bev Francis Atlantic States in New York City, and placed fifth in the light heavyweights in a class of nearly 30 competitors at 22 years old. A whopping 189 pounds (at almost 5'11", I expected to be much heavier), but boy was I shredded. Then the guest posers came out. Big Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler (the two biggest, baddest, best bodybuilders in the world…), and the feeling that came over me had me hooked for life!
After that, I grew my training business to training eight to 10 people every day, and it was exhausting! I thought to myself, “Man, I need to make more money; this can’t be my limit!” I wasn't satisfied, but I did not know what to do until the girl I was dating said to me simply, “Well, you work with a coach online; why don't you just start doing that?”
EUREKA, I kissed her face and said, “Brilliant, why haven’t I thought of that!” So I took all my savings and flew to every national show that year, often sharing rooms and even sleeping on the floor just to get out and meet people, but I had a solid plan!
My idea was simple. Why would any male competitors want to work with me? I am competing against them, and there are so many great “gurus,” as we called them for men, I have no shot. At every show, I went up to the girls, specifically in the third callout with the same line: “You have a lot of potential, and I think with some fine-tuning, you could be top five. I would like to offer you a free contest prep. When you win your next show, just refer me to your friends, and I will discount everyone!”
I got 10 girls that year, and by 2010, I had over 250. I had turned over 20 female competitors professional in every division but Fitness. When Facebook started getting big, I ran my whole business off there, which we will get deep into in upcoming articles. At this point, I was working like crazy and posting so much on Facebook that I started getting attention from TV shows like Maury Povich. I even got paid for appearing three times and getting photo shoots in all the major bodybuilding magazines!
Still, I had suffered so many injuries in the gym that I spent money on every type of therapy you could think of: chiropractic, deep tissue massage, active release treatment, hyperbaric chambers, etc. I made a deal with myself: if I don't turn pro at 30, I am retiring and putting all my focus into my other biggest passion, supplements.
On July 24th, 2012, I competed at the NPC USA and had my worst placing ever. Still, I was happy because I knew I gave all I could, and my poor body was begging for a break, but my mind was excited about the next phase! Less than six weeks later, I started Blackstone Labs.
When I first heard about it, I thought, “Well, this is one more thing I am going to have to figure out,” but fortunately for me, no one else was using it. With a massive push from social media, Blackstone Labs grew from a one-man operation in its first year doing 200k to eventually doing over $20 million in sales. With nearly 40 full-time employees in 2016, we earned the proud title of the Inc. 500's 27th fastest growing company in the USA! In comparison, Orangetheory had opened its thousandth location. It was 60th on the list, and the only health-based company placing higher than us does heart transplants!
We were on top of the world! I was involved with the ownership of seven other fitness-based companies, including two retail stores and a women’s clothing line, which grossed $3.2 million in revenue during its third year, all with the same team of amazing guys! And then life, as it often does, blindsided me and nearly knocked me out! An FDA raid and a divorce were filed in the same month, and I went into a downward spiral of depression. Eventually, I drank myself into the hospital on January 18th, 2018 with a blood alcohol level of .429, incoherent, blood pressure 220/200 and a resting heart rate of 189. The doctors went to work on me in the emergency room but told my mother, “This is the highest blood alcohol we have seen. He’s probably not going to come out of this; stay with him.”
Six days later, I was released from the hospital. Although I never use the word “luck,” perhaps by divine intervention, I made it out and defied the odds! I was so happy to be alive. Blackstone Labs nearly went bankrupt that last year. I was down and out, and if it wasn't for my partner Jared Wheat really sticking by our side, manufacturing as fast as he could and my team picking up the pieces, we would have shut down! I would work harder and smarter than ever to get us back on top!
The last three years have seen about 20% growth per year, and I haven’t had one drink. What I have done, though, is turn my studies into longevity to live to 100 and grow Blackstone Labs as long as I can walk and talk. A lifetime student with so much pride for what I do, I have turned my studies towards HRT, IV therapy, ozone therapy, cryotherapy, the list goes on and on. As much as I can suck up, I want to spit back out in the form of guidance as a mentor because if it weren’t for bodybuilding, I would have never learned the life lessons that drive me to success.
This column will focus on longevity in bodybuilding. Learn how you can monitor your body's health and develop specific techniques to keep your inside looking as good as the outside. We will also focus on how you can then turn all this into a business where YOU are the brand.
You've learned about my successes and failures. Take my advice! As long as you have an open mind and are willing to learn, you can achieve physical and financial success just like me! So listen to my tips, and you'll be in it for the long haul. After all, we started bodybuilding because of our passion, and with each failure comes the ability to grow and be better!
The smile on my face is massive right now! Thank you all for reading my first column as a contributing writer for the first magazine I ever picked up … well, the second. I looked at the Playboy first!
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