MADabolic's Primal Code


A little while back, I was introduced to Patrick Hanlon’s book, “Primal Branding,” by my friend and colleague Stu Brauer. In his book, Hanlon breaks down the seven elements that successful companies with a strong brand identity have in common. Primal Branding examines brands as belief systems. 
To attract others who believe in you over your competitors, you must first understand how these elements apply to your own company.  “The Power of a belief system is that it inherently contains relevance, vision, trust, empathy, leadership, vibrancy, resonance, and commitment, the very attributes companies spend millions of dollars each year trying to obtain,” writes Hanlon.

WOW, Patrick, you are speaking my language.
From the very beginning, MADabolic has strived to deliver a fresh, raw take to the group fitness scene. And as we have developed over the last decade, we’ve refined and deepened our sense of who we are as a brand and what we are about. As our growth story continues to build, Hanlon’s book has helped bring clarity to our own belief system.
Hanlon’s elements to a brand’s Primal Code are as follows:

  1. The Creation Story – They all come from someplace
  2. The Creed – They stand for something
  3. The Icons – They are symbolized by a sign, a sound, a smell
  4. The Rituals – You do certain things regarding them
  5. The Non-believers – You contrast your experience against other experience
  6. The Sacred Words – Certain words evoke that experience 
  7. The Leader(s) – They have an individual (real or fiction) behind the whole thing
Below is my take on how we put this into practice for MADabolic.

1. The Creation Story
As Patrick Hanlon says in his book, we all come from somewhere, and so did my business partner, Kirk, and I. We were both born in Canada and grew up chasing the same childhood dream of playing in the National Hockey League one day. Fitness was an integral part of this grind and ultimately provided a solid foundation for life after hockey.  In truth, we were average players, but the underlying asset of being born with an average skillset helped fuel the drive to use off-ice conditioning (aka – fitness) as our equalizer.

Through our athletic and professional pursuits, we scraped and clawed for that edge, and because of this, we’ve each been exposed to some of the world’s best strength and conditioning coaches and platforms. Eventually, we put this informal education to use to meet a significant gap we saw in the fitness industry. There were no high-quality group training concepts that led with strength and prioritized sustainable progress above all.  A true training program for everyday people and people past their sport looking to age athletically… people just like us. This gap led us to develop the MADabolic Training System.  Strength-Driven Interval Training for the masses.

Program design is where we excel, and it continues to be one of the greatest assets we offer our franchise partners.  What happens on the training floor is the most essential element of the MADabolic brand.  Kirk and I have personally managed MADabolic’s Training System since day one.  Over the years, we have worked with tens of thousands of clients, ranging from everyday people to professional athletes - all of which have provided real human data points. We’ve also personally led every trainer within our franchise system through our rigorous but comprehensive trainer on-ramp process.

Even as the MADabolic Franchising System expands, we are committed to the underlying values that MADabolic was founded on.  We believe in strength, we believe in structure, and most importantly, we believe in the trainer-to-client experience, specifically that one-on-one attention to detail. 

2. The Creed
The next element in this system is the creed.  This is what one stands for and represents.  In our case, how are we different than other fitness concepts? As mentioned above, the core of MADabolic’s brand is strength, structure, and accountability.

Strength – The base of our training program
Structure – The scalability and accessibility of our training floor
Accountability – The 1:1 training experience delivered in a group setting

In today’s fitness market, cardio is overhyped, variety is used in excess, and more is treated as better. Our view is rather basic but, in a sense, a counterculture position in the micro-gym scene: we treat strength as our base and prioritize quality over quantity allowing clients to thrive as they age.  We do this through quality of movement and consistency, training over-exercising, and we firmly believe that more isn’t better; better is better. 

One example is our distinct 52-week training calendar that is crafted entirely around relative intensities. This offers a challenging-yet-accessible environment unique to each client.  We also believe in rest days; we teach this and encourage our clients to train with us four days per week.  Not five times, not six times, and not seven times. Finally, after each 12-week cycle, we program a “de-load week” to help promote clients’ full recovery after their 12-week commitment.

Consequently, we have better retention rates than our peers in the industry, and our clients experience fewer overuse injuries. This speaks to the sustainable nature of our method and helps support the balanced lifestyle our core customers are chasing.

3. The Icons
Hanlon’s third element of Primal Branding is the icons. We’re all familiar with our favorite brands’ logos or icons. Even sounds or smells can signal a brand or system. Whatever the icon is, it is a quick flash of meaning that communicates who you are and what you are about. In the case of MADabolic, our icon is “The Girl” (from our logo).

“The Girl” dates to our early days in business.  It all started with a look. Edgy and empowering, subtle but strong, and beautiful in its own way. To us, strong is a mindset.  Strong is beautiful.  Strong is something to strive for, relate to, and embody.

“The Girl” speaks to our intrinsic motivations.  It is who we are and what we value.

4. The Rituals
Rituals are a repeated experience connected with a brand and the expectations associated with it. As discussed, MADabolic offers reliable structure, emphasis on accountability, and a very intentional method behind the MADness.

Our belief in structure and accountability is so core to the brand that regardless of the MADabolic franchise location, the trainer, or class time you attend, the experience will be the same. 

None of this is possible without our locked door policy. Yes, we lock our doors.  Classes begin promptly at the scheduled time, and the doors will lock at that exact scheduled time.  No clients - newbies or lifers - are allowed to join class late.  In fact, no entrance will be permitted once the trainer begins.

Not only is this a ritual, but it is a promise to our clients.  We consider the first minutes of class to be a crucial element to the client experience and safety, making sure participants hear and see the proper technique before executing it themselves. Secondarily, we remain consistent in enforcing this policy to remain fair to the other clients on the floor, minimize distraction, and respect everyone’s time.

As we like to say,
Don’t be great!

5. The Nonbelievers
Every belief system has a group of nonbelievers. This can be applied to politics, religion, or even the Mac vs. PC debate. As Hanlon’s book suggests, these nonbelievers help define what your brand is and is not. 

In the world of group fitness, everyone is pitching the same end game.  Community first, training second. We are the complete opposite. And we are happy to be the outlier.  Instead, we prioritize our training program in favor of each individual's progress and success. In turn, this approach attracts a unique group of like-minded individuals who come together to shape our brand’s culture. As we see it, “community” can be faked. A strong “culture” cannot.

While the MADabolic workout is scalable to accommodate a wide range of fitness levels, we’ve always been at the edge of the bell curve. So much so that we even published a blog article titled “10 Reasons Not to Join MADabolic.” Yes, 10 Reasons NOT to Join MADabolic.

Although we may not be for everyone, we just may be for you.  The MADabolic client base seems to share a similar DNA.  They respect consistency. They crave structure and accountability.  They seek the one-on-one coaching our trainers are known for. They value the purpose in all we do, right down to our playlists.  They want to look good, feel good, and they demand results above all. These are the outliers we created this experience for, and these are the people you’ll find within our walls.

6. The Sacred Words
Under Primal Branding, strong belief systems have a specific language or set of words that hold a special meaning for those who are part of the system. For MADabolic, our signature intervals represent this.  M.A.D. - Momentum, Anaerobic, and Durability.  These themes are living, breathing things that not only force a physiological output but also evoke an emotional approach and/or response from the client.

MOMENTUM (70% > 80% > 90% effort)
A gradual build in pace and intensity. A 2:1 work to rest ratio. Respect the build.

ANAEROBIC (100% effort)
Speed and power is the priority. A 1:1 work to rest ratio. Bring nothing short of your max effort to the floor.

DURABILITY (80% effort)
A slower pace that challenges you to maintain proper mechanics through a longer, sustained effort. A 3:1 work to rest ratio. Time under tension is our bread and butter here.

7. The Leader(s)
The last component of Hanlon’s Primal Branding is the leader. Whether it’s one person or a team, brands or cultures with a strong identity have one or more people who set out against all odds to create something in the world in their vision. 
Over a decade ago, Kirk and I started out with a crazy idea. We were former athletes who decided to leave the ego-driven and competitive side of strength and conditioning to develop a more approachable, and as we saw it, a more intelligent way to train the everyday fitness enthusiast.

Within a few months, our training floors were filled with a wide variety of everyday athletes looking to add strength to their regular routines. And at the other end of the spectrum, ex-athletes had found a home past their sport. At this point, we knew we were onto something, but that was just the beginning.
Since the early days, we’ve gone from a two-man show to a well-oiled machine. The MADabolic Franchising System now leverages industry experts with a wide variety of backgrounds and a substantial depth of experience. This results in our brand being able to truly deliver on all levels – from world-class programming to robust operating systems that enhance our franchise partners’ ability to run a successful business.


The seven elements of Hanlon’s Primal Code inspire a robust system that others can get behind, a product or brand that people can believe in. I value the introspective work of identifying these seven key elements of our business that was once just a dream.

Over a decade in the making, we continue to fill a unique niche in the group fitness market, and our sense of identity continues to strengthen. We offer high-quality strength-driven interval training for people who prioritize fitness, value structure, and demand results. 

-Brandon Cullen | Co-Founder and Chief Concept Officer | MADabolic