Every fit guy knows the gym attracts odd characters here and there—the dude who yells at his weights, or doesn’t wash his socks. But Mark Bell takes eccentric to an all-new level. Case in point, his voice mail greeting: “You’ve reached Mark Bell, owner of Super Training Gym and inventor of the Sling Shot—and the question mark.”
Huh? Who knows. But, as strange as he is, it’s clear that Bell isn’t your average trainer—or CEO. With 250,000 followers on one of his Instagram accounts alone (@marksmellybell) and nearly 180,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel (supertraining06), Bell is one of the most visible fitness gurus on the web. A world-class powerlifter with a 1,080-pound squat to his credit, Bell, whose nickname is “Smelly,” first shot to fame as a candid, larger-than-life trainer in the 2008 hit documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster. In 2010, he invented the Sling Shot, a broad elastic band with sleeves that helps you bench press more safely. The company he founded to sell it, Super Training Products LLC, is projected to make eight figures this year. “My slogan,” says Bell, “is ‘Make the world a better place to lift.’”
Bell’s meteoric rise owes much to his endless supply of charisma—and, specifically, his ability to make the niche world of bodybuilding appealing to outsiders. Catch-phrases he’s dropped in his YouTube vids have become T-shirts and hashtags—“strength is never a weakness,” “I’ve got 99 problems but my bench ain’t one”—and the campy music video he released this spring, titled Meathead Millionaire, in which he raps about his gym (celebrating its 10-year anniversary), products, and passion for lifting.
Bell’s COO, Will Erb, says Bell is working to make strength training the next yoga. “No matter who you are, there’s a yoga for you. It’s not a workout any more; it’s a lifestyle. The same with lifting. How can we make it palatable or interesting to the everyday person?”