He’s going to break his face. I’m going to watch a man break his face.
This monologue ran through my head the first time I came across @thebalanceguru. As difficult as it is to look away from this bearded, tattooed man sporting an eight-pack, there’s also an implausible quality to his videos, nearly all of which consist of him balancing on ridiculous objects: grocery carts, free weights, tires, a basketball on top of a ladder, even a blender.
He never breaks his face. In fact, he engages in these feats of showmanship with such a fixed level of determination and calm concentration you’d think he was getting paid. (He’s not. Yet.)
I’m strangely sad to report that the Balance Guru has a real name: Travis Horn. He’s a 27-year-old massage therapist, former Marine sergeant, and single dad living in Las Vegas. Despite his Cirque du Soleil-style tricks, Horn has no formal fitness training. He does, however, possess a single-minded focus that is, in perhaps a loose interpretation of the word, inspirational. But the Balance Guru has big plans that reach far beyond videos on a social media app. He wants to teach the world how to move — and be — better.
“I believe I can do anything I put my mind to,” Horn said during a recent phone call during a rare time when he wasn’t at a gym or working with clients (he typically works out three to six hours a day, with no rest days).
The result is like watching American Ninja Warrior in your Instagram feed. Horn was in fact training to audition for the show before he broke his femur in a jetskiing accident. Instead of sulking in front of the TV during his not-really-a-recovery, Horn walked three miles on his broken leg to the gym to work on his technique, aiming to, in his words, “become stronger and more focused than ever.” He continued walking those three miles every single day. For two years.
So yeah, he’s a little obsessed. And that obsession is how he’s gotten to his current level of fitness and why, he says, he’s completely pain-free despite an array of injuries and physical issues, including the broken femur, two torn rotator cuffs, a knee replacement, scoliosis, sciatica, tendonitis and tinnitus in his ears. “My body’s operating at 100 percent at all times,” he says, which might make you question the level at which your own body is operating: 25 percent? 30 percent on a good, doughnut-free day?
Now that Horn is posting anywhere from five to 10 videos a day, his feed is gaining traction, with over 33,000 followers. But he’s been recording his moves for years, and he’s got 5,000 videos saved and ready to debut when the mood strikes. Maybe a Friday is a pistol-squat-on-a-kettle bell day, for instance. Rather than going into the gym and grinding out a prescribed set of reps, Horn says he just does what he feels and “whatever I end up grabbing, I end up creating a fucking masterpiece out of it.”
Sometimes that involves stacking hand weights into a giant tower and doing a handstand on top of them. Or doing an overhead press on top of an upside-down Bosu ball. And there’s the normal weightlifting stuff, too — at 5-foot-6, he weighs 135 pounds and can deadlift 385 and squat 225. But mainly he’s flipping and balancing and doing elaborate handstands.
Gyms do not love him. He’s been kicked out of six. That’s fine — despite an intimidating exterior, Horn says he’s an old soul and a hippie who doesn’t want to cause trouble, so he just moves on to the next one.
But how does he do things that look, well, insane to anyone else? Let’s look to his diet for clues. He sticks to a regimen of chicken, rice, bread, dairy, and… candy. He eats about a pound of candy a day. When we chatted he was on a Sour Punch Straws kick. “I haven’t had a vegetable in four years,” Horn says.
He also practices intermittent fasting, only eating during a four-hour window from 6 to 10 p.m. each day. You’d think this would come with some repercussions, but he claims his blood tests are stellar and his resting heart rate is 45 beats per minute, even though he’s not a runner. “In the Marine Corps, they taught you how to eat to survive, not survive to eat,” he says. One habit that might be adoptable by mere mortals? Getting quality rest. After his nighttime feast, it’s food coma time and he passes out for eight or nine hours: “My sleep does not get fucked up,” he says.
Horn was a sergeant in the Marines for four years before getting out in 2011, and turned to the gym as a form of therapy and stress relief after being deployed and going through a divorce (he shares custody of his 6-year-old son). His military background might explain his level of discipline, and what he says is his “no retreat, no surrender” mindset.
After a rough upbringing — his mother was a drug addict, he cycled through foster care, and later lived with an alcoholic and abusive father — he says, “my background story is twice as powerful as my moves,” and it’s why he’s not going to be satisfied with doing neat tricks in a gym that’s liable to throw him out at any time.
The balance thing is something of a gimmick; Horn’s real goal is to help people with similar backgrounds by opening his own space called the Kinetic Chain Factory, with a gym and massage studio. There, he hopes to “revolutionize the fitness industry by teaching proper movements in all forms, from a simple sit-up to how you sleep at night.”
He’d also like to get into motivational speaking, maybe get some sponsorships (Nike or Red Bull would be nice), go overseas to share his story and talk with the troops. And he’d love to go on Survivor (“I’d smash that show”). Just imagine Jeff Probst’s face when the Balance Guru starts swinging between two palm trees.
But the biggest goal, he says, is to help people become more accountable and consistent in their daily actions. “You need to know your own vision or your own goals,” he says. “If you’re going to try to be like me, you’re gonna get hurt, so you have to figure out what you want.”
So perhaps that’s what makes him a true original. On a medium where fitness addicts recycle inspirational quotes or post the same grimacing powerlifts over and over again, it’s refreshing to come across someone who reinvents what he’s capable of every day. He doesn’t care about being a little bit loud or a little bit different. He sets his eye on a target and never wavers.
When you see that kind of audacity in your Instagram feed, you have to stop scrolling. And you might even start to wonder: If this dude can do things that look impossible, what can I do with my life? What physical or mental feats can I try to accomplish? What is my personal grocery-cart handstand? And for one silly, brief moment, you’ll think that if you practice long enough, focus hard enough, and want it bad enough, nothing you hope for is out of reach.
Except maybe that grocery-cart handstand. Leave that one to the professional.