Exclusive: Playing 20 Questions With Thor Bradley, Instagram's Favorite Lumberjack

Thoren "Thor" Bradley is known for his viral videos on Instagram and the wild comments that come with them. But Instagram's favorite lumberjack has a lot more to bring to the table than just muscles and an ax. In this 20-questions style interview, he opens up about life, love, the problem with "hustle culture," and why masculinity is more than an aesthetic.

By Carmen Schober10 min read

Going from an exercise physiology student to a social media sensation, Thor Bradley's career path has changed drastically, but his ultimate goal remains the same: to live and work on his own terms and to inspire others to do the same.

Carmen Schober: Did you ever imagine that chopping wood would make you so popular?  

Thor Bradley: It wasn't really the original direction that I was going in, but it's actually a little bit more on par than people might think it is with my original life plan. 

I have a master's degree in exercise physiology, and when I was in college, I wanted to work in exercise science and education and potentially become a professor, but I knew that with the direction the world was going, I would need some sort of social media framework around that kind of career. 

I’d really never used social media up until that point, though. I didn't grow up with it. It just wasn't a part of the lifestyle. I didn't have Wi-Fi as a kid. I maybe logged into MySpace once a month when I was a kid, so it wasn't like an everyday part of my life. But I was like, “I have to adopt this at some point to help my career,” especially in the world of exercise science. Exercise professionals are really trying to provide people with education. So, I started Instagram with that in mind. 

So, it started like, “I'm going to provide people with some insights into my life and then sprinkle in some exercise knowledge here and there.” I used tree cutting and yard work to pay for food and stuff during college, and I remember doing those jobs and thinking to myself when I finally get this f*cking degree, I am never going to do this kind of labor again. Mainly because I had to do it for so much of my life; it was the only way I knew how to use my skills to make a dollar. But as soon as I got into the job I wanted, it was a harsh reality to find out that I missed being outside doing that style of work. 

Plus, things were starting to really look a little dark with how little free time I would have outside my career. It was dawning on me that if I excelled in my profession and climbed the ladder, it was going to be hard, especially in the strength and conditioning field program I was in, which was training athletes for the NCAA. Everywhere I looked, it was the “hustle culture,” with everybody taking pride in the fact that they didn't have a life outside what they were doing. I didn't like that. It scared the sh*t out of me because one of my biggest fears is losing freedom.

It got to the point where, every day, I woke up and drove to work, and it was just consuming my worries like crazy. Instagram sort of became an opportunity to escape from that, so I just flipped the switch and decided I’d use my account to focus on the activities I enjoy. I had to stay home anyway during Covid, so I was like, “Might as well build more of a following and see if I can monetize this sh*t.” So, that's exactly what I did. And it leveraged me out of my job. I guess that was my way of combining what I like with exercise and not letting somebody else tell me what I have to do when I wake up every day. 

CS: Obviously, people really like your content. Why do you think your videos took off? 

TB: I don't think it's for the reasons you see in the comments. I know I might be alone on that, and a lot of people just chalk it up as thirst-trapping, but there's a different layer that's proven to be true. And my metrics are much more 50-50 when it comes to men and women than people would ever think.

I think one of the main reasons people like my stuff is because it’s just simple. A lot of people are consuming news all the time, and I think a lot of people are just kind of tired of it. Their palates are a little bit blown out right now. And they're getting it from all angles. I mean, at work, people are talking about the news. At the dinner table, people are talking about it. Everywhere they turn, it's political distress. It's socioeconomic discomfort. It's just like the same sh*t over and over. And it's hard not to talk about it because we're not in a great place right now as a country.

Everyone's struggling to make ends meet and sort of find their purpose, plus not enough time outside. Personally, I think there is a lot of escapism in my content. There's something pretty straightforward about some guy chopping wood in the forest. You don't have to touch your sympathetic nervous system to deal with that. It's one place you can reliably turn to that doesn't get you revved up in that same negative context. And, I don’t know, maybe there’s some value in someone not speaking and mansplaining in some attempt to prove an all-seeing knowledge with a podcast microphone in front of them.

CS: Do you ever have "blooper" moments that don't make it on Instagram? 

TB: I destroyed my window after hitting a whipped cream canister with my ax, which is extremely dangerous. Luckily, you can find this video on Instagram. 

CS: Were you outdoorsy as a child, or is that something that you kind of picked up later in your life? 

TB: Every day was outside. If it was summertime, my friends and I were rock hopping and exploring rivers or cliff jumping and swimming and catching snakes, just doing stuff like that. As young kids growing up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, that's what you do with your free time. I still can’t connect with video games. Never been able to sit and play them. It does nothing for me. I am very much hardwired for simplicity. I also really struggle with being in spaces that don't have a place to be outside.  

I remember right when I graduated college, I moved to San Diego because I thought I wanted to live near the ocean, but the traffic made it impossible for me. Always being outside made it very hard for me to deal with places that don't have a place to go outside. I honestly don't know how long I could make it in a city. Maybe a week?

CS: Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been? 

TB: The Bavarian Alps. I also grew up outside the gates of Yosemite National Park, so my taste is very much that alpine country feel. 

CS: There’s a big conversation on the internet about masculinity what it is and what it isn't. What are your thoughts?

TB: Mainly, I think it’s an ability to provide a safe space for other people to pursue their interests and thoughts. On a friendship level, that can be as simple as acceptance. On a fatherly level, maybe that’s providing a space for your children to safely explore their interests. On a romantic level, maybe it’s providing a safe space for them to communicate their turn-ons. It isn’t black and white. But it can’t be faked. When masculinity is purely expositional, you can smell that on somebody. It feels fragile. Real masculinity is reliability, evidence-based decisiveness, selflessness, and provision of comfort. A sprinkle of saying “I don’t know” helps too. 

I think the most empowering thing in the world is to be comfortable in your own skin and not feel like you have to prove how masculine you are or are not. And there's something innately masculine about that. When masculinity starts to fall apart and become toxic, if you want to use that term, is when somebody feels the need to prove it in their interactions with other people. If you have to care to prove how masculine you are in every interaction you have in the world, then that's when it has become clearly toxic for you. Usually that comes from a place of somebody just not being secure with where they're at.

Maybe it's financially, maybe it's emotionally. But no matter what it is, I think as we grow and age a little bit, we start to learn that it doesn't really matter what masculinity means to other people. What it means is how you feel about yourself, and then it somehow becomes stronger.

CS: Who has inspired you most on your fitness journey? 

TB: I just want to be capable. That’s it. I want to be capable of the challenges of life, capable of physicality, capable of intensity. Because all of the things I enjoy require that. 

CS: What's something super surprising about you that most people wouldn’t expect?

TB: I've never had a cup of coffee before. I've never tasted it. I like Guinness a lot, so I kind of have an idea of what coffee tastes like. I know that roast dark, dark beers are similar to coffee.

I'm down to change that anytime, but I just haven't really felt compelled. When I have family over, I love the smell of it in the morning, but it also seems like nobody can get sh*t going until they've had it. So I'm, like, “Hey, that looks like a crutch that I don't want to adopt.”

One other surprising thing about me:  I also have pretty severe anxiety from attention. When a video goes viral, I almost get nauseous. 

CS: What’s the craziest DM you've ever received?

TB: Nudes. I get nudes all the time. I've taken to so many different methods of coping and dealing with it. I'll just block somebody if I've opened it, but I almost feel guilty because I'm like, now I've seen this and I feel like somehow I'm guilty in this exchange that I'm not even a part of. Sometimes, I'll just delete it. But in that case, I’m like, “I'm never going to find that person again.” So now they're just left on “read.” And, like, how do they feel about that?

There have been celebrities who have slid into my DMS, too. At first, I was like, “Oh, this is cool. This is a celebrity that I've seen as a kid.” Then we talk in this platonic way, and then they suddenly turn on it, and they go, “Hey, so are you single?” And it's like, f*ck, man, what do I do there? 

It's hard because some of these pictures people send me are progress pictures that they get from my fitness app or pictures of their kids splitting wood with an ax, and then some of them are just bound to be nudes. It's really annoying and kind of feels like a violation. Especially if I’ve spent time talking to the person and the interactions are normal, and then they just randomly shoot their shot. In the world I live in, if you're interested in somebody, you say it in the first three sentences. You make sure that's the front end of your interaction so the person knows whether or not they should be replying to you. 

So, yeah, I can’t open DMs anymore. I gave up a few weeks ago. I tried for so many years to steer conversations into wholesome and responsive places and have genuinely cool exchanges with people on the internet. And unfortunately, trying to be a good conversationalist gets misconstrued as me being interested. 

And what’s crazy to me is that a DM is a f*cking message. Like, a DM has some weird connotation of being intimate? If I am interested in someone, I would never dare to flirt indirectly for multiple days or weeks on social media. I’d say it. “Hey, I am interested in you.” I would think there is no bigger turn-off than someone poking at you through messages and never making tangible moves. If men are reading this, remember, say what you mean, say it with class, and save everybody time. Stop with the “game.” 

CS: Any favorite music for a wood-chopping session? 

TB: I love Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Bill Withers, Red Clay Strays, Hozier, and Tyler Childers.

CS: What’s a hobby you’re interested in that you haven’t had the chance to pick up yet? 

TB: I’ve actually made pottery, and I’d like to pick it up again, but just enough to make all of the cups and bowls and plates in my house. 

CS: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about health and fitness? 

TB: “The difference between medicine and poison is the dose.”

This is advice in regard to toxicology, but I think it also applies to exercise. So many spend hours in a gym in order to stand out in society, almost like wearing their body, like an exoskeleton of identity. Exercise is healthy in the right amounts, but I’ve met so many people in the fitness industry with absolutely no f*cking life. How have we normalized this? Go get your mind right with a good 45-minute workout, but then go live your life. People have become so willing to donate their hours of time to be seen as “fit” but aren’t worried about being a complete human. 

CS: What are your top three must-have lumberjack essentials? 

TB: The boring answer: a chainsaw, a car wrench, and one good ax. The fun answer: caffeine, nicotine, and a playlist. 

CS: A lot of people are starting to think schools should teach students more practical and survival skills. What do you think? 

TB: Absolutely. We have done a good job creating conformity, and now we can’t seem to get people to reject the sicknesses caused by routine. I know what I do seems insane to people, but when I sit in a car in traffic, I think it’s crazy we accept that as okay. I mean, think about how average everyday humans spend their time. You can work your whole life in an attempt to get rich. Or, you can change your perspective on what “rich” is and just be rich today. I don't know, seems f*cking whack to me. 

CS: What’s your all-time favorite quote? 

TB: “We have two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

CS: If you could live during any other time in history, what time would you pick? 

TB: I’m good with where it is right now. I am just not going to be adopting any more technology. We are flirting with the line of losing our humanity to the pursuit of productivity. We have to stop at some point. While it may seem “better” at the moment, it's shown us time and time again that when you replace the real thing with the tech version, it takes a piece of humanity out of us.

I think technology advancement should be exclusive to medical advancements and clean energy. Entertainment should really be frozen in its current phase. Then go make some sourdough bread. Go swimming in a creek. Touch some grass.

CS: Tips for gentlemen who want to build more confidence with the ladies?

TB: I think pursuing more things that they're genuinely interested in will help a lot. And, obviously, it helps a lot to stay in shape, but the expectation has really risen for body image. It’s really gotten to a place where it's totally out of whack. I'm in the shape that I'm in personally because I'm in the career of being in shape. You wouldn't be a race car driver without a race car, so I'm not going to be a fitness professional and not be in shape. It’s just part of my career. But it also raised the expectation of where we think men's bodies should be, and I think that that's happening to women, too. It’s uneven on both sides.

My best advice would be to prioritize anything and everything that speaks to enjoying your actual existence. Don’t pursue things based on what you think will bring you that validation extrinsically. People are drawn to confidence, and true confidence is only achieved through intrinsic achievement. That means doing something you wanted to accomplish personally. Everything else is just going to bring you a very fragile version of confidence that can be cracked when you meet people who don’t care about you or who seem better than you. A skilled man who finds joy in building furniture is not going to be shaken up when somebody calls him “short.” Get in touch with your f*cking soul. 

No one is more confident than a man who has achieved genuine passion and meaning in something they like, something they enjoy, something they love, like hobbies, skills, and interests. Those things actually feed back to the inner self and then allow you to be very comfortable in who you are. 

Also, porn is not great for sex. It desensitizes us. It makes us short-sighted, and it doesn't allow us to put the time and energy into trying to build something real. And that's what we all deserve. Really, it is bad for all our mental health to be constantly trying to reach for more and more and more desensitization from stuff instead of becoming more sensitive to the things we're attracted to and then going to pursue those things. 

CS: If you're comfortable sharing...are you single or taken? 

TB: I’m very happily married. Every ounce of my being belongs to a glowing woman whose spirit is bright and positive. That is my biggest lesson from the feminine. Softness. 

I have seen so much change in men as I have aged. A lack of desire to commit from men has led to some shame directed toward women who have a high bar. The result is that transparency is now seen as weak. Communication is now short and shallow. Sex is the ultimate form of affection, so when someone achieves it on the third date, they don’t see value in pursuing deeper waters. I wish people were taught the truth – that it takes a lifetime to achieve the intimacy of deep conversation. 

My marriage is actually another big part of why I started getting serious about social media, to help my fiancée, now my wife, get out of being a special education teacher because her job was killing her during Covid. It was really beating her down. She started losing hair, her health was declining, it was just becoming too much. We had to have a serious conversation about it because, at some point, there still had to be some of her left after work so the world could benefit from what a glorious, amazing woman she is. 

That’s where the biggest sign of masculinity ever presented itself for me: the opportunity to take care of her. It might sound weird, but I’m an introvert by nature, so the idea of making viral videos wasn’t my first choice, but it helps with our incomes and put us in a place where she could have some freedom to make a career change without any pressure on her back of how much money she was making. And now she’s doing great. 

We still haven't gotten to have our ceremony yet, so that's my next big adventure in life is to have our ceremony and eventually go down that road of starting a family.

And, yeah, a lot of people on the Internet ask, “Why are you sharing videos like that when you’re married?” because they don’t get it, but I would just challenge them to think about it a little bit differently. If you see something that attracts, whether that’s sexually or some other kind of attraction – like, let's say a guy is on a podcast and I really like his demeanor, the way that he's presenting himself, his sense of calm, whatever it is – you can be a straight male attracted to whatever those traits are. And then you can think to yourself, “Wow, I'd like to apply some more of that to my life.” 

When you see something that attracts you, it’s waking you up to the things you want in your own life, and that’s okay to acknowledge. That means there’s something for you to learn about and start applying to your own life. 

And, obviously, being proud of your own attractiveness and being proud of what you present to the world does not go away when you're married. If anything, you should continue to pursue the desire to be attractive. You want to find that because a lot of times in a relationship, people get to a place where it's like, well, “Here we are for five or 10 years in, and what now?” If you keep pursuing the idea that you want to be a better version of yourself every day, that's what keeps the spark alive in a relationship.

CS: What’s the best encouragement a woman can give her man?  

TB: Being proud of him. 

CS: What's next for Thor Bradley?  

TB: I would like to spend all of my money on a slightly larger piece of property and my dream house. Start my dream garden. Mill wood. Spend the next 5-6 years making fun videos for people to enjoy, while making enough money to pay off the aforementioned house and property. Then rust away into classy nothingness. I hope at least some people finally understand my message. 

Life is getting messy, and people are losing touch with themselves. We are not simply meant to exist by connecting to our livelihood. Cook food. Have sex. Enjoy music. Work hard. Spend some time outside. Go to bed, and do it all over again. Too many men are obsessed with the concept of what makes a “real” man and miss the simplicity of being a good man.  

Follow Thor's Work

You can download Thor's fitness app, Dose, here, and follow him on Instagram.

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