Charlie Guthrie Training

Always looking to get better

Author: Charlie Guthrie (page 2 of 2)

The Road to Becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

What happened two weeks ago is something I’ll never forget. I’m standing outside the Resource Room testing center on Richmond Avenue and just staring at these two pieces of paper with my test results. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t move. I just kept checking both pieces of paper to make sure what I saw was correct.

After triple-checking that both pieces of paper said “PASS”, I could finally say I was a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). This was a special day for me and I left the center with a real feeling of accomplishment.

Now, I fully understand the certification doesn’t give me any special powers or add 10 years of experience to my resume. When people ask me if I’ll be getting paid more for it, I tell them, “at the moment, no”.  But that day wasn’t about increasing my paycheck or acting like I was better than anyone else. This was about looking back at the hours of studying and seeing it all pay off to reach one of my goals.

My results on the Scientific Foundations portion (left) and the Practical/Applied portion (right).

The CSCS was a certification I’ve coveted since I first started training people. After I received my NASM-CPT in February 2014, I started looking around to see what other certifications I should get. Training athletes has always been something I’ve wanted to do and I noticed every trainer I followed had the CSCS, either next to their name or in their bio.

I started digging around online and found out the CSCS was considered the gold standard in the industry. If you ever wanted to work for a pro or college team, you were required to have this certification. So, I went to the NSCA’s website to see how to apply and found out I couldn’t. It was only open to those who had a bachelor’s degree in an exercise-related field.

It hurt realizing it was a certification I could never get. It made me feel inadequate and that I’d never be good enough. I had to move on and find other ways to get better. The CSCS was always in the back of my mind, though.

After a stale time where I didn’t feel like I was really improving, things changed midway through 2015 and started picking up momentum. There was the SB911 Contest, the SWIS Symposium, meeting Justin Kavanaugh and him showing me his gym and the CPPS Certification. Sure, I was far from perfect, but I was seeing progress.

With my confidence high, I decided to check the NSCA site again. I didn’t expect anything to change and figured I’d just stare at the CSCS page with the certification I couldn’t get. But, as I was glancing through it, I noticed there was a change. You just needed a bachelor’s degree, it didn’t have to be in an exercise-related field. After making sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me, I hopped on it and signed up to take the test.

That was one obstacle down. Now I actually had to pass the test. This was easier said than done. The required reading was the fourth edition of the 700-page Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook. This wasn’t an easy book to get through, especially when you didn’t spend years in college studying anatomy and exercise science. It was tough getting through a lot of the chapters and the writing had me on Google searching a ton of words.

You’re given 120 days to study and take the test and I signed up in May with the intention of taking it in June. I didn’t feel ready after that, so I paid for an extension. I read the book twice, and some chapters more, during the first run, but still didn’t feel confident. I even photocopied chapters and brought them to my summer job to look over and still was nervous. I might have been a bit too cautious and worried because of all the stories I heard on how hard the test was and that there was only a 60% passing rate.

The tally chart I kept on the cover of the textbook on how many times I read each chapter.

Even with the extension, I didn’t get much time to study in the fall because I started graduate school. I read when I could and went all-in after I took my last final.

I still had my doubts after the New Year, but received some hope when I found Ryan Grella’s CSCS Test Prep e-book while searching for practice tests. Once I got my hands on this, I started gaining confidence and realized I could pass this test on the first try. The e-book is massive (over 350 pages), but it was filled with over 500 test questions that mimicked what I saw on test day and condensed every chapter into 5-to-10 pages of notes. I’d read it on my phone in the car during breaks at the gym and was able to grasp two-to-three chapters a night. I wouldn’t just use this e-book as a standalone to study, but, coupled with a couple readings of the textbook, it was an invaluable review guide.

All of my attention was on passing this test. Whenever you take a test for a certification, the organization tests you on its’ way of doing things. Because of this, I didn’t read any other training books so I wouldn’t get crossed up on the text. Now, I’m free to read whatever I want and have a stack of books I’ve been waiting to get into. I’ll also be able to add some NSCA seminars to my schedule and continue to grow.

There’s still more work to be done, but this was a big step in the right direction. This has been a goal of mine since I got into the field and to pass this test was a great way to start 2017. I’m already excited about the trips I have planned this year and that list is only going to grow larger. I’m looking forward to an exciting year where I’ll continue to learn and develop as a trainer and meet more of the best this industry has to offer. Only this year I’ll have CSCS next to my name.

The Complete Speed and Power Summit Lives up to its name

The Complete Speed and Power Summit was held at Reach Your Potential Training in Tinton Falls, NJ on Sept. 24-25

The Complete Speed and Power Summit was held at Reach Your Potential Training in Tinton Falls, NJ on Sept. 24-25

My goal is to be the go-to trainer in the area for athletes of all ages. I’m obsessed with trying to reach that goal and spend most of my free time learning about speed and power training.

Every athlete wants to know how they can get faster and more explosive and I’m always trying to figure out the best way to get it done. I still have a lot to learn about those two topics, so when I heard Athletes Acceleration was holding it’s Complete Speed and Power Summit nearby in New Jersey, it was a no-brainer for me to attend.

I came away with far more than I expected and definitely left a better coach. Before I walked into the Reach Your Potential Training (RYPT) facility in Tinton Falls for the event, my knowledge of the subjects was about average. When I left, I had a list of unconventional exercises I’ve never seen before, simple ways to incorporate reactive speed training into my program, speed games to use with my younger athletes and ways to improve acceleration. That would have been more than enough, but I also learned a top-to-bottom template on jump training and speed.

I knew the weekend was going to be a good one the second I walked into RYPT. The pictures I saw of the place before going didn’t do it justice. I could tell this was a place where serious athletes came to train and receive top-of-the-line coaching. Before I entered the gym, I saw the beautiful Elite Sports Physical Therapy center next door. Then, I walked in and was greeted with a 16,000 square-foot facility that has a three-lane, 60-yard turf area, another multi-purpose turf area, five Olympic platforms and seven power racks. There’s every sort of barbell imaginable, sleds, loads of TRX straps, dumbbells up to 100 pounds, kettle bells up to 44 kgs, plyo boxes and a variety of other tools. Basically, this was a Toys-R-Us for strength coaches. Add in the logos of all the colleges that its athletes attended and you get a first-class facility.

Adam Feit, the Director of Sports Performance at RYPT, talking about jump training.

Adam Feit, the Director of Sports Performance at RYPT, talking about jump training.

As impressive as the facility looked, I was even more impressed by the quality of its coaches. Bobby Smith, the owner and founder, and Adam Feit, the Director of Sports Performance, both spoke at the summit and gave two of the best presentations I’ve ever seen. They held nothing back and took us behind the curtain to show how they program at RYPT.

I had a basic understanding of programming jump training, but Feit literally showed me how to put together a solid jump program step-by-step. He gave us all a 12-week outline and how to make adjustments based on how many days of the week the athlete is training and what the athlete’s training age is. The biggest takeaway was how he showed how to use Prelepin’s chart with jumps. The same way you’d use percentages to program the main lifts could be used to determine the reps of certain jumps, based on difficulty level.

Smith, who was the last presenter of the summit, ended it with a bang by giving a fully-detailed look at how they teach speed. He actually gave too much to where I needed to review the slides when I got home because it was jam-packed with so much information. What stood out the most to me was when he talked about max velocity training. That’s an area I haven’t learned too much about, but he broke down their progression scheme and I left the summit ready to work.

Lee Taft, during his presentation on "General to Specific Speed".

Lee Taft, during his presentation on “General to Specific Speed”.

Speaking of speed, I got to listen to “The Godfather of Speed” Lee Taft. Agility training is about getting an athlete to react to an “unknown” and can’t be duplicated with a rehearsed, pre-planned drill. Lee talked about how the body recognizes patterns and if we can feed the mind enough of these “experiences”, our athletes will be able to be a step ahead on the field. We can prepare our athletes for this by giving them competitive situations that require them to react. He then showed us a tier system and a bunch of different upper or lower body drills he used with a basketball team. He made it really simple and easy to digest.

Jim Kielbasa discussing acceleration training.

Jim Kielbaso discussing acceleration training.

Jim Kielbaso, whose trained athletes for the Olympics and all four major sports, focused a little bit more on the scientific side of sprinting when he discussed acceleration training. He apologized for getting too much into the science, but I always enjoy those types of presentations. I really enjoy hearing those in the top of the field really dive into and break down a topic. Jim focused on the mechanics of the 10-yard sprint and the importance of creating horizontal force. He gave a nice piece of information on how the percentage of body weight used for sled sprints trains different aspects of the sprint (15-20% for acceleration speed, 45-50% for improving horizontal force). I really enjoyed this presentation and all the studies he showed.

Since I train a group of 7-8 year-old hockey players, I was very interested to hear Dave Gleason’s presentation, which focused on training youth athletes. The biggest thing I took away from his presentation weren’t drills, but a thought. Dave said, “we can’t take their fitness away from them.” When these kids are in their 40s, are they going to look back and see that we didn’t give them what we needed. Because of his presentation, I look at a kid I train and picture that he will be a client of mine for the next 10-20 years. I don’t view it that I’ll just be training them for a couple of weeks or months. It’s my job to set them up for the future and, by having them so young, I can develop them so that they can reach their full potential when they get older.

A large portion of my clientele is general population, so it was great to learn ways to incorporate power training into their program from Robert Dos Remedios. Coach Dos showed ways to modify power movements for special populations. It doesn’t matter what modifications are needed, it’s all about intent. The most important factor is the intent needs to be to move as fast as possible. He also discussed “power endurance” and building work capacity, all while showing a bunch of outside-the-box power exercises.

Overall, this was a fantastic trip and Pat Beith did an outstanding job putting it all together. I left the summit with far more than I could have asked for. Each presentation and hands-on portion brought something different to the table and I came away with multiple things I could implement immediately from each presentation.

Four Things I Learned from the SB911 Transformation Contest

I went from 210 lbs. and 23% body fat to 195 pounds and 18.2% body fat.

I went from 210 lbs. and 23% body fat to 195 pounds and 18.2% body fat.

It was a little more than a year ago when I finished up the Strong Bastard 911 program and sent in my after pictures, video and essay for the transformation contest run by Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith.

Going through this contest was a real turning point for me with both my personal training business and my own training. I remember looking back at all the progress I made and just being proud of the fact that I did exactly what I set out to do and hit all of my goals.

To find out a couple of months later that I finished in first place was far more than I could of asked for. This was far and away the biggest thing I’ve accomplished in the fitness industry. But, as cliche as this sounds, this journey turned out to be more than just winning a contest. I learned how to take complete control of my training and all the important details I needed to keep in check outside the gym. I’ve saw what it takes to get to where you want to be and I can pass that message on to my clients.

There are no quick fixes or six-minute abs. It’s going to take consistent hard work week after week. But, I’m not saying that in one of those tough-guy trainer voices to scare you off and make you think it’s going to be a terrible experience. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Sure, there will be some obstacles, but you need to understand that going into the process.

I’m going to share with you four tips I used that helped me overcome the rough patches. They may sound obvious, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.





In my opinion, this is the most important and should be the first thing you do before you start a program. You need a purpose or a “why” behind your training or else you’re just mindlessly doing the same thing without any real direction. You need clear goals and you set them for the short term and the long term.

The problems I see when I ask people about their goals are they are either too vague (lose weight, tone up), too unrealistic (lose 30 pounds in a month) or there are no goals.

My long term goals are to be 12% body fat, squat and deadlift 500 pounds, bench press 275 pounds and perform 15 strict pull-ups. I understood all of those things weren’t going to happen in a three-month span, especially with where I was at. So, for SB911, my main goals were to lose 15 pounds, drop 5% body fat, increase my one-rep max in the squat by 10 pounds and bench press by five pounds. Body composition was the most important to me and I didn’t know how my strength would be after losing weight.

Those were my gym goals, but the “why” behind those goals was what was included as a prize for a top three finisher – a free one-hour consultation with Joe and Smitty. These were two of my fitness idols and I follow every word they say. I know how much those consultations cost and it would be huge to get a chance to pick their brains on training for an hour. The title of Mr. Strong Bastard wasn’t the main goal because I don’t consider myself “better” than others that competed. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to place in the top three so I could get a chance to talk to Joe and Smitty because I saw the value in that.

With clear goals set, I knew exactly what I wanted. I took pictures, weighed myself and measured my body fat each week to make sure I was on track. At the conclusion of the program, I lost 15 pounds, dropped 4.8% body fat, my bench press 1RM went up 10 pounds and my squat 1RM jumped 40 pounds.


Most of the questions I get from doing the contest revolve around diet. I didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary and nutritional advice really isn’t my expertise. I could give you some tips and guidelines to follow, but I don’t know how to put together a detailed meal plan for you. If you need to get your nutrition seriously dialed in, I’d recommend seeing a nutritionist.

But, for those who are pretty dialed in on nutrition and looking to make tweaks more than major adjustments, my best advice is to find out what works for you and stick with it. I work at a school during the day and a gym in the afternoon and night time. I don’t get a chance to sit down and eat a meal at the gym, so I ate lunch and another meal at the school right before I left for the gym. I’d have a shake at the gym and dinner when I got home. I tracked my calories for the first few weeks, eating roughly 2,100-2,500 calories a day and my macros broke down to 30-35% protein, 45-50% carbs and 20% fat. I made it a point to get most of my veggies and fruit in during the day because I knew when I got home late I wouldn’t be in much of a mood for vegetables. I would strategize a way to get 4-5 meals in a day.

I eat mostly the same things each week, not because I’m a strict bodybuilder, but that’s just how I am. After tracking the same foods for a few weeks, I had a pretty good idea where my caloric intake stood for the day, so I didn’t need to track it as thoroughly towards the end.

That’s what worked for me. That might not work for somebody else. I knew what foods made me bloated and what foods made me feel better. This might take a little trial and error. There’s also outside factors you need to consider like when you can eat and how your work and training schedule is. My eating schedule changes when I’m off.


I always thought visualization and positive thinking was over-hyped until I went through this contest. This is what got me through those tough times and helped me perservere.

I told myself two things are going to happen at the end of this program — either I’m going to follow through or not. This is where you do need to be hard on yourself. If I don’t follow through, it’s going to be another missed opportunity and I’m going to look back at all the times I got lazy and kick myself. Or, I could push through those rough days get the job done, then I’m going to look back and be thankful I put in the work on the days I wanted to quit.

Once I started seeing some progress, positive thoughts consumed me. When I was in my car or going for a walk, all I could think about was the good things that would happen if I did everything I was suppose to. I saw myself talking to Joe and Smitty about training and saw myself on Joe’s podcast talking about the contest. I didn’t think the podcast would actually happen, but it did. I thought about people complimenting me on how I looked and how great I would feel because I accomplished exactly what I wanted. The first few weeks are key. You’ll start to notice those little changes and it will make you think twice about giving up.

I worked long days, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Believe me, there were plenty of days I didn’t want to work out and would rather just go home early. But each time I considered calling it quits for the day or wanted to stop a couple reps short, I thought about the finish line. I wanted to look back and say I did everything I could possibly do and leave nothing behind. If I don’t place in the top three, so be it, at least I’ll be able to say I did everything I could.


I wanted to stick to this program and get the best results I could. I knew if I was going to slip at any point, it would be because of my diet. To make sure I didn’t “fall off the wagon” too many times, I told pretty much everyone I knew I was entering this contest. I didn’t want to keep it a secret.

I did this to make sure I stayed on track. I didn’t need them to watch over me every time I ate and slap my hand if I grabbed a chip. I told everyone because so they’d ask how I was doing throughout the process and so they’d ask me at the end how I did. This put a little pressure on me, in a good way. If I didn’t make any progress and they asked me how I did, it would be embarrassing as a trainer to say I couldn’t stay disciplined.

Another layer to that accountability was added when I told my brother James he should do the program with me. Since there’s a lot of variety in the program and I didn’t have enough time to train him on my own, I thought it would be best to bring him along for the ride.  James is a guy who is prompt and I knew he would take it seriously. If I missed a workout, not only would I be letting myself down, but I’d let him down. James made sure to remind me of the days and times we would be working out.

James pushed and encouraged me and I wouldn’t have made the progress I made without him. This shows the value of a quality training partner. His positivity and progress lifted me up. He kept reminded me what the end goal was and made sure I never let up.

The Profound Impact the SWIS Symposium had on me

J.L. Holdsworth discussing strength correctives for the squat and deadlift.

J.L. Holdsworth discussing strength correctives for the squat and deadlift.

2015 was a real eye-opener for me as a trainer and realized what is possible in this business. I was muddling around for a year-and-a-half making no real progress, but that changed last year. I’m still far from where I want to be, but 2015 woke me up and gave me a glimpse of what’s possible if I really put my mind to it and go after what I want.

It started in the spring with my own training regiment and winning Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith’s Strong Bastard 911 Transformation Contest. I really honed in on my training and nutrition and got into the best shape of my life.

This provided a spark and helped me change my outlook on things and develop a more positive mindset. This made me hungry and want to improve as a trainer, so I asked Joe in August if he would be speaking at any seminars in the near future. I knew continuing education was important, so I thought it would be best to get the ball rolling and go see one of my favorite trainers speak. He told me he would be speaking at the Society of Weight-Training Injury Specialists (SWIS) Symposium in Toronto in November and highly recommended I go.

Joe has played an instrumental role in my own training, but now he led me to an event that was going to have a profound impact on my business. The trip wouldn’t be cheap, but after some deliberation, I decided to make the investment and, turns out, it was the smartest decision I’ve ever made. Simply put, SWIS was everything I thought it would be — and then some. Not only did I leave Toronto more educated, but I was also inspired. Just being in the presence of some of the best trainers in the world was motivating. Listening to these coaches speak and watching them interact with others made me want to do more as a trainer. I want to be somewhere close to their level someday.

Now, as excited as I was to go, I have to admit, I was also nervous.  This was the first seminar I’ve ever been to and I didn’t know if I would be out of place. I train out of a commercial gym and I’m about to be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in the business. These were guys I looked up to, read their work and followed online. Even though they don’t know me from a hole in the ground, I don’t want to embarrass myself. If I get to talk to these guys, I don’t want to say something that’s wrong and embarrass myself.

Tom Bilella with me after his presentation at SWIS.

“The Guru” Tom Bilella with me after his presentation at SWIS.

Luckily, these nerves were short lived. Once my plane landed, I met “The Guru” Dr. Tom Bilella and he offered to get me a cab to the hotel. He’s the guy Joe sends his top athletes to for nutritional counseling and diet plans. The Guru couldn’t have been nicer as I told him my story and he eased my nerves with a stream of one-liners during the ride that me rolling.

Actually, this is how all of my interactions went, well, without the one-liners.  While I’m not on the level of these guys experience wise, everyone I talked to was more than willing to help share their time and advice. It starts at the top with the man who organized SWIS, Dr. Ken Kinakin. Ken was everywhere and the only time I saw him standing still was when he was taking the time to talk to different guests to see how their experience was, including me. He did this and was always had a smile on even though he would be running back and forth to make sure the event was running smoothly. I don’t think the guy ever had a break.

The Guru and Ken were just a few of the top players at SWIS I got to meet. One of the big things about going to these seminars is the chance to network. I wasn’t expecting to do much networking because I didn’t really know what I could offer these guys in return. Thankfully, that didn’t work against me and I wound up meeting somebody who has been very influential in helping me grow as a trainer. As I was waiting for a presentation to start, I was approached by Justin Kavanaugh of the Sport and Speed Institute in Chantilly, VA. After talking for a little bit, he gave me his card and told me to shoot him an email when I got back home. That email eventually led to him inviting me to check out his facility and he’s been checking in and giving me advice ever since. I can’t say enough about what he’s done for me. That’s another post in itself.

That wouldn’t be the only time I ran into Justin at SWIS.  The next day, I caught Joe DeFranco about an hour before he was going to speak and he treated me like we’ve been friends since his storage closet days. I would have been fine with a quick “hello”, especially since his presentation was coming up, but I got greeted as “Champ” and we spent the next 15 minutes talking about SWIS. Right as our conversation ended, I found myself as the small fish in a huge pond. I was in a circle with four of the top coaches in the world and didn’t really know what to do. To the left of me was Joe, followed by world class powerlifter J.L. Holdsworth, Dave Tate, the founder of Elite FTS, which are the makers of the best training equipment in the world, and Justin.

I went through a range of emotions during this encounter. First, I was excited. I heard J.L. present and he talked to me about coming up as a trainer after his presentation and gave me advice on what I need to do to build my business up. Then there was Dave, another guy I follow religiously and was actually watching some of his videos on YouTube the night before. Then there was Justin and Joe, who I had just talked to earlier. While part of me was just taking in this experience, the other part of me was nervous and trying to stay focused because I didn’t want to sound dumb if they asked me something. No matter what I do as a trainer, I’ll always get to say I was involved in a discussion with them. I’ll just leave out the other details when people ask.

Every time I turned, I found myself next to somebody important. During John Meadows presentation, I was

Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield with me after his presentation at SWIS.

Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield with me after his presentation at SWIS.

standing in the back with Tate behind me as well as this guy who wore a different super hero shirt each day. The whole time I was trying to figure out who it was and why he was always wearing these shirts. But, every time I saw him, he was talking to somebody important. Turns out, it was Dr. Eric Serrano, a name I would hear frequently mentioned by the presenters for his world-class work. I also got to talk and take a picture with Dr. Squat Fred Hatfield and sat just a few seats away from another top powerlifter, Julia Ladewski. To show how valuable SWIS was, even the presenters would sit in and take notes on other presentations.

I’ve gone on about the experiences I had longer than I thought I would. This wasn’t just a trip where I got to “meet the stars” and take pictures. The presentations themselves were awesome. Each day there were five presentations that were 90 minutes each and these were intense. I left mentally drained, but in a good way, because it was the equivalent of squeezing in 10 college courses in two days with the amount of knowledge shared. It was too much for me to wrap my head around sometimes.

I learned so much from the presentations and actually took 30 pages of notes. I got to hear Joe speak again on how the prowler could be used to improve acceleration and picked up some diet tips from The Guru. The Guru’s presentation was so well done and relatable that I actually told my mom to make the trip down to the Nutrition Treatment Center in Red Bank, NJ. She just started a couple of weeks ago and is already down 14 pounds. Assessments and corrective exercise are two major areas I need to improve in and I learned different strategies and exercises from Paul Gagne and Lorne Goldenberg. What I liked about Gagne and Goldenberg’s techniques is how they were able to give examples using the pro athletes they trained.

Not all of the learning came from the presentation rooms. Even though I didn’t get to see Donnie Thompson present, I watched him demonstrate his body tempering techniques with guests and on Joe D. Hearing the people talk about the immediate benefits they felt after a few minutes with the “X-Wife”, a 130-pound steel roller that’s the size of a foam roller, I figured I needed to implement this in my own training. I don’t have an “X-Wife”, but I found some shortcuts with weights and how to make my own. Everyone I’ve tried it on felt instant relief. Every time I picked up a different tidbit from a different coach, I got so antsy and excited that I wanted to tell every client I had all of the information I used. I was ready to start applying this tips right away.

Out of all the presentations, my biggest thing that stuck with me from all the presentations was a story I heard during the first presentation I saw, given by Matt Nichol. It wasn’t a training strategy, but it was a story he gave that just had such a profound impact on me. Matt talked about helping NHL goalie Ray Emery get back on to the ice. Emery had Avascular Necrosis, which was a deterioration of the hip and the only other athlete to have this was Bo Jackson. Emery had to undergo a free vascularized fibular graft, where they took a piece of his fibula and put it on his hip. This surgery had been done on only one other athlete, a collegiate athlete. The only reason I’m able to even describe this scenario coherently is because of how clearly Nichol presented it. The only things I knew about that speech prior were Jackson, Emery and what a fibula is.

Making matters even more complicated, Emery had to make a choice. He could either declare he was no longer medically able to play and collect a couple million dollars or sign a medical waiver saying he was medically able to play, but could be cut at any instant. This is a life-changing decision. If he signs the medical waiver, he could be cut if he’s physically not able to perform at an NHL level and his career would be over. Nichol admitted he didn’t know what to do at first because there was nothing you could find anywhere on how to approach this situation. He had to “surround the dragon” and “see what you see and treat what you see” until you can kill the dragon. Since there was no literature on this circumstance, Nichol had to go off of what he knew to attack the situation and they trained three times a day, seven days a week for five months.

The end result was Emery came back and had one of the best seasons of his career and is still playing in the NHL. After hearing that story, I knew I was at the right place. That was one of the coolest training stories I’ve ever heard and really inspired me. It made me want to get better as a trainer because it gave me a glimpse of what you can do when you know you’re an intelligent, experienced trainer.

That story has stuck with me to this day and has made me that much more driven to get better. That motivation to get better was amplified through each presentation and each encounter I had. I was surrounded by greatness in the field and you can’t duplicate that anywhere else. What I found out from the trip is you can benefit from SWIS no matter where you stand as a trainer.

I preface this by saying I know I still have a long way to go. But, I have seen my knowledge in the field grow and have noticed major improvements in my training of clients since attending SWIS. Last year gave me a sample of the power of this symposium. I got my email for the early-bird registration for this year’s event and I’m eager to see how much more I’ll pick up at my second time at SWIS.

Learning How the Pros Do It at the Sport and Speed Institute

First impressions are everything.

When I made the trip down to Chantilly, VA to check out the Sport and Speed Institute (SSI) to start my mid-winter break from school, I knew I was going to see how a real sports performance facility was run before I even parked my car.

I arrived at 14290-A Sullyfield Circle at about 9 p.m. and the lot was pretty dark except for the lights shining outside of the huge glass walls on the side of SSI. As I passed by to park my car, I could see Coach Justin Kavanaugh and Dylan Seely working overtime with Keenan Reynolds and Chris Swain of Navy in preparation for their NFL Pro Days. Once I made it inside, I watched Justin oversee and coach each rep of their speed drills, while also recording each sprint with a camera for further review.

Justin gave me the opportunity to check out his place and see how a real sports performance center is run and I was hooked right away. This was my first time at this type of facility and that moment confirmed my beliefs that this is something I want to do. I could have left after they closed shop an hour later and been satisfied. But, little did I know, this was just the beginning.

I came while their NFL Combine prep was underway so SSI was very busy over the weekend. All I’ve known about is the training aspect, but I learned there are so many other aspects that go into developing athletes. SSI takes a holistic approach in dealing with its athletes and virtually everything is covered – nutrition, recovery, physical therapy, off-the-field coaching, skill-specific work and, of course, the training.

The design of SSI let’s you know as soon as you walk in the door that you’re not in your typical commercial

Brett McMakin, a member of SSI's NFL Combine Class and now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, signs the Pro Wall.

Brett McMakin, a member of SSI’s NFL Combine Class and now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, signs the Pro Wall.

gym. The second I walked in I just got this vibe of success and hard work and it just put me in a positive mindset for the whole day. The first thing I saw was the SSI Pro Wall and all the signatures of top athletes that have come here to train. It was just so motivating to me and makes me want to have my own gym that could churn out stud athletes.

Next, I saw the athlete’s lounge and it was littered with framed newspaper and magazine articles of clients. Down the hallway leading into the gym I saw framed pictures of all the athletes in this year’s NFL Combine program and passed the conference room. The room has inspirational quotes on the wall and I saw everything take place in there from meetings, film and play breakdown on the white board and mock interviews. Also, on the table were binders for each member of the draft class which were filled with everything from workouts, warm-up routines, food journals and journals for how the players were feeling throughout the training.

Finally, the gym itself is huge. There’s a spacious turf area that’s more than 40 yards long where you could not only run sprints, but have enough room to actually go through position-specific drills. The weight room has all the necessities with multi-purpose Keiser racks, kettlebells, glute ham raises, medicine balls and plyo boxes. The physical therapy area is top of the line with all sorts of gadgets I’ve never seen before, from vibrating foam rollers to the Fusionetics software. The software allows coaches perform various assessments and the athletes also use it to check in each day with how they’re feeling mentally and physically.

I pretty much got to see everything they do inside the gym at SSI. Coach Josh Schroeder led a busy morning of classes filled with high school and youth athletes. I got to see how they broke down and organized a training session comprised of speed and strength work flawlessly. The SSI high school training is far-reaching because it’s also where the Nike Epic7 team trains. I got to see some of the best football players in the area get coached up by a stellar group of coaches in former NFL defensive back Shawn Springs, Schroeder, Brandon Randolph, Lorenzo Hoff, Drew Amuwave and the head coach of the team Elite 11, Paul Troth.

Coach Justin Kavanaugh watching Navy's Keenan Reynolds and UCLA's Devin Fuller perform pushup-start sprints.

Coach Justin Kavanaugh watching Navy’s Keenan Reynolds and UCLA’s Devin Fuller perform pushup-start sprints.

There’s more to the training than the workouts themselves, as I got to see Coach Kav counsel a promising high school football player on what he needs to do to get more scholarship offers. They went through everything from social media presence, how to put together and send out film and how he needs to plot out his next few months in the recruiting process. I’ve never heard of recruiting training as part of a gym package.

But, Coach Kav isn’t your typical trainer. He has a wide-ranging network in the football world at all levels, from high school all the way to the pros. He offers things you can’t get anywhere else. With his pro guys, he covers every detail of Pro Day and gives them a full itinerary on what they need to do that day to maximize their results. Every off-the-field aspect is covered. SSI provides its athletes with the right supplementation, they get catered meals from Justin’s private chef Ed Mays and the physical therapy is high quality. The physical therapy is headed by Megan Rogers, one of the top physical therapists in the country, Seely, an injury specialist and Justin, who’s also well-versed in physical therapy.

I spent most of my time with Justin and Dylan and they couldn’t have been more helpful to me whenever I had a question. Justin drew up a diagram for me and went point-for-point on teaching me why he has his athletes train their core to start a workout. Dylan is one of the smartest trainers I’ve ever met and he took me through their assessment process and how they are able to spot possible injuries and stop them before they happen.


Overall, this was an educational, motivating and fun trip. This gave me a glimpse of what it takes to run a successful training business geared for athletes. I learned how to properly run a group training session for younger athletes and all the little details that go into running a program for the pros. I also got to throw a football with a Heisman Trophy candidate in Reynolds and watched Devin Fuller, a player I covered when I worked at the Newark Star-Ledger while he was in high school, prepare for his Pro Day.

This was one of the best experiences of my life and only motivated me even more to pursue and reach my goals as a trainer. I can’t wait to see what the next trip to SSI will bring me over the summer.

Becoming a Better Trainer with Joe D. and Smitty at the CPPS

Jim "Smitty" Smith (left) and Joe DeFranco (right) with me at the CPPS.

Jim “Smitty” Smith (left) and Joe DeFranco (right) with me at the CPPS.

“If you can’t explain it to a waitress on a napkin, then don’t bother talking about it.”

-Buddy Morris

This wasn’t your typical weekend certification.

I don’t even like using the term “weekend certification” when talking about Joe DeFranco and Jim Smith’s Certified Physical Preparation Specialist (CPPS) course. It doesn’t do it justice. We live in a time where anything can be slapped together and labeled a certification when it’s nothing more than a money grab. I’ve followed Joe D. and Smitty for a long time and the biggest thing I’ve learned about them is when they team up for a project, you know you’re getting your money’s worth, and then some. Plus, not many “weekend certs” have you take a 28-page test and submit a 15-plus minute coaching video.

I kicked off my spring break in Paramus, NJ to attend the CPPS, but the learning didn’t begin there. It started in January when I signed up and had my study materials shipped to my door – their Complete Athletic Development System. This all-encompassing system is comprised of six books and 11 DVDs, so my work was cut out for me.

As a new trainer interested in working with athletes, there’s so many things I’ve learned from the live certification, books and DVDs. I left there a more confident and better trainer than I did before I started combing through all the material in January. I’m shy and was a little intimidated being around so many knowledgeable trainers, but two things that really helped me were how approachable Joe D. and Smitty were and how they are able to break complex topics into simple, easy to understand terms.

The CPPS was part lecture and part hands-on. Joe D. and Smitty made sure I was involved and Joe even made me introduce myself to this class – the largest class they’ve had to date – before I explained Janda’s Upper and Lower Cross Syndrome. “Hi, I’m Charlie Guthrie from Staten Island, NY,” I said sheepishly. “No,” Joe said in a slight disapproving tone. I didn’t know what else he wanted me to say, but then he continued. “This is Charlie Guthrie, our first ever Strong Bastard 911 grand champion!” Within seconds, the whole class was clapping for me, which was a nice ice-breaker. Smitty also made me jump in and help out with the squat practical and always asked how I was doing during most of the hands-on portions.

The April CPPS class had a record number of attendees.

The April CPPS class had a record number of attendees.

They make you feel welcome and treat you like and equal. They don’t try to out-smart you. I put that Buddy Morris quote at the top of this blog because I’ve heard Joe mention it a few times during his seminars and on his Industrial Strength Show podcast. Joe likes to bring up his SAT scores and say he isn’t the smartest, but the guy is a genius performance coach. Smitty is the MacGyver of training, where he can put together a 12-week program if all you gave him was a quarter, a rubber band and two 10-pound dumbbells to work with.

Part of their genius is that they don’t talk over you. You come away smarter after listening to them because they live by that Buddy Morris quote. I can talk about things like Verkhoshanky’s Theory of Dynamic Correspondence, Contrast Training, what a positive shin angle is and maximal and operational outputs because they make the material digestible for everyone. I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.

Sometimes I’ll read or watch something and give up after a few minutes because the presenter is throwing all these terms I’ve never heard before at once. That wasn’t the case when going through the Complete Athletic Development System. The 100s of new exercises I learned from the series are just the tip of the iceberg. Speed and power training were areas I was weak in, yet now I feel more confident programming it into my clients training. I learned how to properly set up a warm-up, how to train all dimensions of the core and their Strength book and DVDs have led to many quick PRs from me and my clients. Some of those PRs came just off of the tips they give on properly setting up and creating tension in the right areas.

The DVDs and books would have been enough, but the live certification made it that much better. The two days in Paramus gave me an education I could only get in person. One example would be my setup on the deadlift. I knew something didn’t feel quite right when I deadlifted, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Within five minutes of watching me lift, Smitty and Felipe Cotas, a fellow classmate in my group, fixed it. The camaraderie and hands-on work with fellow classmates really helped me grasp certain topics. I really saw the difference proper breathing has on mobility and weight lifting because I performed it with other classmates and instructor Brian Oberther cleared up any questions I had with his demonstrations. I feel a lot more confident giving assessments because we had to go through each movement with another classmate. It makes such a difference having another like-minded professional going through the exercises with you.

As I just mentioned, I didn’t just learn from Joe and Smitty. One of the perks of getting CPPS certified is you can attend any future event for free. Joe and Smitty have also brought back previous graduates to help teach the course. I had my squat looked at by power lifter and gym owner John Gaglione, who graduated from the first ever CPPS class. Another CPPS coach, C.J. Appenzeller, led the presentation on the deadlift, breaking down conventional and sumo pulls. One of C.J.’s coaches, Chris Ragos, was in my class and led the group warm-up. He taught me a few exercises to add into my own routine.

There was even some business advice and motivation tossed in from pitching coach, speaker and CPPS coach Paul Reddick. As a former player and baseball fan, it was awesome to hear a baseball guy speak. Paul’s whole speech centered around conquering fear to get to where you want to be. The part that stuck out to me the most was when he discussed the three parts of the brain. First is the “want” and the second is the “can”. You know what you want to do and how you can do it. The third, and most important, is the “will”. The “will” can mess with you if you let it and has for me plenty of times. That’s where the doubts creep into your head. He said you’re in charge of your brain and it loves motivation. This course has helped erased some doubts for me and the “will” is becoming more of a reality.

All of these experiences gave me the “why” behind everything DeFranco and Smith do. I’ve followed their programs and used almost of their exercises and techniques in my training, but I wanted to know why they program things the way they do. They showed me step-by-step how to organize a training session and a program. I learned how to put together a progression and regression model and all the components needed for a proper warmup and workout to get an athlete in the best shape of their life.

I’m still in the early stages of my training career and far from an expert. Attending the CPPS was a big step forward and I’m a lot closer to my goals than I was a few months ago.

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