Charlie Guthrie Training

Always looking to get better

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The Elite Pitching Performance Seminar Covered Every Aspect of Pitching

One of my dreams is to have a stable of baseball players from all levels that I could help train and develop. I have played the game my whole life and know that an effective strength and conditioning program can make a big difference for these athletes.

I know there are special considerations that need to be taken when training overhead athletes like baseball players and made it one of my goals to attend a baseball-specific training seminar this year. The problem is, it is hard to find this type of event.

Throughout the year, I searched the internet to see if any of the baseball trainers I followed would be speaking at an event I could attend. It did not look like I was going to be successful until I got home from the Yankees-Indians ALDS Game 3 playoff game when I found the 2017 Champion Elite Pitching Performance Seminar on my Facebook feed. My trip to Massachusetts was booked shortly after and it was one of the best investments I have ever made.

Champion Physical Therapy and Performance is a one-stop shop for baseball players.

I found out about this event through Mike Reinold and his Elite Baseball Performance group, which has been one of my go-to resources for baseball information. Mike was joined by Brent Pourciau, Dan Blewitt, Lantz Wheeler and Paul Reddick to discuss all aspects of pitching from development, strength and power training, mindset, mechanics and the art of what it takes to be successful on the hill. Baseball is also a data-driven sport and we were treated to demos by industry-leaders Rapsodo, Motus and King of the Hill on some of the tracking technology and tools used to gage performance.

Atmosphere is everything and Mike’s facility, Champion Physical Therapy and Performance, was the perfect venue to host this event. If I was asked to put together my dream facility with an unlimited budget, it would look very similar to this place. This facility is an all-in-one stop that must have players salivating when they come in. Once you walk in, you see the physical therapy room which is adorned with jerseys of the Boston Red Sox players Mike has worked with.

Then you walk out to the training area where there is a section for conditioning, a strength training area lined up with all the necessities to build athletes and “The Farm”. The Farm is special. It is a netted-off turf area equipped with five batting areas and pitching mounds with buckets filled with official balls from all the leagues. It was an amazing experience just to walk around and see and I would love to observe it while they are in business training athletes.

Mike Reinold gave an in-depth presentation on training for pitchers.

Reinhold opened the seminar with a very interesting presentation that challenged a lot of what I read and learned about developing arm strength.  He talked about how to properly long toss and how it can have diminishing returns if you are throwing from too far back. Weighted balls have become a hot topic in baseball and Mike talked about how all they do is get the arm to move faster. All the rage in baseball has been the increase in velocity, but Mike countered that by saying the top 20 players in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) value had an average velocity of 93 miles per hour, which I have heard to be considered an average fastball these days on TV broadcasts.

When it comes to developing pitchers properly, Mike, like most smart coaches, believes in low-risk, high-reward methods. The easiest way to develop pitchers, he said, is to optimize the body and clean it up through strength and dynamic stabilization. There are four buckets we need to consider to help pitchers reach their full potential and we need to make sure they are filled equally for kids — strength, arm care, throwing mechanics and age/maturity. There was a lot packed into this presentation as he went into how to approach each bucket and gave the biomechanics of velocity.

Mike also helped make my lunch break a productive one by answering every question I threw his way. The

Brent Porciau broke down how he trains strength and power with the pitchers he works with.

same could be said about Porciau, of and owner of Guerrilla Baseball Academy. His presentation went into ways we could develop high-velocity pitchers in the weight room without stressing the arm. He showed how he uses his 3X program with the two phases of a pitchers delivery: the stride phase and the throwing phase. What intrigued me about his talk was how he stressed the importance of strength and power training, which I did not expect, and how everything he discussed was science and research driven. Right after I talked to Mike, I was able to talk with Brent and broke down everything with me and had a great team with him. He introduced me to former big-league pitcher Mike Linskey, who could not have been nicer, and one of his athletes, Adam. Adam is only in high school, but he knew training like a seasoned coach. It took me a while to realize he was not one of Brent’s coaches. That is a testament to how well of a program Brent runs.

The seminar then shifted more into the art of pitching with Blewitt, who owns the Warbird Academy and hosts the “Dear Baseball Gods” podcast. What I loved with his presentation is how he gave you a template to use on how to assess yourself to develop your approach on the mound. I liked how he was able to present this information in a simple manner where anyone, regardless of age or skill level, could comprehend it fully. I wish I had this information in my hands when I was in high school. He provided an ideal pitch selection based on your arm slot and the pros and cons of having a high-spin, low-spin and average-spin fastball. It was interesting how he discussed the three important things that make  up a good pitching sequence and how to use the information a hitter provides to your advantage. He even went into how to effectively pair your pitches for pitch tunneling. I went into this seminar focused on the strength and conditioning side, but his presentation made me want to toe the rubber on The Farm and try some pitches out.

Wheeler, the founder of The Baseball Think Tank, really made me think about how I communicate with my athletes with his three laws of development. The first two really stood out to me. The first law is inputs become outputs. If we are not clear with our communication, the movements will not be crisp. He stressed that it is so much more important for us to get into a player’s mind than their mechanics. This made me think of all the times I worked with a client and they were not able to perform a movement properly because I could not explain it well enough. The second is intention begat actions and he used a story about Bartolo Colon to explain it. Intent matters and there is a big difference between throwing while trying to hit a target as opposed to trying to break down a door with a ball. He said it is “mind over motor”.   The third law is form over function. He went into how mechanics are developed through the body, how we need to disarm the body’s built-in alarms, since its main goal is to protect at all costs, and the “caveman mechanics” of pitching.

The presentations closed with Reddick, of the 567 Academy. I got the chance to hear Paul speak when I was at the CPPS weekend and heard him on Joe DeFranco’s podcast a few weeks prior to the event. Paul’s talk was more geared towards the athletes and parents in attendance, but my main takeaway was on doing the invisible work. This is the work that is self-directed and nobody sees. This is Kobe Bryant practicing at 5 a.m. and Manny Ramirez having his friends turn their cars on in the wee-hours of the morning so he can take extra hacks before school. This is the work I need to continue to do to get to where I want to be.

Overall, this was a fantastic event from top-to-bottom. It had been a long couple of weeks for me and I questioned whether or not I would be able to make the trip. I am certainly glad I did. After the presentations, Pourciau and Wheeler provided live demos on The Farm and King of the Hill, Motus and Raspodo showed us all the ways to use their devices. I left the event meeting some great people and with a much better arsenal on how to properly work with pitchers.

CVASP Had Everything I Look For in a Seminar


The Central Virginia Sports Performance Seminar was an outstanding event and the highlight of my summer. I really enjoyed this seminar because it was like a buffet of the aspects I enjoyed from all of the other seminars I’ve attended. CVASP had the higher-level, scientific approach to training that you’d see at the SWIS Symposium, ways to apply the methods like the Speed and Power Summit and it was strictly for sports performance coaches, just like the EliteFTS Sports Performance Summit and PLAE Summit.

If I had to make a rough estimate, I’d say 85% of the coaches in attendance worked at the collegiate level or higher. Those who didn’t work in a team setting worked at well-established performance centers. Whatever the number may be, the moral of the story is I was surrounded by some serious coaches. It was a motivating atmosphere to be around. I got to be a fly on the wall for two nights and join some small groups to listen to these people discuss the intricacies of training.

When I look at where I am in my career, it’s crazy to think of the people and the topics of conversation I got to listen in on. Some of those people included Dr. Bryan Mann, Yosef Johnson, Jeff Moyer, Keenan Robinson, Matt Thome, Bret Bartholomew, Jay DeMayo and Coach Kav, among others. I got to hear these guys share stories and talk about the principles of Dr. Yuri Verkhoshansky, Dr. Michael Yessis, Dr. Mel Siff and Dr. Anatoly Bondarchuk. You don’t hear those names thrown around too often, but it shows the level of coaches I was surrounded by. The social was a nice, relaxed setting outdoors with the barbecue grilling all night and, for me, was a unique mixture of taking mental notes for all the knowledge that was being shared and hanging out with friends.

One night of that is more than enough, but I got to do it for two. I thought that was a great idea and goes back

Dr. Brad DeWeese broke down training with plenty of 90s rap references.

to what I’ve learned from all of these seminars I’ve attended: these events are only as good as the person running the show behind the scenes. Jay DeMayo, the head strength and conditioning coach at Richmond, did an outstanding job putting this together and making it a hub where the best and brightest in the field gather to share ideas and get better.

Jay’s CVASP podcast is one of my go-to listens in the car because of how in-depth he goes into sports science and training with his guests and all of the top trainers he “introduces” me to. This seminar felt like an in-person extension of his podcast. I have to admit, some of the information being shared I didn’t fully grasp because I’m not at the level these other coaches are at. What I learned from the seminar will be much different than what others with more experience took away.  Even though some parts might have went out my head, I still left there a much better coach.

What I took away from the seminar could be broken down into two parts: one being what I learned, the other being the experience of being there. Part of the experience I already described with the company I was around during the social. In regards to the presentations, I got the chance to listen to Doug McKenney, who was the first full-time NHL S & C coach and been in the league for 30 years, and Keenan Robinson, who is the U.S. National Team’s High Performance Director and has trained Olympic swimmers. Going back to what I mentioned earlier, just to be in the presence of these people is an experience within itself. I might not grasp everything that’s being said or be able to apply every bit of information, but it’s unbelievable to be able to sit back and here the best in the world talk about complex topics.

“If you know where you are, where you’re going and how to get there, you can get there.”

– Dr. Bryan Mann

My knowledge of Yessis’s 1×20 system is minimal, but I was able to get a glimpse of its application in the collegiate setting through Matt Thome of Michigan Tech. He stressed the importance of quality of training and using the minimal effective dose. Another topic that I’ve seen pop up is velocity based training and CVASP brought in the go-to person to speak on it in Dr. Bryan Mann. Mann broke it down simply, gave you ways to incorporate it for other exercises outside of the “big three” and explained what to do if you don’t have access to all of the new software. The quote above, where he compares how we used to use maps to get to our destination before GPS, perfectly states what to do if you don’t have any of the gadgets to use.

Through my experiences with Kav and reading Conscious Coaching, I’ve learned that bad traits can be used for good in coaching. In terms of the art of coaching, it’s been the most eye-opening thing I’ve learned. Having heard Brett Bartholomew speak before, I was glad he chose “The Upside to Your Darkside” as his topic for CVASP. It’s the area of his book I’ve found to be the most interesting and one I’ve tried to apply slowly into my own coaching.

“High intensity sprinting seems to develop maximal strength and power.”

– Hakan Andersson

Hakan Andersson breaking down sprinting.

The area I feel I’m the weakest in, but left CVASP more confident about, was teaching sprinting. Hakan Andersson and Dr. Brad DeWeese really helped me get a better understanding on how to teach sprinting better. These guys showed specific exercises to develop speed and DeWeese explained how certain Olympic lifts at specific percentages positively effect different aspects of sprinting. What made their presentations so useful to me was how they showed footage and looped it multiple times of top level sprinters running while they talked. This allowed me to see things like how high on their toes sprinters land during the acceleration phase and even something as simple as how to properly get out of a pushup-start. I’ve never sat through a presentation on running as thorough as Andersson’s. Even when the form wasn’t “optimal”, DeWeese explained what was wrong and by showing it multiple times, it allowed me to see the mistake as well. DeWeese’s presentation was on more than sprinting, but that’s just what left the biggest impact on me.

Once the weekend wrapped up and I had a few days to sit and reflect on it, I was glad I was finally able to make the trek down to Richmond. I think before writing these because I don’t have the coaching experience to fully give these coaches and presentations justice. I’m only at the point where I can take away small little chunks from each talk. But, the ultimate takeaway is I’m exposed to the extensive amount of information that’s out there and given another reminder of how much I don’t know. What this does is make me better in steps. Even though I don’t grasp everything, the seed is planted and begin to do a little more research. The terminology isn’t foreign to me anymore and I start to understand it better. This allows me to have an even greater appreciation for the information being shared when I hear it in the future and, in turn, become an even smarter coach.

Speed and Power Summit is Only Getting Better

I’ve now been to the Complete Speed and Power Summit twice in less than a year. When I went in September at Reach Your Potential Training in Tinton Falls, NJ, it was just the second time they’ve held the event. I didn’t expect much to change in just nine months, but I managed to leave with a completely different experience than the last time.

Making two trips has given me the chance to see how the event is evolving and growing in popularity. Even though the two-day seminar was solid the first time I went, the people at Athletes Acceleration are always looking for ways to make it better.

That was the message I got after talking to both Pat Beith, the CEO and Founder of Athletes Acceleration, and Alison Culley, the Vice President. Both were very gracious with their time after long day and showed genuine interest in my feedback. Alison talked to me about some things they are looking to do in the future and the passion they have for continuing to make this summit a go-to destination is obvious.

Me with Nicole Rodriguez of Exos.

Athletes Acceleration added some speakers to its lineup and I got to see two different coaches speak this year with Nicole Rodriguez, the performance education manager and performance coach at EXOS and Wil Fleming, the owner of Force Fitness and accomplished weight lifter.

In addition, they changed how they run the hands-on portion, making sure everyone is involved with each group. You’re no longer able to hang out in the back, like I’ve done a couple of times. They make sure you are out there on the floor and it helps you grasp the information a lot better.

They also changed the venue for the social. I wouldn’t have minded hanging out on the beach like last time, but I did interact a lot more at JRs Bar and Grill. There were a lot more coaches at this year’s event and there wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t talking to someone at the social.

One constant between the two visits was the quality of the presentation. Coach Dos, Robert Dos Remedios, kicked us off with programming for power. What I liked about Dos’ presentation is that he discussed how power training isn’t strictly for athletes. This was information I could apply with my general population clients, and he encourages that. He explained how our explosive capabilities decrease as we age and how this type of training helps with strength, balance and is metabolically taxing. Anyone can train for power; it’s all about intent. Whenever I talk to my general population clients about something we are doing from a seminar, I’m usually dropping a few things I learned from Dos.

“Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised.” – Adam Feit

Adam Feit followed with an interesting presentation where he related making cookies with his son

Me with Adam Feit.

to coaching. “Cookie-cutter programs” is a dreaded phrase to coaches, yet Feit said we all have them to a certain extent. The cookie-cutter part is the foundation that all programs need. What separates your program from others is your flair or how you dress up your cookie. That’s where your coaching and the type of system you use comes in. He also discussed having a “triage system” in your system where you address the most serious matters first and “do the best you can with what you have and where you are.” The description doesn’t do the presentation justice. RYPT has a fantastic system and Feit’s presentation was one of the best I’ve heard out of all the seminars I’ve been to because of his style of presenting.

“You need to work through the (speed-strength) continuum and teach the athletes different expressions of force.” – Nicole Rodriguez

Rodriguez gave us an in-depth look inside the EXOS system and ways to go about developing speed and power. She went into putting exercises into three buckets of position, pattern and power and showed us a jump profile relationship with the eccentric utilization ratio (glad to see one of my CSCS words in a presentation). She discussed how to utilize the full speed-strength continuum and went into how the tendons and muscles work during movement. Her hands-on presentation brought everything together and she showed us how to apply the three buckets, along with one of her “money-making” drills.

Dave Gleason closed out the first day with a talk on culture and finding your why. Above any program design, culture is the most important aspect for running a successful facility. He went into all the tiny details your gym should have to create the right culture and creating POMO — the position of maximal opportunity for your athletes. His presentation can be perfectly summed up with this: “when your culture is strong, your athletes will carry the day. They will quickly and effectively homogenize any new athlete into your program.”

“You need to stay in your lane while teaching until you can expand your lane.” – Lee Taft

The knowledge bombs continued on Day Two, starting with the Godfather of Speed, Lee Taft. As someone looking to improve their knowledge of speed, it was interesting to hear and see Lee go through ways he assessed different athletes. The main takeaway was to work with what you know. Lee said you need to assess what you can find answers to and don’t assess what you don’t understand. There are three questions you need to keep in mind while watching your athletes: what did you want to see? Did you see it? Why did you want to see it?

“Why coach away errors when you can program them away.” – Wil Fleming

One presentation that I had starred when I first saw the lineup was Fleming’s talk on Olympic lifting. I’ve made a real effort to try and learn and understand the Olympic lifts and there’s not many people more knowledgable on the subject than him. His presentation delivered more than I expected as he thoroughly broke down the hip, knee and floor position and taught ways to fix various weaknesses. He made it so simple and his DVD on Olympic lifting became an instant buy.

My haul from the weekend.

Finally, the second day concluded with the closer, Bobby Smith. Bobby’s energy is unmatched and he wears his passion for coaching on his sleeve. His energy isn’t the most motivating part of his presentation though. What always strikes a chord with me is when he goes into the story of RYPT and how he saw his vision of building the facility through. On top of that, he’s transparent. He’s not afraid to tell you exactly how they do things at RYPT without holding anything back. Last year he gave his system for developing max velocity, this year he went into their dynamic warmup. He literally lays it all out on the table.

Every time I see him present, I leave with another sheet of exercises and progression of drills I could use with my athletes. My programs are filled with information I’ve learned about the RYPT system. He’s always available to talk and share information. That’s what everyone is like at the Speed and Power Summit. Above all the information you’ll learn from the presentations and hands-on segments, you meet a lot of good people. This is the seminar I feel the most comfortable at because of the people. They make you feel welcome and a part of the team. No matter what else they change and add on in the future, that will always be the best part of the Speed and Power Summit.

Found a Gem with the PLAE Summit

Sometimes I find great seminars by pure luck.

I was browsing Instragram in early March and stumbled upon a post by Brett Bartholomew, who spoke at a PLAE Summit in Indiana. I saw he was a part of a great group of speakers and decided to investigate more.

Turns out, there was one in Baltimore.

My next trip was planned and I’m glad I found out about it in time. This was such a well-run event by Ron McKeefrey and his crew at PLAE. Ron, who I’ve followed for a while through his “Iron Game Chalk Talk”  podcast and CEO Strength Coach book, did such a great job organizing this event. He was always on the move to make sure everything ran smoothly and on-time and he deserves credit for that.

With Aaron Wellman, the New York Giants strength and conditioning coach.

This event had everything I look for in a sports performance seminar. For starters, it’s hard to find a better venue to hold a sports performance seminar than the Under Armour Performance Center. On top of that, there was plenty to take away from a group of presenters that included NFL strength coaches Craig Fitzgerald and Aaron Wellman, Maryland football sports performance coach Rick Court, UMass strength coach Joe Connolly, the “Mobility Maker” Dana Santas and Underground Strength Gym owner Zach Even-Esh.

Also, what made this seminar unique from the other ones I attended was there was a 40-minute group discussion. The audience was broken up into small groups and we had to discuss our “biggest pain point”. I got to talk about and receive feedback on how to deal with my biggest struggles as a trainer from a group that consisted of gym owners, college and high school strength coaches and performance coaches. Each member gave me detailed feedback in what was basically a free consultation.

“Execution over innovation.” – Craig Fitzgerald

Fitzgerald, the Houston Texans strength and conditioning coach, started the day and drove home the importance of simplicity. With so much out there, it’s easy to want to go out and try the new, fancy training method out there. I’ve certainly been guilty of that. To elaborate on the quote above, your athletes have to be able to do what you’re asking of them before you can progress them. The fundamentals never get old and they set the foundation for everything.

It’s presentations like this one that make me respect these coaches so much more. Fitzgerald went into how he maximizes the four pillars of training — mobility, speed, strength and conditioning — for his athletes, but did it in a simple, practical way where anyone could understand it. Conditioning is an area I’ve been trying to learn more about and I found it interesting  how he periodizes his conditioning work, similar to how you would for strength training. Also, even though he works with top-level athletes, he stressed the goal is quality over survival and that hearing his athletes say “hell yeah” about conditioning work beats “hell no”.

“You’re training as soon as you walk into the weight room.” -Rick Court

Court took the stage next and I felt like I was getting an inside look at him coaching in the Maryland weight room. I was just so impressed and motivated to see his attention to detail on coaching. To Court, everything done in the weight room is considered training. He doesn’t label parts of the session the warm up, main lift or auxiliary lifts because the athletes will perceive them differently. He wants his athletes to get the maximal effect out of every drill. When he had Antonio Turner, the assistant strength and conditioning coach for football, go through the warmup ladder drills, Turner had to finish each drill with a power step out of the ladder.

He then took us over to the power rack and showed how he coached and cued some lifts. Everything was exact and the emphasis was on making sure his athletes were strength training and not just flinging weights aimlessly.  I love watching how the best in this industry coach up their athletes and Court gave everyone a small snapshot into the art of coaching. He didn’t even have to present anything. He could have just brought a few athletes in and trained them and that would have been more than enough for me.

“Success is not an accident. You get what you earn.” – Zach Even-Esh

The quote above perfectly sums up Even-Esh’s presentation. Zach’s presentation was different because it wasn’t so much about the technical aspects of strength training. You get what you put into this business and it’s all about making your athletes better. He literally built his business from nothing and his love of training radiated through his speech. He started off as a teacher and trained athletes part-time out of his car at local parks. He then moved his “gym” to his house and told a funny story about how his neighbors would look on in disbelief at all the unconventional exercises he would have his athletes doing in his backyard. Despite it all, he kept plugging away and wound up building three gyms and has worked with the Rutgers and Lehigh wrestling teams.

It was a great presentation to hear for two reasons. I’ve known about Zach for a long time because he trained a lot of the athletes I covered as a sports writer and I had a chance to visit his Edison gym. Also, it hit home because his situation in the beginning is similar to mine. Right now, I’m training part-time in addition to my school job and grad school.

“The system has evolved over 20 years. I reserve the right to change my views.”

– Aaron Wellman

 Wellman’s presentation was a nice blend of developing as a coach, weight room culture and training philosophy. Wellman, who’s been a Division I strength coach for 20 years before working for the New York Giants, talked about how he is still searching for more and broke down the four developmental stages of a strength coach: informational accumulation, settling in, epiphany/revelation and mastery. First, the little information you have creates a blissful ignorance and then you settle in with the knowledge you have and continue to grow at your own pace. That leads to the epiphany stage, where you realize how little you know and answer questions with “maybe” or “depends”.  You realize there’s so much more out there and he said he’s perpetually in this stage. You never really reach the mastery stage. I’ve been in that first stage and through seeking out more, saw that I don’t know much.

He then discussed culture and that it determines your success or lack of it. Leaders design and create an environment and “you get what you emphasize or what you tolerate.” This applies to the private sector as well because if I allow sloppy reps and clients to show up late, it’s going to become the norm. Wellman also gave us some insight into his training philosophy and I liked how he said he only programs one-to-two weeks at a time because it allows for corrections of errors, omissions and the unforeseen. There’s more to it and this is just a snapshot of the presentation.

Dana Santas demonstrating how she improves shoulder mobility.

Next, the summit shifted outside to Under Armour’s outdoor turf field and I got to take part in Santas’ hands-on lecture. As someone who wants to train more baseball players, I was particularly interested in her presentation since she is the mobility coach for the Atlanta Braves, Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays. She showed how she uses diaphragmatic breathing to help open up the shoulder, thoracic spine and hip. Not only are these are three important areas for baseball players, but for anybody.

I was able to see an immediate increase in range of motion performing these three movements. I had a pinch in my hip when I did the pre-test and it was gone moments later. These are three areas I need more work in and incorporated all three movements into my routine. What I liked about them was they were simple to pick up, the results could be seen quickly and they are easy to implement.

“You have to know your why, then you’ll be fine.” – Joe Connolly

The day closed with an information-packed presentation by Connolly. There was a lot to take away, but I’m going to focus on his discussion on training new athletes and the Olympic lifts. Joe talked about the importance of “slow cooking” his new athletes. For some of them, it’s their first time really lifting weights and you have to teach them slowly to build that foundation. Your athletes dictate your program, not the other way around. You can’t train your freshman the same way you train your seniors. You have to make sure your athletes see things the way you do, so they understand what they are doing.

Connolly has an Olympic lifting background and has all his athletes perform the lifts. This was interesting to me because you hear much about the Olympic lifts, since some coaches view them negatively. But, this goes back to knowing your why behind your philosophy.  He gave a thorough breakdown of his progression scheme for each Olympic lift and why he has been able to incorporate them safely and efficiently. I’ve wanted to learn more about the Olympic lifts and Joe kindly spent some time after his talk telling me about all the available avenues to learn more.

Overall, this was a fantastic event. I didn’t get much sleep the night before, but was wide awake the second I walked into the Under Armour facility and heard the speakers. These events have a way of lighting a fire under me and keeping me positive. You know it’s a good event when you walk out the door on four hours of sleep wanting to get after it and train some athletes.

This event was also special because it was the first time I left with some CEU credits towards my CSCS.

A Week in the Big Leagues

There’s a lot that goes into running a successful facility. As an outsider, all you see is the beautiful facility, the turf, state-of-the art equipment, jerseys mounted on the wall and the college and pro athletes walking through the doors.

There was a time, early on when I was starting, where that was all that I saw, as well. But, through hearing different coaches at the collegiate and pro level and those who ran top-of-the-line facilities in the private sector, I learned that a lot more goes into it than you think.  Owners need to wear many hats to keep the place running smoothly and there’s a lot of 12-to-16 hour work days.

I never doubted what these coaches said. But, like with anything else, you can’t fully understand what they are saying until you experience it firsthand. Back in February, I had my “welcome to the big leagues” moment. This moment lasted a week and it was a chance for me to be surrounded by some of the best coaches this industry has to offer.  Four of those days were spent observing and getting into the trenches during the most hectic time of the year — NFL Combine preparation — and another at the elitefts Sports Performance Summit at Ohio State University.

The first four days were spent with Justin Kavanaugh at the Sport and Speed Institute (SSI) in Chantilly, VA. This was my second trip to SSI for the NFL Combine prep. Last year, everything was new to me and I sat back and observed the combine training. Combine training alone is a long day and this year I got to see that it was only part of a day in the life of Coach Kav. This year’s trip included the Nike Coach of the Year Clinic, 7-on-7 team practice, a mock pro day and food shopping for the future pro’s.

After heading home for a few days for grad classes and to train clients, it was off to Columbus, OH for the elitefts event. There, I got listen to three NFL strength coaches in Buddy Morris (Arizona Cardinals), Justus Galac (New York Jets) and Mark Uyeyama (Minnesota Vikings) speak, as well as Dr. Ken Kinakin and Dr. Eric Serrano speak on muscle testing and nutrition. I wrote about the event for and that article can be found HERE.

Dabo Swinney, fresh off a National Championship with Clemson, speaking at the Nike Coach of the Year clinic.

Right after school ended Friday, I got in my car and made the trip down to Virginia. I got there late at night and was told I needed to be up early because Kav was speaking at 8 a.m. He was the only strength coach speaking there out of a lineup that featured some of college football’s best coaches like Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Dave Cutcliffe (Duke), Gary Patterson (TCU), Larry Fedora (UNC), Kirby Smart (Georgia) and Jeff Brohm (Purdue).

Kav discussed ways to develop speed in the weight room. Since the audience was high school football coaches and not trainers, Justin tailored the message properly so it stuck. From the outside, the presentation looked pretty basic. But, he went into areas of speed development that are not talked about at the basic level — like the importance of the hip, back, ankle and foot — and gave simple drills that could be implemented immediately. I didn’t take any notes, but remembered most of what he said, even on little sleep, because of the way he presented it. These coaches have so many other things to worry about and don’t have the time to delve into exercise science.

After the presentation, it was back to SSI to check on the gym and see Josh Schroeder and Allen Africa working with the groups on a busy Saturday morning. Even though it was combine season, SSI still caters to over 200 youth, high school and collegiate athletes. They don’t get neglected when the future pro’s are in town. Once the morning sessions were completed, there was some time to talk shop and then it was back to the Nike Clinic until the night.

The Combine guys had Sunday off, so we were back at the Nike Clinic where Justin interacted with different coaches about a variety of things. Some wanted to talk more about his presentation. Others wanted to talk Xs and Os and about football. He’s the leader in the area for football training for a reason. Later that day, Coach Kav shifted from performance coach to football coach. It was an unusually warm February afternoon, so we went down to Hayfield High School where he and his staff held practice outdoors for their 7-on-7 team.

After the 7-on-7’s wrapped up, Kav then shifted into caretaker mode. The players are given customized meal plans catered by Ed Mays and EatSimpleGrill,  which still ranks as the best meal delivery service I’ve ever had. But, football players do require a lot food, and he gets them some extra steaks, chicken, water and household items with his right-hand man Austin Givens, who is the director of SSIs Combine Program. While possibly the most insignificant thing I saw in terms of training, this stuck out to me the most. Both Justin and Austin have loaded schedules. Austin, outside of all the planning and logistics he does for this program, also runs a gym and Kav has a lot on his plate with the coaching and talking to agents, among other things. Despite all of that, they still had to do the minuscule tasks and they made sure to get everything so their athletes are comfortable. That meant a lot to see.

Finally, on Monday it was time for the mock pro day. The guys went to Centerville High School to do the field drills and positional drills. One thing I learned from the coaches is about having a quick trigger finger on the timer. I always knew hand time was not as accurate as an electric timer, that’s obvious. But these guys were able to stop and start the watch in .03 seconds. When I tried, I was anywhere from .14-.2. That makes a huge difference during assessments.

We then headed back to SSI where I got to speak to the guys about talking to the media. I explained

Spotting Trey Edmunds during the 225 Bench Press Test.

a couple misconceptions athletes and fans have about the media and why they ask certain questions. I then discussed some strategies on how to develop a good relationship with media members and how to be accessible. Next, was the 225-bench press test and I was caught off-guard when Kav told me to step and start spotting these guys. One thing I’ve seen from these athletes through watching them workout and go through the drills is the level of effort they give. You hear the term “100% effort”, “no quit” and things of that nature thrown around, but these guys showed it. You could hear the grunts and the impact of the foot striking the turf during each cut. On the bench press test, they literally went until the tank went empty. This is what giving your all looked like. The competition could be felt and the support they all had for each other made for an awesome environment. It was pretty cool to be spotting an athlete while all his “teammates” were huddled around yelling and pushing him. It was the type of environment I dreamed of being in. It was an awesome way to close out the trip.

Arizona Cardinals strength coach Buddy Morris speaking at the elitefts SportsPerformance Summit at Ohio State.

A few days later, I was at Ohio State with Kav for the Sports Performance Summit. Since I already wrote about it, I won’t go on too much about it. But, it was the perfect venue to hold this type of event. You pass the Woody Hayes Athletic Center on the drive over and see The Horseshoe as your walking into the Fawcett Center, where the seminar took place. Plus, your surrounded by all these high level coaches, even those in attendance. There were other NFL and collegiate strength coaches in attendance. I got to hear Morris speak about the importance of recovery, Galac outline the entire program he uses with the Jets and Uyeyama discuss thinking “big picture” and not getting caught up in the dogma of training.

It was also great hearing Dr. Kinakin and Dr. Serrano speak, who I both knew from attending the SWIS Symposium. These guys didn’t have the title of working with an NFL team, but you could clearly see their presentations resonated with the crowd. Dr. Kinakin broke down simple ways to perform muscle tests and quick fixes for some of the dysfunctions you will encounter. Dr. Serrano broke down nutrition and how to plan for the different types of athletes you will encounter. His nutrition presentation is on YouTube and I send it to clients who are looking for more information on the topic.

When I left Ohio Saturday night, I was exhausted, but feeling good. It was a long, but productive week. It gave me better insight into what it takes to run my own facility. It didn’t turn me away from the idea of running my own place. It just showed me that it’s going to take a lot of work. Even as an observer the days were long and I didn’t sleep much, but I also woke up the next day eager and ready to see what the day would bring. It was a great experience to be a part of.


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.

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