Always looking to get better

Month: June 2016

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.