Wilkins Power – An Interview with Isaac Wilkins

Isaac has been a member on the Wannabebig forums for almost 5 years now and also ran a column on Wannabebig called Got Strength. During this time he has grown in leaps and bounds and has displayed true leadership skills as a coach, trainer and lifter. Isaac is the real deal and it shows in his work and how he conducts himself online in helping people as a moderator on the Wannabebig forums. He is an athlete, a competitor and someone who is humble enough to learn from their mistakes so they can continually move forward.

Isaac was kind enough to set aside some time to answer some questions and some insight into who he is what he’s all about.

Wannabebig: It’s nice to finally get the chance find out a bit more about you and what you’re all about. Please tell us about yourself.

Isaac: Well, I’m a 27 year-old private trainer and performance coach living in Charleston, SC. I consider myself to be largely a science-based trainer rather than an emotion or “bro-telligent”-based trainer.

I grew up in Maine where I attended the University of Maine for both my undergrad and graduate degrees. I started seriously lifting in college and as I grew more serious I found WannaBeBig.com. I actually give WBB a lot of credit for this turn that my life has taken as I probably wouldn’t have been nearly as successful in the gym without that initial dose of solid advice. It also fueled my interest in learning more about the strength and conditioning field and that obviously has blossomed into my passion.

I absolutely love what I do. I look forward to training a variety of clients daily and take great pride in seeing them reach their goals. The ability to stimulate the human body and see an expected response is just as fascinating to me as when the response is unexpected.

As someone who is in the same field as yourself your words ring loud and clear. The reward that you get from seeing your clients change is a feeling you just can’t get enough of. So, why did you choose this field?

It certainly wasn’t the direction that I had envisioned my life going, I can assure you of that. I had graduated from the University of Maine in 2002 with a degree in Finance. While in school I’d caught the iron bug and started to take exercise and weight training more seriously, culminating in earning a certification as a personal trainer in the Spring of 2002.

After working in the financial field for a year I just wasn’t particularly happy. The work was basically the same and it wasn’t especially challenging. I wasn’t looking forward to doing it for the next thirty years. I certainly don’t regret getting a business degree as it’s applied to life, but pushing beans around a table wasn’t for me.

I was presented with a great opportunity to go back to school but didn’t really know what course to take. After a few major switches I was offered the chance to earn my Master’s Degree in Kinesiology/Exercise Physiology from almost out of the blue. I jumped at the opportunity and haven’t looked back. I was well behind the curve as far as pre-requisite classes go, but a passion for the subject matter made the remedial study on my own time a lot easier.

By this time I had changed the focus of my own training from bodybuilding to power-lifting and training for performance. This type of training appealed to me more and was a better fit for my lifestyle. With the opportunities offered by my status as a graduate student in the field I was able to focus on the S&C field and it continued to build from there.

That’s quite the switch from a desk job to the iron. Do you play any sports or compete in anything?

Growing up my primary sports were wrestling, football, baseball, and tae kwon do. As I moved into college I stayed busy as a recreational athlete by focusing on football, MMA, and some rugby. At the moment I base my training around power-lifting although I keep toying with the idea of playing semi-pro football here in Charleston if I can ever fit it into my schedule!

Wannabebig: Personally, I’m a big proponent on practicing what you preach. My belief is that all coaches should compete in something because it strengthens the connection they share with their clients. Have you found that this helped you in how you train your clients?

Isaac: It’s been extremely valuable. I’ve been on the other side of the whistle, so to speak, and that is a very important perspective to have. I know what the clients are feeling during various situations and I have first-hand experience in what it takes to perform athletically. I strongly believe in the “under the bar” experience for strength coaches. I’m not saying that every S&C professional has to play pro ball or total elite (I’m working on it!), but they need to know what it feels like to push their limits and strain under some heavy-ass weight. If a coach hasn’t felt it, then what business do they have telling athletes to push themselves that hard?

Wannabebig: Amen brother!

As a long-time athlete in a variety of sports I’ve also been exposed to a lot of different strength and conditioning programs and sports coaching philosophies. Some have been great while some have been awful. Regardless of the success of the program, I was able to learn a lot about what to do, or what not to do when coaching and training others. I view all of my past sports as a participatory internship, with more running.

Wannabebig: The next question I have which stems from what you were just saying is about your training philosophy. Every coach/train should have one. I know you do.

Isaac: I believe in a couple of things in regards to training: Education and focusing on the outcome. Everything I do falls into those two areas.

I’m not the type of trainer that likes to keep their clients in the dark. I feel that the more the clients know about how they’re training and how they respond the better they will be. If a client understands why something is working, they’ll be much more likely to do it, quite frankly. “Because coach told me to” doesn’t work with most clients in the long term.

It is frequently my goal to have clients, especially general personal training clients, learn enough so that they can successfully train themselves. Do they need to become S&C professionals themselves? No. However, the empowerment they receive when they can successfully control their bodies is amazing. A client who is in control of their body is one who will reach their goals.

The other angle of my philosophy is focusing on the outcome. To do that I break down a goal depending on the qualities associated with the success of that goal. Then I apply it to what I consider five key areas of fitness (I actually have smaller subdivisions, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stick with the five big ones): Strength Training, Conditioning/Energy System Training, Mobility and Flexibility, Nutrition and Supplementation, and Recovery. These five keys need to be lined up in order for the goals to be reached, plain and simple.

For example, let’s say I’m training a 6’2”, 225lb high school defensive end. I need to make sure his strength training is building up primarily strength along with hypertrophy as a secondary consideration. At that size he’s a pretty solid high school athlete. I don’t need him to become 260lbs; that’s what college and a few more years of growth are for. I need him to slowly grow and in the meantime be as quick and strong as possible. His conditioning needs to be good enough to run him for the game in football shape. He doesn’t need to go out and run three miles. He does need to be as mobile as possible with good flexibility to get around those big tackles. In order for him to continue to grow and perform, his nutrition and light supplementation needs to be on point. Depending on the season, his recovery may be at a premium or it may not. He may need to utilize some advanced recovery methods in-season and much less other than sleep in the off-season. If any of these five points is lagging, that player will not perform at his best, and thus I’m not performing at mine.

Another thought I’ve internalized is in relation to something I heard sometime ago in that “the best strength coaches are the best thieves”, and I’ve found that to be true. I am always hunting for new information and ideas. One of the things I do is to read at least an hour a day. I also hunt down people from a variety of backgrounds to talk training with. As a result of this I get a lot of information. Not all of it is good. Quite frankly, most of the training and nutrition information I come across is crap, but that just forces me to look at it critically. What I do is look at everything, pick out what works, integrate that into my system, and throw away the rest.

There’s nothing I hate more, except maybe lazy athletes, than being pigeonholed as a certain type of trainer. I had a boss that used to call me a “functional trainer”
because I used some Olympic-based unilateral lifts. He himself was an “old school” trainer because he used three sets of 10 to 15 reps of general exercises. I’m not a “kettle-bell guy”, a “functional guy”, a “band guy”, or a “power-lifting guy”. I’m a performance coach utilizing the means necessary to improve my clients.

I stress the basics of diet and athleticism. Until those are covered, my clients are not going to move forward. Sexy? Probably not. My clients learn the basics before anything else and will keep learning them until they’re ready to progress beyond them.

My clients pretty much all dead-lift, lunge, squat, press, row, and pull. There may be some variation in the specifics of their exercises, but it will be based on these movements, and they’ll be largely ground-based. I’ve never understood why many trainers are so fired up to adapt every exercise to use an unsteady surface. Other than a couple of little accessory movements the primary use of a stability ball in the gym is to sit on while your client does something on the ground or for the little kids to play a giant game of basketball with.

My nutrition philosophy is the same. I’m less worried about the ideal macronutrients (if that exists) and exact calorie counts than basic quality when I first start working with a client. I want them to understand what it means to eat for their activity and what it means to put healthy fuel into their body. Once they get a good handle on eating the right things at about the right time it’s a whole lot easier to tweak how much of it they eat and make things specific.

Wannabebig: You have a pretty damn solid philosophy. How has it shaped how you train yourself and others?

Isaac: I just stress the basics and focus on keeping them covered. It also helps to keep me grounded. Ninety percent of my clients do not give a hoot about ninety percent of what I know. Do you really think that the high school linemen who finds himself fifty pounds overweight because his coach told him he’d “have to be a 300 pounder for colleges to look at him” and now can’t move really needs to be concerned about lactic acid buffering or the mechanics of GLUT-4 manipulation? No, he needs to be directed on how not to be a fat-ass anymore.

If the five basic areas of fitness I outlined above are being addressed to the needs of the activity then the client or athlete will be successful. I make sure those areas are being frequently tested and the programs are changing as a result. I personally tend to get a little lazy about my conditioning and my flexibility, as I hate to train both. I know that I feel better and perform better when those are being addressed. That means that I absolutely need to make them a priority in order to be operating at peak performance.

Wannabebig: Ok, touching briefly on the educational side of things, what are the top 3 books/DVDs or information related products that you’d suggest to people to read or watch?

Well, it depends on the audience you’re speaking of. For an aspiring strength and conditioning professional I would obviously offer the old stand-by: Super-training, by Mel Siff. It is one of the more comprehensive textbooks out there on the human body’s response to exercise stimulus.

An S&C professional needs to understand more than the how to get someone in shape. They need to understand the why. That doesn’t mean that they necessarily need a PhD in Biochem or something of that nature, but they need to know what’s going on in the human body. Exercise Physiology: Human Bioenergetics and Its Applications by Brooks, Fahey, White, and Baldwin is one of the best texts I’ve seen on the subject.

I would also recommend the West-side tapes/DVD’s. Louie Simmons is one of the best in the United States and the world at making people just plain strong. No, not all athletes will train like Louie’s power-lifters, but strong is strong. I’m sure that any aspiring coach will be scribbling notes frantically while watching the tapes… or at least they should be.

Wannabebig: As an up and coming coach you must have some nuggets of wisdom tucked away in that head of yours. What are some of the best pieces of advice that have been given to you?

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received took a while to really sink in. My advisor at Maine was Dr. Robert Lehnhard, who has forgotten more science and training than most strength coaches will ever know. He spent years as the University of Maine’s strength coach for hockey, which if you know hockey is a big position. I credit him for making this all possible for me, literally.

I was once going on and on about an exercise protocol that I’d picked up from somewhere and what I thought of it. He let me go on for a while and then looked at me and said: “Who f-in cares?” Needless to say this wasn’t what I was expecting. He then said: “What’s really going on? That’s what you need to pay attention to. It’s not four sets of six or five sets of five that is the question. It’s load, time, and how it stimulates the body. The training is just a way to achieve the stimulus you want to make the body adapt the way you want.”

Too many people argue over the little crap of training. While that’s entertaining and probably a good learning exercise, a true S&C coach’s goal should be to look beyond that. Once you understand the why, the how is pretty simple.

Switching from advice to lessons you’ve learned, what has stuck with you so far? I’m sure you have learned a lot so far and have many more to come.

Isaac: One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in the industry is that nobody really cares what you know on paper. It’s good to hold certifications and degrees, but that’ll just get you the opportunity to talk to someone. This is a results-driven industry and people want to know that you can get them to their goal. A private strength coach needs to be able to articulate that they understand what’s going on, what the goals are, how they are going to get the client there, and be able to show past success.

Talk is cheap. Show me the success.

That my friend is pure gold. You basically summed up the essence of training. Where can we find out more about you and what you have to offer?

Isaac: Well, I’m pretty easy to find, despite a busy schedule. My website is www.wilkinspower.com, and I also maintain a blog at www.gotstrengthblog.com. I’m easily reached on Wannabebig also. I provide a range of online services including training and diet consultation as well as in-person training or seminars.

Wannabebig: I can say with all honesty that this was a great interview. I appreciate the time taken out of your schedule to answer these questions.

Isaac: I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to participate in this interview. I really enjoyed it. I’d also like to extend my thanks to the great community at WBB for all of the help, advice, and encouragement over the years.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Wilkins Power – An Interview with Isaac Wilkins discussion thread.

Peak Submission – An interview with MMA fighter Jody Poff

Jody stands 6’ tall and weighs in at 230 lbs. He has a professional record of 11 wins and 7 losses against some big-time opponents such as Shonie Carter, James Irvin, Atte Baughman, and Sergei Kaznovski. Jody has a black belt in Dragon Kenpo and submissions. He is also accomplished in Muay Thai and kickboxing (trained by Scott Sheeley).

He is a 3-time Dangerzone heavyweight champion and has made numerous television and pay-per-view appearances. Jody is also the manager and coach of the Peak Submission Fight Team and an At Large Nutrition sponsored athlete.

Wannabebig: Hi Jody. Thanks for taking the time out to answer these questions. My first one is, how’d you get your start in MMA?

Jody P: Well, one day I was watching the UFC at a friend’s house with some buddies and I just flat out told them that I was going to do that someday. The sport amazed me and I was a kid who loved to fight. I got in trouble a lot and needed something to keep me focused. When I met Jerry Poe, a karate instructor, he took me under his wing and pointed me in the right direction.

How long have you been fighting?

Jody P: I have been fighting my whole life. As a kid, I got beat on by my older brother, and my neighbor, who was a college All American wrestler. So my mom put me in boxing and karate.

I got bored with that and started getting in a lot of street fights as a teenager. Right around that time is when I started martial arts. I have been a professional MMA fighter since November of 1999.

Wannabebig: As a contact sport lots of fighters sustain injuries some which end up sidelining them for good. What kind of injuries have you sustained during your MMA career?

Jody P: I tore my meniscus during a fight in Russia in 2003. I’ve also injured my back many times, and broken my right hand more times than I can count. Not to mention all the torn muscles and ligaments. But as you just said, it’s all a part of being a fighter.

A wicked left hook

Wannabebig: Have you always competed at your current weight or did you move up or down in a weight category?

Jody P: I have always been a heavyweight. I love eating too much to drop weight! But now that I’m with At Large Nutrition I’m on a diet and trying to drop down.

Wannabebig: What does typical day look like for you?

Jody P: A typical day for me is waking up and getting my son ready for school. Then I head to work at Kogge Plumbing & Heating, where I do sales and estimating. After work, I pick up the kids from the babysitter and hang out with them until my wife gets home from work. After dinner, I head to the gym to train for a few hours. When I get home, I spend some time with the family and then go to bed.

Wannabebig: I suppose not everyone has the luxury of training all day long. How do you prep for an upcoming fight (do you do complexes, strongman training, circuit training etc)? Does your training in the gym and conditioning workouts change? If so, how?

Jody P:
I try to eat better when preparing for a fight. I try to detox my body, increase my water intake, and go to my trainer’s gym twice a week. I find that when I stay at my gym, I spend more time training my guys rather than myself. I need someone else to push me, which is what my trainer, Scott Sheeley, does for me. At his gym, we do a lot of mitt training, sparring, and circuit training.

Wannabebig: Everybody nowadays is involved in MMA (is doing it or wants to), what are your thoughts on this and the sport and how rapidly it’s evolving?

Jody P: I think it’s great that everyone is getting involved in MMA. Its about time people are starting to see that this is a sport and not a cock fight. MMA is the most complete sport out there right now, in my opinion. You have to be trained in all aspects of the game, physically tough, and also mentally tough.

Getting ready for the pick up

Wannabebig: What kind of nutrition do you follow during training and do you diet down before a fight?

Jody P: I’ve never really followed a diet before. I just tried to stay away from fast food. Like I mentioned, now that I’m with At Large, I’m on a diet and feel so much better. Who knew?

Wannabebig: What role do supplements play in your training?

Jody P:
Before I was with At Large, none. Now, I use A LOT. ETS helps my muscles recover amazingly well and without soreness. Nitor, well… wow!! It really helps me keep my weight down and gives me all kinds of energy. Opticen… helps regulate my calorie intake. Nitrean gives me the protein I need to build muscle and tastes awesome.

In your opinion what’s the biggest misconception many people have about MMA?

Jody P: The biggest misconception is that it’s a human cock fight. Obviously whoever thinks that has never competed or trained for our sport. There is so much more to it than most people realize.

Wannabebig: In terms of grappling how does Judo/Jiu Jitsu/Sambo/Wrestling all match up with each other in terms of effectiveness for MMA?

Jody P: They all play a big part. They have a mix of great take-down techniques, ground technique and control, and submissions…all great styles of martial arts.


Wannabebig: Do you have any role models/mentors/fighters you respect and/or look up to in the sport of MMA?

Jody P: My role model is FRANK SHAMROCK. I think he is an amazing fighter, a true pioneer of the sport. I can’t wait for his return.

Wannabebig: Jody would you mind completing the following sentences:

Jody P:
Sure no problem

  • Pride FC is full of        Jody P :Monster, maniacs, just plain MEN
  • Georges St-Pierre will be   Jody P: an amazing champion in the UFC and very hard to beat.
  • Peak Submission Fight Team will be    Jody P: the next dynasty team. We will keep growing and people will know we are for real.
  • Don’t mess with FEDOR EMELIANENKO.      Jody P: He is not human. He is impossible to beat and if you are going to mess with him, I hope you have an amazingly big can of WHOOP ASS with you…cause you’re gonna need it.

Wannabebig: All the best to you in your future fights.

Jody P: Thanks.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Peak Submission – An interview with MMA fighter Jody Poff discussion thread.

The ART of Healing – An interview with Dr Wan

If I told you there was a type of therapy that could in some cases heal you in one session, relieve your muscle pain, eliminate muscle tightness and restore your body back to its proper balance, would you believe me? Probably not. But that’s because you haven’t heard of a soft tissue treatment called ART. Nor have you had it performed on your body. If you have, then you’ll know just how great this treatment is and what it can do for your body.

ART is a patented, state of the art soft tissue system / movement based massage technique that treats problems with muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. Headaches, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, shin splints, shoulder pain, sciatica, plantar fasciitis, knee problems, and tennis elbow are just a few of the many conditions that can be resolved quickly and permanently with ART. These conditions all have one important thing in common: they are often a result of overused muscles.”

In this interview Dr Wan sheds some light on a treatment that can help you reduce the pain or aches you might be receiving from your workouts inside and outside of the gym.

Wannabebig: Dr Wan thanks for your time. To start off with can you fill us in on what your educational background is?

Dr Wan: I went to the University of British Columbia for undergraduate work and then went on to Western States Chiropractic College in Portland Oregon to obtain my doctorate in Chiropractic. I’ve attended numerous seminars, including Active Release and have also obtained my CSCS from the NSCA for educational reasons.

Wannabebig: So why did you choose to get certified as an ART practitioner? Why not a certified massage therapist?

Dr Wan: After sustaining repetitive injuries to my left rotator cuff I had substantial weakness with any sort of pressing motion in my left arm. I went to physiotherapist who used electrotherapy and couldn’t help me and a chiropractor who did the same thing to no avail. I went to a chiropractor on the advice that ART would help – and it did. About 8 treatments later the chiropractor that did ART was able to find out where I had weakness and adhesion’s and worked it out. A few months later, I was able to regain full strength in my presses and decided that was what I wanted to do for a living and how I wanted to practice it. With massage therapy it’s a bit different as there are many types. Generally massage promotes relaxation and circulation. Neuromuscular Massage gets more specific but it does not fix the soft tissue and make it work properly. ART is protocol specific for the correction of adhesion’s & scar tissues.

Wannabebig: Interesting. So then, what exactly is ART?

Dr Wan: ART (Active Release Technique) is state of the art treatment that is effective for treatment of problems within muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia, and nerves. There are over 500 treatment protocols that are unique depending on which structure is being treated. Most people think of scar tissue as something that develops only after a cut, strain, tear, or a crushing injury and occurs only at the site of injury but there are many more ways that scar tissues can develop. Stress, poor posture, and repetitive motions like typing or driving, are all examples of things that can cause muscles to tighten up, leading to adhesion’s. When muscles tighten up for an extended time, this causes increased friction, pressure, and tension to build between the muscle layers.

As a result the oxygen supply to the muscle is significantly decreased. When the muscle tissue does not get enough oxygen the resulting condition is called hypoxia. Hypoxia leads to scar tissue development because some of our muscle cells and connective tissue cells die and stimulate fibrosis; the process that creates scar tissue and adhesion’s. ART is an effective, non-invasive soft tissue treatment process that both locates and breaks down the scar tissue and adhesion’s which cause pain, stiffness, weakness, numbness, and physical dysfunction’s associated with repetitive strain injuries.

Wannabebig: From personal experience I know that I had a lot of work that needed to be done on my body. However, for the readers who have never experienced ART and lift weights how would they benefit from ART?

Dr Wan:
A person who lifts weight whether for show, for sports, or just to get healthy have one thing in common – weight lifting will cause micro tears into muscle fibers and the body will consequently repair itself in order to be able to lift the heavy load that it was previously subjected to. That is how hypertrophy of muscles work. If the body cannot maintain the load the only way to do so is to breakdown, grow, and get stronger. With compound movements such as military press, bench press, squats, etc, many muscles are being utilized in order to do the appropriate movement. For instance the bench press will incorporate the pec major, minor, deltoids, triceps, and stabilizer muscles of the spine, neck, and rotator cuff in order to do the movement. If something slightly goes wrong in that movement people will feel a twinge and often times just work through the pain. Over time scar tissue will form and hypoxia will occur and one of those possible stabilizer muscles such as the subclavius will get weaker and weaker impacting your ability to achieve maximum performance.

Those adhesion’s that form in the muscle often lead to someone asking themselves, “Why won’t this get better?” You may end up doing lighter weights, but the problem won’t go away. You may try to rest it, but the problem won’t go away. You may take a smaller rep count, but that still won’t help.

I’ve been there and done that for sure.

Dr Wan:
ART practitioners should be bio-mechanically aware of what movement you are doing and every single muscle that is involved with that movement. With scar tissue buildup, there is a certain “feel” to it and the practitioner should be able to pinpoint where the problem is, fix it and get you to performing to 100% of your capabilities.

Wannabebig: How many treatments does it usually take to fix someone?

Dr Wan: It depends on the severity of the problem, but there should be marked improvement in symptoms within 6-8 treatments. If there are no changes the practitioner should refer the person to somewhere else or try a different approach.

How long do the treatments last in each session?

Dr Wan:
Initial sessions for ART should usually last 30 minutes, whilst subsequent visits normally take around 15-20 minutes. Of course it varies depending on the problems, and the number of muscles involved in the problem.

Wannabebig: Do you have to do anything after your sessions are over (specific stretching, etc.)?

Dr Wan: Stretching is very important to maintaining proper muscle length and to prevent recurrence of injury. The benefits of stretching also include improved flexibility, agility, and posture.
Icing is also important and should be done for 10 minutes. Common misconceptions of icing often involve people leaving the ice on for hours on end. Ice is supposed to help vasoconstrictor blood vessels, but after 10 minutes the body will do the reverse of what it was meant to do and vasodilate the vessels because it senses a shortage of blood going to the area being ice. Often times ART may feel aggressive and slightly painful, but the icing will help decrease any inflammation and facilitate the healing process even more.

Wannabebig: With people who lift weights on a regular basis, what muscles usually need to be worked on when it comes to being treated? (e.g., internal rotators from bench-pressing etc)

Dr Wan: Besides the obvious muscles such as the Pectoralis Major, Deltoids, Triceps and Quads, there are the smaller support muscles. For instance, one patient came in and had severe problems with bench pressing. He was strong as an ox, able to bench 405 pounds but has been unable to do so for a while and couldn’t pinpoint why. After working on his pectoralis major, minor, deltoids, and triceps he was still unable to do his bench pressing. I noticed that his right clavicle had abnormal motion when compared to the left, so worked out his subclavius muscle and the AC ligament. 6 treatments later, he was back to benching 405 pounds.

That being said, muscles such as the external rotators of the shoulder and hip (teres minor, infraspinatus, gluteus medius, Piriformis) as well as ligaments such as the Medial collateral in the knee and AC ligament in the shoulders need to be worked on as well.

Strength trainers can lift more weight then any other people but when doing so on a regular basis, normal wear and tear are bound to occur and when that happens, ART is a great fixture in helping someone get achieve their optimal status.

Dr Wan thanks for sharing this info. I’m sure it will turn some people on to this rather unknown art of soft tissue release.

Dr Wan:
No problem. If people want to contact me for further questions my email is: drwan@shaw.ca

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The ART of Healing – An interview with Dr Wan discussion thread.

About Dr Wan

Dr. Jonathan Wan was born and raised in Vancouver, BC and attended the University of British Columbia for his undergraduate work. He then continued on to Western States Chiropractic College in Portland, Oregon, to complete his doctorate in chiropractic. Returning back to his roots, he has come back to Vancouver to practice at Precision Health. Because of his strong interest in sports and athletes, he has found an appropriate fit with the clinic.

He is an avid hockey player and enjoys a multitude of sports including golf and bodybuilding. This has fine-tuned his appreciation for the human body and the biomechanics involved. Dr. Wan is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) licensed through the NSCA.

The Man With A Mission – An interview with Alan Aragon

I first encountered the writings of Alan Aragon during a bodybuilding- nutrition roundtable. While reading through the roundtable discussion, Alan’s answers really stood out for me. They were logical, and they spoke rationally against some of the misconceptions being circulated in many Internet forums. Alan struck me immediately as someone who knew what he was talking about and actually took the time to dig deeper and move beyond the preaching of other “experts.”

Here’s what Los Angeles area personal trainer and fitness writer Andrew Heffernan had to say about Alan: 

Aragon’s one smart cookie, and lucky for anyone he works with, he’s also something that we don’t see a lot of in the fitness world: a skeptic. Basically, he’s an advocate of applying this “science” thing in pursuit of optimal dieting and exercise techniques. 

Thank god for guys like Alan Aragon: he’s out there poring over studies, sifting through them for faults, and revising recommendations as necessary. Aragon reads the fine print, and it usually says, in so many words, “The guys who did this study also stand to profit handsomely from its results.” Guys like Alan Aragon make a living sifting through the detritus for useful nuggets of dietary advice, and have a wealth of expertise and experience and to help them do it.”

Alan has a lot to share, and this interview only begins to touch upon what he has to offer in the way of educating us in the areas of training, nutrition and sports supplements.

Wannabebig: Hi Alan. For the readers out there who don’t know what you’re all about, could you fill them in a bit? 

Alan: Well, the big picture: I’m an obsessive-compulsive learner and teacher trying to make a positive impact on people’s lives. I’m very fortunate to be doing what I love for a living, and receiving recognition for it is icing on the cake. 

The small picture: I’m a sports nutritionist and perpetual fan of bodybuilding and athletic performance.

Wannabebig: You mention in your bio that as an educator you must provide accurate information and to show your clients how to successfully apply it. How has this shaped your approach to processing and reviewing information in the field of training and nutrition? 

Alan: Man, you ask some damn good questions… What I do is find the biggest, most shredded guy, and subscribe to every word he says. Just kidding. I have the privilege of having worked with hundreds of clients on a full-time basis. I still spend most of my workday counseling clients. My private practice survives solely on the results of my clients, so in a very real sense, my practice is my lab. Whatever I read – be it science or random editorials – definitely takes a backseat to what I KNOW works consistently in the field. When I review information, I first measure it up against what I’ve seen in reality on a regular basis. From there, I take a look at the quality and relevance of the source of information. If it’s scientific research, again, it’s all about quality and relevance. Many studies are poorly controlled or simply inapplicable to the bodybuilding and fitness population. I get a lot of great ideas from scientific research, and I regularly employ what I learn, as long as there’s a high probability that it’ll show some benefit. I also listen to the anecdotes of fellow professionals in the business that HAVE to get their clients results in order to pay the bills and put food on the table. There are plenty of “paper gurus” who have plenty of reading under their belts but a dearth of hands-on experience helping real people succeed. 

Wannabebig: How have your experiences in training and educating people impacted on you as someone who designs programs and teaches people about nutrition, supplementation and intense physical activity? 

Alan: It has very much humbled and inspired me. Many of my clients have the type of dedication and discipline that I can only dream of having. Many of my students and peers have such a burning desire to learn, that it makes me realize when I’m being complacent or too comfortable with my current level of knowledge. Overall it’s made me appreciate how important it is to constantly self-improve. 

Wannabebig: When someone wants to learn more about nutrition and how to use it to their advantage to change their body, how do you suggest they start out?

Alan: Starting out or not, it’s important to question everything, and not let the details get in the way of the big picture. Gain the proper perspective of the authors whose work you’re reading. What qualifies them to spout off the info? Most fitness newbies will get the bulk of their education from magazines. I know I sure did when I first got interested in this stuff.

Good thing I happened to read articles by guys like Will Brink, Chris Aceto, and Dan Duchaine in the midst of the typical sea of promo crap. If you’re interested enough, take college classes, read some books, wrap your brain around stuff that doesn’t have a vested interest in selling anything but the information. The key is viewing everything you read with a critical eye, and taking the learning process one step at a time. 

Nutrition is a complex subject, and the tendency is to apply it in a complex fashion, when in reality the simpler you can make it, the better. I think it’s important to get a foundational ‘textbook’ understanding of nutrition before you go about layering your knowledge with what I call the frills and fringes. It’s also important to realize that whatever you read is inevitably the author’s limited perspective on the subject. 

Wannabebig: How does one become better at investigating the truth?

Alan: Simple.   TEAR it up: Trial-Error-Adjust-Repeat.

Wannabebig: I like that!

If you had to pick three books for people looking to expand their understanding of sport supplements and nutrition, what would they be?

Alan: It’s really tough to boil it down to 3 books, so I’m gonna have to run a little over here. My favorite college text is Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism (with InfoTrac ) by Groff, Gropper, and Smith. Another great monster of a book is Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease by Shils, Olson, Shike, and Ross. I really liked Sports Supplements by Jose Antonio and Jeffery Stout. It’s a bit out of date, but still definitely worth getting. I might as well continue and tell everyone who’s interested in getting deep into the details of protein and carbohydrate, Jamie Hale has written a separate book on each of those macros. Michael Colgan’s Optimum Sports Nutrition: Your Competitive Edge is definitely a worthwhile read for athletes. At the risk of destroying the rules of etiquette, I gotta be honest and am gonna include my book Girth Control: The Science of Fat Loss & Muscle Gain in that list. 

Wannabebig: Are there any nuggets of wisdom in the area of supplements, training, nutrition, business or life-related issues that have really shaped the way you train or function as a person? 

Alan: Just some tidbits off the top of my head…March to your own beat – everyone has advice to give, and it’s important to listen, but ultimately, you have to adapt and mold all advice to your own sensibilities. Although it’s not always easy, I try not to be inflexibly dogmatic about what I teach. The truth is, what’s known pales in comparison to the sprawling expanse of the unknown. Over time, you’ll get to know your body better than anyone else, and what some might sell as natural laws should really only be ideas or options to consider. On these lines, training and nutritional programs pulled from the ‘experts’ shouldn’t always be followed to the letter, especially for advanced trainees. Beginners without a clue may need to follow a script with zero deviation, since the alternative might be tripping over their own feet. But with more advanced trainees who have a more highly developed sense of individual response, there should always be a margin for personal intervention and adjustment. The best programs out there are at best good guidelines from which to morph better stuff for the individual situation.

Maintenance of a given level of progress is indeed a legitimate goal. In fact, people should consciously build plateau phases into their programs. Everyone hates to hear this, but the plateau phases should get progressively longer. When you step back and think about it, isn’t the ultimate goal a plateau? It makes good sense to give your body regular practice at maintaining. Everyone is so hell-bent on perpetually pressing forward with their goals, that it actually holds them back. 

Don’t be overly cheap with your time off from training. Athletes’ careers are notorious for being slow-motion train wrecks. There’s three main ways your body lets you know that you need a break: Fatigue, illness, and injury. Fatigue is a bit more insidious, manifesting itself as persistent stalls or decreases in strength or endurance.

Most trainees out there wallow in fatigue most of the time, which is a damn shame. Illness and injury are the classic agents of forced layoffs. The best strategy is to stay not just one, but a few steps ahead by taking a full week off from training – I’m talking don’t even drive near the gym – about every 8th to 12th week. No one’s physique ever fell apart as a result of a periodic week of rest. On the other hand, there are plenty of guys whose great physiques won’t last very long, due to bad shoulders, elbows, and knees.

Fad diets and fad diet practices should be avoided (and laughed at). Carbs will send you to hell. Sugar is worse for you than cocaine. Fat is no longer the bad guy, so now it’s time to drink a pint of fish oil after every meal. Protein is your savior, eat as much of it as you can. If it’s isolated from food and put in a pill, it’s GOTTA be better for bodybuilding. C’mon now. A mix of patience + realistic progress expectations is typically the best cure for the compulsion to adopt fad practices or try fad diets. When it comes to progress, slower is better. Gaining more than 1-2 a pounds a month and losing more than 2-3 pounds a week typically isn’t gonna give most intermediate and advanced trainees permanent results.

Anyone can crash weight off or slam a bunch of weight on (I call it fat-bulking, or “fulking”), but in the end, temporary progress is a monumental waste of time and energy. This gets a little bit into the mechanics of programming, but in my experience, it’s best for people build their programs around 6-12 month targets. If someone can only see 2-3 months into the future, fine, build your numbers around that, but realize that meaningful (read: permanent) progress happens nice and slow, hence the 6-12 month outlook. The common method is base calories, etc, on current bodyweight. This forces the need to institute arbitrary caloric decreases or surpluses. Build your numbers around your target body composition, not the current one, and realize that changes happen more slowly than people hope. For fat loss, newbies can get roughly 3% a month (4.5-8 lbs) without muscle loss if they’re lucky, and intermediates should be happy with roughly a 2 percent decrease per month (about 3-4 lbs). Realize that’s a significant accomplishment if you can either keep or even gain muscle at the same time. If you can do better than that – and some will – then congrats, just don’t stiffly set your expectations up for it. For muscle gain, rank newbies can sometimes see 2 percent a month (3-4 lbs), intermediates should be thrilled with 1.5-2 lbs a month, and advanced guys who have been at it consistently for several years should be thrilled with half of that. 

On the subject of slow, steady, permanent progress, here’s a prime example of what I like to call the “culking” effect. Over the past 3 years, one of my clients steadily put on 10 lbs per year. That doesn’t sound like too big of a deal until you ask yourself how many people you know personally who have put on 30 lbs in the past 3 years, and cut their body fat in half in the process. At a height of 5’7”, Jonathan (he’s on my website on the “champions” page) used to be a pretty normal 155 lbs at 15%. He now maintains roughly 7% at 185. Basically, we took things one year at a time in terms of goal setting and programming. Now, in what seems to be a blink of an eye later, the guy’s built like a brick shithouse, and maintains it much less effort than people assume. Staying focused on your current goal is great, but don’t kill yourself over it. Realize that over time your goals will change, and you’ll look back on your strewn body parts and realize you didn’t need to beat yourself up as badly as you did.

Stop splitting hairs over the “rules”. Actually, the way people nitpick at their nutrition is becoming an attempt at splitting subatomic particles. The beauty of food is that, unlike drugs, its physiological effects have neither the acuteness nor the magnitude to warrant extreme micro-management, especially when it comes to nutrient timing relative to training. When your meal frequency is high, and you’re not starving yourself, a half an hour difference here or there really isn’t gonna make or break your physique. Bodybuilding is a breeding ground for obsessive-compulsive behavior. The irony is that many things people worry about simply have no impact on results either way, and therefore isn’t worth an ounce of concern.

Wannabebig: Thanks for those impressive nuggets! 

Alan, please fill in these blanks:


  • Gaining muscle is …………………. a very slow process. Once people accept this, the confusion and frustration will end.
  • Carbohydrates in the evening can be ………………. beneficial if they don’t contribute to a surplus of unused calories. The ‘no carbs at night’ tactic boils down to a ‘calorie reduction for dummies’ tactic. It’s nothing more, nothing less.
  • Taking thermogenics for extended periods of time …………………. isn’t completely devoid of risk. And I’m not talking about nebulous things such as adrenal fatigue. I’m talking about specific psychiatric effects associated with ephedrine use in particular. It has the capability of exacerbating pre-existing tendencies toward psychosis. When I dug into the literature and found this effect turning up repeatedly, it made me look back on some of the cases I’ve dealt with and realize that I wasn’t completely responsible for some people’s lapses in sanity! I’ve never been a fan of ephedrine use since I haven’t personally witnessed or measured any decrease in the levels of leanness achievable without it. Many people can tolerate it just fine, but a good portion of the population just isn’t cut out for it even at conservative doses. On the flip side of stimulants, I haven’t seen any problems with long-term moderate use of caffeine, especially in the context of coffee, tea, and yes, dark chocolate (oh yeah). Some addictions have less of a downside than others, and in my observations, ephedrine has never been the staple of people I’ve considered shining portraits of psychological solidity. 

Wannabebig: You’ve just released a book. What can readers look forward to learning from it, and what sets it apart from all the other fitness-related books out there?

Alan: In “Girth Control” I dig into a wide range of subjects from the macronutrients to fat loss supplements, to size/strength supplements. I even discuss the art and science of knowledge, as well as how to interpret research. My goal for the book was to create a cornerstone of information for readers interested in nutrition for fitness and bodybuilding. The book is heavily referenced and science-focused. What sets it apart from other fitness-related books? My aim was to give the reader not just a set of facts, but also a set of skills. I’m very proud of the book, and I’m not shy about letting folks know that it’s something that I wish I could have read years ago. The table of contents as well as readers’ comments can be seen on my site.

Wannabebig: Where can people learn more about you and your services? 

Alan: Right here: – www.alanaragon.com

Wannabebig: Many thanks for agreeing to this interview.

Alan: You’re very welcome, thanks for the interview! 

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Man With A Mission – An interview with Alan Aragon discussion thread.

The Art of Training – A Q&A Session on the Business of Fitness Training – Part II

Important Note: For Part I of this article, click here

Personal training and the coaching of athletes is a tough business. The media, however, portrays it as a glamorous job catering to the rich and famous. Professional athletes, teams, movie stars, and musicians all pay big bucks to look good and dominate their sport. But it’s not all champagne and caviar dreams.

Thousands of fitness professionals enter this industry hoping to make their mark as a successful trainer. Unfortunately, most trainers don’t stick around once they realize that a steady pay check in this line of work is tough to come by.

Fortunately there are those who not only survive but also do well for themselves. These are the people who’ve learned how to run a training business, market themselves and their services so they can create wealth by working at a job they love to do.

So what exactly does it take to be successful in the fitness industry? I was able to ask four established trainers, all with different backgrounds, to weigh in on some questions about how they train and what they do with their clients.

Wannabebig: Often times many coaches/trainers talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, how much of an impact do you feel this has on their credibility as a fitness professional?

Eric C: Well, I certainly don’t think that a beer gut and cottage cheese thighs are helping their cause! That said, the general public is – for the most part – nothing more than casual observers when it comes to exercise physiology, so some trainers can get away with it. However, just because you can get away with it doesn’t mean that you should get away with it, tubby.

Tony G: As much as I hate to say it, I am often amazed at the physiques of some trainers…and not in a good way. I often wonder if some of these trainers have ever lifted a weight in their life. It’s one thing to have the book smarts, but you also need to have some “in the trenches” or “under the bar” experience as well I think. Who cares if you’re able to quote Mel Siff. Are you able to get someone stronger? Who cares if you’re able to differentiate between the benefits of a pure ketogenic diet compared to a targeted ketogenic diet. Are you able to get someone leaner? Better yet…are you strong and/or lean yourself? Call me crazy, but if I want to learn how to bench-press 300 lbs, I am going to want to go to someone who can actually do it. If I am looking to shed some fat, it would probably make sense to go to someone who is actually lean in the first place or who was a former “fatty” himself and was able to transform his body.

John Izzo: I can speak on this because I am not 6% body fat, but I have had a very successful career as a trainer in a commercial gym setting. Simply put, I kicked ass as far as getting clients (from all walks of life – babes, athletes, business men, bodybuilders). I think you find that the trainers that have the lean bodies, big arms, and fake tans usually lack the “connectivity to general population clients” because they lack empathy. Not all….but some. As far as being able to perform the exercises you ask of your trainees, I think it is important to be able to perform them efficiently. I won’t ask a client to perform an exercise if I can’t perform it myself. Period. My motto has always been: it’s not how you look, its how you train that affords you ability.

John Paul: It’s huge! Would you go to a nutritionist/dietician for diet advice if they are out of shape? Yet, ironically, half of them (if not more) are overweight! The same applies to coaches and trainers. Many of them are in terrible shape! Would you go to a strength coach who could not even bench or squat their bodyweight? I don’t think so…

You’ve got to practice what you preach, and not only talk the talk, but walk the walk!
For instance, presentation is very important as a fitness professional. Clients will watch you, emulate you, respect you and trust you! Whether you like it or not, you are your own business card. Your body, image, habits, values and health represent your skills and strengths as a trainer. If your mind, body and health suffer, so will your business!

I had an overweight trainer come to me once looking for advice on the business of personal training. The first thing I did was write him a training program to get in shape. I simply told him this: “the day you get in shape is the day you start making money!”

Remember, the number one reason that people hire a personal trainer is to obtain and maintain a general level of fitness. If you cannot stay in shape, you have no right to be in this business.

How important is it to seek out a mentor or someone you can shadow (whether it is business or training related)?

Eric C:
Tremendously important – and it shouldn’t just be one person. It’s imperative that you experience a ton of different perspectives as you attempt to formulate your own unique approach.

Tony G: It’s crucial. You can’t expect to know everything and I have been fortunate enough to have people such as Alwyn Cosgrove, Eric Cressey, Mike Boyle, Mike Hope, and many others to help me out within the past few years. Alwyn has been more than helpful this past year and I can honestly say that I am indebted to him with all the knowledge, expertise, and “tough love” he has given me.

I look back at my early training career and I want to go back in time and drop kick myself. You have to find people to kind of guide you and show you the ropes a bit. If I hadn’t, I’d probably still be stuck in upstate NY training in the middle of nowhere rather than in the best club in Boston and writing for various online and print magazines.

John Izzo: I think it’s important to find a mentor that relates to you and is “going in the direction” you want to go in. My mentors have changed over the years and it is a reflection of where I am in my personal life and career. I think that mentors that advocate continuous learning and personal inventory (and practice it) are the ones that help you grow. They become guides for you.

John Paul: One thing I learned from Dr. Fred Hui is to seek out different health-care professionals (i.e. medical doctor, naturopath, nutritionist, chiropractor, physiotherapist, etc.) and spend half a day shadowing them. This is probably one of the best “real-life” educations you can obtain. Most of these professionals would be quite willing to oblige. Dr. Hui used to schedule every Wednesday afternoon to shadow someone and he claims that it contributed greatly to his success.

As much as possible, I try to follow this advice. It really is an excellent learning experience!

Does the type of personality a client or athlete possess influence the way you design a program or a workout?

Eric C: Definitely! Gender is probably the best example. I’ve worked with national championship men’s and women’s basketball teams, and you have to treat the two quite differently – for the most part in the coaching aspect of things. Normally, you have to go out of your way to slow women down, as they’ll want to rush through things. Programming isn’t tremendously different, but there are certain cues that you’ll have to make more often in one group than the other.

Tony G: Absolutely. Believe me, there have been a handful of clients I have had in the past where I would have rather drank my own vomit than train them. I just can’t stand people who bitch and whine and question me at every corner. Granted, it’s rare when that happens…but it does happen.

Either way, I can usually tell within the first 10 minutes or so whether or not a prospective client and I will be a good “match.” More often than not however, it comes down to the fact that they hired me for my knowledge and expertise and that it isn’t about what they want to do, but rather what they need to do.

I have a pretty good knack for motivating people, and making them realize that they are able to achieve things they never thought possible. But if definitely makes the hour go by MUCH faster when I have someone who WANTS to be there as opposed to someone who just goes through the motions and whines the entire time. Besides, if they whine…I’ll just add more sets of deadlifts and give them something to whine about. HA!

John Izzo: Absolutely. If that wasn’t the case…you would see all cookie-cutter programs….but wait, I guess you kind of still do see that? I think it’s important to build a rapport with a client/athlete to “gauge” their personality, expectations, enthusiasm, barriers, and fight/flight traits. If I have a client who is willing to try plyo’s and perform them and doesn’t care if her chest bounces in front of me and others, than that client will “do whatever it takes” to get to her goal provided I created the right program. Conversely, if I have an overweight client who hates facing the mirror to workout, we are not going to workout in front of mirrors. I want their minds on the workout, not on their inconsistencies.

John Paul: Somewhat, but I think the biggest influence deals with gender – not so much with program design but more toward how I “deliver” a message to a client. For instance, with females, you need to be very delicate. If she is overweight, I may say something like this: “You look really good. We just need to shed a few pounds to reach our goal.” With guys, on the other hand, you need to take a completely different approach, something toward the lines of: “You are a fat slob! Smarten up and get in shape!” This will light a serious fire under them and motivate them to lose the weight. It’s a personal challenge, almost as if you are questioning their manhood. It works … but try it on a lady, and she’ll end up running out of your facility in tears!

Wannabebig: What are some important guidelines you set down for your clients/athletes (pertaining to being late, cancellations, etc.)?

Eric C:
I need 24 hours notice. We have special policies in place with snowstorms, given that we’re in New England. If school’s on, then you’re expected to be at the gym. I’m an easy-going guy, so I’m not a hardass about this – but you have to have policies in place to maintain equity.

Tony G: I usually go through the club rules in the beginning when it comes to being late and/or cancellations. That way, there are no surprises. But I tend to use discretion. It really depends on the situation. I mean, if they have an appointment at 4PM and all of a sudden had a family emergency and had to cancel last minute, I am certainly not going to charge them. I’m not that much of a jerk. On the other hand, if someone calls me and is like, “I am just too tired,” then you bet I am going to charge them. I have to pay the bills too!

Funny story though. The same elderly lady that I mentioned above (who I would have do rack pulls), mentioned to me that she never drove in the snow and that if it did ever snow that she wouldn’t come in to train. Last winter, we had a fairly big snowstorm and instead of her cancelling on me, I actually drove to her condo and picked her up and drove her to the gym to train. After she trained, I drove her back. She loved it! I hope that earned me some huge brownie points from the female readers.

John Izzo: I ask my clients to stay on a structured program—meaning “we” pick a day of the week together and we pick a time together, and we never stray from that. It is so important that we build a structure first and foremost. If they cancel because of some unexpected emergency (kid sick, work-related, sickness, accident, etc), then I ask for a phone call 6-12 hours prior to the session. If they are late over 15 minutes—we cancel the session and they are forfeited. Now, sometimes I can give a little leeway if my relationship with the client is one where I feel “if we miss this session, Joanie will lose momentum”. If that is the case, I will squeeze a 40-minute session. It will be harder and more intense with less rest periods.

John Paul: Put it in Writing

If you clarify things up front in writing, there leaves very little room for miscommunication or confusion. You need a system of policies and contracts in place not only to protect you, but also to convey a sense of professionalism and security to your client.

24-hour Cancellation – Establish a 24-hour cancellation policy and charge for no-shows. Also, gauge and check recurring policy abuses and set a deterrent.

Here are some reasons why this policy is in place:

  • Cancellations are not fair to you because your livelihood depends on it.
  • It is not fair to the client since they may find it easier to make excuses in future and therefore, not commit to their training.
  • It is not fair to others since they are being charged in the same situations.

Be sure to establish authority when implementing your policies and do not accept excuses. Keep in mind, your policy should also apply to you!

Stick to Your Policies and Principles – Treat everyone equally and do not allow your clients to rule your life! Learn to let go of a client if necessary. If you don’t, it may compromise your professional development!

Wannabebig: Every trainer has limitations, how important is it to build a network of professionals you trust to refer to your clients?

Eric C:
Very important. We work with ART practitioners (who are also chiropractors), massage therapists, physical therapists, and in some cases, sports physicians. These people have diagnostic resources (x-rays, MRIs, etc.) at their fingertips that can really help the cause, and they have more time to devote to specific rehabilitation measures than you do, as you’re responsible for systemic training.

Tony G: Again, critical. I certainly don’t expect to know everything, and as a trainer I have to know my limitations. I am not a clinician. Sure, if someone comes to me with pain in his or her knee, I can get a general idea of what is happening, but I can’t be sure. If I have a list of reputable therapists to send them to, it just makes my job easier.
If someone needs a lot of soft tissue work or deep tissue massage, it is only going to help me get my client to his or her goals quicker if I am able to refer out to other professionals to help them out. Not to mention they will more than likely send their clients to me. It’s a win-win situation.

John Izzo: I think it is very important to find outside professionals that RESPECT you as a Fitness Professional and RESPECT your career. I have many times given a free pass to a doctor or therapist to come and visit me and give them a complementary one-on-one so they can understand “exactly what I do with clients”. A lot of medical professionals, still view trainers as the buff guys that carry a clipboard and change the weight—so I need to give them a taste of what their patients/clients get. Also, when I had 6-7 outside professionals in my rolodex, it gives clients a feeling of trust that I have resources readily available if I needed help.

John Paul:
Referrals to and from health professionals is very important. In such a competitive, dog-eat-dog environment, I have no problem referring prospects that may be located outside my area or could not quite afford my services. And I can’t tell you how many referrals that I’ve received from other trainers in return, particularly their more challenging cases. I always look forward to a good challenge! In a way, each client is a puzzle that I am trying to solve – some pieces are large and easy to put together, and others are small and take a little more time and effort.

The bottom line is that you need to build a network with other professionals and surround yourself with a team of competent practitioners. To do this, you need to get out there and introduce yourself to as many people in the industry as possible. Always leave a positive impression by marketing yourself in a discreet and professional manner, and never burn bridges!

Remember this motto:

When you are not sure, REFER. Your clients and peers will respect you for doing so. The caveat here is that you should never refer or endorse anyone or anything that you do not believe in 100% because it will ruin your credibility. Trust is the cornerstone of the client/trainer relationship and your reputation is on the line when you refer. And be sure to ask for referrals in return!

Here’s a list of professionals that I routinely refer clients to:

  • Dr. Anthony Galea – Sports Medicine Physician and Medical Director
  • Ashley James – Hatha Yoga Instructor
  • Dr. Bill Wells – Chiropractor and ART Provider
  • Dr. Eric Serrano – Medical Doctor, Nutrition & Sports Medicine Expert
  • Dr. Fred Hui – Medical Doctor, Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Chelation Therapy
  • Dr. Grant Lum – Sports Medicine Physician and Medical Director
  • Dr. Jay Mistry – Chiropractor, Acupuncturist
  • Karen Kvrgic – Registered Physiotherapist
  • Dr. Ken Kinakin – Chiropractor, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist
  • Dr. Larry Baker – Medical Doctor, Bodybuilder
  • Dr. Mark Lindsay – Chiropractor, Soft Tissue Specialist and ART Provider
  • Dr. Mauro Di Pasquale – Medical Doctor, Nutrition & Sports Medicine Expert
  • Sarah Byrne – Registered Massage Therapist
  • Sasha Tahiliani – Naturopathic Doctor
  • Vlodek Kluczynski – Osteopathy, Physiotherapy, Massage Therapy

Wannabebig: Continuing education, how integral is this area to a trainer/coach and their growth?

Eric C: It’s crucial, as we are in a very dynamic industry; it evolves all the time, and you need to stay on top of things. I get pretty sick of trainers complaining about the cost of seminars and educational materials when they should be looking at these things as INVESTMENTS – not expenses.

Tony G: Simply put, if you’re not investing in yourself by going to seminars and conferences or spending money on top notch products (books, dvd’s, manuals, etc), then you’re never really going to move up in the industry. A mediocre trainer will complain that a certain product costs them $50 and not buy it. A great trainer will see value in spending that $50 to make him/her a better trainer and realize that the information that they gain by spending the $50 will more than likely generate $500 in additional income in the future. I can attest to this firsthand. I have been lucky enough to see Dr. Stuart McGill speak twice. I have dropped roughly $500 to listen to him. But the information and knowledge I have learned from him in dealing with spine stability and how to integrate his ideas with people who suffer from lower back pain has easily helped me to generate additional income. Just the other day, a woman bought a 30 pack of sessions ($2000) because she feels comfortable enough with me that I know how to deal with her lower back issues. I already made back the $500 I spent.

John Izzo: Without a doubt, as a manager—a very important one. When I interview a prospective trainer to work for me after I look at the credentials, I pose the question: “Have you attended any continuing education workshops in the last year and if so, which ones?” If the answer is no…they better have a great interview with me to get their foot in the door. I have met many trainers that obtained their certifications from the XYZ in 1990 and have never renewed it or completed any CEC’s or attended a seminar. I think it is disheartening to have professionals in their field that don’t have a desire to learn new things and keep up with the times.

John Paul: Well, it is said that your worth is directly proportional to your knowledge. Although formal education is beneficial, most successful people would agree that the real learning comes after school is over. This is where becoming an autodidact (self-learner) is invaluable.

There are so many ways to self educate. Read and study new material everyday. Take advantage of audio books, seminars, professional contacts, and seek out new sources of information. Today, the internet can’t be beat. Wannabebig.com, for instance, is a great resource for any trainer or coach out there.

These two quotes pretty much sum things up:

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune!” – Jim Rohn

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Mark Twain

Wannabebig: What are some of the areas as a trainer/coach you’ve had to work on improving to better serve your clients/athletes?

Eric C: I’m a science geek, so I am constantly on my toes to avoid talking in “geek-speak.” In other words, ordinary people and athletes come to me because they expect me to water down the science for them. The better I’ve gotten at relating things to clients in layman’s terms and avoiding the minutia, the stronger a coach I’ve become.

Additionally, I’ve never had one of those booming voices, so if I’m not intentionally shouting out a cue or encouragement, I can catch myself not speaking loudly enough. This gets worse when my mind goes at a thousand miles per hour and my voice can’t keep up.

So, in a nutshell, communication is important, and I’ve had to work on it.

Tony G:
My real weakness up until a few years ago was functional anatomy. I was a health education major in school (with a concentration in health/wellness promotion) and while I did take exercise physiology, human anatomy & physiology, nutrition, etc…I never took biomechanics or kinesiology or more “advanced” courses. I basically had to teach myself how to watch human movement and see compensation patterns and then be able to apply my knowledge to come up with a program that helps to address any weaknesses or imbalances I see. [Side note: however, I have come to the conclusion that most people just need to get stronger! Strength can be corrective in nature].

Also, I was fairly shy growing up and being in this industry I really had to make a conscious effort to become more outgoing. A rather large part of the job is to be sociable and interact with people. Now I am at the point where I feel fully comfortable and confident to walk up to anyone in the gym and strike up a conversation. One of the best pieces of advice I got as a new trainer, was just to make it a point to say hi to at least ten different people per day. I actually picked up a few clients in the beginning just because I went out of my way to say hi and to talk with them for ten minutes.

John Izzo: Communication. So many trainers/coaches lack good communication skills. They are either not professional, or they are too stiff. If they train athletes, they either can’t relate to them or they are intimidated. If they work with the general population client, they don’t know how to address them. They stumble over their words or they don’t know how to reciprocate interaction. Because of this lack of communication, the rapport is not built or it’s always awkward. If a trainer/coach feels awkward around his/her client, than chances are the client/athlete feel awkward. If they feel awkward, they won’t give you 100% in each session.

John Paul: When I first started my personal training studio in the basement of my home, I did not have any fancy equipment or much space. There was a flimsy York bench with some plastic weights and that was about it! I had a handful of clients at the time and every penny I received from the business went right back into it. In no time I was able to build a serious gym with all the equipment you see listed on my website. So where I was lacking in capital initially, I made up in other ways and in doing so, I was better able to serve my clients.

Also, another area that I needed to improve was my listening skills. I sometimes find it difficult to just sit and listen – I much prefer to talk, but I’ve made a real effort over the past few years to change that. I always want to solve people’s problems, but the number one rule in counselling is to listen. More times than not, the client will solve the problem on their own!

Wannabebig: Well, there’s been a lot of great info that has been shared here. I want to thank you guys for taking the time out to shed some positive light on an industry that is so misunderstood by the general public.

Important Note: For Part I of this article, click here

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A Q&A session on the business of fitness training – Part II discussion thread.

About Eric Cressey

Eric has helped athletes at all levels – from youth sports to the professional and Olympic ranks – achieve their highest levels of performance in a variety of sports. Although prepared in a variety of bodies of knowledge, Cressey specializes in applied kinesiology and biomechanics as they relate to program design and icorrective exercise; maximal relative strength development; and athletic performance enhancement.

He is a highly sought-after coach for healthy and injured athletes alike, and currently trains athletes and weekend warriors. His website is www.ericcressey.com

About Tony Gentilcore

Tony Gentilcore is a certified personal trainer and strength conditioning specialist through the NSCA.

Currently residing in the Boston area, his expertise lies in body recomposition and nutrition and educating his clients on the best and most efficient ways to obtain their goals.


About John Izzo

John holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Promotion specializing in Community Nutrition.

He holds multiple certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Endurance Sports Trainers Association (NESTA), American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA), Schwinn Cycling, and APEX Training Systems.

Presently, he is a Senior Project Fitness Manager for a corporate fitness program in central CT and has served as Director of Health & Wellness for the YMCA of Greater Hartford (CT) from 2004-2006. John also is the CT Senior Faculty Instructor for World Instructor Training Schools (WITS).

John is also the founder and sole developer of www.standapartfitness.com a fitness website geared at providing articles and resources from fitness professionals to fitness enthusiasts. The site includes articles from fitness experts and boasts a 10 panelist Roundtable that tackles tough fitness industry issues monthly. John’s most popular DVDs are sold on his website including Stronger Shoulders – Improving the Function of the Rotator Cuff & Free the Hips – Mobilizing the Hips for Improved Function.

About John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., P.F.L.C.

John Paul is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science.

He owns and operates a private studio in Toronto, Ontario.

For additional information, visit his website at www.BodyEssence.ca or call 416-292-4356.

John Paul has appeared on television and has written articles for several publications including Bodybuilding Italia, Coaching One-On-One, Dolfzine, FitCommerce, Fitness Trainer Canada, Flare, grrlAthlete, Intense Fitness, Men’s Health, MuscleMag, Olympian’s News, Personal Training on the Net, Planet Muscle, Quest For Advanced Condition, Testosterone, and Wannabebig.

His newsletters are both informative and entertaining, and he has provided reviews for numerous sources including the inaugural edition of Sport First Aid in Canada. John Paul has studied under many of the world’s top strength coaches and is relentless in his pursuit of professional excellence.

John Paul is quickly becoming one of the premier trainers in Canada with a reputation for getting his clients in top shape fast. He’s been dubbed the man with the “encyclopedic mind” whose expertise has not gone unnoticed by other health practitioners who attend his private studio regularly for instruction. Recently, John Paul has begun to attract the attention of fitness-related organizations seeking his lectures and workshops, which provide a wealth of valuable information that can be put to use immediately.

John Paul’s DVD, Warm-Up to Strength Training, has sold copies worldwide and has been featured in several magazines. Discover some unique, cutting-edge techniques like how to increase arm strength by up to 10% instantly! It has received a thumbs-up from many experts including Drs. Eric Serrano, Mark Lindsay and Ken Kinakin as well as Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin. Visit www.StrengthWarmUp.com for more details..

The Iron Gladiator – An Interview with AJ Roberts

AJ Roberts is the owner of Elite Sports Training and has made a name for himself as one of the industry’s premier performance enhancement coaches, helping athletes achieve their sports performance goals at various different levels.

AJ has been in the strength and conditioning field at the division one level since 2002 assisting with the general supervision and coaching of strength and conditioning programs for all varsity sports at the University of Idaho.

AJ is an accomplished athlete and coach in the sport of power lifting and holds several state, national, and world records. Roberts is listed in Power lifting USA Top 100 lifts in two weight classes.

Wannabebig: So AJ, how did you become involved in power lifting?

AJ: Well, the town I went to high school in had a WADBL female world record holder who approached my weight lifting class about competing in some local competitions. I was the only person who took her up on the offer. Ever since I’ve been hooked.

Wannabebig: When you first got started in power lifting, what were your stats in the big three?

AJ: At my very first meet I competed in the teen dead lift only division and pulled a state record of 470lbs at a body weight of 200lbs. I didn’t think my numbers in the other lifts were good enough to compete with so it wasn’t until a year later in 2004 that I did my first three-lift meet under the guidance of Brent Mikesell. I went 545/365/560 at a body weight of 220lbs.

Wannabebig: What are they now?

AJ: My best lifts to date are a 950lb squat, 700lb bench and a 705lb dead lift in the 308-weight class.

905 Pounds of Iron

Wannabebig: What are your best and worst lifts?

AJ: I wouldn’t say I have a best or worst lift. I try to think I am a pretty well rounded lifter and constantly work hard to improve all three.

Wannabebig: Are there any people who you feel have impacted you as a lifter?

AJ: Brent Mikesell, Agnar Adalsteinsson, and Matt Ludwig. These three people are the reason I am where I am today. Without their guidance and constant support I would have never been able to achieve what I have.

What is your training approach to powerlifting? (is there a certain style or method you follow)

AJ: I have never really followed a specific training routine instead I have come up with a hybrid training template that incorporates ideas from Iron gladiators, Westside, and Metal Militia.

Wannabebig: What are some common mistakes you see power lifters making in the gym or in regards to their training programs (design, exercise selection etc)?

AJ: I could write a whole article on common mistakes but I think the biggest mistake people make in the gym is doing too much. When I was in England training with Andy Bolton I was amazed at how basic his training program was. I always thought you had to do more if you wanted to get stronger but the key is in recovery. When it comes to strength less is often more!

Wannabebig: DVD’s that you suggest people watch to better themselves mentally and/or physically?


Three most important lessons people need to learn in order to become stronger?


  • Surround yourself with people who are stronger
  • Learn from those who are consistently successful
  • Realize strength takes time

Wannabebig: Thanks for your time AJ.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Iron Gladiator – An Interview with AJ Roberts discussion thread.

The Art of Training – A Q&A Session on the Business of Fitness Training – Part I

Important Note: For Part II of this article, click here

Personal training and the coaching of athletes is a tough business. The media, however, portrays it as a glamorous job catering to the rich and famous. Professional athletes, teams, movie stars, and musicians all pay big bucks to look good and dominate their sport. But it’s not all champagne and caviar dreams.

Thousands of fitness professionals enter this industry hoping to make their mark as a successful trainer. Unfortunately, most trainers don’t stick around once they realize that a steady pay check in this line of work is tough to come by.

Fortunately there are those who not only survive but also do well for themselves. These are the people who’ve learned how to run a training business, market themselves and their services so they can create wealth by working at a job they love to do.

So what exactly does it take to be successful in the fitness industry? I was able to ask four established trainers, all with different backgrounds, to weigh in on some questions about how they train and what they do with their clients.

Wannabebig: Thanks guys, for contributing; hopefully after reading this piece our readers will understand a bit more about what goes into being a trainer/coach and what it takes to be successful in this industry.
How many years have you been involved in coaching and training clients/athletes?

Eric C: I’ve been doing this for six years now.

Tony G: For me, it’s been roughly four and half years, so I guess that makes me a relative “newbie” in the grand scheme of things. When you consider the fact Mike Boyle has been training people for about as long as I have been alive, it puts things into perspective.

John Izzo: I started weight-training when I was around 15 at the local Boy’s Club and at home with an old DP cement-filled weight set. I started my career at the local YMCA in 1998 while I was still in college. When I graduated college, I worked full-time as a personal trainer for a company called Healthtrax, Inc. From there, I moved on to have some very productive years as a personal trainer working in commercial facilities such as Gold’s Gym and World Gym. In early 2004, I split my time training with being a fitness director and manager. In 2005, I returned to the non-profit sector and became fitness director for a YMCA and built a fitness program from the ground up. Today, I manage a corporate fitness site in central CT and train home clients while running my website, www.standapartfitness.com

John Paul: It has been over a decade now that I have been training clients, but I have been involved with coaching for quite awhile. Here’s a bit of history…

It all started back in high school really. As a straight “A” student with several academic awards including mathematics and computer science and some high aspirations, I was expected to be the first doctor in the family. There was only a slight problem – I was not too fond of blood. Getting my finger pricked was enough to make me pass out! So I had a decision to make. I was fascinated by the human body (at 18 years old, female anatomy was very high on my list) and I absolutely loved to workout so I opted to study Kinesiology & Health Science at York University. I chose York over the others because their curriculum allowed one to venture over different disciplines – you were not locked into one stream.

As I’ve mentioned before, formal education is important to a certain degree (pardon the pun), but it’s what you do outside school that truly molds your career. In fact, I consider myself more as an autodidact (i.e. self taught.) If I’m not conducting a seminar, I’m attending at least one a month and I strive to read a minimum of 1-hour everyday. If you read an hour a day, that equates to 1 book a week; roughly 50 books a year; and in a 3-year period, you should achieve a PhD in any discipline.

So the way I look at it is that I earned my Specialized Honours Bachelor of Science back in 1996 and probably the equivalent of three Phd’s ever since! And by constantly attending seminars and reading everyday, I stay ahead of the pack. It’s actually a very simple formula: the more you learn, the more you earn!

In my final year of school, I received several job offers. I decided to work at a fairly small gym that was opening in Markham, Ontario. I was hired to take care of the “back” end. No, I was not employed as a colon therapist, but rather my role was to manage membership services such as fitness assessments, program design, exercise instruction, etc. I was told that it would be my baby and I could do what I want with it and that was all I needed to hear! The fact that I had hundreds of guinea pigs (so to speak) and was able to test numerous diagnostic and training protocols was exciting to me at the time and a very valuable learning experience down the road. Within a couple of months, I implemented personal training and the rest is, as they say, history!

Consider that the “good” part of the story; here comes the “bad!” I quickly discovered how shady the health club industry is. I’ve heard many stories of these clubs not paying their employees. That did not happen with me. I was paid on a regular basis – the problem was that every other pay cheque bounced! However, I stuck it out. I was loyal and in a weird way that paid off in the end.

The “ugly” part occurred just about a year after opening the doors. I received a call one night informing me that those same doors were going to be locked first thing in the morning and to collect all my gatherings before I left that evening. (Apparently withholding lease payments is not a good thing!)

Now I was faced with a very interesting dilemma. I had several clients that wished to continue their training but nowhere to do so. A colleague of mine was training clients out of his home and was very successful. He encouraged me to do the same. With that push, my family’s support, and clients itching to recommence their training, I started my personal training business out of the basement of my home. In fact, eleven years later, the business is still going strong. We are in the process of designing our next facility located in Richmond Hill, Ontario which is scheduled for construction next month.

Wannabebig: Many people assume that all a trainer/coach does is to count reps and sets with clipboard in hand. What are some of the big misconceptions that keep the public misinformed?

Eric C: Well, that IS what the really bad trainers do.

Truthfully, though, there is a lot more to this profession – especially when you’re dealing with a lot of athletes/clients at once (I’ve had as many as 75-80 at a time by myself). I’ve seen pretty bright trainers who stumble because they aren’t personable, can’t motivate people, don’t understand the right cues to offer, and simply can’t appreciate the business side of things. Conversely, there are trainers who have great personalities, but nothing between their ears in terms of training knowledge. You’ve got to be personable, organized, and knowledgeable – and you need to train yourself so that you’ll be able to walk a mile in your clients’/athletes’ shoes.

Tony G: Unfortunately what you described IS what the majority of trainers/coaches do. I see it everyday: the disinterested trainer who counts reps with a monotone and throws in the token, “all you, two more….looks good.” All while staring at the Sports Center highlights running on the television nearby.

However, little do people know that I went to school for this! It’s definitely more than JUST writing programs and applying them. I think many people have a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to their experiences with a personal trainer and because of those experiences they are led to believe that we are professional rep counters. To be honest, I can see why many people would have that inclination.

Personally, I write PROGRAMS and not workouts. I generally have an idea of what I want to do with someone and how I want to progress them as the weeks pass. Also when you take into account that people usually have musculoskeletal issues, weaknesses, imbalances, and are just plain weak…it takes A LOT more planning that one might think.

Additionally, building a rapport with clients and being able to motivate them takes a lot of work as well. I deal with many people who don’t have time to train 4-5 times per week and make healthy meals everyday. If I only have someone once or twice per week, I have to squeeze a lot in, and make sure I am able to TEACH them the tools they need to not be so reliant on me in the long run. Trust me it’s harder than it looks. In many ways, we as trainers are teachers as well.

John Izzo: Those are the big ones. I think one not mentioned, is the perception of what today’s fitness professional is “supposed” to look like. Most people assume that trainers need to be competitive bodybuilders or have extreme vascularity, low bodyfat levels, bench 315, and have fake tans (year-round). I think this is simply judging a book by its cover. Early in my career in a commercial gym setting, I was the guy no one came to for help. I am not a ripped, shredded, bodybuilder with a 365 bench (although my best was 315 at 175 lbs when I was 21), so my methods of acquiring clients was building a rapport and sharing what I knew. Soon knowledge of the information I had spread like wild fire and I became successful and the main resource for all the gym members.

John Paul: I wish! Training is only one aspect of the business. Perhaps there are some trainers out there who are content with just showing up and earning a paycheck, but what happens if they get injured or sick? What about when they are on vacation, or during slow times?

You see, to truly benefit in this industry, you need to ensure a steady supply of income from different revenue-producing streams. You need to consider passive income where you can make money even while you sleep!

As a trainer/coach, there are so many possibilities for making money other than physically training people. Here are some of them:

  • Memberships to website(s)
  • Online training
  • Reports (e.g. eating & training plans)
  • Books/videos
  • Articles
  • Seminars
  • Supplements
  • Equipment
  • Training software
  • Certification programs
  • Phone/email consultations/coaching
  • Training the trainer is another avenue to generate revenue
  • Yet another option is setting up equipment

Wannabebig: As a trainer/coach what are some of the valuable lessons you’ve learned so far, working with people who’ve contributed to your success?

Eric C: No matter how much you know, there are always others who know more than you and are more specialized in a certain area than you are. Steal their ideas, make them your own, and then take over the world. Or you could just contact them, talk some shop (maybe even intern under them), and then send them a thank-you note. I’m partial to the latter option…
Additionally, there will always be people stronger than you. Find them, and train with them. Environment is huge.

Tony G: I am often still amazed that I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to correspond with some rather big names in the industry on a daily basis. I’ll resist the urge to name drop…(wink).

That aside, this industry is pretty much built around sharing information and ideas. NOTHING is new and revolutionary and it is AWESOME to be able to network and talk shop with a variety of people either through Internet forums or at seminars and conferences. As far as valuable lessons I have learned:

1. Be diverse and open to change. No one’s programming is perfect and if you’re not willing to accept the fact that leg curls are about as useful as an asshole on your elbow, you’re doomed to fail. In all seriousness, I can’t even tell you how many times I have changed my approach to writing programs for people. I look at stuff I wrote three months ago and I think it’s total crap. I am always looking for better ways to make training my clients more efficient. You should do the same.

2. Don’t waste your time arguing on the Internet.

As a trainer, you HAVE to have a solid foundation in strength/conditioning, nutrition, functional anatomy, and physiology (to name a few). However, you also have to be cognizant of the BUSINESS side of things. This alone, has probably been the most profound “lesson” I have learned in the years since I started training people. I never really knew how important it was to read up on business. I wish I had started earlier.

John Izzo: I learned and still preach to all my new trainers, that in order to be successful in this field, you must understand that helping to reach your client’s goals must become your (the trainer’s) goal. Too many trainers “tell” a client what to do and many fail to make them understand “why”.

John Paul: Success is everywhere! Do not get caught up in one method of training, one certificate or one guru. They each may have merit but they also have limitations.

In order to be the best, you have to go to the best. People have different talents, and if you can find the best person for each unique talent and learn from them, your success will grow.

Surround yourself with this excellence and feed off it. Be open to learning and using the creativity and expertise of others to grow. Just be aware that standards are highly variable in this business, with non-standardized qualifications in training, education and experience. There are many ways to uncover success and learn from it.

Remember this: Success Leaves Clues!

Wannabebig: When faced with the question: what is your USP (unique selling point), what do you tell them?

Eric C: I don’t sell to people. My results speak for themselves.

Tony G:
Wow. What a paradox. I have heard Jim Labadie and Ryan Lee talk about this all the time and how important it is to have one. And yet as I write this, I can honestly say that I don’t have one! I don’t know, I guess I take pride in the fact that I am pretty well read in a variety of topics related to strength/conditioning and nutrition. I feel just as comfortable talking about how to get someone to improve their deadlift as I am discussing ways they can shed some fat. I’m even comfortable discussing the finer points of Alpha-2 adrenoreceptors and how they affect fat oxidation. I like the fact that I am diverse in a multitude of areas.

But in the end, I guess I would have to say that my USP is that I have an uncanny ability to develop a rapport with my clients to show that there is a big difference between what they WANT to do and what the NEED to do. Essentially, I am able to get them the results they want (whatever it may be) in the most time efficient manner…safely.

John Izzo:
Progression. It’s as simple as that. For years, I was around $3000-4000 equipment and I had all my clients start with floor exercises in the corner of the gym. Other members would come to me and ask “if your clients are paying you so much money to exercise on the floor with no machines?” And they never understood it. Starting with basics is the premise of all successful exercise programs. I see so many ‘beginners’ (trainers and enthusiasts) wanting to start with the advanced portion of exercises or programs because they think that is the quicker method to getting one to their goal. But in actuality, it is the downfall of a program.

John Paul: You know, they say that you cannot be a jack-of-all-trades. You should specialize in one area (i.e. speed specialist, body composition, mature population, etc.) You can ultimately specialize in many “one” areas but for best results, you should narrow your focus. Furthermore, you should target your efforts to a specific demographic (i.e. aesthetically-motivated females between the ages of 30-50, etc.)

Well, I have not followed either rule. My youngest client has been 10 years old and my oldest regular 80 – that is a span of 70 years. And I’ve had almost an equal mix of female and male clients – sometimes it leans more toward the male side, but right now the scale is tipping toward the female side (again, please pardon these puns!)

I take a very holistic approach with my clients. I start with an extensive fitness and functional assessment. For instance, we use 30 anthropometric measurements including weight, height, 17 girth measurements, and 11 skin fold sites to evaluate body composition alone. If the functional assessment reveals some form of pathology that requires professional attention, I will refer them to one of several therapists (i.e. chiropractor, osteopath, physiotherapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist) in my network.

From there, I provide a dietary analysis and nutritional guidance. Depending on the situation, certain diagnostics may be in order: here at the studio we carry the Adrenal Stress Index (saliva), Urinary Metabolic Profile (urine), Expanded Male and Female Hormone Panel (saliva), and Food Allergy Test (finger prick) or I may refer them to a physician for some blood work. For some of the more complex cases, I will send my clients to specialists such as Drs. Eric Serrano, Mauro DiPasquale, Fred Hui, and/or Christian Renna. In fact, I have flown to the States several times with clients for this purpose.

Exercise prescription is next. I will take into account their goals as well as their assessment results to design their program. This may be a lengthy process, though, and can easily take over an hour in certain cases. There is an entire science behind proper program design (the art is being able to implement it afterward) and I like to control as many variables as possible (such as sets, reps, rest interval, tempo, duration, frequency, etc.) for the greatest effect. My success depends on the success of my programs, period.

That’s my unique selling point!

What are three main qualities that separate a mediocre coach/trainer from a great one?

Eric C:

1. Knowledge

2. Passion

3. Experience/Perspective

Tony G: I could really go off on a tangent here. I am sometimes hesitant to answer questions like these, because in the long run….who am I to say what establishes a good trainer from a bad trainer? That being said, I do have a few opinions on the matter.

I have worked in several clubs in the past four+ years, and I have to say I have come across some pretty asinine things. I am sure that that may come across as me being a snob or a “know it all,” but well I don’t care. And in no particular order here are my top three qualities that separate a good trainer from a mediocre trainer.

1. A great trainer doesn’t give into “trends” in the industry to try to stand out. Sure, they are willing and able to diversify and try new approaches in an attempt to make their athlete or client better. But they don’t fall prey to foo-foo bullshit. A mediocre trainer tends to latch onto the foo-foo bullshit.

Case in pointFunctional Training. I can’t tell you how many times I have watched a certain trainer have his/her client do one-legged squats on a foam pad while holding a medicine ball over their head and think to myself – why? BOSU balls, balance boards, blah blah blah… all fall under this category. Sure, they have their place under certain (very specific) circumstances, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a waste of time IMO. To me, “functional training” is anything that improves a real life quality. Call me crazy, but unless you’re training to become a street performer, having your client perform crazy circus acts IS NOT functional. Not only are they promoting faulty motor patterns, reducing rate of force production, making people WEAKER, and causing little-to-no training effect….they can be downright dangerous to boot.

2. Reading is so important. I try to read an hour a day, which I am able to do because I take the subway to and from work everyday, so I have no excuse. I can’t even tell you how many times I have read something that blew my mind on the way to work and I am immediately trying it out on my first client of the day when I get to the gym. If anything, I think the chicks dig it when I am sitting there on the train reading “Science and Practice of Strength Training” by Vladmir Zatsiorsky. It’s a conversation starter.

3. Teaching/coaching. A mediocre trainer will just show up and tell their client what they’re going to do for the day. A great trainer will take the time to really teach WHY they’re doing this particular movement and explain HOW it is going to help them. You have to be able to put things into context for people. For instance, I trained an 81-year-old woman at a facility in CT that I used to work at. I would have her do rack pulls from knee height. She would ask, “Why am I doing this?” And to be honest, most people watching her train were probably asking the same thing. Anyways, I would just explain to her that doing rack pulls would help her be able to lift and carry a bag of groceries easier. Context. Once I said that, she was all about doing rack pulls and in a matter of 8 weeks, went from using 15 lbs to 85 lbs for reps.

John Izzo: Simple:

1. Instruct – These are the practical skills you learn and what you teach.

2. Inspire – Your empathy and experience should be motivating for even the lowliest of the low.

3. Integrate – Develop a relationship with the client where you can have a direct effect on what outcomes he/she makes. Integrate yourself into the client’s life.

John Paul:

1. Drive & Dedication – I group these as one, but basically, the message is the same: the more driven you are to succeed; the more likely you WILL succeed! Those that are dedicated and work hard will always fair better than those that hardly work!

2. Passion – Personal training is not a job for me; it’s a passion! I jump out of bed at 5:00 am every morning. I truly enjoy doing what I do and I love to help people. You have such a positive influence on their lives. I experience much gratification and inspiration from some of these unbelievable client transformations.

3. Results – Results ultimately speak. If you are good at what you do and love doing it, you will be successful in any endeavour. Success and happiness is not only measured by how much you make, but I will say this, personal training can be a lucrative occupation. It is not uncommon for a great trainer to earn a 6-figure income!

Wannabebig: Do you feel that one of the big pitfalls of the training industry is the ease of entry into the industry? If so, why?

Eric C: Yes, I think it’s unfortunate. Personally, I’d like to see something similar to what athletic trainers and licensed massage therapists have to go through. There needs to be a standardized curriculum focusing on anatomy above all. Then, you’d need to compile a certain number of hours shadowing someone who has already been credentialed for a certain period of time.

The main problem is that the crap trainers give the rest of us a bad name. A great example is these cookie-cutter “speed” training facilities that are popping up all over the place. Parents are shelling out money for large, cookie-cutter group sessions supervised by interns who aren’t even qualified to clean the locker rooms of these places; they’re just babysitting. It takes more coaching skill to show an athlete HOW to run faster and train him/her for it than it does to just say “Run and turn at that cone.” It’s not just what you do; it’s how you do it. The good coaches out there have to work extra hard to create value in the public’s eye, as these people have been burned by businessmen who don’t know a thing about exercise physiology.

End rant of rant, thanks for listening.

Tony G: Picking up where Eric left off it does kind of bother me that there are certain certifications out there that allow people to get certified while taking their test at home (with the book). Essentially, ANYONE off the street can become a personal trainer. The fitness industry is saturated with sub-par personal trainers now. I see some of the certifications out there and it makes me laugh. It is quite sad. You have people who become trainers just because they look the part. I’m sorry, but if you’re using performance-enhancing drugs, you should NOT be giving people advice on training. That’s not to say that there aren’t some very knowledgeable people who use steroids who happen to be trainers, but I think it’s safe to assume those are few and far between.

So yeah, I think the ease of accessibility into the industry has been one of the main pitfalls.

John Izzo: One of my biggest pet peeves with a lot of new trainers that enter the field is the idea that they should put out products to make millions without ever training a soul. I asked this question to my Roundtable and added, why so many new trainers elect to own their own training studio? And the consensus was that many newbies want to establish their own way of exercise programming- right or wrong- without being critiqued by others (experienced fitness personnel). It becomes a way to escape scrutiny from the industry. All you need is a lot of money and space and you can open up a facility and have everyone do jumping jacks in the corner-and POOF you’re a trainer!

John Paul: The field of personal training is a self-regulated one with hundreds of certifications available. Being certified does not imply competency because we do not have quality control and consistent standards. This is why continuing education is a must. Using professional journals, industry conventions, seminars and networking opportunities are necessary to maintain excellence in this profession.

Wannabebig: Success in this field requires skills other than scientific knowledge and training experience. These skills are thought of as foundational in other arenas but are neglected among personal trainers/coaches. What are some of these skills?

Eric C: Writing – but I think that’s the case in any job. If you want to be treated as a fitness PROFESSIONAL, don’t spell like a third-grader. Maybe I’m just biased because I’m the son of a teacher of English, but it just irritates me when people make silly mistakes in writing when they know better. You don’t “loose” fat, people. That dead horse has been beaten, reincarnated, and beaten even more.
Beyond that, basic organization and just being able to communicate with people are incredibly important.

Tony G: Business: you have to become familiar with the business side to being a trainer. Like I mentioned above, this is an area where I wish I would’ve started in sooner. I would definitely love to take a mulligan on that one.

John Izzo: I was just in a discussion about this on a forum. Here is my take: Having general knowledge is half the equation–the other half is having character, personality, and communication skills. That’s what keeps you in this business. And the personal training business is VERY cutthroat especially in commercial facilities. Having a great body will get your foot in the door and may get you a few clients…but if that trainer lacks relationship building skills and practical knowledge (& application), and then those clients won’t stay with him/her.

I have interviewed so many trainers that sat across from me and all they talked about was how hard THEY train, how healthy THEY eat, how dedicated THEY are…that’s great…but if you are working for me–how can you instil those behaviours in others? That is real skill. And I honestly don’t care if you are short, tall, fat, skinny, red, green, or black…if you can get clients to their goal (any which way but loose), then YOU ARE HIRED. If you cannot do it, and I hear complaints, or see insubordination, or see decrease work performance. YOU’RE FIRED. Doesn’t matter if you have 18-inch arms and deadlift 600 lbs.

John Paul: That is very true. Here are some of those skills necessary for success:

  • Good communication and people skills
  • Listening Skills
  • Appearance
  • Professionalism
  • Manners
  • Honest Business Principles
  • Ethics
  • Style
  • Energy

I’ve known trainers that had all the training knowledge in the world, but their people skills were terrible and so it affected their success. There’s more to personal training than just training!

Stay tuned as there’s lots more info to be shared in Part II of this article.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – A Q&A session on the business of fitness training – Part I discussion thread.

About Eric Cressey

Eric has helped athletes at all levels – from youth sports to the professional and Olympic ranks – achieve their highest levels of performance in a variety of sports. Although prepared in a variety of bodies of knowledge, Cressey specializes in applied kinesiology and biomechanics as they relate to program design and icorrective exercise; maximal relative strength development; and athletic performance enhancement.

He is a highly sought-after coach for healthy and injured athletes alike, and currently trains athletes and weekend warriors. His website is www.ericcressey.com

About Tony Gentilcore

Tony Gentilcore is a certified personal trainer and strength conditioning specialist through the NSCA.

Currently residing in the Boston area, his expertise lies in body recomposition and nutrition and educating his clients on the best and most efficient ways to obtain their goals.


About John Izzo

John holds a Bachelor’s degree in Public Health Promotion specializing in Community Nutrition.

He holds multiple certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), American Council on Exercise (ACE), National Endurance Sports Trainers Association (NESTA), American Fitness Professionals & Associates (AFPA), Schwinn Cycling, and APEX Training Systems.

Presently, he is a Senior Project Fitness Manager for a corporate fitness program in central CT and has served as Director of Health & Wellness for the YMCA of Greater Hartford (CT) from 2004-2006. John also is the CT Senior Faculty Instructor for World Instructor Training Schools (WITS).

John is also the founder and sole developer of www.standapartfitness.com a fitness website geared at providing articles and resources from fitness professionals to fitness enthusiasts. The site includes articles from fitness experts and boasts a 10 panelist Roundtable that tackles tough fitness industry issues monthly. John’s most popular DVDs are sold on his website including Stronger Shoulders – Improving the Function of the Rotator Cuff & Free the Hips – Mobilizing the Hips for Improved Function.

About John Paul Catanzaro, B.Sc., C.K., P.F.L.C.

John Paul is a certified kinesiologist and professional fitness and lifestyle consultant with a specialized honours Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Health Science.

He owns and operates a private studio in Toronto, Ontario.

For additional information, visit his website at www.BodyEssence.ca or call 416-292-4356.

John Paul has appeared on television and has written articles for several publications including Bodybuilding Italia, Coaching One-On-One, Dolfzine, FitCommerce, Fitness Trainer Canada, Flare, grrlAthlete, Intense Fitness, Men’s Health, MuscleMag, Olympian’s News, Personal Training on the Net, Planet Muscle, Quest For Advanced Condition, Testosterone, and Wannabebig.

His newsletters are both informative and entertaining, and he has provided reviews for numerous sources including the inaugural edition of Sport First Aid in Canada. John Paul has studied under many of the world’s top strength coaches and is relentless in his pursuit of professional excellence.

John Paul is quickly becoming one of the premier trainers in Canada with a reputation for getting his clients in top shape fast. He’s been dubbed the man with the “encyclopedic mind” whose expertise has not gone unnoticed by other health practitioners who attend his private studio regularly for instruction. Recently, John Paul has begun to attract the attention of fitness-related organizations seeking his lectures and workshops, which provide a wealth of valuable information that can be put to use immediately.

John Paul’s DVD, Warm-Up to Strength Training, has sold copies worldwide and has been featured in several magazines. Discover some unique, cutting-edge techniques like how to increase arm strength by up to 10% instantly! It has received a thumbs-up from many experts including Drs. Eric Serrano, Mark Lindsay and Ken Kinakin as well as Olympic strength coach, Charles Poliquin. Visit www.StrengthWarmUp.com for more details..

50 More Things I’ve learned

It’s almost two and half years have passed since I wrote 80 Things I’ve learned. During that time I’ve taken up two martial arts, competed in both and placed no less than third, have been blessed with a gorgeous daughter, started a private training business that includes a popular boot camp, added 100 pounds to my front squat, dropped 20 pounds in body weight, and am in the best physical shape of my life. Not, by any means, an earth-shattering list; however, my point is that things change with time, we change as people and we learn new things depending on the effort we put out in the game of life and work.

During the past two and half I’ve turbo-charged my knowledge and experience, and I’m back to share with you some of what I’ve learned.

1. Since taking up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Judo I’ve learned how to apply myself 110% in the gym. There’s only one motto to live by when I’m training in the gym, on the mat, or outside in the pouring rain.

It’s this: Hurt in practice so you don’t bleed in battle! (Quote taken from Spida Hunta of Enhancing Performance)

You cannot expect extraordinary results with an ordinary effort. The worst thing that can result from a training session is getting tired. That’s all. If you tear yourself down during practice and aim beyond your goal, when the time comes to compete, the only thing that should separate you between you and your opponent is skill.

Brad Imes moments before ending his bloody war with Mike Dexter by triangle choke at WEC 14, March 17. Imes later made it to the finals of TUF II.

2. Learn to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. Generally speaking, the very things you don’t like doing are what you should be doing. In order to excel, learn to step outside your comfort zone.

3. Don’t just talk the talk—walk it and make sure you do a damn good job of it.

4. Webster’s dictionary defines a “mentor” as a trusted counselor, guide, tutor and/or coach. A mentor isn’t a jack-of-all-trades, doesn’t have a fancy sounding name (in fact they may sound too plain), or use big words when they’re trying to make a point. A mentor is someone who is passionate about what they do, they eat, breathe and sleep their work and will help you if you’re willing to put in the necessary work. They are kind, caring and respectful and will not withhold information that you would otherwise have to pay for.

They will push you to learn, to open your mind and embrace new concepts and ideas. They may even criticize you, and allow you to make mistakes, but only because they know it will push you to move forward in knowledge. They don’t give you answers; instead they give you the stepping-stones to come up conclusions that may be the answer. My mentor was Dr Siff. Sadly he is no longer here today. He passed away doing what he loved to do. Lifting iron.

I’m the really cool looking guy in the top left with his eyes shut standing behind Dr Mel Siff

5. Train your wrist extensors. A lot of what you do in everyday life is flexor- related, and so, the extensors become weak.

6. For martial artists it is imperative that abdominal static strength levels are high. Movements such as bracing before throwing an opponent, holding an opponent in the guard or in a pin are examples of the abdominal’s being utilized to a great degree. Don’t just squat and deadlift; add some isometric abdominal work as well.

For further information on how to build strong abdominal’s, check out my article – Strong Abdominals

7. The training of youth should be a fun experience. Incorporate games into their routines that’ll force them to lunge, jump, squat, dodge, twist, turn, leap, bound, and skip. All of these are essential bio motor skills needed for building a solid athletic foundation.

8. If you have injured your shoulder, or suffer from shoulder pain, put down the barbell and pick up some dumbbells. Remember, if it hurts, modify.

9. If you suffer from poor posture, row. If your shoulders are tight, row. If you have a weak upper back, row. Using a variation of rows will do your body a lot of good.

10. What is core training? The next time you’re at the pool, bring a five pound dumbbell along into the water and try treading water with it. That’s core training.

11. Adding a dynamic day to your program is a sure-fire way to increase force output.

12. Two simple pieces of equipment that will get you in the best shape of your life are a sack and a tire. Attach a rope to the tire and pull it a variety of different ways.

Fill the sack with sand and lift it, grip it, pull it and throw it.

13. Make your training enjoyable. There should be a fun element attached to some phase of your workouts. Otherwise, you’re not going to be able to stay motivated.

14. Body weight exercises combined as a circuit are an excellent way to condition the body. Don’t underestimate the power of body weight movements.

15. If your goal is maximal strength keep your reps under 8. Duh.

16. Take a nap everyday. It’ll speed up your recovery. I try to get at least a sixty-minute nap in each day.

17. The most successful trainees are those who apply themselves in the gym day after day. And don’t fool yourself into believing that anything other than a sensible combination of food, rest, and hard work will bring you better results.

18. Learn to accept responsibility for the current state of your body. Once you have done this, assume the responsibility for changing it.

19. If your willingness to excel both inside and outside the gym fades or waivers, so will your progress.

20. If you want to get bigger, stronger, faster, and leaner, you have to pay your dues. This means working hard inside the gym, and making smart choices outside.

21. In life you can get injured or plateau in your gym training or burn out. Your career will intrude and family life will stress you out. During these times rely only on yourself to buckle down and work toward building a better body. In the end, only you are responsible for making adjustments when times get tough.

22. One of the biggest thrills one can experience in the gym is to see progress being made. If you learn to approach your training rationally you will be continually thrilled over and over again.

23. Pull, push, press and rotate. Now do it using one side of your body. That’s a sure-fire recipe for increased strength.

24. Overweight people aren’t necessarily lazy. A lot of them have physiological issues and food happens to be the easiest way to cope with them.

25. If it’s a habit, chances are it’ll change you in some way. Make a habit of training hard in the gym.

26. Soft tissue work is a must. Whether you use a tennis ball, a golf ball, or a foam roller, get that soft tissue healthy.

27. 90% of the people I’ve trained and assessed have weak glutes. Make sure you get your butt in gear by doing activation, soft tissue and strength work for the glutes.

28. If you’re male who trains females, choose your words very carefully. Proper communication is paramount in establishing a good working relationship with your female clients.

29. Women are competitive. I learned this first-hand during the competitions I held in my boot camp.

30. Females tend to be quad-dominant, and they don’t use their butts all that much.

31. Just because you’re flexible doesn’t mean your soft tissue is healthy. A prime example of this can be seen in the figure skaters I coach. They’re all very flexible but have a lot of knots in their muscles.

32. Balance is generally related to how strong you are. Learning to stand on a Swiss ball only makes you better at standing on a ball and brings the chance of looking like a complete idiot if you fall. The stronger you are the better your balance is. You wonder why elderly folks are always falling down? It’s not necessarily because of poor balance. It has to do with strength levels.

33. Your training shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar. Use your biological calendar to design programs. Some people can get away with training 3 times a week while others can do 6.

34. Quoting Charles A Smith, “You never know how important good health is until you no longer have it.” Cherish what you have; you never know when you’re going to lose it.

35. Simple is not the same as easy. Getting stronger is simple. Choose your compound movements, rest until you’re ready to lift again, and keep your reps low. This is not an easy task.

36. Always use proper form and technique. It’ll keep the injuries down during competition. Most of my wins on the mat don’t look graceful, but because I practice proper form and technique in the gym I’m spared from getting seriously injured.

37. The type of training equipment you select doesn’t matter. It’s how you use it that ultimately counts.

38. Stuart McRobert said, “If you lift Mickey Mouse poundage’s, all you’re going to get is a Mickey Mouse body.” In other words, someone who can Dead lift 600 pounds is going to have a thick back and a strong pair of legs.

Does Mickey look like he can deadlift?

39. It is a privilege to be able to walk into a gym and lift weight, so we can better our bodies and increase the physical quality of our lives.

Don’t train hard year round. Learn to take a break from your training. Go read a book, take a hike, and indulge in fine food and drink. Don’t feel guilty about it. If you train hard you deserve the break and so does your body.

41. High rep training does work; it’s not just for muscle endurance. Throw in some 20 rep squats and deadlifts, and see what kind of results you get from them.

42. Yeah, the basics are boring and you know them inside and out. But guess what? They work! So, stick to the basics for guaranteed results.

43. A lot of people are great at dishing out advice. But when it comes to actually applying what they know—when there’s a time-line involved and money changes hands—well, that’s a whole different story.

44. Learn about all the different types of methods and techniques, but don’t necessarily follow them. Make changes that become your own, and that suit your body and your needs.

45. Stress is dangerous. Work, family, gym, and financial stress will eat you alive if you let them take over. Do something to de-stress; attend a yoga class, read a book, or just take some quiet time to reflect on where you are.

46. An exercise that is very good at developing the upper body is the Front Squat. The strength needed to stabilize the shoulder blades, keep the arms in a static position and the torso upright; all contribute to a strong and functional upper body. Plus it builds monstrous quads.

47. Swiss balls half full of water make for fun training. They also really force you to train your grip and abdominals.

Swiss Balls can force you to train your grip and abdominals

48. I love caffeine. I love it even more before workouts and competitions because it increases maximal output. In other words, this wonderful drug allows me to work harder for longer, which equates to more work getting done.

49. Combination’s, hybrids, and complexes are excellent ways to condition the body and reduce body fat.

50. Strong abs require you to be on your feet since most of what is done is in an upright position when throwing, twisting, flexing, and bracing. Use bands, cables, med balls, kegs, tires, or whatever – just stay on your feet when training your abs


So there you have it. These are some of the nuggets I’ve picked up along the way. Of course, I realize over time that the more I know, the more I need to know.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – 50 More Things I’ve learned discussion thread.

One on One with Jimmy Smith

Passion, thirst for knowledge, determination, experienced are all words that come to mind when the name Jimmy Smith is mentioned. He is one of the latest strength coaches ready to make his mark in an industry that is saturated with training and dietary information. He’s here to set the record straight.

Wannabebig: Who is Jimmy Smith and what does he do?

Jimmy Smith:
I’m a performance enhancement coach who brings the results that his clients want and need. I work hard and am always increasing my knowledge. I’m not a bodybuilding coach, a powerlifter, an Olympic lifter and I’m not a strength coach who uses an athletic mind-set to train his physique clients. I use all the tools in my toolbox to produce body enhancement results.

So how many years have you been in the industry for?

Jimmy Smith: At the ancient age of 24, I’ve been in the industry for seven years. I’ve been fortunate to work with various types of clients, whom have all helped me to formulate my theories today. I’ve consulted and trained US national teams, collegiate and high school athletes, fitness competitors, the individual who just wants to look good naked, and in rehab settings with patients who have chronic pain and post-surgical therapy needs. I’ve worked at cancer fitness centers as well as sports medicine and human movement clinics.

Wannabebig: Pretty impressive for someone your age. What exactly got you started in this industry?

Jimmy Smith: Being an athlete who wanted to know the “why” instead of the “how.” I reached a high level of competition being a college basketball player and that competitive spirit kindled the fire for my career. I was looking to get the edge with my training every step of the way and that brought me to learn more and more about the physiology and function of the body. I didn’t like just reading or hearing “how” to get stronger or faster; I wanted to know the “why.” The more and more I learned and applied my knowledge to my teammates, and myself the more my passion for the industry grew. At the same time, I remember seeing people in college who just weren’t having fun or enjoying it because they hated their body image. I wanted to get into the industry to help those people. There’s so much misinformation out there it’s scary!

Wannabebig: Coming from an athletic background do you currently compete in any sports?

Jimmy Smith:
Aside from the foul-feast that is Men’s league basketball, no I do not. I consider my own training my competition; it’s my challenge on an everyday basis.

Who in this industry has influenced the way you go about training your clients/athletes?

Jimmy Smith: Talk about a loaded question! There are so many people within the industry that have influenced me in some way or another that I don’t want to not mention anyone. I swipe ideas from everyone then tweak it in my own way. Chad Waterbury really opens my eyes to thinking “outside the box”. Most of my “oh” moments come from Alwyn Cosgrove and Mike Boyle. I speak with Mike Robertson, Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore, Cassandra Forsythe, AJ Roberts, and Mike Roussell on an almost everyday basis. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Charles Poliquin and the impact he has had on the industry. It’s so hard to single people out since I spend a portion of my day everyday emailing colleagues and discussing concepts.

Wannabebig: Top 4 exercises everybody should have in their exercise line up and why?

Jimmy Smith:

1) Deadlift

It’s about as essential of an exercise as there is. We are recruiting a large number of muscles and burning a massive amount of calories. You will be hard pressed to find a better exercise in the gym period. The majority of readers here are training to improve their physique and nothing will hammer the calves, hamstrings, glutes and entire back as effective. When you alter rest periods, it will also serve as a fat igniter. Not to mention that it will be building many of the synergist muscles involved in some of the more popular anterior exercises like chest and shoulder presses.

It can also serve as a way to train the lower body in spite of low back pain. The deadlift has long been painted as a horrible exercise for your low back. It’s about how you do the exercise, not the exercise itself. There are many low back cases where the client shouldn’t load their spine with squat variations but can be perfectly fine when deadlifting. Plus, they look real cool when you do them in a commercial gym with anything over 300 pounds.

2) Chin ups

Just like the deadlift, chin-ups serve multi-purposes. They are great for building a bricklike back and are the best biceps builder hands down, which should please a lot of people. Again, by building the upper back we will see an immediate increase in our mirror muscle size and strength. Chin-ups can be rehabilitative as well. Providing that performing them does not cause pain, they can be great for depressing an elevated scapula.

Why don’t we see more of them in the gym? They are hard, that’s it. People gravitate towards the easiest exercises possible. That’s not to say that squats or deadlifts are easy, it’s just that people prefer to do them because they are easier than a chin-up. People don’t have any type of training history with vertical pulling unless it is from pull downs, which are a completely different exercise so don’t even get me started. The minute they decide to try a chin-up, they are either incredibly sore the next day and back off or they just can’t perform one and feel dumb. Walk around the gym next time and watch the guy who does them. He’ll come down about two inches, that’s the gyms version of chin-ups.

3) Single leg squats

Call them Bulgarian, Split or Elevated but whatever you do, just do them. Most people only get unilateral leg work from lunges so they develop a single-side strength deficit. This will usually present itself as the tighter one the two legs takes more of the workload in squatting exercises. By performing single leg squats we can decrease this deficit since we will be able to handle relatively the same weight on one leg.

Single-leg squats act as way to increase frontal plane stability. People are going to be tight in their Quadratus Lumborum (QL) and Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL), which will shut off their Glutes Medius. The Glute Med is an essential muscle for balance, low back and ankle health. By performing one-leg stationary exercises like single-leg squats we force that Glute Med to fire in order for us to stabilize.

4) Glute Bridging

I can hear the groans and moans from here. “He’s another one of those rehab functional guys”. I am anything but; my goal is to deliver the fastest results in the shortest possible times for my clients. One of the “tricks” is by enhancing glute firing patterns. Not only can the Glute Max produce more force than any muscle in your body but also has numerous health and movement applications as well. We’re only going to focus on the physique producing effects. What’s the one complaint that most women (and some men) have when it comes to their rear end? Most complain that it is too saggy or not firm enough.

What do they do? Hammer out more lunges and squats. The glute still isn’t firing! By performing glute isolation movements we decrease the gluteal fold (that line on your butt) and increase our force during lower body movements.

Wannabebig: For anyone who wants to become bigger/stronger/faster/leaner, what’re your top 5 sources you recommend people should go out and purchase?

Jimmy Smith:

Precision Nutrition by Dr. John Berardi – You can’t out train bad nutrition and by following the advice here you won’t go wrong. It’s the first step.

Magnificent Mobility DVD by Eric Cressey and Mike Robertson – People just aren’t warming up properly and are wrecking their efforts because of it!

Poliquin Principles by Charles Poliquin – It will serve as a great resource of people who just want to train themselves better.

The Super-Strength DVD by Joe Defranco – While I haven’t seen this yet, Joe’s results speak for themselves.

Anything by Jimmy Smith 🙂 I’ll be releasing my first book in the upcoming months. This one specifically details what’s wrong with baseball performance and conditioning and what should be done. This will really open some eyes. Watch out for it!

Wannabebig: Best piece of advice that has been given to you so far.

Jimmy Smith: I’ll stay with advice about the industry. It comes from Mike Robertson. Mike’s a good friend and has helped me out a lot especially when it comes to my desire to be recognized. I love the good aspects of the industry so I’m patiently waiting to “blow” and have my information everywhere. Mike hasn’t hit me with any quotes but he does a great job of telling me to wait and take my time.

Wannabebig: What don’t you like about this industry?

Jimmy Smith: I hate the lack of education and the desire to learn. They go hand in hand but what came first? The chicken or the egg? Trainers are quick to be labeled “dumb” by most of the people in the gym (where are these peoples results by the way?) and for the most part they deserve it. There are a lot of uneducated people in the gym and for the most part they are that way by design. Certifications are easy to come by today and people view training as something to do to make more money or an easy job. As someone who works hard in school and outside of school to advance myself, this pisses me off. What’s worse – when you see one of these people actual becoming financially successful.

It really is the desire to learn that annoys me more. I know plenty of good quality trainers who became certified and enjoy training people for a living. Why are they good? They take the time, whatever amount it is, to learn. Some don’t have the time to attend seminars or just don’t want to but they learn by asking questions from other trainers or reading with a critical eye. They are displaying the desire to learn to better themselves and their clients. That’s why I find it hard to believe that people who can’t train themselves effectively are actually good trainers. Now we have exceptions, I’m not saying that being ripped is all you need to be good. There are some great trainers regardless of body composition. I’ve found that the majority of good trainers I know effectively train themselves and look the part. I mean come on, if you’re a trainer and keeping wondering aloud as to why you can’t grow your arms on the same program that you have been on for four months then you shouldn’t be training people.

Another problem deals with the whole image of the industry. The general public treats trainers like they are their only client. Trainers don’t get the same respect as other health-care professional, regardless of their knowledge. Trainers have to give free assessments or free training sessions just to get in front of clients and people expect it. Ok sure, let me call a doctor and ask for a free assessment. I know that doctors and physical therapists need to meet degrees requirements but I know more than few trainers who are SMARTER than physical therapists or doctors. Like any other industry, there are good ones and bad ones. It’s frustrating to see how the public treats trainers. Is this because it isn’t a regulated industry? Probably. It’s something that won’t change unless the trainer is good and gets results. Then they are in the driver’s seat.

Fill in the blanks.

Unilateral exercises are

… something people need to do more. You correct bilateral deficits and also help increase joint awareness. You incorporate more core function and raise the workload to the muscles being trained. More and more research is coming out that shows that unilateral exercises actually result in more muscle recruitment and strength gains than bilateral exercises. Food for thought.

Jimmy Smith is a

… go-getter. A driven trainer who wants to learn everything he can every day to increase his training knowledge.

Don’t forget to

… take your omega-3 fish oils. They do everything, get use to it and love them.

Training different parts of a muscle (i.e. the chest)

… is not worth it unless you’re stepping on stage. There is research out there that shows it is possible. Different contractions (isometric, concentric, eccentric) will work different portions of the muscle. The problem is, unless you are stepping on stage why waste your time? The guy or girl who is trying to look good on the beach or the model that is trying to look good for a shoot doesn’t need to worry about how the distal part of the long head of their triceps looks. If I have limited time to train like most people or just need to add mass everywhere like most people then it’s a waste.

Wannabebig: Where can readers find out more about you or contact you?

Jimmy Smith: They can go to my website – www.jimmysmithtraining.com.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – One on One with Jimmy Smith discussion thread.

Small Balls That Please – Correcting Soft Tissue Dysfunction

They’re small, squishy and according to many folks, “work miracles at releasing muscle tension.” They’re small balls that please. These tiny bundles of joy work at releasing pent up muscle tension that is often bound up and stored in various areas of the body. If you sit at a desk for a living or travel a lot, chances are you’re a perfect candidate for this type of therapy. If you lift heavy things and put them down on a regular basis you’re also somebody who’d benefit from these balls.

So how exactly does a small piece of rubber, massaging oneself, and strength training relate to one another?

Why Massage?

Deep tissue massage is the manipulation of soft tissue effecting a change in the surrounding tissue and structures. Our bodies are held in balance by the muscular system.

In order for you to stand still, lift objects and/or move explosively there are various muscles throughout the body constantly tightening and slackening to maintain an optimal amount of stability.

If one or more of your muscles becomes overly tight or slack then your posture will change and your body will compensate by putting other muscles out of their normal state of tone to take on the work load.

If this is not corrected over a period of time the body will accept this compensation as a new movement pattern and you will have an imbalance that will affect how your body moves and reacts during activities and during periods of inactivity.

As a result you will become accustomed to this over time and most likely will not notice that you have a dysfunction until you try to do something that requires a “normal” range of movement.

This is where deep tissue massage therapy can be a helpful tool to restoring an optimal balance in the soft tissues of the body.

Some of the benefits of deep tissue massage are:

  • It can help deepen and normalize the breathing pattern through relaxation, and release of both the rib cage and the muscles of respiration.
  • It can help to relieve congestion in the lungs via compressive movements.
  • It can increase the action of the heart, stimulating the flow of blood to and from the lungs, helping with the elimination of waste and the absorption of oxygen.
  • It can help with some skin conditions. It does not however cure STDs.
  • It can have a sedative, stimulating, or even exhausting effect on the nervous system depending on the type and length of treatment given.
  • It can stimulate the touch, pressure and proprioceptive receptors of the skin and underlying tissue.
  • It is known to affect the neurotransmitters of the brain and increase endorphin secretion in particular (natural painkillers).
  • It can help reduce nerve entrapment through the release of soft tissue or muscular binding.
  • It can reduce nerve root compression caused by muscular tension.
  • Via the mechanical actions on the soft tissues, deep tissue can produce a dilation of the blood vessels, which helps to improve your circulation.
  • Massage enhances the elimination of the waste products of your metabolism.
  • It can help to reduce any swelling and contusions.
  • It can increase the number of red blood cells in your circulation.
  • It can lower blood pressure and can reduce pulse rate.
  • It can facilitate tissue healing through the enhancement of circulation.
  • It can reduce joint strain and compression through releasing tight muscles and tendons.
  • It can increase the ease and efficiency of your movements through the release of soft tissues.
  • It feels good and it is a pleasurable experience. That is, afterwards.
  • It can increase your body self-awareness and sensitivity.

So there you have it. This stuff works and everyone can benefit from it. The problem is it can be quite costly, especially if you don’t have a medical plan. A typical sixty-minute session can range between $60 and $150. That’s a lot of dough to be shelling out. That’s between one and four tubs of Nitrean / Opticen. For most people, paying to get their muscles poked and prodded isn’t that appealing and would gladly use the money for other things like food/supplements.

That’s where tools like the small ball come into play. It’s relatively inexpensive, great for beginners who have a lot of self-myofascial work to be done and is really easy to use.

Small Balls What?

Small ball myofascial therapy is a unique approach to restoring the body to its natural balance. By letting go of unproductive movement patterns and following the neurological system small ball release will remove physical restrictions and allow us to live life fully through our bodies. Using self-applied techniques on the ball, positive energy will flow throughout the body strengthening, toning, and realigning the spine and joints. Learn to be in touch with your own body.

What a bunch of bullshit.

Small Balls- The Truth

Actually, small balls are really no different than the use of a foam roller, tennis ball, and massage stick or for the masochist, a golf ball. They all act as a self-treatment for deep release massage. To clear out all the junk (scar tissue) around the muscles and iron out any areas that are knotted up. Think of the small ball as an iron. Tension in the muscles; create crinkles, which need to be smoothed out.

Small balls are inflatable, burst resistant and work to stimulate and massage. The pressure of the ball stretches, stimulates and creates space between connective tissue, muscle attachments, blood vessels and fascia. Body weight is strategically placed on the ball and connective tissue is massaged and made more pliable. Circulation is stimulated, and tension released from the soft tissues resulting in a freeing of restrictions in various parts of the body. There are three balls ranging in size – 5″, 6″ and 7″. The variety of inflatable sizes allows for varying pressure and isolation so you can gradually work into the muscle more. The 7″ ball might be used by the beginner or user seeking a soft, gentle massage and the 5″ for a deeper, more isolated effect

I tend to use small balls with certain clients who cannot use the foam roller or a tennis ball. This means that their quality of tissue is so far gone that their level of discomfort they are feeling does not allow them to relax adequately enough to get into the muscles. Once they have learned how to relax and not contract the muscles while rolling on the ball and they no longer feel any discomfort (or very little) I graduate them to a foam roller and then onto a tennis ball. If they’re brave we’ll go to a golf ball.

A Small Ball in Action


Lying on your front, place the ball on your quadriceps and slowly roll it down towards the knee. If you find any tender spots, stop and hold the spot until the pain subsides or as long as you can stand it.You can also stretch the quadriceps out and roll the ball down your leg as you hold the stretch

Quad Video


Sitting on the ball on one butt cheek, slowly roll the ball around trying to find any spots of discomfort. Once you’ve found a spot, hold it and slowly move the ball around to get deeper.You can work on shifting your body around so you can add more pressure to the area of discomfort.

Glutes Videos


Lying on your back, wedge the ball between the floor and your traps (whichever side is tightest). Lift your hips up towards the ceiling to create more weight on the traps and slowly move the ball around.Another method is to lean up against a wall and wedge the ball between the traps and the wall.

Traps Video


Place the ball between your chest and the wall in an upright position.Have the arm fully extended and slowly move the ball up and down and around the chest region.

Chest Video


Lying on your side place the ball where your hip starts and slowly roll it down towards the side of your knee.Stop when you hit the first tender spot and hold it there for 30-60 seconds.

ITBand Video

These are only some of the areas you can use the ball on. However I have found that these spots are the most common in people I have worked with. Other areas that the small ball can be used on are the hamstrings, calves, shoulder region, lumbar spine (lower back) and thoracic spine (mid back).

Having A Ball

Deep tissue massage is something strength trainers should incorporate into their program. It releases muscle tension, eases joint pain, and improves posture. Things that your body are combating on a daily basis and are accelerated as a result of training in the gym.

You can purchase a small ball set online, just run a search on google and you should be able to find some pretty easy. In the US try Perform Better and in Canada try Athlete Conditioning.

Now go out and play with your small balls and have some fun experimenting with them!

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – Small Balls That Please – Correcting Soft Tissue Dysfunction discussion thread.