I’ve been lifting weights since I was 12 years old. At first, I didn’t have a choice in the matter. During my pre-teen and teen years I spent weekends with my brother (he is 11 years older than I am) at his apartment in Bellefonte, PA. Saturday and Sunday mornings I would be dragged out of bed by Terry (my brother) and his best friend Shanon (he is a large man, so don’t snicker) and taken to an old brick building with weights in it.
Terry and Shanon would push me through workouts–giving me little to no autonomy over what I did with my time at the gym. But they pushed me and made me stronger. The results were noticeable when I strapped on my shoulder pads and slipped on my helmet in August when football started. From this point forward I was hooked–I fell in love with training.
Now training is a part of me–personally and professionally. I’ve sought it out as a career because I have felt the powerful impact it had on my life and I want to be able to give that to others. I want people to see what getting stronger can do for them.
I know that there are a lot of other trainers and coaches out there that are relatively new to the game. I’ll be 26 this April and have worked as a strength coach since shortly after my 20th birthday. I’ll openly admit that there is a great deal that I don’t know, and like my good friend Justin Rabinowitz said, the more I learn the dumber I feel. But I’ve paid attention and done a few things right over the years–learning a great deal in the process. Here are some of the key lessons that I’ve learned.
Be Humble: I’m not that special–neither are you. There billions of people on the planet and we make up a minutely small percentage of them. While training is extremely important to all of us–in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big of a deal. So don’t get caught up on yourself.
I won’t name names, but I have seen a few popular blogs and websites run by coaches that arrogantly pontificate in response to a question. Even worse, I’ve seen open attempts at debasing the guy or gal that asked the question. That’s ridiculous. When someone comes to you with a question answer it openly with out ego. A person obviously thinks enough of you to value your opinion–so they deserve more than a snide remark.
It’s important to also understand that there is someone out there better than you are at what you do. Have the humility to seek them out and learn from them. Which brings me to my next lesson.
Reach out to the Big Guns: I remember being 19 years old and a freshman in college. After football practice I would race through showering and eat quickly so I could stop off at my room or the library before the defensive meeting (I played safety and linebacker). Outwardly, it probably looked like I wanted down time–a quick second or two to myself to catch my breath. But that wasn’t the case at all.
As soon as I got to my room, or to the library, I would log on to T-Nation, Elitefts or Diesel Crew and read emphatically everything that I could in twenty or thirty minutes. While other people my age were adoring the lives of the cast of Laguna Beach (remember that shit?) I admired guys like Eric Cressey, James Smith and Jim Wendler. At that point in my life I put them on a pedestal far above where I thought I could reach.
In 2011 I decided to change that. I started emailing, calling and connecting with the big guns. I sent messages on facebook telling guys how much I appreciated their work, asked if there was anything I could do for them and told them that I’d love to come hang out. I didn’t expect anything other than their company.
I wasn’t sure if many of these guys were approachable, or if they would even respond to me. But they did. It resulted in a trip to Cressey Performance to hang out with Eric Cressey, Tony Gentilcore and their staff. My beautiful girlfriend, Annie, and I spent two days talking shop, hanging out and shooting the shit with two guys that I’ve looked up to for years. I found out that they were humble, down to earth guys that were willing to lend a hand and answer questions.
My efforts to connect with guys that I held in high esteem also brought me a good friendship and mentorship under James Smith, one of the most down to earth and solid humans I have met during my first quarter century. He’s given me the opportunity to train with him, learn from him and coach at his seminars. Without taking the action to connect with him I would have never had any of those opportunities.
If you want the be one of the best you have to surround yourself with the best. Taking action to learn from the leaders and align yourself with them is one of the most important things you can do to get where you want to be.
Repetition is not Synonymous with Experience: Every day there is a blog or article published that talks about the importance of having experience in the fitness industry. Many of the articles lead me to believe that if you haven’t been training people since 1946 your opinion isn’t worth a shit. I disagree; mainly because I think that repetition and experience are not synonymous.
Just because a coach has worked with athletes for a long time it doesn’t mean that he or she is doing anything right. I’ve been tying my shoes since I was four and I still manage to mess that up (and I take a long time doing it). But if you have been in the trenches training people, busting your ass to learn all that you can and then working to apply that knowledge–then you have experience. Some coaches gain more experience in two years what others have failed to gain in twenty.
Travel and Be Social: Living in obscurity in your little corner of the world will kill your career and your chance to live a full life. Get out and be a part of the world. I’ve learned more from travelling, meeting new people and embracing their different view points than I have reading any book. I’ve read a lot of books.
Travel to new places, talk to people and apply what you learn from them. That’s it.
Take Chances: Many of you are aware that I am a featured author on T-Nation. Obtaining that position didn’t come from shyly sitting back and waiting for people to come to me. It came from having the gumption to take myself to the next level, and a little prodding from my friend Joe Giandonato.
In January of last year, Joe and I co-authored an article about neck training for this site. After having it on the site for a few days Joe emailed me and told me he thought it was good enough for T-Nation, and said we should submit it. Knowing Tim Henriques, an already featured author for T-Nation, I emailed him and asked him how to submit articles. He put me in contact with Bryan Krahn, a T-Nation editor, and I emailed him the article. At first, Bryan and TC turned the article down–saying that it wasn’t really their flavor. An hour later, however, Bryan emailed me back and said they would take it. I’ve been writing for them consistently ever since.
You can’t be scared of hearing (or reading) the word no–it’s going to come your way a lot. If I had let my fear of failure persuade me against submitting the article to T-Nation, I’d still be reading their articles and wishing that I could write for them.
Be bold and go after what you want. If you fail, so what? It’s not the end of the world. A new idea will strike you, you’ll come up with a new angle of approach or something else will work out. But if you aren’t will to take a chance you won’t accomplish a damn worthy thing.
Be Balanced: Success is about hustle–there is no question about that. Discipline, perseverance and hunger comprise the trifecta that produces drive and motivation. They give us the ability to hyperfocus (obsess may be a better word) about what we want and how we are going to get it. But they can also lead us astray and destroy our relationships.
I’m guilty of being a hustle-fanatic (a gentler term for work-a-holic). My typical day starts at 5 am, ends around 11:30 pm and is completely filled with work. The good news is that I accomplish a lot. The bad news is that often times it diverts my attention and energy away from people that I love. It frustrates the bejesus out of my girlfriend, makes my mother think I’m crazy and concerns my brother to no end. Getting better as a strength and conditioning coach and as a writer are very important to me, but not as important as having good people in my life.
I’ve started to add more balance to my life–although it’s not easy. I know that it is important for the longevity of my career and to nourish my relationships. Now, instead of being a hermit, I answer the phone when my brother calls, give my girlfriend the complete attention that she deserves and involve myself more in what is going on around me. My mom still thinks I’m crazy–but I don’t think I’ll be able to change that.
Pay it Forward: We are nothing without the help we receive. I’ve asked busy people a lot of questions and they have always found the time to answer me. People have connected me with other people just because they thought it could help me. The list could go on for another 1000 words. Without question, the self-less action of others on my behalf has gotten me where I am today.
I’m sure that you can relate. People have given to you without expecting anything in return. Indubitably, someone has lent you a buck when you were short, a coach has pulled you aside and put you on a better path and people you don’t even know have given you kindness. It’s what makes the world a better place.
It’s our obligation to extend the help that we’ve received to others. I follow a simple motto: If you can help, do something. Please, steal my motto and use it as your own.
These are just a few lessons that I’ve learned about the fitness industry and the world at large. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of parallels. Hopefully my experience can help you.