My fitness journey starts at an early age for me, as early as 5 years old. I started racing big wheels at my local BMX track on Saturday nights. Probably not so much racing as just coasting down the starting hill but needless to say it was fun, active and my first taste of competition. I continued racing BMX on and off for most of my childhood going all the way up to about age 15. I grew up a very active young boy with so much energy and a love for being outside and moving my body. I have a fond memory of always jumping off of everything I could, steps, curbs, chairs, table and couches. As a matter of fact, my dad has a great story of catching me in the act jumping off the bathroom vanity into the bathtub butt naked when I was like 7 or 8. I remember riding my bike a lot around the neighborhood, skateboarding, playing flag football in the street, tee ball in the backyard, jumping on our trampoline and roller-skating. My brothers and I would frequently visit the local park with bike riding trails and jumps and a basketball hoop. Around 4th grade is when I found my first love of sports and that would be basketball. I was very fortunate to have parents who were very supportive of every sport I had an interest in. No matter what I was interested in they helped either build, make or buy something to make us better and be more successful at that sport. Case in point, my parents used their tax return to build a ¾ scale half-basketball court in my backyard complete with a painted key and 3-point line. My dad even installed floodlights on the back of the house so we could play at night. Many, many hours were spent shooting around and many, many 2 on 2 games had been played on that court. It was probably one of the best investments they had ever made.
Growing up in Phoenix, AZ, it goes without saying it was hot in the summer time and with it being so hot that means cooling off in the pool. I was a pool rat every summer, spending lots of my time swimming around, playing and eventually gravitating toward the sport of diving. My grandparents had a pool with a diving board and spending long summer days there it had me hooked at an early age. It wasn’t until I started going to our local pool that my love for diving skyrocketed. I joined the recreation team and I could not get enough pool time. Often times, diving practice would be from 10-12 and then the pool would open to the public at 12. We would stay there until about 1-130, get our hand stamped on the way out (so we didn’t have to pay to get back in) and then come back from 7-10 at night. We would continue this routine 7 days a week for 3 full summers. One of the great things about the sport of diving for me was the constant progression and everyday trying something new, different and challenging myself. Learning new dives and finding out what I was capable of was my ultimate satisfaction.
Around the time I entered high school is when I really started taking an interest in physical fitness. After mandatory PE my freshman year, I elected to take Systematic Conditioning or Systos as we liked to call it, for the next 3 years. Systos was basically just a weight training class for the full hour taught by our swim coach. It was where I learned the importance of hard work, lifting heavy and getting the most out of your workout. I remember it being quite hard and tough on most days and leaving the class pretty deflated and sore but I knew it was good. I would love to say we took the time to learn all the big lifts properly and we learned correct form and all the different movement patterns but however that was not the case. Yes we squatted and cleaned with weight belts on and yes we did bench press every other day and yes we even did the outlawed leg press. I do remember doing a lot of cleans and not really knowing what they were good for but I knew they were just hard. I remember the great feeling of graduating from 25lbs on each side to the 45 lbs on each side. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this, the difference in size between the 25’s and 45’s is probably around 3-4 inches, which means that is 3-4 inches less you have to go down to pick up the bar. It makes a world of difference, just ask any experienced lifter. I remember benching regularly and it was the classic old school workout that if you were to bench press 250 lbs, your sets would be 8, 6, 4, 2, 1 with the 1 rep being around 240-250 and ending with a drop burn out set of 8. We also did some great stuff like box jumps, back squats and heavy jump rope. I remember being captivated by the work you put in and also watching the amount of weight you lifted keep increasing. I am not going to lie, as a high schooler, I was pretty vain and I also loved they way I looked. You had to look good for all the girls, right? I knew weight training was great for me but I never made the connection between weight training and performance back then. Now that I look back on it, it helped me tremendously on the diving board by giving me more strength and power and also keeping me injury free.
After accepting a diving scholarship to the University of Toledo, we were required to lift 2 days a week as a part of our training for the week. Practice was every day from 2-5 with weights after practice on Mondays and Wednesdays. The weight training sessions were hard, really hard. The strength coach had this philosophy of doing only one set of a huge circuit until failure. His belief was to get us strong but also keep us injury free. All we used was the Hammer Strength equipment and you went down the line performing a huge circuit, leg press, leg curl, leg extension, high pull, low pull, chest press and shoulder press. All of your weights and reps were recorded and your weights were pre-set. Your goal was to get 12 reps on every lift but a lot of the times you did not succeed. The weight was really heavy and was designed for you to fail. Sometimes you would only get 9 or 10 depending on your energy that day. If you did make your 12 reps you had to keep going until you failed which was usually around 13 or 14 anyway. That first semester I was so spent after our weight sessions I usually had to go lie down in my dorm room for a little bit. Not good. I remember a couple of times doing some really killer workout complexes in which I nearly passed out. One of them was alternating sets of 1-minute pull-ups followed by 1 minute of dips. Brutal. If you could no longer do a pull up or dip, you were required to hop up and slowly lower yourself down concentrating on the eccentric. One workout I remember distinctly was pushing a 2 x 4 down the Astroturf and back for time. I remember thinking this can’t be that hard and I would finish it no problem. Well let me tell you something, a piece of wood + Astroturf + friction = legs smoked. I remember pushing the board for the full 100 yards on the way down no problem and then coming back it got kind of hairy. I did 30 yards, then 20, then 10, 10, 10, 10, 5, 5 and died. I believe this workout was given for their pure enjoyment.
When I graduated from college I moved back home and took my first personal training job at Bally Total Fitness. I would say I was an okay trainer with a good knowledge of the important exercises to do but I was also more so a machine trainer. It wasn’t for long though. One of my fellow co-workers introduced me to a book that changed my whole outlook and philosophy on training. The book was called Core Performance by Mark Verstegan and it was life changing. Never before had I seen or read anything on the different ways to move your body like I did in this book. There was so much great stuff in it like side lunging, one leg reaching, overhead squatting, lunge and twisting, step and stretch, inch worms, chops, lifts, step ups, bridging, marching bridging and making letters with your arms. I loved all of it and kept doing all the movement prep exercises at my home and loved how much better I felt and how much my body felt more alive. I started transitioning my clients from machine-based exercises to more of this new multi-directional, functional style training and they got great results. They may have not liked it too much because it was hard, but it was good for them and they were feeling a difference.
Shortly afterwards, I moved to California with my girlfriend and now wife and took a job at a local gym in Corona Del Mar called Shape-Up Fitness. It was there at Shape-Up I was introduced to a whole other side of fitness, the functional fitness genre. I never had any experience with any resistant band work and was required to study multiple DVD’s. I was fascinated and hooked with all this influx of new material and ways to move the body. I loved all the combination exercises you could do with the bands like: punches, alternating pulls, squat push, squat pull, skiers and rotations. I was also fortunate enough to be given the opportunity by my work to attend a Functional Movement Screen (FMS) seminar where I learned how to screen my clients for movement pattern deficiencies. The FMS is a very useful screen to see how my clients move and corrective exercises to give them to get them to move better. I finally felt like I was evolving as a trainer and was finding great ways to move my clients and get them great results. I must say I am extremely grateful to have been surrounded by great trainers who made me step up and get on the same level as them and trainers who encouraged learning and staying current in the fitness world. We attended many seminars every year to further enhance our knowledge of training, learn new exercises and get fired up for training again and again.
A little while later, I became certified on a great piece of equipment called the TRX. The TRX is hands down one of the best exercise tools ever created. It is portable, easy to use, multi-directional and all body weight specific. With it being a suspension trainer, it can provide an unbelievable amount of resistance and make classic exercises that much harder. Just going through and completing the certification was a killer. I remember the instructor basically going through the whole manual with us and making us perform every single exercise in it for what seemed like an extensive amount of time. We were all extremely sore and tired after that certification for a couple of days but we knew it was great because we knew how much better our clients and we would get. Around this time is when I became good friends with a fellow trainer named Kyle from Bare5 and we went on another fitness journey together. Kyle introduced me onto another life changing book called The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson. It was from The Primal Blueprint that we learned not only about nutrition by more so the importance of getting outside, connecting with the earth, sprinting, walking, lifting heavy and playing. We felt some of these elements were missing from our everyday lives and it was important to incorporate them back into your routine. Often times we would be seen playing Frisbee outside together on a grass field with no shoes on and shirts off or monkeying around on the playground or climbing trees or just shooting basketball. Whatever it may be, we knew it was important to get outside and move our bodies however and whenever we could. I learned that as much as gyms are great, you often times can get an even better workout outside. Some of my greatest and most enjoyable workouts have been outside playing around on monkey bars or just finding a tree to do different exercises on. I love just going with the flow, doing what comes naturally to me and not worrying about numbers, reps or sets and enjoying the movement.
My fitness journey spans over a time period of 20 years and I have learned an incredible amount. I am grateful for every book I was introduced to, all the like- minded people I became friends with, all the presenters at the seminars I attend and all of the certifications I acquired. I have definitely learned a lot and look forward continuing to learn and grow as a person and as a trainer.
Throughout my fitness journey the most important things I learned are: strength is important, move often, move well, use your body weight, get outside, go barefoot, play often, forget what others may think, enjoy the process and have fun. Hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Have a wonderful day, now get out there and move.