Athlete Spotlight: Mark The Mason

spinal nerves
spinal nerves

Mark is one of our adult clients. His son has trained with us for the past 5 years or so and Mark joined us about a year ago. Mark is a stone mason and is used to working with heavy things like boulders, slabs of granite, and other mason-y things. However, when Mark first started with us, he was in not-so-great shape. Mark had fallen into a hole. He was walking backwards on a job site and fell into a large, deep hole. The fall caused some MAJOR damage to his neck and right shoulder. Discs at C3 and C4 were crushed which translated into terrible nerve pain and weakness in his right shoulder. He spent months on pain medication and in rehab to regain some semblance of function. Mark walked in our doors just under a year after his fall.

When he started, understandably, he was pretty weak. (After 9+ months of barely doing anything, it wasn't a surprise.) His core strength was very, very low and he had difficulty with a lot of the beginner exercises because of it. Planks were his nemesis and he would shake after 10-15 seconds.

We started him out on trap bar deadlifts, with only 65 lbs. He stayed around that weight for at least 2 months while we hammered core strength, single leg movements (oh how he "loved" split squats!), and slowly built up the stamina and strength in his shoulders.

After 2-3 months we tentatively tried pushups. He could do a few with his hands elevated but he tired quickly.

Mark worked hard. He showed up every Tuesday and Thursday morning for his training sessions. He was consistent and steadily Mark grew stronger.

Pretty soon, he was doing pushups on the floor again. (he can knock out about 40 in a session now!) He can now perform split squats and step back lunges without wobbling, and even holding weights! He's graduated to landmine presses with both shoulders (a feat unthinkable during the first 6 months). He's even started crawling (bear and tiger crawls) while dragging chains. (How I wish I had a video of that!) Mark blew past old barriers and is stronger than he was before the fall.

His deadlift inched upwards and we moved him to straight bar, conventional deadlifts. He was a little nervous at first and we worked on his form for a couple months. Then, he was feeling snazzy one day two weeks ago, and decided to increase his weights.

He hit his first PR of 215 for 3:

Then, about 5 minutes later, a second PR of 225 for 3:

Up until this point, the most he'd ever done was 195. He was SO excited that he could barely wait to tell his son his accomplishments. He was giddy and practically skipping around the gym for the rest of his session.

Mark works pretty long hours but he says that he has a much easier time making it through the day. He told me he had to crawl up a steep hill last week that would have been nearly impossible a year ago. This is music to our ears since our whole goal was to increase his strength and make daily living a breeze.

We are so grateful to work with Mark. He always has a smile on his face and a laugh that's just waiting to burst from his mouth. His dedication is inspiring to our other clients and we're eager to see what he'll accomplish in 2015!

Athlete Highlight: Patrick the Theatrical Athlete

Meet Patrick. He's an accomplished actor, singer (and continues to work on both), and avid Game of Thrones fan (which keeps the conversations lively on the coaching floor).

Oh, how I wish my past self had taken more pictures and videos! He was a totally different kid then. I'll do my best to describe him. Pat started with us at the end of July, 2013.

Pat, a rising sophomore in high school, was (and still is) in drama and also fenced (at the time). He readily admitted that he didn't have much experience with sports and had never weight trained before. During Pat's evaluation, he had a lot of trouble performing a body weight squat (his form was pretty iffy), shook while holding a plank, and struggled mightily with the hops and jumps we do for power assessments. (Especially one-legged hops; single leg anything was Pat's nemesis for the first 6 months at SAPT).

His first few training programs were fairly regressed compared to the typical athlete programs we write. We had him squatting to a bench (which is pretty high, to shorten the range of motion) and with only 15-20lbs. They were definitely not the smoothest squats we'd ever seen. Hip-hinging, aka, deadlifts with a kettlebell were also a tough movement pattern for him to master; he started those with a 20lb kettlebell and stayed between 20-35lbs for about 3-4 months.

He had a lot of low-level drills of just standing on one foot, and when he did start split squats (about 3-4 months in) he utilized the wall for balance. Planks were pretty tough for him, as were most core and upper body exercises too. We elevated his hands pretty high for his pushups (I think we elevated the barbell to around his waist height.)

An outsider looking in might have thought that this kid had way to far to go to actually improve or that he might never be as strong as "regular" athletes (that is the mainstream sports).

But Pat surprised us all.

Pat faithfully came 2x/week, and worked hard every session. Sure, there were some days where he wasn't feeling the best, or he tweaked something, or pulled something (this was a semi-common occurrence during the first few months), or banged into something... He never complained and he consistently did his best to train to the utmost of his ability each day.

Here's a video of Pat's pushups in February of this year:

Not too bad for a kid who started with his hands raised about 6 inches higher than they are in that video.

Pat remained consistent with his training and pretty soon, he was kicking butt and takin' names like the best of them.

Currently he sumo deadlifts around 145lbs, he's squatting with the GCB (giant camber bar) to a LOW box (lower than I squat actually) around the 100lb range. Remember how I said Pat had trouble with jumps? He had a hard time deccelerating and would often lose his balance and fall over. Now, he can knock out a perfect set of one-legged cone hops, forward and to the side. He's performing heidens (it's not Pat in the video, but I don't have one of him heiden-ing. Curses!), heidens with rebounds, and heidens with a medicine ball throw.

And check out his pushups now:

He could have done more, but I told him he only needed to do a few. He can easily hit 25-30 pushups in a session now (on the floor!)

He's lost 25lbs to boot too!

One of my favorite quirks of Pat is his note-taking on his programs. A few months back, I wrote in weighted baby crawls and I indicated that he could use knee pads if he wanted. This was the response:

"knee pads are for the weak and those with sensitive  skin."
"knee pads are for the weak and those with sensitive skin."

Clearly, I underestimated Pat. I try not to do so now.

I think it's one thing if the coaches notice these drastic improvements, I mean, that's our job. But, with Pat, OTHER athletes have noticed his work ethic and changes. Three of our D1 athletes have, separately and unprovoked, commented on how impressed they were with Pat's progress. Several other high schoolers have also mentioned or asked about Pat, as in, "Hey, who's that kid? Is he the same one from last year?" or something to that effect. His peers have noticed, rightfully so, his dedication and efforts of the past year-ish; that is pretty darn impressive if you ask me.

Speaking of, Pat has impressed me, and continues to do so, immensely over the past year. I can hardly get over how different he is from last July. He's confident, strong, and his movements patterns have improved by 1000%! Now, you might look at his numbers and think, "That's not so much weight." But you neglect to factor in where Pat started. He started with a 20lb deadlift and is now lifting 145... that's over a 700% increase. Not only that, but he's NEVER lifted before, nor did he have much experience with sports (so he didn't have a rich motor pattern map to begin with, we had to build it in here, which takes a while.)

All of it comes down to consistent training and consistently putting forth his best effort.

To be honest, Pat didn't have much external motivation to keep coming (like a D1 scholarship or something) but HE DID. There was no coach breathing down his neck to improve or the pressure of making a team to entice him to train hard, but HE DID. He doesn't have the freaky natural talent like many athletes (who, if I'm even more honest, often don't train nearly as consistently or as hard as they should because they're talented) but he's improved the MOST out of all my athletes. It's rare to see this dramatic of a change in one athlete in the course of a year, and I am so privileged to be witness to it. Dramatic change for a dramatic guy, I guess. :)

Patrick is why I love my job. I have the amazing blessing of an opportunity to work with kids like him. Kids who may not look that athletic or grand on their first introduction to iron, but through hard work, turn a complete 180 and dominate the weight room. In the strength world, it's an aspiration of many to be the coach of a pro team, or work with professional and highly skilled athletes (and be famous for it).

I'd take one Patrick over 100 pro athletes any day.

Post-Holiday Physique Quick Fixes

I apologize. I have no intention of giving you a "quick fix." Why? Because they don't exist.  Yup, the media and fitness "experts" have lied to you. There is no such thing as "10 Minutes to Abz" or ,"Cleanse Food of the month" or any other such nonsense as that. Want to know the secret? 1. Consistency- eating well 90% of the time (you can have treats. But remember they're once-in-a-while occasions. That's why they're "treats.") and exercising regularly (not just in January).

2. Consistency

3. Consistency

Notice a trend here? This month we're going to be dispelling some of the proliferous myths of the fitness world as well as offer solutions to maintaing a healthy lifestyle, and your sanity, that actually work.

Below is a post I wrote a couple months ago in a fit of anger but drives the point home that a healthy, strong body takes time, effort, and consistency.


While enjoying some quiet time, an advertisement blared over my classical music station (I was peacefully enjoying some Rachmaninov):

"No time for exercise? Tony Horton's 10 Minute Training makes blasting fat and building muscle easier than ever!"

The 10 Minute Trainer DVDs employ:

-"Super Stacking Technique" to combine cardio and strength training (Is that new? Uh, you mean like super-setting and circuit training?)

-Resistance bands and the "most effective moves" (Riiight because 5lbs of resistance is going to build muscle...SAPT-ers, is this correct?)

-A "10 minute" meal plan, not sure what that includes but somehow it helps.

-You're supposed to do 3 workouts/day (so really 30 minute trainer would be more appropriate) selecting from: cardio, total body and lower body workouts. (and the bonus of the Abs DVD...cause that's really what working out is all about... the ABZ)

Ahem, shall I?

Training methodology, professional opinion on the safety of these "moves" for untrained individuals, and lack of feedback on proper exercise technique aside, what angers me the MOST about these kinds of products is the "magic bullet" mentality. They make it sound like it's so easy, so fast and utterly mindless to develop a head-turning physique and/or jaw-dropping strength.

Here's a picture of me from my old bodybuilding days:


Any guesses on  how long it took to look like that? (hint: more than 10 minutes)


Read that again and let it sink in.

4 years of HARD work, busting my butt in the gym 5-7 days/week, picking up heavy things (many, many times for a lot longer than 30 minutes), following a strict diet year-round (not to mention the restrictive competitive diet I stuck to for 12 weeks prior to a competition. Helloooo broccoli and chicken...every...meal...) Each work out and meal was meticulously planned and well thought-out; I tried my hardest every workout to focus all my thoughts on my training. Anything else, was put inside the "Not Work Out Box" in my head and every rep, every set had my undivided attention.

Did I mention that it took 4 years?

Things like this disgust me. I ABHOR how many products out there preaching the the "'body you want" is only "minutes away,"preying upon our society's collective impatience. Training for strength and or physique goals should require a lot of thinking (not necessarily in the sense that you write your own program, but you should be focused during your session); training sessions shouldn't be executed casually if you expect to reap any benefits. Remember my Iron Brethren, many things in life are fast an easy, strength and a healthy body are not one of them.

At SAPT, we "cook 'em slow" because we know that strength gains and physique changes take time and hard work. Check out two of our champs, Ron Reed and Ryan Dickt.  Both have been training with us for years and working their tails off in the gym 3-4/week and gettin' AFTER it!

Heard of the workout "Insanity?" How 'bout try some INTENSITY?

THAT is what training looks like, even with the "little" stuff. Or this:

3 years of consistent training = 425 deadlift... and he's only a junior in high school.

And this:

Yup... guess what? Another consistent SAPT trainee. 300 lbs!

Don't fall for the short cut and train like you mean it.