Friday, April 27, 2012

My Strength Training Biography Part 2

I can sum up my early years of lifting pretty quickly.

I was skinny and weak but I played a lot of sports.   My knees started to hurt.   I tried to squat, but I sucked at it and my back hurt.   I benched a lot and mixed in some leg extensions.

To read the full version of Part 1 of My Strength Training Biography,  click here

Fast forward to 1996 as I was closing out my less than impressive high school career and getting ready to be a college "student" at Ohio State.   I can easily sum up my training regimen in between 1996 - 2002 with a few sentences.

Monday  - chest , arms
Tuesday -back
Wednesday -  legs..... no squats.   Leg press and my staple leg lift  - leg extensions.
Thursday - chest again
Friday - arms again and maybe back

I am sure I mixed in some spinal crunching from time to time.

As I started to earn some money from working, I began to venture out of the cavern that was Larkins Hall  (OSU rec) and headed out to Gold's Gym.   WOW, my mind was blown by all the beautiful machines!   I could do chest every day and still not use all the machines in the gym.  Surely, my training was going to reach a whole new level and at one point in 2001 it did when I picked up a medicine ball in the aerobics room.  I am going to hold this and do abs because that's what boxers do  - for some reason I thought that and I have no idea why.  I looked at the ball and it had a website on the

I headed to the computer lab on campus and searched for the website.   Jumpsoles?   Plyometrics?   Add 8 inches to my vertical leap?  Holy Shit!   Where was this when I was in high school?   Of course I ordered the $80 pair of Jumpsoles and within a week, they were delivered to my campus apartment.   I began to do the jump program that was included with the shoes on a twice per week basis.  The program even included lunges and step ups which was a dramatic increase in leg training intensity for me.   In a few weeks, I was jumping off two feet and grabbing the rim with 2 hands.   I was never able to do anything more than touch the rim with one hand.   These shoes are miracle workers!

The timing of this jump miracle was impeccable because I began doing some basketball instruction with my student teaching mentor, Demond Dubose.   The company was called G2 (Grades and Game) and we used his Columbus middle school gym to do the instruction.  I started to incorporate some agility and foot quickness drills in conjunction with the Jumpsole training.  The kids seemed to be benefiting from the training so I began to buy some more books and study the craft of training athletes further.

From 2001 - 2005, I was an elementary PE teacher in Columbus Public Schools and continued to coach basketball.  In 2002, I formed Soar of Columbus with my college classmate/post college roommate Nate Fugitt.   Nate had lot of personal training experience in commercial gyms, so it made a lot of sense for me to team up with him.  Our mission:  To bring Jumpsole training to all of Columbus.   We decided that we would rent space at one of the Columbus Park and Rec gymnasiums and we would just load up our cars with equipment.  We used a PO box as our official mailing address and put an add in local This Week News publications.   In the summer of 2002, I remember getting our first ever check at the PO box.  In total,  we had 3 athletes registered for our 8 week camp.  Three weeks in, Columbus closed us out of the facility and we were left to do training outside in a park. 

Between 2002 and 2004, we began to pick up some more clients by exhausting all of our resources.   We were mostly using Power Shack Gym in Hilliard as our main training location.  It was at this point in time that my training regimen shifted from body building machine lifting to extreme core training.  If it didn't involve sitting, laying, kneeling or standing on a stability ball, I didn't have any use for it.  In addition to the circus style lifting, I had added many new tools to my speed and agility training.   Jumpsoles, agility ladders, cones and bungees were now part of my weekly regimen with myself and my clients.  Even though Nate and I did not fully understand progressions, we were becoming good speed coaches and learning by the day.  Both of us became certified through the National Strength and Conditioning Association and we both had plenty of teaching and coaching experience.   Even I was beginning to gain an understanding of squatting!

Late in 2004, I split off from Soar for a while and took a personal opportunity to work with high level Tae Kwon Do athletes at Team Players in Hilliard.  This was my first official experience with designing and implementing strength and conditioning programs for larger groups of athletes.  It was at this point that I began to read the works of Mike Boyle, Lee Taft and Mark Verstegen.   My goodness was I way off with my strength training!   I studied Boyle intensely as I found his books simple and very easy to read.  I also subscribed to an online training forum which was once called   I was obsessed with obtaining all of the training knowledge that I could so I asked tons of questions on their online forum.   I was starting to gain confidence that I actually knew what I was doing.  Soon after, I became a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist.

In 2005, I reunited with Nate and moved our training show to Ohio Sports Plus Academy in Worthington.   We had an area for speed training and a pretty nice weight room that we built a wall around.  This is when we really got it clicking on all cylinders.  Most of the training programs in the area were solely focused on SAQ training  (Speed, Agility, Quickness).   Obviously, Nate and I were big on SAQ, but we were also learning that strength training was just as important, if not more important.  Most of our clients only did two 1 hour SAQ sessions per week while a few added 1 or 2 strength sessions per week.  We began to notice that the kids who were strength training in addition to the SAQ were blowing the SAQ only kids away.    This is when and where our current set up was born:  The 90 minute session  - 45 minutes of speed and agility, 45 minutes of strength.  If you trained 2x per week, you were still getting enough speed training and enough strength training to make a significant difference.

In 2006, I decided to leave Columbus Public Schools after 4 years of teaching and put all my focus on training athletes full time.  It was a tough decision, but ultimately I knew that I did not want to be a teacher for 30 years.   I learned a ton from my student and professional teaching work and I am certain I would not be where I am today without those experiences.  Teaching is coaching and coaching is teaching.   You can have all the training knowledge in the world, but it is meaningless if you can't instruct.  Looking back on it now, coaching 6 - 15 athletes in my facility is nothing compared to teaching 25 inner city second graders with minimal equipment in a gym that was also the cafeteria. 

It was late in 2006 that Nate and I opened our first official facility in Lewis Center.   We have done nothing but grow and evolve since.   I still spend a part of every day researching the best methods for training athletes.  My personal workouts look nothing like my workouts did in 2002.  Mike Boyle says it take 10,000 hours of research and coaching to become an expert.  I am proud to say I surpassed that mark in 2011.  No, I never played Division 1 college football.   No, I never squatted 450 lbs.   But, yes I have coached/taught people from every possible background and level of ability.

Evolution is a beautiful thing if you take the proper steps and apply what you have learned along the way.  I wonder where I will be in 2022?   Perhaps back to pressing a chair in my basement.

Friday, April 20, 2012

My Strength Training Biography - Part 1

I see around 40 - 80 middle and high school kids per week at the gym. It has become very easy for me to identify the teen who has been training poorly and eating poorly. Why? Because I was the same kid. Hell, I was that guy up until the age of 24! How did I get to where I am now? Lets take a look at a chronological history of my strength training.

From the ages of 5 - 13, I was a good athlete. Whether it was baseball, golf, football, basketball or tennis - I picked it up quickly and was usually better than all my friends at it. I played so much that there was no way that I was eating near enough calories to grow muscle. I was skinny and my lack of strength caught up to me at 14. My diet of Poptarts for breakfast, God knows what for lunch and Bob Evans sausage for dinner was not quite putting the mass on me.

My parents didn't let me play football, so being skinny was not a huge deal in junior high basketball or baseball. In fact, my dad DISCOURAGED any form of strength training. He is a great man, but taking strength training advice from an accountant is like letting a strength coach do your taxes. I can remember him telling me, " That muscle will just turn to fat. You don't want to lift weights it is bad for you." Hmm. I didn't believe it and I decided to take matters into my own hands. This is where it all started for me. A wooden chair, my dad's 14 pound bowling ball and anything else that had some weight to it. I would put the chair upside down against a wall in my basement and then would stack the bowling ball and other stuff on the bottom of the seat. Then I would lay under it and press it - pretty much a terrible version of a floor press. Oh well, I was getting jacked! I would then take the bowling ball and curl it a few times. Forget the legs, I was all upper body!

I can vividly remember playing football in my friends yard the summer before my freshman year in high school. This is when it call caught up to me. I was usually the best player on the field - we won't get into why my parents didn't let me play actual football. On that day, my knees felt like someone was jamming knives into them. I couldn't run. I couldn't even jog. What the hell happened to me? I was worthless athletically. With a few months before freshman basketball tryouts, this became a concern. My mom took me to a doctor and he basically said I was weak and it was time to start strengthening my legs. Now this was 1992 so strength training information for youth was very limited. The doc told me to start lifting 1 lb soup cans for leg extensions! Even to a 14 year old, the thought sounded ridiculous.

At the same time I made the freshman basketball team by wearing neoprene knee braces and running up and down the court like Patrick Ewing, I also decided to join the high school football weight lifting club. BIGGER, FASTER, STRONGER baby! I paid my 10 bucks and got my book from the football coach. It worked out great because basketball was at 430 so I could lift and then go to practice.

The first day I headed down to the weight room with my friend and had no idea what to expect. There were about 40 other kids, most of them varsity football players. We started with bench. I did 65 for 10 reps. I felt pretty good about that because my only other benching experience was with the chair in my basement. At some point that first week, we also squatted and cleaned. I am sure it was ugly as I could not have possibly possessed the hip mobility and strength necessary to do those exercises correctly. Soon after, I started to shy away from those exercises because I knew I wasn't doing them right and my back was hurting.   Nautilus leg extensions for me  - no soup cans!

Here is where it gets weird. My freshman basketball coach came down into the weight room and said " Kozak, you are not to be lifting for football during basketball!"

Me: I don't play football

Coach: It doesn't matter, you are not to be lifting before practice. You are benched.

That's right, I was benched for trying to get stronger in my free time before practice!!

Now I didn't play much anyways, so it really wasn't a terrible punishment. My mom got a note from the doctor the next week and I gave it to coach. He then apologized to me in front of the team and started me the next game! Great coaching huh.

Basketball passed and I began to solely focus on the lifting. Testing was done on a monthly basis and I was all about the bench. I got my freshman max up to 145lbs by the end of spring. The football coach used to say, " Kozak, you are gonna be the world's strongest golfer." (I was also on the golf team and there is no reason to elaborate on that pitiful experience.) When it came time to max on clean and squats, I was nowhere to be found.

When summer came I began to freak out because I could not go to the high school weight room with the football team. I begged my mom to let me buy a weight set from the store up the street. I had an adjustable bench, a 25lb bar, about 100lbs in plates and small bars that I could make DBs out of. Of course the bench had a leg extension/curl attachment on it. I hit those weights hard. I had no idea what I was doing, but I was getting stronger and a little bigger. Sometimes I would have my little sister spot me - talk about serious training! By the fall, I had to go to the store to by 2 more 25lb plates.

After my sophomore year of basketball, I emerged from my basement and returned to the high school weight room with a vengeance. My bench max was 205! What! I could dress for the varsity football games if I actually played. Yes, sadly benching over 200 was the only factor used to determine who was on JV and who played under the lights. I tried to go back to squatting but I still sucked.  I had skinny legs and no ass and no hope of learning how to squat properly.  My pride and joy was that was my top 10 rating on pound for pound bench (bench press max / body weight).

Junior year went on in the same fashion except I no longer played hoops. Sadly, I was golf only. Our golf team was so bad that I was our best player and often times the team we played had 6 guys better than me.

In Part 2 we will look at my post high school lifting until I actually learned how to lift.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Evolving as a Strength Coach

Like any other occupation, you either evolve as a strength coach or you dissolve. People who trained with me in 2005 might be shocked to see the things that we are doing none of right now at Soar. I took today's blog to write about 5 training concepts I used to use frequently and don't use at all now.

1. Jumpsoles.

I actually decided to start training people back in 2001 because I bought a pair of Jumpsoles and saw immediate results. What I did not realize it that is was more due to the actual exercises and not the shoes. I don't think Jumpsoles are bad or dangerous, I just don't think they are necessary anymore. Plus, it took a ton of time for kids to take them on and off.

2. Crunches, Sit - ups or any kind of spinal twisting or flexing.

This is a widely debated topic in the world of strength and conditioning. The guys I follow and highly respect (Boyle, McGill and Weingroff to name a few) say that repeated flexing of the spine will eventually lead to back pain. I have not found any reason to go back to the traditional crunch and sit up.

Here is a good analogy. Stand up and put yourself into a position that you would be in if you were finishing a sit up or crunch. Is that good posture? Does and athlete look like that? Should anyone be performing any exercise that ends with that position?

3. Upright rows

The upright row with a straight bar is a staple in any commercial training center. Hell, I used to them every week when I was younger. Eric Cressey, a strength coach that I consider an expert on shoulder health, makes the point that upright rows lock the humeral head in to internal rotation thus increases impingement. If you want to hit the traps, dead lift, shrug and carry heavy stuff. If you want to eventually have some shoulder pain, keep pulling that bar under your chin.

4. Forced Reps

Slow grinding reps are basically like spinning your car tires in the mud and standing on your gas pedal. They kill your system and your workouts. Finish every rep of every set with good technique. If your spotter on bench press is pulling the bar off your chest, then you are making your spotter do and upright row......and I just said we don't do upright rows anymore! Respect your spotter and your body!

Get stronger with quality reps!

5. Mindless amounts of Agility Ladder Drills

There was a time when regardless of who you were, we started every session with agility ladder footwork. Then we did agility ladder hops. BLAH BLAH BLAH BORING! Ladder work is not necessarily a bad thing but there comes a point when you just simply can't get any better at the ladder. In reality, it is a secondary warm up. Great for footwork and great for coordination but worthless for learning how to put force into the ground. Currently, it is used 1 - 2x per week for warm - up purposes.

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