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12 REAL Fitness Professionals You Need to Know

Posted Oct 29 2012 9:44am

 When trying to get fit or help others do the same, quality information can be hard to come by.  For many, the go to source is Google.  More often than not, that will lead you to a series of mind-numbing websites featuring scantily clad “professionals” touting their own product or their best buddy’s website. 

To help you forgo that regrettable experience altogether, I have compiled a list of fitness pros who have had a profound impact on my approach to fitness, as both a trainer and athlete.  They have shaped my training and personal philosophies, forever altering the way I think about fitness and life.  As a way of thanking them, and sharing some excellent resources with you, here’s the list. 

Through Mountain Athlete, Rob Shaul has revolutionized fitness for adventure athletes.  But, you don’t have to be a rock climber or backcountry skier to benefit from what Rob has to offer. The full-body strength and well-rounded fitness his training produces can benefit any athlete or exerciser.  And, while other training programs promise those same results, Rob’s approach is much more thoughtful and thorough; “We believe in purposeful, planned, periodized, and progressed training.  We refrain from emotional investment to any one session or lift. Emotion leads to arrogance…and injury.”

What can I say; he had me at the 4 P’s.  And, as if that was not enough, he has also set out to transform the physical preparation and capabilities of our military men and women at Military Athlete.

You know the phrase; “a wealth of knowledge?” That’s how I would describe Dan John.  An athlete, coach, author, and speaker, he is truly a modern day Renaissance man.  I am always impressed, informed, and entertained by the way he is able to transform an article on Olympic lifting into a philosophical framework for lifting and life .   But, I guess that’s what you can expect from a guy who holds Masters Degrees in History and Religious Studies.

If you know of Twight it is because he is the founder of Gym Jones where the actors from the movie 300 trained.  Or, you might have heard that he tried to knockoff CrossFit (something everyone who exercises is doing since Greg Glassman invented “fitness”.)  But, if that is all you know about him, prepare to be informed and offended.  The epitome of an extremist, Twight lived, and nearly died more than once, while climbing some of the most dangerous mountains in the world.  Applying that relentless approach to strength and conditioning, he is an unapologetic elitist seeking to transform the mind in order to train the body. 

Yes, his workouts have pushed me beyond my physical limits on more than one occasion.  But, as an author, he has reoriented my perspective on topics far more transformative than fitness.  Check out his website , articles, or books if you need some help talking yourself out of what society is telling you you should do, become, or believe.   

Ever wonder how an NFL player preps for the combine? That’s easy, they go see Mark Verstegen at Athletes Performance.  How’s this for a ringing endorsement; 14 players who trained at Athletes Performance were selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.  That list includes the first 4 picks overall. Legit!  But, Verstegen can teach fitness professionals a few things as well.  At his facilities he has brought in the best and brightest to manage everything from fitness and nutrition to media relations and career longevity for athletes.  It’s this inclusive approach that I have drawn upon during my own career. 

So, here’s the rundown on Coach Dos; he has a Master’s Degree in Kinesiology, is a certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Weightlifting Club Coach, and one of 100 trainers in the world who hold the title Master Strength and Conditioning Coach.  Are you impressed? Because you should be.  No doubt that his training articles have been invaluable, but his diet has made me rethink how an athlete should eat.  Carrying 245 lbs on an athletic frame Coach Dos, a vegan, does eat a ton of soy and no animal products.  So, about that soy being bad for you thing?

Have a chronic injury that is affecting your ability to exercise or compete?  Well then Kelly Starrett is your new best friend.  Using his blog, Mobility WOD, I have been able to identify and correct a number of issues related to mobility, flexibility, and functional deficiencies.  Addressing an often overlooked aspect of any training regimen, Starrett, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, will guide you through prehab, rehab, and general maintenance practices aimed at “resolving pain, preventing injury, and optimizing athletic performance.”

Are you into MMA, or at least pretend to be in the gym?  If you want to train like the pros or just add a new level of intensity to your workouts, John Hackleman is your guy.  He is the founder of The Pit , a backyard gym turned successful business with two locations and CrossPit affiliates popping up in 12 states.  During a training session you might wield a sledgehammer, flip a tire, do some bag work or suffer through hill repeats.  Sound like fun? UFC superstar Chuck Liddell thinks so; Hackleman has trained him since the early 90’s. 

Over at his blog, Mark presents an approach to fitness, nutrition, and well-being based on a primal blueprint ; or as he puts it “eat, move, and live according to how humans are designed and not according to society’s artificial developments of the last 100 years.”  Yes, he is “paleo,” but not in an obnoxious and obsessive way that will give you a migraine.  Instead, he writes from a place that is refreshingly honest and well researched.  Read his blog and you will find yourself questioning most everything you eat and the effectiveness of your workout routine, at least that’s what I experience on a daily basis. 

If you call yourself an endurance athlete and do not know of Joe Friel, you have a lot of learning to do.  Although his writing and techniques are advanced and scientific, they are also invaluable to anyone looking to train and compete in any endurance sport.  Don’t believe me?  Maybe one of his 12 books , including the “Training Bible” series can persuade you otherwise. 

In the same vein as Rob Shaul and Mark Twight, the team at Atomic Athlete has won me over.  Led by Jake Saenz, former Army Special Ops, and Rob Shaul disciple Tod Moore, Atomic Athlete combines the training philosophy of Military Athlete with the foundations of CrossFit.  Their goal?  Use “Fluid Periodization” to “enhance performance outside of the gym;” because “fitness is not a sport” to them.  (Imagine that!)

Atomic Athlete also receives the award for the fittest beard; props Tod Moore

Need to get your nutrition in check? Then you need to check out what John Berardi is doing over at Precision Nutrition.  If you are anything like me, you might have dreamed of having access to a nutritionist who works with the pros.  Well, John is that guy.  He has more Degrees, publications, and qualifications than I can list.  But, what’s more impressive is how he is able to distill the need-to-know information, making it accessible and bearable for anyone willing to commit and do the work.  

In stark contrast to the preceding entry, Berkhan is lacking in the professional training department.  That said it is hard to argue with the results his nutritional protocol produces; just have a look at him and the clients he works with.  Lean Gains uses the practice of intermittent fasting, where an individual does not eat from 9pm until after training around noon the next day.  Countering the long held beliefs like a mandatory breakfast, small meals throughout the day, and the fear of using muscle for energy, Berkhan was so convincing that I adopted intermittent fasting with a great deal of success.  (However, I have since returned to a more conventional diet)  I am certainly not saying that intermittent fasting is for everyone, but I do think you might learn something if you spend some time on his site. 

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