When it comes to training, there is no substitute for experience, as we all learn by doing. If you don’t experiment with various protocols, you’ll never know what (and why) a particular method is most effective. It is one thing to read about training, but it’s entirely different to get your hands dirty and find out for yourself.
“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” – Confucius
Throughout the years, I’ve been fortunate to work with several influential coaches and mentors. These men (listed below) were instrumental in my development as an athlete and coach. Unfortunately, I’ve also heard others falsely claim influence on me. For this reason, I would like to officially thank my primary influences within this informal piece. I’ve also included some pictures of me from earlier in my life. Most come from the early and mid 1990’s. Now in my 30’s, I still find it hard to believe that some of these pictures were over half a life time ago. Time flies when you are having fun…
Perhaps my greatest influence is New London Sports Hall of Fame member and Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame member Rollie Pier. Rollie has been involved in the sport of boxing longer than most of us have been alive. I was fortunate to train with Rollie for several years. He trained me, worked my corner, and taught me life lessons that I’ll pass on to my children. We trained at the gym, and often in his basement on the weekends. Rollie opened his doors to me. He showed me that old school is often far better than any new school invention. I can still remember him buying a new head gear at age 75. He needed it to move around the ring with the younger amateur fighters. I’m almost certain that Rollie has a secret anti-aging device. He’s still active and will likely never slow down.
Below are some pictures from the past. Rollie is busy working the corner in this early 1990’s bout.
And here we are training at Gleason’s Gym in New York City (also in the early 1990’s).
John “The Iceman” Scully
Another primary influence in my life is former world title challenger John Scully. John has been involved in the sport of boxing for over 25 years, and is currently one of the top trainers in the sport today. I have been fortunate to know John for more than half of my life. Below are a few gym shots of me and John from MANY years ago when I was a young (and lightweight) teen. I’m surprised I didn’t blow away in the wind!
John too had a tremendous influence on my life (in and out of the ring). Fast forwarding 15+ years later, we are still in the gym together, and have trained some of the same professional fighters.
Here we are in the corner enjoying a victory in North Dakota:
And here we are at a West Palm Beach training camp with heavyweight champion Vladimir Klitschko:
Harry Figueroa was another significant influence in my life. Harry was a master of low tech training methods. He often had me cutting wood, pushing heavy wheel barrows, lifting and carrying logs, etc. This was long before odd object training became commonplace. Harry’s low tech methods would be considered state of the art breakthroughs by many today. As a youngster, I never thought of it that way. It was just hard work that was common to us fighters.
After his boxing gym was shut down, Harry began training me in the basement of the Village Heights housing project. We didn’t have any equipment, aside from a few bags. Fighters sparred in the basement with no ring. You had to stay off the ropes, as the ropes were cement walls. Yet despite such an antiquated environment, we did very well and were always in top condition to fight. Harry definitely taught me the “never gymless” mentality.
Below are some old pictures of us training in the basement.
Yet another influence on my development as an athlete and trainer is the late Pepe Vasquez. Pepe gave new meaning to intensity. As a former pro fighter and stand out wrestler, Pepe knew exactly what it took to get a fighter in peak condition. Perhaps his most notable work was with two time world champion Marlon Starling (who I was also fortunate to train with). Those familiar with Starling’s career will certainly remember his destruction over former world champion Lloyd Honeyghan in 1989 (when Starling won the WBC title).
If you watch the tape, you’ll notice one of the trainers (Pepe) jumping into the ring after the bout was stopped. The energy and joy that he expressed in Starling’s victory was with him every day. There were no easy training sessions with Pepe. He always pushed the envelope. Working one on one with Pepe opened my eyes to what real training was all about. There are some lessons that you can’t learn in a book. Pepe got up in your face and taught lessons the old fashioned way.
I was devastated at Pepe’s unexpected death a few years ago. I had spoken with him on the phone just days before. I’m glad to say the lessons he taught me at the San Juan Center boxing gym still live on today, and will never die.
Cisco Zayas also had a unique influence on me. He too worked my corner for many fights, and taught me many old tricks at the San Juan Center. If there was a trick or loop hole that could help, Cisco would figure it out. He was as old school as they come, and always put out good fighters.
Kent Ward (who trains fighters at Strike Zone MMA) is yet another influential mentor to me. I was fortunate to train with Kent at his old gym in Waterford. Kent is now in his 60’s and still stronger and better conditioned than most men half his age. He (along with Rollie Pier) showed me that old school is often the best school. He’s the type of person that you want with you if sh*t ever hits the fan. He’s strong, knowledgeable, tough, and a great person to learn from. I soaked up all the knowledge that I could from him.
Another influence in my life comes from someone that I’ve never actually met. His name is Jack Lalanne, and I’d be honored to meet him. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with this blog. I’ve referenced many of Jack’s old videos on this site. He was a true fitness pioneer. We can all learn from Jack. His message was both sincere and truthful. You can literally feel his passion through his screen. That’s what you call real passion. It doesn’t die. Even Jack’s old videos still hit home with truth and passion. His message wasn’t about dollars and cents. It’s about helping others improve. Jack still tells it like it is, and still walks the walk.
Despite these tremendous influences and my formal education, there were still many lessons in life that I had to learn on my own. The hand problems that I experienced as a young fighter are a prime example. Everyone told me to rest my hand, but I was too impatient and ignorant. I kept returning to action too soon, even after repeated fractures. Looking back, the mistakes that I made are as clear as day. At the time, I never saw it that way however. Hindsight is definitely 20/20. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t figure this out until it was too late.
I’ve had to learn many lessons on my own, such as the importance of patience. Patience is something that I never had. Over the years, I’ve matured, and am amazed at the countless mistakes that I made as a youngster. Perhaps it is a blessing in disguise however. I now have the best job in the world. I thoroughly enjoy training and developing athletes. It is my sincere hope that I can help others avoid making the same mistakes that I once made (I made enough for all of us).
Knowledge Is Power
Experience is something that you don’t buy or find in a book. You either have it or you don’t, and it must be earned through years of hard work. Experience alone is not enough however. We must also be active in our search for new information. This is one reason why I spend so much time researching the human body. No one is born with knowledge. It is something that we must acquire. A week does not pass without me reading books, training journals, scientific literature, etc. The search for knowledge is never ending.
Below are a few resources that I have found useful. Clearly, this is a condensed list, as I literally have hundreds of books in my library, but hopefully this brief list will prove useful to some. I will likely update this list in the future when time permits (time is limited with the new baby)
Sandowplus.co.uk – Tremendous website with countless books from generations before us. Whether you are interested in one hand barbell lifts, kettlebells, isometrics, gymnastics, etc., you’ll find it here. As you read through this site, it won’t take long for you to realize that much of what is marketed as new in today’s era is everything but new.
The Canadian Athletics Coaching Centre – Another tremendous site, particularly for those interested in sports science. Be sure to scroll though the various categories on the left side of the page. Expect to find detailed research papers from those such as Bondarchuk, Verkhoshansky, Zatsiorsky, and more.
Ultimate Athlete Concepts – Great source for hard to find books (ex. translated material from Yuri Verkhoshansky). Those who enjoy the material from The Canadian Athletics site, will also enjoy the material available through Ultimate Athlete Concepts.
Site of Yuri Verkhoshansky – The official site of Yuri Verkhoshansky. We can all learn from his knowledge and experience. His material and research is truly first class.
Dr. Yessis – Home to the Dr. Yessis website, this is a valuable training resource. You can also order past editions of The Fitness and Sports Review International (formerly known as the Soviet Sports Review). These journals (published from 1966 to 1994) are loaded with valuable research (much of which is still largely unknown to many of today’s athletes and coaches).
Development of the Russian Conjugate Sequence System – Great resource that is free to read at Elitefts.com.
Westside Barbell – If you want to get stronger, Louie Simmons is one man that you can learn from. Refer to the Articles section of his site for loads of material that could literally fill an entire book.
PubMed – Great source if you are looking to research various journals
Supertraining by Mel Siff – Supertraining is perhaps the best training/research book that I’ve ever read. Any serious coach or trainer should read this book. I’ve gone through this book so many times that my copy is literally covered with highlighters, sticky notes, random notes in the margins, etc. The book looks like it has been through a war zone. I wouldn’t trade this book for any other.
Facts and Fallacies by Mel Siff – Another superb book by the late Mel Siff, as he tears through all of the misinformation that has infected the fitness industry. This book is a “lighter” read when compared to Supertraining.
Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky and William Kraemer – This book is right up there with Supertraining. It is another tremendous reference that should be on the shelves of all serious coaches and trainers.
Exercise Physiology: Energy, Nutrition, and Human Performance by McArdle, Katch and Katch (Victor and Frank) – For those interested in the how and why, this book is tough to beat. This is a HUGE text that will take some time to digest completely.
Designing Resistance Training Programs-3rd Edition by William Kraemer and Steven Fleck is a tremendous reference manual with research regarding an endless list of sports training topics.
Science of Sports Training by Thomas Kurz – This book is often forgotten, but actually contains loads of useful material, particularly dealing with many Eastern European training methods. Definitely serves as a useful reference.
Russian Texts – This link will bring you to many translated Russian manuals, all available through Elitefts.com. There are several excellent titles from authors such as Verkhoshansky, Medvedyev, Bondarchuk, and Roman. I’ve enjoyed reading through almost all of these translated texts.
Wrestling Physical Conditioning Encyclopedia by John Jesse – This is an excellent read for anyone interested in combat sports. This book is difficult to find (for purchase), but is available at most large libraries. It is well worth the read, even for pure enjoyment (it is not as technical as many of the titles listed above). Despite the 1974 publish date, this book references many (so-called) new methods such as sandbag training, functional isometrics, gymnastic appartus exercises, grip training, etc. After reading this book, you’ll realize that much of what many believe to be new, is everything but new (see The Endless Search for a related discussion).
Whether you are working with a new coach, or reading through new material, it is useful to follow the advice from Bruce Lee (who I also consider an influence):
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own”
Growing up around the influences listed above, I became somewhat of a sponge. I absorbed everything that I could from each person, and eventually formulated my own thoughts and methods. This is where experience in the gym becomes invaluable. Not everything will be useful to everyone. We must all find our own path, and once you find it, expect to reach several forks in the road. There is no comfort zone. Your best, my best, and “the” best is, and always will be, a moving target. Be prepared to evolve and grow (in many ways) if you wish to find this target.
I’ll add more to this entry in the future when time permits.