How I Discovered The Importance of Strength Training

I’ve always been an athlete. I started playing basketball when I was five or six years old in my local YMCA league. I played through junior varsity in high school, when I got sick of the coaching staff and quit. I started running track and playing football (for two years) in middle school, and I even tried wrestling (hated it).

Eventually, I started playing ultimate with my friends during free periods and after lunch. First, we played with an aerobie before getting a Wham-O. We entered a local tournament in Albuquerque the summer before my junior year of high school — we were just a ragtag bunch, but we had a lot of fun and met Jerry, who wanted to be our coach. We started a high school team that upcoming spring.

In many ways, I feel like a pretty typical ultimate player. Played middle and high school sports, but never really stood out. Discovered ultimate and loved it. Started playing more and more ultimate, especially in college.

One thing that was never much a part of my sports participation until many years later was strength training. I did plenty of sprint work in track and field, and I was lucky to be naturally fast. I was the fastest 8th grader in Albuquerque in the 100 meter dash.

My high school had what was, looking back, a really nice weight room. Along with the usual machines and racks, it had Olympic lifting platforms, boxes for jumping, and a scary-looking monster lifter of a coach who was the sweetest guy on campus.

There were specified gym days for track, but I was never really that into it. I think I was intimidated by the lifts, and I also grew up at a time when people thought that if you lifted weights as a young teenager that you would stunt your growth (super false).

I started getting more serious about lifting as a junior in college. I was abroad in Argentina that year, and we had plenty of time to get to the gym. I just went with my buddies from the ultimate team (there were three of us in Buenos Aires) and we bopped around doing a lot of bench press and not many squats. I also went to a boxing gym where I couldn’t understand anyone’s street spanish and I learned what an actually hard workout was.

Back in New York as a captain at NYU, I was lifting more and more. I had read Tim Ferriss’ book “A Four Hour Body,” which has a chapter about getting really strong by just deadlifting and bench pressing with box jumps and plyo pushups as assistance exercises. So, that’s what I did! Pretty unsophisticated, but, honestly, you could do a lot worse, especially considering that we were playing a lot and doing a lot of sprinting and conditioning at practices and team workouts.

Still, though, I didn’t really know what I was doing.

I really got serious about weight training when I took a job in Abu Dhabi after I graduated from college. This was the year before I started Ultiworld. I had access to two different gyms in my apartment building (also where our dining hall was), so I trained and ate as much as I could. Four days a week of Starting Strength, squats every workout, and a crazy diet. I was drinking about ¾ of a gallon of whole milk a day for a while and eating six egg omelets for breakfast. I once ordered eight lamb rib chops from the grill for dinner (to be fair, they were fairly small) and the cooks laughed and laughed.

It turns out that if you lift like a crazy person, get a ton of sleep, and eat like that, you’re going to make a lot of progress. My lifts shot up.

After a couple months, the weather cooled off and I found a local pickup ultimate group and started playing. I had barely thrown a disc for six months, and I wasn’t doing any running or conditioning at all. And, yet, I was playing the best ultimate I’d ever played. I felt stronger, faster, much more explosive. I was getting open more easily. I just felt good on the field.

I realized what I had been missing out on. All those years of playing without taking weight training seriously. In six months, I’d literally improved without playing a second of ultimate.

I was hooked. But I soon grew tired of Starting Strength, which features (intentionally) a grueling schedule and very little variety. Squatting every workout was becoming a real mental and physical chore.

So I switched it up. I tried out Crossfit workouts for a while (from the main site). I initially really liked the variety but quickly found the workouts to be too all over the place. There was no steady progress on primary lifts — there was too much zigging and zagging and 30 clean and jerks.

Eventually, I stumbled across Crossfit Football, which blended standard barbell lifts with varied accessory training and hard conditioning. It looked very little like regular Crossfit. It was awesome.

I started coaching some of my friends and a few of the students. I started reading more and more about strength science. I moved back to New York in 2012 and launched Ultiworld. I worked out in a crappy box gym in Brooklyn for a few years as I was getting increasingly interested in learning about training.

In 2014, I attended a Crossfit Football seminar and got certified. In late 2015, I passed the test from the National Strength and Conditioning Association to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). I now regularly attend strength clinics and workshops and keep up with the latest science.

Although I still play a bit of league ultimate, I don’t have as much time to devote to playing as I used to since I travel a lot for Ultiworld. Athletically, I’ve been more focused lately on powerlifting. I hit my goal late last year of a >1000 pound total across squat (365), deadlift (405), and bench (255).

My training won’t look quite like what you’ll be doing — raw numbers aren’t the goal as an ultimate athlete, of course — but I am thrilled to finally be launching Breakside Strength and Conditioning with Pat Kelsey, as I can’t wait to help other ultimate players reach their goals on the field.

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