Finding your path
For as far as I can remember, training, weight lifting and fighting was a part of my life, always in my head. I was fascinated by bodybuilders and was even drawing some huge bulging muscles on my cartoons. I think it started one Christmas when I was about 5 or 6 years old, I got as a gift some little iron cast warriors with legs made of metal and a shirtless upper body full of muscles. Although I tried to find them in memorabilia/vintage stores, I never could found them again.
At years 7-8 years old, I bought my first muscle mag magazine. It was a local strongman/bodybuilding local newspaper style magazine. I even think that I practiced reading with these kinds of magazines as well as Tintin and Archie’s.
I started doing martial arts and loved the physiques of Bruce Lee and especially Jean- Claude Van Damme. After watching the Movie No Retreat no surrender, it really got serious. In that movie, the spirit of his Idol, which was Bruce Lee, during his martial arts practice, followed the main character. He was left to fight a crime syndicate, which the leader was a deadly martial art master named Yvan played by Van Damme.
His dad, an old martial artist who won many championships didn’t want his son to go the same road. He got everything he needed to train in his garage and followed his passion on his own, with the help of his idol, Bruce Lee. The final battle against Yvan, impressed the hell out of me with Van Damme’s strength and flexibility, but not as much as his physique.
So I did the exact same thing as the kid in the movie. Asked my parents to buy me a punching bag and some weights. Even though the request sounded weird, they were not that surprised. They knew that I had an interest in training since I loved martial arts and those muscle magazines were almost everywhere in the house. I had to put everything in the old unheated garage. So summers were excruciating and winters were freezing cold. It never stopped me nonetheless. At 12, I had no freaking clue what I was doing so I did what I read at that time, routines of bodybuilders of that era. Leg trainings of Tom Platz, chest routines of Arnolds and the arm routine of Mike Matarrazzo. I don’t have to tell you how crazy those workout were but it worked. I had a benchpress, barbell and plastic covered old Weider weights.
My godfather was a Judoka and trained a lot. So when he saw that I was interested in lifting weights, he gave me a program. I thought that I was going to have a kick ass program made by a pro. Here I was looking for a crazy ass program, worst than the magazines and with all the possible exercises for chest and arms, all I had was…wait for it….wait for it…
Chin-ups for as many reps as possible
That’s all folks. I said to myself, screw that crap, too easy for the ‘’advanced lifter’’ that I thought I was, so let’s keep it with magazine workouts. I let it settle in and gave it a try anyway. I said to myself, maybe he is testing me like Bruce did.
The ghost of Bruce Lee tested that kid in the movie. He is giving me all the cheap ass exercises to leave him alone or prove him I am worth his time. So I stuck to it. It wasn’t a fairy tale or what you would imagine. I trained, not regularly but still was going at it maybe twice a week. Up until I hit 14 years old, I stuck with variations of his workouts, plus the occasional arms and chest workouts in between martial arts sessions.
As I went along in those two years, the more I did that program, the more it kicked my ass. I really got a lot stronger and by 14, I needed a lot more weights for squats and bench press. My godfather gave me some of his weights. So my max squat was about 200 lbs and benched almost the same. I was driven to lift as heavy as I could, but didn’t give a shit about the reps. Heavy and that was it.
I guess I had a decent shape for a young 15 year old shmuck, at least, that’s what my friends and family were saying. But something clicked. I got involved into track and field, and was busting school records with 100 meters, javelin and discus, which were my main and favorite events. In high school, you could always find me in the weight room. I was already writing out programs for my friends and they tried to follow me. You could always find me trying anything that could be as heavy as we could find. I loaded the barbell with all the weight I could find in the weight room (which was a shit load for my little 15 year old ego, maybe 600 pounds) and tried to squat it. First time, I did 1/10 knee bending squats a few times, just lifting the weight off the hooks, and it was the hardest shit I did (and the stupidest) because I still remember my legs shaking and everyone looking at me. Thankfully, I only did that a few times. After that, one of the teachers, who competed in Mr. Canada years ago, took me under his wing and showed me the proper way to train.
Guess what type of workout he gave me? I, Again, thought he would give me a workout à la Lee Haney including everything to trash legs, arms and especially chest since he is a former physique competitor. Well, look at that…
Benchpress dumbbell 4×6-8
Pull ups 4 x max
Cross bench pullovers 4×15
Close grip benchpress incline 4×6-8
Standing barbell curl 4×6-8
Back squats 4×20
Romanian deadlifts 4×6-8
Calf raises 3×50
That’s it. I did not say a word and complied. Although I read different school of thoughts about training, I knew I had something that fits my needs. Even though it was short, the program still stuck to basics, which I have to say, really started liking. Especially for track, everything I did, that I didn’t know at that time, had a purpose. Little did I know that both of these trainings were going to be what forged my basic strength and set my pace for the rest of my life.
On top of going to my high school weight lifting room, I decided at 16 years old to get a membership in a gym. Most serious gym in the area were 18 years old and older membership only, so I got stuck going into a shit hole of a gym where a lot of wankers went. However, it had all the necessities, dumbells from 5 to 120 lbs, barbells, benchpresses, Atlantis first generation machines and that’s it. The owner gave me a hard time because I was only 16, but since I had somewhat of a shape and told him that I could take care of myself with no problems. 200$ bucks later, I started training in the gym 2 hours a day 6 days a week.
After a few months, I suddenly became the familiar face in the gym, knew everyone and what they were doing in the gym. I made quick money by doing programs for guys and girls on the side, which gave me a descent sideline that I loved doing. Being in the gym all night and going towards physical education, didn’t bother me at all. I worked and had a presence in many gyms around my area by the age of 18 and was making decent money because of it. The more time I spent in the gym, the more I knew it was my calling, especially with all the great comments from my programs and seeing people walk funny after my sessions, I loved it.
The school thing was great, but when I started Phys. Ed., I had a totally different view of what it was and saw the true side of it. Learning the basics on how to make kids move by playing sports and how to keep the elders healthy by making them active, was not what I had in mind at all. So I decided to do my own research and enroll in the P.N.C.E. (formerly known as the Trainers National Certifcation Program), which was the best program available at that time. I met a few coaches along the way and became friends with trainers, who introduced me to Charles Poliquin. I read about him and followed his work in Muscle media 2000 where he had a monthly column.
I met him for the first time at a seminar. He showed us his structural balance for upper body. I was probably the smallest in the room. Guys like my friend Larry Vinette were there, big bodybuilders, coaches and me the little coach. He asked for someone to be tested on the bench and my friend pushed me to take a step forward. Needless to say, I had to deliver the goods. We had to wait 3 minutes between the sets and at each set, I was sitting on the bench at 14:45 sharp and Charles said: we have a very good coach here. I think my bench has instantly increased by 50lbs. The bar was still exploding at 235 and Charles looked at me and said, how much can you bench? I told him that I could do a lot more. I ended up with a max out of 370lbs and an eccentric of 10 seconds at 410lbs, I think I weighed 170 or 175 at that time. He said: “We have in front of us a very well trained person”. From that day on, I knew that was what I wanted to do.
A few months later, I had an offer to become a night manager in a gym about 30 minutes away from my house that I took in a heartbeat. This was to this day, the best gym I ever worked in. Everything you hear about the brother/sister hood of Iron in olden times with legendary bodybuilders like Arnold and Franco in Venice beach, this gym had the exact same vibe. I had an unlimited access to anything I wanted in the gym and was taking care of everything.
This place was where I found my muse, validated my calling. I got there around 9 am and closed the gym at 11pm at night, 5 days a week. I often found myself there, one day out of two and the weekends. My best gyms memories were built there and I wish that someday, I could be able to reproduce the exact same gym. Unfortunately, the owner was involved in some “other” activities that finally cost him the gym.
After that blow, I had to find another gym to work in, although I had to start everything from scratch since there wasn’t any decent gym near there. After a few gyms, I landed in a gym called Metropolis gym where I stayed and built most part of my business and reputation that I have today. I also found my niche, who I love to work with and perfected my art. I had an office for almost 10 years in that gym and experienced a lot of what not and what to do in this business. I went from floor trainer to gym manager to personal trainer, which was what I spent most of my time doing over there. I hired and fired people, got some partner in and out of my business, worked on my people skills tremendously and understood one of THE most über important factor there is to master in the training business, if you don’t like what you are doing, get the hell out. I lost a few clients, did many mistakes, coaching and personal mistakes. I learned from every one of them and moved on.
After about ten years, the energy changed in the gym, we heard rumors of closing or moving, one of the owner wanted to bail out and many other rumors. No one likes negative rumors, especially when your own personal business is involved. At that time, I had another partner who was sharing an office and we decided to look for our own place. We wanted to start a personal training center, where we would bring our present clientele, which consisted of mainly executives and amateur athletes.
We decided to spend a few weeks of internship in Arizona at Charles Poliquin’s performance center. We had known each other for a long time and he knew what I could do. So one day, sitting at the desk writing notes, I saw a big tall guy come in and warm up. Then Charles came in and said “go train him, here’s the program.” If you know Charles, you’re better off doing your FN job. I did not know who it was, but after training, he told me it was Chris Hetherington of the NFL. I see another big guy, who had the NBA written on his face, then Charles told me the same thing. “Go get it big”. The stress was at its highest level. It was Na’il Diggs. No idea who he was, but what a rush to know afterwards. Charles told me that we were the only ones to have trained his pros.
A few months later, we had a silent investor ready to put in some money for us and I also had a personal friend who wanted to get in as well. So we decided to get it moving and had the idea of asking Charles Poliquin to franchise his Poliquin performance centers. Although the venture was awesome and I learned so many lessons from Charles and anything related to business, I also learned not to trust anybody and thankfully, Charles was the only one who proved to be reliable and trustworthy in this adventure. 3 years later, we found that the investor tried some little tricks on us and we lost a lot of money in the process. If that wasn’t bad enough, my partner, who was a great friend of mine, tried to slip a fast one on me, trying to destroy my reputation apart. The one person who stuck by me and helped me thru it is Poliquin. I will always be grateful for what he did during those times and he is one of the reasons why I have so much success at what I do for a living.
After that mishap, I was at my lowest. I couldn’t face training people again, even less training myself. I questioned every single workout, how I trained people, how I lost everything, how I could have let this one go, how I could do it again, if I still can, if I still want…
I decided to go work in something completely different, but that I could possibly found better or just another career. I knew someone in the video gaming industry and I needed something fast so to not lose too much money. I was looking for a 9 to 5 job, office work. So why not test out games as a day job? I got in a well-known company called Ubisoft and was in the project team for Rainbow Six Vegas 2. All I wanted is to confirm that my calling was still to be a trainer/coach and it did.
Going to work at 9am, sitting at my desk, looking at a screen filling out reports and having 15 minutes breaks, were most of the guys ate cookies and coffee, playing games in their breaks (still trying to figure that one out) and eating sandwiches with diet cokes for lunch, only to have another 15 minutes break and seeing people run out as soon as their day finished, just confirmed that I can’t have an office job. Add the urgency to make money because I had a new born, lost 30K in the gym and needed to make money to provide for my family, I was stuck, really in a bad place and it was the worst experience as a new father. Not being able to provide for your family is a real nightmare. Writing this brings me back and I still have a hard time spilling out words to describe the experience.
Helping people out, interacting and learning from people, always looking for a better way to help them, researching, training (which I didn’t do for 3 months while working at Ubisoft, my longest time without training, ever) was my life, IS my life.
That’s all I ever did and all I really wanted to do. Those 3 months were the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me and I truly confirmed that coaching and training was my calling. The mishap with the gym and my so called partner/friend made me questioned myself and it came out to one thing, ask the right questions to get the right answers, which I did tenfold.
After Ubisoft, I got myself an office into a big commercial gym again. I thought having more visibility was going to help me get more clients faster. The good thing is that my old clients, all came back and even some of my partner’s, without asking questions. I am very grateful to have such great clientele and friends.
After a few months of working in a big commercial gym, I learned something more about myself. I needed to focus more on my clients, not on getting more people in. There I was, lots of new prospects surrounding me, thinking they would see me train my clients and would obviously want to work with me. I quickly learned that I had to put all my attention on my clients, whose I already have at the moment, not who I would like to work with in a possible future. I did not focus on the right things, which was and should always be a priority, my current clientele. I always did before, but the urgency to get more clients to get back some of the money I lost in my last venture was at that time, another priority.
After realizing that more money might not be ‘’better’’ since more clients means a lot more working time and draining my energy, for what? A few hundreds, or few thousands more a year? I might not make a lot of money, but at least, I will have time to enjoy my life and be able to spend time with my kids, which was one thing I regret the most from my first gym venture since I missed the first two years of my new born son and wasn’t able to help my wonderful wife who was the most understanding. I will never be able to forgive myself.
Some might see success with dollar signs and some see it with contentment, fulfillment and client appreciation. I chose de latest. Since then, I make more money than I ever did and absolutely enjoy every single minute of my day. I get to be anxious to get up in the morning, start my day by spending time with my kids before heading to work. From my first client to my last, there is not one moment I dread working in my fully scheduled day in my private facility. Come back home for diner with my beautiful family and spend some quality time with my loved ones. I must confirm that there is not one minute in my day I am not grateful for.
What I did next was a true testament in my abilities as a personal trainer. I left the big commercial gyms, to go in a private studio setting. I left the comfort of the big visibility thriving and possible clients interactions to a personal training only private studio.
I left the comfortable client visibility for the privacy and harder client referral only based settings. I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that this would be great. Challenging yes, but also one of the best things to do for my immutable laws.
In this type of setting, you can’t mess up. You have to be at the top of your game so people refer you. I am not talking about begging them, not at all. All you should do is your best, do more than expected, and referrals will come your way without even asking. No magic tricks, just plain hard work, Bring results, speak truthfully about what you believe in and do your freakin’ job.
By following my immutable laws, I’ve been able to do what I love, help people out with the best of my abilities and absolutely love my career path. Will I ever be able to own another gym someday? I actually do and it is exactly all I wished for: Private setting, Atlantis equipment and awesome result driven clients and amazing athletes.
If you can find what makes you want to get up in the morning, thriving to be a better and healthier person and in the process, help everyone surrounding you, than I think you have a lot to offer for the fitness, strength coaching, and/or health and conditioning business.