About two years ago, I started training these two guys in the garage of my townhome in North Seattle. All we had were some crappy Costco-style barbells, Weider plates, and an unused power cage that I bought off bodybuilding.com. The place couldn’t have been more than 14 feet wide, 35 feet long, and 8 feet tall, leaving no room for overhead pressing unless you took the barbell outside (which we often did).
Yet we got a lot of our best work done there. Both Jack and Eli were rank novices, and I was restarting a real strength program, so we all made pretty good linear progress doing some basic compound lifting. I had been training Eli for years prior to that point as his pitching coach, and he brought along Jack for the ride.
Occasionally, we’d get outside and play with some new toys. I contracted with a welder on Craigslist and had our weight sled custom-built for us. I bought a pair of EliteFTS Blast Straps, and we used them to pull the sled across the wet grass at the local park. We paired sled push/pull circuits with plate carries to simulate farmer’s walks (I wouldn’t get a pair of real farmer’s walks until over a year later), two-handed swings with plates on an adjustable dumbbell to simulate kettlebells (a recent addition to our facility), and other creative fitness / metabolic conditioning movements.
At the time, I was developing some pretty good strength levels, albeit at a pretty high bodyweight (260 lbs, 6’1″). I was able to deadlift 505 and back squat 455. I had to make a choice: Continue to play baseball, or think about training as a powerlifter/strongman. I eventually decided to drop some weight, maintain as much strength as possible, and play baseball.
Prior to my back and leg injury a few months ago (unrelated to weight lifting; it’s healing up pretty well and is a topic for another blog post), I was 220 pounds with a back squat of at least 405 pounds (it was pretty easy, I would estimate my 1RM at the time to be ~420 lbs), deadlift of 465 pounds, power clean of 225 pounds, and a bench press of 250 pounds. Overall, I was pretty happy with those numbers, even if those bench press and power clean numbers aren’t very good. (I never did like benching.)
Meanwhile, Jack and Eli, despite setbacks (Jack tore his hip flexor running the 60 yard dash during baseball tryouts as a sophomore, Eli would have to cut weight and miss a lot of training days as a wrestler – and he would later suffer a bad concussion, sidelining him for months), continued to build their strength, just like novices do. They put in a lot of hard work, and managed to put up some respectable numbers while working around their issues and athletic seasons. Eli has posted a personal best in the deadlift (his favorite lift) of 425 pounds at a ridiculous bodyweight of 169.5 pounds, while Jack has posted a back squat of 405 pounds, bench press of 255 pounds (likely to be higher now), power clean of 255 pounds, and a power snatch of around 200 pounds at a bodyweight hovering between 230-240 pounds.
Along the way, Eli got his fastball velocity consistently over 80 MPH through weighted ball training (and other velocity development concepts) while simultaneously developing very good bat speed (finishing in the top three in batting average on his varsity baseball team against tough competition), and Jack qualified for KingCo competition in just his first year of throwing the shot and discus with a shot put throw of 43′ 1.25″ and a 116′ 1″ discus throw. He did this despite his high school having no scheduled throwing ring time at the only close facility near us, and I expect him to post some vast improvements on those numbers in 2012.
Jack and Eli were trainees #2 and #1, respectively, and they helped me build the facility we have today in Seattle. We’ve got a long way to go, but without their support and devotion to hard training – which wasn’t always fun – I wouldn’t have been able to sublease my own place and create an affordable and solid place for committed athletes to train.