The first 30 minutes of the drive required much focus as my brain’s default mode network (DMN) was unable do all the work required to safely drive on the right side of the road. Which was now indeed the right side of the road, and not the left. It hit home that months of planning were now a reality as we drove from Newark airport, New Jersey, toward Cranbury.
We were headed to Optimal Exercise, the facility owned by Bill DeSimone. Those who don’t know Bill’s work yet need to catch up, he has already written two hugely valuable and practical books on applying biomechanically correct exercise: Moment Arm Exercise and Congruent Exercise. The key benefit in reading Bill’s work is that you will learn to do and teach great exercises right, so that you don’t mess up your own, or your client’s joints. It is through both his writing and his personal training business that Bill helps people protect the integrity of their joints whilst reaping the benefits of exercise. I was an early adopter of Bill’s work when his first book came out and he is someone I have been looking forward to meeting ever since.
The night before we hooked up with Bill we had stayed over in the beautiful countryside surrounding Princeton, which reminded me of my home county Herefordshire back in the UK, just a little warmer, humid and bigger in scale. We also made a trip to the local Walmart to pick up a few essentials. As a visiting Brit, Walmart is an education and reminder in how much junk food is readily available today. Don’t go grocery shopping hungry!
I get a lot of pleasure from visiting trainers and gyms around the globe. It is always eye opening and an education to witness how others apply a sound and safe approach to exercise with clients in the real world. Hang out with a good trainer you don’t yet know for a few hours and I guarantee you will pick up a slightly different perspective on at least one aspect of exercise. You may hear a turn of phrase used during instruction that particularly resonates with you, experience a piece of equipment you had not previously considered valuable, or simply get a sense of a trainer’s style of delivery and how it works for clients.
We spent our first day with Bill filming the course we were there to create (more on this to come soon). And chatting, laughing, having coffee at the diner and eating great American food.
The next day was a travel day, we had the journey from Cranbury to Clifton Park in New York to navigate. When I first planned out the US trip I hadn’t specifically intended to hire a car. Being from an island nation, one that takes 15 hours to drive the fullest length of, my sense of scale was not properly calibrated to US distances. Standing at my desk I had naively thought “NJ and NY, right next to each other, Bill’s and Jay’s places are probably an hour or so by public transport from each other.” As it turns out hiring a car was essential.
Even so the Google Maps 4-hour predicted journey turned into a 6-hour adventure after badly-timed data cut out (and definitely not human error) caused a wrong turn that meant we were headed into NYC at 5pm on a Friday afternoon. Back on track and later during the same drive, we were accosted by what felt like the mother of all storms. As the industrial skyline of Albany rose into view lightening shot forked energy across a purple clouded sky. Then came the rain, a rain so hard that the wipers straining at full tilt could barely keep the screen clear enough to make out the road between successive swipes. My brain’s DMN once again called for extra conscious assistance as I hunched over the wheel, strained eyes peering into unknown roads through waves of machine gun rain.
The storm subsided a few miles before we hit the town of Latham, presenting peace and an opportunity to eat. Shout out to the staff at Burger 21 in Latham for feeding us and keeping us entertained… much appreciated after the journey we had had to that point. After food we finally got to our accommodation at around 11pm where a warm cosy bed accelerated the oncoming of a much-needed sleep.
Next morning, we were up early to meet with Jay Vincent, successful business owner and personal trainer whose facility Biofit is based in Clifton Park: on the east side of New York state, roughly in alignment with the Massachusets-New Hampshire border.
Jay is a big lad, in the best possible way- carrying a boat load of muscle tissue and next to no bodyfat. Think of one of those guys you see advertising underwear or supplements in fitness magazines, that’s Jay. That is literally Jay, he has featured in advertisements for Under Armor and MuscleTech amongst others.
Fitness models can utilise their physique to sell pretty much anything in the sphere of exercise. The desired underlying implication sought by advertisers is that their product is the X-factor that got the model their physique. Many fitness models happily trade on and perpetuate this perception.
Jay is refreshingly different. In a world where the norm is to state, “This supplement…”, “This piece of equipment…” or “This exotic routine… is what got me my body”, Jay is clear in educating others that the real X-factor is his genes. In his own words: “Fitness models gravitate towards activities like body building, personal training or modeling because they have a genetic advantage and it comes easy to them. Just like tall people gravitate towards basketball because of their height advantage.”
Jay is also a HIT guy, who trains no more than 2x per week for a maximum of 30 minutes at a time. Need visual muscle mass evidence that HIT works for muscle gain? Let me introduce you to my friend Jay Vincent, is a great personal trainer and knows how to coach a damn good workout too.
After a couple of great days filming with Jay we were soon headed in a southerly direction again, this time for a stop off in the Big Apple, NYC itself, to call in on two of Manhattan’s finest trainers Adam Zickerman owner of Inform Fitness, and Fred Hahn of SlowBurn. We were able to shoot separate interviews with both gents in their respective facilities, which we will be releasing soon.
The last leg of the journey had us heading away from the east coast in a south westerly direction. Without the time to road trip this portion of the journey, we ditched the trusty hire car for a much faster flight. We were travelling to Texas to spend a couple of days with Skyler Tanner. Skyler is an exercise physiologist, gym owner and eye-opening fitness blogger based out of Austin where he operates his one-on-one training studio Smart Strength. The gym is definitely aptly named, as smart would be one of the very first adjectives that comes to mind when I think of Skyler himself.
Skyler has already contributed to the HITuni blog informing us about the different effects of resistance training and aerobic exercise, so it was great to meet with Skyler in person. We had a couple of fantastic days filming with Skyler and some extra time to enjoy what Austin has to offer- great weather, fantastic food and good vibes!
Some of the things we learned on the trip
1. You are not selling a protocol
Clients don’t usually come through your door for asking specifically for HIT. Despite how much time you yourself may spend online reading about all things HIT related, a majority of the clients who walk through your door are not motivated to do so because of a protocol. The greatest likelihood is that they are simply coming to get in shape, and your facility happens to be one of the most conveniently located for them, that offers personal training, promises results and provides a private environment. For this reason it is important to focus on the message that actually matters to your potential clients, the big picture stuff: results, safety, time saving and health. This has largely been my experience as a personal trainer and it is the experience of Bill, Jay, Skyler, Adam and Fred too.
2. 10-14 pieces of equipment can make a great facility
A one-on-one training facility does not need to be massive in size, even with all the great equipment HIT people love to have! The facilities we visited this trip all had in the region of 10-14 main pieces of equipment.
Of course it is possible to start out with just the floor space for a Big Five (Row, Chest Press, Pulldown, Shoulder Press and Leg Press) and build up your business from there. Having 10-14 pieces gives you more tools of the trade, allowing for greater variety, programming flexibility and is more impressive to potential clients.
Physically positioning the equipment well within your space means that workouts can flow, trainer and client can navigate the room comfortably.
3. Choosing the right equipment
HIT trainers love their equipment! Despite the fact that most clients will not know their Cybex from their MedX, or their Nautilus from their Body-Solid… we do!
When I write up a blog post specifically about our time spent with each trainer, I will cover the equipment each facility has in much more detail. As a brief overview we saw and used classic and stock Nautilus and MedX, retrofitted Nautilus and MedX, Superslow Systems, ArxFit, and Dynavec brands. Perhaps more unexpectedly to some readers, in some locations we also found recumbent bikes, ellipticals, battle ropes and even stability balls. More to follow on this controversy 😉.
4. Have one eye on expansion
I noted that all the trainers we met have had an eye on expansion, Jay and Fred both have two facilities each, Adam multiple facilities. Bill has two other trainers who work out of Optimal Exercise part-time. It is a reality that once you make your gym or personal training business a success and have filled your diary with as many clients as you are capable of servicing, it makes good business sense to have an eye on optimisation and expansion.
Adam’s Manhattan gym offers complimentary servies such as accupuncture, massage therapy and pilates. There is also a kitchen/bar area that acts as a focal point of the facility. Food for thought.
5. Adapt HIT to suit every body
Despite all the trainers we visited being HIT influenced, it was fascinating to see how each trainer interpreted and adapted exercise as needed, to both their local and target audiences and to the individual client immediately in front of them. The nuances of applying exercise well can sometimes get lost in online conversations that devolve into defence of intellectual concepts and the butting of heads. We found active open minds on this trip, intelligent trainers wanting to provide the best for their clients ,and to coax the best out of them. I love seeing this stuff at work, the nuances, the adaptations: the varied skills of being a personal trainer.
6. HIT trainers are intelligent
To expand on the point above we met no meatheads, nor cult-like evangelists, rather our time was spent with intelligent attentive individuals with compassion for their clients. There was no bootcamp bullying, no talking down to the client, and certainly no checking IG or FB during the client’s workout. In short, we met a great bunch of individuals and that speaks very well of our niche.
It is great to be out in the field meeting, talking and interacting with experts, trainers and business owners who are creating successful businesses and helping to forge a path for a wider acceptance of safe, effective, efficient exercise. Thanks to all of you whom we met and spent time with during this trip, your time, energy and hospitality are much appreciated.
We were able to generate a lot of great content and film some awesome footage during our time in the US that I am super excited about getting out. Keep your eyes peeled over the weeks and months to come as we release much more from our time in the US.
And we are looking forward to meeting more individuals and visiting more facilities when we head out on the road again. If you are interested in having HITuni come visit you, do let us know!
27B Maplewood Avenue,
Cranbury, NJ 08512
629 Plank Road
Clifton Park, NY 1206
SlowBurn Personal Training Studios
169 West 78th Street
New York, NY 10024
201 E. 56th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10022
3636 Bee Cave STE 106
Austin, Texas 78746
6 responses on "HITuni goes to the US"
Hi Simon, looks like you had a great time. I can’t speak for anyone else but I personally appreciate that you took time out to travel all that distance and share your findings with us back here in England.
I would be interested to know what 10 pieces of equipment these guys felt were the most important if they only had 10 pieces in there gyms.
No visits to the flyover states? Just kidding, You visited some great trainers. High intensity low force exercise is the best way to go. Been doing it 40+ years never tire in helping folks out. The last seminar in Minnesota I had a question for Skyler Tanner I knew he would be the right guy to ask. I had a situation I couldn’t bring to mind the answer. Skyler had it right away! Sadly he also inveigled met to do something I hadn’t done in 20 years! I ate Donuts under guidance!
Stop in anytime Simon!