9 Things I Learned At a Starting Strength Gym

Posted by on Jan 12, 2016 in Articles | 211 comments

This holiday season, I had the great fortune of interning and training at a Starting Strength gym.  In this environment, I made several observations of what separates Westminster Strength & Conditioning (WSC):  A Starting Strength Gym from other gyms I have either been a member or trained throughout my extensive travels. 

Here are the 9 things I learned while interning and training at a Starting Strength Gym:

1.  Community – it takes a village to raise a child, and a Starting Strength village will make you strong. 

Where were you when Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo?[1]  I know where I was:  in a room full of foreign people to me – all of whom had one thing in common, WSC.  

I flew home to Maryland from California, made a quick trip to Philadelphia to witness Navy’s 14thconsecutive drubbing of Army, and then immediately made my way to a UFC 194 viewing party hosted by a close friend back home in Maryland.  Initially, the invite was disclaimed with, “(The party) will be mostly people from (WSC).  That’s who I hang out with these days.”  

Little did I know at the time, but the people I met that evening would be the same people I would see training at various times ranging from early morning to the evening.  This level of camaraderie is unique.  Camaraderie is regarded as a staple in the effectiveness of successful organizations – WSC is no exception.

2.  Training Logs –review an athlete’s training log and a story will unfold like reading the box score of last evening’s baseball game. 

Remember those classic Mead Composition Books[2]that were mandatory in elementary school?  You know the one – the black and white covered book that was rarely utilized, and, when it was, who really wanted to ‘creatively write?’  Well, they’ve returned and at a WSC their presence is nothing short but noticed.

3.  “Hard.  Simple.  Effective.” – mastery of fundamentals is a universal principle that does not require innovation – only dedication. 

The ‘Novice’ Linear Progression (NLP), detailed in length in Practical Programming, is the foundation of any strength program that is scalable to any athlete of any background.  The program is best summarized in those three words:  Hard.  Simple.  Effective. 

Squat.  Press.  Deadlift.  The mastery of these lifts will introduce an acquisition of strength unparalleled.  The development of strength is paramount for the crossover to all athletic modalities.  Given two athletes with equal ‘average’ genetics – the deciding factor in who wins regardless of endeavor is the one with superior strength.  

What makes WSC effective at NLP is how it is implemented – through its coaching.

4.  Coaching – not every ‘coach’ or ‘trainer’ can instruct and develop, but a Starting Strength Coach can do both in spades. 

A SS Certified Coach’s value to the NLP is immeasurable.  WSC currently has 5 certified SS Coaches with others in the process of being groomed simultaneously. 

No matter the time of day in which you train, early/late morning, late afternoon, or evening; there is always a SS Coach available for questions, a spot, or provide sufficient yelling that ensures a quality lift.  “Poor form in the gym is caused by insufficient yelling,” is one of many quotes by Rip and seeing that quote played out in front of my eyes is a huge take away. 

“Big Air.”  “Knees.”  “Stay Tight.”  Several cues that many have read or seen in a SS video; however, when these cues are yelled by a legitimate authority, they transcend the rep to higher quality – immediately.  Several times Beau would yell, and before you know it, the athlete would ‘find’ the few remaining inches required to squat below parallel.  Amazing.

5.  Battle of the Sexes – women are superior to men in the weight room.  Period. 

If you were to tell me this prior to my time at WSC, I would believe you were full of sh*t, and that exact thought process is why women are superior to men in the weight room.  Grinders.  Gracious.  Gratitude.  The 3 G’s which define women who train at WSC. 

Ever see an athlete discover and flourish in their pain cave?  I have.  Women have official residency in their pain cave like geriatrics have in Florida.  A level of determination as evident by witnessing several women train through injury and ailments was eye opening.  Conversely, men enter the pain cave by dramatically busting through the door and leaving as quickly as they entered.  The greatest difference – the intensity in which one arrives and the duration in which one stays.

Ego, men have plenty and will tell you they know about it, too.  Women, they have never even heard of the word or the idea.  The measurement of an individual’s ego is correlated to their ability to be coached.  From the novice to the national level power lifter, women trump men in their ability to be coached.

6.  Diversity – the barbell does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity employer. 

Just discussed is the subtle difference between the male and female athlete; however, a matter that is universal is the diversity of athletes you will find at a SS gym. 

Age.  Sex.  Ethnicity.  Athletic Background.  If you believe the barbell is not for you, I assure you there is someone training at WSC with a similar background as you.  There are many success stories at WSC and these are not success stories about the individuals who are training for national level competitions or those who represent the national team either.  These are people who want to improve their quality of life and just want to do one thing:  become stronger. 

Many feel that they must be ‘in shape’ prior to training.  This is a huge, huge misbelief.  These people will spend countless hours mindlessly on the elliptical or treadmill in pursuit of fitness.  WSC has taken many individuals from the couch to the squat and have scaled the barbell and movement to the athlete’s baseline. 

Everyone from the local high school athlete who is in his off season to the local college’s president was in WSC – squatting their 5s.  

7.  Monthly Dues – an opportunity for results comes at a price but the dividends are unrivaled. 

I received a text message inquiry from a friend, “How much does WSC cost?”  I responded with the monthly cost and the individual was immediately turned away.  Their response is that (Insert Name) Gym only costs X dollars. 

Recently, NPR Planet Money released a podcast that articulates well why most gyms do not want you to show up to their gym.[3]  In one word, the relationship between the customer and gym is summarized as:  indifferent.  (Insert Name) Gym is indifferent to your results, strength, goals, and frankly, just who you are as a person.

 WSC is not (Insert Name) Gym.  The monthly dues include everything aforementioned and more.  The moment you decide to afford the cost is the moment you decide to become strong.

8.  Squat.  And Squat Again.  –  Friends never let friends skip squat day. Ever. 

Mentioned prior in the note about NLP is the core lifts that compose SS (squat, press, and deadlift) – the King of these is the squat.  I have never been to a facility in which everything begins and ends with the squat.  New to the gym – you’re going to squat.  You will squat below parallel with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointing out while driving out your knees.  Not only are you going to do this, you will do it for 5 reps, too. 

When you are introduced to the squat, you will learn HOW to squat.  Low bar.  Looking down.  Hip Drive.[4]  The cues mentioned earlier from coaching could be done in unison with a group of athletes who are all on the same program.  There’s no secret formula, there is no exercising legs, there is only training.  This training at WSC begins and ends with the low-bar back squat.

9.  (Extreme) Ownership – Culture is reflective of leadership and WSC’s culture is reflective of the owner – Beau Bryant. 

The greatest influential factor in what makes WSC a superior gym is the owner – Beau Bryant.  Beau’s fingerprint is on EVERYTHING.  Modest by his nature, Beau will disagree with everything I am writing; however, Beau has dramatically improved the quality of life of hundreds of people in the Maryland area. 

His commitment to his business, but more importantly the people of WSC is easily transparent.  You’ll find him wearing a Carhartt knit hat[5] in the winter months carrying around a white coffee cup at 5am every morning at WSC.  Watching athletes and through their lifts becoming stronger people is something Beau takes great pride.  Additionally, his athletes have great pride to perform for Beau, too.  There are times rest times are extended for Beau to come watch an individual squat (myself included). 

During a hectic holiday season, including the recent delivery of his fourth child (and first girl), Beau presented a nutritional seminar on a Saturday to a packed house.  Again, the owner delivered a nutritional seminar.  Not anyone else.  

A recent book on leadership titled, ‘Extreme Ownership’[6] is fitting of Beau and WSC.  A quote from the book, “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”  WSC is an exceptional team, community, and gym due to an exceptional leader – Beau Bryant. 

Thank you, WSC, for exposing me to such high quality, and remarkable people – who, at this very moment, are squatting with cues from Beau.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yha2XAc2qu8

[5] http://www.carhartt.com/products/Acrylic-Knit-Hat-A205

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Ownership-U-S-Navy-SEALs/dp/1250067057

About the Author:  Patrick Jones is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and is currently a student pursuing a Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is a graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Patrick enjoys the constant pursuit of strength, fitness, and human performance.

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