Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Interview with Tony Gentilcore

What can one say about Tony Gentilcore? The co-owner of Cressey Performance in Hudson, Massachusetts is an athlete that designs exercise programs for athletes and regular Joe Schmo's. Tony has an uncanny ability to educate through entertainment--and I mean that in the most sincerest manner. In a field where so many train to become fitness professionals, much of the information doesn't get absorbed because it is geeky, complex, and well...boring. Tony G. (as he is so noted as online), is one of those VERY experienced professionals that knows how to convey a lesson or thought into a very engaging, entertaining, and absorbent article or post; and really make you remember it later in the afternoon as you are feeding your dog.

Tony G. was able to set aside some time to answer some questions with me, so read on and enjoy!



JOHN: You're a man of many talents...so what got you into training athletes and clients as a profession? Why not a career in magic or B-movie reviews?

Tony G: "For starters, how sweet of a job would it be to do nothing but watch movies and write about them? When you think about it, however, for every great film you get to watch like GoodFellas (arguably the best movie ever made) or Rushmore, there’s a Keanu Reeves’ movie that will invariably make you want to jump off a cliff. Seriously, I’d rather watch a whale give birth than watch one of his movies. Point Break was cool though.

Nevertheless, as fate would have it, I didn’t become a movie critic (or a magician for that matter). Instead, I spend my days telling athletes/clients to lift heavy things, which certainly falls under the category of one of the more “kick ass” jobs to have.

As far as what got me into the fitness industry, I guess the easy answer would be that fitness as always been a part of my life. I can’t remember any point growing up as a kid where I wasn’t doing one of the following:

1. Riding my bike/pretending I was Knight Rider.

2. Playing every sport imaginable (baseball, basketball, soccer, kickball, wiffleball, dodgeball, burn-ball, football, swimming, cow tipping, etc. Yes, I’m from a small town).

3. Spending hours in front of the mirror following the printed routine that came with my very first weight set that I got when I was 13 years old in the hopes that girls would eventually want to hang out with me.
In all seriousness, I knew all along that fitness was going to be a part of my life long-term. As I mentioned above, originally, training was a just a way to hopefully get girls (most notably- Nicole Kot) to notice me. Long story short- it didn’t work. Bitch. As I entered high school, I had a knack for throwing a baseball for strikes. As such, I learned an appreciation for training, and really started to prioritize that over things like drinking and partying all through high school.

Fast forward a few years- I was good enough to earn a scholarship, and played four years of college baseball (two years at Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, NY and two years at Mercyhurst College located in Erie, PA). While I did have a few professional tryouts, nothing really panned out. I guess when you’re a 6-1 right hander, throwing in the mid-80’s (with an atrocious curve ball), you’re a dime a dozen.

Needless to say, a lot of what I do as a strength coach today- particularly given the fact that I did play collegiate sports- is to show kids what not to do. I LOVE knowing that what I do for a living is helping kids do things the right way. One of the most rewarding things about my job is that I can literally see the progress of kids as they go through our system. I’ve seen kids who couldn’t even do a body weight reverse lunge when they started, to banging out 315 lbs on the trap bar for reps.

Anyways, to make a long story short (sorry for rambling), I graduated with a degree in Health Education with a concentration in Health/Wellness Promotion from Cortland State University in New York. I did the student teaching thing, and afterwards, I completed an eight week internship in a corporate gym. Upon completing the internship, I was offered a job. And the rest, as they would say, is history.


JOHN: You had a great blog on the Boston Herald’s website, and I am happy to see you have created your own at www.tonygentilcore.com. Your writing style is unparalleled. It is entertaining and informational. Where did you learn how to write so well?

Tony G: "Yeah, when I first moved to the Boston area, I worked at the Sportsclub/LA, and one of my clients happened to work at the Boston Herald. She had mentioned to me that they were looking for someone to provide online fitness/nutrition content on their website, and asked whether or not I’d be interested. Of course I was!

Anyone who has followed my writing knows that I don’t take myself too seriously. While I’m all for discussing the insertion points of the psoas; I know for many, that’s about as exciting as washing your face with broken glass. As such, I try to have a little fun with my writing, and provide a little entertainment value to boot.

In terms of my writing style, one of the best pieces of advice I received was something that TC Luoma (editor of t-muscle.com) told me a few years ago, which is, “people want to learn, but they also want to be entertained.” I took his advice to heart, and have since found a niche for being able to get good content out there, while also making people laugh from time to time.

I’m always humbled that there are so many people out there who are interested in what I have to say. And, more importantly, don’t think I suck (although I’m sure there are a few out there somewhere). I honestly never really saw myself as a “writer” per se. I mean, it’s not like I have any formal education in that department. To be honest, I’m often surprised that I’m able to structure two sentences together, let alone write a coherent article on any given topic. Nevertheless, it’s been great, and I truly appreciate everyone who supports my work."
JOHN: I agree with the advice TC Luoma gave you regarding writing should be educational and entertaining. You do a great job of combining both and giving us readers a tremendous amount of info that is easily digestible. What advice would you give to new trainers that are interested in putting out quality content on the Internet, albeit-- articles or videos, etc?

Tony G: "Oh, where to begin with this one. I like lists, so I’m going to answer this one in list format to make things easier. In no particular order:

1. Lou Schuler has been a huge resource for me as a writer, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that if you want to get good at writing, then you should freakin write. A lot. What’s more, it doesn’t necessary have to be fitness related. I can’t even tell you how many things I have written just for the sake of writing. However, it only makes sense that if you want to write fitness related articles, you should write about fitness topics as often as you can.

2. Write for free. Sorry, but the chances that you’re going to be writing feature articles for Men’s Health is slim to none. That’s not to say that it won’t happen- just not right away. Instead, there are plenty of sites out there looking for new content and are willing to publish articles. If they pay, awesome…..but don’t be surprised if they don’t. Besides, it’s good practice and at least gets your foot in the door.

3. Similarly, if you’re a fitness professional and have any aspirations of becoming an “internet celebrity,” you’d be an idiot not to have a website/blog. Blogging, for what it’s worth, is probably the easiest and most convenient way to practice your writing skills. Moreover, it can also serve as a nice source of passive income once you’ve established a solid following. I’d highly recommend reading Problogger: Secrets for Blogging Your Way to a Six Figure Income.

4. Understand that you WILL be turned down. It happens to everyone, and it’s going to happen to you as well. My first article I ever submitted to t-nation was rejected. Coincidentally, that very article was published elsewhere (after some heavy revisions), and it wasn’t long thereafter that my first article (Program Design for Dummies) was published on t-nation in the fall of 2006.

The point I’m trying to make is to not take it personally if your idea or article gets rejected. Like I mentioned above, it happens to everyone.

5. Recognize your audience. If you have one particular publication you’d like to write for, then it only makes sense to understand their demographic. For instance, how I write for t-nation is completely different than how I write for Men’s Health. One of the best piece of advice I got in this regard was from Lou Schuler:
“You can approach the business two different ways:

You can …

· Pick the publication you want to write for, then study that publication and figure out what it needs. Or …

· You can decide what you want to write, and then figure out which publication it suits best.

As Lou told me, “either approach is valid. Each gives you a chance for success. What gives you no chance of success is writing the article you want to write and then sending it out to every publication in the genre. That never works. Not ever. Editors can sniff out a generic article before they get to the period at the end of your first sentence.”

To that end, another piece of advice I got from Lou on how to become a good writer:

· Get to the good stuff as soon as possible

· Don't try to be funny or clever if that's not your strength

· Don't waste people's time by making them guess what you’re trying to say."
JOHN: I work with many sedentary individuals...whereas you work with more athletes. I believe you work with general population clients from time to time, and you have experience working with them also. Why do you think so many general population clients are apprehensive to train "like an athlete", and what things do you do (or can trainers do), to ease them into training beyond their "comfort zone?"

Tony G: "It’s weird isn’t it? Everyone wants to look like an athlete, but they don’t even come close to training like one. I’m lucky in that most of the “non-athlete” clients who show up to Cressey Performance kind of already know what they’re getting themselves into. Which is to say, they don’t destroy the back of their pants when they walk into the facility and see all the chains, bands, and other medieval looking torture devices we have lying around; we have all the goodies you could want, and we never play the likes of John Mayer either!
That being said, I think the reason why the vast majority of people are reluctant to train more like an athlete, is because they have no idea what training like an athlete entails. I think for many, they’re turned off/scared by the idea of hoisting barbells over their heads or running 400 meter sprints on the track. Granted, that is what some athletes do, but honestly, when dealing with the general population, just getting them to do something as simple as skipping, or I don’t know, learning how to change direction with proper technique might be what “training like an athlete” consists of. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s about improving their movement quality. Heck, just getting them off the freakin elliptical machine is a step in the right direction.

I think our jobs as trainers is to get these people out of their comfort zones- albeit sometimes we have to be sneaky about it. I once had someone balk at the idea of deadlifting (she deemed them too dangerous, and I of course rolled my eyes). So, I had her perform some suitcase deadlifts with a pair of dumbbells instead. She was deadlifting.

Similarly, we don’t need to get cute with these people. In my experience, people love the change of pace. Get them throwing some med balls, or pushing a sled, or anything unconventional, and they’ll be back for more. And you know what, they’ll be getting more athletic in the process. It’s a win-win.

That being said, I think the reason why the vast majority of people are reluctant to train more like an athlete, is because they have no idea what training like an athlete entails. I think for many, they’re turned off/scared by the idea of hoisting barbells over their heads or running 400 meter sprints on the track. Granted, that is what some athletes do, but honestly, when dealing with the general population, just getting them to do something as simple as skipping, or I don’t know, learning how to change direction with proper technique might be what “training like an athlete” consists of. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s about improving their movement quality. Heck, just getting them off the freakin elliptical machine is a step in the right direction.

I think our jobs as trainers is to get these people out of their comfort zones- albeit sometimes we have to be sneaky about it. I once had someone balk at the idea of deadlifting (she deemed them too dangerous, and I of course rolled my eyes). So, I had her perform some suitcase deadlifts with a pair of dumbbells instead. She was deadlifting.

Similarly, we don’t need to get cute with these people. In my experience, people love the change of pace. Get them throwing some med balls, or pushing a sled, or anything unconventional, and they’ll be back for more. And you know what, they’ll be getting more athletic in the process. It’s a win-win."

JOHN: Most people entering the PT field don't start "in the beginning" (like you and I did)...they start in the "middle". How can we get trainers to "go back" and understand concepts of movement and performance and get them to "buy" into these more factual concepts without turning them off to the learning process? (Hope that makes sense ;)
Tony G: "I couldn’t agree more with you here John. I think it goes without saying that people often think they’re more advanced than what they really are. I can think of a handful of times where I’ve had “the t-nation guy” come to CP for an evaluation, asking whether or not he should start adding chains to his squats; yet he can’t even perform a simple bodyweight reverse lunge without looking like a baby giraffe.

Along similar lines, people like to do what’s easy and what they’re good at. There’s a reason why you see more guys using the leg press machine over the squat rack. First, it’s easier. Secondly, and most important, what looks more impressive? A leg press where you can load five, 45 lb plates on each side and rep it out (albeit with a four inch ROM), or a squat where you struggle to get to depth with 95 lbs on your back?

With a few exceptions, I generally avoid “machines” all together in my programming. I mean, people sit all day at work as it is, why would I want to have them sit more during their training session? It just doesn’t make sense to me.

More to the point, it’s quite the conundrum for personal trainers. I understand why most (read: not all) tend to gravitate towards the foo-foo nonsense (machines, BOSU balls, “functional training” gadgets); they want to look unique and different in the hopes of generating business. However, as you mentioned above, machines (and the like) tend to “support” deficiencies, and it’s readily apparent that there’s a rather large disconnect between what we as trainers should be doing with our clients, and what we’re actually doing.

How can we shorten that gap? Well, for starters, I think we need more people like you in the field. I know you’re adamant in encouraging continuing education with your trainers. You know the saying, “attitude reflects leadership?” Well, I think the same concept can be applied to the fitness industry. Fitness directors who go out of their way to train their trainers and encourage continuing education oftentimes have successful businesses all around. Trainers get clients, clients get results, clients buy more sessions. Everyone gives each a high five.

Conversely, I’ve been in some establishments where they’ll hire anyone off the street (only a slight exaggeration) and there’s really no incentive to get better. As a result, the overall environment comes across more like a circus than a health club.

Additionally, in an ideal world, trainers would be paid based on whether or not they get results and not by how many sessions they can bust out in any given week. Unfortunately, most establishments pay their trainers on the quantity of their training rather than the quality. It’s seems rather backwards in my opinion. I mean, you wouldn’t pick a doctor based off how many patients he’s able to see, right? You pick the one that caters to your own individual needs, and has the ability to get you better in the safest, most time efficient manner possible.

I think it would be a major reality check for many trainers if they were paid solely off of results alone. The trainers who make it a point to read, go to seminars, and place an emphasis on getting better, will more than likely get the best results for their clients. As such, they should get paid more. The trainers who are lucky to read one book a year, can’t even name the four rotator cuff muscles, and think the BOSU ball is the best thing since sliced bread, are the ones who are ruining the industry. We need to give them some incentive to get better! What better way than to base their paycheck on whether or not they actually give their clients results?"
For more information on Mr. Gentilcore, I strongly suggest you visit his blog: http://tonygentilcore.com and check out The Fit Cast Radio show, where Tony is a guest host from time to time. If you are ever in the Boston area, make sure you visit Tony and Eric Cressey at Cressey Performance.


2 comments:

  1. It's interesting that he says trainers use bosu balls etc in an effort to look different. I've found that compound movements over the longest possible range of motion with body or free weights has made me look different.

    Obviously you can't start everyone with a deep barbell squat. But working towards something like that as a goal, that process of teaching the correct movement, then increasing the range of motion, then loading it up, and only after that and where appropriate adding instability - in the gyms I've seen, it's different.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree Kyle. The object (for the trainer) is not look different, but to be different.

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for checking out the blog and commenting!