Physical Fitness Simplified

When I was a young athlete playing football, both at the University of Maryland and NFL years, I was fortune to have mentors that elevated the way I thought about strength/power development and conditioning. Happily those two men continue to be a part of my life. Frank Costello is still coaching Maryland track and field athletes and Fred “Dr. Squat” Hatfield PhD. is still quite active with the organization he founded, International Sports Sciences Association, rewriting some of his educational books. In conversation with these two men we frequently discuss physical fitness and the sad state of competence among today’s personal trainers.

I begin with the premise that personal trainers don’t want to suck – in fact the personality type of those that get into this profession is that of a helper of others. I believe the field is loaded with bright, earnest individuals that have the best intentions yet statical evidence and simple observation demonstrate that most training is at best ineffective and sometimes harmful. But why? In a word the current generation of personal trainers are overwhelmed by what they read online and further confused by their cohorts discordant views. In other words they are overloaded with ideas and undereducated of scientific fundamentals.


As it happens I was there at the beginning, back when and where “certified” personal training was born. It was 1986 in Southern California and Fred Hatfield along with his business partner Sal Arria  were laying the groundwork, in fact founding the worlds first personal trainer certifying course, text book and exam that would become the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Amongst those on the original star-studded Board of Directors was Frank Costello. It’s import to understand a little of the history of these three men. All three were world class athletes. Fred Hatfield was an All-American college gymnast, National level Olympic weightlifter, “Mr. Connecticut” bodybuilder and a multiple time World record holder and World champion powerlifter. Frank Costello was a National champion and Pan American Games gold medalist in the high jump. He is the seventh human being to high jump seven feet. Sal Arria was a World class strength athlete and competitor who competed against the worlds best in powerlifing. As important as the athletic resume is to these founding fathers of fitness their educational chops are top-notch and therein lies the special sauce of their wisdom. Sal is a Doctor of Chiropractic with formal education in human anatomy and biomechanics. Dr. Hatfield earned his doctorate in philosophy from Temple University with competency examinations taken in sport psychology, motor learning and sport sociology. That my friends is what I call a serious combination of academics AND street cred!

A quater century later ISSA is one of the biggest personal trainer educational companies in the world and the only one that offers a college Associates degree. I can tell you that ISSA educated and certified personal trainers are excellent and make a difference in their clients lives. They aren’t the only good trainers but in a field with so much failure and despair they are leading the way. Here’s why. They  understand that physical fitness in based, is rooted in strength and power development. It is not rooted in jogging, biking or cycling and neither is grounded it in Pilates, yoga, Zumba or bodybuilding. Strength is the Master control. This truth stands in stark contrast to the ubiquitous myth that the key to fitness is increased cardiovascular capacity with a smattering of stretching. Yet an entire generation of trainers (mostly those that haven’t been educated by ISSA) have been misled by the internet “fitness guru’s” who have neither the academic nor athletic chops to KNOW what training methodologies are truly effective and transformative.

Squat, dead lift, press, sprint, carry, push and pull heavy objects then repeat. The basic tenants of GPP (general physical preparedness) have not changed and must be addressed, embraced first then later on meaningful strength development. Want to develop awesome cardiovascular capacity – the kind that will enable you to destroy your distance runner/triathlon friends – lift weights FASTER! Try squats for sets of 20 followed immediately by 20 burpees then 20 kettlebell swings, repeat for 4 rounds and time it. Train hard and heavy and a month then see if you can beat your time. Get strong and use your newfound strength to build massive muscular endurance.  Go get stronger and physically fitter today!