Monday, January 17, 2011

A Little Background

As I explained in my last post, I was hired as a strength coach at IFAST this past August.  Surprisingly, I do not have a degree in an exercise related field.  I do have my CSCS through the NSCA, but I also have a Master’s Degree in Economics (I can draw a mean supply and demand graph)!?  My journey to becoming a strength coach is a little different than most so let me give you a little bit of background.
When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  I liked math and made good grades in my economics classes so they became my majors.  My senior year of undergrad a professor asked if I had ever considered grad school.  I hadn’t, but I did not know what else to do with my degree.  I thought grad school would give me time to decide.  Plus, I was offered a sweet scholarship - making money while going to school sounded good to me!
I became a client at IFAST while I was in my first year of grad school.  I had been having knee problems for years (two surgeries and no results), and I knew of Mike and Bill’s stuff so I decided to visit their facility.  After a short time working with the staff, my knee felt better than it had in years.  I was finally able to start improving my strength and athleticism again without having to worry about knee pain. 
I had played many sports in high school and continued playing tennis in college but had to quit playing competitively after my sophomore year because of the knee pain.  Therefore, I was very happy with my results at IFAST. 
After my knee pain improved, I continued training at IFAST because I enjoyed it so much.  I lifted weights throughout high school, but I was very limited in what I could do - or so I thought.  I was actually born with only half of my right arm.  I have part of an elbow but no forearm. 
Therefore, my high school coaches had me doing all of the exercises with just my left arm (bench, power clean, overhead press, etc. - no rowing of course:) ).  For lower body, I stuck to machines only.  Because I only focused on developing my left arm, I developed serious imbalances that I believe ultimately led to my hip and knee problems (yes, upper body imbalances can lead to lower body problems, and vice-versa). 
I had no idea as a high-schooler that this would lead to problems down the road.  I am sure my coaches did not realize this either. 
When I first showed up at IFAST, they did not even look at my arm as a hindrance.  My workout programs pushed me to try new exercises I never thought possible.  Mike, Bill, and Wayne (a coach at IFAST) helped me come up with ways to perform almost any exercise.  They helped me improve asymmetries by strengthening my right side more.  This was very exciting for me, and I enjoyed thinking of ways to improvise certain exercises.   I have included some videos of me in action below.

This experience at IFAST greatly sparked my interest in the fitness field.  I wanted to help others in the way that Bill, Mike, and Wayne had helped me.

This started my path to becoming an intern at IFAST.  I began reading everything I could and watched the staff at IFAST closely as a client to learn from them.  
I was unsure if Mike and Bill would bring me on as intern since I did not have an exercise-related degree or experience.  However, when I talked to Mike about interning he said that a formal background in exercise science was not necessary; he told me that he can teach almost anyone how to coach somebody, but they must have the people skills or they will not be successful.  He said a good coach must be able to interact well with clients, and that is not something that is easily coachable (this is something I hope to talk about in a future post).  Mike had seen me interact with others in the gym and believed I could do well as an intern.
To be honest, I was somewhat nervous to switch career paths.  I had completed my Master’s and probably could have found a good job, but I knew I was not passionate about it.  After discussing it over with my girlfriend and family, they could see my passion for fitness and health and gave me the support and encouragement to go for it!  I am so glad they did because I have never been happier!  I love being a coach thus far, and I hope I can share some of my experiences and things I learn with this blog. 


  1. Great post Zach! Good for all of us that you decided to become a strength coach :)

  2. Pretty bada$$ man. I remember seeing you walking around Perform Better during Mike's seminar in Chicago and could tell you knew your stuff.

    The one arm thing dealing with lifts just proves how important technique is, your determination to be a better person, and the awesome coaching you are receiving.

    I am going through some physical therapy at the moment, but hope to be a client down at iFast this Spring!

    Keep up the great posts.


  3. @Matthew- Thanks man! I hope to see you at IFAST in the spring.