How The Fitness Industry Has Changed Over My 30 Years

The Walkman

In the 80’s, when I began my career as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, the field was new to college and on the private side powerlifting, bodybuilding, jogging and aerobics ruled the world. Strength training technique in the weight room was everything. Outfits, shoes and beats per minute were the keys to jogging and aerobics. The legends were in their prime in power lifting and bodybuilding. Amazing as it sounds, people worked out without personal music and ran without any music at all back in the “olden” days. The Walkman was just beginning to be the thing for personalized music on the move. As the 80’s evolved, the National Strength Coaches Association was growing from its inception (1979), created a certification and began to court the non-strength coach, thus evolving into the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Several other organizations began to pop up to serve the private side of the industry that was based on memberships and fitness rather than performance and winning. However, everyone still seemed to be focused on the technical aspects of what to do and how to actually do it properly. In performance, the big argument was powerlifting, bodybuilding and Olympic lifting versus Nautilus H.I.T. (High Intensity Training) or one set to failure that was the training style at various universities, most notably Michigan and Penn State. The inference was since Michigan and Penn State were good, H.I.T. had to be good, regardless of the fact that H.I.T. was a style of training unique to the United States. The NSCA decided to wage a scientific battle against the “HIT” philosophy and ran the coaches at the “HIT” programs out of the organization.

Steroids were a part of the sports culture of the 80’s. Some football athletes dabbled in them or used them at one time or another. Were they isolated to football athletes or running rampant in colleges? In my opinion and experience, no. However, they were being used by some and a very few collegiate coaches were even jailed or sent to prison for possession or allowing their distribution.

Toward the end of the 80’s and early 90’s, the importance of nutrition and speed began to become apparent in performance. The winning teams in football (most notably the University of Washington at the turn of the decade and Miami University throughout the 90’s) were extremely focused on recruiting speed and Nebraska had retained a nutritionist on staff to assist the dining hall in refueling the players at meals as well as creating a refueling station in the weight room for immediate pre- and post-workout protein and carbohydrate ingestion. The better the nutritional support, the faster the athletes recovered. The faster the athlete recovered, the more quality work they could do which in turn led to better quality performances and fewer injuries. Many performance-enhancing drugs lead to better quality recovery and are not for the performance itself. The private side of the industry was beginning to realize that gyms that were franchised (Gold’s, Bally’s, etc.) were opportunities to sell memberships and make lots of money. A few privately owned gyms were beginning to realize the opportunity that existed with the death of Physical Education in the school systems, but the concept of performance training for hire had yet to make it into the mainstream of our culture or the private side of the industry. Certifications for strength coaches and fitness professionals began with the introduction of a certification by the NSCA. A written test without a practical test (the NATA had both written and practical), it was designed by P.hD.’s and some coaches that had some weight room knowledge, but was rapidly changed by P.hD.’s that had less and less actual coaching and fitness training knowledge. However, as it was first and the NSCA had the money to get it accredited, it became the gold standard.

Periodization become huge with the introduction to the industry of computer programming that can control exercise selection, sets, reps, rest time and even rep execution time. Periodization became the buzzword as it came out of the former USSR, which had great success in the training and competition of their athletes. The USSR also had complete control of their athletes 24/7 and a cutting edge drug program. They selected for talent, trained the selected athletes and those that survived were national, world and Olympic champions. With the fall of the wall and the collapse of their system, several of their coaches and sports scientists came to our country and Canada and began to teach and write. This information enlightened performance coaches that with great quality of repetition execution and additional volume over time, the athletes could indeed get bigger, faster, quicker and stronger. However, the problem with true periodization as espoused was that in our system, we do not have control, only influence over the athlete and drugs are outlawed and tested for by the NCAA, USOC, etc. In the private industry, there is even less influence so the ability to sequence and order the exercises on any given day in order to create a training effect become paramount to the training process.

The 90’s saw the advance of the association focused on servicing the needs of the members of the fitness, private performance and rehab/reconditioning industry. The medical trainers had the National Athletic Trainers Association, which with the backing of the team physicians had tremendous influence with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The collegiate strength coaches were now beginning to feel the pressure that could be exerted when they had no voice and no one to support them. By now, virtually every pro team and university had at least one strength coach. 70-80 hour weeks were the norm and the coaches were not only in the weight room but out on the track, field and court teaching speed development, plyometrics, agility and conditioning for a variety of sports in addition to football.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine became an organization focused on the health and well being of the individual for

Certification for $

movement as well as performance. The NASM created education based on injury prevention for coaches and trainers that came from the world of physical therapists rather than from the world of sports and its coaches. The collegiate strength coaches were fed up with being used by the NSCA and broke off to found the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association – the CSCCA, which was later changed to the CSCCa due to pressure from the NSCA of the threat of a lawsuit for name infringement. Since the CSCCa had little in terms of resources, they changed the big A to a little a. This action by the NSCA was followed in the early 2000’s by a lawsuit to force the separate NSCA certification agency to come under the wing of the NSCA, effectively ending the NSCA’s presence in Lincoln, NE after almost 30 years. IHRSA, IDEA, ACE and other organizations began to support the private side business owner and trainer, thus diluting the field and creating a myriad of certifications, many of which became accredited by the 2000’s when the accrediting agencies began to realize that volume creates revenue.


The 90’s were also the era of the supplement. Supplements were running wild. From supplements that were laced with steroids to steroid pre-cursers, speed mixes for weight loss and various proteins for weight gain to the latest supplement that had that secret ingredient (always from another country, usually in a difficult to reach area that no one had visited and backed by a guy from that country with a sweet accent). Today that secret ingredient is termed a proprietary formula if you read labels. Some ingredients were outlawed (such as ma huang) and several were banned by organizations due to knee jerk reaction (androstenedionne – (doesn’t really do much if anything) and creatine (has many positive effects and no known negative side effects)) due to public or organizational pressures. Drug testing and suspension became a common headline as noted by the even the most casual sports fan.

During the late 90’s, franchising of performance venues began to be introduced. By the early 2000’s they were beginning to gain traction as they gained support by investment capital or by word or mouth. Velocity, a big box concept was sold to many franchisees but died a death of natural causes, as the box was too big to generate the volume/revenue needed for sustainability. Parisi Speed School, an additional revenue stream of curriculum and some equipment that could added to or built into many an existing club has become very strong in the private industry. Athlete’s Performance has become a leader in the performance industry. This company was founded on the business model goal of training the top 5% of athletes in any given sport. It has grown over the past several years to a handful of franchises scattered across the Sun Belt from LA to Florida. Perform-Better, an equipment company that added an educational component with great speakers, great service and top notch content began to make huge inroads in the educational market of performance, fitness and business in the industry as Perform-Better let the market set the speaker line-up.

The business of combine’s and combine prep became very strong in the 90’s. Training the young stars of college to perform well at the NFL Combine first burst upon the scene with the performance of Mike Mamula at the NFL Combine when he sprinted, jumped, and drilled at a level of performance that scored so well he created a huge buzz. Today, the combine training concept has infiltrated the NBA, MLB and the NHL and trickled down to the high school level as athletes prepare for the opportunity to pursue their dream of scholarship at the school of their dreams.

By the 2000’s, certification became the key to additional revenue. Kettle bell certification, NASM Certification, CSCCa certification, Titleist Performance Institute, NSCA – Personal Trainer Certified, Idea, ACE, etc. had all created certifications as well as several high profile trainers. While the NSCA still felt they were the gold standard, many professionals began to question the validity of a test that had no practical aspect and an organization that was centered on the squat and power clean as the answer to many if not most (all?) training protocols.

In the 2000’s, it became apparent that salary caps, luxury taxes, scholarship reductions, and Title IX had made quality athletes a premium in any sport and keeping them healthy became a priority. Injury prevention, screening (both the NASM Body Map and the FMS – Functional Movement Screen) became a tool in which the patterns of the body could be quantified and qualified in a subjective – objective scoring system. Thus, a baseline could be found and the concept of “corrective exercise” could be introduced to the warm-up, cool-down or exercise session in order to keep the athlete healthy. The corrective exercise toolbox is still developing for all health, fitness and performance professionals. The key, knowing when to refer the client, patient or athlete to the proper professional in order to stay centered on correcting the problem rather than treating the symptom.

MTSU Game Day

In the 2000’s, a new organization came to the forefront in which high intensity circuits are the foundation of the training. As it evolved, certifications were rolled out in several areas and Crossfit became the hottest new franchise opportunity. Crossfit attracts highly motivated individuals and is executed as a group exercise concept, which makes it attractive for gyms and trainers. The tactical community is attracted as it is an intense “smoke session” that takes relatively little time. The only drawback at this point (in my opinion) is when it is done with poor technique or when technique breaks down due to a lack of fitness or endurance, either of which can lead to problems.

Finally, the era of allowing the athlete to have it all whether it was in terms of guaranteed money, no cut contracts or work hours and jobs and time off in college have created a situation in which the coaches are under pressure for performance of the team and athlete. The athlete in college and the pros (in many cases) wants to do as little as possible in terms of physical preparation. Collegiate strength and conditioning coaches are only allowed 8 hour, 8 weeks in the spring and 8 optional weeks (for the athlete) in the summer and are not allowed to punish the athlete outside that 8 hours of work. Therefore, some athletes are not prepared for the volume or intensity of the workload in a given workout. Athletic dorms were outlawed decades ago so many student athletes live off-campus and eat poorly, under sleep, under recover and try to force their body to improve in off-season. Sadly, in some cases, the athlete is caught in a situation in which the workload overloads the body to such an extent that the athlete cannot handle it and gets into a life threatening state in which some young men have even died. Was the workout too much? It was not for the other young men and was not over the course of the career of the coaches involved. Why this young person on this particular day? In my opinion, too much regulation by people in charge that do not understand, no voice by the professionals in dealing day to day with this in many/most cases (collegiate strength coaches) and mainstreaming of the intercollegiate athlete. In pro sports it just ruins the sport. Guaranteed money makes athletes lazy, selfish and bad team members.

In 2010, the United States Special Operations Command began to hire strength and condition professionals for each and every Special Forces team in order to keep the warrior athletes healthy. Looking at the professional and elite (BCS) collegiate model, they understand that with better physical training methods, quality recovery and optimal nutrition, the warrior athlete will better be able to execute his/her job and fulfill the mission. With the amount of training the SF community receives over the course of his/her career, many of these warrior athletes are truly million dollar athletes, just like our sports “heroes”.

The tools the fitness professional learns over time that when put into play can influence, recondition, train for performance or prevent injury in the population that the trainer or coach comes into contact each and every day is the key. In my opinion, it has become a time in which you study, practice and train to learn the skills needed to become a proficient coach or physical trainer in order to serve your population. Your ability to understand and lead, train and groom a business is different than the ability to lead, train and groom a staff at a university or in the Special Forces community. The tools needed (periodization, reconditioning, speed, weight loss, client recruitment, marketing, speaking, teaching, technical expertise, etc.) may be similar in many cases, but while some are sharp and shiny from use other will rust due to lack of use, as some tools are not needed in a particular arena.

Much as a professional martial artist or MMA athlete may study with a variety of teachers and coaches over their career in order to learn various skills, it is time for the coach and trainer to study and learn from a variety of professionals in order to learn skills, concepts and techniques in order to better serve the community in which he or she practices.

What is the next concept, franchise or era of performance training? I think it is just that . . . performance training. Using all the

A. Karelin World's Greatest Wrestler

tools at our disposal to train, recondition, prehab, teach and inspire our scholastic, collegiate, professional and amateur athletes to greater heights and more enduring careers.


  Look, if you had one shot or one opportunity,

To seize everything you ever wanted,

in one moment . . .

Would you capture it,

or would you let it slip . . .

Eminem 2004



One shot, one moment, one opportunity is easy. Everyone in the world has the ability to go for it, let it all out, give it their best for the big chance with no regrets. But that moment comes only with hours, days, months and sometimes even years of preparation to create the opportunity, that instant in which for a fleeting moment of time the window is open, the stars are aligned and the moment is ripe to seize the day and become recognized as the winner and even champion that you have become. The grind of preparation creates the winner, the focus and execution day in and day out creates the opportunity and knowing in your heart of hearts that you have earned and deserve the mantel of winner, of champion, will determine the outcome of the moment.

Talent is a precursor to success in any field in which physical skill is the dominant trait.  However,

Vladimir Horowitz

talent alone is greatly overshadowed by a willingness to grind out preparation in the form of quality, focused practice repetitions. Several different studies as well as a book by Malcolm Gladwell have documented many elite musicians and athletes that chose to practice basic fundamental tasks such as musical scales, core training, footwork and balance drills in order to keep the foundation solid on which the talent is allowed to flourish. This commitment to repetitive, daily basic skills is the key for successful elite artists and athletes. As legendary pianist Vladimar Horowitz was quoted, “If I don’t practice for a day, I know it. If I don’t practice for two days, my wife knows it. If I don’t practice for three days, the world knows it.” On the Today show when ask what it takes to be such a prolific writer, John Grisham responded that you must write a page a day, every day. Some days it may take five minutes, some days five hours, but you must write a page a day.

To become accomplished in any endeavor, practice is critical. But how much practice, what kind of practice? It has been theorized in many articles, books and studies that it takes 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice effort to become accomplished or elite in any endeavor. Your ultimate success is influenced by genetics, timing, opportunity and location. Several studies in piano, swimming, violin, diving, weightlifting and other sports have found that 10,000 hours of practice over 10 years is the minimum time required to achieve international levels of expertise. National levels were recognized at 7500 hours of deliberate practice and regional champions were crowned after 5000 hours of practice over 10 years time. This means that an athlete intent on becoming world class would need to commit an average of 1,000 hours per year, 20 hours per week (assuming 50 weeks of training) and 3-4 hours per day (assuming 6 days per week – 5 days would require a solid 4 hours per day). This is focused, deliberate practice not including competition. The intensity of training preparation will build layer upon layer of skill, one quality repetition at a time in order to make seemingly impossible execution look effortless. Practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes for perfect execution.

Fitness Knows No Holiday

In today’s society another challenge is to find time to recover. Many elite athletes studied engaged in a full eight hours of sleep each night as well as a 30 minute nap between practice sessions in order to maximize recovery. Many times overtraining is a function of under recovery rather than too great a stimulus in terms of volume and/or intensity. For today’s athlete, this recovery means shutting down the laptop and phone and resting. In addition, quality nutrition is also a challenge in our hurry up, fast paced society. Fast food is also fat food if you drop the s – which means many times athletes must take time to prepare snacks and pack food and water with them in order to have quality choices throughout the day. As the athlete ages and the quality of training increases, finding time for active means of recovery is vital. From various massage styles and hydrotherapy baths to post training stretching and tempo running, recovery is the vital compenent for elite athletes in heavy training phases. In fact, recovery at the end of one training session sets the stage for and is the beginning of the next training session. When the stress of our culture, intense training volumes, lack of adequate recovery and poor nutritional choices collide, that is when injury and illness rear their heads and put the process off course for days, weeks and even months.

Desire, even passion, burning white hot in the belly of the performer day after day makes preparation a joy, not a chore.  Many champions relate stories

Teachable moment w/focused audience

of despair in the journey, setbacks in training, injuries, and lost opportunities in which they contemplated just quitting. Many times it was at this critical time a coach, mentor, parent or chance meeting with a person of stature in their endeavor who said just the right thing at just the right time to reignite the flames of competitive passion and rekindle the fire of preparation.

Michael Johnson World Record 200m

In order to become a world class performer it takes a lifestyle commitment by the athlete and their family and at least 10,000 hours of focused, deliberate practice over a full decade. It is easy for distraction, lack of will, loss of desire, injury, and just plain old life to interfere with the path to the prize. However, overcoming these obstacles is what separates a guy from THE guy, a winner from a champion. Being a winner is a daily choice. Becoming a champion is a journey, expressed in a moment of confluence of preparation and opportunity that only a few will ever experience, which is why we find it so compelling.


Perform Better Summits

I have had the honor of contributing as a speaker on the Perform Better Tour every year since its inception save 2010. (In 2010 I was told by the President and the Executive Director that I had to chose between my job and Perform Better – even though I had vacation time approved to go and speak). Anyway – I feel the best, most usable, unbiased source of information for performance coaches in the land is the Perform Better Summit series.
The speakers are top notch, the service is great, the support of the Perform Better team is without equal and the entertainment combined with the educational content is unparalleled.
If you are involved in rehab or reconditioning, sport coaching, performance training or personal training, I can highly recommend, without reservation attending a P-B Summit. If money is an issue and you are a CSCS and NSCA member, drop your membership (unless you can find value in it) and use that money to help fund your trip to the Summit. You will not regret it.