My Roller Coaster Relationship With Training (Part I)

This is something I have been wanting to write for quite some time. The hesitation has mostly been due to my lack of clarity as to understanding why sharing a story about my training life would mean anything to the people reading. But reflecting on what it felt like during the years where motivation and drive was at an all time high has brought me to the realization that many who have spent time training to better oneself have experienced similar patterns of success and failure. It is these people, much like myself, who I hope can relate to and learn from my story. I also write this for the people I have worked with over the years, who have firsthand witnessed my roller coaster of athletic endeavors. But in all honesty, I am mostly sharing this for peace of mind. This is me putting an end to my least favorite chapter and moving onward to extending a new one that I anticipate will make for a better man, husband, friend, and coach.

With that said, let’s rewind to 2002…

The Conception

Like many competitive athletes, I was introduced to strength training at a young age. I remember my dad pulling out a pair of rusty dumbbells from the garage when I was thirteen years old and explaining to me how training with these a few times a week would make me stronger than my competition. I had only been wrestling for three years before then, with my only exposure to formal training being general calisthenics and my middle school cross country club where we’d run the same 5k trail along the LA river two to three times a week.

My youth wrestling club “Team Thunder”. Seven  of us ended up wrestling in college. I’m on the top right. With the look on my face, I’m pretty sure I didn’t medal that day.

After developing a “no pain no gain” attitude, hoisting those rusty dumbbells and pushing through that burn became something that I looked forward to. Not only was I seeing my time spent lifting weights benefit me on the wrestling mat, I was also experiencing the aesthetic perks as well. Always being a skinny kid and a little bit on the shorter side, receiving attention from the young ladies wasn’t too common. However, there weren’t too many teenagers with defined muscles and six pack abs. Little did I know at the time that it was a combination of a good diet (thanks mom) and pubescent hormones that contributed to these gains I had never experienced beforehand.

I eventually outgrew those rusty dumbbells and asked my dad for more weights. He pulled out an old barbell set and bought me a couple more pairs of dumbbells. Sometime around then, I was skimming through my family book collection and came across Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  “Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding”. This was a moment of true inspiration. I didn’t realize that building a chiseled action figure like body was even humanly possible, as my only knowledge of Arnold prior to this was his acting career, in which he lost a decent amount of size. This practical guide and simple read inspired me to be like Arnold and get as big and scary as possible before starting high school.

The Transformation

Though most people train for fun and do it to improve or maintain their health and appearance, there are a handful of those who have had to dig deep and push themselves to new limits in order to reach their goals. This is something that competitive distance runners experience regularly. But at fourteen years old, I thought I had it all figured out. I was under the impression that I had a good grasp on what hard work was and how to push myself to breaking point. I was in for a rude awakening. 

The summer before high school, my parents sent me to a two week long wrestling camp in the mountains of Trego, Montana known as “Man of Iron.” Operated like a dragged out special forces hell week (but with more hand to hand combat) this camp was deemed as “the toughest camp in America.” Participants dropped like flies on the first few days, throwing away the thousands of dollars their parents spent for flights, lodging and camp fees. I vividly remember my phone call home and my parents leaving me with no option but to “graduate”. From up to five workouts a day, this camp mixed log workouts, hay bailing races, one mile swims, 5k buddy carries, multiple sparring sessions, and much more. This was all in training to complete the final “triathlon” made up of a one mile swim, fifteen mile run, and five mile trek up and down the windy Montana hills while carrying a log on your back. It was only through completing this that one was able to graduate from the camp and proudly sport the black t-shirt with the words “I AM A MAN OF IRON” painted in gold.

Log PT at “Man of Iron” wrestling camp in Trego, Montana. This was usually the start of the day.

Throughout those two weeks, I pushed myself to breaking point time and time again. The more familiar I became with what it felt like to be broken, the better I became at pushing through and coming out stronger. It was that summer that I found my love for using running as a means to improve mental toughness. Running until my heart felt like it was on the verge of exploding became part of my routine.

The Inspiration

Fast forwarding to my last few months of high school, I had acquired a wealth of training experience from world class coaches. From competing and training around the United States with the California national team to spending two weeks overseas in Ukraine at their Olympic Training Centers, I developed a better sense of the concept “work smarter not harder.” Intense strength & conditioning training sessions combined with regular combative sports practice and competition will put one’s body through the grinder. However, at this age the injuries were minor and the recovery was swift.

The Olympic Training Center in Alushta, Ukraine where I got to train amongst and learn from some of the greatest athletes in the world.

It was 2007. I was at a UFC fight night party where my team mates gathered to watch George St. Pierre defend his title for the second time that year. I always admired him as an athlete. His poise and his level of fitness put him in a different caliber than the other fighters. It was around this time that the UFC was also stepping up their marketing game and spending more time hyping the competitors before the paper view cards began. I vividly remember watching the highlight of St. Pierre working with his personal strength & conditioning coach. I didn’t realize that this was even a career. A strength coach for professional fighters? I couldn’t think of a more fitting dream job. Conveniently, I was also deciding on colleges at the time. Liberty University in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Lynchburg, Virginia was one of the schools on my radar to continue my time as a student athlete. Though this was a long ways away from California, they also offered Exercise Science with a focus in Strength & Conditioning as a choice of study. So off to Virginia I went!

To be continued…

Published by Nick Knowles

Nick is a certified personal trainer through the National Strength & Conditioning Association who has worked with hundreds of individuals around the world and coached a wide variety of clients ranging from special forces, active duty, first responders, law enforcement, paraplegics, mixed martial artists, powerlifters, endurance athletes, large group classes, rock climbers, high school and collegiate athletes, youth teams, general population (weight loss), and clients with special needs. Education being at the forefront of his approach, he has been a guest speaker at corporate wellness events, college job fairs, and has also taken on a handful of interns who have found successful careers in the fitness industry. He is also a former NCAA division 1 wrestling and competitive powerlifter.

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