Phil Gephart of Gephart Strength talks about the science behind his training

So, Phil just moved to Austin from Southern California and we had connected because of a mutual friend who's in Toast Masters with me and he put me in touch with Phil. So I was just chatting with him. Phil, give us a little bit of a background about yourself.

Phil Gephart: So I was the athlete growing up. I played three sports in high school. I played two sports in college. I went to play professional basketball in Europe and then some minor league stuff here in America for about five years. I then went to Southern California, got my Masters Degree at Concordia University in Exercise Science with a focus in coaching and athletic administration. It's there that I started personal training because I thought, "Hey I'm an athlete, I know what I'm doing." I went and got a standard certification and realized that there's a lot more that meets the eye than actually training somebody and so I love when I suck at something because then there's only one way to go. And I just kind of study from this person, that person, and that person and went upstream and found a couple different names that kept bouncing back, Charles Poliquin, Paul Chek, Dan John, some of these big famous strength coaches and then got certified in all of their kind of modalities and that was years ago and since, I've just kind of grown into this, just wanting to make people healthy and well and strong and go from there. It's not just about getting ripped or fit for a season but just living a healthy lifestyle.

Awesome, so we had had a lot of interesting conversations before we actually turned the camera on. So I want to keep that going, but one thing I want to learn a little bit more about. When we had talked on the phone previously, you had talked about doing a lot of, I believe you were doing personal training for executives and that sort of thing. Am I remembering that correctly?

Phil Gephart: Yeah, all of my clientele in California before I left were C Suite level employees, business owners, senior VP's, all that type of stuff and I moved here a year and a half ago now and just started over from scratch again and so here we are.

So tell me a little bit, I think, working with clientele like that is probably a different, people who are professionally different than what a lot of our clients work with.

Phil Gephart: Right.

A lot of our clients who own Crossfit boxes or gyms are typically working with employees who are more coders or lawyers, doctors, that sort of thing but maybe not up there in the C Suite. What do you think is different about the population that you're working with. What are they looking for that's different than maybe the run of the mill person?

Phil Gephart: Yeah, I'd like to say if I get a client that sleeps better then I get a client for life and a lot of those C Suite level people are stressed way to the max. And I know a lot of us are nowadays too, but those guys and gals especially. So if I can help manage their stress better and improve their sleep, I could throw hokey workouts at them and they'll still be happy because we've made life changes so that's really what I focused on. Yes, give them a great workout and help them try to reach their goals but at the same point if we can manage stress and if we can optimize their sleep then I'm golden.

Are you overt in that? One of the reasons that I ask this is I feel like one of the great secrets of the Crossfit movement was that they sold people on the exercise for the results.

Phil Gephart: Right.

But they actually keep people around because of the community that they really strive in building those boxes. So when you talk about if you can make them sleep better that they're a client for life, so is that something that you explicitly try to bring forward to them or are you just working in a more holistic routine?

Phil Gebhart: Yeah, yeah, and I like the, holistics kind of a buzzword but it is true because it's an overall wellness approach. You can't just have this thing and then expect these results. You know, one genre or one part of the pie affects all the rest of it. So you have to manage stress better, you have to teach them daily practical things that they can manage stress better and then like you said with community. One way that I really grew my business in California was the semi-private model. And I had a lot of private clients when I left but when I really grew was when I had two to four people that were training together and that motivation factor and that personal interaction and connection was just like you said, Crossfit has proven it time and time again that's kind of why people hang around. They wanna go back to class, they wanna see their friend, they wanna get another workout in, whether they're stronger than somebody or someone is there who is stronger than them who they want to get to. They've shown in the research that both ways actually get people back into the gym.

So, let's dig into that a little bit more because actually I had just seen this anecdotally with a lot of our clients. What does the research actually say? Can you educate me a little bit on that?

Phil Gephart: Well they say from what I remember and I couldn't tell you where I read it from but, if you are stronger than someone, if you are better than somebody, you have that sort of, I'm the best person there, you may look to go to a different, in terms of Crossfit, you may look to go to a different box or whatever to have you know, challengers but that kind of level or superiority or status definitely gets you back to the gym and then say you're deadlifting 280 and there's someone with the three plates on there and they're going harder than you and they're going heavier than you and that is also a motivating factor to get them back to the gym because it's something that you just, you know, you always see the photos or the cartoons or the memes of the scrawny guy looking in a mirror and he sees a big muscular dude. You know, we all have, for the most part, that kind of thing, like I could do that, I should be able to do that, why can't I do that. So that, whether you are that, on top of the food chain or kind of one of those third or fourth runs, you still wanna go back to the gym to get to that level.

Okay. Cool, well thanks for educating me. So let's go back a little bit, you had talked about getting your Masters and you talked about going on to study under Charles Poliquin, Dan John and then you had mentioned a third name that I'm not as familiar with.

Phil Gephart: Paul Chek.

Paul Chek, okay. What does Paul Chek do?

Phil Gephart: So Paul Chek made an acronym out of his last name. Corrective Holistic Exercise Kinesiology.

Okay, you think his parents were thinking about that?

Phil Gephart: But he started the Chek Institute down in San Diego County and he was a 10th grade dropout and then he went and became a physical therapist at UC San Diego he became the guy, he was just like an intern there at the time, so the story goes. But he became the guy that, even the doctors who had all these difficult cases couldn't get their people well went to him and said "Hey, you're doing something different than we are. What is it and here's a client? Get them better."

And because he bases his thing on seven primal movements. Squat, lunge, bench, push, pull, twist, and gate. And these are the movements that we all did ancestrally. We all did back in the day when we had to do it. We were hunter gatherers, we were you know running to kill an animal to feed our family, running from an animal to survive, and so all these different things require these seven movements.

Dan John has something similar. It's squat, hinge, push, pull, and weighted carry. Those are his five primal movements. And so he bases his pattern on those five and if you look at the hinge or the bend, I mean, the squats, there's some crossover. So they're both kind of on to something but Paul does it in terms of a corrections standpoint so both he and Charles Poliquin have great, I think, assessment techniques and I've kind of blended mine together and taken some of these elements and some of these [other] elements.

But you're basically, if you're coming to me into the weight room, you're gonna do a two hour assessment and I'm gonna put you through these movement screens that will tell me, "Hey your QO's aren't firing or your lower abdominals aren't firing, your rectus abdominis isn't firing." Maybe you're quad dominant, maybe whatever else could be going on. Your atlas may be out and we'll check to see if your atlas is out and if your atlas is out, your shoulders may be out which means it makes your hips out. And people are wondering why they have knee pain when in reality it's their C1 vertebrae, their atlas is out and this just happens to be the weak link in the chain. So you don't necessarily have knee problem but, so what I try to do again, like, that's what Paul kind of started is this exercise kinesiology assessment based protocol and yes, get people really strong, get people dead lifting and doing all these other great movements but you know, if they can't do a basic splits squat correctly, you can't expect them to put a bar on their back and make them do a back squat or a front squat or all those other things so it's taking the client where they're at, correcting their imbalances, we call it structural balance and then going down the path.

So from what you're telling me, it sounds like you work on a much more individual basis. You know, like not only putting one client through that functional movement screen. So do you do mostly private one-on-one sessions. You had mentioned earlier like four to six people sometimes.

Phil Gephart: Yeah, it's really funny because, like I said, some of my friends say the strength of my business was the semi-private model and then a couple years before I left California which was all the private one-on-one and now that I'm in Austin and I kind of know the market now and it's a very saturated market just like Orange County but it's a totally different kind of beast. It's a totally different market and a lot of people are outside and there's a lot of triathletes, a lot of runners. But at the same time, we're all still human and we still like that interaction and that connection and that competition sort of thing that we talked about earlier so I had mentioned it earlier, I actually just opened my own gym for the first time today. So that's why I wanted to keep this meeting. I wanted to chat with you.

We're gonna do a grand opening launch in January although I am training people. I say all that to say I currently am training mostly one-on-one because I have a couple where two people are training but I think I am going back to the semi-private model. So training two to four people at a time. I can bring the rate way down for them so I can see more people as well as it goes back to that whole, there's multiple people in the sessions. We can get a little bit of competition. I do try to still keep it individualized based on like what I said a minute ago, the assessment, this person may need a front foot elevated split squat whereas this person can do a walking lunge because this person who needs a front foot elevated split squat is doing that because they are, maybe they don't have the proper dorsal flection in the ankle or the hip or whatever it may be. So like I said, I'm still kind of weighing my options but I'm probably going back to that semi-private model come January.

And what are you, so with that semi-private model what are you typically trying to do for your clients? You know, I come from, I'm not a trainer, but I am well esteemed in like that Crossfit methodology of you have these 10 aspects of fitness and you're trying to make advances more or less in all.

Phil Gephart: Right.

I train a lot with Atomic Athlete here in town which is, they come out of the military athlete methodology which is like fluid periodization and they're trying to create a hybrid athlete so to speak.

Phil Gephart: Right.

So what are you trying to do with the athletes that are training under you?

Phil Gephart: He's actually a neighbor of mine. But uh...

Which guy?

Phil Gephart: The guy who owns Atomic Athlete.

Oh, Jake or Todd?

Phil Gephart: Jake

Oh yeah, there you go.

Phil Gephart: I just said his name on camera. No, no, Jake

I was gonna say if it was Todd, you might like get weird things going on at night. I don't know, who knows.

Phil Gephart: Jake's super nice. He's like four doors down from me.

Oh wow.

Phil Gephart: We met and actually, a neighbor in between us, when he found out what I do, he's like, oh you gotta meet Jake, he's a cool guy, he owns a gym. And yeah, it's Atomic Athlete. But um, so I forgot the question already. So the question is...Oh, what do we do?

Yeah, what are you trying, like, what's your programming model or what are you trying to, you know, we were talking about a different Jake. That guy who's a mutual friend. So what are you gonna be doing for an athlete like that?

Phil Gephart: Yeah, so typically someone comes in. I like to say don't judge me based on the first phase of your programming because I go back to structural balance. There's a way to make it fun and entertaining but still work on your weaknesses so for example, a lot of people come to me, especially gals. Weak posterior chain and weak VMO, okay? A lot of hamstring work...

What's a VMO?

Phil Gephart: Vastus medialis, it's an inner, one of the quad muscles and it's big on stabilizing the knee. They call it the teardrop muscle when those body builders flex and so that will cause a lot of the valgus collapse where when you land your knees will collapse and so, anyway, we wanna work on those weaknesses first and correct them but then in terms of programming, what I like to do is I still go back to that under the guides of structural balance, at least the first, Dan John's five primals and Paul Chek's seven primals and I kind of want you to have at least some sort of all those of those in your first, in every phase. You know what I mean? So you'll have a bend, you'll have a squat, you'll have a push, you'll have a pull, you'll have a twist, you'll have a weighted carry of some kind typically.

So there's that A Series. It's called a couple different names but you can call it A1 A2. Some people call it German body composition or GBC. But typically you'll do an upper body and lower body. Not always, but mostly. So for example, you'll do a posterior chain of like a deadlift and you'll do maybe an overhead press. Okay? And the A series is the strength series. It's the most intense series. I have a guy now who's progressing me for over a year now. He's doing cleaning jerks, doing a good amount of weight, so that A series is just cleaning jerk. All right?

B will be, the B series will be either, if they're still working on different imbalances, we'll have those in there. Your auxiliary lifts, maybe a guy is trying to improve his front squats so he'll put some lifts in that B series that may help him improve his front squat.

And then the C series, most of the time, is your, I call them finishing moves because I grew up in the Moral Combat era so you know, you like to finish people off that might be a, I use escalated density training, Crossfit might call it an AMRAP. You know, here's five minutes and here's two exercises, do 10 reps of each, let's see how many rounds you can get in. That's where you'll see the battling ropes, that's where you'll see a lot of kettlebell swings, that's where you'll see the more high intensity type stuff, getting your heart rate up. I had a mentor a long time ago say most people will only remember the last thing you do in the gym. So I like to make it kind of memorable. You know what I mean? When they leave the gym, they're gonna get back on their phones, you won't believe what Phil just had me do. I just did, you know, I'm totally out of breath, I did a billion kettlebell swings. You know, whatever it may be. But that's kind of what they remember when they leave and that's, and most people wanna have the feeling of, they accomplished something. They did a great workout. They're not gonna remember the, you know, the six sets of three deadlifts maybe at the beginning. They may but if you can kind of kick their butt at the end and get them out of breath and breathing and you know, lying on the ground exhausted, you know schlep pushes, that's kind of what that C series is about.

That sums up programming.

Well, let's wrap this up in a moment but one thing I do wanna talk about which we had talked about before we turned the camera on is we talked a little bit about different business groups and that sort of thing. We connected over a mutual friend who you knew from VNI and who I'm in Toast Masters with. So what is the benefit, let's not say VNI specifically but what's a benefit of something like that to you? You know, why do you join versus just going to lunch? Or doing anything else with your time?

Phil Gephart: Right, one thing for me with VNI like you said, it could be any type of, like your Toast Masters and some other things that you've told me you're in. One thing is it breeds a relationship. People won't refer to you or people won't recommend your product or your service unless they like you or unless they trust you. You are not in the fitness equipment business, you're in the people business. You just happen to sell equipment. I am in the people business, I just happen to train people. You know what I mean? That's the way I look at things. And so, getting the trust factor down, like the guy that introduced us to each other, when he first came in the group I don't know who this guy is but seeing him week after week I now know him, I have met with him and his wife because his wife has a company that is also a good potential referral partner for me. So now I know the both of them, I've met with both of them multiple times and like I said, now I'm much more prone to give him a lead or a referral than if you know, I just saw him one time and went out to lunch with him. I think it also breeds accountability because every week we meet and I know your groups meet at least once a month but it breeds accountability. And it also breeds, after a while say you're not, say you're that third run like in the Crossfit where you're like, you're not producing like, "Hey let's get some production," like I'm now going around in my day to day operations thinking like, "...well who could I refer to Peter today?" You know, because you know, I'm now seeing you month over month or week over week so that's what's been good for me and just getting to know other people's businesses. It's been really cool to hear how people make money and why like, you told me like why you got into the business and it seems like, that's really cool. You know what I mean? So...

I told him I was evil by the way.

Phil Gephart: Yeah so you know, I like to hear those stories and people like to be told stories. And so I have some folks that have some pretty cool stories.

Awesome, cool. Well, if people want to find you, of course, you're here in Austin. But what's the best way to get a hold of you?

Phil Gephart:, social media, Instagram (@gephartstrength), Facebook, that's how easy my phone number's on there too if you guys wanna call or text.

Sounds good. Phil, is there anything else you'd like to tell our audience?

Phil Gephart: No man, just work hard and recover even harder because that's what people don't do enough of is recover. They love to push it but then they don't know how to pump the brakes.

And don't forget to tell your mom that you love you her.

Phil Gephart: Love you mom, hi.

Phil, thanks for letting me talk with you.

Phil Gephart: Thank you.

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