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Tony Gentilcore: The fitness industry runs on a pendulum

Tony Gentilcore is one of the leaders in the fitness industry. He writes articles for the biggest websites and magazines you can imagine (Men's Health, T-Nation, Bodybuilding.com), has his own gym, and is one of the funniest guys in this industry. See for yourself:

Hello Tony and thank you for your time, I really appreciate it. Could you please introduce yourself to those, who aren’t familiar with you?

TG: My name is Tony Gentilcore, but my closest friends call me Jason Bourne.

Some interesting facts about me:

  1. I grew up in a small town in central NY (in the Finger Lakes region) called Groton.
  2. My hometown is so small it doesn’t have one traffic light in it.
  3. I watched Conan the Barbarian at least 313 times as a kid.
  4. I entered the fitness industry in 2002 and worked as a personal trainer the first five years of my career.
  5. I eventually crossed paths with a young lad named Eric Cressey, and in the summer of 2007, along with our other friend, Pete Dupuis, opened Cressey Sports Performance.
  6. I served as co-founder and one of the head coaches there from 2007-2015.
  7. I now run my own training studio located in Boston, MA called CORE.
  8. I also run a popular website/site blog at TonyGentilcore.com and have been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to write for some of the top fitness publications out there.
  9. I have the cutest cat in existence, Dagny.

How did you get to strength training, and for how long have you been in this „iron game“?

TG: Like many guys, my story with iron begins with people of the opposite sex and trying to get their attention. Santa brought me my first weight training set when I was 13 and I have never looked back.

I worked out all through high-school and through my collegiate years in an effort to improve myself for baseball. My goal was to play professionally, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. Fitness had always been a part of my life up until then, however, and it seemed like a natural progression to pursue a career in it once baseball was over.

I’m thankful things have worked out.

Tony Gentilcore - Love the Grind

You have visited Prague and Oslo in May on your Europe trip with Dean Somerset. How did you like these cities?

TG: Three words: I LOVE Europe. I am so thankful that I’ve gotten to a point in my career that it offers me the opportunity to travel the world. It’s still surreal to me that there are people around the world who want to listen to me speak, and it’s still one of the highest honors I can ask for.

Prague was lovely. My wife and I adored it. Being immersed into a different culture is something we both enjoy. Prague in particular was very special because we were able to spend an entire week there. It gave us ample time to walk around the entire city and explore Prague castle was amazing. But our favorite activity we ended up doing was this thing called Taste of Prague.  We met up with this husband-wife who give tours around the city, taking tourists to all these off-the-beaten-track restaurants, pubs, and wine cellars. It was one of the best meals we had ever had. Also, fun fact, it was also the first time I ever had a beer! HAHA. I’m not a big  drinker, but there was no way I could say no to arguably the best beer in the world.

It’s quite beautiful and we hope to visit again soon.

 From the coaching point of view, how did you like the lifting technique and attitude of attendees of your’s workshops?

TG: It’s funny you should ask. When Dean and I did our workshop in Prague we were really impressed with the overall movement quality of the attendees. Each workshop we do is different. We have an itinerary we work off of, but that often changes based off the attendees, what they seem to be more engaged in, and what topics they seem to want us to cover. As an example, oftentimes Dean and I break down kettlebell movements – the swing and get-up – going over our coaching cues and how we troubleshoot the movements. I looked at Dean at one point and was like, “Dude, we’re in the Czech Republic, people are born with kettlebells in the arms here, they could coach US.”

In all I was very impressed with the attendee’s movement quality.

And the people were/are so nice, open, and willing to learn. I never go into a workshop expecting people to take my word as bond. I am always open to learning from attendees, their viewpoints, and ways of doing things. It was quite the experience to be in a different culture and to see the different learning styles and their willingness to listen and be coached.

Like I said, I can’t wait to come back.

What’s your opinion on aerobic work? It’s been widely demonized in recent years. Do you think, that this type of work will destroy our „gainz“, or is it beneficial to any athlete in some form?

TG: The fitness industry runs on a pendulum. 5-10 years ago all we said about “cardio” was that everyone should avoid it, it was a waste of time, and that it would negate any strength training. Today, that pendulum is starting to come back towards the middle and you have guys like Alex Viada expousing that, YES, it is possible to be both strong/ripped AND in great cardiovascular shape.

It’s hard to disregard the abyss of research that demonstrates the enormous health benefits of cardiovascular health. I mean, it IS the heart we’re talking about. It’s sorta important to have that functioning well.

I do find there’s a time and place for cardio and am now of the thought that, when done correctly, and when done in the most effective dose given someone’s goals, will only ENHANCE performance in the gym; if for nothing else than to help build/improve someone’s work capacity. The more cardiovascularly fit someone is, the less likely he or she will “putter” out in the weightroom. In short, they’ll be able to perform at a higher level for longer periods of time.

According to you, how much time should it take to warm-up and mobilize prior to workout?

TG: As with anything, the correct answer is “it depends.” Some people need more attention to detail if they have a more extensive injury background. The warm-up will serve a larger role in their workout as there may be more things to address with regards to their posture, weaknesses, or movement deficiencies. Healthier or more advanced trainees may be able to get away with a more expedited warm-up.

Either way the warm-up does serve a purpose: it serves as a way to increase body temperature, lubricate the joints, and better prepare the body for the more dynamic nature of what goes on in the weightroom.

If I had to generalize a rule of thumb in terms of length I’d say anywhere from 5-10 minutes is more than enough for most people. A common mistake I find many trainees make – especially those who tend to be chronically injured – is spending too much time warming up. I mean, I’ve witnessed some people spend 30 minutes on foam rolling alone, hitting every inch of their body before touching a barbell. Whenever I see this behavior I’ll usually explain that THAT’s why they’re always hurt. They’re spending too much time on the foam roller and in this bubble where they feel like a delicate flower, and not enough time TRAINING.

Do  you think, that we should use a large variety of exercises in programming or just stick to a few basic movements?

TG: Again, it depends. However, when it comes to the notion of “exercise variety” I feel most people get caught in this trap where they’re somehow “tricked” into thinking they have to change things up every so often in order to keep the body guessing. This is bullshit, and more often than not a ploy by people selling their exercise programs.

I tend to fall in the camp that less is more. The reason why many people fail to see progress is that they rarely (if ever) remain on a program long enough to see progress. Many will start a program one week only to start something else the following week.

To me, the name of the game is technical mastery. Most people are unable to express their “true” strength or fitness level because they never allow themselves enough time to master any one given movement.

Squat

Hinge (Deadlift)

Push

Pull

Lunge

Carry

Rotate

Those are the main categories of movement I tend to focus on, and to be honest, there’s an endless repertoire of exercises to choose from in these alone.

For me, people need to earn the right to expand their exercise toolbox.  Many would benefit by just keeping things simple. I understand it can be boring, but it’s the boring stuff that works the best.

In one of your articles you described the benefits and disadvantages of using percentages in our programming. Could you briefly describe the (in)convenience of percentage-based training? (You can find the article here)

TG: Sure. In short:

Advantages: Provides some semblance of structure and accountability for people. They KNOW exactly what they’re supposed to do in the gym on any given day. Likewise, when used correctly, it helps fluctuate training stress. I’m not a big fan of training to failure. As with anything, it has it’s time and place, but I find too many trainees train to failure thinking they HAVE to collapse at the end of each training session.

I'd rather someone leave a training session wanting to do more. Using a percentage based approach helps to “manage” training stress.

Disadvantages: Percentage based training doesn’t take into account day-to-day autoregulation. Some days you feel like a rock star and will feel like you can lift all the weights in the gym, while other days you feel like you got punched in the face by Batman.

You may have something planned like 4x2 @ 87% on squats one day, but feel like garbage. Percentage based training can be limiting in this regard.

We could say that you specialize on back training and particularly deadlifts. How did you came to these areas of training, and what fascinates you about back as a muscle group?

TG: Well, as someone who’s primarily trained athletes the past decade it makes sense to prioritize the backside. Having a strong posterior chain allows people to sprint faster, jump higher, and perform well in sport.

Personally speaking, my fascination with the deadlift is purely selfish. My leverages suit me well for deadlifting (long arms). I suuuuuuuck at bench pressing, but the deadlift is the one movement I can kinda-sorta brag about.


Should everyone deadlift? Can you imagine an pro-athlete who has never done this exercise, but his athleticism would be still jaw-dropping?

TG: Yes, but that comes with a degree of context. The deadlift, when broken down to the basics, is nothing more than a hip hinge (and being able to dissociate hip movement from lumbar movement). To that end, when I say “everyone should deadlift” I am not implying that everyone has to load up a barbell to maximal load and pull it off the floor. Many people are not ready or conditioned enough to pull that off.

For some, a “deadlift” (or hip hinge) is nothing more than a cable Pull-through, or maybe a kettlebell deadlift, or trap bar deadlift, or maybe it’s nothing more than a rudimentary hip hinge drill with bodyweight only.

The hip hinge is a human pattern I believe everyone should learn to perform properly. Whether or not to load it, add speed, or repetitions is dependent on someone’s ability level, injury history, and goal(s).

Likewise, make no mistake: there are plenty of people out there who have never deadlifted a barbell and are still super athletic. So, no, in some ways, not everyone HAS to deadlift. Do I think it’s a good idea? Yes. But there are no absolutes in strength and conditioning. Only Sith’s deal in absolutes. There you go: my one Star Wars reference.

Tony Gentilcore - Love the Grind

What is the purpose of training for you? I know, we are getting a little bit philosophical right now, but what is the main reason you train for all these years?

TG: Me, personally? I’ll defer to my wife here. She’s often approached at the gym by random people asking her what she’s training for. They see her deadlifting, squatting, performing hip thrusts and push-ups and Farmer carries and many assume she’s training for some kind of competition to show.

When asked what she’s training for she’ll politely respond “Life.”

At this stage in my life (just turned 40) I’m in the same boat. Sure, I still have some landmarks I’d like to hit, like a 600 lb deadlift, but in general my training is geared towards life. I just want to   be strong, diesel, and not move like the Tin Man.

You seem like someone, who likes to write a lot. Do you have some daily routine concerning writing (number of words per day you must write, number of blog posts in a week etc.), or do you prefer spontaneity in this area?

TG: If I could somehow travel back in time and meet up with my 16-year old self and let him know that part of my livelihood is from being paid to write, I think he’d laugh at me. I was NOT a writer growing up. I wasn’t even an avid reader. But once I began my career as a personal trainer and coach I kinda just gravitated towards writing. I knew I had some things to say and that I offered a unique perspective.

I started my blog back in 2006 when not too many fitness blogs existed. After a while I was fortunate enough to catch the eye of sites like T-Nation and Men’s Health and both helped me to get my name out there more.

Today, writing is part of my daily ritual. I’m more of a morning writer and tend to do the bulk of it once my wife leaves for work at 8 AM. I can’t say I shoot for “x” number of words per day or anything like that, but I just try to get it in anyway I can. Typically I shoot for 3-5 blog posts per week in addition to any articles I have due for other sites. Funnily enough, I rarely plan a head. Usually when a blog post goes up on any given day it’s something I wrote that day.

Recently, i’ve read a quote by Stephen King: "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot". Do you agree? How much do you read?

TG: YES!

I’m often contacted by people asking me what they can do to be a better writer and to get to the point of where I’m at in my career – writing engaging content and being published.

I try to help, I really do. But in the end I tell them, “stop emailing about what you need to do to be a better writer, and start fucking writing!”

START is the key word here.

As I noted above I started my blog in 2006 and have accumulated upwards of 1,900 blog posts. That’s a lot of writing. And it’s only that high because I did nothing more than…start. And then I held myself accountable and stayed consistent. I look back at stuff I wrote ten years ago and I have to hold back the vomit. It’s been via practice and experience that I have learned to become a better writer. I mean, I think I’m better.

And I couldn’t agree more that reading a lot only helps your writing. I’m often envious of other’s prose. It’s via reading other people’s work where you get a better appreciation of things like structure, developing a “voice,” pacing, and being more engaging.

If you had to choose 5 books about strength and conditioning to recommend to our readers, which ones would you select?

TG:  In no specific order:

  1. Advances in Functional Training – Mike Boyle
  2. Starting Strength – Mark Rippetoe
  3. Science and Practice of Strength Training – Vladmir Zatsiorsky
  4. Fact and Fallacies of Fitness – Mel Siff
  5. Ultimate Back Fitness & Performance – Dr. Stuart McGill

I’d be remiss not to mention the importance of following people’s websites and blogs. Those tend to be more “up-to-date” and on par with coach’s current methodologies and train of thought.

Thank you for the interview, i don’t know how to thank you enough. I wish you good luck in the future.

Jakub Kalus

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