Beast Reality Volume 1, Issue 1
By Erik Eggers
Before you read this, if you’re impatient, don’t.
If you don’t have a sense of humor, don’t bother. If you are squeamish, don’t bother. Go back to your well-worn couch to watch ESPN and sip your diet soft drink.
Still with me?
We’re gonna be jumping all over the place, but you can handle it; at least I think you can handle it. You’ve made it this far. If you’re reading this, you’re probably tough. Most likely, you are an athlete or a weight lifter.
So relax; crack-open a can of your favorite tuna and enjoy.
This is a story about a 40-year-old boy and a dream.
Fasten your Seatbelts
It’s Sunday May 30th and I’m in Saint Vincent Hospital in Bridgeport Connecticut with an irregular heartbeat and it’s all Jim Wendler’s fault. Well, truth be told, he’s not solely to blame. There were many contributors, unknowingly conspiring to affect my life (Galya, Simmons, Tate and Wendler, and most recently, Joe DeFranco and John Impallomeni).
I’m experiencing PACs to be exact (premature atrial contractions), which are one type of premature heartbeat or irregular heartbeat.
I look up at the sluggish IV bag. It’s working to dump hydration into the crook of my arm at a snail’s pace; the hospital staff replaced my BEAST TRAINING T-shirt (www.beastgym.com) with a tiny hospital gown, pulling across my chest tighter than a powerlifter’s bench shirt.
“If the doctor says I only have ten minutes to live, do you think we could have a ménage à trios’ with the nurse?” I ask my wife, Kim.
She’s not amused, and does not respond, but I hate the hell of the thought of dying without ever having experienced three-way sex; it just doesn’t feel fair. I’m basically a good person.
“Have you experienced severe muscular trauma?” The emergency room physician asks. On his face is that stern look, typically reserved for when your six-year-old writes on the wall with permanent magic marker.
“I trained pretty hard today,” I respond. “But nothing out of the ordinary.”
I don’t want to tell this guy I’ve spent half the day knocking-off insanely heavy back squats and Prowler pushes. I just can’t handle that look; he’s not going to “understand.” But at the same time, I don’t want to be the first documented case of death from Prowler Flu.
“When the muscles in the body break down, they release the enzyme Creatine Kinase in the blood,” the physician says. “A normal level of Creatine Kinase is 120; you’re over 1,000.”
Flash Back 20 Years – University of Connecticut; Buckley Hall Cafeteria ~1990
“Some day Eggers is going to open a gym,” Bryan says to no one in particular, as he stuffs away the remains of his third chicken sandwich. “What are you going to call it?”
“I have no idea.” I say. “You’re out of your mind.”
“How about Eggers’ House of Pain?”
“Yeah, I’ll put it right next to Eggers’ House of Pancakes.”
“Eggers, you know what I like about you?”
“What’s that Bryan?”
“You’re bigger than life.”
“Thanks Bryan,” I say as I chug the last of my milk for the day.
Still with me? Hang in there a bit more.
Flash Forward – Training High School Football Players
I’m done working in Jersey for the day; 14 hours if you include the 130 mile commute. I have just enough time to get home, hit the bathroom, and maybe choke-down a rubbery protein bar; then it’s off to the Beast.
We’ve got a good crew coming to train, comprised of six high school football players and another four or five random “Beasts.” Joe DeFranco affectionately calls his trainees, whose athletic days are behind them, “Washed-Up Meatheads.” We call them Beasts.
In the car, I’m on the phone with the father of one of my athletes. He’s concerned about our program and the pricing, and as a parent, I understand where he’s coming from. His son is a Captain of the Trumbull High School Eagles and the kid loves what we are doing. He understands that the work they do now will help them perform during the season.
We’re going to hammer through some heavy box squats, sandbag front lunges, GHRs, and sled drags. The program isn’t rocket science, but the effort they put in and the atmosphere we’ve created will help take them where they need to go, which in some cases is equipping them to play at the next level.
I reviewed my pricing in preparation for the call. Beast Training’s pricing is a joke; after the government takes out taxes, we pay the trainers, and a portion of the overhead is covered, there is zero concept of income.
Unfortunately, I’m not being facetious.
Why am I doing this again?
Oh, that’s right; but we’ll get to that later.
Flash Backward – Troy Pro-style Dumbbells
I’m on the phone with Elite Fitness System’s (“EliteFTS”) self-professed Alpha Male, Jim Wendler. The conversation is straight to the point; I already know most of the equipment I want; I basically want to make sure that I’m not making any stupid decisions, and Jim pulls no punches.
“Lat Pull-down Machine? Are you really going to spend $2,500 so some kid can do a few lousy triceps pushdowns? You’re better off sticking with close grip bench and buying a couple of bands for $20 bucks to do your pushdowns.”
I ask Wendler to quote me a price on Troy Pro-style Dumbbells (pairs of 5s to 150s).
“The shipping is going to kill you,” he says.
Wendler tells me the price and I quickly and quietly decide I’m going to attempt to find these on the secondary market and spend the little I have on a couple of EliteFTS Collegiate Power Racks.
For the next couple of weeks my wife scans EBay and Craig’s List for the Pro-styles. She finally happens upon a set of 105 – 150s being offered for $2,500, which is actually a good price (believe it or not; candidly, I’d never previously realized dumbbells were so expensive). The deal was for pick-up in Brooklyn, New York, and the seller was Fitness by Kobi; their motto is Fitness is not an Option; it’s a Necessity.
“What should we do?” I ask. Although a good price, $2,500 was actually a lot of cash for our little operation.
“Make an offer,” Kim suggests. “See what he’ll take.”
“How about $1,800?”
“Yeah, I’ll give it a shot,” she says and shoots an Email to Kobi over the iPhone.
“What he say?” I asked five excruciating minutes later.
“He said he’ll take it.”
“Wow; that’s great.”
“Oh, wait a minute,” Kim says; she pauses, staring at the iPhone’s screen with a confused look plastered across her pretty mug. “I have good news. I just realized there is a typo in my offer.”
“Yes; I only offered $1,500 and he took it.” (Kobi – don’t be angry when you read this; the dumbbells are very happy and are in a good home).
I squeeze my Blackberry and pace the living room while banging out a call to Kobi.
“Kobi, I’m the guy who just bought your Craig’s List Dumbbells.”
“Listen, I’m going to gather some of my guys to help me carry the equipment, so please tell me there are no stairs involved.”
“There are 17 flights,” he says.
“17 flights? Are you effing with me?”
“No; 17 flights.”
“What about an elevator?”
“No; no elevator either. You should have been here when I had to bring them up.”
How the heck am I going to carry one 150lb dumbbell down 17 flights, let alone 10 pairs of dumbbells all over 100lbs?
The guys are going to kill me.
The video of us building the BEAST:
Flash Forward (only slightly)
I’m driving a rental truck. I think it’s an Avis. A couple of my gym cronies are in the front seat with me. We’re all reeking of sweat and coffee. We’re on the return trip from Kobi Fitness with approximately 2,500 pounds of dumbbells in tote. It turned out that Kobi meant 17 stairs, not 17 stories, which was fortunate for us, as we’re all still huffing and puffing from the 17 stair trek.
We hear a police siren in the distance, but think nothing of it. I drive for about another mile, siren still blaring in the background.
“Where do we get off?” I ask Eric; he’s one of my steadfast co-pilots and he’s clinging to the GPS.
“About another half mile,” Eric says.
“Holy shit,” I say, as I look out of my driver’s side mirror. “He’s pulling us over.”
“No way,” Chris says.
“Shit yes,” he’s pulling us over.
I pull the box truck over to the shoulder of the road. The officer pulls behind me, and as he gets out of the car, I turn to Chris, a trainer at our gym, and say, “Chris I’m going to need you to kill this guy.” In addition to his training talents, Chris is a third degree black belt in cop killing, but he just laughs. It’s really sad that you can’t depend on anyone.
“Sir, can you tell me why you are driving a commercial vehicle on the Belt Parkway?”
As soon as he says “Parkway,” neurons fire and it clicks for me. Commercial vehicles aren’t allowed on parkways.
“Sorry officer, I guess I was just blindly following the GPS.” I turn to Eric, the offending GPS still clutched in his hands and a guilty smirk plastered across his face.”
“What is your business with this truck,” he asks.
“Err … I’m transporting dumbbells that I bought off Craig’s List.”
“Craig’s List,” he says.
“Craig’s List,” I repeat.
“Dumbbells,” he says.
“Yes,” I say.
Three dumbbells in the front of the truck and ten pair in the back of the truck.
“Sir, please step out of the vehicle and open the back for me.”
I look over to Chris with a glimmer of hope that he may decide to kill this guy after all, but no such luck. I hand my Blackberry over to Chris. “Do me a favor; text my wife and tell her we’re going to be a little late.”
Chris texts Kim, advising her that I’ve been arrested. Unbeknownst to me, Kim had previously left her iPhone with my oldest son, so mistakenly he’s the recipient of Chris’ dandy text message.
I hop out, wondering what I’ve gotten myself into. When I reach the rear of the truck, I notice the officer has positioned himself directly behind the vehicle. He has assumed the stance you’d expect to see at a shooting range.
I unlatch the rear sliding door of the truck and I pause. I’m not certain what compelled me, but I glance back at the officer and notice he has his hand on his weapon (which, thankfully is still in the holster).
I throw the door up, not revealing fifty illegal immigrants or a gross of automatic assault weapons, but rather, roughly 2,500 lbs of Troy Pro-style Dumbbells – 10 pairs, from 105s to 150s. The officer allows me to return to the truck while he returns to his well-traveled cruiser to write-up the ticket.
“He’s going to let you go,” Eric says.
“There is no way. He’s got me dead to rights. I’ve got a commercial vehicle and I’m on the frigging Belt Parkway.”
My Blackberry rings. It’s my oldest son.
“Dad, were you arrested?”
Ultimate Fitness Palace
We’re sitting in the old gym post workout. The old gym is in my basement. It’s Ticket, Chris, Rich, Eric, and I – essentially the crew I’ve been training with for the past five years. I think this is called setting the scene. Weak.
Ticket snaps the cap off of a container of orange Tic-Tacs and downs the contents in their entirety. His cheeks bulge like a squirrel’s full of nuts. It’s not the ideal post training feed, but Ticket’s meal of choice. I’d previously pondered banning the Tic-Tacs, just to be malicious, but I suppose I didn’t have the heart to do it. He finishes chewing and with a very serious look asks; “Did I tell you about the report I’m working on for school?”
“I don’t think you did,” I say. He may have, but during the frenzy of the workout, I may have tuned the story out. I’m a good listener, at times. In the middle of a workout is typically not one of those times.
“Ultimate Fitness Palace,” he says. Ticket’s waiving his hands around for effect, looking like a defense attorney trying to sway a jury. “The Ultimate Fitness Palace.”
“Huh?” Rich says. Rich is munching on a protein bar. Me? I’m sucking-down a post-workout protein shake replete with raw eggs (in retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t be making fun of the Tic-Tacs). I have to bob and weave just to avoid salmonella.
“Ultimate Fitness Palace,” Ticket repeats. “It’s a report for my business class”
“And what is Ultimate Fitness Palace?” Chris asks.
“It’s a combination Karate Dojo and free-weight gym; kind of a hard-core gym. I’m putting together a business plan for my class with two partners.”
“Wow.” Chris says. “Where’d you ever get an idea like that?” We’re all laughing under our breath.
“I don’t know,” Ticket says. “I just thought of it.”
“Just thought of it?” I say. “We’ve been talking about it for five years Joe; that’s where you first heard the idea.”
Joe smirks. He knows we’re right; at least I think he knows, but for a moment the evening has a kind of Twilight Zone feel.
The Ultimate Fitness Palace … maybe it’s doable.
No, this isn’t Wendler with a trimmed beard; it’s me in the original Eggers’ Gym in my basement in Trumbull Connecticut.
Flash Forward – DeFranco’s Training (Wyckoff, NJ)
I move the Gym/Dojo idea past the joking stage (I was just as shocked as you are).
One of the biggest catalysts was a Valentine’s Day gift from my wife, a training session at DeFranco’s Training in Wyckoff New Jersey.
I live in Trumbull Connecticut, but currently work in Englewood Cliffs New Jersey, about fifteen miles away from DeFranco’s Training.
I first stumbled on DeFranco’s on the web. I was Googling West Side Barbell and found Joe’s “Skinny Bastard” program, which is a variant of the “West Side” protocol that Joe specifically tailored to be more suitable for athletic training. The discovery led to a few dozen hours on Joe’s YouTube channel and a serious lamenting that I didn’t have access to these types of resources when I was playing high school football.
DeFranco’s is a hardcore warehouse strength and conditioning facility. It’s an awesome place to train – full of EliteFTS Collegiate Power Racks, palpable adrenaline, and athletes looking to take their game to the next level.
Kim presents me with the homemade gift certificate she’d created to memorialize the gift. Immediately I think, am I ready to train there? Will I be able to keep pace with the young athletes and the professional athletes training there?
I was 39 years old, my back had been bothering me, and I noticed the training date abutted my departure for a Florida business trip (ever fly Coach Class after destroying yourself in a workout – it’s soreness to the power of infinity). Above all, I wanted to put be sure to put on a good performance.
I sit in silence as I ponder the possibilities, forgetting to thank my wife and family for the thoughtful gift. Kim misinterprets my reaction as apathy, promptly starts crying and leaves the room (unfortunately she’s got the whole episode on film, so I can’t hide from my underwhelming reaction). We’ve been married for fourteen years; you’d think she’d be used to my inconsideration by now.
The trip to DeFranco’s went well.
I loved the atmosphere and enjoyed working out with John Impallomeni, the DeFranco’s trainer assigned to cover my session, affectionately known as the Jersey Jackal.
During the training, I found out that when Kim booked the training session she’d described me as, “the real deal.” Maybe she does love me after all.
At the end of Max Effort box squats, I crushed a 535 single and narrowly missed a 565, because I drifted too far forward. In any event, I was on DeFranco’s record board for the box squat in the “Washed-Up Meatheads (over 220lbs)” category.
Here is the video of the infamous Valentine’s Day gift taken by Joe DeFranco:
I was surprised there were no locker room or shower facilities. I was psyched that while DeFranco’s didn’t have these amenities, it still attracted some of the strongest athletes in the world.
The trip crystallized the fact that someone (ahem … such as myself), having substantial training knowledge, a respected Strength and Conditioning Certification, and a tremendous amount of motivation, could start a comparable facility without spending millions.
Flash Forward Again
“I’m thinking of calling it Beast Training,” I say.
“Beast Training?” my wife asks.
“Yeah; it’s a term for a powerful athlete – that guy is a Beast.”
“I don’t like it,” she says.
“I love it.”
I call my attorney.
“Jeff, I need to form a single member limited liability company.”
“What’s the name of the company?’
“I like it,” Jeff says.
It’s 9pm and the music blaring is Bullet with a Name On It by Nonpoint, the alternative metal group from Fort Lauderdale, Florida; the gym is drenched with sweat and adrenaline. We’ve got 10 football players configured in two groups of five and they are box squatting at a frenzied pace, each giving it their all; each trying to best the other.
I’m working with the backs and Chris is working with the lineman. It’s a taxing night, even for the trainers, but it’s going well; most of the squats look pretty good. The training sessions all feel fast and furious; I am so conscious with regard to keeping things moving (i.e. to get the work done and get the athletes the training they need).
The garage door is opened and in the middle of a squat set, a bug, the size of a pterodactyl, flies across the mug of one of our athletes. The look on the trainee’s face was priceless, if only for one rep, he turns a regular box squat into somewhat of a jump squat.
In between sets, I take a few seconds to imbibe the atmosphere – just take it all in. Things aren’t perfect yet, and probably never will be, but this night is pretty close to what I envisioned Beast would be; what I envisioned Beast could be. There is so much electricity in the room, I’m literally getting chills.
At Beast, we are essentially doing everything I wish I had done as a student athlete. We focus on core multi-joint movements with good form; we incorporate a lot of unilateral training, explosive jumping, sandbag and sled work. It’s functional training, versus messing around with silly isolation exercises that should have a lower priority (if any) in athletic training.
We are doing what Joe DeFranco refers to as supervised group training. The benefits of training in groups are multifold. The trainers provide the athletes with the required supervision and additional motivation when necessary; group training fosters both a competitive and synergistic environment, always remembering none of these training modalities work without good form.
The other trainers and I are very invested in the athletes’ success; more invested than they will ever know. It’s very fulfilling to help someone achieve their full potential.
I snap back to the present to spot one of our athletes; he sets a new three rep record in the box squat. It’s his third personal best in as many workouts.
He racks the weight. I give him a big slap on the back.
He’s smiling from ear to ear.
I’m smiling too.
Life is good in the belly of the Beast.
Beast Training (“Beast”) is a Warehouse Strength and Conditioning facility located in Trumbull, Connecticut (www.beastgym.com – Twitter: @BEASTTRAINING). Beast is dedicated to helping athletes achieve their full potential. Founder and strength and conditioning director, Erik Eggers is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (“CSCS”) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association, a member of the American Powerlifting Association (“APA”), and an APA State record holder. He has been involved in resistance training for the past 25 years.