I Threw the Baby out with the Bathwater

As defined by Wikipedia:  an idiomatic expression for an avoidable error in which something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the favorable along with the unfavorable.

I have been professionally training for close to 20 years. I have worked in numerous big box gyms to boutique mom an pop studios. I learned from the best and the worst this industry has to offer. A little over a decade ago, I was on my last leg with the training profession and training myself. I was bored and felt like fitness was monotonous. Big globo gyms were driven by money and profits only. They run off of a model that focuses on High Volume, Low Service, Low Cost. The industry felt stagnant. I went to these huge trade shows with tens of thousands of pieces of equipment and I would just role my eyes because it was getting silly what “the industry” was tryin to sell. I saw so called trainers showing people how to use machines, most of which weren’t appropriate for many people and knew that most would show up, do a circuit on the machines and never see results. I would see packed aerobic classes at gyms that saw the same people day in and day out with no results and got irritated with what was being sold.

Then in 2007, I stumbled across a kettlebell and every thing changed. I also got into Crossfit and for the next few years I was down the rabbit hole of full body functional movements, strengthening the posterior chain and seeing some amazing results.  I was successful mostly because I was excited to train again, and train others with these methods.  I found the balance of strength and conditioning, with  full body complex movements and not 1 machine was needed. I eventually lost interest in Crossfit, as the kettlebell and barbell world became much more appealing. Pavel Tsatsouline, the Russian that taught me how to swing a kettlebell had what I wanted. He had a no nonsense and simplistic approach to training that netted great results in strength and conditioning. As I entrenched myself in Pavel’s work I came across Grey Cook and the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), which lead to learning from many other systems and coaches. I learned more about the human body in a couple of years than I had discovered in my previous 8 years in the profession. I became “woke” in terms of functional movement and strength training.  I had a new bag of tools and they were awesome. I helped a shit ton of people move better and become more conditioned and strong. I found myself being able to problem solve client’s long term issues with aches and chronic injury by teaching them how to move better. I created a niche and I developed a skill of understanding the human body beyond counting  sets and reps and body splits.

The original Tucson Strength… 1000sqft of awesome.









The Pendulum had swung. In my head people didn’t need machines, actually machines weren’t needed. Learning how to move the body without a machine was the “only” answer.  When I opened Evolution Fitness (now Tucson Strength) I had  40 or so kettlbells, a pull-up bar, some TRX, a rower, a couple barbells, 1-squat stand and some bumpers. That was it.  Over the past 8 years we have more or less followed that model just adding more squat racks and bars. A couple cable machines snuck in a few years ago with little to no fanfare. A fleet of  rowers came 2 years ago which started turning some heads, but have become a welcome addition to our toolset.

Then this happened:

Strength Training Gyms Tucson

Yeah,  expensive Hammer Strength pieces, a leg curl machine and other evil machines recently started taking up the precious floor space. WTF Happened? Did I lose my mind? Did I pull a Happy Days and  jump the shark? I have been asked  a bunch of questions this week, and the thing that caught me was the look of  confusion  with the questions. It has many people confused because I set the tone that all of this  stuff isn’t needed, or maybe even worse, useless. When I think back on my 30 + year journey of training much of it was built on some of these pieces of equipment and concepts of training. Sure there are a ton of crap pieces of equipment out there, but there are many that serve a great purpose in building strength and muscle. Can you do a lot without equipment? Yes. So why add it? Simple is sometimes better, but simple can also sometimes be too tunnel visioned . Doing dumbbell rows, barbell pulls, and chest supported rows are great for back development and so  are High Rows on a Hammer Strength Machine. Actually the pull you get on these machines is superior in some ways to other movements. RDL’s and GHDs are great for hamstring development, but so is a great leg curl machine. Bicep curls don’t suck and can be effective,  higher repetition training beyond sets of 5 or ladders of 1-5 should be cycled in most programs. I built my body on many of these machines and concepts for 20 years and I helped a ton of people change their lives with them as well. There are lots of tools that are effective and even more effective than a barbell or kettlebell depending on the goal. Can you do hypertrophy training with kettlebells? Yes, but there are better tools for different goals. All these things are just tools and knowing how to apply them in each situation is the most important thing. I got tunnel vision for awhile and forgot how important hypertrophy training can be for most people and how training rep schemes outside of the “strength” paradigm can amazingly effective.

A client made a snarky comment to me this week along the lines of, “are we going to have a ton of cardio pieces in here now too.” Well, maybe not right away,  but the answer is probably some. Cardio pieces of equipment have a purpose as well. Kettlebells and barbells are great for strength and some condition work, but many people need to move more.  Swings are awesome, but doing 20,000 swings per month purely for conditioning  isn’t something I recommend anyone to do, Actually I discourage it.  Its a great way  to overuse your body.  Many people just need an aerobic base and that comes time, not just intensity and definitely not just swings or intervals.  A great low impact cardio machine can get a lot of work done for some people and have a low impact of stress on their systems. It is easy to work heart rate in the dedicated range  and  It can serve as a awesome accessory movement on top of a strong base of strength training.   Cardio bunnies on the elliptical machine for 8 hours per week as the only mode of training isn’t a great approach, but someone that is training 3-4 strength days in a kettlebell or barbell class adding  it could be a great tool. Three  easy, 30 minute elliptical sessions per week  would probably help some people get over that hump of weight loss they have been struggling with. A little extra low intensity sweat would probably improve their life a lot.

I have been on this journey a long time and have done some deep thinking on what works and what doesn’t. I am not afraid to admit that I got a bit dogmatic with training. I recently saw through my journey in training myself and others that  my process needed to evolve. I am sure that what is cooking in my brain will be able to offer my community a more impactful  training experience. So yes, we will be focusing a bit more on some other aspects of training. We aren’t getting rid of kettlebells, crawling, and the things that have built our system ,but we will be adding some things that will improve the experience and outcomes and phasing out things that aren’t as effective.

By | 2018-07-27T21:13:04+00:00 July 27th, 2018|Cardio, Fitness, Strength Training, Uncategorized|2 Comments


  1. Jim Hatcher July 28, 2018 at 3:00 am - Reply

    If I may paraphrase slightly, I have been “training” for slightly more than sixty years. I have “worked out” in big gyms and very small facilities. I have had some great “coaching” and some not so great. Mostly I am self taught and have had the benefit of some amazing training partners. Over these many years I have tried almost every training modality with varied success. Success for me was modest success in competitive powerlifting and SFG Level 1. Programming, if at all, came from reading and experimenting. Boredom and monotony were my enemy. Big goals and consistency were my best friends. In retrospect, training for powerlifting was probably the most productive for me, kettlebells the most enjoyable and rewarding. The sustaining effort in those times of uncertainty was always machines. In fact, where I live during the summer months, I use old, but well maintained Nautilus machines and dumbbells. Age is taking a toll, each training modality has served me well at a given point in time. The “tools” as you say.. Good coaching as you describe would have made it better, As a student/client the combination of variety and consistency may not have prevented the inevitable, but certainly it has postponed some of the ravages of aging. For me, after all, that is the last big goal. Perhaps the greatest intangible reward that accrues to a professional trainer such as yourself is to have helped some of us along the way. Great piece, Danny!

    • Danny Sawaya July 28, 2018 at 3:04 am - Reply

      Thanks Jim..I guess Im on the right track:-) I think many that have been in the game for a long time pick up on this. Glad The light bulb went on for me too.

Leave A Comment