John Sullivan is a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist, a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coach and a national level strongman competitor. He’s trained professional fighters and Olympic athletes. Formerly the Strength & Conditioning Coordinator for Tapout Gym in Boston, he now trains clients at www.theweightroomma.com in Newton, MA. John has become a good friend and he’s helped me train for SWAT competitions and my grueling adventure on Expedition Impossible. I recently fired off some interesting questions and these are his responses:
What is currently the worst trend in fitness?
I think people, both trainers and trainees, too often sacrifice quality for quantity. Of course, working hard is a prerequisite to making progress, but people too often view exhaustion as the goal of a training session, rather than providing the proper training stimulus to make gains without risking injury due to excessive fatigue. Work hard, but don’t forget to work smart.
Briefly: What’s the best strategy for fat loss?
In the simplest sense, eat less and move more. Determining your body fat percentage, and therefore your lean body mass, will help you accurately determine how much mass you are feeding (we don’t feed body fat). From there, focus on maintaining muscle mass with strength training. Finally, conditioning work will give additional caloric expenditure. Simply focusing on cardio, with a haphazard diet with ensure that you lose primarily muscle mass, which will sabotage your fat loss goals in the long run.
What is the basic problem with most people’s cardio?
I think many people are still stuck on long duration cardiovascular exercise as their primary source of conditioning. Cardiovascular fitness for many sports and activities such as mixed martial arts, soccer or obstacle courses, involves a blend of anaerobic and aerobic fitness. In order to have optimal cardiovascular fitness for any real life activity, a blend of aerobic and anaerobic work with a variety of implements (running, bodyweight drills, medicine balls, sleds, ropes, etc) should be done instead of long sessions of steady state cardio.
Should women workout differently than men?
For the most part, no. Having wider hips can put more stress on the knees, but generally women should be doing a complete program that blends conditioning and progressive strength training, just like men. Unfortunately women have traditionally been encouraged to avoid weights, and instead focus on cardiovascular exercise. Luckily this trend is beginning to change, and women are embracing strength training, not only for the aesthetic benefits but also for increases in muscular and skeletal strength.
What do you see as the future of fitness?
People are starting to move away from traditional gyms and workouts, and want something that not only improves the way they look, but also how they feel and function. Workouts using sleds, kettlebells, sandbags, bodyweight strength and plyometric exercises coupled with more traditional barbell and dumbbell lifts give people greater potential to reach their fitness goals, as well as keeping them motivated with new challenges.
The big fitness term now is “Core.” What do think of that?
The muscles of the trunk are extremely important in the transfer of power between the lower and upper limbs in both sporting and everyday activities. The mistake many people make is to do their core training on the ground. Getting off the floor and doing abdominal training standing will go a long way to optimizing the functional carryover of your abdominal training. Utilize cable and band rotational and isometric lifts, medicine ball throws and asynchronous standing and walking lifts with various weighted implements.
I’d like to thank Sully for a great interview. There are a lot of trainers out there but very few with the knowledge and experience of a trainer at his level. I often pick his brain over a couple of good beers and I recently had to carry his ass, all day, up and down Mt. Snow, Vermont when we ran Tough Mudder. It should also be noted that he’s an incredible home brewer but he holds onto those bottles with an iron grip.