Meet Joe Stankowski

Joe Stankowski is a trainer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He's been one of my closest advisers and best writers for the past five years. I remember having conversations with Joe years ago and hearing some of his "wild" ideas--stretching is a waste of time, stability training can be done without BOSU balls, the bench press isn't functional for football, etc.--which are now much more accepted (and gaining steam).

I interviewed Joe recently to help you all get familiar with him. For more information, check out his blog, For more information, check out his blog, morningcupojoe.com, and his site, This Workout Doesn't Suck.

Sean: How did you get interested in training?

Joe: My history of lifting heavy stuff for fun goes back quite awhile. As  a young kid on our family's usual summer vacation, I'd help out on my  grandparent's farm... unloading hay bales, picking rock, digging post holes, etc. I never really thought of it as "working out"; it was just something  that had to be done, so for me, it was the way I'd get to hang out with my grandpa and uncles.

At age 12, I was introduced to my first barbell.  While my friends were already starting to get involved in sports and chasing girls, I was more interested in learning and pplying the "cutting edge" training techniques of the 1980s (read: high volume, high frequency, bodybuilder-style training).

Despite any real guidance in my early training, when I visited the farm the next summer, I was no longer "Joey", but "Big Joe", and my uncles started letting me do even more heavy farm work.  By the time I started playing football in high school, I already had a good foundation of raw, natural "farm strength" - what we'd call "functional strength" these days - plus that measureable gym strength (ie: bench press) the coaches were looking for.

After football, I got involved in powerlifting, even training with multiple-time world champ Ed Coan for several years. I did some local strongman competitions when I lived in England, and then came back to the U.S. and had a couple years as the official fitness trainer for "Miss Delaware USA". I've worked with little old ladies, weekend warriors, high school athletes, a few celebrities and everyone in between.

Sean: What do you think sets you apart from the rest of the pack of trainers (aside from your tattoos and erotic piercing)?

Joe: I work with my clients as more of a program design consultant or coach than a typical follow-you-around-the-gym-and-count-reps trainer. I suppose the fact that I find the idea of stretching to "make muscles longer and more flexible" to be outdated bullshit sets me apart, too. Passive flexibility is an injury in the making. Active range of motion is where I focus my efforts.

And I don't worry about circus tricks on wobble boards and stability balls either. You can get all the "core" training you'll ever need by doing deadlifts, farmer's walks, overhead presses, etc.

That said, I look for the value in all forms of training. There's no such thing as bad exercise, just shitty program design. Most people go to the gym and do random workouts. They often brag that their trainer never has them do the same workout twice. Well, without a progressive, measurable system--one which requires some constants--the random workout approach can only produce random results.

I suppose if there is one thing I do particularly well, it's cutting through the maze of "last workouts you'll ever need" and helping my clients/readers/viewers understand and implement the basic principles that'll help them achieve their fitness goals in a way that's meaningful to them.

By the way, that piercing was in my tongue, and only lasted a week and a half before I took it out due to an infection.  They told me I should avoid solid food until it healed, but I think I had a piece of steak stuck in the hole.

Sean: What is one method of training that everyone should try?

Joe: That's like asking a mechanic which tool everyone should use. They're ALL good - at the right time, for the right job.  But they all have inherent limitations, too.  A chainsaw, hacksaw, and butter knife are all made for cutting, but each is made for a specific purpose. When it comes to exercise, all the "tools" we have available only provide stimulus meant to bring about some kind of adaptation response.  But if you remember only one thing from what I'm telling you, let it be this: never trust a mechanic who has only one wrench.

Sean: What do you think are the biggest time-wasters in terms of exercise?

Joe: Along the lines of the "tools", all forms of exercise have SOME value - even the Thighmaster.  But it's important to recognize when something isn't producing the results you're after.  Taking something that isn't working and doing MORE of it usually doesn't make it work any better.

Sean: What advice do you have for men who want to get in shape for the first time?

Joe: You mean other than putting the workouts in MF to work?  Stop waiting for the "perfect" moment to start training.  There is nothing magical about tomorrow, Monday or the first of the month.  Do *something* RIGHT NOW, even if it's not 'by the book'.  Develop the habit of regular physical activity. Keep track of what you do and measure the results.  If it works, keep it. If it doesn't, don't.  Continually add to your fitness 'tool box'.  Eat right and exercise.

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