Archive for the Articles Category

Heavy Hitters Apply Here: “The Old Times are Back…”

Posted in Articles on February 17, 2017 by oldcountrystrong

Well this Blog is called Old Country Strong “Life and Lifting”

And since I started writing again a lot of it’s been about life. Well, a large part about my life is lifting. My own personal training helps level me out, but so does training other people and I love to write programming. It’s probably one of the things I’m better known for. So much so that I now have a collective of coaches that are part of a charter program that represents the I/C and how we do things.

Awhile back, I started writing the I/C Training Log with a large focus on group training. It’s worked great. Those gyms and Charters do the I/C proud. In the meantime, I took a lot of the old-school, real gritty, hard nosed training I use to write and privaitized it and would send it to my coaches and athletes abroad in private emails.

I did that because a lot of times I had no idea who was doing what I posted. And sometimes I worried folks were mssing the point of the training or just didn’t know how to do some of the stuff that was posted.

Well the first I/C training post went up on September 4th, 2010. I had been wrting program and running a gym for a bit of time before then, but this was the first time I really let the cat out of the bag on how I did things behind the curtain. Well since 2010 things have changed and accessing information via the interwebs has become a lot easier.

So I’ve decided to make the private training public again. This is the nitty gritty kettlbell, barbell and lung burning workouts that were the base we built everything on.

Since the beginning of it all, program models have changed. The program is always growing and so am I. Since that time, I’ve also become the lead programmer for CrossFit KettleBell, written the programming model for that course and run the training you see on that blog daily. Styles have been updated and the mass building, hurtin bomb program of old times is coming back with fresh updates.

This program kicks off Monday and shouldnt be used by anyone competing in the coming CrossFit Open. Why? Well cause it’s not designed with that in mind. It’s designed with the old goal of the Club in mind. to be the hardest man or woman in the room. Be it in strength sports, on the mat or field, the competitive fitness floor or just life in general. It’s to build raw strength and legs and lungs that can take the demand an individual can inflict on their bodies.

I’ll post weekly videos on my Instagram demoing kettlbell and dumbell complexes to compliment your training. You can find that on the IronClubAthletics account. And you can follow it on our Training Log,

So if you’re ready to Slang Iron and build some hurtin bombs check the Training come Monday. Use stuff you find on there or follow along for one hell of a ride. Be sure to check the FAQs for info on the program and read the About section which will have nods to those that have helped inspire parts of this program. No coach should go without growth by those that have come before them. But you’ll also see a huge dose of the foundation the Clubs been built on. We kick off Monday, grab your bells, weights, sandbags and any heavy objects you can get your hands on and get ready to bang.

Posted by: Z

So I have a “illness,” thanks for the update…

Posted in Articles on February 7, 2017 by oldcountrystrong

“Once you’ve accepted your flaws, no one can use them against you…” George R.R. Martin

So I actually wrote this article last Wednesday. I’d been meaning to write it for a while, and I had already mentioned some of the contents in other articles I had written. But after getting it finished I kinda backed off on posting it.

The whole thing was pretty in-depth and was really me trying to help others to understand what a lot of folks are dealing with. But then Friday I just had a FUCKED day. My rig broke down on the way into work. Then work that day was a complete mess. I’m also gearing up to go teach a course in China and have a nagging injury that makes a 19 hour flight before teaching a two day seminar just sound amazing. But then I had a Fuck It moment, and decided to rewrite this whole damn thing and just kick it off the way I start our LiveForward support groups.

So here it is: My name is Zach and I have Borderline Personality Disorder.

It’s something I’ve dealt with for more then half my life and to tell you the truth it really blows most of the time. But one of the big problems with it was that I was too stubborn to accept there may be something “wrong” with me for a long time. I saw a counsellor for it once when I was in high school, and end up getting misdiagnosed with ADD. I got some pills, the pills didn’t do shit, so I just scrapped that route of action.

I actually decided to scrap any action in dealing with things. And what I did instead was muscle my way through life. Let me tell you something, that wasn’t the way I should have approached this. But, hey in my mind it was cause I could hanlde anything.

I just told myself there was no way anything was “wrong” with me. I was just an asshole sometimes with a short temper that had a real issue managing his emotions in a lot of situations. That lead to more internalized pain and anger than I’d like to admit right now. I just kept pushing forward. And when things got real dark in life, I just kept my head down and kept pushing. It fucked up relationships, made me real difficult to be around sometimes and put my family through a lot of things I wish I hadn’t made them go through.

You see most folks with BPD are usually diagnosed within 4-5 years of its onset. I made it 16+ years before the floor fell out with out a bottom in sight. I had taken multiple trips to what I call the elephant graveyard and had found rock bottom before. But this last time even rock bottom couldn’t stop the spiral.

I sadly lost another Uncle to suicide this Summer. And I thought I was gonna be able to deal with it and be the rock for my family. It may sound odd to feel flawed and be a support system for anyone, but that’s a large part of who I am. Then one night it all caught up with me and that’s when the floor dropped out. I couldn’t get a grip and I pretty much gave into everything like I had in the past, but this time was different and the fall didn’t stop, I think part of it was I didn’t want it to.

When I finally realized what was happening and there was no bouncing back, I had to get help, like real help. I went back to a counsellor, which let’s be real is a term for a therapist. And the search wasn’t easy. I stormed out of offices and really hated the whole experience. But then I found a couple of Docs who I ended up trusting (which is really hard for me). So got real help, I got on meds even though I didn’t like the idea, I did it, and I began the process of figuring out what was wrong.

It didn’t take too long to figure out I had BPD. To make this short, it’s kinda like being Bi-polar, but instead of hills and valleys of emotions I have a Richter scale that bounces like an earthquake is going on. But the thing is that earthquake is always happening. I’ve started reading more and connected with some of the things I read. The simplest one was it’s like living without skin, so bumping into things that set me off, set me the fuck off.

But there’s also good things about it and those things I don’t want to change. I’m empathetic and really attached to other folks’ distress and emotional issues. I’m a business owner, a coach, a mentor and have always been a point of support for people. And I wouldn’t change that for anything.

I just missed some key developmental points in my life and I’m relearning how to deal with them. And that’s just part of the process and I know its a long one and I hate it but I’m going to see it through.

Part of that was becoming open with all this, and standing by my belief that life doesn’t end at diagnosis. It just doesn’t, it’s just a word and some people may view this as an “illness” and that’s their own right. I simply see it as a part of who I am, but not who I am.

After losing my second Uncle this summer, part of finding my feet again was creating LiveForward. It’s a support group that’s open to anyone. Mental health isn’t the only topic we tackle; addiction, suicide, those that have lost loved ones or who are the support system for others are all open for discussion.

The other week I announced that I joined Team Uncommon which is part of my friend Ryan Sutton’s brand, The Uncommon Breed. I’ve know Ryan for a long time and when he explained his mission statement and vision for his Team, I signed on right away.

Part of the deal though, was that I wanted to be viewed as an Athlete/Advocate. I’ve been an athlete my whole life and physical culture and training has pulled me through a lot of those dark times. And at this stage of my life, I have decided to get off the sidelines and not only tackle my own mental health issues but be an Advocate for those that aren’t ready themselves for help or who need it and haven’t found anywhere to turn.

In LiveForward we say, Close the Loop. My Loop is far from closed, its damn near cut in half honestly. And thats why I decided to simplify this article.

It’s ok today feel different, there are a lot of us out there. I wrestled with it for a long time but now I am Unashamed. I’m proud to have the people in my circle that have put as much into LiveForward as I have, and I’m also proud to be part of a Team that represent tackling these issues with me in The Uncommon Breed.

Don’t be afraid to find help. The first step is the hardest and mine wasn’t publicly admitting this, it was the private acceptance that I just couldn’t do it on my own anymore.

Get out there and live life. It’s a gift and if you need help there is support, you just gotta take the steps to find it. If I can take this on anyone can, and you don’t have to do it alone


Posted by: Z

Like Tony Stark said, “Sometimes you gotta run before you can walk…”

Posted in Articles on December 22, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

As of late everything has seemed to be a whirlwind of work and change in my life. The last article I wrote was about the very special trip I took to Germany which involved visiting the town where my Grandfather had been shot down during the World War. But to say that moment alone made my trip to Germany meaningful would be a false statement.

Since my return from Germany life has been a roller coaster. My first weekend back I was the Best Man in one of my Best Friends weddings, then its off to teach a course. Then I have another event and then another and then before I know it I’m teaching another weekend course for the third weekend in a row. These aren’t really bad things but they do take away from something I promised I’d get back to, writing.

And not just writing but writing about things I found important, and this article is one that is overdue. When I boarded the plane to head to Germany back in November it was coming off 7 or 8 months of pretty heavy work and life obligations. This including taking the time to get myself in line and create LiveForward. So when I took off for Germany I was just happy to get some time out of the States and see some old friends and do what I do best, teach.

But what I found in my time in Germany was much more then just time with old friends and teaching. And honestly what I found there brought me back to what it means to be a part of what we call the Club.

When I first went to Germany years back, we had no Iron Club Charters there. I just had athletes and friends I worked with. But after spending time with my friend Rob Powell and getting to know his gym and community, I knew Ansbach was a pretty special place. So when I left Germany, I left with an I/C stamp of approval on Rob’s gym and our first overseas Charter.

Since that time, others I view as close friends have earned the title of Charter. We have a Iron Club in Miami led by my buddy Eddie Ramirez and another Charter run by Jerome Boitelle in Cassel, Germany as well.

It’s not an easy road to become a Charter and it can take years.

But the hard work it takes to become a Charter is a source of pride to everyone who has earned it. What I didn’t realize though was just how much pride every Club I visited out there had in it as well.

Every gym associated with the Club has its own community and culture. But one thing tied us all together and that was the I/C. Folks rocked Club colors every class I visited, and were excited to let me know just how much it all meant to them. It was a very humbling experience to see people have pride in something that may seem so simple to other people. And that experience reminded me that not everyone wants to be part of the mainstream and we’re proud to be part of something that connects us in our diversity.

While I was there I also made a trip to Weiden to visit a coach I had spent a fair amount of time mentoring online named Philipp. Rob made the trip with me and after a long train ride from Ansbach we arrived in Weiden. We were met by Philipp who took us back to his gym so I could work some classes with his gym. His crew all does the I/C program though his gym is not a Charter, he has been working towards it.

When we got to his spot it took me back. It was barebones and it was just the way I remembered things from when I started out myself. It wasn’t the larger facilities that most of the Charters now find themselves in. It was small, and to me it was a trip back in time to when things were real simple. As his folks started showing up I got to meet more and more of Philipp’s community. And though they weren’t a Charter they had just as much pride as those carrying the title.

When I took a step back Weiden was what the Club was all about. Every Charter head started out the same way Philipp did. We all grinded, sweat, hustled and put everything we had into what we had to work with to create what we have now. And Philipp is doing that now.

Seeing that desire inspired me to get myself back in the game. It was time to get back to leading from the front. I had felt burnout creeping in on me before my trip to Germany. But being there among the Charters and then visiting Philipp’s gym and seeing someone in the early stages of where myself, Rob, Eddie and Ome had started left me with a fire lit back in me and one choice to make.

I returned to the States and called for a vote for the hard working young man from Weiden and his gym to be considered as a Charter. You see there must be a majority vote among the Charter heads to allow a new Club to be established, we take this pretty seriously.

I presented my case and waited to hear what my colleges had to say, I was especially interested to hear what the other German Charters thought about my submission. I also let them know my mind could be changed if any case against Weiden proved valid for me to vote against my own submission.

One by one votes came in and not only votes of yes or no but votes showing great support for Philipp. I couldn’t say how proud I was of the other Charters for seeing the same starting point we all had taken and wanting to support the journey Phil and his gym were on.

So after the unamimous vote was cast I reached out to Phil and let him know what had happened and want to know if he was ready to join the ranks of an official Iron Club Charter. The response I got back let me know we had all made the right choice with our vote.

Sometimes all a young coach needs for his community is the belief of his peers and we are all very happy to announce our 5th Iron Club the RedBear’d I/C located in Weiden, Germany.

Congrats to you and your community Philipp, welcome to the family. You may be still finding your feet but we got your back and its time to start running with the pack. Makes us all proud boss, Pals.

Posted by: Z

“I knew John Butler…”

Posted in Articles on November 16, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

“It is not the strength of the body that counts, but the strength of the spirit….” J.R.R Tolkien

I just returned from a ten day trip to Germany. I had no idea how important this trip was going to be to me when I first booked it. I love to teach and I work with a number of gyms in the southern part of Germany. So it just made sense to extend my trip out from the first course I taught and to go visit them all and spend time with them. I wanted to get to learn their communities and meet the faces I see on social media that are members of what we call our Club.

But the week before I left I found out something that would change this trip for me forever.

You see I have number of tattoos. Most people will judge a book by its cover even though your not suppose to. I’ve been told that you should know what your getting yourself into when you walk into my gym and see the coach has two full size pinups girls tattooed on his calves. Well I wouldn’t get them if I didn’t find things like that funny or amusing. All my tattoos have a story and thats important to me. Everything from my wrists to my back have some kind of meaning to me.

But the tattoo on the outside of left forearms means the most to me.

It’s a classic style American Eagle and at first glance you’d assume it just flows with the rest of them. And yes I do like a classic style of tattoo but that isn’t the reason that eagle is inked into my skin. It has so much meaning to me that when that eagle and this trip crossed paths it seemed to me like what a lot of people would call fate.

I got that particular piece like some of the other during a hard time in my life. Things were bad and I actually had taken myself back to where my parents were from in Iowa. My grandma (whom we all called Nano) stilled lived in the house my Ma grew up in and we’d visit it every summer growing up. Nano was amazing to be around and just her presence made everything feel right in the world. But I knew once I went back to the world she wouldn’t be there and my problems still would be. So there was someone I needed to talk to, I needed to talk to my Pa.

Pa was what we called my Grandpa and he was the patriarch of our family. I don’t use the term lightly and if you know me I make a kicking motion anytime I use 10 dollar words and says “who needs them.” But thats what Pa was. He was the head of our family and we all loved and respected him above all else.

When he passed away much like when my Nano left us I spoke for my brothers and myself at the funeral. Some people say I’m good with words and public speaking is a gift my Mother ingrained in me as a child. But it was more the fact I could see my brothers grief and I wanted to speak for all of us cause I felt I could get the words out before breaking down.

You see even now Pa is always with all of us. Even later in his life when his sight left him he would still swing dance with Nano at wedding and travel to Seattle to sit and at me and my brother wrestling matches and football games. He just wanted to be there for us. I learned what family means from my Pa.

But when I went back to Iowa that year Pa wasn’t there to talk to, but I needed to speak to him. So I told Nano the following afternoon I was going to visit him. The cemetery was just down the street from the house we spent our summers at and we actually use to go play there when we were kids. I still remember the day we laid Pa to rest. It was full honors. A 21 gun salute and the Air Force did a fly over performing a missing man formation for him. Everyone loved and respected Pa, everyone.

Now that Nano isn’t here to read this I’ll admit I grabbed a case of beer and went to the cemetery that day. I stood in the snow and talked to Pa. I talked about life and what was wrong and how I wished he was there. We all had a bond with Pa so I can’t say mine was closer then anyone else’s. He loved us all, he loved his family, I just needed him. But as I stood there talking out my problems I began to feel better. I knew he was with me even if he wasn’t there in front of me. And I had one of those moments where things just made sense. Once I had said my goodbye I went back to Nano’s and took her out to dinner. When we got home we watched tv and then when we were getting ready to go to bed I turned to her and said, “I’m going to Iowa City in the morning, I’ll be back for dinner.”

In the morning I got in my car and drove into town. I walked the streets I’d walked with my family those Summers in the cold snow and just wandered looking for a tattoo shop. I had no idea where one was and I didn’t care I just walked and walked. This is not how I would recommend picking a shop to get a tattoo mind you but it made sense to just walk until I found one. And as I started to get frustrated in my search I happen to look at the ground and see something with an add on it for a shop on it. I bent down to pick it up and I realized the address was literally right above me in the second story of the building I was in front of, Sting Rays, the name alone could have sold me.

I walked up to the shop and to the front desk. “I’d like to get on the books for an classic American Eagle today.”

Oddly enough the guy scratched his head. “Man no one here does classic.” This should have been a sign to leave the shop honestly. “But hey let me call Sting Ray he’s the owner he does classic.” Now we were getting somewhere. When the owner arrived Sting Ray was everything you could have imaged in an old tattoo artist. He whipped up a quick image with a banner like I requested and before I knew it I was in the seat.

“We don’t get to many request for eagles anymore.” I found this very odd, but whatever.

He went about working on my arm and at one point said he needed a smoke break, I just nodded I was use to this from guy back in Seattle. Except Sting Ray just leaned back in his seat and lit one up, yup this place was awesome. While we were sitting there he asked me.

“Aren’t you a little young to be getting “7-20-1944” on your arm. I just nodded,and then I told him.”

“7-20-1984 is my birthday and 40 years prior to that my Grandpa was shot down over Germany during the War.”

You see Pa loved us all. But that date was special, the day I was born was the anniveray of Pa surviving jumping out of his B-17 after taking heavy fire over Chemnitz. This whole story could be about that epic day. Pa dodged falling debris and another plane while he drifted to earth. This was after being pinned against the open door of the plane and being unable to jump as the plane began to go down. Prior to that the story of the battle they engaged in before taking to many hits and losing control of the plane still give me chills. I didn’t only know this man he was my Grandfather.

Pa was captured after slamming into a roof in Chemnitz. Being an officer he was interrogated repeatedly before finally being placed in a prison camp. Pa kept a log of everything that happened to his crew and a diary as well on toilet paper during his time in the camp. This would go on to be know as “The Toilet Paper Diary” and has actually been published in a book called “Only the least of me is Hostage.” This book is still for sale and if you want to read about the man John Butler was during that time you can pick up a copy and read the entire story.

I loved Pa, and everyone in my family had a connection to this so amazing man. When we lost him there was a big hole. It was hard to not have him there but he is always with us in our hearts and minds.

The week before my departure my Ma said I should go visit the crash site. I told here it could be on the other side of the country for all I knew and I didn’t know if I’d be able to make it. So we researched and my breath was literally taken away when I saw that Chemnitz was only three hours from where I would be staying most of my trip.

I knew nothing on earth would stop me from getting there.

With he help of my family and friends I set aside a day to take the train to Chemnitz and be in place that held so much meaning. It was important and I had to do it. It felt like fate was calling me there.

Last Thursday I undertook that journey. The trip itself was beyond hectic and included missed trains, sprinting though the streets of Nuremberg and undertaking some challenges that would make it that much more rewarding to me.

After 4 hours of travel by train I arrived in Chemnitz. The whole train ride there I looked out the window and imaged it all. I read the documents of it all that my aunt had sent me and I read Pa’s words from the diary. When I stepped off that train and looked into the sky where my Grandfather had flown I never felt so connected to him or a place in my life.

I walked the streets until I found the perfect bar. It was in an old castle style building and was very much what I had pictured the whole trip in my head. I sat down at the bar, pulled out a picture I had carried with me the whole trip of Pa and his crew set it down and just looked at it. The bartender came up to me and I asked for glass of whiskey. When she place it down I just sat and looked at it and the man I knew in the picture.

With a heavy but happy and full heart I lifted the glass and toasted the man I wished I could be more like every day of my life.

I finished my drink, paid and began my trip back to meet a friend who had driven three hours to come pick me up. As I walked I thought about Pa and I thought about the last time I talked to him.

The story brought tears to my eyes as I made my trip on the cold streets of Chemnitz. I pulled my beanie down low over my face unashamed of the tear but not wanting to draw any attention. This was my time in a special place and I wanted that time to remember Pa.

In our last conversation I had visited Pa at the nursing home down the street from the house he had lived in with Nano and raised his daughters and taught me about life and what a real man was. At this point life was trying to steal him away from us and sometimes he had trouble remembering things. But that day we talked. He told me stories like he use to and I sat and listened. At the end of our talk he simply turned to me and said, “I’m tired now, my grandson is going to come visit me can you let him know I’m sleeping.”

To say this broke my heart would be a lie. I had gotten to stand there and talk with him. I had gotten to hear stories like I use to and I was able to be with my Pa. That will always stay with me and I will always remember him as he was and the man he was. Last week I got to stand where he had survived his plane being shot down. I got to be somewhere very important somewhere he would start his own journey and make his way back home and raise a family. He’d have a daughter with hair so blonde it looked white who would give birth to her 3rd son on 7-20-1984, 40 years after that fateful day.

In my eulogy at his funeral one thing I said that still stand out was the following. “Pa would come and watch me wrestle every year. And even though I knew he couldn’t see me I knew he watching me.”

Pa is always watching over all of us. He’s in our hearts and in our minds. You keep the people you love alive there and nothing can ever take that away. Last week I got to be in a special place and remember one thing, he may have been my grandfather but he was so much more then that. And I can honestly say one thing that makes me proud in life.

I knew John Butler…

Posted by: Z


“Cause thats what living is, the six inches in front of your face…”

Posted in Articles on November 6, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Last weekend I had the honor of taking one of my best friend out for his big night before his wedding. Luckily for me this friend thinks so much of me he wants me to stand next to him as his Best Man.

No, this isn’t a story about a bachelor party its about the return trip and something I remembered on that trip back that had helped shaped the man I am today. Much like boys will do we swapped stories about our past. One of mine include a bunch of stuff that went down in high school and the talking to I received as a athlete from a coach. You see I’m a coach, I value the coach athlete relationship. It’s a bond, you put your trust in someone and without question you do as they say. And if you don’t you really should find another coach.

You see the thing about this talk was I had let my coach down. It happens, no one is perfect and to all you coaches out there you need to be ready to step up and deliver the right words when something goes wrong. I was a freshman, I’d like to say I didn’t know better, but I did. And one by one as folks walked into the coaches office I sat on the bench in the locker room waiting. I was going to be the last one to talk to him cause he had only know me for part of a season.

When my name was called I stood not knowing what to expect and walked into his office. This coach wasn’t just some coach to me either. You see he had a huge impact on me as a real coach can have. I have to this day tried to mold myself after this man and coach. So when my name was called I walked in. He told me to sit, and I did as I was told, cause I had so much respect for this man that my defiant streak disappear in his presence. He looked at me from under his heavy eyelids and with calm but angry voice he asked a simple question.

“So Zach why did you break the rules…”

I looked at the floor like any 15 year old boy would do and tried to think. Then I knew, I looked up at him and simply said said one thing.

“Coach I wanted to be part of the team.”

He looked back at me with that calm emotionless face that you knew he meant he was pissed and said something I had forgotten until last weekend but left its marks on the man I was to become.

“Well Zach if the whole team jumped off a bridge would you?”

And with no defiance of the man sitting across from me I answered him.

“Well yes if my brother was jumping off a bridge I would too…”

He looked me in the eyes and said something I had forgotten but would be a cornerstone of my life.

“Well Zach, an attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

And with that he waved me off and I walked out of his office. I can’t tell you if he was pissed or proud but now that I’m a coach I know.

I’d be proud.

He could have torn me apart for my answer. He could have called me a loser or told me not to be on his team. I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass it was the truth. Family mean everything to me. And there are two kinds of family. The ones your born with and the ones you choose. You see in my line of work as a coach I choose to allow my feeling to dictate who I am. Sometimes its a good thing sometimes its a bad thing but I decided to let that attitude define me.

I love my Mother, I love my brothers, I love my family. But then there is the family you chose. I was closed off most of my life to be honest. I thought the less people near me the less chance I had of getting hurt. But the ones I loved, I love with my who heart.

I remember telling this story as a joke and when I came to what coach had said to me I became aware of the power someone like that can have in forging a person.

Yes I was wrong, yes I could have made better choices. But looking a man in the face whom I respected above all else and saying I’d follow my family anywhere still speaks to me. I loved that coach. I loved that team. And I’ll tell you the truth, love is a difficult emotion for me. But I meant what I said and I’d wish if he could see me now he’d be proud of the man he helped build.

The quote for todays article is from “Any Given Sunday” and as I sit on plane bound for German to teach other coaches I can’t help but be proud. I still want to be that coach. The one that cried at wins and losses and actually gave a fuck about us. I try for that every day, be it with someone older or younger then me because that is where life has taken me.

“An attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

I think coach was trying to tell me something. And since that day I have followed my heart on that. Love your family and love your family. The friends I have managed to hold onto through all the years of my life fall into that family category. I’d do anything for them sometimes to a fault. But I’d rather see my life like this then take some road that would lead me somewhere else.

This article isn’t random and isn’t only brought on by the talk I had with my boys on the trip home. You see I havent been off the traveling scene per say but I’ve had to focus on my gym at home and not the other things I do. And as I write this on a plane to Germany I can’t help but think about those at home that not only allow me to leave to do things like this but support it.

I had people give me special passes at the airport. Make “international survival” kits for me and genuinely tell me that they would miss me when I was gone. Life is the six inches in front of your face not whats behind you. It doesn’t mean don’t remember the past and allow it to inspire you but don’t let it define you.

Everyday you wake up is new day. I have chosen to be part of peoples life for the better in whatever way I can with my job, and that is a rewarding thing. So to quote the Notorious B.I.G “I went from Negative to Positive.”

“An attitude like that will take you real high or real low in life.”

Thank you coach, I am the man I am today because of your influence. I hope I can do the same for other people like you did for me. Love your family be it blood or the ones you chose. For me personally, I found that family in a gym and as a profession as a coach. I hope anyone reading this can find there own way to to take it far in life and not be afraid of the road less traveled.


Posted by: Z

“It can’t Rain all the Time…”

Posted in Articles on October 31, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Every year we remember my friends brother Officer Tim Brenton by performing a workout called “Lumpy” in his honor.

Matty Brenton and I have been finding ways the last couple years to make things more difficult each time we do this.

I recently lost my uncle and during the weeks following his loss I did just about every awful training piece I could. This included everything from 40+ minute workouts to Fran. Training has always been a outlet for me so it just made sense. So this morning I decided to start this special day by redoing Fran and getting a 8 second pr dropping my time down to 2:02. The pr itself wasn’t all that important, it was the meaning of the effort.

I figured since I did this as a way to remember and cope with the loss of Tom that I would get myself ready for tonight by doing this again. This kinda behavior may seem off to other people but I find it pretty damn therapeutic personally. And I always talk about the journey in physical culture and if you could take something and feel back in control of your life by making your body do something and reflect on those you care about I say fucking do it.

“It can’t rain all the time,” isn’t a simple quote from a movie to me. Sometimes when it’s actually raining I’ll just stop and tip my head back. I close my eyes and feel it on my face. It’s reminder that the bad times come and they go. But being able to sit there and not allow it to define you is powerful medicine.

Matty you are good man and friend. You Betsy and Derek mean the world to me. I am forever honored to be a part of this day with you. Can’t wait to see you tonight my friend. Once more into the fray, Pals.

Posted by: Z

“Being in the same room with people and creating something together is a good thing.”

Posted in Articles on October 27, 2016 by oldcountrystrong

Does anyone else every click on those “Blank years ago” tabs on Facebook? Honestly I never really use to until just recently. It’s kinda funny looking back at it all sometimes.

I’ll admit it, I’m horrible with remembering dates. I have my birthday memorized since that ones a given. But I usually mess up the number of years I’ve been coaching when giving my intro at seminars. And don’t ask me to remember anniversaries and other peoples birthdays… I’m the worst. And thats what calendar and post it notes are for. If you’ve ever been in my office its like a scene from Memento, remember this, don’t forget that.

And this is all funny cause I can recall some things at the drop of a hat. Examples being all my athletes pr lifts, I can also tell you exactly how to structure training cycles to a science and know more teaching progressions dealing with physical culture then I care to write down. It’s not that the other stuff doesn’t matter too me, it is, they just seem to be the things that slip my mind.

So yesterday I happen to click on one of those “Blank years ago” tabs and I was surprised what I saw. It had been 4 years since I struck out from the first gym I helped build on my own to start what would eventually be NorthWest Strength and Performance. There was an article that was being reshared that day that I had written on this blog. I reread it as I hadn’t personally revisited that piece in some time. It was a good refresher for me that things were going in the right direction.

When I left that first gym I had no idea what to expect. I just knew I was going to give everything I had to the idea I had written about in that article and give something back to my community. I mean after all one of the biggest reasons I love my job is the connection you get with people.

Well something awesome happened when I made that jump, things took off. The gym grew, I started traveling all over the world teaching courses and it became so very easy to focus on work. I mean work was always my main focus but much like this blog use to be it was something I enjoyed. And no I’m not saying I lost sight of my joy of coaching. But I did become very focused on the business. The goal became the dream and the dream was never just the goal of building my gym. It was about giving something back.

So when I say things came full circle it has nothing to do with the fact that I was able to provide a new facility for the people I train. It didn’t involve being able to outfit that facility with coaches I respect and trust. Those things are great but they aren’t what I’m talking about. No it has to do with something thats very important to me and has been a constant as of late in conversations and posts of mine.


As much as I live my life out in the open I am still very much a private person like many of us are. Being “open” can be vulnerable and thats just uncomfortable for a lot of people. I’ve never been one to shy away from being uncomfortable. I have hard conversations, asks questions when I maybe shouldn’t and have made choices that I wish I hadn’t. Life itself by nature is uncomfortable. But so is training and that is why I identify with my job so much. The struggle to get better, healthier or just plain fitter is a journey for everyone. I love being able to give what guidance I can for folks on that journey. And thats the thing about all this. The journey is yours, it’s yours and no one else can live it for you.

But to think your alone is just the opposite of being strong.

A “lone wolf” is a term people like to toss around. Sometimes someone getting that description is thought of as strong. And yes, yes they are. But to quote the jungle book, (yeah I watched it with my niece and nephew) “The strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.”

A lot of times in life there are things outside of our control. This can be work, family or any other number of things that fall into what some people misleading say are “just life.”

Well I’m here to tell you that just doesn’t have to be true.

LiveForward is a project I have undertaken with a number of people I really admire. They aren’t afraid to be uncomfortable either. And they do it through their honesty. And I guess thats something I need to work on myself. Being strong isn’t being alone or internalizing all the time. It not always tackling issues on your own. It’s not turning a blind eye to something wrong. It’s being able to be unashamed that there are problem that may not be fixed with hard headedness, being stubborn or just buckling down as a workhorse to distract yourself.

No, sometimes being really strong is allowing yourself to actually lean on other people. I’ve spent the better part of my adult life building my gym and my business. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. But when I say four years has past and things are coming full circle its because I have finally been able to find another way to give back. And even though it’s uncomfortable for myself to tackle these issues there is just to many people out there with out a support group to lean on.

These people may not be lone wolves. They may just be going through hard times with loved ones, lost them or just have their own personal issue and need support.

And thats the root of LiveForward. I have been lucky enough to find myself connected in a network of people who not only care but want to help. So to put a basic label of LiveForward its a peer support group. But if you find yourself alone or needing someone to to talk to its not that basic.

Your not alone.

We will be holding monthly support groups at our gyms in SODO. If you’ve lost a love one to suicide or a lost someone at all and find yourself weighted by it we’re here. If your feeling alone, we’re here. If you feel that you may be alone in dealing with your own personal mental health or being the support for someone else we’re here.

If this article makes you uncomfortable maybe stop and think if your like me and thought strength was the only answer. Training is an outlet, a healthy one. I tell folks all the time “Build strong habits.” These habits can come from training but don’t be to proud to be the one to see that it may not only end at a barbell or lifting a pair of bells.

Four years ago I set out to build my dream. Along the way I created a gym that I am very proud of. A community I’m proud of and friends that I am proud to stand by. Now four years after closing the door of the first gym I helped build I feel that circle closing and I am able to offer something to anyone who needs it.

There is no shame in needing help. Be Unashamed if your in need of support, your not alone, and LiveFoward will continue to offer it’s support to anyone who needs it.

I’m proud to be a LiveForward supporter. You don’t have to be alone in this, there is support, the first steps the hardest but there are people to take it with you.

Posted by: Z

“Stand Fast…”

Posted in Articles on November 29, 2012 by oldcountrystrong

Four brave individuals have decided to stand on the line with those that came before them this week.

If you aren’t moved by the stories of triumph this week I have no idea what motivates you. People finding power, love and belief in themselves through strength. This is our small way of giving back to something that has given to us. Roo has written for the Message twice. She was the first one to say she wanted to draw the line in the sand.

I’m not going to lie it was a bit nerve racking at the time. The night I posted Roo’s original article I sat up late just looking at it. This isn’t something new for me. I’m a night owl and posts go up late. But this one was different. Roo was ready to make her statement but was I ready to let her make it?

How were people gonna respond to what we had to say? Were we gonna lose our jobs posting about what we were gonna post? Did the conviction of our friends that knew what we were gonna speak for help us feel we we’re doing the right thing?

It did. The support of our friends meant everything to us.

Every time I read an article about the things you hear people go through but never expect to have happen to your friends I’m taken back. I’m taken back by peoples honesty and the fact that they will not let what they went through be swept under the table.

Our last writer has been with us since we first wrote for Strong is Beautiful. In fact she was one of the main reasons we decided that a line was needed.

Her name is Julie Liu. And her story is one of the reasons I’m proud I walked onto that line.

– Z

Consider this my own self therapy: to undo my distorted relationship with food, culture, and body image. When Zach and Roo asked me to be a featured writer for “Strong is Beautiful”, I immediately said, “yes” I felt so honored, yet, terrified at the same time. So here it goes.

 I can’t share my story without starting with my parents’ upbringing. Mom grew up in Vietnam and Dad grew up in Laos, both of which lived through different wars as adolescents and young adults. To say my parents and my family grew up poor is an understatement. They lived on very little income with many mouths to feed amongst one another, so being frugal was not just a way of life: it was the only way to survive. When you wake up each day not knowing whether you will live because bombs are firing off in your town, or whether your next meal might be little-to-nothing, it’s no wonder my family decided to flee from their war-torn countries in search of the American Dream.

As a first-generation American born Chinese; I struggled a lot with my own identity. My parents had their ways of raising us in a Chinese household. They demanded that we would never waste and would always finish our food.  At the same time, we were expected to never be overweight; and if you were, expect to be told daily that you are. To be overweight was just unacceptable and I didn’t fall into the mold of the typical skinny Asian girls I was used to seeing. I was never overweight in American standards growing up, but I couldn’t accept my larger-than-average butt and thighs.

I was raised with many contradictions, which led to very distorted body image ideals: from dieting at a young age to making myself sick, which led to Bulimia. I was as young as twelve years old when I first made myself throw up. I would binge eat until I made myself so uncomfortably full, then just stick my finger in my mouth over a toilet, after each meal. This continued on and off until I was about twenty years old. Nevertheless, I was that same girl who would continue to have an obsession about her body image and would do whatever it took to achieve the skinny figure.

Fast forward to April 12, 2010, for my first day at the gym; which, up to that point, I was doing Bikram yoga five to six days a week. The thought of giving myself more rest days in a week was unfathomable, all I knew to do was to workout all the time. I was getting stagnant with my yoga practice, so that’s when I decided I wanted to add Crossfit into the mix. Who knew that the day I walked into the gym would change my life forever. I remember that day as if it were just yesterday, when I asked Zach three different times whether “I’d bulk up”…yes I was that girl. Months passed and I began incorporating paleo style of eating, Crossfit, and full time Bikram classes. It was around June 2010 that I realized my body was the leanest it had ever been, and I enjoyed every bit of what it had become. But then a few months later, I started noticing how my clothes were fitting differently around my shoulders and that my traps were significantly bigger, so I began to panic.

It was a constant battle within myself, out loud to my closest friends, and my sister that I wanted to quit the gym and stick to just yoga, because of how the gym was changing my body–all I wanted was a non-muscular body type.

I recall approximately two years ago having a phone conversation with John Winters, where he was trying to talk me off the ledge about quitting the gym and not being comfortable with how my body was changing. Shortly after that conversation, I received an email from JW on November 9, 2010 where he shared with me his personal battles of weight and body image. His candidness in sharing his own story and struggles really allowed me to open my eyes and accept the woman I was becoming. These words guided me towards a different attitude of what “Strong is Beautiful” was all about.

A few weeks later, the very first installation of “Strong is Beautiful” Week kicked off, and each story that was told spoke to me, and the email from JW (that I turned a corner with) helped gain self acceptance and confidence in who I was becoming–and embracing the strength I had. To be honest, I don’t even know who that girl was, who walked into the gym that day and asked Zach about bulking up, or the one who contemplated quitting the gym altogether because of the fear of gaining muscles from lifting. She is a stranger to me.

Embracing lifting heavy weights in my life has led me towards a healthier relationship with food, my body, and most importantly, who I am within. Whether it is reaching my goals of doing a strict pull up, squatting more than 200 pounds, my first handstand push up, or just purely lasting ten minutes for my long cycle event in Detroit, my life with this gym has pushed me beyond limits I never thought I could ever reach and will continue to.

It was in March of 2012 that I decided to get a tattoo that translates as “Strong and Beautiful” in Laotian text on my left shoulder blade that my dad designed for me. There was no better way for me to exemplify the importance of beauty and strength in women other than having it permanently scribed on my body. I am forever grateful for this community for changing my life and continuing to always support this very important message.

Posted by: Julie

In Closing By: Z

It takes courage to say the things people have said this week. 

It takes Strength.

Strength isn’t in your size. It’s not in your muscles. It’s not in someone telling you that you have to be “lean and Strong” or your not as good as someone else. True Strength comes from a place inside your self. It comes from standing for something you believe in something you know can make a difference.

The pressures of body image on friends, family and children now a days is heavier then any weight anyone will ever lift. It’s force can crush someone worst then any Bell or Bar ever could. But the power of Strength can change a life or even save it, 5 brave writers decided once more this year they had enough. They needed to let others know something that changed their lives for the better.

It’s just a simple line without anyone standing on it. Please do not let others stand alone, have a voice.

Strong is Beautiful.

“Me? Really? Strong?”

Posted in Articles on November 28, 2012 by oldcountrystrong

Today’s writer is a special guest that I met in a special place.

I still remember when I met her, I thought she hated me.

I was in Russia, I had just met the group I’d be training with for a kettlebell sport camp. I had a huge beard and was looking to get a beer. Today’s writer was having a coke and didnt find my small talk charming, this was odd because I’m told I’m extremely charming. Yup she hated me.

It was around this point when I started to feel quite out of place. I of course went to grab the can of chew out of my pocket. Yes, this is the first time I’m openly admitting I use to chew (sorry Ma). I at that point realized I had left my chew back in the States and then was made aware I was shit out of luck trying to find chewing tobacco in Russia. This was gonna be the longest week of my life.

“Oh hun, do you need a cigarette?”

And thats how I’d come to know Juliet Lederle, Coke-Cola and Smokes.

She was nice to me for the most part the rest of the trip and when you get to know Juliet “for the most part” is a huge win. She’s snarky, funny, sarcastic and someone I actually consider a very good friend. She lives in San Francisco and I dont get to see her that often unless its at a lifting competition. But honestly that’s my favorite times to see her.

Juliet is a Beautiful lifter. I mean it’s really something to see. And I’m not the usually golf fan at Kettlebell meets, I’m loud and some may say obnoxious but I can’t help but cheer my ass off when she’s lifting. The time she told me it actually meant a lot to her I finally knew she didnt hate me….

All joking aside Juliet is my friend. I ask her for advice from time to time and she always there to give it. Even if its in her own caring sarcastic way. She gave me a hug this year at Nationals when I told her I quit chewing and said she was proud of me for that. She’s also never judged me, which could be easy sometimes but she never has.

There was one thing I did know about Juliet from the first time I met her when I of course was saying the group should go for drinks our first night in Russia, Coca-Cola and smokes. I knew Juliet had something to say and while she’s unassuming when you meet her she has a inner fire that is unmatched by most of the people I’ve met in my life. And you know what? Its that fire that still makes me happy every single time I get to see her lift.

– Z

When Zach asked me to write this for him, I was all “No fucking way, I’m no athlete, I’m just a vain woman who needs to workout in order to eat and not kill people…”

The truth is, I am an athlete. I am totally addicted to kettlebell sport. I train bells four days a week, I coach oodles of other athletes how to lift bells for competition.  I went to Russia to learn from the best. I compete all over the country, and this October, I earned my Master of Sport in biathlon (one arm jerk and snatch with a 20k bell) making me one of five women in the US to rank MS in biathlon. It is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done, except raise my 13 year old boy.

I was never an athlete when I was young. I spent my early years reading books to get out of my head. I spent my twenties and thirties buried in heroin addiction on the streets of San Francisco. When I was 34, after many fits and starts, I cleaned up my act. It was then I realized that I needed to workout in order to still my overactive mind and calm my rage-really I needed something to take the place of drugs. I started running, slowly, with old ladies passing me by. I persisted until I was able to run 6-9 miles at a time.

I knew I had some damage from my addiction; I had asymptomatic Hepatitis C from needles. When I was 38 I had to go through a year of a debilitating treatment protocol (similar to chemotherapy) for the Hep C. Although running was difficult/impossible during the year, I persisted. I ran, barely, I swam and even took spin classes. I swore when I finished the treatment, I would get in the best shape of my life.

I started out at a crossfit-based gym. I almost threw up in the warm up. I instantly thought “Wow!!! This is made for me!!!” I loved it so much; I started working for them. Turns out I have an aptitude for coaching. I think of it more being a dominatrix without the sex…well, kinda.

Within three years, I quit my corporate job and opened my own gym: Juno fitness in Berkeley. I had vaguely heard about kettlebell sport, but instantly dismissed it as ridiculous; I mean, why do a bazillion reps of one movement? Seems redundant, probably bad for joints and oy, lower back pain! Then I met John Wild Buckley of the Orange Kettlebell Club.  John taught me how to lift and how to love lifting. And, to my great joy, I had an aptitude for it. The beauty of the bells hooked me. I love the fact I just get stronger and stronger, and that it never gets easy. I’m always tweaking my technique and form. And that lower back pain I was so worried about? A thousand times better because of kettlebells.

It’s been three years since I started lifting kettlebells and I have never been stronger.  I love the fact that at 46 (or, a lady of a “certain age” as I like to say) I can lift a 53lb weight multiple times overhead. I have many students who are women my age who are amazing, strong lifters. My passion for helping others increases on a daily basis, along with the knowledge that if I can do it? So can you.

Posted by: Juliet 

“A Beautiful woman should break her Mirror early…”

Posted in Articles on November 27, 2012 by oldcountrystrong

Every year four brave women decide that they’ve have had enough and that they have a voice.

But they’re not alone. Every year we have one male writer.

Our first year one of my best friends asked to write. It was a bit shocking as he’s usually not the type. His names John Winters and he is the strongest person I know but he had a story. And it was one that moved everyone who read it, “There is Magic in Fighting Battles beyond Endurance…”

The trend was something that would stick. The next year I would ask another friend Chris Schaalo to write. My thought process was that Chris was a trainer and knew what strength could do for someone. The story he told was about his friend and past Crossfit Games competitor Alicia Connors. The story that Chris shared was one of the defining moments of last year’s articles. There were other people that were sick and tired of what mass media and sterotypes were doing to people and there was a cautionary tale to tell with an ending that made you proud to stand on the line, “The Flower that Blooms in Adversity is the most Rare and Beautiful of All…”

When I sat down THREE month before Strong is Beautiful to start planning the writers I knew I wanted to have another male be part of the group. My choice this year was a new one. It wasn’t some mega strong man or a person I shared a profession with. No, it was a father.

His name is Eric Linxweiler.

Eric shares something with our past two writers, he’s my friend. He’s actually one of the best guys I know. He sees the best in people. Even when it drives me crazy he always sees the best in people. Sometimes I can be a real dick, and Eric still sees what’s good in me. Eric knows what a community united can stand for. Eric has a daughter and today he wants us to know what this message means to a father.

– Z

 “Congratulations, you’re going to have a girl”. The seven most intimidating words I’ve ever heard.  But in 2005, it was exactly what I was told after an ultrasound confirmed that our second child was on her way to being a healthy girl.  Lauren arrived in early 2006, and I had a lot to learn, but little did I know just how much.

Overwhelmed, and pretty frightened – I had no idea about what it takes to actually raise a daughter.  Growing up with three sisters, I sort of got the basics – you want them to grow up being strong, confident, capable and most of all happy.   They need to believe in themselves, as well as have plenty of others believe in them too.  And essential for me, I realized the incredible weight a girl puts into her relationship with her father.

Regrettably, somewhere along the way a girl’s journey often gets derailed with some pretty ugly and unhealthy expectations.  We’ve all seen far too many instances of “beauty” being girls’ primary focus, and being defined in rather grotesque ways (and unfortunately several stories like Alicia’s, but with much less happy outcomes). There are several billion dollar industries just waiting for them to grow up.  They want to point out their perceived “flaws” in her in hopes that she’ll spend money trying to improve herself with their products or services.   From a parent’s point of view, it is pretty awful to think that your daughter will ever think she’s less than perfect, especially when it is based on what someone else tells her.

This made me think – maybe all of this can be prevented in the first place.  Perhaps, with a little change in the way we communicate expectations and define “success” and “beauty”, we can lay a foundation where kids won’t know what it means to not be “perfect”.  We can sow the seeds of strength that come from the belief in one’s convictions, one’s capabilities, and one’s dreams.   We can teach the value of strength for those times one really needs it.  As a father, strength also comes from words I use.

Recently I asked Lauren what “beautiful” and “pretty” were.  In true Lauren fashion, she replied “pink”.  I asked her if she knew what heavy was.  She said my kettlebell (after trying to lift it).  When I ask her for the highest thing around, she points to Mt. Rainier and asks when she can climb it with me.  I asked her about fast – and she took off running.  See, Lauren doesn’t need a mirror or a scale to measure herself against.  She needs to never forget what she already knows.

This is exceedingly important for all of today’s children, who are shaping these thoughts as they battle forces most of us could never imagine.   According to the Centers for Disease Control, a third of our nation’s children are overweight, with an astonishing 18% being obese.  That’s tripled since I was Lauren’s age.  While much of the conversation is on the physical impact of this epidemic, the oft understated mental and psychological tolls can be much worse.  Learning lessons of exercise, nutrition, and attitude are critical to kids of all ages.    Somewhere along the way, I realized that this is about much more than raising my daughter (or her two brothers) – it’s about giving every child a chance to experience what it means to be mentally and physically strong.

Lauren, now almost seven, comes along with me to CrossFit often, as well as to various competitions to watch countless people work hard, sweat (even cry) and accomplish their goals. She’s witnessed high school students, moms and dads; even grandparents demonstrate what it means to be strong.  I couldn’t find a better way to teach her what it means to be beautiful than what lessons these folks present.

She recently joined me on a Saturday morning workout, wearing her favorite dress up clothes (an Iron Man suit, keeping true to Old Country Strong tradition).  When we were done with our morning fun, she asked me if she could use a rower.    Sitting on this machine for the first time was a bit daunting for her, however I was able to just step back and watch something truly amazing unfold.  Instead of me being a dad and teaching her how to row, several women came up behind her and helped coach her through.  “Legs, arms!  Legs, arms!”  “Keep going, Lauren!”  “You are doing awesome!”  She kept rowing, until she finished  500 meters, and was able to put her name on the gym’s board of fastest times.  The women that helped her that day probably didn’t realize it, but they are perfect role models for not only Lauren, but for every girl that needs to know that strength and beauty are inextricably linked.  Each of these motivating women are strong, fit, and beautiful in their own unique ways.  That morning, they encouraged Lauren for much more than a few minutes on a rower – they inspired her to want to do more.

Eventually Lauren will lose the innocent yet flawless belief that there’s nothing at all wrong with her.  And that will be a heartbreakingly sad day for me.  But I hope that what she is learning now – from me, and from you, will allow her to understand that she doesn’t need a mirror at all.  It will help her realize that what she can do, and what she can accomplish, is a measure far greater than any scale or any dress size.  On those days where she needs strength – of mind, of body, of spirit – I hope she’ll know exactly where to go find it.  She’ll look inside and reveal it…

Lauren will one day thank many of you herself for the lessons she’s learning – of what it means to be strong, of what it means to have goals, of what hard work yields.  She’ll continue improving on her 500m row times, keep running and climbing, and perhaps she’ll learn to squat better than her daddy.  Someday she’s going to pass along these lessons to others, and near the top of that list will most certainly be that being Strong is Beautiful.

Post by: Eric Linxweiler