Category Archives: Training

Falling in Love with Training

This past week I had a good conversation with a very close friend of mine regarding some struggles that he had been facing with his training. More specifically, we discussed how some of life’s challenges have had a direct impact on the overall success of his training sessions, as well as his mindset towards training itself. After a few minutes of discussion and throwing around some ideas to help him going forward, he said “ I think one of my biggest issues is that I need to fall in love with training again”. 


This took me back for a second, as I was recently in the same exact situation as he. Before my injury, I found myself going through the motions, with training feeling more like a job than anything else. I was so caught up in the end result that I lost sight of filling each box of daily gratitude and appreciating the fact that I had the opportunity to do something that I love dearly. After my surgery, I took the time to reflect on everything in my life up to that point. I found myself thinking about my life with training in it, as well as my life before I found my love of training. Before I was able to return to training, I often found myself looking through old pictures, videos, and thinking about how and why I first got into lifting. Throughout that process, I was able to come back into training with a clear mind; focusing on making the most of each day and opportunity to train, instead of just looking towards the end goal.


Now don’t get me wrong, when you have very specific goals that involve being the absolute best version of yourself possible, you are going to have very tough days. Not every time you walk into the gym is going to be pure joy, sunshine, and rainbows. The higher the goal that you set, the more challenge and responsibility comes along with it. Everything from your nutrition, sleep, stress management, and even relationships have to be managed precisely in order to fit your goals. Over time, if we do not approach these things with a complete understanding, focus, and care, it can become very easy to lose sight of what attracted us to this journey in the first place, and why we are doing what we are. When we lose sight of this, we may find ourselves doing it for the wrong reasons.


My advice for anyone reading this, from my own personal experience, is to remember to be grateful for each and every opportunity that is placed in front of you. Be grateful for the struggle and every challenge. Be appreciative of the less-than-stelar days, and even more so of the good days. Sit down from time to time and reflect on why you’re doing what you’re doing, and why you began in the first place. Think of how your life would be different without that thing in it. Remember that at the end of the day, you are healthy and strong enough to have the opportunity to do something that many people are unable to do. That is a gift in itself. Finally, please don’t ever let the thought of the end goal distort the joy that comes with the ride.


– Curtis Miller

CeJ and His Strongman Ways



About 12 weeks ago, I decided to train for something that I have never done but always thought looked cool. Fast forward a few weeks and wham bam, first Strongman competition is in the books.


Most of us at Union know how powerlifting meets go and the general rules and procedures of them, if not go back and check out Todd and Curts’ blogs about what to expect at a powerlifting meet. Strongman is a little different in regards to the events. Where powerlifting always has the squat, bench and deadlift, Strongman has various events that never seem to be the same from competition to completion. This competition had 5 total events; Log Clean & Press for 60 seconds, Deadlift for 60 seconds, Heavy Sandbag and Frame Carry Medley, Sandbag/Keg Toss over Bar and Hand over Hand Rope Pull. As in powerlifting there are weight classes so you are competing against people of similar weight. The events are scored by points, whoever finishes first gets the most points and by the end of the day, the competitor with the most points wins the day.


Skylyn and I both competed in the Novice class since it was our first meet. She competed at lightweight and I did the  heavyweight class.


Here were are results.

  • Log Press: Sky 6 reps at 95lbs.
  • Me 4 reps at 220 10 reps at 180.
  • Deadlift: Sky CRUSHED 22 reps at 225.
  • Me 12 reps at 475.
  • Sandbag & Frame Medley: Sky 100lbs Sandbags and 300 Frame in 42seconds.
  • Me 200 & 220lbs Sandbag and 450 Frame in 33 seconds.
  • Sandbag/Keg Toss: Sky 3 20lbs sandbags over 10ft in 12 seconds.
  • Me 25lbs 35lbs 40lbs 45lbs Kegs in 8 seconds.
  • Hand over Hand Pull: Sky pulled 145lbs plus the Incline Frame in 15 seconds.
  • Me 200lbs plus the Incline Frame in 12 seconds.


After all the chalk dust settled we both had come in 1st place in our respective and competitive weight classes. The day was very long from 8:45am to 6:30pm, so we were both the walking dead by the end. That day we learned a lot about the Strongman world and most importantly we had a total blast competing together. I would like to thank Vaughn for organizing and running the event, his staff was top notch and provided a great first experience. 


Will there be more strongman events in my future….only time will tell. Reminder, if you’ve wanted to try something and you’re not sure, just look it up and go give it hell. Only one way to find out.



Exercise When Life Knocks You Down

This Saturday we are hosting the Kabuki Open and Union Fitness has a strong group of both men and women participating.  Cody and I also planned to compete in this meet together.  This would be my first powerlifting meet in two years and the first time competing in a lighter weight class.  Meet prep was going very well and I was very excited to see how my total compared to previous competitions.  


Once in the hospital, though, the thought of competing became so irrelevant.  Truthfully the thought of doing any kind of exercise scared me.  Now that I am home and recovering a little bit more each day Cody and I have started discussing a plan, but it still scares me.  The core controls everything, and right now, I have little to no strength in that area. I am also not allowed to lift more than 10lbs which knocks me down to one of our littlest fatbells.  


During this time, I am trying to remind myself that I am going back to the basics.  The VERY basics.  I don’t have a timeline and will more than likely progress as I feel it is time, but I do have a general plan.  Deep breathing causes me to cramp and hurts right now so first and foremost I will be starting with belly breathing.  This is going back to the very beginning and something I have not done in quite a while.  Isometrics like planks and band work will follow.  Walking is still very encouraged so I will continue to make that my main source of daily movement.  I may even start to play around with yoga (Cassie 😊).  This will be a time to regain strength and stability in my core but also a time to explore some avenues of fitness that I never have before.  The fear is turning to excitement and I look forward to what I may learn throughout the process.  


You may not find yourself knocked down to the very basics, but situations like this happen to all of us.  Whether a different life event takes over for you, vacation or holidays become the focus, or you simply fall out of routine, there will always be a bump within your training.  It may feel disheartening if you are doing what you love or confusing if you don’t know any other forms of exercise, but either way it will be a lesson that makes you better than before.  There are so many ways to move so I encourage you to play around with different methods when you find yourself in this type of situation.  First and foremost I believe exercise should be enjoyable because all of it will benefit in some way, so next time you find yourself here, make it fun and enjoy the process.     

Simplifying the Warm Up

Earlier this morning, I found myself sitting in the office with Todd and Dave having a discussion on what we believe to be the “best” warm-up routine for lifting. Before I dig deeper into our consensus, let’s touch on the most common types of warm-up routines that we see performed in the gym. 


1) Static stretching: I’d venture to say that this might be the most common warm-up routine that you will see. With static stretching, a position is held for a specific length of time in order to lengthen the muscle while simultaneously promoting blood flow into the muscle being stretched. Examples of this include hamstring and quad stretches, Pigeon stretch, doorway stretch, etc. 


2) Dynamic stretching: This consists of performing repetitive movements within a particular range of motion that are closely related to the main movement of that particular training session. As with static stretching, the goal is to promote blood flow throughout the body and specifically in the area of intended use for that training session. An example of this could be PVC around the world, walking knee hugs, Spiderman hip stretch, etc. 


3) Cardiovascular based warm-up: This includes 5-10 minutes of movement on machines such as treadmills, bikes, rowers, ellipticals, etc. The goal here is to increase heart rate in order to circulate blood flow throughout the entire body while raising the internal temperature of the muscles in preparation for performing movement. 


4) Getting under the bar and getting straight to work: I see this quite often, regardless of age or experience level. An individual will walk in, place the bar in the rack, throw some weight on, and start performing their main movement.


So which one did we decide on? Well, all of them can be beneficial in their own way, and when incorporated properly. However, too much of anything can be a bad thing, and too much emphasis on any of these can directly impact the overall success of your session. What we often see is too much time spent on stretching and warming up, and not enough time and focus being placed on the specificity of the main movements. At the same time, by walking into the gym and instantly jumping under a bar, you may be missing out on getting the body best prepared to perform to the best of it’s ability once your muscles are loaded with heavy weights. At the end of the day, the warm-up best suited for you is whatever is needed for you to be able to get into the positions needed to best perform your lifts. For example, performing shoulder movements that will allow you to get under a barbell in the best position to perform your squat, or hip drills that allow you to open up your hips & properly use your glutes in order to get into the bottom portion of the squat. Unless you are performing specific rehab movements, or are working around a very specific injury, the more time that is spent on performing a warm-up, the more time that you are taking away from the most important part of the training session.


So, keep your warm-ups limited to only the things that you feel are necessary. Get your heart rate up, get a sweat going, get your muscles loose and firing, and get to work. Spend as much of the time that you have available focused on getting better at your lifts, and you’ll end up right where you want to be.

Forgotten Training Ideas

A few weeks ago I was speaking with one of our new rockstar employees (I won’t use Vickey’s name so she doesn’t get a big head). During this conversation I was reminded how long I have been in the iron game. When I began lifting few people had a “coach,” most people had a crew or training partners. I can’t tell you that one way of training is better than another. I also know that information for anyone training is much more readily available and instagram is great for lifting and lifters, even if at times it can bring out too much ego. Let me step back and return to the point of this blog.


Here is a short list of things that I do not see lifters using anymore and should revisit in their training.

  1. Escalating Density Training (EDT)- EDT is as simple as doing more work in less time. A simple explanation is pull ups. Let’s say you can do 6 strict pull ups. So maybe you can 3×4 for a total volume of 12 reps and this takes you 6 minutes to complete all the sets. Try this Do 12 sets of 1 with 10 seconds rest and you will have completed 12 reps in about 2 1/2 minutes. Now reduced the time until your rest period is 5 seconds. Once you can achieve this move to 6×2 with 10-12 seconds rest and again reduce rest period over time.
  2. Floor Press- Larsen press has seemed to replace floor press for most lifters. I tried the Larsen press and it is a fine lift. Yet, don’t forget about the floor press as an alternative to helping build a big bench.
  3. Timed Sets- Instead of doing 3×10 of an exercise do 3x30seconds and worry about your Time Under Tension (TUT) instead of just the reps.
  4. Generalist Training- When you do not have an upcoming competition just train to be a stronger human. Use some strongman, bodybuilding, and maybe even ideas from our olympic friends. Just become stronger and more resilient.
  5. Overhead Press- Stealing from my last point. Just be stronger.
  6. Going Off the Script- As I said at the beginning everyone used to have a training “crew.” Back then trash talking was the norm. With this trash talking often times we went off script and competed just to compete. There is a certain beauty in having fun with a group of people and trying to crush each other.


Well these are the rants of an old man lifter. As John Meadows would say, “old man cranking.” Keep evolving as a lifter and as a human and we will see what is old is new again… eventually.


Tempo Training; What, When, and How

In my most recent blog, I discussed the importance of performing paused reps and how to incorporate them into your training. Today, I’m going to go one step further and discuss tempo reps, and how you can use them within your training arsenal in order to continue progressing and knocking out your goals. The purpose of incorporating tempo work into your training is to emphasize your time in a particular portion of each lift in order to become more comfortable being in that portion, and therefore becoming stronger and more efficient within that given lift. First, let’s dive into the meaning of tempo in relation to the repetition.


In regards to performing a particular exercise, the tempo is the rate or pace that the exercise is being performed. Therefore, rep tempo is the rate at which you perform reps within a given set.


When written on paper, tempo is typically shown as a 3 digit code that looks something like this: (4-1-3). Each number portrays the amount of time in seconds to perform that specific portion of the exercise. The first digit (4) is always the eccentric (‘lowering’ or ‘negative’) portion of the lift. During a squat, that would consist of the descent into the bottom for a count of 4 seconds. The second digit (1) represents the mid-point of the lift. In the squat, this would be the bottom portion where you would typically transition from the descent to the ascent, except now you would hold for 1 second before ascending, just as we discussed in the last blog on paused reps. The third digit (3) would then be the concentric (‘lifting’ or ‘positive’) portion of the lift. This would be standing up with the bar for a count of 3 seconds.


Keep in mind, you can make the tempo whatever you want depending on where you think each lift needs the most emphasis. Let’s continue to use the squat as an example. If you have a problem with staying under control and in a good stable position on the descent of the squat, then you would want the greatest tempo to be applied to that part of the lift, with 4-5 seconds usually being the sweet spot. If you lose tension in the bottom of the squat, then you would want to add a pause around 1-3 seconds. If you are typically stable on the descent and in the bottom, but lose positioning on the way up, then, you guessed it, would want to add a tempo to the ascent. For this, 3-4 seconds is ideal.


When adding them into your training program, start with around 60% of your one rep max for anywhere from 3-4 sets of 3-5 reps. As you become more familiar, you can slowly increase the weight by 2.5-5% of your one rep max. This can be done weekly, but it doesn’t have to be. If you aren’t feeling ready to progress in weight, then stay at the same as the previous week with the goal of performing each rep more efficiently. Try this for 4-6 weeks and then go back to performing standard tempo repetitions and see the difference.


We are programmed to think that every lift should be performed as fast as possible in order to develop the most amount of force, recruit the most fast twitch muscle fibers, etc. The reality is, if we cannot move efficiently within each lift, then speed becomes irrelevant. So if you find yourself struggling to keep good form and tension within a given lift, or just want to change up your training program with a new challenge, try incorporating tempos and see the benefits for yourself.


– Curtis Miller

Happy Training Hour and Open Mic

One of our goals at UF is to be the most unique and diverse gym in the world. It appears as though we are doing a decent job with this, when you consider what we have done in the last few years. Here is a short list:


  1. Hosted “Bike Ride for Black Lives” fundraiser for Urban League of Greater PGH.
  2. Donated from our last meet to Veterans Place.
  3. Hosted two comedy shows (one was a fundraiser for OUT Athletics).
  4. Hosted a workout fundraiser for a friend and member who had cancer.
  5. Hosted two USPA sanctioned powerlifting meets.
  6. Hosted an in house push pull.
  7. Hosted workouts at Wigle Whiskey and Threadbare.
  8. Hosted Pittsburgh’s first ever metal, whiskey, and yoga event.
  9. Hosted outdoor workouts with our friends at Allegheny City Brewing.
  10. Hosted outdoor workouts with our friends at CommonPlace Coffee.


This is a short list of some of the things we have done. In addition to these things, you can come to UF anytime and see some of the strongest people around training and helping each other achieve their goals.


Now onto what our next event will be, on Friday Aug 27th at 6 PM, we are going to host a workout in our performance lab. This workout will be free to anyone and we invite you to bring friends. Following the workout we will head over to see our friends at Federal Galley for an open mic night. This is a free event yet we are asking people who want to pay to please just donate directly to our friends DanileStrong. I cannot promise that Curtis will sing a duet with CeJ, but who knows?



Sunday Threadbare Bootcamp

Party people of Union and all of our friends, it’s time to raise a glass to Summer Boot Camps! We are very excited to kick off our 3 part boot camp series at Threadbear Cider House & Meadery.


Say What?


We’re partnering with our Neighbor Threadbare Cider on a Summer Boot Camp Series once a month at the Cider House! The workout will include various bodyweight, medicine ball and banded exercises in a timed circuit style training with a cardiovascular & mobility group warm-up, cool down and even a fun butt kicking finisher. These sessions will be led by CeJ & some special guest Coaches (Skylyn, Cej’s Partner in Crime is in for this weekend) who will be able to modify exercises and motivate all participants to make exercising fun & support our Pittsburgh community. 9.99 % of your $20 ticket benefits Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy and includes a one glass of cider to enjoy at the Cider House after class! The Cider house has tasty brunch & fire pizza for some post workout fuel.


Where do I go to party?


Threadbare Cider House

1291 Spring Garden Ave

Pittsburgh, PA 15212




This Sunday June 13th at 10am.


Who can come?


This event is ticketed but members of Union, patrons of Threadbare and any one who wants to get their sweat on for a Sunday Funday can come join the party. Tickets are available on Threadbare’s website under the events tab.


There are still tickets available and Skylyn & I would love to see you get sweaty this Sunday and cheers a glass or two of Cider with us. If you have any questions, please reach. We will see you this Sunday, my party people.


Pitter Patter,



NSCA All-Americans at UF

For the first time in Union Fitness history, we have athletes in house who have earned the highest accolade from the National Strength and Conditioning Association. The designation of Strength and Conditioning All-American is awarded to those individuals who embody the values of each training organization and live out those values daily. The three individuals listed below showed exceptional dedication and effort for the entire both semesters and over winter break. I’d like to take this opportunity to honor three softball players from Point Park University. 


Jodi Frontino- Jodi was not only one of the first to show up in the fall, but she also stayed and trained over the winter. For three weeks over winter break, we were forced to train exclusively outside. It was very cold. That didn’t matter. Jodi was there. Her consistency and effort were top notch this entire year. What’s more, Jodi has a beautiful personality and our sessions are filled with laughter and playful banter. Everything is better when Jodi is around. She gives her group life. I’m very proud to know and coach Jodi. 


Hailey Leitner- Hailey was hip to hip with Jodi on day one. They were like that for the whole year. When Hailey is in the weight room, you know what you’re going to get. High effort, high energy, and a lot of personality. Hailey was also among those who braved the cold at Union in order to get her training in. Hailey was invested in the training process all the time, and she had great awareness concerning what she needed to work on. Hailey has the amazing ability of making me belly-laugh every day. I’m very proud to know and coach Hailey. 


Tyra Bell- After the first session ever training Point Park University athletes, someone asked me if anyone stood out. I thought about it and said, “There was one.” It was Tyra Bell. The level of effort she gave in the very first session was uncommon among uncommon efforts. It was impressive. I never stopped being impressed by her effort on every exercise, every day. Besides her work ethic, Tyra is sweet and personable. She’s easy to be around and a joy to instruct. I’m proud to know and coach Tyra. 


It’s worth noting that Point Park University Softball was the only team to have nominations for this award. This is a special program that is obviously doing something right. Hats off to Coach Coultas and her staff. We look forward to future training!


Once again, congratulations to Jodi Frontino, Hailey Leitner, and Tyra Bell on being named 2021 NSCA Strength and Conditioning All-Americans!

New Class, What is Old is New Again

We are excited to bring back an old class with a new twist, and one of our throwback trainers. Racheal (from cardiolab and bootcamp fame) is back! Powerful Bootcamp is also back!


The new and improved Powerful Bootcamp will be a little different. We will have this bootcamp on Monday and Wednesday night from 6:30PM-7:30PM. On Monday evenings the class will be held in the cardio lab and we will be using the weights that we now have in the cardio lab, be prepared for a mix of weights, cardio, and a great playlist from Racheal. Wednesdays will be an outdoor bootcamp with two instructors, and we will use a different location each week. The locations will be within a half of a mile of UF and will use the natural topography of our region to train. If weather does not permit us to go outside we have some special plans using our buildings here at NoVA Place.


The class is being designed a good compliment to our Powerful class. It will involved some aspects of strength training, yet will be more focused on conditioning and getting outside to enjoy the natural environment.


This class will begin May 3rd and will continue with the outdoor work as long as the weather permits.