Category Archives: Uncategorized

Meet the Interns, Zain

Hi my name is Zain Skalos. I am 25 years old, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, and a Navy veteran. I found my passion for fitness during my time in the Navy. At that time, my goal was to become a Naval Officer so that I could be a pilot. I found my passion of working out and love for the community of fitness while pursuing this goal. I knew then that I did not want to become a Pilot and I decided that I would finish with the military and apply to colleges.


This led me to the University of Pittsburgh where I currently am working on receiving my Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science. However, my future goal is to end up as a Physical Therapist. During my first semester at Pitt, I completed two men’s physique shows. After giving a go at bodybuilding, I decided to try Powerlifting. So I joined the Powerlifting Club at the University of Pittsburgh and made many great memories with many awesome friends. Through the experiences with the team and being able to better myself, I fell in love with powerlifting. These experiences would later lead me to the opportunity of training at Union Fitness. While training at Union, I enjoyed the environment, the mentors, and the community that Union creates. I felt that this is where I had to be. So as part of my senior internship at the University of Pittsburgh, I applied for the internship at Union. I am looking forward to learning from every single person that comes into Union Fitness and creating more memories!

It’s a Hockey Night in the Burgh’

This Friday January 14th, it’s a Chatham Hockey night in Pittsburgh!


At Union we have had the opportunity to work with The Chatham University Men’s Hockey program for 2 seasons now. They were Union’s first collegiate program to train at UF through a prior coaching and work relationship made at Robert Morris University. The men’s hockey team brings exciting energy, hard working attitude and team support to every training session at Union, long story short they work hard. During the off season the men would train 5 days a week performing, maximal lifts, explosive jumps and throws, powerful olympic movements, athletic exercises and much more to gear up for their season. The men are still working hard in season to stay buzzing on the ice and fuel the tanks for a seek and destroy season. All their hard work and dedication to making each day better, learning from the last play is paying off and we are excited to see the team grow and to continue to build our relationship with the players, coaches and Chatham community. The Men’s hard work, enjoyment and success training with us at Union has sparked 9 more athletic teams from Chatham to join us this year. We are more than excited to Roll with the Cougs!


So now is our chance to show our support and love for our student athletes and watch some good old fashioned and historic hockey being played in Pittsburgh. This Friday get to the Hunt Armory on 324 Emerson Street in Shady Side at 7pm puck drop and let’s scream for our Cougs! This will be the first ever NCAA hockey game to be played at this site.


See ya Friday,



Welcome to UF Katie

Hey Union Fitness! My name is Katie Jones and I have been working at Union since November. You can catch me coaching Cardio Lab bright and early at 6 am on Thursdays and Friday (and the occasional Saturday morning)! Soon I will start coaching strength & conditioning for Chatham’s swim team. I am super excited!


I am from Saxonburg, a small town about an hour north of Pittsburgh. I have been living in the city for just about 5 years. I am a 7th and 8th-grade math teacher at Propel Homestead. I graduated from Westminster College in 2017 with a degree in Early Childhood and Special Education.


While in college, I was on the swim team and the cross country team. I was a competitive swimmer for the majority of my life. I started when I was 5 years old! I have been a runner since 6th grade when I started cross country. Swimming and running have taught me so much about dedication, hard work, and perseverance. They also opened the door to many coaching opportunities. I coached a local community swim team for 3 years while I was in college. When I moved to Pittsburgh, I coached for Pittsburgh Elite Aquatics for a little over a year. I have also coached countless running clubs within the community I teach. Coaching brings me so much joy! I love working with all levels and different types of athletes.


When I am not teaching or coaching, you can find me training at Union or running! I started competing in Powerlifting this past year (shout out to Jared Caroff for convincing me to do the Push-Pull meet!) I also run marathons for fun- crazy, I know. This past November, I completed my 9th marathon while keeping up with my Powerlifting training. Keep your eyes out for some blog posts about the combination of endurance training and strength training!


Outside of training, I love going to breweries, hanging out with my friends, & their dogs, and finding the best nachos in Pittsburgh (if you have any recommendations, hit me up). Thanks for reading a little bit about me! So happy to be a part of the Union Fitness Fam!

Welcome Back Toria

Hello! I’m one of the new(ish) employees here at UF. I wanted to introduce myself and share some of my story with you all. I graduated from Slippery Rock University with my BS in Exercise Science and from the University of Pittsburgh with my MS in Health, Physical Activity, and Chronic Disease. I worked at UF as front desk staff/coach for just under a year while also working at a research lab at the University of Pittsburgh. Then I left Pennsylvania to take on a clinical research position with the University of Colorado, Denver. I am now the Director of Business Operations here at UF. 


Since I left UF last year, I have had a bit of a crazy unpredictable life (as we all typically do, right?). I had some personal health problems, and the realization that I wanted to change my career path completely. I have worked in the clinical research world for over 3 years and have seen everything from cardiovascular surgery in heart failure patients to diabetic foot ulcer treatments to sitting at a desk for 8+ hours a day entering data. I wanted to change my day-to-day routine up and go from working in a clinical hospital setting to more of a fitness/gym setting. When I was at UF before, it made me realize how much I loved working in a gym and being surrounded by other people who were looking to better themselves.


Prior to my initial time at UF, I had struggled with maintaining my personal fitness and health. I gained just about 50lbs over the course of a few years from being lazy and unmotivated. I believe I gained 25 of those 50lbs in just one year. I only saw the inside of a gym maybe a few times per year. I was very unhappy with myself and didn’t care enough to try and be healthy. I don’t think I even knew what a vegetable tasted like. My physical and mental health both went down a steep hill. I ended up discovering a local CrossFit gym that I figured I could try out. I was intimidated and very unsure of it at the time, but I immediately fell in love with exercise and fitness. I spent a little over a year doing CrossFit and then I ended up coming to UF to work and train. I now use my background and passion for exercise and fitness to help others reach their fitness and health goals.


I am very excited to be back with you all and looking forward to meeting those of you who I don’t know yet.


Stay healthy my friends!



3 Cues to Stronger Lifts

When it comes to trying to be the most efficient we can be with our lifts, there are so many cues and words being thrown around that it can become overwhelming at times. Every “coach” has a list of cues that they use when working with their clients. The fact is that we only need to focus on and perfect a couple cues in order to make great technical progress with each lift. Listed below are three cues that I use with every individual that I work with in order to become proficient with the squat, bench press, and deadlift.




1)Twist into the floor: Your feet are one of the most crucial aspects of a quality squat. I like to think about it from the floor up. Spread your toes and plant them into the floor while focusing on three points of contact. The ball under the big toe, the ball under the pinky toe, and the heel. Twist outward (without rolling on the outside of your foot) in order to engage your hips. Keep that pressure & tension the entire squat.


2)Push into your belt: Bracing is absolutely crucial for a big strong squat. Flexing your abs IS NOT the same as bracing and pushing into your belt. When you take a big breath before you lift, it should go deep into your diaphragm and down & out into your obliques, abs, and even lower back when done correctly. A simple and effective way to practice this technique is to use a small micro mini band around your mid section to push into in order to provide feedback.


3)Pull the bar into your back: Pulling your shoulder blades together as tightly as possible while having your hands as close as possible to your shoulders certainly helps to keep the back rigid, but it provides little engagement and structure of the big lat muscles which connect down at the waist and keep the entire back erect. This will also help to keep your sternum tall. When you squat, think about doing a behind the neck lat pulldown. That is the same tension and concept that you want to feel when you are pulling the bar down into your back during the squat.




1)Set your lats: Just as we start the squat with the feet, It’s good to start the bench with the upper back. When laying down on the bench, think about pulling your shoulder blades down towards your back pockets as hard as possible. This will pull your sternum up towards the ceiling and provide a very strong base and foundation for a solid bench, as your lats are one of the biggest and strongest muscles in our body.


2)Bend the bar: When you grab the bar, think about putting all of the pressure on the outside pad of your palm underneath of your pinky finger. Squeeze that area as hard as possible while thinking about “bending” the bar in your hands just as you would if you were trying to break a stick. This will build a tremendous amount of tension in your back along with stability as you pull the bar down and press it.


3)Push yourself into the bench: A lot of times we think about pressing the bar off of us as hard as possible. It’s our natural instinct. This usually leads to losing that tension that we’ve previously created in our back. When you bring the bar down to your chest, focus on driving your head, neck, and upper back down into the bench as hard as possible as soon as you go to press the bar. This will keep you much more stable and give you more power.




1)Lats in back pockets: As with the squat and bench press, our lats are a huge benefactor for a strong and stable deadlift. As you’re setting up to grab the bar, pull those lats down into your back pockets and pull your sternum up so it’s facing the floor out in front of you. This will keep you in a strong & safe position while providing a ton of tension and rigidity throughout the lift.


2)Pull the bar through your body: One of the biggest things that will cause a difficult lift is letting the bar drift out away from your shins and your body. To correct this, focus on using those lats to pull the bar as close as possible to your body, almost as if someone had a band attached to it and was trying to pull it away from you. This will keep those lats tight and give you your best chance of staying in a strong position.


3)Leg press through the floor: Although we think of the deadlift as a “pull” the truth is, a majority of it is initiated by a “push”. Just as you drive a leg press away from you or press yourself away from the floor during a squat, you want to do the same with the beginning of a deadlift. Combining this cue while simultaneously focusing on your lats will give you the tension and position needed to perform a perfect lift.


As always, stop by and ask for any help related to these cues or any other aspect of your training program. We are more than happy to help.


– Curtis Miller

Curt’s meet recap

A few weeks ago, I flew out to Las Vegas to compete in my 16th powerlifting meet. This was the first meet that I’ve had to travel to the other side of the country for, and the first one where I was competing in another timezone. Although there were many challenges that came along with this, this was hands down the most fun I’ve had competing in any meet, and for many reasons, this one meant more to me than any meet I’ve ever competed in. With this being my first meet since my surgery, I felt extremely grateful for my opportunity to compete and do what I love. In training, every rep, set, weight, and training session possessed so much more meaning than it ever had up until this point. Along with this, I was able to experience all of it with my wife right by my side. From the day of my surgery, to my final deadlift of the meet, she was there every step of the way. I truly could not have done it without her. In all honesty, I was fighting holding back my emotions the entire day of the competition. Thinking about what I had been through to get to that point. The second I stepped off of the platform after my last lift of the day, I walked outside, gave Liz a huge hug, and just cried.


After returning home, I took the next week to reflect on the experience. This included all aspects. From the preparation, to the execution, there were many things that I learned and took away.


1)Time change can greatly impact your performance: Whether you’re going west or east, any change in time can throw you out of your routine. All you can do is control what you can and roll with the punches.


2)Plan and control everything that you can: For an event such as this one, you should have your check list ready the week before the competition. This includes your flight schedule, your bags and equipment, your food and water, your approach for the meet, and your plans once you arrive.


3)There will always be things out of your control: It’s absolutely necessary to plan for as much as possible if you want to have a successful competition. However, there are always things that will be out of your control. At the meet, there was a piece of equipment that I had never used before. It threw me off at first, but I stayed calm and trusted myself and everything that I had done up until that point.


4)Even when you’re alone, you’re never alone: Powerlifting is a great community. Although it was only my wife and I at the meet, there were numerous people who were willing to help anyone with whatever they needed. A gentleman who I had only meet once before offered to help me wrap my knees for squatting. There will always be someone there to give you a hand.


5)If you’re serious about competing, you need to travel: Doing local meets are fun and convenient, but getting outside of your comfort zone is where you find what you’re truly made of. The amount of experience and knowledge you gain from doing something like that is absolutely priceless.


I will be taking the next few weeks to enjoy spending time with family and friends over the holidays, then plans will begin for the next competition. I hope you all have a safe and happy Holiday season!


– Curtis Miller

75 Hard and Other “Challenges.”

If you have not heard of “75 Hard,” it is an online fitness challenge. It was created by Andy Frisella, Andy is the CEO 1st Phorm International. He developed this challenge in 2019 and it went viral. Last year a friend of mine asked me to do it with her. I figured I would give it a try, and I want to share my thoughts with each of you. But, first let me list the “rules.” He refers to them as “daily tasks.”


  1. Follow any nutrition plan designed for your goals, with zero alcohol and no cheat meals.
  2. Complete two 45-minute workouts every day, one of which must be outside.
  3. Drink a gallon of water every day.
  4. Read 10 pages of an educational or self-improvement book every day.
  5. Take a progress picture every day.


I love eating desert so my nutritional plan was simple. No desert. This wasn’t very challenging, and I set it up this way as I wanted something I knew I would stick to. I also cut alcohol out, and this was not as hard as I thought it would be. I performed the workouts daily and this part was easy. If you already train this is simple. I did not like the fact that it was two independent workouts. For instance I may bike for 2 hours at Frick park.  Does this mean I need to do another 45 minute workout? Drinking water is something we all need to do, and I am glad I was reminded. As for the reading, I did this, but I already do this. One thing I tweaked slightly here was defining, “an educational or self-improvement book.” All books are educational so I just continued reading as normal. Finally, the progress pics were definitely not my thing, yet I did them. I shared on here and I hated taking it and sharing it.




What I found is as with most “challenges” if you are already committed then you don’t need a challenge to be better. I was shocked that taking alcohol out didn’t change much for me. I really thought I’d feel a difference, as I enjoy a glass of wine most evenings. I also thought the progress pic made sense for some, but was dumb for me. I saw a change in my body during this, yet I didn’t need the pics to tell me this.


My advice if you are thinking of doing a similar challenge.


If you are reading this and already train you probably don’t need one of these challenges. It reminded me of reading success/self help books in my 20’s. Back then I thought “YES! I am reading the greatest info ever.” Today I see it differently, I look at these books as good reminders to keep me honest. If you need rules and are not consistent then give something like this a try. If you are already engaged in your training and life then the rules may seem too arbitrary for you.


Do a challenge, don’t do a challenge. Just make sure you are making strides towards a better you.





Kabuki Open Recap

This past weekend we hosted the 2nd annual USPA Kabuki Open powerlifting meet held at your very own Union Fitness. I have been around the sport for over a decade, and this was hands down one of the best meets that I have ever been a part of. The weather was absolutely perfect, the crowd was full, and the lifters were putting on an amazing show. This was actually the first meet that I’ve been to where there were two platforms going on simultaneously. This made for a very cool event with non stop action. 


One of the best parts of the day was seeing our members and staff up on the platform competing. Union Fitness’ very own Dave Jackson and Gillian Kane competed in their first meets and did an amazing job, walking away with some very solid PRs. Our members Eric Price, Brian Steinmiller, and Isabella Musante also competed in their first meets and all had an amazing day and expressed how much fun they had. I’m looking forward to seeing them back on the platform again in the near future. Two of our other members, Diana Jordan and Caroline Harpel competed in their 2nd and 3rd powerlifting meets and also did an amazing job. Congratulations to Caroline for walking away as the best raw female lifter of the meet. We are very blessed to have such amazing members and staff here at Union Fitness. They make everything we do easy and worth every second. Without them, Union Fitness could not be what it is today.


Finally, I want to take a moment to thank those who made this event possible. First and foremost thank you to Doug, Candi, and the rest of the Alpha Fitness/ USPA officiating crew for putting on such an amazing event. Their professionalism and support are second to none. Next, the Pitt Powerlifting team who stayed on top of the spotting and loading, keeping every single lifter safe and injury free. Thank you to all of the vendors who came out to support their businesses, as well as to support Union Fitness and our awesome strength community. Thank you to all of the fans, friends, and family members who came out to show love to all of the lifters. That support means more than you will ever know. Finally, thank you to our GM Todd Hamer and the rest of the staff here at Union Fitness for organizing and hosting such a spectacular event.


The more time I spend around this sport, the more I realize how amazing it is and how much it can bring a community together. For those few hours of competition, there are no problems, worries, or differences amongst any of us. For that period of time, there is only a community of people supporting and bringing out the best in one another. That is the power of powerlifting.


– Curtis Miller

Thank You

We were able to host the USPA Kabuki Open here at Union Fitness over the weekend. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made this event (and many of our events) such a success.


Doug, Candi, and their USPA crew. This event wouldn’t happen without them.


Pitt Powerlifting. These guys and gals are amazing and do all the spotting and loading.


Valkyrie Donuts. Check these guys out for the best vegan donuts out there.


Knock About Coffee. Thanks for brining the coolest coffee shop in town to our event.


Federal Galley. As always our neighbors are there for us and there for you.


Slider Vibes. The offical food sponsor of our event. If you have’t visited this gem yet, then you should check them out in market square.


Curtis Miller. For those of you who don’t know, Curtis does most of the work to set this event up.


Mr John. Yes we even have a bathroom sponsor. If you have ever run any event you know how important this detail is to success. Thank you Mr John for helping us out and being the only bathroom sponsor we will ever need.


Union Fitness Staff. These people are amazing and step up to challenges everyday and for that I thank each and everyone of you.


In addition I would like thank everyone who attended, competed, volunteered, or were involved. Finally, thank you to our wonderful landlord, Faros Properties for allowing us to  make a big mess and loud noises.






Kabuki Open

It’s that time again! Tomorrow morning we will be hosting the 2nd annual Kabuki Open powerlifting meet, right here at your very own Union Fitness. This will be the 8th sanctioned meet that has been held at Union Fitness since opening in November of 2016. If you have never been to a powerlifting meet, I highly recommend that you check one out! Especially our meets here at Union. I may be bias, but we are fortunate to have an amazing facility and support that allows us to hold some of the best meets that I’ve ever been a part of. Regardless of if you’re a competitor, or a spectator, there is something for you. This year we will have meals on hand from FitFresh Kitchen, Protein bars from Fortifx, apparel from Live Large and At War Athletics, and services from the Athlete Recovery Lounge, just to name a few. On top of that, 25% of the admission will be donated to Veteran’s Place here in Pittsburgh.


One of the most gratifying things is seeing some of our members and staff sign up and train to compete in their first official powerlifting meet. After our most recent push/pull meet that we held this past year, I had multiple members tell me that they would like to compete in a full powerlifting meet, without even knowing what to fully expect. By setting their own goals, doing their own research, and with the help of our staff here at UF, they are now prepared to step on the platform and compete in their first official event. This sport is for absolutely anyone. Regardless of age or training experience, powerlifting has something wonderful to offer.


If you would like to stop by, lifting will begin at 9am right outside of the main entrance. Admission is $10 for adults and free for children. If you are planning to use the gym while you’re here, the fitness center will be open, although the Strength Lab will be closed for competitors to use for warming up. We look forward to seeing all of you here, and maybe we will even see you on the platform at our next event next June.


– Curtis Miller