Interview with Tommy Caldwell of The Hybrid Fitness Centre

Tommy Caldwell is the Founder and CEO of the Hybrid Fitness Centres, Creator and Producer of the #1 iTunes hits ‘The Outlaws of Health Show’ and Health, Optimized’, and the Creator of the Journal of Human Performance. Tommy’s personal mission is to bring honest and unbiased information on health and wellness to his fans and followers in an entertaining and easy to understand platform.

Ed Slattery: Hi Tommy, thanks a lot for agreeing to take part in this interview, I really appreciate it. First of all, can you give an insight into your background, how you got into the fitness industry and your current work today?

Tommy Caldwell: Before I got into hands on training I was in rehab therapy, mostly working with recovering athletes and implementing programming in order to get them back into their sport post injury. I went to college locally and abroad for this formal education and worked at Fowler Kennedy Sports Medicine clinics in my school placements and shortly after graduation. I thought I would end up being a career physiotherapist, but the clinical setting was killing me – to the point that I dreaded going to work each day. I loved working with people and I loved what I was doing, but I did not love the setting or work environment. That is when I decided I could do the same kind of work but in a more dynamic gym setting, and gave personal training a try, which lead to many new opportunities, which eventually got me to where I am today.

ES: You are the founder of the Hybrid Method, can you tell us about this and how it works?

TC: The Hybrid Method is a specific series of assessments, prescriptions, and data collection that we use in order to assure client success inside of the gym. The assessments are meaningful, measurable, and repeatable, and focus on body composition, movement, strength function (how the body reacts to various planes of motion) and conditioning tests. It sounds complicated, but it is a very simple and effective way to ensure your clients move towards and accomplish their goals in a sustainable way, and we have statistically proven its effectiveness with 3rd party data collection and review.

ES: What separates Hybrid Fitness from other training facilities?

TC: A few things. Firstly, the process (Hybrid Method) as previously mentioned; setting members up for success, re-evaluating them every 6-12 weeks, and assuring constant evolution as they change their physiology. We also bring in outside educators for our coaches every quarter, run in house education with me and the coaches every month, and pay our coaches salary, benefits, and profit sharing. We put our time, effort, and money into the areas that affect client success and growth, and through these efforts, we produce results above and beyond any mainstream facility, and more importantly, we prove it.

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Tommy and his staff following a private workshop with Dr. Stu McGill

ES: What, in your opinion, are the most common mistake trainers make when looking to begin their business and open their own facilities?

TC: There are many, and I know this because I have made most of them. The first mistake is thinking that because you have a passion for fitness, that you should run your own business. Being passionate does not make you a good business person, and being passionate does not mean you’re any good. You should take 6 months to 1 year to plan your facility path – it should not be inspired by enthusiasm alone. The other big one is not understanding your strength (niche) and trying to cast too big a net in order to get more clients. Know what you’re great at, and just do that. Trying to appeal to a broad audience just gets you lost in the sea of rapidly expanding businesses and personalities. I could go on and on, but those are the big two that come to mind. I could write a book on mistakes, and some people think that mistakes and failure are part of the game, which to a degree I suppose they are, but truly smart people learn from the mistakes from others more than they learn from their own, and I’ve been lucky to survive some of the critical errors I’ve made on my journey.

ES: CrossFit has exploded in the last few years becoming an ever increasingly method of training for the recreational population. It has also gained a lot of bad publicity due to questionable methods and execution in some instances. How is CrossFit programmed at Hybrid and is it open for everyone?

TC: We run a CrossFit program for athletes who compete in CrossFit as their chosen sport, not as a method of training for the average person. We also train our athletes like athletes, not like CrossFitters. If someone does not have the basic fundamentals to perform high demand movements, we will filter them elsewhere. Safety is our #1 priority and we don’t bend on that. The positives that are associated with CrossFit have been earned, but so have the negative associations as well. It’s one of those things that could be truly amazing, but sometimes the people in charge of the organization care more about ego than effectiveness. We just run our program for the interested athletes by our standards, and we don’t compromise for dogmatic thinking.

ES: In the off-season you train Hockey Players, including some professional players. What are the main training goals of an off-season Hockey player?

TC: Number one, get and stay healthy. Number two, move better. Number three, be as strong and resilient as you can be in those movements. Then when players are 4-6 weeks out we focus on getting them into game shape and training their energy systems accordingly or making sure they can adequately perform in their testing. Year after year our players finish in the 90th percentile of team testing, even though a lot of hockey testing is admittedly a bit archaic and silly.

ES: Can you give an insight into your process when beginning with a new athlete? Screening, testing etc.?

TC: First we get them to set their goals. No more than three, and as specific as we can be with what we want to accomplish. Then we test their moving parts (ankles, hip/hamstring, shoulders etc) and look for overall range of motion and left to right symmetry. Then we test strength and the body’s specific reaction to various planes of motion (pushing, pulling, single leg, trunk stability etc) and finally we will test their VO2 on an erg. We also perform body comp and more dynamic measures (vert, broad jump etc) depending on the needs and ability of the athlete. Through the specific goals and testing results we set clear, measurable goals and test them in 6 week intervals to make sure we are heading in the correct direction. Then we repeat.

ES: What conditioning methods do you find most suitable for Hockey players?

TC: In the most basic terms I would say 70/30 Anaerobic to Aerobic training. We try to keep their level of conditioning constant through the bulk of the off-season, and then ramp up into ‘more game’ ready stop and go training as they get closer to the season. If guys are on the ice a lot, we back off the dryland conditioning, and we do our best to balance their intensity and volume based off of some basic pre-planned performance dates and block periodization.

ES: You have been outspoken in the past on Nutrition, what are your thoughts on common issues people face with Nutrition and what are your nutrition ‘best practices’?

TC: Here is what you need to know about nutrition

1. Diets are all bullshit. While each may have their positive aspects, a diet that is not specifically created for you and designed to serve your specific needs is worthless. You must know where you are now, where you want to be, and why what you put into your body is going to accomplish that goal. Everything else is a waste of energy.

2. Structure matters. It is popular opinion in the fitness industry to say that calories don’t matter and all you need to do is ‘eat healthy’. In a sense it is true that you don’t have to have a strict structure to be healthy, but do you want to merely be healthy or do you want to optimize your performance? I can promise you that those who track their caloric and nutrient intake and have those aspects designed to serve their specific needs are doing a lot better than those who don’t.

3. There are no good and bad foods, there are only foods that serve your purpose well or don’t serve your purpose at all. Determine the foods that best serve what you are trying to accomplish.

4. Be honest with yourself. Be honest with who you are today, who you want to be a year from now, and build a diet that you know you can happily and sustainably stick to. Anything that feels like torture is not going to last, and if it isn’t going to last or serve you in the long term, what good is it?

ES: The Human Health Experiment is a fantastic new project you began earlier this year. Can you explain what this is and what made you decide to undertake the experiment?

TC: Experience is the teacher of all things, and most loud mouthed fitness professionals love to hear the sound of their own voices and opinions rather than actually experiencing the methods they support or bash. I am not going to be one of those people. Every month I take on a new diet, training, or lifestyle method, test what it specifically does to my body through various testing metrics, and report it back to my audience. The ultimate goal is to get people to think less dogmatically about their health and realize that there are positives and negatives in everything that’s out there, and fitness (like most things) is not black and white, yet everyone in health tries to make everything black and white. It’s a plague that exists in all aspects of health and health professionals. The only thing that is for sure in health and fitness is that there are no rules that are true for all people, except that we require oxygen, water, food, and movement. Anything else that people pass off as a certainty is a lie, and I am trying to give honest reporting on these various trends in an unbiased setting.

The Human Health Experiment
The Human Health Experiment

ES: Your first two months of the experiment included completing a strict vegan diet and then a low carb diet, how did you find these processes and what were the results?

TC: The vegan diet was rough at first. I do well with carbohydrates, but I don’t do well with plant based proteins. The benefits I found were lowered resting hear rate, lowered blood pressure, and higher operating energy. The biggest negative was that getting adequate protein, no matter how hard I tried, was impossible. Eventually I couldn’t recover and I lost significant strength in one month. I also had extreme difficulty with explosive lifts as the week went on. The Low Carb diet was easier for me to get back into- likely because although I am not ‘low carb’, it was closer to my regular diet. My blood pressure and resting heart rate elevated again, (but not as high as the control numbers) which was the biggest negative, but my performance went through the roof with higher fat and protein intake. My take away was this. The vegan diet was fine, and it seemed to have significant health effects, but when it came to strength and explosive power, I suffered. If you’re a power athlete you may find it hard to perform optimally under that diet. If you don’t require power and performance, however, it’d likely be wise to back off of your meat intake (as most of us grossly over consume protein) and learn to get more nutrition from fruits, vegetables and other non-animal based foods. I am currently on Ketogenic which finishes this week, and that has been a nightmare thus far.

ES: What are future plans for the Human Health Experiment?

TC: The next few are going to be daily alcohol intake, testing different sleep patterns (varying bedtimes and overall sleep time), and I’d love to eventually get into more controversial stuff like marijuana and PED’s etc. I just don’t want to compromise my business and reputation, but at the same time I know the value of honest reporting on individual experience with controversial things. Time will tell if I am brave/confident enough to take those risks.

ES: Can you give three books you recommend all coaches to read? (Strength and conditioning/fitness related or not)

TC: For my fitness knowledge I prefer to learn hands on from great teachers. I don’t believe a book can teach you practical skills. 100% of the books I read are based off of either psychology, business, or the life stories of amazing people.

I would recommend 1. The 4 Agreements: It is cheesy, and not well written, but the concepts are incredibly important, and when I implemented them into my life it made a noticeable impact.

2. You are not so smart and You are now less dumb: These two books are basically about the various cognitive biases we revert to in various life situations. Reactions and thinking that we believe we create independently in our minds, when in reality we are acting out of basic primal reactions. If you can learn to control those reactions, you will be a much better decision maker.

3. How to Win Friends and Influence People: A classic. Don’t let the title fool you, it is some of the best advice you will ever learn in business. These are all books I’ve read at least twice, and I aim to read at least 2 books per month, if not more.

ES: What coaches have been most influential on you in your career?

TC: I had some good mentors when I began earlier in my career. Doug Stacey and Rob Werstine from Team Canada Hockey and Fowler Kennedy were gracious enough to bring me on during College, and although I wasn’t as avid a learner then as I am now (and I wish I was at that time) that first position in physiotherapy taught me about what I wanted, and more importantly, what I didn’t want. More recently I have to say Ido Portal is massively inspiring. He is one of few people who really ‘gets it’, and if you haven’t listened to the man speak, you are missing out. I listen to and read everything he puts out. He is an incredible human being.

ES: You have gained a lot of experience in this industry, what three pieces of advice would you give to coaches currently completing their studies or recently graduated?

TC: 1. Formal education isn’t a bad thing, but it is incredibly incomplete. The most important and valuable things you will learn are going to come from hands on work from experienced teachers in the industry, the ideas of great people in books written outside of the industry, and in the mistakes you make and knowledge you gain from actually being in the trenches and putting your time in.

2. Most people in health and fitness now just want to be famous or get attention. Don’t fall into that egotistical shitstorm. Be in the game because you want to help people, be the best you can be, and contribute to the evolution of human performance. If your social media has more pictures of your face and ass than it does of useful ideas and methods, we don’t need you.

3. Don’t model your image after other people. It is one thing to be inspired by others, and it is quite another to be unoriginal. I am not saying you should try and reinvent the fitness wheel with gimmicky crap, but always be yourself and people will eventually be attracted to you. Make your audience come to you- don’t try and change yourself to get closer to an audience.

Bonus: Be humble. Nothing is for sure, and 100 years from now people are going to look back at us in health and fitness and call every one of us an idiot. The biggest mistake we can make is in believing we know everything there is to know right now. Being wrong is not a bad thing, being right at all costs is.

ES: Finally Tommy, for people interested in learning more about your work where can they go?

TC: My new site will be up in a few weeks at www.tommycaldwell.ca and will have access to all my outlets. Before then you can find my professional page and Human Health Experiment page on Facebook, you can find me on Twitter @hybridtraining, you can find the HHE podcast on iTunes or Libsyn, and for all Hybrid Fitness related stuff you can find it at www.hybridfitness.com or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

For more information on Tommy, find him online:
Websites: http://www.tommycaldwell.ca
Company: http://www.hybridfitness.com
Tommy on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/outlawofhealth?fref=ts
Human Health Experiment on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/outlawsofhealth?fref=ts
Human Health Experiment Podcast: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-human-health-experiment/id623540261?mt=2
Hybrid Fitness on FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/HybridFitnessCentre?fref=ts
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hybridtraining

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