The “C” Word

The “C” Word

There are some words that all coaches and trainers hate. We all have a list of words that make our skin crawl or blood boil. Our own verbal pet peeves but I think the “C” word is the most frequently used within many training facilities, and for me and what we do here at Contemporary Athlete is the most infuriating of all of them.


Can’t is a lack luster, poorly descriptive, half hearted word for quit. It is generally used for early onset defeat; a submission to mental weakness, or in most cases the fear of failure. It brings about uncomfortable feelings, warm ears, sweaty palms, nausea, and an intense desire to find the closest exit and to use it… quickly. Can’t flows like a fast running spring stream of verbal diarrhea preceding or following the why’s and how’s for not trying.

For me, this is a debilitating word. It can take an amazing training day, filled with the opportunity for greatness, PR’s, and personal growth and immediately send it into the workout wood chipper.  The downward spiral of doomed feelings and tears trigger a good trainers highly honed training as an emotional triage expert and an a long toothed conversation about desire, and positive reinforcement quickly follows the dirty word can’t.

Can’t is a choice, it’s a choice to not try.

Now here is the happy part of this trainer’s rant, it starts with a question:

Vic Crawl:Pull

Why not choose TO try?


sounds exponentially better. It is much sexier. There is no hard consonant sound at the end of it. It’s shorter to say; so that is always nice for those of you that are endurance athletes looking to conserve energy. The best yet though, is it always ends with you smiling. (Yeah seriously, try that s**t out in the mirror)

By saying I can you accept the challenge, which lay ahead of you willingly and with a smile. So go out there and be a catalyst for awesome and stop standing in your own way, lead those around you with a smile. Best yet you won’t get up-charged by your trainer for the psychological services that will be offered for saying you can’t. Or the dry cleaning bill for crying on their clean training gear for saying you can’t.

Gabby:Erin The future

Athlete Profile: Lauren Salter

Lauren Salter (Part 1)

Life offers you what you need when you need it. The question is will you know how to see it and will you accept the opportunity when it walks through your door? – Bender

Lauren pushes her sled at the start of 2013 US Skeleton National Championships

Lauren goes by many names here in the CA, Captain of the “Salty Crew”, “L”, “Salter”, and my personal favorite “Optimist Beta” (Thanks Erin!). All of them are good, yet small indicators of who she really is.

I met Lauren through a great friend of mine, Lindsey Murray, who was Lauren’s roommate when they both slid skeleton together. Lauren was visiting Saratoga Springs, and Lindsey told her she should come check out the gym while she was in town.

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Working on snatch

Lauren came during a Saturday workout and we talked a bit of shop before I said I would love to help her train if she decided to move to Saratoga for the summer. A few months later, I got a phone call saying she was moving down, and wanted to know when she could start. I replied, “Great! I’ll see you in 6 to 8 weeks”.

She seemed perplexed.

Erin:Lauren DL:FS
Lauren (right) and Erin Little during a heavy lift day

As her trainer (I’m not sure what she actually calls me) I was going to help her get to the next step, but she was coming off of a season that essentially had lasted eleven months. Lauren needed time off. So I made her take it.

We talk a lot about what training is, and I have a simple formula. W+R=T (Work + Recovery = Training). It’s not complicated, but it takes all of those parts to make things happen. “R” is what she needed, so that is what I told her to do. During her month and a half of rest,  she apparently finished several TV series via Netflix.

Lauren Jump KB
Another day, another test.

Lauren’s first day back was with my super awesome “Team XXX” (the Tuesday night women’s group). Unfortunately, she came out of the “pan” that is the Olympic Training Center, and into the “fire” that is CA. It was a dreaded “cards” day, where each suit is a different workout, and the number on the card is the number of repetitions the athlete does.  I am pretty much sure that Lauren will never look at step-ups the same way  again. She got through day one, but the road was long and full of adversity.

Lauren and Haley Sive (right)

We all come upon forks in our psyche at one time or another. As we go from “faking it” to “making it,” there is a place where we are unsure, insecure, and question everything. Eventually, it takes us to a place where we ask no more questions, put our head down, and accept our wants and desires in order to take the next step.

Lauren Track day
Braving the heat during an early track day

Let’s jump ahead a bit.  Lauren has now learned that “awesome” is a mindset, and it comes from somewhere that even most 13-year-olds know instinctively. Ironically, a 13-year-old client of mine reminded her of this during a goal setting session.

In order to win races, games, or matches, an athlete has to be strong and fast. If they want to be fast, they have to have to have fun. If they are having fun, then they will be awesome. As we get more experience our views change, but ultimately, it’s about having fun. If you want to win a 5k, or go to the Olympics, it all boils down to having fun, because if it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.

20130524-213649More on Lauren at

Read her blog post for USBSF: The “O” Word

Athlete Profile: Shane Buchannan


A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… about 5 years ago to be exact. (Also I love star wars, just so you know) Shane and I started down this path to his development as an athlete, and ultimately our friendship. He was a young kid, who was already too big to be sitting on the bench, at about 6 feet tall and 14 years old. Shane just wanted to get some time playing in, instead of sitting on the bench for his travel soccer team. Being 14 years old and 6 feet tall and probably a buck twenty soaking wet at that point of time. Shane finding the ground with his feet, instead of his head bouncing off of it first due to his gangly nature was the first thing we had to sort out.

Shane, driving a long ball

It has been a long road to get to this point of time. I made a lot of mistakes back then. (Let me make sure to get something straight, I still do.) I was still a relatively young post collegiate athlete, and a wet behind the ears trainer who had only recently gotten his ACSM certification at that point of time. Shane was the first person in this line of work that would change my life. He asked me to help him get some playing time in.

Shutting down Bethlahem


So our journey began. We had our ups and downs, injury, travel, school, team drama, and summer vacations. Shane learned that I was relentless. I learned he was tough. Some days I played the slave driver, other days the mentor, many days the psychiatrist, and occasionally offered sage advice, generally consisting of “I did that, don’t do that it worked out poorly. Trust me on this one you don’t want to be like me.” Which then led to a personal story in which we would both laugh. Then the Burpees or sprints would begin again.

MVP Award!

We learned about pull-ups, and deadlifts, and cone drills, and footwork. Along the way we got a few good videos of bad dancing and goofball antics, and some life lessons. We have both grown from one another; I went from operating out of my pick up truck, and using space out of the good graces of a friend of mine, to the big green of the CA.

Colgate bound!

Life offers you challenges it’s whether or not you accept that that really sets the bar on how you are defined by them. Good luck at Colgate next year and am looking forward to watching 4 more years of great soccer!


The Test


Occasionally here there are workouts that are different from the rest of the things that show up on the board. We have “tests”, or as I like to think about them, performance opportunities.  They usually consist of something that might resemble a “Crossfit” workout or some other “P90X muscle confusion” sequence on initial investigation.

This is not the case though.

These workouts are only done once. They are the workout. They have very specific goals, intentions, and very strict rules. If done correctly, they lead to self-investigation and ultimately answers to some of those questions. Not always “good” answers, but they are always honest answers. These answers lead to development, physically and mentally.


Tests are designed to force you out of your comfort zone, to challenge your perception of quality, quantity, and performance. The body is weak, frail, soft. The mind on the other hand is none of those things. It can easily quit if that is the choice you make during the application of the exam. If you ask it to keep going, it will always force the body to follow.

What separates great athletes from good athletes is their ability to think and make good decisions while under stress and exhaustion.

The test


Two kettle bells or dumb bells. Their combined weight is that of half the athlete performing the test. A physio ball/foam roller/or medicine ball is needed for the planche pulls. Lastly, Guts.

Athlete Profile: Gregg Liberatore

Foreword: Lynda a long time friend and client referred Gregg to me. When I first met Gregg, I was in the initial stages of opening the CA and navigating those waters. We met for lunch at a diner around the corner from his office. Gregg’s general energy will floor pretty much anybody and everybody that has the pleasure of meeting him. He is high speed and invested in everything he does, and everybody he meets.

As we began to discuss his current state of being, he dropped a bomb on me of wanting to run the “Tough Mudder” in less than a year. Time was stacked against us and it was running out every second we sat at that table discussing the “plan” of action we were going to take to get from there at that diner booth. Eating grilled chicken salads; to the finish line of Tough Mudder on race day.

We had our work cut out for us. I was afraid 9 months was not enough time to get there. So I wrote a very aggressive program that weekend and away to work we went on the following Monday. I am always interested in a challenge both internally and externally. Gregg offered me exactly that. A lot of “good living”, an aggressive timeline and a race far from just a 5k “feel good” race was laid out ahead of us.

I asked Gregg to start writing about this whole process of reclaiming his life and becoming the person he is. This is part one. It’s been a great process so far and I think we both have learned much and are always learning more from each other. With race day around the corner I am excited to see how it is all going to pan out. No matter what I am proud of Gregg and all he has accomplished to this point of time. The road is long and always winding. It’s how we handle those challenges is what defines us.


 Gregg Thumbs up

(Gregg rocking a “wiper” workout, and me just being a good cheerleader!)

My personal journey to reclaim my healthy life:  Part 1.


Mired under the pressures of daily family life and a demanding professional career I had covered myself in a suit of 296 pounds.  My weight gain was equaled only by the weight of the psychological pressure to make everyone else happy around me.

On January 2, 2012, I made an impulsive decision and committed to a challenge I had failed to complete many previous times- I quit drinking regular soda “cold-turkey”.  I am still unsure of why I chose to make this change but little did I know I had ignited a transformation in myself for good.

Sunday May 6th 2012 would become a pivotal day in my journey to greater health.  I woke around 5:00am on this particularly cold, crisp early May Sunday morning to support my dear younger sister Kathy.  She and a group of friends, “The Mudder Smokeshows” hailing from Winthrop, MA were registered to compete in the 2012 New England Tough Mudder @ Mount Snow, VT.  So I jumped in my sports car, to drive a road I know all too well, which by the end of the day would be a road I hadn’t traveled in a long time.

I appointed myself the designated “Team” photographer for the Mudder Smokeshows.  Kathy and her friends were psyched when I was already at the mountain waiting for the arrival at registration the 36 degree day.  Nerves were high as they signed the release and death waivers, inked themselves with identifying registration numbers, foreheads, arms and legs.

What I began to realize was the adrenaline and energy around all the competitors.  I felt something inside me I hadn’t felt in a long time too.  The Smokeshows entered the starting area (climbing the 8 foot wall) my heart began to race and I was just a spectator.  After a prayer and motivation slap of mud on each other- Kathy and the gang were off on their odyssey.

I would walk and move around the mountain to catch photos at as many of the 26 obstacles to be covered over the next 12 miles.  I was psyched- my sister and her friends impressed me at each obstacle.  Other competitors were on a dead-run, eating up the ground between challenges like I used to eat a bowl of Penne al vodka @ Pasta Pane.  What became quite apparent to me was I wasn’t in any shape to be moving up and down the trails of Mount Snow.  There was a time where I could ski all of this terrain without hesitation.  This day I struggled just walk around.

I made it to Everest, the second to last obstacle, as the Smokeshows arrived.  As a team the ascended the front side, supporting and pulling each to the top.  As the climbed down the backside of the wood structure, I hustled down to the last challenge- the electrical field dash to capture my last images of their endeavor.

Tough Mudder completed, the Mudder Smokeshows team donned the reflective blankets, orange headbands, and began consuming their victory beers.  I stood outside the finish line area- heart pounding and I realized my little sister Kathy was a ROCKSTAR.  As they posed for their celebratory picture, I was gasping for air.  When the posing broke-up they team came over to me to thank me for the encouragement, support and photography.  That’s when my life would change forever, this version of Gregg would cease to exist.  They as a group declared- I was no longer the Team Photographer, rather I was joining the TEAM and doing the Tough Mudder the next year.  How could I say no, anyone who has a competitive or athletic bone in their body, would accept the challenge and I DID.

 Ball Push W:Gregg

(Gregg and his awesome daughter Gianna, earning it together)

On Monday August 13th, 2012 I committed to another level of personal health- this was the day I began my training with “Bender”.  I had managed to shed the addiction to soda and was slowly changing my dietary intact- I was eating less at every meal.  So having lost the “Healthy Gregg” along the way the rediscovery was on and I met Bender at 6:00 am on Skidmore’s turf field for my initial evaluation.

Well, to say my first workout was an event is a classic understatement.  As only in true Bender style (the Zen-ninja trainer) he wanted to know my reasons for not working out.  After a feeble attempt at the “I am too busy excuse” Bender and I had a coming to Jesus meeting that indeed I did have the time to give myself one hour, three or four times a week to reclaim a healthy life.

So it was on – Bender handed my first piece of equipment to train with- the dreaded band.  Not red, black, blue or green, rather the yellow band, around my ankles and off I went 5 yards out, 5 yards back … The sun was slowly rising, warming the field, what better way to start the next step in my transformation.  The what I now consider a reasonable and doable 17 minute warm-up routine didn’t quite go so well.


Picture the esteemed Bender/Ninja Master huddled in his hoodie, shorts, flips flops, drinking his usual hot mug of coffee.  I am using all my memories of myself as an athlete around 20 years old to complete each exercise in the warm-up series.  I am trying to breathe and catch my breath while moving as nimble as possible, think rhinoceros in sneakers moving on turf.

All was going well as I gulped for more air and realizing, gosh I feel pretty light-headed.  Dave asks, “How are you doing Gregg?”  As only those who train know- the answers sometimes come out fast, intense and inaccurate as I respond, “Fine-doing great Dave!”

 Gregg Suitcase

(Gregg Surviving a “Drag and Carry” in January)

As I realize this couldn’t be further from the truth- Dave moves me off the turf to a trackside aluminum bench to gather myself and recover here at just the halfway point of my warm-up.  I know admit to Bender I am a bit light headed and dizzy.  He asks if I want to sit on the ground instead of the bench- so I lower myself on the ground- as I sit there I mentally ask- why am I on the ground – still dizzy, I stand-up and sit back down on the bench.  Next thing I recall is feeling much better and relaxed.  I am thinking boy I feel pretty good, my eyes are closed and I feel somewhat rested … I open my I eyes to see Dave standing next to me with his cell phone out and I am laying down- hummm that’s funny why am I laying down.

The not so relaxed expression on Dave’s face and these words, “Gregg, you were three seconds from me hitting the send button for a 911 call.”  Surprise, surprise- “go big or go home” as we like to say- I managed to pass out cold- great way to start the day and week with my new trainer- medical emergency!

We will skip the many of the details, but upon reflection perhaps the lack of sleep from a weekend of partying in Boston with my Little Sister Kathy and Brother-in-law Charlie, Dehydration, mal-nourishment, and sleep deprivation partially contributed to the loss of consciousness.

I good baby-ninja fashion- we assessed the medical situation, checked my heart-rate, modified the intensity of the remaining training session and back in the saddle- Bender guided me through my first session …

           Gregg Pull up

(The pull-up. Always hard, forever honest.)

Great luck at Gunstock buddy!


What is a Ninja?

Well, Ninja initially started as a bit of a joke. It has since grown into a catch phrase and goal for those that train at Contemporary Athlete.  In the beginning I kept looking for a phrase or catch word to aspire to or strive for. Warrior although wicked is a bit over used and a little to mainstream. Champion, badass, killer, soldier, competitor, fighter, rock star, hit man, crusader, workhorse, are all good but slightly to aggressive and one dimensional.

A Ninja on the other hand is well… Freakin’ Awesome! They are a symbol of a faceless counter culture. They are agile and flexible; they train hard, risk much, live and operate outside of societies box. They blend. They are humble warriors/mercenaries by many standards. Their greatness is measured not by loud acts but by unnoticed actions. Silent assassins. Ones with a code of honor and rules of conduct, they operated not only as a legion but also as splinter cells.

Ninjas are the standard here at Contemporary Athlete. If you acquired gear it is no more than a simple symbol of that which has already been earned through risk, sweat, and dedication to living by a different code.

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The List

I recently was having a conversation with a friend and client about how they explain what happens here at Contemporary Athlete. I realized that I have a long list of things that aren’t done.


Contemporary Athletes…


don’t have treadmills

don’t have spin bikes

don’t do memberships (what we do is training programs, there is a difference)

don’t wear knee high socks

don’t do fitness. (It’s a fleeting goal, what we do is a lifestyle!)

don’t go shirtless  (keeps the sweat off my pretty floor, excuse the marketing photos I already took it up with the boss won’t happen again. Sorry for the visual abuse!)

don’t play lame music (well sometimes it happens mostly because I have awful taste in music)

don’t own any cable – based equipment

don’t have anyplace comfortable to sit down

don’t have any magazines

don’t have any TV’s

don’t own any mirrors

don’t tell you we are a “Judgment Free Zone”… it just is.

don’t count for you. Crazy right?

don’t have costume days; although the more I think about it we might start…

don’t have a smoothie/shake/snack bar

don’t believe tossing your cookies is desirable or a “good” thing. Actually it’s a bad thing.

don’t have showers, or locker rooms. (Yeah we know we should, we’re working on it. Training space took priority; everybody loves a winner, even if they are smelly.)

Yep not cool…


This is what we do!

We do Awesome! (Thought it was funny so it’s what I’m starting with! Also its true.)

We do performance goals. (Sometimes a little crazy, life is short, live loud,  smile often.)

We do quality movement over quantity. (Nobody wins the warm-up.)

We do better. (Anybody can make somebody tired)

We support each other!     (If you can’t risk, fail, and try again you can’t grow. We all need help it’s given and taken freely and generally with a smile or a swift kick in the ass. Depends on what you need. Sometimes love hurts! [Thanks for the insight MOM, now let go of my ear!])

We do specialized. (Not everybody is training for the same thing. So one workout doesn’t work for everybody!)

We do good food choices. (Food is fuel; you don’t put regular gas in a Lamborghini.)

We do fast, and explosive!  (If you weren’t before you will be soon!)

We do strong, both physically, philosophically, and mentally! <- (This is the most important).

We do fun! (G**damnit, and your going to like it!) ß That’s for you Molly!

We do Ninja!!!

If you don’t know what that means, come find out!

 Welcome to the CA!

Athlete Profile: Mark Rotondi


Success is measured not by what lies behind you but what lies in front of you.

One of the biggest reasons I opened Contemporary Athlete was to give people a place to help them get to the next step. Both my rowing athletes and everybody else who is amazing that I get to work with. This is a story of that next step for one of CA’s very own leading athletes.

Mark Rotondi is poised and ready to take that step to the next level. Today, Mark and I are driving to Boston to a US Rowing, Jr. National Team identification camp. This is one of those opportunities to see how you stack up on the National level and see if you have what it takes to represent your country, hopefully on the international level.

When I first met Mark I had just been hired as the boys rowing coach at Niskayuna High School, prior to the thoughts of Contemporary Athlete beginning. It was a new adventure for me, and ultimately a big part of why I decided to open the facility. It’s something that I am excited about everyday both in the gym and on the water.

If you have ever met Mark he is a very enthusiastic young man. Always looking forward to whatever fun challenge is put before him.  Whether that is a 5k-road race,  a lifting session, Spartan Race, or pretty much anything, including push up contests outside of Chinese restaurants. His enthusiasm never ceases to amaze those he is around. This trait, that everything is fun also makes him a great team leader. For this very reason (fun) he found himself training frequently with the Saturday morning 9 am Contemporary Athlete group. His roles as both a pace setter and motivator for all that are around him, have lead to so much growth for all that are involved in it.


(Spartan Race 2012)

With FNR/Niskayuna Rowing being in its 25th year I thought it would be a great time to push us to the next level on the boys side. Mark is currently the one to lead that charge. Leaving the comfort of the Mohawk and going to Boston to row and compete with some of the regions best oarsmen to find out where he fits in the National development process.

This also is a proud and validating moment for me as a trainer and coach. On some personal level you doubt everything you do. Always unsure if you’re pushing too hard, not hard enough, or you have unrealistic goals for you and your clients/athletes. At least this is my struggle as a trainer and coach, always trying to improve my craft. In order be better for those around me, so they can become the best that they can, and to have fun while doing it.

(Lightweight Finals at indoor worlds)

 Contemporary Athlete is one of those places where athletes of all levels and ability can come, and take personal risks for their own gains mentally, physically, and emotionally. That will be able to set them apart from their competitors. It’s a place where goals can be set and discussed openly.

Mark’s trip to Boston is going to be stressful, physically taxing, and an emotional roller coaster. He will weather the storm just fine and knowing him as I have gotten to do over the last 2 years (roughly) will come out excited about the next part of the journey and smiling about it the whole way. That is why he is the current CA athlete profile, if it’s not fun, even when awfully hard. Than why do it?


(Royal Canadian Henley)

Good Luck Mark! Not that you need it; as luck is for those that are not well prepared, and we definitely do prepared.

Why Train?

The definition of training is to do physical activity in preparation to compete or to work out in which keeping fit is the objective.

All of the games we play teach us to have great work ethics, become better leaders, team mates, goal setters, problem solvers, stress managers, and quick thinking high performers.

All of which give you an advantage at life. Training is done everyday for many different reasons. Whether it is to become a better athlete, employee, or civil servant. People train, they train for their personal goals, team objectives, job development and productivity, or most importantly life. In many cases the ability and intensity at which a person or group will train gives them an advantage whether in the competitive workplace, or partaking in an athletic endeavor. Your fitness level in many cases dictates your success on the field, in the classroom, or at work. It allows you to stay focused, composed, and task oriented.

Get yourself a trainer. A well-rounded, educated trainer can help. They provide guidance, support, knowledge, and philosophy. Not all trainers are certified but the majority of them are. In my opinion this is more of a union card than anything else. There are many certifications on the market and a few are the industries gold standard. This is not the end of the story though, just the beginning. You can read a ton of books but without practical knowledge but that will only take you so far.