Recap of the 2017 Perform Better Functional Training Summit

Prologue: “Happy Fitness Christmas!”

I heard this on Friday morning in Providence, Rhode Island.  I was chatting with a few of my friends at the Perform Better’s annual Functional Training Summit, and those words floated by on the merriment of the crowd. This may be your first time hearing about the event, so I’ll catch you up:

Every summer, equipment and education company Perform Better hosts a series of “Functional Training Summits” that bring together some of the brightest minds in progressive strength training and fitness business experts.  It’s one of the best educational events you can go to as a coach, and for many of us, an annual “Christmas in July.” Well, June rather.

This year marked my 8th visit to Providence for the Summit.  Super nerds can read reviews from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 by clicking on those years.

Now, let’s get into what happened in 2017.

Four years ago in 2013 during Thomas Plummer’s pre-con lecture, he asked us to introduce ourselves to someone sitting nearby.  I turned around and introduced myself to Mark Fisher, and it’s been love ever since. When we met in front of Mark Fisher Fitness on Thursday morning to drive to Providence, I wished him a happy four-year anniversary.

Side note: Mark Fisher is married to a woman.  I’m engaged to a woman.  I’m speaking of a non-sexual love.

Secondary side note: I shared notes over the weekend by obnoxiously livetweeting the entire event.  Many of those tweets will be shared in this post, so that you can share this world-class information as easily as possible.  Please share what you find useful!

Pre-Con 1: Gray Cook and Lee Burton

We arrived in Providence to catch the end of an incredible tag-team by Gray Cook and Lee Burton of Functional Movement fame.  When I first learned about their work in 2010, I remember thinking about how complicated it seemed.  8 years later, there’s beauty in their efforts to make complex movement seem as simple and natural as possible.  Case in point:

Goddamn it, Gray Cook is like the Gandalf of the fitness industry!

In another weighty moment of wisdom, Gray told us about a “Talks at Google” lecture that he gave, and I’m linking that here for those of you that really want to learn:

During the talk, Lee shared how simple the Functional Movement system is:

If you’re in a fitness situation, using the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) can help you find figure out if your movement quality will allow you to train at the desired intensity.  If during that FMS you find something that is painful, you switch to the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) done by a medical professional who’s qualified to treat pain.  If the FMS is not painful but below baseline, you practice strategies to enhance your quality of movement. If your FMS score meets acceptable levels, you move on to the Fundamental Capacity Screen as an assessment of fitness levels.

On the FCS, Gray noted this:

Pre-Con 2: Thomas Plummer

Thomas Plummer is a PBFTS stalwart who has been working on the business of fitness for 30 years.  Through the National Fitness Business Alliance, has been instrumental in helping coaches with a passion for helping others become business owners running sucessful companies.

If you’re doing class, small group, or semi-private training, there’s a good chance that Thom Plummer is the reason why.

Thom’s talk came down to details.  The two biggest things are this:

Start with an end game in mind.

If you start a gym or fitness company without having a plan, you don’t have a gym or fitness company.  It’s essential to create a plan that allows you to create distance or space from the facilities day-to-day operations, so that you can work on additonal plans, or simply to enjoy that you’ve created.

Many coaches don’t plan to become business owners, so they’re stuck in the daily operations while running the business, meaning the business is actually running their lives.

His second major point:

Finding a demographic that you’re passionate about helping is important. If there’s nothing to differentiate you, if your facility is just like every other facility out there, then it becomes a game of costs, not a conversation about value. Finding your specific target population, and be the absolute best at taking care of them.

After Thom’s talk, Mark and I checked in to our hotel, cleaned up, and visited Union Station Brewery for what would be the first of four times.  We ate dinner with Bruce Kelly of Fitness Together, in Media, PA., Julian Cardoos of Rebirth Fitness in Wakefield, Mass., and Kevin Dineen of Structure Personal Fitness on East 72nd in NYC.

I’ll note that while I absolutely love the presenters and their work, one of my favorite parts about Perform Better is being able to hang out with old friends and meet new ones, learning about their character and their craft.  It’s those magical moments that make it worth returning to Providence ever year.

Day 1: Friday Morning:

Mark and I were lucky enough to have breakfast with Mike Boyle, John D’Amico, and Don Saladino, which was an absolute pleasure.  I did my best to shut up and listen throughout breakfast.

Michael Boyle

I also did my best to shut up and listen during Coach Boyle’s talk, because he’s a goddamn genius.  If Gray is Gandalf, Boyle would be Dumbledore, but he’s about quippy as McGonagall.

Among the gems this time around:

Trainers often program in a style that’s reflective of how they personally prefer to exercise.  Stop that.  Rather, create a foundational system that allows you to address the neccesities of human movement.  (Certified Functional Strength Coach is probably the best place to start.)

If something hurts, that’s probably because there’s a movement dysfunction leading to pain.  Pain never precedes dysfunction.  This is what makes assessment, followed by impeccable coaching, so important.

When my physical therapist, Kyle Balzer, told me “Don’t do shit that hurts” this is exactly what he meant.

Coach Boyle is the king of taking complicated, informationally dense systems and reducing them to their simplest, most effective parts.  Let’s take the work of the Postural Restoration Institute, for example. They’ve created some incredibly dense education modules, but only a few coaches can explain it well.  (Michael Mullins is one of them.) Coach Boyle shared “The Value of Blowing Up A Balloon” which is one of the best articles detailing the importance of breathing in a fitness setting.

After breathing movement is addressed, Coach Boyle reminded us that good core training is about resisting movement:

Coach Boyle noted he often seems shoulder issues clean themselves up when there’s a stability component.  For example, Push-Ups are probably more useful than a bench press.

Finally, it would be impossible to get out of a Boyle lecture without talking about single leg work.  If you have to choose between squats and split squats, go single leg every time.  (If you have the time and option to do both, try both.)

When it comes to training athletes, we want to limit the chance that they won’t be able to perform, be it fatigue or injury.  After we know they’re safe, we want to maximize their ability to perform well.  Single leg training takes care of this for us.

Coach Boyle wrapped up his talk, and then Mark and I left the convention center.

Fisher has been following some awesome programming by Bryan Krahn, and needed to find a squat rack, which hotel gyms don’t seem to have. So, we visited 212 Health and Performance a few minutes away in Rumford, Rhode Island.

Sean and Colin were incredible hosts, and I met owner Kerry and his entire team at lunch on Saturday.  They are absolutely fantastic!


Mark and I finished our lift, and it was back to the Rhode Island Convention Center for some more knowledge!

Gray Cook… again.

It was my second time seeing Gray speak in two days, and maybe the 10th time I’ve seen him talk in my career.  Every time, he seems to get smarter and simpler.

When talking about exercise physiology, human performance, and programming, Gray asked this doozy of a question:

It brought me back to my days in school where we talked about cadaver anatomy, exercise physiology, and the importance of aerobic exercise, and not a single conversation on the ability to move well during said exercise.  That’s a serious flaw in our education system.

Gray noted that inefficient movement patterns often hinder our performance not because of physical capacity, but because we fatigue at disproportionately higher rates when we’re not moving well:

When it comes to training, I think it’s safe to say that Gray is a “less is more” kind of guy. It’s fantastic.

First, check out this gem on the importance of dong loaded carries:

When we carry heavy weight, our body is forced to stabilizie in multiple planes of motion in a dynamic setting.  It’s related to what we do throughout our daily activities, and it helps us put together all of our moveing parts in a coordinated movement.  According to Gray:

Later on in the talk, Gray talked about a minamalist approach to corrective exercise.  We often add exercises to make us feel better when other exercises make us feel bad.  Why the hell are we doing that?

Rather than adding one thing to make up for something problematic, why not just take that move away?

Gray was great as always, and then it was time to switch gears for Don Saladino’s talk.

Don Saladino

Don owns Drive 495 and Drive 443 in New York City, and when I see Dr. Balzer, that’s where I’m going.  Every single person I’ve met on the team there is awesome, and it’s great to hear Don talk about how it was all built.

Don opened his talk with wisdom that was quite similar to what Thomas Plummer spoke about the day before: Find the niche market or demographic that you’re the most excited to help, and become the best at it.  Or in this case, beat it to death.

Your abliity to figure out where your time is best utilized also applies to your role as a business owner and leader, because there is often the emotional cost of getting off the training floor and leading on the business side.  Most coaches want to coach (dzuh) and often get hung up on this hurdle.

Resiliency is a life-lesson all of our parents, teachers, and coaches have tried to teach us, and it still applies.  There aren’t failures, there are opportunities.  Take them.

Most of the team at MFF is working on our own personal projects, be it inslide the Clubhouse or not.  Some things are going to work out, some aren’t.  One of the reasons why I think so many things are working out for us right now is because of the team that we’ve put together.  Done explains it this way:

Thomas Plummer… again.

If Thomas Plummer’s first talk was about the X’s and O’s of executing on a business plan, this talk was about figuring out what the hell you want out of your life.  Literally:

This line was delivered after a good 5-minute long crescendo about goal setting and the reaction was EPIC. Our long-term goals should be scary.  Our short-term goals should be achievable.  That’s how we succeed.

The secret is there is no secret.

Fitness professionals love acronyms.  We have our CSCSs, our RKCs, our LMNOPs. When I give presentations, I include the acronym “WGAF-TNTP” behind my name, so I can say, “Who gives a fuck, that’s not the point.”

Seriously.  You are not your khakis, and you are not the courses you go to. Get the experience to become a better coach.

What’s that cliché quote on locker room walls, “If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you?”  It’s accurate, isn’t it.  Thom reminded us that we have to be challenged, that we have to be uncomfortable, and that we have to struggle if we’re dedicated to getting better.

Goddamn it that was such a great reminder of why we’re all here in the first place.  The fitness industry is far from perfect, but I believe that everyone is well intentioned and wants to help others improve their lives for the better.

Friday Night.

I’m pretty sure I skipped the social at Perform Better the first three years.  I didn’t drink, I was socially awkward, and I didn’t think I’d have that much fun.  I was absolutely wrong.

This time around I met Gary Robertson of Skye Fitness in Northern Ireland, reconnected with Diego Pereira, had some mind blowing conversations with Brian Nguyen, who gave the best presentation I’ve ever seen last year, and spent the night hanging out with the crew from Achieve Fitness, from Somerville, Mass., who are some of the most fun people ever.

Sorry I ran away from you guys that night.  I was exhausted. ❤


After my most adventurous Friday night at Perform Better ever, I took it pretty easy on Saturday morning. “Pretty easy” is a euphemism for “I slept in for the 8am sessions and made it there for the 9:30am sessions.”  Let’s start with the fitness industries resident superhero:

Charlie Weingroff

I learn something new every single time Charlie opens his mouth. Last year he gave a world-class crash course in physiological adaptation, and this year he added some incredible motor skill acquisition knowledge bombs.

My main take away was this:

Charlie spoke about how the ability to perform precise motor skills is limited by our fitness.  When we move well, and we have the capacity to repeat our movements, we’ll always perform at the highest level.

Rather than seeing how hard you can go, see how resistant to fatigue you are. The ability to resist fatigue is what allows you to maintain high levels of performance throughout an entire bout of practice or a game.

This idea fascinates me so much that I’m going to follow up on it in a future post.

When it comes to creating a learning environment, Charlie noted that negative feedback is inherent to learning.  There has to be a movement flaw that the mover is aware of.  You have to make mistakes:

From there, Charlie got into some coaching how-to’s that seemed to be a reflection on the work of Nick Winkelman.  That wasn’t a coincidence, because Charlie then said, “I agree with Nick Winkelman.  External cueing is always more effective than internal cueing.

When it comes to the words and approach that we use, Charlie reminded us that:

Todd Wright

Todd Wright is on my can’t-miss list of Perform Better presenters.  I usually want to check out the new presenters, but when I see Todd on the docket, I go every time.

Todd chatted about vertical core training, which is training the trunk to resist motion, while your limbs create motion.  It’s about being able to effective respond to three primary influences on the body:

Todd’s core training can look drastically different from what we see from other coaches, but I believe it’s driven by the same main point that Dr. Stuart McGill has taught the industry:

The primary function of the core is to resist motion.

When our core resists motion, we can minimize loads moving through the lumbar spine, which is essential for keeping our spines happy and healthy.

Check out the variety in stepping, lunging, reaching, throwing, and resisting load through this video.  (Note: It’s from 2013.)

Here’s a note about vertical core training from Todd Wright:

What I really appreciate about this style of training is that there’s so much demand on your mind to coordinate and control all of these exercises.  Done carelessly, probably not going to feel very good.  Done mindfully, I think exercises of this complexity can be really fantastic for most people, especially general population clients.   More on that later.

Todd asked us about our abilities in his closing remarks, and this a primary question to influence our programming:


For lunch it was back to Union Station Brewery, and this time we happened to join the team from 212 Health and Performance.  It could not have been a nicer group, and I wish I knew about them sooner.  Having trained in the facility, and after the opportunity to break bread with them, I honestly wish that we were closer together.

After lunch, it was back to the convention center for…

Brandon Marcello

Another man on my can’t-miss list, Brandon Marcello discussed “all things stability.”  Seriously, that was the name of his talk.

Brandon started with a visit to the world of architecture, and showed us this picture of the lattice work that’s the inner layer of a blimp:

That shape, and architecture is pretty close to that of our rib cage, and that of an egg.  This oblong sphere shape plays a major role in our ability to stabilize:

As Brandon discussed exercise execution, he asked a question that can be a great reflective lens for coaches, or self-assessment for the people we coach:

He also added in these two actionable steps for exercise selection and execution:

Fun fact: We’re using crocodile breathing as part of our warm-up in the current class cycle at MFF, and in programming it, I knew we weren’t going to be in a neutral position.  After using a variation on flexion-based breathing for almost three years now in our class warm-ups, I wanted to see how well we can breathe in that same manner, despite a different position.

Time will tell if I’m wrong or not, and in most cases, I agree with Brandon.  He hared this little breathing action step that immediately seemed like a no-brainer to me when it comes to action steps for mindset and mindfulness when not in the gym:

When Brandon was done, I headed downstairs to my first and only Hands-On workshop of the weekend.

Alwyn Cosgrove

Alwyn is one of the most influential coaches when it comes to designing programs for general population clients.  Since that’s what we do at MFF, I wanted to see his coaching style in action, specifically in this big group environment.

His talk was about building athletic programming into your general-population work, and there isn’t that much to differentiate his workouts from what we see from Coach Boyle’s work, or what we’re doing at MFF.

When I first learned about Alwyn, Rachel Cosgrove, and the team at Results Fitness in Santa Clarita, CA., I was impressed with how they got so much physical work done in with less equipment and less space than I was used to.  For example, here’s a video from the workshop, during which Alwyn kicked everyone’s butt with a miniband:

Alwyn is able to create amazing workouts in a large-group setting, with minimal equipment and a whole lot more people than you’d ever have in a responsible setting.  I think there were at least 60 people in his hands-on, and that’s a conservative estimate.

There were multiple groups rotating through multiple stations, and they were all working in pairs.  Let’s say that’s 3 groups of 20, each in pairs, so that means Alwyn was able to train 60 people with only 10 of each piece of equipment.  It was brilliant, and at the end, it was clear that everyone worked hard.

Q & A with Presenters!

The Q and A panel with the presenters is one of my favorite parts of the Perform Better Summit, but I was a little bit disappointed this year.  There were a number of questions asked that seemed to be searching for the easy answers.

It was like when your classmate who didn’t read the play asked if the Ghost of Hamlet is the same as Prince Hamlet. The answers that were given to the questions asked were strong, but I wish that we could ask better questions as an industry.

The single best answer came from Perform Better’s Erin Mcgirr when she answered a question on behalf of the panel:

Earlier in the day, Coach Boyle told me that he has to sit on his hands during the hands on, and sure enough I spotted that when it happened.  What a legend:

After the Q&A, it was time for a quick shower and change at the hotel before heading to… another hotel? That’s right, I was walking from the Omni to the Hilton, where Kevin Larrabee of the FitCast fame was hosting a live recording with Pete Dupuis of Cressey Sports Performance and Coach Stevo of Habitry and Betterish.

Just like I was thinking during the Panel Q&A at the Summit, Kevin and I are on the same page when it comes to guiding the fitness industry:

Friends, when this episode drops, you absolutely HAVE to download it.  It was a fantastic night with these two, and ~15 people in a live audience asking questions and interacting.  It was truly fantastic.

We had dinner afterward, and I ate an ice cream brownie without Brendan, Kevin, and Marco of Movement As Medicine.  Then, it was off to bed because I did not nail it the night before.

Sunday! AKA, the best day at Perform Better!

Let me publically say that Sunday is the absolute best day at Perform Better, for one simple reason: It’s when you get to see the newer presenters.  They tend to go on Sunday, when lots of people are heading out of town.

For example, last year I saw Brian Nguyen, who shared the single best #PBFTS talk I’ve ever seen.  This year was wrapped up by this guy named Mark Fisher, who you may have heard me chat about before. The morning was lead off by:

Frank Nash

Frank Nash has a facility called Stronger Personal Training, in Worcester, Mass., and they do social media better than anyone in the fitness industry.

No, not that random video of crunches on Instagram.  I mean they have created some strategies to connect with their clients, and foster attention for the gym, better than almost anyone.  Here were some of Frank’s recommendations:

As someone who sometimes struggles to ship content, I get this next one a whole lot:

When it comes to consistent marketing, Frank also reminded us that we’re playing a tech game.  For example: Video is the future of marketing, and if you’re not using video on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, you’re missing out. When it comes to videos on Facebook, Frank reminded us that since YouTube and Facebook are direct competitors, you can get better reach by uploading directly to Facebook than linking to YouTube.

He also shared that is a great service to use while doing Facebook Live, and that Go to Meeting and Go to Webinar are great services to use for recording video off of Facebook.

Frank does something really cool at his gym that I was excited about: They do a weekly Facebook Live publically, but they also do a multiple Facebook Live events for their members in a private Facebook Group.  How cool is that?

I’m really excited about using the Live feature on MFF’s channels, and found this piece of information to be particularly useful:

When Frank wrapped up, it was time to switch rooms and see Coach Dos.

Coach Dos

Robert Dos Remedios has been in the strength and conditioning world for almost 30 years.  Before my time, training was split between the bodybuilding world and the sports performance world, and coaches like Coach Dos were an integral part of bringing that style of training to the mainstream.

We could call it functional training, but that phrase is very out of fashion right now.  Dos’ lecture was mostly refresher for me, but it was a refresher that I absolutely needed.

For example, check out this explanation of movement patterns in under 140 characters:

If you’ve got your movement menus to choose which specific exercises are most appropriate, you can then put them together like this:

That is literally multiple books on program design in two damn tweets!

Dos then started talking about power training, which is essential for everybody.  If you’re currently thinking, “Harold, I’m not an athlete” or “Harold, I’m too old to move fast” then you’re absolutely wrong.

Power training, which we can say is the intention to move as quickly as you can, is essential for all populations, but especially those with more years in their life:

The intention to move quick is everything.  When appropriate, jumping or throwing is one of the best things you can do.  A few reps at a time, with plenty of rest, with the quickest speed you can muster.  Get on it.

After Coach Dos, it was time for  a newbie to the Perform Better Summit…

Mark Fisher

I get to hear Mark present about things on a pretty regular basis, and we work together almost every day.  Still, I could tell that he was on fire at this talk.

First, he shared a provocative statement:

If there’s one thing that will light my fires, it’s the 20, 30, and 50 year timeline, not your 6 week transformation, year long challenge, or even 10 years of athletic training.  It’s having longer, more meaningful lives. Mark reminded us about why we’re all in the fitness industry.

Boom; I’m in.  To be fair, I already work for him, so that was sort of obvious.

Fisher shared some of the options for choice that we use at MFF, and while there are nearly infinite opportunities for Ninjas to choose, here are a few options that we frequently use at the Clubhouse:

One of the factors that influenced our Motivation and Movement LAB at MFF was the interaction that we thought was integral to learning.  Sitting and listening is exhausting, especially in the last talk of the weekend.

Mark made a point of getting everyone to find partners several times during the talk to discuss the strategies that they could use in their own facilities.  Here it is in action:

I know I’m biased, but Mark really nailed this one, and I was proud to be at the Summit supporting him, representing MFF, and learning for the 8th year.  I think I had more fun at this Summit than ever before, and am better prepared to turn so much of this new information into actionable knowledge.


After lunch with Tony Gentilcore, Frank Duffy, and Damien Perry, Mark and I got back in the Ninjamobile and started the trip back to NYC.  I’ve always had pretty good luck with the traffic, but this time… it took us over 5 hours to get back.  Woof.

The exact timing of it is evading my memory, but I think I heard Chris Poirier from Perform Better say, “The Summit is the same weekend next year.”  I already have the 21st to 24th of June 2018 blocked off on my calendar.

The team at Perform Better is one of the best out there, and I’d suggest you check them out HERE. The Perform Better team held an incredible event yet again, and I’m thrilled with the lessons that each of the speakers shared.

More than anything this year, I’m grateful for my friends, both old and new.  I caught up with Haylin Alpert from Core Principles in Stamford, CT., and realized that I’ve known him for longer than almost anyone else in the industry.  He is one of the most humble and down to middle earth people that I know.  From old friends like Haylin, to the people I haven’t met yet, I agree with Mark:

I genuinely think the fitness industry is getting better.


Before we venture on, I ask this of you: If this review of the Perform Better Functional Training Summit provided meaningful information to you, please share it.

Retweet these tweets. Share this post on Facebook. Send it to a friend, a co-worker, a coach, or a client. That would mean so much to me, and would help move us forward as a field.

If you have questions or feedback, please leave it in a comment below!

Until next time, my friends.



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