Brendan Kennedy, the first Black Iron Intern.
Many of you who have been around the gym know Brendan Kennedy as a coach at Black Iron who helps out. He has all of the noticeable traits of a fitness professional. Obviously, he takes care of himself and when talking with him it immediately becomes clear that he has done his homework. What a lot of people probably do not know is that Brendan has been working with me since he was 14 years old. Our training relationship has been interesting. Over the years he has taught me as much as I have taught him, and I would like to believe that he has learned some of the most important lessons I have tried to share with him. We all know that teaching another person something really enhances our own understanding of the subject. The most effective training promotes the idea of taking action, not just talk. Brendan has done a tremendous job of putting all of the ideas into action and has worked very hard for his level of experience, education, strength, and conditioning.
What many people do not know and what many people are very surprised to learn is that none of this has come to Brendan easily. He was a very uninspired, lazy, and chubby little fellow when he started wandering into the Y to work with me. Like most of us he had two different sides, one that was interested in working out and another that wasn't. He often chose to let the uninterested, unmotivated side win the battle. Brendan was a little afraid to step too far out of his comfort zone. When he came to visit me he was met with an aspiring trainer early in the process of development, but at a time that was about perfect for both of us.
We are all cut a little different. The key to finding success in anything, but especially fitness is getting to know ourself and finding our own way. We can all use some help along the way and being open to the help is very important. Brendan was open to learning, but at times he needed to be pushed. He needed to be challenged. Like most people he enjoyed the parts of the process that he enjoyed, but he preferred to avoid the parts that he disliked. Success in fitness did not come naturally to Brendan.
I will admit I received a tremendous lesson in patience from working with Brendan. He has driven me nuts over the years and has contributed a great deal to my perfectly bald head. The picture above of him with the fast food and the milkshake is forever imprinted in my mind. We always had 4 pm appointments scheduled after school and he would always come running in 15 minutes late. Back at the YMCA in East Lansing the weight room was in the basement and after I got tired of waiting in the office I would head up to the lobby. I would wait and wait. Eventually, I would see the blue Kennedy mini-van come rolling in the parking lot. Brendan would stagger in like a rhino and quickly apologize. The face (from above) would say something like, 'Chris, I am so sorry, I fell asleep after school and just couldn't wake up.' Just remembering it makes me laugh. It was hard to get mad at him because I understood his challenges better than he knew.
Each workout would consist of a trip downstairs to the power rack. We would squat, bench, deadlift, clean, use the assisted pull up and dip machine, and maybe throw in some pulldowns. That was about it. It is funny looking back because that is all I ever did even before I became a Starting Strength Coach. Of course, the form probably wasn't very good and I didn't really utilize progressive overload all that much, but in the grand scheme of things we were doing pretty well. After the weight room we either ran or played hoop. I had a lot more energy back then and was training for an ultramarathon. Poor Brendan was forced to run a lot with me. A great deal of preaching was done during our runs. I had the lactic threshold of a superhuman back in those days, so I could talk and run for hours. It was fun. During those days a great deal of my initial education was being formed and I shared with Brendan all I was learning. He couldn't run very well, much less talk and run, so he was forced to listen. In hindsight it was a pretty decent coaching strategy.
If Brendan was lucky we would hoop. The Y had an old racketball court with a hoop in it and we did some work in there. My hoop skills are not great, but in the right environment I can dribble, shoot a jump shot, and of course bang down in the post. Brendan was only about 14 and still pretty short, so it was fun to try to school him. He was competitive though and we battled hard. Those workouts developed a great deal of the training relationship we have had over the years. We had fun and we worked hard.
We trained on and off through high school when he was committed to the Lansing Catholic Football program. He was a solid lineman tipping the scales at 285. I certainly look back and wish I had understood the Starting Strength method back then because Brendan could have been so much stronger, but such is life. Moving forward I think we both understand now as coaches the value of strength and why it needs to be kept as a priority for just about every person we work with.
During college Brendan was unsure of exactly what direction his life might take. It was around that time I opened the first Black Iron location and started dragging him in to train. As one of my first ever clients he unfortunately has been stuck with me because someone told me a long time ago it is easier to keep an existing customer than find a new one, so I was persistent. When Black Iron opened I needed people to train, so I contacted Brendan. Around this time I was learning more about the Starting Strength method and testing my findings on Brendan. We were re-learning technique and habits. Of course it took me a while to figure out what I was doing, so most of the stuff I was showing him was wrong. It was a learning process that took a while to figure out.
Brendan has always been tired of being the 'out of shape', and he has done everthing in his power to no longer be that guy. My guess is he never will. Brendan has studied a great deal of nutrition both in and out of the classroom. He takes healthy eating very seriously. Going out to lunch with him is always a buzz kill, but he is committed. He now weighs probably between 190-200 and has been that way for several years now. There was a time he was getting too skinny and I had to pick on him everyday, but now it is better. After helping him lose almost a hundred pounds of flab and getting as strong as ever we have both learned a lot from the process.
Brendan has gotten reasonably strong for a natural guy who has lost a lot of weight over the course of serveral years. He has deadlifted 500, squatted around 425, benched just under 300, and pressed near body weight all around 190 lbs body weight. Of course these are not earth shattering numbers in the world of competitive lifting or in today's generation of supplemental assistance, but they are still very solid numbers for a kid lifting while losing a bunch of weight and not very interested in competitive numbers. His goal was to be stronger, but never to be as strong as he can be. This caused some challenges and created many conflicts throughout our training process. Balancing multiple goals and working toward opposing things is very diffcult. We have to do the best we can. Training is never easy.
One other thing worth noting about Brendan is the fact that he has become a decent men's league hockey player in about 2 years time. Brendan never played hockey growing up, but always wanted to give it a try. I encouraged him to pursue that idea because hockey is a great sport and I always encourage people to learn to play. Of course learning to play hockey is a tough thing to do. Especially, while going to college, working a lot of hours, and maintaining a rigorous training schedule. Brendan somehow figured it out with the help of the Suburban Ice East Lansing Adult Developmental League. He has worked very hard to learn to skate, how to play defense, stick handle, shoot, pass, and all the other skills required for hockey. It is impressive how far he has come. He is still a long shot at making the Black Iron competitive tournament team anytime soon, but he is a solid player in the recreational division and will continue to get better year after year.
Brendan's evolution into a coach is also very cool part of the story. Mark Rippetoe told me before that the best coaches are usually average people who have had to work very, very hard to become anything more than average. I understand that all too well. In my own training experience and throughout many years of training others I have found it to be very true. Brendan fits the mold exactly. He has become an incredibly hard worker. You do not lose 100 pounds, get strong, become a coach, work as a server, be active in a fraternity, and graduate with honors from Michigan State by being lazy. Brendan understands the importance of work, dedication, direction, and experience. The lessons he has learned through training contribute a great deal to his ability as a coach.
Since graduating with his undergraduate degree he has earned his American College of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer certificate and has been prepared for his GRE. He is actively interviewing Graduate Programs across the country trying to determine where would be the best place to earn his Master's degree. With his background, experience, and education he can probably get into any program he wants. He plans on spending a lot of time this next year gaining more experience training people and helping grow Black Iron Training before resuming his studies. Also, he is preparing to earn the Starting Strength Coaching Certificate which is of course the premiere credential in the industry.
Brendan has been interning at Black Iron for the last few years helping in diffent roles. He is currently building a clientele of people he is training. Brendan helps run group training sessions for individuals at Black Iron who have successfully participated in basic training with me. Slowly, he is gaining more and more confidence working with beginners, and is getting a lot of professional experience. Becoming a professional takes time and Brendan is certainly putting a lot of it in. He is in a lot better position than most trainers getting started. I can confidently say that he is qualified to help just about anyone and will do a great job helping out who ever he works with. Anyone who is struggling with the lifts, direction in the weight room, or with losing weight and getting in shape should strongly consider working with Brendan. Not only does he have the education, but he also has the personal and professional experience.
I am incredibly proud of Brendan and expect to watch him do great things in his career. His story is inspiring for me to write. It reminds me why we have to work so hard and how I could probably be doing more. There is a lot more to learn from his experience and over time he is going to help many, many people get strong and in better condition. Brendan is an example of how being strong is about so much more than how much weight we can lift. As stated earlier, actions always speak louder than words and we can all learn from Brendan's example. His is a story worth telling.