One Man's Journey Down the Rabbit Hole

The following is a letter from one of our regular clients. For those  who wish to come train with us it should be considered required reading. I am everything he says – difficult to get along with and expect things my way when you come through our doors. But you will get the absolute best result if you trust that I know what I’m doing and allow me to do my job.

The main reason I initially started writing this review was because I was in fact asked by Andrew to give my thoughts for the website. Importantly, he put no pre-conditions on this and insisted that it be unfiltered and not sent to him in advance for any vetting. Although I’m a pretty outgoing sort of person, and very open with friends, or anyone for that matter one-on-one, I’m actually very private when it comes to posting things on the internet and social media (although I have my moments of weakness) and so it takes a bit to get me to put something out there so publically like this. That said, when I do something, there are no half measures and I do things properly.  Besides, it gives me a good opportunity to take stock and reflect on why I keep getting up some ungodly hour and out the door four mornings per week, having to re-work all sorts of routines and put up with the logistical issues, to bust my ass and pay $132 / fortnight for the privilege. So here goes, my impressions of both Andrew Read the man, and the journey thus far with Read Personal Training (RPT).

I started at RPT in April 2013 and at that point was thoroughly disillusioned with the futility of what I was doing on the fitness front – doing workouts at home a few days per week based on what I had picked up from all sorts of sources; not getting any stronger, leaner or better conditioned but feeling liked I had ‘worked out’; and frequently picking up injuries.

I had always resisted the prospect of using a trainer, misguidedly thinking it was mainly for people who were time poor, lazy, had money to burn or just needed someone to motivate them. I had enough stuff at home, was careful where I spent my money, thought I knew enough and the desire to exercise and remain active had never really left me, so why pay for the services of someone I figured?

However, the time came that I eventually realized that I was beating my head up a wall and not really getting anywhere. I was still in effect paying dearly for my ignorance in terms of lost time, physio bills and the like. After coming across dragon door on the internet, I started searching through the reviews and was impressed by the depth of them referring to just how good this Andrew Read fella was. It was not just a handful of words of gushing praise, but real detail on what Andrew had taught them and how their training and results had just turned around. What did I have to lose I thought?

My plan at that stage was just to go for a few sessions, to iron out a few kinks in my technique, get them to teach me a few exercises, give me a few workouts and I’d be on my way back to my home gym with perhaps a periodic refresher “tune up” to make sure I hadn’t picked up any bad habits.

I recall speaking to Andrew for the 1st time one day during a work break for about 30 – 45 minutes and being a little struck by the directness and the conviction he had with his views. While it made sense to me on one level, another part of me remained a little cynical and doubting. My own personal failings or outcomes from past experiences have a tendency of leading to one becoming closed off and cynical. That mindset isn’t helped when you see just how many poor service professionals there are in all walks of life, happy to take your money and offering little in return. Andrew took every question I had and served it back with interest, and did not sugar coat anything or put me under any illusions. While he may have been in ‘sales mode’ to some degree, there was also an impression left that he wasn’t going to grovel for my business and whilst not explicitly said, there was an undercurrent of take it or leave it, and a strength of conviction that deep down gave me a good feeling about it.

I was a bit taken back initially too that there was a process I had to follow, a minimum standard I needed to have achieved technique wise, just to be given the all clear to join the group classes. This would usually take 4 – 5 sessions. At $150 / time for an hour a session with Andrew, or $100 for one with Andrew’s partner, Shannon, the mind was thinking, jeez, how much are they going to bleed me dry here? Andrew directed me to Shannon, and any initial misgivings about being “palmed off to a lesser trainer” vey quickly evaporated. Shannon is, initially at least, perhaps more friendly and welcoming than Andrew, and right away I was impressed with her attention to detail and knowledge. She has a huge passion for what she does and a genuine interest in your progression. While I knew I had “issues”, Shannon was shocked at how I had not only managed to lift a 24kg ‘Turkish get up’ exercise into the top position, but had not completely ruined my back in the process! I had in-fact been unbelievably lucky getting to this point without doing major, and perhaps permanent damage to myself!

It felt initially that I was regressing, and it was very humbling not being able to do certain stretching exercises, or complete certain parts of the Functional Movement Screen (FMS), let alone going back to “baby” weights. While we were only focusing on one, perhaps two of the core kettlebell exercises in a session, there were so many intricacies to take in on the technique that my mind felt like it was getting a bigger workout than the body! Shannon, also set me lots of “homework” in terms of stretches and routines on the basics to work through before my next weekly session. She was also happy to follow up by email too and answer any questions I had – and as they were quick to find out, I am a pretty inquisitive person!

I seemed to pick things up reasonably well and Shannon was always encouraging, but still firm when she needed to be and when I wasn’t grasping something. What also impressed me was that there were no short cuts taken, and it was about quality, routines, forming new habits and doing things over and over until the basics were ingrained. You didn’t go to the next exercise until the 1st one was nailed technically!

I recall one Saturday session when I was really struggling getting the hips to “pop” on the swing and just couldn’t get it. Eventually after trying all sorts of things, including various extra little props, filming the sequence on the iphone and replaying back, and calling in an extra set of eyes, being Alby, the 3rd trainer for RPT, we came to the conclusion that I had one leg probably about 1 inch shorter than the other that meant adjustments needed to be made in my technique to accommodate. I remember looking at my watch and seeing that we had gone about 15 minutes over the hour deadline but Shannon & Alby were not worried about the clock or charging me for the extra time, and were determined to get me over this hump. Once again, the videos were emailed to me and the follow-ups via email were pretty thorough, together with drills to work on and eventually we got there.

Soon after I had reached a point where I was good enough to join the group for classes but soon reached another hiccup, where I need to be proficient in one of the other core exercises, being the snatch before I could do all the stuff in the group class. At his point, I arranged what turned out to be two separate sessions with Alby, who not surprisingly was also extremely passionate, detail focused, “real” and avoided any short cuts. He had no hesitation in resorting to all sorts of tools in his toolbox, be it ‘mind hacks’, analogies, use of props or breaking down the mechanics further to get me doing the movement properly and then grooving it. We had a couple of laughs too along the way, which was good! Alby and Shannon are certainly cut from the same cloth as Andrew and are excellent, and would have absolutely no hesitation in recommending them highly to anyone. The only difference is that they are in effect still the protégés, and Andrew the master, having been in the health and fitness industry for an almost unheard of twenty years (where most give up in 2 – 5 years).

So, what are my impressions of Andrew himself and how the journey at RPT has evolved? How would I describe Andrew in a few words?

A few spring to mind: direct; opinionated; uncompromising; confrontational; highly principled; detail driven; perfectionist; demanding; intense & brutal (at times); high intellect; confident; driven; competitive; healthy ego; likes to have the last word; but to name a few. He also has an eye like a dead fish as the old saying goes, and is incredibly focused on the minutia or intricate details of a movement. He can be a difficult man to get to know and break through the hard exterior at first and if he has a soft side, then by jeez he hides it well. Andrew is a bit of a different ‘cat’ that beats to the sound of his own drum, but is like an onion in some ways with a few layers and complexities there. If you give your best consistently, and ask the right sort of questions, he is more than happy to help and you gain his respect over time, but you have to earn it. At other times he doesn’t say a lot and I’ve come to learn that means you are doing well. When you get a compliment then certainly take it!

It wasn’t an easy start in some ways, as just when I thought I was up and on my way, came a few rude awakenings. I soon realized I didn’t know that much at all when it came to what was required, that I had blind spots, and that it would be a long haul, and no quick fix.  He sets the boundaries very clearly about expectations and I quickly learned the hard way also that if one is not ‘present’ and switched on for the training, or if you forget your workout log for example, that you’ll get very publically called on it and he does not suffer fools gladly. One day I recall vividly, I thought he was particularly harsh on me and I felt a little embarrassed and humiliated and left the group session feeling a little sorry for myself. He seems to have a sixth sense though and an hour or so later came a text, not apologizing as such but conceding ever so slightly in a round about sort of way that he may have been a little more tactful in getting his message across. A few texts were swapped, but I learned then that he is a man who has no filter and just calls things brutally as he sees them. I found him a little intimidating and confronting at first and even to this day, I feel like I still haven’t worked him out fully, and have to be a little more circumspect about thinking what I say. I find that Andrew says and does things that still surprise me and take me back and I say to myself “Whoa, I wasn’t expecting that!” and that certainly maintains a little edge from my perspective.

I don’t mind pushing back at times and try and put up some sort of debate but he always seems to win in the end and invariably he is proven right. I’ve come to realize that he knows his stuff intimately and his confidence and certainty comes not from arrogance, but from working hard and consistently for 20 years and never resting on his laurels. That said, at the same time he is not closed off and is always learning and pushing the boundaries and looking for ways that better not just himself, but also can carry over to benefit his clients.

I’ll happily debate him on area’s outside his core area’s of expertise but if you step into his domain, by jeez, you’d better know what you are talking about as you’ll get a mixture of short shrift and detailed reasons why. I keep forgetting that he has seen and heard it all before when it comes to excuses and the mental tricks and rationalizations we all play on ourselves. Rest assured, he will call you on your BS and won’t massage your ego, so be prepared for that, and to give your best if you show up.

One can see from Andrew’s extensive writings on “breaking muscle” and even via social media, that this is a man who is a very deep thinker and an absolute professional who takes what he does very seriously, some may say a little too seriously and intensely at times, but nevertheless he has a fountain of knowledge and an unquenchable thirst for mastery and is constantly trying to push the boundaries for not just himself but also his clients. What really impresses you over time with Andrew, Shannon and Alby is that this is not just a job for them, it’s their passion, call it their religion, and is the driving force in their lives. They are consistent, and show up ready to go about their business, day-in-day out and are just on another level, or multiple levels above if the truth is known, than most other trainers. I know Andrew makes sure it stays that way, as he is constantly pushing himself through new and different phases of training, all with different goals that change over time, but also through his attendance at a number of internationally renowned courses with world-renowned trainers. He really ‘walks the talk’ and I feel fortunate that he is always looking for ways to incorporate that wisdom gained into workouts for our benefit.

What also strikes me is that they are always watching and taking note and even though they insist on keeping a log of all exercises done, Andrew seems to intrinsically know what sort of weight you should be using and when you are taking it a bit easy. I have been amazed on more than one occasion how he can spot from a distance exactly the weight you are using on the kettlebell when it does not seem obvious to the naked eye. He even knows when you put them back in the wrong spot and is an absolute stickler for a lot of little things. In many of his articles, the timing of them is often uncanny, as they seem to appear just at precisely the right time, when you need it or when you are thinking about that very thing. It’s almost like he has a sixth sense.

When you get through the basics, you find you are constantly being challenged in class. He constantly keeps you accountable and doesn’t let you off the hook easily. If you make a commitment to class, then if you don’t turn up, there will be a text and if you miss a couple of sessions in a row then he will quite likely call. While there is always an emphasis on correct form and technique at all times, the workouts are constantly varied and he loves nothing more than taking you out of your comfort zone and keeping you there for as long as you can. There are so many wicked ways and means he can actually destroy you in class with even basic exercises or combinations but just when he senses you are ‘fried’ and have given it your all, he seems to know intuitively when to relent a little and grant you a little mercy (while still turning the screw). The penny has finally dropped recently that some of these workouts are beyond the physical, that they are not designed to actually be finished, nor does he expect you to get through it, but are designed more so to push you mentally and take you to another level. This is where it really gets into the realm of personal, rather than just physique development.

Although I do my fair share of good-natured complaining, I’ve also come to realize, that there is a lot of thought, call it science, or what you will, in how and why he puts together a workout and nothing is random with Andrew, it’s all thought out and planned for a reason or purpose. You are not flogged to within an inch of your life every session, but that these are carefully cycled and spaced, but are still intuitively adjusted depending on what the conditions are or how clients have pulled up from previous sessions. That said, he loves throwing curve balls at the group when he feels the time is right for a bit of a jolt as he knows our limits better than we do ourselves.

I’ve done CrossFit before and reckon what RPT does is a far more complete and responsible program. Because there is such strong attention given to maintaining good form at all times, I have found there are very few injuries sustained through training. This is not the case with CrossFit, where it is often all about beating your previous time or the competition, often with less than optimal exercise standards. Sure RPT gets competitive, particularly with the team exercises, but it first comes from a perspective of doing your best and doing it right.

I know for a fact from my own personal experience that there is high duty of care shown towards clients. I recently picked up an injury involving a nerve impingement in the upper back – that had nothing to do with RPT by the way – and Andrew took no chances, insisting I deferred my payments and get the all clear from his spinal physio (who is also an absolute master of what he does) before I was allowed to return to training. I have been nursed through too the past couple of weeks carefully and that just reinforced my faith and gratitude that there are absolute quality professionals out there. The pity is that most people often have to look so hard to find them, often through trial and error.

I’ve thought about why it is such a superior program and one of the main reasons is that all facets are covered in a session, or week typically. Although there is no such thing as a typical workout, there are core elements that are always followed. All sessions have a really strong emphasis on a thorough warm up with a focus on stretching and mobility first, in fact Monday’s sessions are completely devoted to mobility alone, which can be extremely testing and can really work up a sweat. The middle phase of a typical workout focuses on the learning and technical side of getting better at a movement, concentrating on strength development or exercise progression, while still ratcheting up the pace. Then the final phase is often an intense thrash on either a kettlebell or free weight exercise combined with timed blocks on the bike, rower or ski equipment that usually ‘smashes’ you to within an inch of your life. This is mixed in with other sessions where the focus is very much on endurance and getting through a prolonged mental test. There is a balance and purpose to it all and it is cleverly constructed on not just a daily basis but also in terms of longer-term cycles.

There are a number of reasons why I love being part of the group sessions at RPT and can’t see myself stopping it. These include:

  • It get’s addictive, especially once you get over a few humps in the beginning and start to see some results or improvements. While I’m a long way from where I want to be fitness-wise, I definitely am leaner, stronger, more flexible and can certainly do things that I either couldn’t do, or do nowhere near as effectively or quickly as I can now, ten months ago.
  • You don’t have to think too much if you don’t want to (although I often do, way too much). For most though, you can trust that the workout will attend to all your fitness needs, instead of you having to worry which program to follow or when to do it.
  • It just gives me a really good feeling that I don’t have to try and work it out any more for myself, that there are absolutely top quality professionals who are there for you, watching your back and finding new ways for you to improve. There are so many sharks and just cra*py service professionals out there and I’m grateful that I’ve finally stumbled on to some great ones that ‘get it’ and go about it the right way. Some people never get to that point and for mine, it’s another part of the puzzle of life worked out and in control (if I stay the course).
  • That I can absorb / immerse myself in something for an hour a day and let off some steam without other distractions or demands pulling at me.
  • The camaraderie and the affinity you strike up with other people in the group, from all different walks of life, each with a story to tell, but all sharing in a common goal.
  • The attention to detail and the lessons that you learn through these guys, the way they break it down & work blo*dy hard, that often translate into growth in other areas of your life. For example, with learning some of these exercises, there will always be sticking points. Applying this to any field, the more advanced you get, the more your smallest vulnerabilities will be magnified. Moving to advanced levels means diagnosing and fixing the most minute weaknesses.
  • A completely changed outlook and perspective on the value of stretching, mobility, movement and recovery.
  • An awareness that you don’t need to rely on weights exclusively and that bodyweight workouts can be incredibly tough.
  • I’ve gone from someone looking for the quick fix, and being more outcomes focused to someone who really enjoys the process now and have re-assessed and revised my health goals to not be so bothered about how much I weigh and what I can lift, but more so, what I can actually functionally do, and whether I can move flexibly and be free of pain or stiffness, or can keep up well with my son and just remain active and dynamic in both mind and body.
  • The way that you are always learning stuff about yourself and your body / training techniques as you yourself evolve. That you can get through testing challenges and grow. That said, there is a great balance as it is constantly rammed home that most of it is not rocket science and that one just needs to keep doing the right things consistently and sticking to it and the results will come over time.

So where can Andrew improve as a trainer?That’s a tough one & who is the best is a very subjective thing. From my own perspective, being someone who has pushed a few wrong buttons with Andrew myself over the journey, there are a few minor, small quibbles in the overall scheme of things such as:

  • Personally, I feel he can sometimes be a little too hard and unforgiving (publicly and privately) & I’ve cursed about him more than once and thought ‘you pr*ck’. That said, I’m sure I’ve frustrated him just as much at times myself.
  • I appreciate it can be difficult to do this with the dynamics and constraints of a group class, Andrew could perhaps show a little more patience at times if you are not getting the hang of something in class and can at times seemingly judge someone from his own extremely high standards.
  • He could lighten up a little more on occasion as I reckon you still can have fun and get results at the same time.
  • He would be an even better trainer in my view if he revealed a little more vulnerability at times, and showed a little more ‘light and shade’ as after all there are many ways to ‘skin a cat’ or getting through to clients to effect behavioral change in perhaps more subtle ways and to keep them off guard.
  • At times he could have a little more empathy or make allowance for one’s wider circumstances when difficulties crop up in one’s life outside of training that impact on it;

To be honest, I’m nit picking and am trying to write a balanced rather than fawning review here. We all are, what we are and one can’t change their nature to try and appease everyone. Not that Andrew would likely give too much of a damn what anyone thinks of him, from my perspective, the more you get to know him, and when he lets you in that little bit more, the more you like him and respect him. No one is perfect after all. This is his job and he takes it and the business of results very seriously and we should all be grateful for that.

This is a big call, but from my experience over the last 10 months close up, from reading a lot of his articles and having seen various trainers from afar in gyms and other places over the years, and just based on a bit of wisdom I like to think I’ve picked up over the years about life, I would reckon you could make a pretty decent case that Andrew is probably in the top two or three elite trainers in the country. If you are looking for a friend or to worship a guru, to get a little gentle exercise or develop a social network, then Andrew and RPT are probably not for you. However, if you are serious and want to be challenged to get results, to have someone get inside your head, and if you want to be interested and engaged in what you are doing not just physically, but also mentally, and to grow as a person, then look no further than Andrew and the guys at RPT to take you on the journey. I don’t think you will regret it for a moment.