Lessons From A Master… Part 1

By: Jerry Trubman, Owner and Founder

Today’s post is part one of a 5-part series. It was recently announced that one of my longtime friends and mentors, Mark Reifkind, was retiring from his position of Master Instructor for StrongFirst. He was asked to write a blog post summarizing his 50+ years in the iron game.

My first thought when I found out about this was, “How long is this post going to be? This sounds more like a Lord of The Rings Trilogy than a blog post…

However, in true Mark Reifkind fashion, instead of a blog post (or a muti-volume encyclopedia), he summarized it into 5 bullet points.

WHAT?!?! 5 Bullet points?!?

Yes, 5 bullet points. Here they are…

    1. We stand on the shoulders of giants. Study the greats that came before you.
    1. N=1. What works for you? We don’t need to discover the training “theory of everything.” Just what makes you progress.
    1. Consistency trumps intensity, and intensity is born from consistency.
    1. Control the breath, control the body.
    1. Feed-forward tension is the master key to strength.

Entire books could be written about each of these, and that is the beauty of Mark’s teaching style: He lays out principles, and leaves it up to the individual to decide just how far down that rabbit hole they wish to go.

After talking about these 5 bullet points in classes, one of our students came up with the idea to write a multi-part blog post discussing what I’ve learned from Mark in each of these items. What a brilliant idea! The next 5 blogs are my way of honoring him for all the things he has taught me and the impact he’s had on my coaching career.

I reached out and had a nice conversation with Rif on a Sunday afternoon and told him about the idea of writing these posts. He was honored and humbled… and gave me his blessing to proceed.

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A Brief Introduction…

I first got turned on to Rif’s work around 2007 through videos and workshops when I started to learn about kettlebells, and instantly gravitated to his clear and concise way of explaining high-level concepts into easy-to-digest principles. My coaching skills (and business) continued to develop, and in 2010 I left my personal trainer job and started a kettlebell-centered fitness business that is now known as “The Protocol.”

Around 2016 I gathered up the courage to reach out to him and tell him personally about what an impact he’s made on my career. We discovered we were kindred spirits and instantly hit it off. Shortly afterwards he invited me to begin teaching workshops and certifications with him.

When traveling and teaching with a world-class coach, one of the best parts is the downtime spent with them. I learned more from him during lunch breaks, end-of-day adult beverages, and random conversations than the books, certifications, and videos themselves!

The Principles…

Principle 1: We stand on the shoulders of giants. Study the greats that came before you.

Like most personal trainers, I began my career deep in the “bro culture” of lifting weights. For those unfamiliar, bro culture consists of one bro in the gym sharing pseudo-science about lifting with a younger, less-seasoned, bro. Conversations would sound like this…

“On Monday we train chest and arms. On Wednesday we train arms and chest. And Friday we train legs… just kidding! On Friday we hit arms one more time so we look good when we go out on the weekend.”

“This internationally famous doctor who preaches a whole-food based diet has no idea what he’s talking about! If you really wanna be jacked, you MUST supplement your diet with this, this, this, this, this, and this!”

“This Soviet sports scientist is clueless! He thinks you shouldn’t train to failure! We know better… you keep doing reps of bench press until I have to pull the bar off your throat!”

“Kettlebells are stupid. I don’t get how these exercises will make my arms any bigger…”

I could provide countless more examples, but you get the idea…

Needless to say, after nearly ten years of falling for this nonsense, my progress in the gym was non-existent. And in the process of listening to bro-science instead of my own body, I got chubby… really chubby. Not a good look for a trainer.

I got frustrated and almost got out of the business. Luckily, around the same time, I was fortunate enough to get turned on to some great coaches… these guys preached a very different message than the stuff I had been exposed to earlier.

My mind melted. Light bulb moments were happening at a breakneck speed.

My beliefs (and my body) began to change… a lot! I felt like Ponce DeLeon discovering the fountain of youth. Not only were the changes clearly visible to the naked eye, but beneath the surface as well. My bloodwork made it look like I was aging backwards. I was blown away.

The first time I coached a powerlifting team to a National Championship was in 2014. Want know how I did it? I took a 14-week powerlifting training cycle created by Marty Gallagher (one of the all-time great powerlifting coaches), and I… wait for it…

I COPIED IT… word… for freaking… word.

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I came to the conclusion that there was no way, with my measly 10 years of coaching experience, that I was going to come up with a better way to prep a team than the guy who was responsible for producing the some of the strongest powerlifters in history. I mean, the man coached and handled Ed Coan for crying out loud!

I never put this principle succinctly into words… Mark did it for me. When I met him and told him my story, his statement was, “Yep! Sir Isaac Newton said it best… If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

When listening to Mark lecture to an audience, he frequently refers to the great coaches from his past. As a matter of fact, most of the great coaches and speakers I’ve listened to over the years do the same. There is clearly a pattern here.

I’m not saying it’s impossible to pick up great tips and tricks from a fellow novice (even a broken clock is right twice a day), but if one really wants to build a strong foundation of proficiency in a particular subject, it’s wise to start by learning what has already been established by the best and brightest.

In the gym world, very little has been discovered about getting stronger in the last 30 years. In 2015, Pavel wrote a satirical blog post about the celebration of the 30-year anniversary of the movie Back To The Future (yes, that movie came out 37 years ago). He called it, “Looking Forward To The Past.” He quipped that if Marty McFly wanted to go to the future to find great advice on how to get stronger, he would have been better off staying in 1985. As usual, Pavel was right.


It’s weird to say that one of the ‘giants’ whose shoulders I’ve stood on is one of the few men actually shorter than me (sorry Mark). But with me on his shoulders, we may actually add up to a full-grown human male, so I guess that works.

Until next time,

Jerry Trubman is a coach, clinician, author, blogger, and powerlifting state champion. With over two decades of lifting experience, he has devoted himself to seeking out better answers, and distilling them into practical programs that produce great results. Jerry has coached “Team Protocol” to 4 National Powerlifting Championships in the 100% Raw federation. He writes the internationally-read blog, “The Healthy Addiction” and lives in Tucson, Arizona with his wife, Marie, and dog, Asher.

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