Wil Fleming Interview

Wil FlemingNote from MR: Wil Fleming is a guy I’ve become close with in recent years, and beyond having great hair, he’s also an awesome guy to chat with.

The guy owns a successful business, coaches high-level athletes, and is an Olympic lifter himself.

In this post we’ll discuss training, coaching, and everything in between . Enjoy!

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Wil, thanks for taking the time to be with us here today. Could you start by telling us a little bit about yourself and your current position?

I am currently the owner of Force Fitness and Performance in Bloomington, IN. Bloomington is a small-ish college town about an hour south of Indianapolis.

My official title is director of operations, meaning that if it is going on inside of my gym, then I am the boss of it (coaching, customer service, etc). We work with 300+ clients so that is a full time job.

Outside of that, I am a weightlifter and weightlifting coach for lifters in my gym and abroad. I travel a bit giving seminars on weightlifting, and speaking at fitness events. What’s cool about that is that I get to see a lot of athletes and coaches, from a lot of different backgrounds, with a variety of goals.

Excellent. Now you were a very competitive athlete growing up; could you tell us a little bit about your sports background?

I was a semi-serious athlete as a kid, playing basketball, baseball; competing in track and field and any other youth league sport I could find. I never practiced any of those sports outside of the competitive season, basically, I was the typical kid that when asked about his “favorite sport” would just respond, “whatever I am playing.”

By the time I got to high school I decided to play football for the first time. My dad had played on a couple state championship teams in the 60’s and was a 3 year starter in the Big Ten, so I thought it fit.

After getting destroyed at the varsity level during my sophomore year, picture Jazz from the Fresh Prince, getting thrown out the doorway, I decided that it was time to hit the weight room.

That is when it all changed.

I found a weightlifting gym in town and learned the Olympic lifts. It just so happened my coaches were Olympians and national team coaches, definitely a good environment in which to learn.

From that moment on I became a different athlete. Before high school was out I had put on 60 lbs (155-215lbs), taken my 40 yard time from 5.2 to 4.5, cleaned 330 lbs, benched 365, squatted 500. I had also won a state championship in the shot put (as the smallest guy to do so in 30 years), and won a junior national championship in weightlifting.

Transforming myself from where I started to where I ended up meant that I had opportunities to continue my athletic career at the collegiate level. After briefly residing at the Olympic Training Center for weightlifting, I decided that my potential as an athlete laid in track and field. I competed for 5 years at Indiana University as a hammer thrower. At the conclusion of that time, I was an All-American and held the school record.

I competed a bit after college to see if I could make the Olympic team. Ultimately I finished my hammer throwing career at the conclusion of the 2008 Olympic Trials.

Damn that’s quite the athletic resume! And at what point did you realize you wanted to work in the strength and conditioning world?

It was a really easy choice for me. I realized right away the doors that opened for me because of strength and conditioning coaches. I would have never had the opportunity to compete in track and field at the collegiate level had it not been for those coaches.

I never would have had the chance to travel the country, meet many of my friends, or get college paid for had it not been for those coaches. Certainly, my sport coaches were influential, but the experience in the weight room was truly transformative.

I knew that I wanted to be able to transform the lives of young athletes and I got to work as a coach as soon as I could. Throughout college I coached athletes in track and field at the local track club, and that was an extremely valuable experience. I had the chance to work with athletes that didn’t necessarily want to be there, learning to make my coaching engaging and fun was the primary way that I could get my athletes to succeed. It is a skill that I have to use even today.

Post college I had the opportunity to become the throwing events coach at my alma mater. I was in charge of 10 collegiate athletes and their entire training program, from the weight room to their sporting events. I realized fairly quickly that the collegiate level was not where I wanted to be and decided to open a gym where I could work with athletes at the younger level in hopes of helping them have doors opened as they pursued becoming the best athletes they could be.

So you’re currently working at Force Fitness/Force Weightlifting. What does a typical day look like for you? I’m especially interested because (like me) you’re a business man and a coach.

I spend my mornings working ON the business.. As you know, this means working on every aspect of the business: the training systems, the customer service, and the non-glorious tasks that no strength coach really expects when starting their dream job.

As has become less common these days for many “coaches”, I actually do coach clients daily. I work primarily with athletes and my weightlifters, but still help to oversee and work with our other team members to make sure we are delivering a great service to our adult clients as well.

Alternately some mornings are filled with working on creating content for my website, outside projects, and podcast. While this is the stuff that I end up getting questions on, “how can I end up on website x,” I wouldn’t be able to legitimately write about the things I do if it weren’t for the opportunity to coach people. Maintaining a balance when it comes to real coaching and virtual is a goal of mine.

Yeah, between all those things it’s no wonder you’re so busy.

Now let’s talk training a bit. When working with your athletes, what are some of the big things you notice or see with regards to their development?

One of the big things is the focus on early specialization (boo). It has almost become commonplace to hear from parents that know their young athlete is going to be baseball player in college or professionally, or a basketball star in the NBA, unfortunately many of these kids are 12 or younger!

A lot of our focus has been on making these athletes more well rounded, with a diverse set of movement and locomotion skills. If they aren’t going to play multiple sports and experience those things in different fields of competition, at least we can get them that exposure to well rounded movement in the gym.

At the high school level I am still seeing programs that are lacking. While it has definitely gotten better since we started, many of our athletes come in just doing some funky things. Four different types of bench press, and no work on the backside, stuff like that.

The cool thing that I am seeing, is a lot of high school kids who are really into training. I would love to say it is the environment we create at the gym, but I know that there are a lot of kids that just want to get better no matter the place. I hope to just give them the best program possible, and the best coaching possible, to get them there faster.

Absolutely. And since you’re also well known as a “power guy,” could you talk about why power is important for athletes? And how you go about developing it?

Talk about an impressive athletic exploit: massive home runs, dunks, speed on the football field, and you are talking about an expression of power in the athletic arena. Everything that our athletes WANT to do, is power expressed on the field/court/track.

Certainly there are a lot of other things that go into a successful athlete, but almost all of them can be improved by power. For this reason alone, we hang our hat on being able to make athletes more powerful.

Training power really goes back to the physics definition we were given whenever it is that we took physics for the first time.

Power = Force x Velocity.

It’s really that simple. There is a force component, and there is a velocity component. Increase the amount of force and maintain velocity and you create more power. Increase the velocity, and maintain force and you create more power.

Increase both, and you really create a monster.

Training for power then, has to address the velocity component, and the force component. Certainly you could go all Westside on it, build a massive squat, and add some plyos. In this case you would be addressing both components, but I think you would be missing a piece of the puzzle.

The missing piece is high velocity and high force movements. For us that means using the Olympic lifts. Our athletes are primarily doing the hang variations of the clean and snatch (with differing grips on the snatch), and the power and split jerks. In my experience, athletes that see improvements in these lifts also see big improvements in the markers of power that we see on the field: jumping ability, and speed being the primary markers.

Does that mean I am doing Olympic lifts with EVERY athlete that I see?

No, not at all.

I have a diverse “tool box” and with some athletes that means choosing other tools, possibly due to injury or previous training history. My aim is to get the most power from any athlete, not create great Olympic lifters (except of course, for my Olympic lifters).

That’s awesome, and I can feel your passion talking about that stuff. And I can’t agree strongly enough, either.

When it comes to power training, what are some of the mistakes you see athletes making?

Too high a focus on plyometrics.

I see this a lot, especially with basketball players. Obviously leaping power is important in basketball, but so many of them want to focus on a max height box jump, or even spending an entire 60 minute session with only jumping.

Certainly there is a place for plyometrics in training for power, it goes along the velocity track, but it must be balanced out with a focus on creating more force as well. The portion of training devoted to plyometrics should be there, but focusing entirely on jumping is a mistake.

Secondly, training to become ‘sagittal man.’ Athletes need the ability to move in multiple planes of motion. Unfortunately many athletes only do Olympic lifts for power, or only plyos for power, and when that is the case athletes have a difficult time exhibiting power in multiple planes of motion. Look to diversify patterns where power is expressed. Use medicine ball throws, and variable implements like sandbags to find power in all planes of motion.

Your top 5 power exercises – go!

(Hang) Power Clean + Front squat- Maintains the quality of the catch position by including a front squat as part of a combo

Medicine Ball throws- Love to progress this set of movements to include an element of locomotion

Skater jumps (w/ some sort of resistance)- Loading in the frontal plane is definitely underrated.

Muscle snatch- The long pull of the snatch without the funkiness of a catch

Band resisted sprints/skips/jumps- Adding a bit of a force component to a normally velocity based movement is good stuff.

Switching gears a bit, you recently got back into competitive Olympic lifting. What prompted that?

DSC_1082_BWI had a young athlete that had been an undersized soccer player who decided that soccer was no longer for him. After having coached him on the hang clean for a couple years, and seeing him do them well, I asked him if he would consider training for an Olympic lifting competition.

He obliged and we started full blown training for a meet again.

He did fairly well for his first meet, and ultimately won the Under 17 nationals as a 56k lifter (he currently has a best snatch of 95k and clean and jerk of 120k and is on scholarship at the United States Olympic Education Center).

The entire experience of taking him to his first meet and first national meet ended up lighting a fire in me to try to compete again.

Since then I have been slowly progressing. It took me over a year to beat my competition PR’s from when I competed as a teenager. Recently, I totaled 290 kilos which is 18 kilos over what I did as a 17 year old.

Being 32, I was pretty happy to find that I am stronger than I have ever been. My ultimate goal is to stay healthy enough, and keep training long enough to win Master’s Worlds and set 2 master’s world records in 3 years.

The cooler side benefit of my competing again, is that I have become so much better as a coach. My programming has improved tremendously, and my eyes for the lift have become so much sharper.

As an Olympic weightlifter and coach, what are some of the biggest issues you see in the development or training of Oly lifters?

Most people would like to be the best at something, or at least the best they can be individually. Mistakenly many people believe that being the best means that you have to emulate the best.

For many this means they find a Bulgarian weightlifting program and just ‘get to it.’ (Bulgarian training involves maxing out everyday, probably multiple times per day. I know it sounds like every weightlifter’s dream, but it gets brutal quick).

The problem with this approach, and this doesn’t just go for Bulgarian training, it goes for so-called Russian, or Chinese, or even the program of the best lifter you know is you didn’t see the thousands (probably more like 10’s of thousands) of reps that they put in before the point in which you decided to just join in the program.

Baseball players don’t start the sport against 100 mph fastballs, basketball players don’t start out against LeBron. The base has to be there first.

Our friend Rufus has a pretty good rule about starting every session for beginning weightlifters with 50 perfect reps with the bar. I think that is pretty accurate.

The second part on programming is that I see most weightlifters focusing almost exclusively on the competition lifts, with the inclusion of squats, and MAYBE some pulls, and some pressing.

Again this is a big mistake at almost all levels.

A vast majority of weightlifters should be spending a decent amount of time on assistance exercises, and by that I mean stuff outside of the grouping above.

Seriously, go do some upper body pulling (chins, rows), for God’s sake do some single leg work, and by all means spend some time doing curls and direct arm work (you can thank me later). This is a sport, and it does require strength training.

Oh, and no more 30 reps snatches please…

Wait you don’t like that? 🙂

One last thing and then we’ll start to wrap up. You’ve recently started a new podcast (The Performance Podcast) with Robert “Dos” Remedios. How is that going so far?

It has been a blast. Coach Dos truly has been a mentor to me and I am very fortunate to get the opportunity to just talk training with him.

Dos and I have been texting back and forth almost daily for 2 years, just throwing stuff at each other about training, and after lots of thinking (and some encouragement from you) I just asked Dos if we could record it.

So that’s basically what we do, we record us talking about training. I don’t know if anyone else does it that way, but we go in with no notes, just a singular topic and one question.

Then we just talk about it for 20-30 minutes and answer a couple listener questions. I think we get a really honest and frank discussion of performance training topics.

The response has been cool as well. We actually hit #1 on iTunes for fitness and nutrition and #3 for “all health” category. It’s really cool because we were able to topple the podcasting juggernaut, Jillian Michaels (is that the first time “Jillian Michaels” has been written on your site?)

Thankfully, yes it is. And hopefully the last, too!

Last but not least, what is one mistake that you’ve made along the way, and how did you learn from it and grow either as a coach, professional, or human being?

As business owners are likely to do at times, I moved away from training as much as I’d like. I think the pull of making sure everything in your business is perfect can suck it out of you and giving your energy to the athletes or clients you have can be hard.

Fortunately, I have a great team of coaches around me, so I’m not sure anyone noticed, but I definitely did.

There is no more rewarding profession than coaching. We are really lucky to be trusted to impact lives. Choosing to not do so is a big mistake, no matter how “busy” you get, impacting people in person is the best thing we as strength coaches can do.

So really, the lesson is about balance, and perspective. We are not too busy, to neglect things, whether that be business, coaching, family, or even your own training.

That’s awesome advice man – I love it.

Wil, thanks a ton for being with us here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?

Thanks a ton Mike, it has been a real pleasure. I am most active on my instagram account (15 second videos are a good thing), that is @wilfleming. I would love to have more people check out the podcast I am doing with Dos, so find us at iTunes and on Twitter.

Thanks again Wil!

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Final Note from MR: It’s with a heavy heart that I post today’s interview.

Wil Fleming is not only a guy I really like, but someone I’ve become good friends with in recent years.

On Mother’s Day, his mother passed away.

If you know Wil, please pass along your condolences. 

1 Comments

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  1. Another great coach! Good interviews!

    I definitely agree that early specialization is a problem for young athletes (one that can lead to overuse injuries sometimes).

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