How do trainers work? Meet Tony Gentilcore

Tony Gentilcore is a strength and conditioning coach, writer, and owner of CORE training studio in the Boston, Massachusetts area. You’ve probably seen his articles on sites like T-Nation.com, Menshealth.com, Bodybuilding.com, Stack.com, and more.

Tony’s casual writing style is equal parts wisdom and hilarious stream-of-consciousness. If you frequent his blog, you know that feeling — like he’s climbed through your computer screen into your office, weight room, or across from the couch you haven’t left all weekend, telling you everything he thinks, knows, loves, hates, and what you should and shouldn’t do. And it’s all laced with hyperbole and sardonic wit.

Whether Tony’s calling out fitness faux pas and misinformation or sharing insightful tips meant for you as a personal trainer or an exerciser, you’ll want to pay careful attention to what he says. You can’t go wrong with following his expert advice anywhere, especially on the floors of CORE or through CORE Online.

All of that said, check out his interview. You’re in for a ride!

Tony, Let’s Get Started With Your . . .

Location: Brookline, MA
Years of Training Experience: 16
One Word to Best Describe Your Personality: Authentic

Tell me a little about your fitness background. How did you get into the training world?

Similar to most people my age, I watched way too many Arnold Schwarzenegger movies as a kid. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I reenacted scenes from movies like Commando and Conan the Barbarian as a kid.

That served as the impetus in many ways. Then, you know, at some point, circa 1991-1992, hormones took over, and my main objective was to get girls — namely my junior high crush, Nicole Kot — to want to hang out with me.

It didn’t work.

Fast forward a few years, and I organically recognized a correlation between me getting stronger and my performance on the baseball field. Once I entered my junior year of high school, training became part of my inner fabric and what made me, me.

Fast forward to my senior year of college (and to me destroying the back of my pants when coming to the ugly realization that I wasn’t going to play professional baseball and that I had to figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life), I decided to extend my education, transfer to a school closer to home, and earn my degree in Health Education with a concentration in Health/Wellness Promotion.

I’ll spare the particulars (*cough, cough* I graduated Magna Cum Laude), but when I graduated, I had a choice . . . or fork in the road:

  1. Use my actual degree and become a health teacher?
  2. Take an internship at a corporate fitness center in the hopes it would lead to a job afterwards?
  3. Practice my lightsaber skills in my parents’ garage?

SPOILER ALERT: I took the option that allowed me the luxury of wearing sweatpants to work every day.

CLARIFICATION OF SPOILER ALERT: It didn’t involve my parents’ garage.

  • 2002-2007: Worked in corporate fitness, in addition to several commercial gyms, as a personal trainer
  • 2007-2015: Helped co-found and served as a strength and conditioning coach at Cressey Sports Performance
  • 2015-Current: Own and operate my own training studio in Brookline, MA called CORE.

What services does CORE offer?

It’s a semi-private training studio that offers traditional strength & conditioning for athletes and non-athletes alike. “Semi-private” means I work with one to five people simultaneously. Everyone starts with a one-on-one assessment, and from there, an individualized program is written — catered to their goals and ability level — and then they’re training alongside a group of other people.

I use a pretty minimalistic approach. My studio is only 800 square feet, so it’s bare bones in terms of the equipment I have in there. So when I say I offer “traditional strength and conditioning,” it’s really designed for those interested in barbell lifts and who want to get strong(er).

In short: If you want to become a deadlifting Terminator, CORE is for you.

What’s also unique about CORE is that I have a handful of other coaches who sublease the space from me. I’m there coaching around 20 hours per week. However, I have other coaches who utilize the space and are able to train people and build their brand in and around Boston.

 

 

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Based on what you learned in the early days of CORE (and Cressey Sports Performance), any advice for trainers starting their own business?

You don’t have to be a gym owner to be successful in this industry. There’s this unspoken notion, I feel, that the pinnacle of success in this industry — or that you’ve “finally made it” — is gym ownership. That’s bullsh*t. I’ve written on this topic extensively on my website here.

Start small. Many fitness pros make the mistake to think that they’ll open an elaborate 10,000 square-foot facility, ripe with all the fanciest equipment, technology, and bathrooms that smell of lavender and that they’ll turn the lights on and people will just magically show up.

Then reality hits. Who’s in charge of marketing? Bookkeeping? Who’s tracking sessions and billing? Wait, there’s a $500/month CAM charge on top of monthly rent? Who’s cleaning the bathrooms?

Oh, and then there’s the x’s and o’s of writing programs and coaching your clients. The first Cressey Sports Performance was 2200 square feet, and we took five years to “grow” into a 10,000 square-foot space. As I mentioned, CORE is 800 square feet. I’ve been there coming up on three years now and am still in no rush to expand.

Describe your training style. According to your website, you like to brag about your “good butt.” But(t) other than that, what can clients expect from you?

Am I dating myself if I toss in a Sir Mix-a-Lot reference here?

I’m a little old school and am definitely biased toward the “getting people strong” side of the fence. I’m a fan of teaching the basics — squat, hinge, row, push, pull, carry — and making people brutally efficient and competent in those areas of training.

But at the end of the day, there is a bit of a balancing act between what I know my clients need and what they want. I have to respect their goals and write programs that keep those goals in mind.

That said, it’s a safe bet that if you train at CORE, you’re going to deadlift, squat, chin-up, bench press, and barbell row your face off.

And listen to techno and 90’s hip-hop.

You also write a lot and not just on your blog. How did you break into the writing side of fitness and plaster your advice all over the internet?

I always joke that if my 12th grade English teacher, Ms. Davie, somehow found out I make part of my living as a writer, she’d likely sh*t a copy of For Whom the Bell Tolls.

I got into fitness writing as a way to vent. Early in my career, I noticed a lot of articles out there that were lame and really boring to read. I thought, “Huh, this article on how to improve scapular upward rotation makes me want to jump into a live volcano. I can write one better than this,” and so I tried.

And failed miserably.

I wasn’t a good writer out of the gate. I don’t even think I’m anything special now. Sure, I know the difference between your/you’re and there/they’re/their, know when to ease up on the adverbs, and can somehow manage to construct two coherent sentences back to back. However, I’m still a coach before I’m a writer.

When I got my first article published on T-Nation.com back in 2006, TC Luoma gave me a brilliant piece of advice, and it’s something that has resonated and stuck to my ribs ever since: “People want to learn, but they also want to be entertained.”

I think a large part of what makes my writing “successful” is that it’s relatable, conversational, and comes across as authentic. How I write mirrors very much how I am in person.

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What’s the most challenging part of what you do as a trainer, writer, and entrepreneur?

As a trainer: Trying not to drown in the tsunami of information out there. It’s hard to keep up with everything!

As a writer: Trying not to compare myself to other fitness writers too much. I’ll read something by Adam Bornstein, John Romaniello, Jen Sinkler, Lou Schuler, or Kellie Davis (to name a few) and think, “I hate you guys so much because I’m not you. I give up. I suck.” And then I’ll eat some bacon, and all’s right with the world.

As an entrepreneur: The hardest part of being an entrepreneur is writing the word “entrepreneur” correctly the first time. That and balancing the work-life teeter-totter.

How did you hear about Exercise.com?

Some weird guy named Jeff Crews emailed me years ago — when the site was called WeightTraining.com — to ask if I’d be willing to log my workouts on the site. And said they’d pay me to do it.

BOOM. Done.

It’s been a fairy tale every since. I love Jeff and the entire crew at Exercise.com, and it’s been such a treat to see how you guys have grown over the years to provide such a unique tool for fitness professionals to grow their businesses.

How has our Exercise.com platform been the most helpful for you and CORE?

It has made my life easier and helped streamline my online training, which in turn has transformed into a pretty kickass additional revenue stream for me and my family.

Any particular resources you’d recommend for personal trainers?

Selfishly, I’ll just direct people to my Resources page on my website. I list a plethora of books, digital products, and DVDs there that will point them in the right direction of solid information.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’ll be unveiling The (Even More) Complete Shoulder and Hip Blueprint workshop with Dean Somerset in the coming months. We’ll be in Houston (September), Slovenia (October), and LA (November) this fall, as well as making stops in Detroit, Philadelphia, and Edmonton next year.

Moreover, I’ll be writing an eBook/program with Bryan Krahn that’s catered to the 40+ lifter, which I feel will help a lot of trainees.

Now, for the most important question: If you could have one superpower (sorry, only one), what would it be?

The power to time travel. I’m a history buff, so it would be a hoot to be able to go back and watch world events in real time. And to tell 13-year-old me not to trade my 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card to Nick.

Note: This interview has been edited for clarity. You can find Tony on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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Lauren Smith is passionate about nutrition and holistic health (how the body, mind, and emotions intersect). She lives in Baltimore City, where she writes stuff, plays music, embarks on long power walks through the park, takes contemporary dance lessons, and enjoys healthy, flavorful cuisine. Lauren has written for a literary journal called Skelter and for Honestbodyfitness.com, Groomandstyle.com, and Alltherooms.com.