Interview with Parisi program director and strength and conditioning coach, Casey Lee!
Join me as I ask Casey about his career, how his clients are crushing it, his awesome mindset, favorite resources & exercises, and so much more!
Casey Lee – Strength & Conditioning Coach – Vermont
Casey, thanks for doing this interview! What’s exciting in your world right now?
Right now we are in the middle of designing and opening a second Parisi Speed School location in northern Vermont. We’ve been fortunate to have some amazing success in our current location in Williston, and have a great opportunity to expand our reach and work with individuals in Essex, Vermont.
2017 is going to be a great year for sure!
That’s a big deal, congrats! How did you come to this point in your career?
My first ‘taste’ of the fitness industry started when I was 20 years old and made the decision to go ‘all in’ and overhaul my lifestyle. I had just endured the ‘freshman 15’, which for me, was a 40-pound weight gain.
I remember telling my parents that I was ready to make a change and set the goal to lose it all. Over the course of the next 6 months, I went from weighing 225 pounds at roughly 28% body fat to 184 pounds and 13% body fat. At that point in my life, I knew that exercise and nutrition would be my career path.
During my sophomore year in college, I became an avid gym go-er and ended up making friends with many of the trainers at the fitness center. One afternoon I was performing cleans on the platform and struck up a conversation with an older gentleman who was squatting next to me.
After talking to him about my story and passions, he introduced himself as Matt Salvatore, the Director of the Fitness Center, and offered me a position as a Personal Trainer going into my Junior year. This was a definite ‘hinge’ moment in my life. I will always be thankful to Matt and the team at SUNY Plattsburgh for giving me a shot.
When I wasn’t at school, I worked the front desk and as a floor trainer at my hometown gym, The Edge, in Williston Vermont. During school breaks, I would take as many shifts as I could get and perform as many fitness consultations as I could with gym members. This taught me so many invaluable lessons in customer
This taught me so many invaluable lessons in customer service and communication that I would not trade for the world.
As my career at SUNY Plattsburgh came to an end in 2011, I received my degree in Business Administration and had every intention of continuing to work in the Fitness Industry. I was very fortunate that a few weeks prior to graduation, The Edge, had just signed a franchise contract with the Parisi Speed School to bring a Parisi location to their gym.
Upon hearing this, I drove myself home at 7 am and sat in front of the President of the health club’s office until he came in that day. After ‘forcing’ an interview, I was offered a position as a Performance Coach and began working immediately after graduation with the Parisi Speed School.
From 2011-2014 I worked 30-50 hours a week in the trenches training youth athletes as well as adults in the health club. This gave me ample first-hand experience coaching and communicating, being a practitioner of my craft as a Strength and Conditioning Coach, and gave me the opportunity to make a lot of friends!
In 2014 I was nominated and won Parisi Franchises’ award of “Performance Coach of the Year”. A national award with an applicant pool of 400+ Performance Coaches. Shortly after winning that award, Parisi offered me a position on their national certification team and their Training Advisory Committee.
Being the youngest, by 20 years, of six in this group, it is an amazing opportunity to sit with some of the brightest brains in sports performance training.
Currently, in 2016, I am now the Program Director of the Parisi Speed School in Williston Vermont and also hold my position with the Parisi Franchise corporate team as one of their six National Certification Coaches.
It has been quite the ride over the last 5 years (since college), and have LOVED every second.
You mentioned that you learned “invaluable lessons in customer service”. Can you share one with us?
My biggest lesson is two-fold…1) People don’t know what they don’t know. I HATE being talked ‘down’ to. Keeping that in mind, I am very cautious not to be over animated with my responses to people whether it be in sales, training, or just a routine conversation.
And 2) Share information, don’t hoard it. If someone comes to me with an issue or question, I try my hardest and will go out of my way to ensure that individual has a positive experience and leaves satisfied.
The more and more I work on building business systems, the more I realize people come for the experience.
What was an obstacle that you faced and how did you overcome it?
For me, it has always been my age. When I first started at Parisi, I was the youngest Coach on staff. I always felt like my age held me back in terms of ‘industry respect’ because I didn’t have a lot of experience.
It wasn’t until my third year at Parisi, when we hired four new coaches, that I realized my age did not matter, and my leadership on the training floor is what would make or break me.
Working with our new staff and sharing with them all of the experiences that I have had, empowered me to look beyond my age, and allowed me to really embrace the day to day coaching experiences that allow you to grow.
What have you experienced in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I knew just how important person to person interaction was. I come from a family with two parents that own their own small businesses. My Mom has a hair salon in their house and my Dad is a General Contractor, both have always reiterated the importance of taking care of the people in front of you (in this case our clientele).
Coming out of college I always had considered myself a very strong people person, but sometimes forget just how important it is to always present yourself in a positive manner, have welcoming body language, and ask the questions that start to make the people around you feel and understand that you are truly there to help them.
I always had considered myself a very strong people person, but sometimes forget just how important it is to always present yourself in a positive manner, have welcoming body language, and ask the questions that start to make the people around you feel and understand that you are truly there to help them.
What’s one book that changed your practice or mindset, and why? What’s the one thing you took away from it?
Without a doubt, it has to be “How to Win Friends, and Influence People” by Dale Carnige. This book changed my life! I read it as a 21-year-old, fresh out of college, and have re-read it every year since.
This book taught me how to ask the right questions when engaging with anyone…it changed the way I communicate with my parents, brother, wife, as well as co-workers, and new clientele.
That book has come up more than once here. What are you reading right now?
I always have a couple books going as well as reading current research within the industry. I am currently enjoying “Five Things” by Martin Rooney, an easy read that is broken down into weekly ‘lessons’ that help improve everything from communication, happiness, mindset, and gratitude.
I’m also reading “Meatball Sundae” by Seth Godin. A great book about branding and marketing…It’s a little ‘dated’ but a lot of the core concepts still hold true in a 2016/2017 market.
Can you talk about a breakthrough you had with a client, and what led up to it?
I don’t know if this is a ‘breakthrough’ but I work a lot with injured athletes who are in return to performance protocols. One athlete, in particular, was coming off an ACL and meniscus tear and I had been working with her through her preoperative training, as well her full 9-month return to play after surgery.
It was a really cool experience to work hand in hand with her surgeon and PT/AT’s but the breakthrough came when she stepped on the field 12 months after surgery and played in her college’s alumni game and scored a goal.
She worked her tail off and stayed positive through a tough rehab. It isn’t really a breakthrough, but more of an instance where what we do affects an individual more than reps and sets.
What are your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client? Your top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?
My top three favorite questions for new clients:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
What are your current goals (does not have to be fitness related)
What are you currently reading or watching on Netflix
I like to figure out their lifestyle and interests and then bring it back to their fitness goals.
My top three questions for existing trainees:
How did you sleep last night?
What are you looking forward to this weekend?
What’s the favorite thing we do in a session?
With my current clients, I am all about autonomy. It’s their session, their goals…It’s (one of my jobs) to create a positive environment for them to succeed. If a client hates doing an exercise, I need to find a reasonable substitution for that movement.
When you ask a client about their sleep and they tell you that it’s not so hot, what’s your next step?
My next step is to ask some follow-up questions…what caused the poor sleep? Stress? Poor nutritional choices? Was this a one-time occurrence?
I’m not giving my client the 3rd degree, rather, putting these pieces into play in our conversation. It may just be a one-time occurrence, or it may be something that we want to address and tackle together.
From there, I typically modify the workout accordingly. If someone comes in feeling pretty crummy, I need to do my due diligence to turn that around. Again, it comes down to the experience.
How has your programming changed since last year?
In 2016 my programming took a step back and is the most ‘basic’ it has ever been. One of my biggest mistakes early on in this industry was progressing clients/athletes too fast and not fully respecting how important movement quality is.
I’ve made a dramatic change in how I present the program, ensuring my client(s) understand the WHY behind all their movements. It’s worked really well. The simple things done really well typically lead to the greatest successes.
Going back to basics sounds like you removed a few things. What did you remove from your programming and ended up working really well?
Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t say I removed things, per say. Rather, I moved people backward and started them with regressions of their movements. What I found was by having people do the ‘easier’ regressions they were actually getting brutally strong, firing the RIGHT musculature, and most importantly gaining self-confidence.
There was no more fear in their sessions or in their attitude with the gym. Clients were coming in early to crush their workouts and were excited to do so because they knew the movements we were going to do left them feeling strong and confident.
They feel so good they have more motivation and empowerment to come in on off-days and train on their own. We still push/pull/hinge/squat/press but we do it in ways that fit the individual rather than trying to force a square peg into a round hole when they probably weren’t ready for it (and clearly weren’t getting anywhere).
As a Coach, the greatest reward is when a client no longer needs me!
That’s why I interview coaches, for gold nuggets like that. It can be hard to get clients to ‘regress’, but can be a total game changer on many levels. Have you been to any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?
This is a great question. I love Con Ed and feel it is crucial to a Coach’s development as a practitioner in this industry. I just finished Tony Gentilcore and Dean Somersets online product “The Complete Shoulder & Hip Blueprint”. I highly recommend this product for Personal Trainers and Strength Coaches…all the information is directly applicable to all ages and is one of those products that instantly make you better at your craft.
I am also in the middle of 9-week online seminar hosted by Mike Reinold, a Boston-based Physical Therapist. The course is called “The Complete Shoulder Seminar” and is definitely more PT relevant, but is very well put together and is broken down in weekly courses so it is easy to manage with more-than-full-time job.
Lots of shoulder’s in my recent continuing education…
What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?
Giving without expectation of anything in return. Random calls to check in…making some healthy food and sharing it with them…healthy gifts around the holidays…Just simple things that show gratitude from my end.
I think a lot of people in a customer service industry expect too much and it sits poorly with their potential and existing clientele.
“Give everything you have, to everyone you know, every single day” – Martin Rooney
Casey, thanks so much for chatting with me! Any parting advice for us?
My parting advice to those in the ‘biz is this. 1>0.
This is a mindset I’ve adopted in a variety of ways. 1>0 means to do something you have to start.
From that point, we progress all the way to 1>0 being ‘all in’. Be ‘all in’ in what you do…your family, your loved ones, your clients, and most importantly YOURSELF!
I have met and worked with a lot of trainers in the industry who miss this concept.
How do we get in contact with you?
The easiest way is to shoot me an email at CoachCaseyLee@gmail.com.
I also frequent Twitter and Instagram where my account is Coach_Casey802 for both.
Our Parisi facility has an open door policy if any Coaches in the area what to come in and check out what we do on a day to day basis. We all love to talk shop here!