Interview with Levi Markwardt. Levi is a strength & conditioning coach out of Iowa. He also runs a 24 hour health club and trains high school athletes. Levi is one strong dude and you have to check out his Instagram account linked at the end.
Levi goes into detail with me about his own transformation, his favorite training book, interesting questions he asks clients (never heard them asked before), and so much more!
Hi Levi, thanks so much for speaking with me! What’s exciting in your world right now?
Getting better. Could be anything – not just training. But my athletes getting better is at the top (professionally). Watching them succeed is the highest professional high.
Generally speaking, life teaches amazing lessons if we are paying attention.
“Did you get better today?”
Sometimes we might not notice – getting better can be very subtle, but getting better is exciting.
Personally, my daughter is pretty fantastic. I’m very proud of the young woman she’s becoming!
What led you to get involved in the training field?
Oh boy… I’ll try to be brief 🙂
I graduated college (‘00) with a BA in Secondary PhyEd with no desire to actually teach PE. My dad was a High School teacher/coach and I had witnessed him go through some things dealing with parents, etc, and I just lost any passion I had to teach while in a school setting.
I still wanted to work with kids as coaches had the biggest impact on my life growing up. I kind of fell backward into training but quickly fell in love with training young athletes. I got certified through the NSCA in ‘02 and worked part-time as a trainer and part-time as a bank teller, of all things.
I left the bank to work part time as a billing/insurance clerk for the Orthopedics group that owned the training facility where I was training. This allowed me to become full time. After what seemed like a lifetime working insurance claims, I was let go along with 4 or 5 other staff during a downsizing.
I started training full-time; part-time at two different gyms. One with adults, the other with the junior high and high school athletes. In ‘05 I became a partner with the Orthopedic group of owners and started training full-time at one location. In ‘06 my dad passed and my life and career got flipped on its head. I was approaching 300 lbs of goo without a work ethic.
If I was going to persevere and lead my family and business I had to make some serious changes. The road to where I currently am was one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do and every step was more than worth it.
Many thanks to Ross Enamait of www.rosstraining.com and my lovely wife for giving me the support I needed at home and with nutrition.
While the changes I personally made went relatively smoothly (with consistent hard work and commitment to change) my business (small market) has always been a huge challenge. I nearly quit the fitness industry entirely in early ‘10 and at the last moment was presented with an opportunity to manage a health club (and no longer own my facility) and combine my training center with it.
So from May ‘10 until now, I’ve had a 24hr health club in addition to my training business. More changes in May of ‘16 as I was hired by Spirit Lake High School to oversee all their strength and conditioning programming and be on-site to do all the coaching. I’m at the school 6-9a and 2:30-5p M-F and at the gym when not at the school.
A few days each week I’ll go back to the gym after 5p to work with adults. I’ve also officially started an online training business, www.hardertokilltraining.com, and I am getting to travel to coach hardstyle methods – with my own little twists 🙂
That’s the quick version!
Your personal transformation story is incredible. Do you remember one particular moment where you absolutely decided to make a change?
It was the realization that I was in terrible health and much heavier than my dad was at his passing. I remember being devastated at 28 and thinking about my then 3 y/o daughter. I knew I had to do a better job to actually be a dad and to be around much longer than my dad.
What was the first step you took after that moment?
I finally admitted that I needed help. The things I was doing were not effective and I needed a new approach. That’s when I decided to apply Ross Enamait’s philosophy from Never Gymless.
What was an obstacle that you faced and how did you overcome it?
The obstacles are many! But I’d have to say the biggest was overcoming personal issues and self-sabotaging. My own undealt issues lead to many imbalances including a near life long battle with food. An overweight trainer full of excuses is a trainer that won’t last long in the industry! Now I take great pride in leading from the front.
What would you tell someone now who may be going through a life-long battle with food?
I guess it would depend on where they are in their journey. Are they ready for a change? Are they ready to address the reasons they use food to self-medicate? We all come to that place at our own timing. Many people “fail” simply because they are not ready for the battle in front of them. Addressing addiction is daunting. And it’s easy to replace one addiction with another. Battling food then coming to a place of balance and long term success is rare (when concerning food).
But I’d really encourage them to have a support system in place. To surround themselves with encouraging people, people that won’t trip them up. What do “they, ” say? We are the sum of the 5 people we hang around? I’d want my friends and family to help hold me accountable throughout this process.
What you (they) don’t need is everyone always questioning your motives for change. “Why do you want to lose weight? You don’t need to. You’re fine the way you are.” While that seems harmless, it can be devastating to a person who is at a plateau.
I had a friend tell me “I liked you better when you were fat.”
What he was saying is that my changes and improvements made him feel uncomfortable about his own situation. I didn’t need that kind of negativity. No one does.
In your eyes, what’s the difference between training kids and adults?
Kids recover so much faster 🙂 Other than that, far more similarities than people probably realize. In my opinion anyway.
What’s something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
Marketing, sales, and anything to do with the business side of this industry. All of this I’ve learned (or am learning) as I went. Hardly an efficient use of time and resources.
Can you tell me about one big marketing, sales, or business tactic you’ve learned for yourself?
Business Tactic: For far too long I focused on my competition (health club/gym) and what they were doing and how I could compete. Instead of focusing on what I do better and improving my service and value, I was too caught up in comparison and feeling sorry for myself (they have much deeper pockets than I do).
By improving my mindset I can control what I can control.
What’s one book that changed your practice/mindset, etc… and why? What’s the one thing you took away from it?
Never Gymless by Ross Enamait. It just cut the excuses. It was no nonsense. It had a simple nutrition plan and simple (yet brutal) workouts to follow. His style is still the basis of what I do today. It made me realize that my efforts (discipline, consistency) determine my success – not equipment, not supplements, not convenience, etc. I feel like the book gave me a license to be free with my training ideas.
That ANYTHING works when YOU work. A lot of what I do now centers around KBs (specifically swings, snatches, and getups) but I take the same approach when I program for myself and others. To me, the KB is a highly effective tool that allows me to be creative, but it’s just a tool. I’m totally cool with finding a pullup bar and timing sets of pullups, burpees, and lunges (and variations of them).
ANYTHING works when YOU work.
I love Ross Enamait’s work, hes the one that got me really interested in jump rope at one point. I got pretty good with his instruction! Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?
So much about fitness success is being healthy between your ears. If you can’t address the “why (you ended up here)” then we can forget about long term success. The “why” can be anything. For me, it was dealing with things in my childhood, making the decision to grow up, and to lead my family.
It was a difficult conversation but highly rewarding and freeing. And for the record, this conversation has happened with me more than once. I continue to come to new hurdles that need addressing. Like the next question, I focus on one thing at a time. It’s very easy to overwhelm ourselves. If I try to do too many things at once I’ll overwhelm myself every time.
Sidenote – I’ve mentioned my childhood a few times. I should clarify – my parents were fantastic role models and worked very hard to meet my needs. I don’t have ill will towards them. I just grew up in an interesting and unique environment – a story for another time.
Anything cool you are reading now?
I have started a new book – Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.
Your top 3 favorite questions that you ask a new client?
What are 2 or 3 things you know you need to change? (Of those listed)
What is the most important? (That’s our focus – 1 thing at a time)
Do you have support at home?
Are you able to trust me?
How do you handle “NO” to the question, “Do you have support at home?”
I do my best to prepare them for the upcoming battle. If a spouse is unwilling to support their partner in their health journey, I’ll do my best to fill in that role and encourage them when I see them for sessions.
Doing this alone (without support) can be highly difficult – especially if the partner sabotages – which happens more often than you think.
Has anyone ever told you they didn’t trust you? How do you work in that situation?
Sure. I just suggest them to find another trainer they do trust. If you don’t trust what I’m going to do then you shouldn’t be paying me your hard earned money and wasting my valuable time. I enjoy money, but I can’t stand having my time wasted.
What do you wish people knew about you but probably don’t?
I’m really normal, overly boring, and an introvert. I have the same struggles everyone else does. Food, feelings of inadequacy, doubt, fear, etc. I say that because every time I get the opportunity to do an interview or podcast I always get the response, “I had no idea you were ____ <human, normal, struggling…>”.
There is a reason I only post the “cool” stuff, or the successful attempts. But that, unfortunately, leads others to believe that I’m different when the reality is the opposite.
You do post some really cool stuff (been your FB friend for a while), why don’t you post the other side of your process?
Because I lack confidence. I really hate being trolled – it’s bad enough when I get trolled when I do complete a successful attempt. Believe me when I say I miss my attempts far more times than actually hitting my goal.
I have a desire to be “enough” and I unfortunately crave positive feedback. I am also a work in progress. Not long ago I would have never admitted that.
What would you say is your proudest moment?
Personally – recovering from the loss of my father and becoming the person (slowly) that I feel I’m called to be.
Family – getting to be Moriah’s husband and Shailen’s dad
Professionally – I hesitate to name a single event or person as I’ve been very blessed with some pretty amazing athletes. Numerous D1 football and softball scholarships (Big 10, Big 12, ACC – ‘The U’ being the biggest name school – which being small town Iowa is a pretty sweet deal), a few professional athletes (arena football, volleyball/basketball overseas) and countless small college scholarship athletes (soccer, v-ball, cross country, b-ball, etc).
But wrestling is my favorite sport. It was my best sport growing up and the sport I feel I recognize with most in programming. I’ve had two young men start training with me while they were in elementary – completing 2 and 3 programs a year since then – that both finished their high school careers with state titles (one wrestled Big 10 varsity as a true freshman last season). I was able to witness both titles. Driving 3.5 hrs one way for a 6 min match. 🙂
I was happy to do it both times. The drive home is a blur! I’ve had many state champs over the years and they are all special. But these two stand out due to the commitment they made to me from a young age. It says a lot about their parents and their trust in me. It’s an amazing feeling.
How has your programming changed since last year?
Personally, not much, other than minor tweaks here or there. But when I started at the High School (amazing facility) I had to make the barbell my focus. It’s been a long time since the bar was my primary tool. In fact, when I started they had zero kettlebells! I know!!
Don’t worry, we got that fixed. But it’s made me a better coach, I believe, and the kids are responding to some hybrid barbell and kettlebell programming.
Is there any recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?
Traveling to continuing ed must be a higher priority for me. Every time I do something like this I leave a better trainer. It’s just very hard (excuses, I know) to get away and spend the money on travel. I don’t mind paying for the education – it’s the other expenses!
So unfortunately, my last continuing ed onsite training was the Strength Matter’s kettlebell cert in San Diego. It was great. James and Rif were fantastic. Franz, Jerry, Tracy, Mark and Ed are great examples and instructors. Learning from them has certainly taken me to another level. I hope to work a cert one day soon and to hit a Strength Summit as well.
I did do a one day workshop with Bill Esch in Omaha last July too. If you’re not aware, Bill is an amazing GS athlete. Omaha is about 3 hr drive for me so it was a no-brainer. Watching Bill move was worth the drive :). While I’m very happy training hardstyle and don’t have any interest in competing GS, the sport is pretty awesome and very humbling – and Bill is at the top.
I’m also helping assist Dan John and Nick Lynch at an RKC cert in Milwaukee in May.
What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?
Here’s a curve ball for you, Neal. Something I think is really easy and works will with ALL of my clients…
Make a commitment to change then stick to it. We all have a lot of reasons (many of them are very good too) to skip training sessions, or eat garbage on the run, or or… but showing up and committing to necessary change has become a lost art.
It’s too bad because achieving goals is freaking awesome.
How do you handle the client who stops “showing up”?
In the beginning, I’ll try to contact them and encourage them. But if they continue to come up with excuses or ignore my efforts, I move on. I’m not in the adult babysitting business.
What would you recommend a client not to do?
We (humans) tend to try to do everything at once. We lack patience (guilty myself). When we start a new program its very easy to be excited. And in the beginning, changes happen quickly. A little success leads us to believe that more is better.
Sometimes this can be true, but more often than not, we need to understand that lasting change will take a long time to achieve. If we try to do too much at once we end up nowhere quick.
So my recommendation is to not allow yourself to get overwhelmed – to set realistic goals and enjoy the process. Oh…. and stop program hopping!!!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us Levi! Any parting advice for us?
At the risk of repeating myself:
1 – There are NO quick fixes. Our society in now conditioned for easy and fast. That’s not real life. It will never be real life. Results = commitment over time. Stop looking for shortcuts. Results aren’t a light switch. Commit to change if you want to change. And expect it to hurt – mentally and physically. But when we are uncomfortable – adaptation occurs. Work to make uncomfortable – comfortable. You won’t become extraordinary with an ordinary effort – thanks, Ross!
2 – Sacrifice. What’s your vice? Food? Alcohol? Sweets? Social Media? Be honest with yourself and cut what NEEDS to be cut. You’re not making it without sacrifice.
3 – Everything can work when YOU work. Find what works for you – what you can commit to. Then commit.
Have I mentioned commitment yet?
How do we get in contact with you?
Well, I’m too connected to my phone and computer so it’s pretty easy 🙂
You can follow me on Instagram – @leviarsl
I’m on Facebook – Levi Markwardt – and – Athletic Republic Spirit Lake
I also try to update my youtube channel – Levi Markwardt – with what’s keeping me busy in training and practice.
And my website is www.hardertokilltraining.com