Interview with Taylor Lewis – Live in the Trenches

Interview with strength coach Taylor Lewis. Taylor has an awesome story, with lots of turning points he lays out for us.

Taylor also talks to us about his experience with working with cystic fibrosis patients, an important lesson he learned from his coach, breathing exercises, warm-ups, and so much more!

Taylor Lewis – Owner TL Strength, California

Thanks for taking the time for this interview Taylor! Can you tell me about how you got started in strength & conditioning?

Oh man, well I’ll try and keep this short and sweet. Throughout my career so far, I would say I have had about 3 turning points that changed how I approached my training. It all started when I was playing baseball at Sonoma State University.

I was 21 years old and during the fall of our up and coming season, I suffered an injury that side-lined me for the whole year. I didn’t understand how I could get hurt because I was in the gym at 5am training and would get to the field an hour early to get some speed and med ball work in before I finish with some pitching drills, all before practice.

I asked myself over and over how I could have gotten hurt and the doctor was telling me that I need to shut it down because I over-used my pitching arm. That didn’t settle well with me. So I went searching for answers.

I hired Bobby Aldridge a strength and conditioning coach in Marin county to help me get back on track. I won’t forget the first session we had together. It would start the journey I am on today.

I brought in my program the first session and he looked at it and he ripped it up and said: “let’s begin”.

In my head I was like, “What the hell?”, but I listened and watched carefully because I knew he knew more than me. He changed my life because not only did he break down the anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics and the “why” of what we were doing, he also taught me that less is more. (Turning Point 1)

At that time, I did not know what “less is more” really meant. I was so used to doing 3 times the amount that was asked because I felt that it would give me an edge. After a summer training with Bobby, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to get to our youth athletes sooner so I could educate them on ways to improve their performance efficiently.

After spending 2 years working and interning under Bobby I felt the need to head back to Fresno, CA to start my coaching career. I left before graduating college because I had a gut feeling that what we were learning in the kinesiology program was missing key elements, but I didn’t know what they were.

No disrespect to the professors because I had some awesome professors but it just seemed outdated. So I was lucky enough to land a job at Bally Total Fitness and was hired as the Head Strength Coach of the Fresno Monsters. I had never trained hockey players so I started searching online and this guy “Mike Boyle” kept popping up.

At that time, I had no idea how big of a deal he was but he had a lot of content on hockey players so I got on his mailing list. A couple months later he pushed out an email about hosting a 1-day seminar at his facility in Boston and I signed up immediately. I had always wanted to go to Boston so I figured I would go out a couple days in advance and do some sight-seeing.

The seminar was on a Saturday so I flew in on Thursday. I checked into the hotel that Mike had recommended and ended up at the bar watching the Boston Bruins game that night. Probably no more than 20 minutes later a guy tapped me on my left shoulder and asked me if anyone was sitting next to me. I said, “no, it’s all yours”.

The man then asked what I was doing in Boston. I told him I was here for the Mike Boyle 1-day training seminar and I came in a few days early to sight see. He said, “oh really?” “My name is Dan John I am the keynote speaker”. (Turning Point 2)

I was a little stunned at first because I had bought his book right after I saw he was the headlining speaker and the first thing I liked about Dan was he liked to carry and push heavy things. At Sonoma State, we would always run foul poles as conditioning and I got tired of it so I asked my coach if I could push my car in the parking lot one day a week.

He knew how hard I worked on and off the field so he allowed me and two other pitchers to go push my car in the SSU parking lot once a week as conditioning. So I connected right off the bat with Dan’s methods and beliefs. I just didn’t recognize him at first when he introduced himself.

As the night pushed on he opened up his vault of ideas and started breaking down various ideas and concepts on napkins. Educating me on rep schemes he was messing around with as well as some square box idea he had just started working on. (The early edition of Dan’s Quadrants)

He kept saying “Tomorrow we are going to do this and try this” but the seminar was on Saturday and tomorrow was Friday. I figured maybe he forgot it was Thursday and asked him if he meant Saturday. He told me Mike had flown him in a day early to talk to his staff and he then out of nowhere asked me if I wanted to go.

In my head right then and there I canceled all my plans. I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity of a lifetime.

Mike had set up the weekend to take Dan to the BU hockey game, watch them train, and also dinner at his house after the seminar. Every time Mike told Dan what time he was going to pick him up he asked Mike if I could join them and of course, Mike said yes because of how nice Mike is as a person. It was an unbelievable experience and that started my mentorship with Dan.

I left Fresno after 4 years and took the head strength and conditioning job for Sonoma State baseball as well the head strength coach in the performance division of a travel ball company.  This was the perfect fit because I was able to train lots of baseball players which I loved doing as well as gave me the opportunity to finally finish my bachelor’s degree. After I finished my bachelor’s degree I went straight into perusing my masters. (Turning Point 3)

A year into my masters I was getting to the point where I had to choose whatt I was going to do research for my thesis. I had been going back and forth about doing my research on post activation potentiation but there was so much out there and I wanted to do something different but I didn’t know what just yet.

It all came together one-afternoon driving with my brother Zack over to Palo Alto. My brother Zack was in residency at Stanford Medical as a pediatric physician-scientist. He is striving to advance cystic fibrosis clinical care and translational research. He asked me if I would ever be interested in getting involved down at Stanford and help develop inpatient and outpatient exercise programs.

He had encountered multiple times where patients could not leave their rooms due to the possibility of cross-contamination and the patients were asking for workouts to do and they didn’t really have a lot to give since it wasn’t their specialty.

After that conversation, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for my master’s project. I graduated with my master’s degree in 2014 researching and developing a strength program that integrated positional breathing exercises.

I wanted to show that strength training and breathing training needed to parallel cardiovascular training. At the time of my research, there wasn’t a lot of data on strength training for patients with CF and there was no data on positional breathing training integration so I took a patient with CF through a 3-month program that only involved strength training and positional breathing training.

I took out all the cardio and after 4 months of training (adding time lost due to hospital visits and treatments) she improved all her cardiovascular tests. This was a big moment because all the research had been cardiovascular driven. This showed the need to share the focus on the other elements in CF training. With the help of my brother and the positive outcome of my project it helped me develop a relationship with the Stanford CF pediatrics clinic as well as the CF community.

Fast forward to today and I am spending 2 days a week down at Stanford in the CF clinic researching and developing programs for CF patients. I just spoke at the North American Cystic Fibrosis Conference which was one of the most fulfilling moments in my life and I am extremely honored to have had the opportunity to present my research.

I also own and run TL Strength in San Rafael, CA where I worked with a lot of baseball players as well have a great community of general population clients. I have been lucky enough over the past few years to speak for Strength Matters as well as for Dan at multiple events.

I have to say I would not be where I am at without the support of my family as well as all the great people such as Dan John, Mike Boyle, Brad Jellis, Sean Skahan, Eric Cressey, Mike Potenza, and of course Bobby Aldridge.

It is inspiring to know that there are some passionate coaches out there willing to help out. Makes what I do empowering.

How do you apply the lesson ‘less is more’ that you learned from Bobby in your practice today?

It definitely isn’t easy at first but once you can truly understand it then it can be pretty powerful. How I apply it is based on what work is like at that time. What is planned in the upcoming months as well as what is the most important goal right now.

Once I kind of answered all of those questions then I decided whether I am going to apply this to my training right now or to my job/personal life because I can’t apply less is more to everything I do. I am not wired that way.

I realized I am always doing something whether it’s digging deeper into developing exercise programs for patients with CF or training baseball I always have a full plate. The good about this is that I put all this on my plate because I enjoy it.

Right now I actually like reading books and studying more than I like lifting weights. That is where my focus is so right now I am using the “less is more” concept with my training. I only lift 3 times a week right now for an hour. To keep it short I always start with a contralateral breathing exercise, I like to carry something overhead.

I really like Turkish get up to waiter carry, so much going on when that goes down. I always will do some form of pull ups. Neutral grip pull-up has open my eyes to a big gap in my training. Once I added pullups back into my workouts everything changed. I will squat or deadlift, med ball push-ups, rollouts, body saws or some form of landmine variations, cuff work and call it a day.

My focus right now is my CF research so my goal in the gym is just to get in and get some work in. That checks the box for me and allows me to spend more time on what my main focus is. It is like when seasons change. You enjoyed that time and you can’t wait for it to be back but until then you focus on the season upon you.

interview taylor lewis

Have you come closer to learning what those key elements are now that you were missing in kinesiology? If you don’t, can you speculate? 

Yea, it was application. Application is the foundation to improvement.

You can’t  get better unless you first try it out see how it works on you then apply it to other clients and then analyze the outcome. There is a great chance the first time the outcome won’t be what you expect but great content comes from failure.

If you just read about the solution in books then you will never be able to advance the field. The more I applied what I learned and actually worked with clients the more everything made sense. It also opens me up to adaptability. The more you can adapt to your environment while still keeping the integrity of the “why” helps you change the game.

Application is the foundation to improvement. You can’t get better unless you first try it out see how it works on you then apply it to other clients and then analyze the outcome. There is a great chance the first time the outcome won't be what you expect but great content comes from failure.

Did you learn anything from working with the cystic fibrosis patient that applied to your athletes? Vice Versa?

Oh man, I don’t know if I haven’t stopped learning from her but also all of my CF clients as well as the doctors, nurses, pulmonary therapist, nutritionist, social workers and the client’s families. I am messing around with programming various sets and rep schemes.

I am trying to analyze which rep to set ratio works well with the various CF patients I have and when it does or doesn’t, why is it working? It has been an incredible journey because CF can have over 6 distinct classes and over 1900 mutations that cause alterations in CFTR synthesis.

What this means is there is a genetic alteration in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductor regulator (CFTR gene). CFTR’s job is to regulate how much salt gets across the cell membrane.  When this gene is alerted it can lead to mucus build up in the lungs, as well as digestive system problems. There is a ripple effect when those areas are disrupted.

This causes lower resting ATP concentrations in the muscles which there is a ripple effect when those areas are disrupted. Lower resting ATP leads to decreased exercise intolerance, muscle fatigue, and weakness. So it does change the approach a little bit but has given me a lot of good insight in programming.

We got into the ‘what’ and ‘how’ you do things, can you tell me ‘why’ do you do what you do?

Because I like to help others. I came from parents that were hard working and always gave back when they could. My mom was a special education teacher for over 30 years and my dad was a sports medicine doctor. It was in my blood to help others. I created a passion to speak and coach from many years of going over to my mom’s classroom after school and watching her teach students with special needs.

I would hang out at my dad’s sports medicine clinic and on rare occasions get the opportunity to watch minor surgeries being performed. This sparked my passion for movement and how our whole system operates. All of this grew and developed into my passion to help others strive to reach their goals.

If we help others reach their goals it will start a ripple effect and trigger them to help others reach their goals.

That is a powerful impact and I couldn’t think of a better way for me to help others.

What excites you right now?

Having the opportunity to relax from all the traveling I did this year and enjoy what the bay area has to offer. I decided that I will attend Massage Therapy school in 2017 and it’s a yearlong commitment so my life is about to get a little crazy. I am taking advantage of my off time right now.

What do you hope to bring to the table with massage therapy, and what led you to the decision to do it?

I want to improve my approach to training my clients. I believe having the ability to improve tissue mechanics manually and non-manually improves how I approach my client’s programs.

I have been going back and forth for a couple years about going back because I knew it would be very beneficial in helping my clients with CF improve on their breathing mechanics. It also fits well because I work with a lot of baseball players that can use some manual soft tissue work every once in a while.

Can you tell me about an obstacle that you faced and how did you overcome it?

My parents got divorced when I was young and it was hard for me and brothers to understand what was going on. The best remedy at that time was sports. I played baseball, soccer, and basketball growing up. Sports gave me an outlet to channel my emotions and be a part of a team.

Growing up in a divorced family – teams get diffused and foggy. Everyone loves each other but doesn’t know how to express it because of how unclear things are at that moment. With sports, you knew exactly what the end goal was and how to approach it.

That is why every youth athlete should do multiple sports as they grow up. Yes, we know there are some all-around performance benefits from playing multiple sports but it also develops your ability to solve problems and develop strategies through various rules and regulations. That is a trait that carries over into real life problems and teaches you how to grow up.

I’ve never thought about it that – how powerful team sports can be when growing up. What something in the fitness industry that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

There isn’t anything that I wish I knew when I first started out. I am a firm believer in everything happens for a reason. I am who I am because of the journey I took. I believe we all need to fail in order to succeed.

I believe we must get lost before we can find the way. We take our journey with the hope that we will succeed but come to realize through trial and tribulations that our journey is what makes us succeed.

There is always a solution to every problem but every problem has to be solved first by you showing up.

If I didn’t show up I wouldn’t have met the people, I did or developed my “why” in the training world and that is a big importance on how I train today.

taylor lewis rkc

What’s one book that changed your practice and/or mindset, etc…? 

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

What’s the one thing you took away from it?

“An essentialist produces more, brings forth more by removing more instead of doing more.”

I am working on the power of “No” and trying to manage how I approach taking on jobs as well as filtering through the ones that fit where I am trying to go.

It has been hard because I have been trying to grow a business and reputation in Marin County. You don’t realize the power that “No” has until you watch what it does. The book has helped me to look at things from a different perspective when I put everything on the table.

I’m glad you said “Yes” to this! What are you reading right now?

I just started “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK” by Mark Manson. Literally only a chapter in but so far I like it. Lol!

Can you talk about a breakthrough with a client, and what led up to it?

I actually just had a recent breakthrough with a new CF client. She swims for the USA team in the Transplant games. We incorporated breathing exercises into her strength program. Within a week she texted me telling me she had gone to Orange Theory and she felt that the workout was easier, and she hit a new personal record.

To have a client with Cystic Fibrosis tell you that is extremely powerful and it validates that we are on the right track with our programming for clients with CF.

Can you give me an example or walk us through a breathing exercise you used with your USA Swimming/Transplant client?

In phase 1, which lasted 2 weeks, we worked on getting Zone of Apposition or ZOA with the beginning phases of the 90-90 hip lift with hip shift and left arm reach.

She starts laying supine with her knee bent to 90 and the back of her feet resting on the top of a bench. She anchors her right ribcage down by placing her right hand on the right inferior ribcage. This is to keep her ribcage down while she breathes in through her nose so the ribcage doesn’t flare up and cause secondary muscles to kick it sooner.

Then the most important part exhalation through the mouth blowing as much air out as you can in a controlled manure while tucking the right ribcage down and most importantly back. It can get complicated not because of the actual set up of the whole exercise but what actually happens when you’re doing it.

Gray Cook always talked about you don’t truly own a position until you can breathe in it. Well, when you add focused breathing to a position your body isn’t used to, your body shuts down how much neural feedback is processed in certain areas so it can shift its importance other places and that tends to be towards how your body is regulating breathing.

As she starts her exhalations and ribcage tuck she is reaching for the sky while she keeps her spine glued to the floor. We can go into lots of detail on this PRI exercise I use but simply what it does is help improve her cognitive awareness of what zone (parasympathetic, sympathetic) she is working in as well as improves how to navigate through these zones through reciprocal function.

taylor lewis interview

What are the top 3 questions when meeting a client for the first time, and top 3 questions for someone you’ve been training for a while?

New Client:

  1. How can I help you?
  2. What do you like to do for fun?
  3. Are you ready to conquer your goals?

Experienced Client:

  1. How is everything going?
  2. How is the family?
  3. How was your weekend?


Why do you ask your new clients “what do they like to do for fun”?

It has been the best way to get to know my clients. Knowing what my clients like to do for fun gives me a platform on how I will start to create their program as well as helps build a relationship for the future.

What do you wish people knew about you but probably don’t?

That I do not like when people, parents or coaches give me credit for anything that I am a part of. What I mean by that is when one of my athletes does very well and hits a personal record I am often praised for their accomplishments.

I don’t see it like that at all.

If they put in the work and stick to the process, then it is all them. They deserve all the credit for the hard work and sacrifice they put in. I only guided them through the process. I’d rather be an anonymous party that no one sees but only hears about.

A guide can be very important as well. I’ll give you some credit, “You’re doing some great work!”. Can you share with me your proudest moment?

Watching my mom conquer breast cancer. She is the strongest person I know. She raised 3 boys while having a full-time job as a teacher and going to night school to finish her master’s degree just so we could have a roof over our heads and a hot meal at night.

Then at the end of her teaching career, she fights breast cancer and conquers it. If that is not pure strength, then I do not know what is.

My mom is a badass and I am extremely proud to be called her son.

Thanks for sharing stories about your mom. That is pure strength, and she is a total badass! It amazes me how much some people can just push through and accomplish great things. Switching directions, I wanted to ask you how has your programming changed since last year?

Oh man! It is always evolving. I do spend a lot more time looking at various ways to improve our warm ups. I am a firm believer that a great warm up sets you up for great results. I think we sometimes get away from how important the warm up is and how it can show you a lot when programming strength and endurance.

Oh yes, I wanted to get into your warmups, I’ve been through a few of them. They are great! What does the overall structure of your warm ups look like?

I usually do mini circuits of two-three exercises which would include breathing, exercises on the ground, standing, multi-directional and through various speeds and intensities. I will do anywhere from 3-4 mini circuits that go for about 15-20 minutes.

Warm ups give us this opportunity to work on creating fluid movement. A circuit simple as Active Straight Leg Raise, Birddogs, and Lateral Mini Band Walks has such a power impact on the transfer of energy through our system but I don’t think it is utilized like it could be.

A plus I have with my clients is that they feel good after the warm up so:

  1. That increases their confidence and it will get them to possibly push themselves when lifting and…
  2. There are never any complaints on the warm up being too long because it challenges them and they feel better after. If you can challenge a client but make them feeling good going into their primary sets of exercises, I believe you set them up for optimal success.

That’s a great point for those “I don’t want to warm up” clients. What is some recent continuing education that you really enjoyed?

Dan John talks are always at the top of my list. Perform Better doesn’t ever disappoint and I really like what PRI brings to the table. I think it is very valuable and everyone should take the beginner courses.

Can you tell me the biggest lesson you learned from Dan John, or at least in recent memory?

That there is nothing more powerful than showing up and showing up over and over again. You can never improve your “why” unless you challenge your “why”. Showing up gives you the opportunity to do that. It puts you in a position of like-minded people that come from different backgrounds and beliefs but has the same goal in mind and that is to help others through exercise.

He passed that gem onto to me I believe within the first few months of my mentorship under him.

interview taylor lewis dan john

What’s one thing that you think is really easy, but works well with many of your clients?

Birddogs, I believe there is so much power behind what birddogs have to offer. Whenever you can find an exercise that synchronizes contralateral sides through stability and mobility you really have a gold mine of an exercise.

What are common mistakes you see with bird dogs and do you have any favorite cues for them?

I’m actually going to change my answer to neutral grip pull ups instead of birddogs just because they have had the biggest impact on my training recently but one thing I like to see with birddogs is driving back through their heel then extending the foot as it gets close to end range, not letting it raise above the glutes.

Yes, there is more glute activation when it is higher but once the foot goes past the butt it turns into lumbar extension all day and if you think about it and stand that person up since birddogs does mimic running and walking, when do you ever heel strike behind your butt?

That is what you’re telling your body you want to do when you drive the heel back above the foot but, right now I am messing around with a lot of different variation sequences with the pull-up and I think if done right it brings a lot to the table, especially neutral grip.

Our lats tend to play the role of an inspiratory muscle more than its other functions of drawing the shoulders down and back and controlling adduction and medial rotation of the arm. When the other functions are ignored it leads to shoulder and back compensatory problems leading to weakness.  When I was preparing for the RKC 2 I sucked at pull-ups because I never did them and I was going to have to do it with a 24kg at the certification so I focused part of my training on getting my pull up to speed.

That ranged from pull up holds, pull up hangs, chin-ups, neutral grip pull-ups, and straight dead hang pull ups. I’m a big fan of neutral grip scap pull ups to start. They give you a good base to start the learning process of what you should feel it during the first pull. Then moving to full neutral grip pull ups.

What I have seen is when people are too weak for regular pull ups – whether that is musculature, neurological or both, they can’t do it and even though chin ups are easier, they put a lot of pressure on the arms when not done properly causing elbows to get a lot of it.

Neutral grip sets the upper extremities up to reduce the learning curve on proper vertical pulling mechanics.

Thanks again Taylor, this has been great! Any parting advice for us?

Live in the trenches. The more you live in the trenches the more density your application brings.

How do we get in contact with you?

You can reach me at tlstrength@gmail.com

You can follow or contact me through Facebook at Taylor Lewis Strength Coach as well as follow me on Instagram at tlstrength35.

Resources Mentioned:

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*CK by Mark Manson

Mike Boyle

Dan John

Want more from Taylor?…Yes, you do!

Read this article:

Taylor Lewis: How Training Specialized Athletes Helps Your Everyday Clients

Buy this lecture:

Taylor Lewis Baseball Program – Training The 99% With The 1% Methods

Read more interviews here: http://www.whatsnewcoach.com/interviews/