This weekend I visited Total Performance Sports (TPS) in Everett, Massachusetts. The reason behind my trip—training environment. I was looking for a better place to train, and I was looking for a better place for my readers to train. Does where you train make a difference?
I caught up with TPS founder CJ Murphy (Murph) and participated in training day, a monthly event down in Everett, Massachusetts. Here’s what I came away with…
“It’s f**king awesome.”
That’s how Murph wants his gym to be remembered. I walked through the front door of a small brick building a few miles outside the hustle of Boston. There were five or so tractor tires lining the wall in the gym’s “cardio area.” A guy and a girl were swinging away, delivering blows to a tractor tire on the gym floor with a sledge hammer. Meanwhile, a few sweaty, smiling, exhausted members were making their way down from the upper level after a brutal Saturday morning class. My adrenaline was pumping within seconds of looking around. There was a Prowler and a giant yoke bar stacked in the corner. Straight ahead of me, trophies from numerous Strongman events sat humbly on top of the wooden member cubbies. I was instructed to come at noon. I guess I couldn’t sit around the apartment any longer, and I showed up an hour early.
I introduced myself to the girl at the front desk, and she handed me a waiver and a set of rules for the gym. I was nervous but mostly excited. Murph was busy with a client, so I took a seat and started filling out my waiver and reading through the rules. There wasn’t anything in there about not dropping weights or not using chalk. Heck, these rules weren’t anything like the ones I had been reminded of all too often in a typical gym.
Rule four: When you’re here, work out.
The gym isn’t a playground. I hadn’t walked past the entrance and I could already feel the energy around me. I sat there anxious and decided to mix up my pre-workout shake. Murph came out for a minute and introduced himself, reminding me that I was there 45 minutes early. The girl at the front desk asked if I wanted a quick tour. Of course, I did. Anything to get me moving. She showed me around the entrance area. I already had it memorized in my head. Moving on—the weight room.
We walked through a door in the back. The music picked up, and my heart rate elevated. I was on the floor. Power racks, kettlebells, bands, chains, a glute ham raise, a monolift, and chalk on all the bars. A trainer was running a guy through some circuit work, helping him cut weight. Another guy was busy snatching kettlebells.
The walls were covered in banners for powerlifting gear, and a few photos were hung from various meets. There was a leader board hanging ominously in front of the monolift. We walked up a short flight of stairs. I was immediately greeted by a full boxing ring. Speed bags were hanging in the corner. The room to the left was completely matted and ready to entertain a variety of martial arts. The feeling was rustic and raw. The walls were made of wooden planks and had various sources of motivation hanging on them.
We traced our way back to the entrance. I still had twenty minutes to kill. I eyed a bunch of foam rollers and got warmed up. I was deep into my IT band when I heard a deep voice yell, “Brother!” I was summoned into the office. Murph cleared off a seat and I sat down. He quickly wrapped up telling one of his trainers her body fat percentage, alluding to the fact that she can probably squat more than me. This was later confirmed. Then Murph and I talked briefly about TPS and training.
12:00 p.m.—training day begins.
“It is and it isn’t.” That was Murph’s take on whether or not training environment is everything. There were eight of us surrounding the monolift. We were squatting and it was an open forum. If you wanted a weight, step up. In my head, I was reminded of our conversation that had taken place only a half hour earlier. Murph made references to great lifters such as Matt Kroc, who lifts in his basement. He told me that he has seen plenty of strong guys come from commercial gyms. The environment is what you make it, but good training partners and a good gym can bring even the most focused lifter to the next level.
It was my choice whether or not I would call out a big weight and step up. Either way, I knew I was surrounded by some of the best and they had my back. Murph finished a big set, his training partners on either side of him watching the bar carefully as he powered through a rep. He came over to me and remarked at how he didn’t have to tell them a thing—they knew what to do. That was the difference of lifting with your crew, of having a crew. It all came to fruition.
The day continued, lifters helping lifters. The most experienced to the least experienced were all standing on the same ground—powerlifters, fathers, athletes, an E-5 in the US Coast Guard. Murph said the two lessons that translate are work ethic and big exercises. It was 1:30 p.m. and we had moved from the monolift to the deadlift platform. No one’s shirt was dry, and we were getting by on bread and butter—squats and pulls.
“To be the best, you have to train with the best.”
It was now 2:30 p.m. and we had been learning and working for two hours. I was spent. Murph made an exit, thanked us for coming out, and headed to his office to change before a consultation. There were four of us left on the floor. I had missed pulling 405 lbs off the floor twice. Murph had told me that I gave up on the first attempt and that I had had it. I set the weight up again. One of Murph’s lifting partners gave us a short rundown on narrowing our grip and stance. The two other guys told me that I had this weight. I would have hung it up after the first attempt back in my gym, but I walked over to the bar. I set up narrow. I pulled air into my stomach, got into position, and pulled. The weight stuck four inches off the ground. I wasn’t giving up. I kept pulling, slowly inching it past my knees. I got past my knees and locked it out.
Is where you’re lifting a contributing factor? I dropped the bar on the ground and received a pat on the back. You can’t argue with results. I shook the hands of the few guys left, mixed up a shake, and headed home. I grabbed a flyer detailing membership dues on my way out.