Biographies of Training Gurus

I like to think of myself as a well-read person. The works of Mann, Balzac and Dostoyesky hold few undiscovered works for me, and I have sampled deeply of the joys of popular fiction, science fiction and fantasy also. But a delightful new genre has opened up recently: The Biographies Of Strength Trainers. I humbly undertake to institute, judge and award a new Booker prize for literary excellence in this area.

We begin, by examining that Russian-influenced duo, Scott Sonnon and Pavel T. In some ways, they are an interesting contrast, reading their biographies side by side.

Sonnon floods us with details of his training and achievements within organizations whose size - and indeed existence - we can only guess at. Even those of us who have previously boggled at the various kick-boxing alphabet soup of organizations might well be impressed by Sonnon's biography.

A sample of his hopefully inimitable style:

"In 1998, I interfaced with Boris Shapovalov, Distinguished Master of Sport in Sambo..."

It is difficult to judge the literary style of Mr Sonnon. Are we to judge him as an imitator of the stilted, verbose "Soviet Pseudo-Scientific" style? Or is he to be evaluated as a native speaker of English? Perhaps "interfaced" is a euphemism? On these matters, my intuitions are silent.

By contrast, Pavel's past is tersely described. As if not wishing to strain his readers with excess detail, he kindly saves us the fatigue of reading when and where he he trained the Spetsnatz, which units he trained, and what his role was. His statements on the Afghanistan war suggest an intimate involvement with the events of the time; his candid assessments of the Stinger missile ("You guys shouldn't have sold the Stingers to them. The success rate of that weapon is exceptional") are sought after by the US media.

This graceful prose soars over timesome details. Lesser souls might feel some obligation to waste time on description and details. It is easy to imagine some hack writer boring us with details like Pavel's age at the time of the Afghan war, the tale of his remarkable rise to the status of PT instructor to the Spetsnatz, the year of his arrival in the US, the date and/or content of his Master's degree or tiresome descriptions of the educational institutions that he attended.

A technique often employed to heighten interest and tension in literature and music is to repeat certain lines with small changes in the details. This technique is employed masterfully by Pavel's biographers: in association with the special forces, sometimes he is a trainer, sometimes a drill instructor and at other times a sergeant. At times his association with the Marines is brief and unofficial; at other times it is long-lasting and institutional.

However, the most courageous of the trainer bios is that possessed by Coach John Davies. Coach Davies dispenses with modernism entirely, with an astonishingly direct rejection of the outdated concept of "information". Witness this biography, entire:

"The Renegade, Coach Davies' past is merely that, something in history. Consider the Renegade as faceless and nameless. He has lurked in the shadows to develop his athletes in anonymity. He has climbed many mountain-tops but still has much more to go."

For sheer audaciousness - not to mention impressively mixed metaphors (climbing many mountain-tops while lurking in the shadows?) - I must award the Booker Prize for Literary Excellence in Trainer Biographies to Coach Davies.

This is a post-modern tilt to the award that will no doubt inspire much controversy, and I suspect that many persons of limited objectivity will no doubt launch many inane personal attacks upon this tireless literary judge. Such are the crosses that a good literary critic must bear; such people are invited to pleasurably if ignorantly disgrace themselves (like an imbecile who has filled his trousers) in the space provided below.

LOL. Geoff, like his CMU predecessor John Nash, is losing it...this is getting good.

*hits refresh waiting for the storm*

"Debunking gone Wild"

Those of us who are very bored will note the ping pong of posts between this and the forum.

I have to say I own Grappler's Toolbox and IOUF and think they're well worth the money....On the other hand, I usually agree with Geoff's assements on various S&C issues; at the very least his posts always get a laugh out of me.

LOL @ Geoff.

If nothing else you have to give everyone props on their creativity. But the fact remains you have to judge these folks on the soundness of their information and views. If a strength coach pops up with solid info and a fresh look at things then I don't care if he claims to be from the lost continent of Atlantis. Crazy biographical claims for marketing purposes have always been and will always be. The key is to evaluate the information people provide and base your decision on that, not their credentials.

Brian Jones

"climbing many mountain-tops while lurking in the shadows"

So, are we to assume that Coach Davies is actually Gollum from Lord of the Rings?
How did he survive Mt Doom?

heh heh


Dang it I'm saving this in case it gets deleted.

lol! Nice post, Geoff. I think each person may have something to offer, but I too am amused at their diety status and faithful following of worshippers.

I am personally both amazed and stunned that anyone would take so much time and put so much thought into such an assessment of trainer biographies. A noble, yet strangely disturbing, acomplishment!

Now then... "The key is to evaluate the information people provide and base your decision on that, not their credentials." This is an interesting suggestion. Don't base judgement of a trainer's advice on their credentials? There has got to be a limit to this piece of wisdom. Additionally, scaling mountains whilst lurking in shadows does not really qualify a person to dictate a training regimen. Then again, neither does "interfacing" with Boris Shapovalov (whatever that is supposed to mean). It is all very strange to me. Hmm...

Please continue the commentary - this stuff is fascinating!

Mule, I'm not deleting it, but I can't speak for the others. Geoff gets a little leeway because he's been a net positive here despite (or because of?) his controversial nature.

While there are literally thousands of personal
trainers with verifiable credentials, it is not the
"paper" which makes a successful trainer. In one

The above-mentioned trainers have used various
"gimmick" and "buzz-word" approaches to gather
attention and rally customers to join into their
programs. Overall, I feel that many trainers would
be very successful if they could convince their
clients to work as hard as these guys are able to
do. They have used their personal charisma to
get extra levels of performance and commitment
from their customers. Also, their customers are
made to feel that they are part of an elite "cadre" of
hard-core athletes.

All that "hype" is actually sound motivational

Geoff gives out a lot of sensible and well-thought
out information, and he isn't a "PhD multi-degree"
celebrity trainer. What you do with common sense
and enthusiasm is just as important as your



I am a firm believer of Coach Davies' programs. I am in week 22 of his first 26 week phase. His MMA program has actually turned me into a much better athlete and has given me (imo) functional speed and power.

Before, I just used to follow a basic routine of 2-3x a week lifting of a couple of major compound movements. I kept adding weight to the bar, and it really didn't do much for my game.

Also, for what his program has done for me, I definitely believe they are worth more than the price. I started off with the first one just to see how it would be and I was blown away. I also really don't feel brainwashed. I tried it and I found that I loved it. Coach Davies is also always willing to help and provide advice with whatever it may be. He also has a bunch of free information all throughout the internet and has a bunch of free programs on t-mag. You can try them out and if it's not your cup of tea, that's fine as well. Just my 2 cents.

Well Buddhadev I just didn't know for sure so I saved it.

To tell the truth I haven't visited with you as much as I have with other mods on this forum so I can't say what you will or will not do.

Geoff is a pimp in my eyes.

He seems to love bringing truth and controversy to the front of all arguements and to tell the truth I used to hate to see him show up on one of my threads but now I love to see him because he will tell me what he thinks and not what I want to hear.

This is yet another reason why this is one of the best forums on MMA.TV.

Are you angling to start a Bulwer-Lytton contest for Strength & Conditioning Coaches?

Trainjump: Possibly. It is difficult to see how such a contest would be judged - most overheated metaphors, most exaggerated claims, most colorful terminology. Worthy folks like Fred Hatfield could take many of the categories - despite the fact that Fred could never succeed in the biography competition (his bio is way too dull; crammed full of verified world records, academic publications, formal qualifications and the training of athletes who are willing to be named).

All (seriously for a moment): it is a mistake to assume that because I send up some of their pretensions, I believe that everything these people teach is utterly bogus. My actual point is rather more nuanced.

It is that these coaches - and many others in the cluster of testimonials, links and contributed articles that they inhabit - have run vastly ahead of their evidence and vastly ahead of their qualifications in purporting to teach methods that will transfer to sport-specific training. Much of what they say is contradicted by the vast bulk of the sport science that they choose to either ignore or obfuscate.

They wrap themselves in the language of science while ignoring its most basic principles of experimentation. They always have big answers - "why yes, kettlebells will make you better at MMA than conventional weight training". They are chiefly distinguished by their complete failure to offer up the three words that any person with any genuine curiosity and integrity would be forced to say, for nearly all of the questions that concern S&C and its transfer to MMA:

"I don't know."

It's not clear to me whether they are so enmeshed in their rich stew of anecdotal successes (usually among the perenial beginners that form the background to 90% of online forums), mutual self-congratulation and sloppy thinking that they actually believe that they know these things, or whether the whole thing is a cynical exercise designed to make money. Of the three mentioned in this thread, only Pavel strikes me as having crossed the line entirely to the latter category.

Matt Furey is also in the latter category, but I don't really deal with in this thread, because he's already so marginalized here... if I were to do a literary analysis of Furey I would have to group him with Nietzsche's doctrine of the Eternal Return or Bill Murray's character in Groundhog day, forever reliving the brief days of wrestling glory and his Chinese tripping contest, trapped and furious in his little column in Grappling Magazine. If only he could compete in a submission grappling tournament and break out of the terrible time loop he has created for himself!

"It is that these coaches - and many others in the cluster of testimonials, links and contributed articles that they inhabit - have run vastly ahead of their evidence and vastly ahead of their qualifications in purporting to teach methods that will transfer to sport-specific training. Much of what they say is contradicted by the vast bulk of the sport science that they choose to either ignore or obfuscate."

This is the nature of "in the field" sport science. Coaches always run one step ahead of published scientific evidence because they can't afford to wait until someone publishes a study on a particular training method. I mean really, when you take a hard look at the literature, almost nothing that is taken for gospel in the strength and conditioning world has been validated experimentally. The Westside Barbell Club routinely use methods and devices that most researchers in resistance training have never even heard of and they produce some of the finest powerlifters in the world. The point is, coaches are motivated by a desire to be right or a quest to prove. Scientists are motivated by a desire to avoid being wrong or to disprove. Thus coaches will often have been using a sound training methodology years before anyone takes the time to do a study on it. Granted, coaches will make lots of mistakes along the way but one just has to look at the available empirical evidence when making a decision.

Brian Jones

Mr. Langdale is absolutely correct. How could he be otherwise?

Coach Sonnon, despite the fact that his material has helped many and motivated many more, despite the fact that he holds numerous legitimate accomplishments in the fitness and martial arts industries, and despite the fact that he is probably the nicest person you could ever hope to meet in person or speak with on the phone, obviously has a sinister agenda.

In a world where we, the consumers, constantly question the credentials and backgrounds of those who would teach us, I can't imagine why Sonnon would feel it necessary to tell us why he is qualified to do so. In a world rife with hucksters and charlatans, I cannot imagine why Coach Sonnon would feel it necessary to establish for us the reasons why we should find his advice on the topics of fitness and the martial arts compelling.

One can only imagine the viciousness with which Mr. Sonnon set about educating himself in physiology and related topics, the better to ignore these subjects in manufacturing from whole cloth a collection of materials that violate these principles. The evidence is there for all the world to see: misshapen, disfigured human beings, clubbells projecting at odd angles from their body cavities, their shrunken muscles testimony to Sonnon's ignorance of "science."

Sonnon certainly is incredibly secretive about his materials, too. He is so secretive, in fact, that he keeps sending them to me insisting that I review them. I try to tell him, "Scott, you simply cannot keep cloaking yourself in mystery and unearned praise this way." He will not have it. Laughing maniacally, he calls my mobile phone and says to me, "Phil, damn your soul, you WILL assist me in concealing my work by writing detailed reviews of my tapes and posting them publicly."

So evil is Sonnon, in fact, that when he is not draining the blood of newborn infants in order to manufacture unscientific health "shakes," he is insisting that I never conceal anything about his material that I find lacking. So wrapped in ego is he that each time I work on a new review for him, he warns me not to gloss over anything negative. "Be honest," he tells me many times, "or I cannot work with you." One can only imagine that the triple 6 burned into the back of his skull glows each time he so orders me.

Mr. Langdale need never have watched, read, listened to, or otherwise placed under his pillow and slept on any of Coach Sonnon's books, tapes, or audio cassettes to offer an ironclad, informed, objective opinion of Coach Sonnon's work. After all, who are we to insist that those criticizing something have direct knowledge of it? I know when I do a review of a new piece of equipment or an instructional tape, the first thing I do is insist to the manufacturer, "No, don't send me the item. That might bias my opinion of it. I will base my opinions on what I've seen on the Internet, on your marketing copy, and on the psychic powers I have nurtured since I was abducted and repeatedly probed by space aliens one hazy summer evening in Arkansas. Knowledge of the product will only disrupt the process whereby I offer my incredibly useful opinion to the unwashed masses."

(continued immediately below)

Everyone knows, after all, that a commercial for a product tells you in great detail everything you need to know about that product. Advertisers long ago realized that simply telling consumers, "Buy this because it is great" is not the way to go about marketing. Why anyone continues to market in this fashion remains a mystery to those like Mr. Langdale and myself who see through these transparent ploys.

The more cynical among you might stop to tell us that those threatened or intimidated by the accomplishments of others might stoop to such depths of petulant peevishness as to complain when those accomplishments are recited. Shame on you! How dare you question the good intentions of someone so obviously fair, objective, and rational as to offer opinions of material he has never seen and has no intention of seeing? Only someone dedicated to such impartiality can be counted on to tell us what he thinks regardless of outside pressure, regardless of politics, and -- most importantly -- regardless of facts.

Now, Mr. Langdale may misinterpret my post as criticism of him. I know, given the courage and reason he has demonstrated so far, that he would not do the obvious thing -- the thing any garden-variety Internet troll would do -- by attacking me for daring to write this. We are, after all, kindred souls who understand the Truth and are not afraid to tell you about it. If you cannot trust both of us to tell you truth, what sort of world is it in which we live? Why, it would be a world where those insulated by distance and cathode ray tubes are free to attack anyone for any reason, pursuing their own agendas masked in a cloak of righteous indignation. Shame on us for thinking such things.

(Now, the shameless plug portion of the evening: Reviews of Coach Sonnon's work can be found at in the "reviews" section. Feel free to e-mail me with specific requests.)

I give Mr. Langdale a great deal of credit for his courage, for he knows -- and I am sure he will tell us -- that even now he types knowing that Scott and Pavel are lurking in his shrubbery, waiting to toilet paper his house and egg his car for daring to defy them. They are dispatching e-mails to their faithful blind worshippers even now, demanding that Mr. Langdale be publicly excoriated for the temerity with which he speaks out against these two Overlords of the Russian-influence Fitness World.

It makes no difference that I, well-known to be a shill for Coach Sonnon, made a rich man by the invoices I send to Coach Sonnon for each positive post I make about him (you, too, can have me as your shill -- I charge twenty dollars per word with a fifty dollar fee for extreme sarcasm), do not get these e-mails -- for I KNOW THEY SEND THEM. I know Coach Sonnon kicks puppies. I KNOW Pavel worships the same Dark Lord beneath whose altar I sacrifice the homeless. I KNOW Scott kills nurses and buries them in shallow graves dotting the loneliest expanses of the Midwest.

I KNOW this because of what I've READ ON THE INTERNET.

What could be more definitive?

- Phil Elmore

Lol, I don't think anyone has said Scott Sonnon is evil. It's more a matter of his excessive claims and inflated prices.