Dinny Stapleton- It’s a long way from Tipperary to DeFranco’s.

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It’s a long way from Tipperary to DeFranco’s.

By

Dinny Stapleton.

Backround.

Before I start telling you all about my time in New Jersey I will just tell you a bit about myself. I don’t have a qualification in S&C nor do I work in the area. I am a 26 year old Medical Rep from Tipperary with a huge interest in the area. So the question that springs to mind then is, “Well, why are you going to New Jersey to meet one of the World’s best S&C coaches?” I went over to Jersey to meet Joe D because it has been an ambition of mine since I first watched Joe’s YouTube video montage 2 years ago.

It literally had the hairs standing on the back of my neck! I was just after coming off the back of a difficult season with my club, I had a lot of doubts about my game, my physical shape and basically what the hell was  I doing. I had a poor season personally and needed to find a new edge, something different to focus on for the long winter months ahead and in Joe D I found what I was looking for. I quickly clicked on to more and more YouTube clips of guys jumping almost through the roof, lifting weights with “purpose and bad intentions” and then I stumbled across a video that had the most profound effect on me. It was of Joe D saying that all his athletes have one thing in common; they want “to be the very best they can be.” It doesn’t matter if they are the best athlete in the world or just an average Joe from Tipperary. From that moment on I said to myself “I’m going to train with Joe D!” But first I needed to learn for myself what’s involved. I proceeded to buy some of Joe’s DVD’s, Power, Extreme, HardCore and his original Strength DVD. I meticulously scowered through the DVD’s trying to learn as much as I could about weights, reps, set’s and 1RM’s, the whole deal and of  course what it really means to be a G.A.M.E.R. What really stuck out for me was Joe’s guys were all athletes, sure they could squat and bench big weights but they could move, they were agile, mobile and powerful. From a G.A.A perspective I thought they had it all.

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What I quickly learned from Joe’s articles and blogs was that if you want to get the best out of yourself then you can’t make excuses, you have to make sacrifices and above all else you have to go out and get what you want and not expect someone to hand it to you. So two years after I first watched Joe’s montage I sat down and began to plan my way to New Jersey, I emailed Joe’s business partner Jim Smith and enquired about the CPPS (Certified Physical Preparation Course} the guys run. I basically wanted to know if I could do the course even though I didn’t have a qualification, it also killed two birds with one stone, I could workout with Joe D, learn from him and also learn from Smitty too. I have to thank Jim because he made it possible for me to pay for the course in instalments assured me that it would be ok to stay on for a few extra days to train at Joe’s place, next all I had to do was ask the main man himself! I emailed Joe, explained I was a huge fan and that I was travelling over from Ireland to do his CPPS course, I asked would it be ok to stay a few days extra and train with him. About two weeks later Joe emailed me back, told me that was no problem, I could train with some of his NFL guys. Could you ask for better? I was over the moon to be honest. Two weeks before my trip I had just finished one of my best hurling seasons to date, I had won a Munster and All Ireland Intermediate Medal with Tipperary and I felt I owed some of my success to Joe as I have religiously followed his training programmes for two years. In those two years I have reduced my body fat by 11%, increased my box jump by 12 inchs, and increased speed, power and overall strength. As a result my own game had improved. My thanks to Joe? I gave him my All Ireland Jersey to hopefully put on his wall. Well, I can’t take it back now anyway because once Joe put it on he stretched it out to such an extent that it would look like a bag on me. J

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The Man Himself.

That’s enough about me and my background, it’s time to talk about the man himself, the man with the perfect eyebrows. To answer the question on everyone’s lips, Yes those are his real eyebrows and no he does not get them groomed in any way. J What you see with Joe D is what you get.

A 7 hour plane ride, 5 trains and two buses later I arrived at my hotel in Fairlawn New Jersey on a Thursday night. I immediately tweeted Joe and asked could I drop by the day after to see his place. After all I wanted to make the most of my trip. Of course he said no problem. I dropped by the following day and to be honest was almost too nervous to walk in the door. As soon as I walked in to the gym I knew the trip was worth it. The gym is exactly what you see in the virtual tour on YouTube only better.

I was greeted by Mike Guadango, he’s basically Joe’s right hand man and has worked in the gym since his sophomore year. Next guy I meet was Cameron Josse, the newest addition to Joe’s staff. The two guys are very nice, humble, and down to earth, they were interested in knowing who I was, where I was coming from and above all, why I was here. Next two guys I had the pleasure of meeting were Kareem Huggins and Keith Williams. They are two stalwarts of the gym and the cover boys of Joe and Jims speed DVD. These guys are phenomenal athletes! (Just google them or check out Joes YouTube channel to see for yourself.) Both guys were going through some mobility work before their main workout when the man himself walked in.  Joe DeFranco. He was at his desk chatting to a few guys when I came over to him, He put out his hand straight away and said “Hey there, you must be Dinny, welcome to DeFrancos bro!” I stayed with Joe for an hour chatted with him watched Kareem and Keith go through a gruelling Energy training session and then showed Joe and the rest of the crew a few clips of the game I play, hurling.

“That game looks absolutely crazy!” That was the general consensus of the Joe and his NFL guys when they watched clip after clip of Tipperary and Kilkenny doing battle in 09, 10 and 11. What they really couldn’t believe was that hurling was an amateur game and that these guys didn’t get paid to play. That’s where I felt Joe had respect for why I was there. No one paid for my trip, no one made me go to do a course or was forcing me to train. It was all off my own back with a view to “trying to be the very best I could be.”

Dinny & Joe D. Hurling

I left the gym on a complete buzz, I hadn’t trained or even lifted a weight but I felt like I was on top of the world after meeting Joe and his crew. The next two days were spent doing the CPPS course. I have to say the course itself is excellent. As previously mentioned I have no qualification in S&C so I was nervous I might not know what these guys were talking about. Jim Smith put me completely at ease in his opening address to the class. As Einstein once said “If you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough.” The course itself is brilliant. I got an awful lot from it and would highly recommend it to anyone who’s interested. You get two days of full quality interaction with two of the best S&C coaches in the world. Its hands on, practical and you learn from doing, you’re not sitting there taking loads of notes, you actually have to get up coach the rest of the class.

The course finished on the Sunday evening and the next two days were what I was really looking forward to. I’d get to fulfil my goal, and train with Joe D. I turned up on Monday morning ready for action, I got to train with Kareem Huggins he had just recently finished a training camp with the New York Jets. Kareem is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, completely down to earth. No ego, just an extreme work ethic. We chatted for a while and I learnt that Kareem was just back from completely blowing out his knee. It has been 1,076 days since he saw NFL action. In a recent article on the Jets website Kareem says

“He never got down and never thought about quitting. He credits his mother with giving him a positive attitude and encouraging him to continue his dream and stay solid in his faith. DeFranco marvels at his work ethic and integrity and now Huggins hopes the Jets will see the same thing. In his words, he says, “I hope they will see that I’m relentless and hardworking and will never quit on them. I didn’t quit before, and I won’t quit now.”

Kareem turns up every day to train with Joe and works his ass off to try and get back to the top, to me he’s a great example to any aspiring athletes out there. The easy option for him would be to give up and be happy with his lot, but no, he wants to push on and become a great NFL player once again. It’s only a matter of time before he gets signed.

Kareem 51_ hurdle

Kareem and I were both put through a fairly rigours upper body workout by Joe. I got the chance between sets to pick Joe’s brain a bit about what types of training a G.A.A player should be doing. His words to me were fairly simple “Man you’re too skinny for starters! Eat more and lift more!” He then went on to tell me that from what he has seen on YouTube that G.A.A players needed a mix of strength, speed, power and endurance, he said his NFL guys don’t need as much endurance as the average play in a NFL game last between 3 and 5 seconds, so his guys need their power and strength outputs to last for that amount of time, whereas G.A.A players need it to last a lot longer. He told me to do more upper back work as he said I was a bit “rounded forward” he also said the two best tools he has in his gym are his sleds and prowlers and to incorporate more prowler pushes and drags into my workouts. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t telling me to become a massive muscle bound beast, what he was trying to tell me was that I needed to a bit bigger than what I currently am. Joe is a big advocate of functional training, training that helps you get better at your sport, rather than just lifting weights for the sake of it. There should be a purpose to why you train and why you do certain lifts.

One thing really stuck out about Joe. As I struggled with the bench press, I expected him to help me a bit and spot me, he said “Come on, push that bar, no one will give you anything you gotta make it happen.” Then he told me that was enough, even though I had two reps left. Joe said that once the quality goes out of the lift, stop. Quality is key to his programmes. “Keep the quality even if you only get one or two reps, quality in your training will always outweighs poor form.” To be fair I think he has a point, too many young athletes out there are more obsessed with hitting big numbers in the weight room rather than honing their form and mastering the proper technique. This can lead to mobility and injury problems further down the road.

Joe spotting kareem

Joe spotting kareem

Upper body work out done and I actually left the gym with a small vein bulging out of my right bicep, I felt like I could have played for a NFL team afterwards. The following day was lower body day, or to be exact “Dynamic Lower Body Day” where the focus was all about speed and power. It was one of the best workouts I’ve done, loads of Jump variations, some box squats and to finish off….the Dreaded prowler! Once again it was a very challenging workout, one which I got a lot out of. Again like upper body day, quality is key. Once the quality drops, stop. This was my last day with Joe and his crew and I took the opportunity to give him my Tipp jersey and thank him for everything.

Overhead shot of gym in Action

I couldn’t say enough about Joe, he is a seriously nice guy, who see’s everyone as the same. Once you want to work hard and improve then you have his time and respect. It is no accident that he is one of the best in business, as Joe said “If you want to be the best, you’ve got to put in the hours!” The previous night he drove 3 hours up to Connecticut to train Paul Levesque and his wife Stephaine. You might know them as Triple H and Stephanie McMahon from the WWE.  Joe only got back to his house at 4am. He makes that journey up to 3 times a week.

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Above all else, Joe is down to earth and extremely humble, he treated me like one of his athletes from the minute I walked into his gym right up until I left. He gave me time, encouragement and above all else respect. He has the traits that one would associate with all great people. Hardworking, honest, humble, loyal and a man of his word. At the end of January I hope to meet up with the great man again as I head State side for the Super Bowl weekend, when I told him I was coming over he immediately said “shoot me a mail when your here and we’ll try meet up.” Joe D doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk.

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