Bowflex Six-Pack Interviews: Joe Kessler
Major League Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Cleveland Indians
Joe Kessler is a Major League Strength & Conditioning Coach for the Cleveland Indians. We caught up with Joe to ask a sizzlin’ six-pack of fitness questions. Did we get rock-solid answers? Absolutely! Check it out below:
- Joe, you’ve spent nearly 15 years working in the field of strength and conditioning, with nearly 10 of those years helping countless athletes reach their full individual potential on the baseball diamond. When it comes to your own fitness, what is your personal favorite form of exercise, as well as your least favorite?
Joe: I really love to lift weights more than just about anything. When I first started lifting weights, as a kid, I saw huge changes in my physical development and overall strength. I would say that’s when I fell in love with lifting and I haven’t stopped since. As I get older, I have to find some alternatives to accommodate my travel schedule (and my inability to recover like I did in my twenties), but I still come back to what is comforting to me and that’s hitting it in the weight room. I would have to say my least favorite exercise is running for longer durations.
- What drove you into the field of training professional athletes? What would you say is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Joe: I started out in the weight room at Illinois State University, where I got my first taste of training athletes at a high level. I knew right away that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. After graduation, I sent my resume to every professional football team in the league. I received call backs and interviews from several teams, and eventually ended up taking a position with the Chicago Bears. As a kid from Illinois, it was a dream come true. From the get-go, I was able to work one-on-one with players who were at the pinnacle of their sport, and I really enjoyed working in that atmosphere; from that point on, I knew that was the caliber of athlete that I wanted to work with.
The most rewarding aspect of my job is providing support for our athletes and watching them succeed. As strength and conditioning coach it’s not always about lifting and increasing loads. It’s also about establishing routines, creating consistency, and assisting in recovery methods. When I can help an athlete in those areas, and they incorporate into their daily readiness, is when I feel most rewarded.
- What are the biggest challenges that come with training an organization of athletes?
Joe: One challenge I face with our athletes is balancing their fundamental skill work with their training. Our focus is ultimately on them becoming better baseball players and what they do in the weight room must support their on-field efforts. Sometimes this means placing an emphasis on rest and recovery, over pushing through workouts. Another challenge we face is keeping guys motivated throughout the course of a very long season. Baseball is a marathon, not a sprint, and it’s filled with a lot of ups and downs. We work hard to establish routines and create consistency for our players, allowing them to focus on the process, instead of the end goal. By shifting that mindset, our guys are better prepared to power through tough times.
- On a personal level, what are the biggest challenges that you face with your own training?
Joe: Time, without a doubt. Baseball operates on a crazy schedule and there is always work to be done to get our guys ready to play. In addition to the job, I have a family with small children, and my wife and I work really hard to make sure we take every opportunity we can to maximize our time together as a family. With everything going on, finding time for my own fitness is a balancing act that requires planning. I try to move every day, utilizing HIIT and circuits when I am crunched for time, and incorporating longer lifting sessions when I get the chance.
- We’ve read up on your strength and conditioning philosophy and understand that you place tremendous value in minimizing the risk of injury by focusing on movement quality and consistency. Warming up the body is something that many of us – not just athletes – take for granted. Could you speak to the importance of both movement quality and consistency in relation to kick-starting a fitness journey?
Joe: This is something I have always struggled with in my own training, too! As I get older, I’m really starting to see that a warm-up and cool-down are necessary if I want to continue pushing myself and not let the nagging aches and pains get the best of me. I always tell the guys, “do as I say, not as I do” because an old man like me doesn’t have to go out and perform in front of a city of fans!
The quality of movement is really important if you wish to maintain a consistent, productive workout regimen, but consistency really is key, particularly when you’re trying to jumpstart a fitness program. Making the commitment to being active daily, in a mindful way, can do amazing things for the body, both mentally and physically.
- If you had to give an elevator speech to a person who was struggling with their own fitness, what would you tell them and why?
Joe: Set a level of expectations that align with your goals and be realistic. Everyone slips and everyone struggles with nutrition, consistency, and motivation. The goal is to be as consistent as possible and to get back on track when you slip. Allow yourself some wiggle room and don’t be too hard on yourself, but really commit to pushing yourself through those periods where your program starts to become challenging. Make adjustments, as necessary, to continue moving forward and you will be amazed at the progress you begin to see.