A Visit to Defranco’s

TAGS: defranco, football

Like everyone else who peruses Elitefts.com on a daily – hell, let’s call it hourly – basis, I’ve turned into something of a fan of the site’s incredibly eclectic cast of characters: guys just like me, only significantly stronger, who’ve dedicated their lives to hoisting more iron than anyone else in the gym. Or, in their case, the world. I’ve often turned to Jim Wendler for advice on life, music and tattoos, I’ve repeatedly wondered who the fuck Bob Haddad is and why Coach X wants to beat him senseless, and I’ve been exponentially more concerned with following Dave Tate’s “Reactivation” saga than I’ve been about salvaging the several bizarre relationships I’ve blown off over the past year.

I mean, let’s face it. After a few years of reading this stuff, I’m pissed at Bob Haddad myself, and I’ve often thought about heading out to Carmel, Indiana and saving Coach X the trouble. Seriously, who here hasn’t?

Of all the EFS-related people with whom I’ve become acquainted over the years, however, I’d have to say the guy I’ve most wanted to meet is Joe DeFranco. I’m a football player at heart. I played at a fairly high level in high school and in college, and I currently coach at a local high school, so when I found out that the country’s best football training/combine prep facility was less than forty-five minutes from my doorstep, I knew I’d eventually have to contact this guy.

I had no idea how I’d go about doing this, though. I had nothing to offer guys like these, aside from a $150 credit card charge for their seminars so they’d be cursed with the distinct pleasure of standing there for two days and suffering through all the stupid questions I’d have about my training, and the training of the kids I coach. Sadly enough, I’ve never even managed to do that, so my only connection with anyone from EFS, or with Joe DeFranco, has been in the form of the thousands of ideas I’ve lifted from their respective websites for the past several years.

“So,” you’re asking yourself, “what this asshole’s point? And who the fuck gave him an article on EFS in the first place?”

Well, see, what I am is a meathead who’s been mostly unsuccessful at life. And what unsuccessful meatheads often end up doing is bouncing in bars and nightclubs. The difference between me and other meathead bouncers is that I had the good sense to write about all the stupid shit that happens to me at work. I started a blog, and I’ve written about everything for almost three years. Back in 2005, the blog became really popular, as blogs go, and I got a HarperCollins book deal out of the thing. In other words, they’re paying me to write a book about drunks and Guidos and coke whores and the rest of the miscreants who frequent clubs. Anyone can win the damned lottery, folks.

And what I have, as a result, is a popular website and a little bit of cachet on the internet. And what I chose to do one night, when writing about a conversation I had with some jerkoff who was trying to sell me some worthless chain gym membership, was to give some credit – in the form of a random link – to Dave and Joe for all the help they’ve given me over the years. Dave didn’t know it until I started emailing back and forth with him – he wanted to know, as did Joe, what caused all the additional hits on his site, so he traced it back to me – but I’ve been an EFS customer, and frequent emailer/commenter, for years.

So what I did, as soon as Joe emailed me, was what any of you guys would do if you had the same opportunity: I hooked up a visit to DeFranco’s Training in Wyckoff, New Jersey to see the place, and meet the man, for myself. I eventually spoke to Joe on the phone, and we agreed to an 11 AM arrival time so I’d be able to watch him train David Diehl -- the starting left guard of the New York Giants -- and San Diego Padres third baseman Corey Smith.

Now, if you ever get the opportunity to visit Joe’s place, make sure you take his advice and follow the directions provided on his website. I’m telling you this because of the nondescript nature of the industrial complex in which the gym is located. Situated between a bedding warehouse and who-knows-what-else, your only clue that you’re anywhere close to one of the nation’s premier athletic training facilities will be the familiar – yet difficult to see unless you’re looking for it – DeFranco’s Training logo on the front door. There won’t be any giant billboards or neon signs to draw your attention here. You don’t wander into DeFranco’s from off the street looking for a membership and a locker.

I edged my way past Joe’s “all pimped out” new Tahoe, said hello to Dave Diehl on his way out – he was “just getting stretched,” according to Joe, and wouldn’t be training anymore that day – and opened the front door, which leads you directly into Joe’s office. There’s no receptionist, no pencil-necked prick waiting to “give you a tour,” and no juice bar. It’s just Joe and his assistant John, drinking coffee and waiting for the next guy to train.

I won’t go so far as to claim Joe was inhospitable, exactly, but he skipped the obligatory gym tour when I showed up, intending, I assumed, to let me see the place for myself. Or, as was more likely the case, he didn’t give a flying crap what I had to say and wanted to concentrate on the job at hand. In any event, anyone savvy enough to seek his facility out in the first place doesn’t need Joe to point at his two Glute-Ham Raises – one a brand new EFS Collegiate model -- and tell you what they are. Joe figures you’ll know three power racks when you see them, and the same goes for his Reverse Hyper, Tred Sled, Belt Squat Machine, and rack filled with every type of band, chain and barbell imaginable.

Dave Tate gave me something of a heads-up when I told him I was making a visit to DeFranco’s, and what he said was right on the money. “Sometimes,” he said, “I think people believe he’s working out of some huge training center with a half-million dollars worth of equipment. Joe only has what you need.”

Aside from the fact that the entire place is immaculate, the lack of superfluous crap is the first thing you notice when you step out of the office and into the actual gym. You won’t find any HammerStrength preacher curl machines here. Everything on Joe’s floor is used, and used hard, but when you look around, you can’t help but wonder where the rest of the equipment is kept. You start taking an inventory, and the scale of the place gets you wondering. “Is there another room?” you think to yourself. “My college weight room had at least three times the amount of machines I see here.”

What happens then, though, is that a guy like Corey Smith – a former first round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians and current third baseman in the San Diego Padres organization – comes in for a Max Effort lower body workout – a workout-specific dynamic warmup followed by box squats, banded forty-five degree back raises, grip work and some abdominal work with a medicine ball -- and the entire thing makes perfect sense. The “training economy” Joe often mentions in his articles is fully in evidence in the design and content of his facility. Why waste money on shit you can’t use? Joe knows exactly what his athletes need, and what works, and that’s what he has on the floor.

The workouts aren’t long, either. The athletes come in, do what Joe requires them to do – which isn’t much, in terms of exercise volume – and then they leave. Everything’s done fast and explosively – Westside-style – but the sessions Joe puts his guys though would hardly be considered long by conventional standards. Complicated? Definitely not. Utilitarian and efficient? Hell, yes.

“Everybody thinks there’s some secret method to this shit,” said Joe afterward, as we relaxed in the office, eating DeFranco Energy Bars – they’re good -- and sipping Poland Spring, “but there isn’t. It’s all bullshit. Look at (Brian) Cushing, the guy who plays for USC. He benched, he squatted, he deadlifted with the trap bar and he dragged the sled around, and the guy’s a monster. It’s more about hard work than anything else.”

“Who picks the music?” I asked, recalling how I was nearly shouting to be heard over the sound system inside the gym.

“That’s about work, too. I let whoever’s training put on whatever the fuck they want. We got everything playing here from gangsta rap to speed metal. If it makes a guy work harder, I’m all for it.”

What was perhaps the highlight of my visit came after Joe had gone to a cabinet for my parting gifts – “Nobody leaves empty handed,” he insisted - of a box of bars and a long-sleeve DeFranco’s Training tee shirt. As I was about to leave, we were graced with an appearance by Joe’s internet icon father, George DeFranco, who, if there was such a contest, would easily win the title of Most Jacked Guy Over Sixty On The Planet. Despite widespread criticism of his hammer curl form, Mr. DeFranco looked slightly bemused by the presence of a visitor in his son’s office, and, according to Joe, still has no idea of the extent of his internet celebrity. “He has no clue,” Joe said. “He doesn’t even have a computer.”

After spending nearly four hours in the gym, observing Joe at work and picking his brain about every training topic I could think of, it appeared as though both DeFrancos wanted to take a swing at me. As has been said about fish and visitors, they both stink after a while, and Joe needed to get back to his busy client schedule for the afternoon. Armed with my new tee shirt, a box full of DeFranco’s Energy Bars, and a head swimming with motivation and new ideas, I thanked Joe and John for their time, pointed my truck at New York, stepped on the accelerator, and went to my gym to train like they do in Jersey.

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