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Starting Strength in the Real World


New Jersey SSC Adam Skillin Talks Strength, Business, and Passing the SSC Test

by Mark Barroso | July 12, 2018

adam skillin coaching

Adam Skillin’s first and last fitness certification is Starting Strength Coach. In a fitness industry where “More Certifications Means More Opportunity,” you’d think that Skillin would be scrambling to get more credentials. The opposite is true. Skillin is so busy that he is booked solid – and he’s had to be selective with his clients. As New Jersey’s sole SSC, Skillin trains people in the Starting Strength Method, and is pretty damn strong himself with a 520-pound competition deadlift at 165 pounds bodyweight.

As a fitness professional, I’ve been exposed repeatedly to the Starting Strength Method over the last four years, and I’ve been to a Starting Strength Seminar and Training Camp. So when I searched for Starting Strength Coaches in New Jersey and found just one, I wanted to know more about him. I simply e-mailed Skillin using the provided e-mail address on StartingStrength.org and he replied quickly, agreeing to share his thoughts with me about all things SS. Naturally, my first question was, “Why did you become a Starting Strength Coach?”

“After spending some time using the Starting Strength principles to get myself strong,  I found myself in the position of acting as the de facto coach for friends and acquaintances who had witnessed my progress and wanted to get in on it,” Skillin says. “Also, two startingstrength.com articles forced my hand in getting certified. I read ‘Barbell Training is Big Medicine’ by Jonathon Sullivan, who is both an Emergency Room Physician and a Starting Strength Coach. The article details his thoughts on how much more good can be done on the preventative side of the equation by getting a patient strong under a barbell than on the treatment side of the equation, when much of our medical care is about alleviating symptoms ratherthan treating underlying causes.”

Skillin added that another article stuck in his head: the story of Brian Jones, a man who fell off a ladder, crushed his ankles, was told he’d never walk again unaided, and used the Starting Strength principles to progressively load the bar in incredibly small increments. He pushed all the hardware out of his once shattered tibias, and not only gets around fine, but eventually deadlifted over 500 pounds at his first powerlifting meet.

“I remember reading those things and thinking to myself ‘Okay, I just have to do that!’” Skillin says.

How Skillin got introduced to Starting Strength in the first place is the classic tale of the athlete not being strong enough to win the competition. 

From Grappling to Lifting

A self-proclaimed “skinny fat” young adult, Skillin was coaxed by a friend into trying out Brazilian/Gracie jiu-jitsu, and he wound up practicing the martial arts discipline for several years. In fact, the SSC earned a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and won four amateur MMA fights. Skillin was never offered a pro contract, and he thinks it might because his opponent was always the stronger man. 

“Throughout those fights, I realized I was the weaker dude in the cage. So I remembered having heard of some weightlifting program called 'Starting Strength' (which isn’t the name of the lifting program at all, but the general population labors under this misconception) that was supposed to be the ticket for getting strong quickly by doing just a handful ofhard, compound lifts a few times a week,” Skillin says. “I read a couple of Rip’s articles, bought the book, a barbell, and a squat rack, and eventually let the jiu-jitsu fall by the wayside because it was interfering with my strength acquisition.” 

Getting Certified

I’m not a Starting Strength Coach, so anything I hear about the test is fascinating to me. Skillin said the test consists of two parts, the first of which takes place Saturday and Sunday at the Starting Strength Seminar. When I went to a Starting Strength Seminar, I opted not to try to become a SSC because I wasn’t ready. I’m still not ready and honestly it might be years before I attempt to the test, if at all (that doesn’t mean I can’t attend Training Camps to learn more about the lifts and use the method in my own training). While at the seminar, a staff coach on each platform observes and evaluates each lifter’s ability to perform the lifts as well as to coach their fellow lifters to perform the lift according to the model.

“I don’t know of any other certification or credential that can say they actually evaluate prospective holders as they actually coach lifters. But we do, and our standards are very high, meaning that most people who are evaluated on the platform as coaches don’t pass,” Skillin says. “Upon passing the platform coaching evaluation, the candidates are assigned an essay test that they have 14 days to write. The depth and breadth of knowledge needed to get through the essay cannot be obtained over the course of two weeks, so you had better really understand the material at a deep level beforehand if you hope to pass.” 

As Busy As You Want To Be

Since becoming a Starting Strength Coach in 2014, Skillin has received hundreds of e-mails with requests for coaching. Most of the requests are specifically about learning the Starting Strength Method. Many prospective clients are novices who want Skillin to teach them the barbell lifts properly during a 2+ hour session. These types of “individual mini-seminar” sessions are scheduled weeks in advance. He sees these clients a month or so later to follow up about their progress with the lifts.

“Most of the people I coach are doing the majority of their training on their own, and I’m just giving them the initial start-up and checkups over time,” Skillin says. “I see a couple of people on a regular basis, and I don’t have anybody who does all their training under my coaching.”

Rip has said that “Every SSC is as busy as they want to be,” and that has been Skillin’s experience. Aside from remaining visible on social media and active on the Starting Strength Forums, Skillin invests no money into marketing, yet his schedule remains at capacity. 

Reaching Peak Strength

Even though Skillin stays busy coaching others, he still makes time to get stronger under the bar. His favorite lift is the deadlift, and he’s quick to rattle off his top pulling tips.

“Follow the 5-step setup process and to be willing to get uncomfortable for the sake of setting your back into proper extension,” says Skillin. “Specifically, the first step is to establish your stance, the second step is to grip the bar, the third step is to bend your knees until your shins just touch the bar, which puts your hips in the right position. The fourth step is to lift your chest and create a wave of extension from your upper spine down through your lumbar spine, and the fifth step is to simply stay tight and squeeze the bar up off the floor and up your legs to lockout.”

Stating that he is no longer a novice, Skillin lifts three times per week, incorporating the squat, press, deadlift, bench press and power clean. He plans training cycles that span between 8 and 12 weeks long. “I’m at the point now where everything goes up over the course of a long period of time, but I can’t say for a fact that every single lift is going to go up during a 12-week cycle,” Skillin explains. “Sometimes one lift stagnates at the expense of another.”

At this point, I ask Skillin if he’s an advanced lifter. “I don’t think I'll ever be an advanced lifter because an advanced lifter is someone whose main focus in life is competing in strength sport, who devotes an amount of time and energy to strength training that is not really available to me,” Skillin says. “I’d classify myself as a late stage intermediate.” 

Expert Advice

Becoming a SSC can seem like a daunting task, but at the end of the day it comes down to two things: your willingness to learn the material, and your passion for helping others get strong. Skillin’s advice for getting certified is as follows:

  1. Read the books (Starting Strength: Basic Barbell Training and Practical Programming for Strength Training). Read every single sentence and make sure you understand what it’s telling you.
  2. Coach.
  3. Coach some more.
  4. Read the books again. 

Another outlet for using the books’ principles is Starting Strength Online Coaching, which Skillin also does. “Starting Strength Online Coaching is a platform where we give programming assignments to our clients, review their videos, and give immediate feedback on their technique. We give them technical instruction, tell them how to take a video from a useful angle and everything. If you lift three times a week, then you’ll upload videos from your workouts three times a week.” Starting Strength Online Coaches review the videos within 24 hours and provide feedback on them. In this way, anyone can get strong the right way, using the knowledge of certified SSCs.

Skillin’s story is a prime example of supplying the demand for real expertise. Notice that Skillin’s only certification is Starting Strength Coach, and he doesn’t feel the need to have any other ones. I already have my NSCA-CPT and Spartan SGX Coach certifications, plus I’m a freelance writer. I’m pretty busy, but guess what? I’m busy teaching people how to lift barbells the Starting Strength way without being a SSC. As I grow more as a man and coach, I will become more in tune with the books and actually try to get really strong. For now, I’m OK with maintaining my strength levels, but the thing with strength is that once you commit to it, you tend to go all the way.

If now is your time to try to build strength, Skillin is a great example of how to do it as quickly and injury-free as possible. Don’t be the weaker athlete.


ABOUT ADAM

Age: 36

Height: 5’6”

Weight: 165 pounds

SSC since: October 2014

Occupation: Starting Strength Coach, Starting Strength Online Coach and Home Equity Lending

Best lifts: Competition: 520 lb deadlift; Gym: 430 lb squat, 295 lb bench press, 200 lb press.


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