Todd Cambio: Kettlebell Training to Spartan Racing

Fitness For All Podcast: Episode 3

Welcome to another edition of Fitness for All with Cam Jenkins, and sponsored by Lebert Fitness. In this episode, Cam talks with  Coach Cambio, Master Instructor for Spartan Race, StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor, Spartan Running Specialist, Spartan Obstacle Specialist, dad, football coach, foodie, beekeeper, presenter, author and beer aficionado. Coach Cambio discusses everything from BMX racing and Kettlebell Training to Spartan Racing.

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Show Notes - Episode 3

How do you know Marc Lebert and how did that relationship grow to where you are today?

Marc and I met at a business convention, not a fitness conference. It was about creating a brand and I remember Marc on stage dancing around with these yellow things. I'm thinking, “What the heck are those?” He started doing body rows and push ups and dips and I thought they were the coolest things. I ended up contacting him. We hit it off right away and we formed a relationship from there, mostly online. Then I started using his products, met him at a Perform Better Convention in person and he asked if I wanted to teach courses for him and then we built the relationship from there.

What do you like about his products or why do you use them?

They are the basis of any foundation, which for me is body weight, but the thing about body weight is you can do a lot of pushups and burpees and all this core stuff, but it's all mostly the interior chain, so, you're using the backside of the body - the pull part. I just loved the fact that you can take the EQualizers, specifically, and go anywhere. I'll take them on vacation with me. I'll take them into the middle of a football field. I'll take them to my basement, to my home gym, out in the garage. It's a very portable piece of equipment that does everything full body.  That's why I love them.

Todd working out with Lebert EQualizer

Can you talk about your journey into fitness and what got you into it and your journey up until now?

I was the classic athlete, played sports my whole life. I competed at a national level in the sport of BMX, played college football - just a big-time athlete who loved what he was doing and was training at a sport performance facility. The bottom line is my mentor watched me working with the younger athletes, because the older athletes always let the younger ones do the warm-ups and I was like the big brother teaching them as we go. He thought I was very good at it. He mentioned to me one day that I should really look into becoming a strength and conditioning specialist, and that I have a natural knack for it.  I didn’t think too much of it because I was interested in mountain bikes and BMX and training to be competitive at the national level hoping to go pro one day  - and then things didn't happen, and I ended up back in college completing my second degree to become an educator.

Todd in his BMX Racing days

Originally, I started as a dietician and went back to become a science teacher. When I was teaching high school and coaching football, I absolutely hated the strength conditioning programs the football kids were on. They're basically doing Arnold Schwarzenegger bodybuilding and the injury rate was high. Yes, they were looking big, but they were getting slower and injury riddled. I reached out to my mentor and said I wasn’t happy with the strength conditioning program. What should I do? She looks at me and says “Get certified. Here's the book. Go.” And that was it. 

That was 20 years ago and I got certified through the NSCA to become a strength conditioning coach or specialist and then I started working with a football program that led to working with the other teams, like baseball, lacrosse, basketball and it started that way at school with all athletes. I loved that I was teaching and coaching and then we moved around a lot, unfortunately. My wife's medical school saw us in Chicago and Connecticut after that in the Hartford area and then we had to move again. So, I don't know if you know anything about teaching, every time you move, you get knocked down a few steps on a pay scale. I’d make tenure and have to move, make tenure, have to move. It got to be annoying. I was on my third move and eight years in at that point and I was coaching football, a respectable income but they wanted to bump me down to what someone out of college was making.

So, I just said, forget it. I left teaching and said “I’m going to start my own business” because I was successful in the Summers, so I figured I'd turn what I did in the summer and after school and to full-time. It took about 10 years at a private facility and then I moved again once more up to New Hampshire, where I live now, and I sold my gym and started teaching for Spartan teaching there STX program, and obstacle specialist programs and started teaching for StrongFirst, their one-day kettlebell course. I've been doing that ever since, working locally, working with the athletes still after school, subleasing space and just having a good time. Being a dad with my kids and enjoying training athletes - that's kind of where I am today.

Can you tell us what Spartan is for the listeners that don't know and how you became a Master Spartan instructor?

Absolutely, and the funny thing is that that term is changing. Now, I have to go back into the Spartan ranks and re-earn it. But that's OK.

That's what Spartan is all about, you know, building better humans. Spartan Race is the obstacle course company. They are very large, obviously, one of the bigger, if not the biggest now. What they decided to do is roll out a program to train or to give training for personal trainers and strength coaches to get people ready to do the races, because, what's unique about their races is you've got to run but there's also a ton of strength stuff. You need a lot of upper body strength and a lot of lower body endurance, including the running. You need a ton of strength training and you need to be able to run or hike or go up the side of a mountain. You get to carry a 60 pound sandbag with you so you need to have strong legs that can endure and keep going, so they came up with a certification program called Spartan SGX Certification, a two-day program. It's a holistic approach that builds off the foundation of body weight.

Spartan Racing

This is where Marc and I really connected because not only was I doing body weight normally, but now I'm incorporating into all my Spartan training for my athletes. It just really fit well, Lebert EQualizers with what I was doing with the Spartan coaching.

To finish the question, Spartan certification is a two-day program where you learn all the history of Spartan and everything from sports nutrition, to getting race day ready, to periodization or programming, to of course baseline exercises. It's a nice, well-rounded program that gets into body weight, improvisation and recovery strategies. It's just a great overall approach to fitness. The cool thing about Spartan is it’s not meant to be that all you do a Spartan training. It's supposed to fit into what you already do so you can take a big piece, a little piece, whatever you like, even if it's just the mindset piece of Spartan. We do a lot of building up your mind, stronger mind, things like that. It really does fit into whatever you're doing whether your cross fit, whether your boot camp, whether your strength conditioning specialist like myself who deals primarily with sport athletes, it just kind of fits in to what people really want to do and, of course, if you like obstacle course racing obviously, that's where it's at too.

For a person who wants to start into the Spartan experience, what would you suggest to them and what would you suggest that they work on from both a physical and mental standpoint?

Yes, great question. Now, obviously, I'm going to give you general recommendations.

  1. Always, always, always spend more time on your feet. You have to be used to just being on your feet, whether it's walking, running, hiking, something to get moving. Build up those steps. Eventually you want to and in the grand scheme of things, it is a running-based race.
  2. Grip strength because all the obstacles that most people fail are primarily grip based, whether it's monkey bars or multi-rings, whether it's a rope climbs. It's a lot of the pulling exercises that people struggle with the most. 

For mind, the bottom line is for me, which is why I love Spartan races, because it gives you a goal. The goal is to build better humans, rip people off the couch. It gives you a goal to train for. If you say, “I’m going to do a race at the end of June”. Well, it's mid-May so you have about six weeks to go. So you start your plan and you build up to peak at the race. It gives you something to train for. When you cross that finish line, you definitely know that feeling that comes over you. You just accomplished something. It really does build confidence and it really does give you training goals. There are so many people that are willing to do it with you, whether it's on the course - you don't know anybody but people are there to pick you up and carry you along mentally as well as well as physically. It's just a great experience.

What I really, truly, absolutely love about Spartan is there's something for everybody. I'm not the smallest guy. I'm like 230 lbs right now. I've transitioned over back into the strength training stuff - more of the power lifting kind of strong man with all the kettlebell stuff I do.

We have stadium races which are 5k distance. You're done in about 30 minutes or so. So that's right up my alley, whereas you have someone who is an ultra-endurance person who might want to do the beast or the ultra beast switches, 30 miles for the beast and up to 26-mile marathon distance for the ultra endurance competitor. We have everything in between. There's something for absolutely everybody as far as what they like to do. That's why I love Spartan. They build the goals for you.

I don't know a lot about Spartan, however, I do follow a person on Facebook and as she goes by the name of Misty Diaz and she had a a physical disability called spina bifida, and she does Spartan races so like you said, there's something for everybody, even somebody with disabilities.

You mentioned also that you do kettlebells and you are a Kettlebell Instructor. Can you talk a bit about the kettlebells and why you chose kettlebells?

Absolutely. They are, by far, my favourite loaded implement these days. I got into kettlebells because I was annoyed that I didn't like how they were originally being used when I learned how to do them, like what are these things and why are they putting them over their head? It didn't make sense and I didn’t like them. It didn't feel good. I couldn't understand why we're going overhead. I felt like my shoulders are hurting all the time. My lower back was hurting, and I just didn't see the point so I started researching them and I found Pavel. Pavel originally came over and started the Russian kettlebell certification, and then he branched off from that company and started his own, which is called Strong First. When I originally learned, I bought the classic book about kettlebells that most people start with who were into the Russian hard style kettlebell. I just read it, practiced it and it was totally different to what I was learning through the person who originally showed me kettlebells. When I actually started doing it that way, I was like, holy crap, I feel powerful, I feel athletic.

I wasn't going overhead. I had had shoulder surgery and had a pin there from football days. I was still trying to do Olympic lifting, snatching in particular and my body's not meant for that anymore. I'm too asymmetrical with the injuries but what I found out is I could go overhead with single arm, with kettlebells, with their snatch variation of ballistic movement and once I learned that, I was hooked.

Todd working out with Kettlebells

So that was a decade ago and what I started to do was just seeking knowledge. I did the original through HKC, which is what they call the HKC certification. You learn the basic swings and get-ups and squats and pressing. I did that. I loved it.

I waited another year to actually do the certification, which is a three-day certification, all hands-on which, by the way, is probably the hardest hands-on certification I've ever done. I waited two years because I knew there was kind of a rift in the industry. RKC Pavel was leaving the company and starting his own so I waited to see what would happen. Once they split, they had a certification in Boston so I took it. I went there. That was 2013. After three days with everybody out there, the knowledge, the strength on display, just everything about it, the movement prep, the reverse engineering, every possible movement down to its basics, its foundations, was just amazing. Now the progressions regressions were just amazing. I was absolutely hooked at that point. From there its climb the chain and get a lot of practice in. Now I have a 1lb. kettlebell all the way up to 202lbs.

What would you use a 1lb. kettlebell for?  

I use it as a prop.  I make something called KBee Balm. It's KBee because I'm a beekeeper and it's a hand balm that repairs your hands, keeps them supple so that they don't tear is easy.  I found the 1lb. kettlebells online. I bought a bunch from because I use them for a props!

Here's the other thing I didn't mention earlier about how I get in this industry.  Prior to training at sports specific facility, I used to be on a traveling bike team, race team, and we used to do clinics on how to do all the BMX stuff from gate starts to what's called pumping to jumping to all that stuff. I've been working with kids since I was 16, 17 years old, and I've just always been working with them. I just never realized it. You forget because you're just a kid having fun and having worked with kids for a long time and I never knew it and I just went back to that, I guess. I don't know how else to explain it.

Have you found a change over the years in your recovery time?

Actually that has been the biggest area I have gone into lately, because I didn't really notice I was getting older or feeling any older until probably 25. Then I noticed little things like I wasn't quite recovering is quick or wasn't quite as nimble or as mobile as I used to be. I didn't think too much of it so I worked a little harder and kind of get through it. Then I hit the 30s and now I'm trying to compete with the young guys, 20 somethings on the basketball court. I still play basketball. It's like, damn, I need 4 days to recover because I was sore the next day.  I was never sore the next day. Now I'm closing in on 50 so I definitely spend, for every hour I work out hard, I definitely a complimentary hour on recovery, whether it's simply just rolling out in a foam roller or using a lacrosse ball to dig in there to certain things and spending extra time to stretching or even yoga.

Of course, I'm looking into all the longevity practices of ice baths and infrared near far heat, get massage monthly, well, I was until COVID. I do a lot of float therapy probably twice a month which is great. I want to relax.  It does wonders for the parasympathetic nervous system. Those are some of my strategies I like to use and as well as nutrition recovery strategies. I definitely spend more time in recovery than working out now or “active recovery”.

If anyone wants to reach out to you and be able to see what you're doing and learn about you or hire you as a coach?

Sure – - I put all my stuff on there. I’ve got a newsletter and always have a workout in every newsletter. Some link back to my YouTube channel or Instagram, which I am the_red_gorilla. That's my Instagram, where I do most my stuff and then throw some stuff on YouTube. - that’s the easiest way to see what I'm up to.

One last question before I let you go how did you get the nickname, The Red Gorilla?

In college, I joined a fraternity and it was a beautiful three-story fraternity house. Like any fraternity guys, you are at parties and having fun and all that kind of stuff. Someone dared me to climb the house on the outside, so I did. I literally climbed up window to window, jumping shutter to shutter. I made it to the roof and then that was it, that was my nickname.

Gorillas don't even climb things, so I don't know why they did that, but I am red. I'm very red.

Well, thank you very much, Todd Cambio, for being on the podcast today for Fitness for All brought to you by Lebert Fitness.

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