Top Gun

One of our first days in the gym after moving to Wichita Falls, Oz (the now 12 year old) attached himself to an inscrutable asian named Howie. I had/have no idea why. But anytime I’d see this dude walking through the gym, Oz was in tow talking about god knows what. Turns out that Howie was parked at Sheppard Air Force Base as a pilot in training. Huh? I had no idea what this meant other than the fact that these guys were going to fly a bit…at some point.


Since my son decided Howie was his new best friend, I thought it important to understand what was going on with this whole pilot training program and how he fit into it. Not only did I get familiar with Howie’s situation, but he brought his friends to the gym who were also pilots in training, or in the process of being in training. There were a few other stragglers who weren’t pilots but were one of the “Bro’s” that hung with Howell. They all decided to pay attention to the benefits of being as strong as possible while pulling G’s and came to WFAC to train and hang.

From then until now, these flyboys AND girl became an important part of my journey as a strength coach. They’ve taught me patience, persistence, and the importance of having a lot of fun in our sessions. These are some incredibly focused young men and women and watching their dedication to achieving their goal of becoming a pilot is something to behold.  Training them effectively without wiping them out for flying or classrooms the next day has been a learning experience. As has knowing when to push them to get into the gym and knowing when to kick them out while telling them to go eat and go to bed (it happened.)

I’ve had some Instructor Pilots come through the gym, I just spent time with one this morning that I hadn’t seen in a while. They have their own set of challenges. While they still have the pilot mentality that I’m used to with my pilots, they have the added “confidence” of flying in combat or being an instructor (and by “confidence” I mean EGO.) But they each have come here to learn and I’ve learned a lot from them. Like how to be creative enough to tell them they’re wrong without telling them that they’re wrong. They also have some good stories about my pilots so that’s been fun too.

Someone asked if I’d take on more pilots and I had to think about that one.  Knowing the ebb and flow of the program is beneficial. Knowing when I can holler at them to get in the gym and knowing when they are thick in ‘the suck’ of two flight days in the Texas heat plus studying is useful.  But my crew of flyboys AND girl  have a pretty solid place in my heart and it’d be tough opening up to more goodbyes that will inevitably come.

I feel honored that I know and coach them. I’m proud of their desire not to be skinny and weak (really, the whole ‘who has the biggest gut’ contests were a bit off the rails) and the fact that KCon is lamenting about her lost squat ass after a few weeks off for AF stuff. I know that wherever they go, they’ll be fine…and they’ll be squatting.

About tosabarbell

For training opportunities at tosabarbell, call or text Juli at 320-296-9313. e-mail to At tosabarbell, I build relationships cultivated in a strength and learning environment. There is no 12 week magic pill program to strength but rather a lifetime commitment to be the very best and most useful human you can be. tosabarbell is a private, home grown gym with three lifting platforms; squat rack; prowlers; throwing implements; bars, bumpers and everything else needed for an effective strength and conditioning program. Straightforward barbell programming including the Olympic lifts; sound (read: not fancy bullshit) diet advance for weight gain or loss; and strong coaching will ensure you will meet your goals such as becoming stronger, more explosive, and better conditioned. I have been coaching teams and athletes for over 30 years. I grew up participating in various sports at various levels but was always drawn to those that require strength training. I have multiple local, national, and world records in the sports of Weightlifting and Highland Games Heavy Events as well as a combined total of 5 World Championships. My 5 years of training and coaching under Mark Rippetoe provided a wide range of influence from some of the top strength & conditioning and throwing coaches in the country. I will strongly encourage tosabarbell athletes to compete (and prepare you to do so.) However, tosabarbell is also for those who wish to be stronger and go through life feeling better. Matt WanAt is a retired Professional Strongman who competed frequently with Strongman Champions League in Europe. He played a year of D1 football with Iowa before concentrating on his Chemical Engineering degree in Iowa City. He is a native of Wauwatosa and still remains a staunch supporter of Tosa East. This blog will be a mixture of strength notes, coaching and nutrition tips, personal shit; bacon delicacies, and a whole lot of fun.
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