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"American Muscle" on Discovery

Protagonist Mike Barwis and his crew illustrate how fitness and relationships can empower people to achieve the impossible on Discovery’s newest show.

by CSCS
American Muscle

“American Muscle,” which premieres on Discovery Channel this Wednesday (July 9) at 9 pm ET/PT, is right up your alley if you read M&F. Set in a state-of-the-art, fully-turfed training facility in Michigan, there’ll be a hearty dose of gym life – all the lifting, sprinting and chalk-filled, testosterone-laden gym banter among elite athletes that you can handle. But the show’s protagonist Mike Barwis is really the main attraction. The humble but animated Michigan strength and conditioning expert has a unique and detailed approach to training that has boosted the performance of athletes from all walks for over two decades.

In this first season, Barwis and his staff – whom he considers family – cater to the needs of top tier athletes like NFL cornerback Richard Sherman, MLB infielder Nick Swisher and former UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans as well as everyday Joes and special needs athletes.

But, Barwis says, it’s not just about the training.

“This show will resonate with anybody who is an athlete, no question,” he says. “But also the vast amount of relationships, interactions and family environment will actually resonate with men, women, and children of any background. Athletics is partially about competition and training to improve performance but it’s more about giving of yourself entirely to a cause as well as becoming a family with those around you.”

We dug deeper with Barwis in this M&F-exclusive interview.

Tell us a bit about your background in strength and conditioning and how it became such a passion for you.

I’ve been in the strength and conditioning field for over 22 years and have worked with over 520 professional and Olympic athletes and thousands of collegiate athletes from over 50 different sporting events as well as consulted over nine different professional sports teams in three different professional leagues. God has made my purpose on this earth very clear to me: it is to help people. This field of strength and conditioning has allowed me to use my God-given traits, passions and abilities in an environment perfectly suited to me.

While directing West Virginia’s strength and conditioning program, I also wrote and taught a Master’s and undergraduate curriculum for over 10 years. I oversaw 21 different sports programs that experienced a great deal of success and in fact the last five years we were at West Virginia are largely considered the golden era of athletics for the school.

After leaving West Virginia University, I became the Director of Strength and Conditioning at the University of Michigan where I trained multiple high-level collegiate sports teams and a plethora of professional and Olympic athletes. As life would have it, God had a unique twist prepared for me at Michigan. This twist came in the form of a young man named Brock Mealer. Brock was the brother of one of our players at U of M and had recently been paralyzed in a horrific accident where he lost his father, his brother’s girlfriend, and the use of his legs. He had been given less than a 1% chance to ever walk again even after a couple years of physical therapy and through the relationship we had developed over the years, I felt compelled to help him. I attempted to utilize the gifts and abilities that I had been given because I knew that God intertwined our paths for a reason. So I extended my help in the form of 3-4 hours a day in order to help reestablish the neural pathways necessary for him to control his legs. Brock eventually walked. He was eventually able to lead the team out onto the field on opening day against UConn in front of over 100,000 people and it not only became a rallying cry for our team and school but it was a pivotal moment in my life. I had watched God and the efforts of one man, Brock Mealer, heal a broken family. I knew I was meant to do more with the gifts I had been given, that it was more than just athletes I was designed to help.

How did you end up leaving that grind and going your own way?

My son Ray was just a few years old. I knew he loved being in the weight room with us, loved the intense athletic environment and when I asked him if he wanted me to keep coaching, he asked me a simple question. “Will I see you more, Daddy?” I had been working 17 hours a day, seven days a week for my entire career and I knew that this would not slow down at all if I stayed in collegiate or professional athletics. All my boy wanted was to see more of his daddy, and all I wanted was to see more of him, my wife Autumn, and the rest of my children, Hannah and now Charlie and Julia. Honestly, that made the decision to leave pretty easy. I took a couple months, drafted a business plan that I knew would unfold in increments over the years, and started Barwis Methods. With the help of my friends and family and with God smiling down, we opened up our first training facility almost three years ago with the intention of training elite athletes, everyday athletes, and people with special needs, all side-by-side and using that as a model and platform to develop the rest of the businesses. I love what I do, the people I work with are blood to me, and I thank God everyday for the opportunities He has placed in front of me.

American Muscle

What kinds of athletes come to you for help?

Honestly, we have all kinds of athletes come to us. We probably have a larger variety of athletes than any other place in the world. We regularly see hundreds of professional and Olympic athletes from high-profile sports like football, hockey, baseball, and soccer to less familiar sports like golf, MMA, bull-riding, tennis, bob-sledding, swimming and more. Every sport can benefit from proper training fortified with cutting edge science and the Barwis Methods have become the answer for many of the world’s top athletes.

How did the show materialize?

People have been asking me for years about doing a show. They usually talk about my voice, my intensity, the love they feel with me and my team and the family environment that everybody knows is special. It’s a lot like the show “Cheers” in a weight room. Not because I am special, but because of all the people around me and the environment that we create together is special. When it became clear that doing the show would afford us a greater platform to impact lives and make a difference on this earth, I agreed to do a sizzle real with Funny or Die. They filmed a sizzle reel about two years ago, which quickly became a pilot with the Discovery Channel and turned into a full season.

What will M&F readers dig about American Muscle on Discovery beyond the training?

The show digs into our lives and the lives of our athletes, the relationships and the motivational aspects more than it does just training. In fact, the show is not just about athletes at all. It is about inspiring people to accomplish things others deemed impossible. It’s about lifting people up around you when they fall down. It is about never surrendering. And when I say these things, I am not merely discussing athletics -- I am talking about the people we have who are fighting through their disabilities to walk again, overcoming the struggles in the general population's daily lives. In truth, the show is more about living the right way and finding what God has placed inside of you that enables you to persevere in any situation.

American Muscle

You have some info on sprinting at the show’s website. Why is sprinting so important for overall strength and conditioning and what is your best tip for running faster?

When it comes to sprinting, that is obviously an important part of sports but unless you are running track, you’re almost never sprinting in a straight line for too long and the proper technique always needs to be developed alongside agility drills that help facilitate lateral movement, acceleration and deceleration, and directional changes that vary from sport to sport and are pinnacle to an athlete’s performance. One very simple tip is to be sure to keep the toe up, engaging the tibialis anterior when the foot is in the air. This preloads the ankle and avoids deceleration at the ankle joint via the tibialis anterior when the foot contacts the ground. Instead, it accommodates the use of the stretch reflex in the calf and results in an increased force production from the gastronemius muscle, increasing your velocity. Having the toe down makes your own muscles a resistor instead of an assister.

On the show, you work with a lot of high-profile athletes. How are you able to get these multi-millionaires to do what you want them to do in the gym?

They love being here. The environment is infectious! We don’t treat anybody differently, whether you’re the top athlete in the world or just trying to take one step again. We invest fully in the lives of the individuals we work with. Our motto is: “If the people we work with today mean more to us than we do to ourselves, we will be good at this job.” We will push you to your limits but not to achieve our goals…to help you achieve yours. Over a 20-year track record, I have trained world champions, gold medalists, and many of the top athletes in the world who are still seeking out Barwis Methods for training. It’s not hard to get a high level athlete to follow you when where you are leading them is to their dreams.

You can see Mike Barwis on American Muscle Wednesdays on Discovery Channel at 9 pm ET/PT. For more information, visit the show website at http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/american-muscle or check out The Barwis Method website at http://www.barwismethods.com/.

See the workouts on next page. 

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