A look into the world of strength and conditioning training with Sport Specific Training

Photo: Sport Specific Training

In this latest interview, we had the pleasure to talk to the owner of Sport Specific Training, Jeff Simpson. We dive into the world of strength and conditioning, where he talks about how there is a science to the training. He also talks about how he adapts to change in his business, and how his job does not feel like work.

Simpson is very passionate about strength and conditioning and about helping people accomplish their goals.


The Delaware native would start his journey into sports by playing baseball at Newark High School. On the NHS baseball team, Simpson admits he was one of the smaller and weaker kids on the team. Simpson tells that in the early 1990s when he played high school baseball, the team did not do much lifting weights or strength and condition, but they did go to the batting cages to work on their swing.

As his high school baseball career came to a close in 1994 when he graduated, Simpson then would be a walk-on catcher at the University of Delaware. In his first year on the Blue Hens baseball team, the coach came to him and told him that he was not going to get a lot of playing time, but Simpson found it to be a positive thing that happened to him.

“Our strength coach at the University said every time those guys go on the road or play a game, you come down to the weight room and work out. That was my first exposure to strength and conditioning. I was able to put on 20 pounds of muscle and become a backup catcher on those pretty good University of Delaware teams in the mid-1990s.”

The legendary Bob Hannah was the manager of those pretty good teams that Simpson was on through 1994-1998. Photo: University of Delaware

Those pretty good Blue Hens baseball teams, the former Delaware catcher talks about, won three conference championships (1995, 1996 &1998) and made three NCAA tournament appearances (1995,1996 & 1998).

After graduating from the University of Delaware, Simpson did an internship at the University of Maryland for six months in the area of strength and conditioning.

From Maryland to Ohio, where he would pursue a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and became a graduate assistant at the University of Akron. The Delaware native talks about his year and a half there, where he was able to work in the weight room with all the athletes at the college, and how it was a great learning experience. That experience would help him see that being a strength and condition coach was the right path for him.

Trying to get his career in strength and conditioning started, Simpson would come back to Delaware, where he worked part-time in the strength and conditioning department at his alma mater, the University of Delaware. He also noted at the time, the University of Delaware was the only college to have a strength and conditioning department.

At the same time, he was in the strength and conditioning department at U of D, the strength coach found another job at Summit Sports Training Center where he was able to work with Philadelphia 76ers players, Philadelphia Flyers, and St. Joes basketball players ( back when the team made their run to the final eight).

Minor League Baseball also wanted Simpson’s expertise in strength and conditioning as he ran the Los Angeles Dodgers single-A program for a summer.

Getting tired of the long hours and wanting to do his own thing, Simpson would become a personal trainer and just started doing favors for his friends by helping train their kid’s youth team.

In 2012, Sport Specific Training was not just a side gig anymore as he would jump into the world of full-time business owner.

Sport Specific Training

The goal for Simpson when he started Sport Specific Training was to offer Division I or professional style of strength and conditioning to amateur athletes.

The philosophy of the training center is ” to enhance performance and to help prevent injury in a challenging, fun fashion.”

On the SST’s site, another goal of the training center is to ” to educate each individual athlete on not only what to do, but also WHY they want to do it that way.”

The training schedule at Sport Specific Training runs with personal training in the mornings with adults, and in the evening, he works on the strength and conditioning programs with young athletes.

Courtesy of Sport Specific Training

The gym works with kids as young as eight years old to the older kids, which would be college athletes.

Simpson has found various ways to train clients from a gym at Slim Sports Complex in Middletown, Delaware, drives to them, or virtual.

SST Training Programs

Sport Specific Training program :

  • Evaluation
  • dynamic flexibility
  • running mechanics and speed improvement
  • agility and first step quickness
  • plyometrics
  • core strength

Group Training: Due to the COVID-19, the gym caps it at ten kids.

Team Training: When a school or organization wants training, SST will bring all their tricks, tools, and tips to train their athletes on their turf or at Slim Sports Complex.

Individual Training: “Train individually with one of SST’s strength and conditioning specialists.”

Personal Training: “SST offers in-home personal training. We come to you, with all of the necessary equipment, saving you valuable time while providing you with a challenging workout.”

Adapting to change

The coronavirus first arrived in the United States at the beginning of 2020 as the country began to feel its deadly impact.

The virus would start to arrive in Delaware around March, where the state would be in lockdown, as almost every industry closed down in the state, except a few which were deemed essential jobs.

Businesses that were not open had to get creative to think of ways to still offer their services to their customers, which many went virtual. A lot of gyms during the lockdown took the virtual route as they zoomed, face-timed, or skyped their workouts with their clients.

Sport Specific Training was no different as the gym would train their clients through Face-Time during the lockdown. As the gym was able to open, the virtual training has added another component to the business as they are training athletes that are in New York to Baltimore, Maryland.

When training in a pandemic, one might not always have the gym equipment around, but you would be surprised by the things you can do with regular items in your house.

Anybody can do a workout but doing it right matters

These days, anyone who wants to start working out can find workouts on apps or YouTube. A lot of times, when people start a program, they want to see progress right away, which might lead them to push too hard and get an injury. That is why a personal trainer or a strength coach is needed because they will be able to evaluate what a person can do and make a program that will be challenging but also safe.

Simpson mentioned how anybody can learn how to bench press or squat but the tougher part is ” teaching people how to run and cut and change directions. ” The SST founder also mentioned the challenge of the athlete wanting to be explosive or learning how to cut without tearing an ACL or turning their ankle.

The right technique is everything when one is trying to become a better athlete, as Simpson told us, “you can hit a ball fifty times or run a fifty-yard dash twenty times, but if the person does not know how to do it properly, they are not going to get better.”

The Delaware personal trainer said he tells prospective parents and athletes of SST that ” If you just want me to make you throw up and sore the next day, don’t waste your time.”

He adds that the “work will be challenging to the athlete, but Simpson wants to teach them the right techniques to get better at their chosen sport. “

” There is an art and science to the training, the SST trainer continued. How you put the training program together and adjust it to the gender of the athlete, the sport they play, and position.

Working with not only athletes

The art and the science of the training is not just for the athletes. Regular everyday people, want to get in shape and are looking for someone who can help guide them to their workout goals.

As we mentioned earlier in the article, Simpson does do personal training, and he does the program with a person of any age.

The strength and conditioning coach talked about working with an 81-year-old with Parkinson’s disease, which the two worked on hand-eye coordination, movement and had him catching things to strengthen the connection between the mind and the muscle. These kinds of exercises will help keep him sharp.

Simpson also trains a husband and wife who are in their 60’s.

The oldest client of SST is their 90’s and Simpson helps them reach their goal of ” just being able to walk around and or being able to live self-efficiently, or getting out a chair and being able to stand for a long period of times. “

How does SST get people motivated to work out?

Everybody wants to work out, but the hard part of exercising is staying with it and finding that motivation to keep challenging yourself till you have reached your goal. We all have been there where we are doing a workout and start to get frustrated over the lack of progress that we see happening.

To help overcome this problem, Simpson says, ” that this is the point where the science comes in and the education.” One part of the problem might be that the person may be doing some parts of the workout incorrectly.

” I always say there are two types of people that use personal trainers. The first type is motivated and gung-ho. They just do not know what to do, and that person just needs a trainer to show them what to do.”

He also added if that personal trainer is a good one, they should be able to work with that type of person in a handful of sessions.

To get his personal training clients on track, the Delaware native wants to educate them on how to do the program in a safe and self-sufficient manner that they will begin to see results.

For example, if you commit to six training sessions with SST, Simpson will design a program for you and will have you doing the exercises properly and safely. As the sessions go on, he may tweak a little of the program to keep it fresh.

What are the challenges of running a training business?

Running a business is not easy, and the Sport Specific Training founder found that his passion for training was not enough to generate money.

” What you learn real quick about running a business is you can be a good as a trainer as you want but still have to market and have people in your gym. If nobody knows about you or your gym, there will be no business.”

Simpson adds that ” training-wise, I am fine, that is what I went to school for and have experience with. That is the easy part, the hardest part was the business aspect as in how do I market, network, set up payroll, and everything else that goes along with running a business.”

What is the most rewarding part of the job?

The University of Delaware alum talked about how he was once asked in an interview, ” why do you want to work with out of shape old people?”

His answer was because “every day is different, and that is what makes this job so fun. I get as much enjoyment watching that 91-year old get himself up and down and out of chair five times, as I do with watching that 18-year athlete earn a Division I scholarship. Even seeing a 10-year kid so happy that he made the B-team where he is just so excited to be part of a team.”

” A win is a win, but everybody’s win is a little bit different.”

Simpson also mentions the advantage of owning your own business is he can schedule training sessions around his family’s events.

The best feeling of a good job is when it does not feel like work, and the SST gym owner has found that with his training business.

The boom of gyms and trainers

Simpson mentioned how 10, 20, or 30 years ago, there were not a lot of specialized or strength and conditioning types of gyms around, and it was just more of your general kind of workout place.

According to Bloomberg, the number of gyms has increased by 200% since 1989. We do live in a time where health has become a big priority, and exercise is one way to keep good health.

Bloomberg also found that specialized gyms ( focus on one kind of group exercise) have exploded as they have increased by 121% in the years of 2013-2017.

Traditional gyms have had a slower growth rate in that same time range as they have seen a 15% rise.

Jaewon Kang of the Wall Street Journal reports that in “last five years the sector has seen a 44% increase which pulled in $32.3 billion dollars in 2018.”

As we talk about the recent growth of the health-fitness industry, the location of these gyms is just as pivotal for clients to keep coming back.

The SST trainer noted an interesting fact that ” if your gym is not within 10 minutes of your house, the chances you consistently go there dramatically drop.

Everybody wants to be a trainer

As more gym pop up, the increase of trainers come with it as a training facility cannot run without them.

Not all trainers are alike and skilled in the same area of training. Simpson mentions how when people look for a trainer they do not really know the difference between the real certified trainers and the ones who just took a quick course online to get a certification.

” If I were to say to you, I have a Master’s degree, and I am a certified strength and conditioning coach through the National Strength and Conditioning Association, that’s sounds great. Someone else can say I am certified through the AAI, and I am an ABCDE trainer, and you would probably think that sounds great too.”

“If you are not schooled in the training world, you will have no idea, Simpson continued. I always ask people when you walk in your doctor’s office, do you ask what their certification is? No, you just assume that the doctor knows what he is doing. I think that is what happens in the strength and conditioning departments.”

The SST owner mentions with all the competition out there for training that prospective clients would look at the price, and some may just want to train with someone because the trainer won a championship or played in pro sports.

” The hardest thing to this day is getting people to understand and see the value in the art and science of training. You got to have the degree, the background, be able to talk to people, and be able to blend your programs with who you are training with.”

Training has evolved in the last 10 years

Strength and conditioning training has come a long way as Simpson notes, ” it used to be about how big you can get, which was during the steroid era. Now it is about explosivity, fluidity, range of motion, and injury prevention.”

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in this job or field?

To end this article, here is some advice from Mr. Simpson himself on how to get into the career field of strength and conditioning.

” Go get an education and invest in yourself. Spend a little money, take a little time, and get four or five legitimate certifications that the strength and conditioning world will respect. “

” You also got to ask yourself what are you in it for? Are you in it because you want to make a lot of money, then this is not the profession for you. If you are getting into this area because you want to help people succeed and reach their goals, then this is a great profession. “

Simpson tells a story about how after he earned his degree at the University Of Delaware that he would then accept an internship at the University of Maryland. He thought would be the training those Division I athletes right away, but his boss had him clean tires and a closet full of equipment. The future gym owner saw that his boss was not only testing him but wanted to see how serious he was about the job. Fast forward, the Delaware native would intern at the college for six months and loved every minute of it. That boss was able to help him in the next step of his strength and conditioning journey when he helped land him the graduate assistant job at Akron.

The point of his story is you have to be willing to put in the hard work and be willing to take internships that pay a little or nothing, but the experience you will gain is worth everything.

If you want more information about Sport Specific Training program, click here.

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