Hit the Lights – Training in the Dark to Improve Reaction Time


Ever tried to jump up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night and run as fast as you can to the bathroom in someone else’s house? Well, when you did it, how’d that wall to the face feel? Probably not too good. The reason for this temporary blindness is something that we can control to some degree, in such a way that it benefits our athletic performance by improving our reaction time – but only if you know how.

As a strength coach, my methodology hasn’t come from reading books and listening to seminars. It’s come from my experience as a professional athlete. Natural talent and skill are always part of the equation, but this wasn’t the catalyst that helped me excel. It was my realization that my talent must also be accompanied by an ability to pick up on the things that others do not. ( Like most things in life, details do matter. )

This mindset has also aided me when trying to find new and uncommon ways to help the pro athletes I train gain an advantage. A good example of this is reactionary timing. Many of the athletes I work with are involved in sports that require strong reactionary timing; Boxing, hitting a baseball, adjusting to a moving puck… all things that require split second decisions. Of course this reaction has to do with several varying muscle groups coming into play at just the right moment in order to facilitate the desired result. But, the big x factor I realized was the one dealing with eyesight itself.

In the mid 90’s, there was an experimental training program done seasonally with Norwegian athletes. The program was done outdoors and consisted of two groups. The first group met at 5:30 AM while the other group met at 5:00 PM. Both groups participated in the same drills, most of which consisted of timing and agility. At the end of the eight-week training cycle, it seemed as though the early morning athletes gained a far better benefit than the evening training group. I say benefit in terms of improved sport performance on a sport specific basis – things like a higher batting average, a higher save percentage as a goalkeeper… etc. What I learned from this training program wasn’t so much the dedication these athletes had to getting up earlier, somehow working harder, and thus producing better results. I noticed a less obvious detail – that maybe there was some benefit coming from training in minimally lit conditions.

To understand this point, you first have to understand that the eye is a sense organ that reacts to light and pressure by providing a three dimensional moving image. When you try to do something in the dark, like reading, your pupils dilate in an attempt to take in more light through the lens in your retina. The photoreceptor cells in your retina, rods and cones, use what light is available to provide information to the brain about what it sees. The rods are responsible for motion detection (a huge thing in athletics) and work better in low light. They’re almost entirely responsible for our night vision. Just as we can train other organs in our body, such as our heart, to get stronger and more efficient, we can do the same with our eyesight. What better way to do this than to challenge your vision when it’s at its weakest point? In other words, do the training you’d normally do in a lit room, in the dark. That might mean something as simple as your lifting. The more drastic the changes you make, the greater the benefit you will get, which is the case in anything we do. In this instance, thinking outside the box isn’t just recommended for the best results, it’s mandatory. I’ve gone so far as to have some of my fighters hold their sparring sessions in complete darkness. If you don’t want to go to that extreme, try any type of reactionary drills. Speed bag work, ball tosses, even taking batting practice in the dark will return results that you just can’t achieve by doing the same training in a conventional way.

Because the rods concentrated around our retina are used most effectively when NOT looking directly at the target, doing anything that forces you to pick up a target without doing so will generate a measured improvement in reaction time. The eyes use more rods when averting your sight and tracking the target through space using your peripheral vision. When you train in the dark, this happens naturally because you can’t focus completely on the moving target by the simple fact that there’s not enough light. Because of this, your eyes become more efficient at picking it up sooner by the increased rod usage. Over time, this translates into a better reaction time in your actual arena of competition.

It’s not that dissimilar to running with a parachute on. You won’t run as fast with it as you can without it. But, when you’ve trained enough with that chute and the time comes to run without it, you’ll move like a ’67 GTO running a 1/4 mile. And who doesn’t want a ’67 GTO?




The Chocolate Milk Lie

Much of this article was taken from Endurance News, issue #105, by Hammer Nutrition


Having been a sponsored athlete with Hammer Nutrition in the past, I had access to their products and Recoverite was something I used religiously in my training. That being said, this article is less about a product pitch and more about basic sports nutrition. Now time to debunk the myth…

Based on a single study in 2006 that reported chocolate milk to be a highly effective recovery drink, thousands of athletes have consumed countless gallons of it, believing it provides optimal recovery benefits. However, before jumping on the bandwagon, have a closer look at it in comparison to some of the other more traditional recovery supplements.


The nearly 12.5 grams of carbohydrates in 100 calories of chocolate milk is comprised of sucrose, lactose and high fructose corn syrup. If you’re interested in recovery, you probably don’t want all that “junk sugar” going in to your body. Most top supplements supply 36% more carbohydrates per 100 calories and none of them are in the form of simple sugars or lactose. They’ll typically be made up of more complex carbs like Maltodextrin, which is a far better source than what’s found in chocolate.


In that same 100 calorie sample, you’ll get 5 grams of fat in the chocolate milk and the majority of those are saturated. Your glass is typically larger than 1 serving, so plan on getting close to 10 grams of fat every time you sit down with one. Not the case with the supplements, unless you add chocolate to them. Which may be good, just not in this case.


Chocolate milk, like other dairy, does contain protein. That’s a good thing because it’s one of your body’s most important building blocks for post workout recovery. Unfortunately, over 80% of it is in the form of casein. Casein is known to be a poor protein source for athletes because of its bioavailability. All proteins have a BV, or biological value rating assessed to them and casein carries a rating of 77. With athlete specific supplements, you’ll get significantly more protein per serving and it’ll come from a much better source. The majority of the higher quality supplements will use whey isolate as not just the main source but the only source. Whey has a much higher BV value as well as a greater percentage of branched chain amino acids, which will make your body very happy come recovery time.


If you want to put your body in the best possible position for it to recover quickly and efficiently, you’ve got to put the highest quality fuel into it. Every athlete has been told countless times about the “food is fuel” thing. We all know it to be true but, that being said, some times are more important than others to adhere to this fact. If you’re going to cheat on the calories you put into your body, don’t do it in recovery. Recovery sets the table for absolutely everything else you’ll do training wise. It’s the single most important component to athletic performance. When you compare the profile of chocolate milk to that of the top recovery supplements, there’s really no comparison. Though this goes for everyone doing any type of athletic activity, the highest level of athlete needs to be far more diligent than does someone going out to run 2 miles. In the way that everyone can benefit from this, the higher the level you compete at, the higher the importance that you adhere to strict guidelines. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy some chocolate milk, not even close. What I’m saying is that it just happens to be the sexy thing to talk about once someone decided that they were going to get their name out there with an oddball concept. It’s not the worse one in the world, nor is it the last one – remember running in those ridiculous 5 finger running shoes? Keep in mind that for every fad theory that comes out, we typically wind up right back where we started. Tried and true research gives us facts that can’t be disputed. As smart as you are when you train, put your body in the best possible position to continue doing it. Will you pay a more for the supplement than for a gallon of milk? Yep. So what… make meals for yourself a few time a week instead of buying out. You’ll save that money and most likely eat cleaner. Kind of like a two for one. And who doesn’t like a deal?




Lessons We Can all Take Away from McGregor vs Mayweather


I think everyone that took out a loan to watch the May-Mac fight wound up being surprised, likely pleasantly, by what took place. Me, as a fighter, expected it to go the way that most other writers had suggested it would. That Mayweather would counter, move and pot shot a frustrated McGregor for 12 rounds. That he would thoroughly embarrass him for the mistake of taking on what most people, including myself, believed to be the best defensive fighter in history. What we got was far from that.

When a fighter tells the media how he’s going to approach the fight strategically, they’re bullshitting you 99% of the time. We know this, which would seem to make the question irrelevant but oddly difficult to avoid asking in some obligatory way. Maybe forcing them to lie makes it easier for us to judge them should they lose. But Mayweather did something different, he told the truth. He said he would be aggressive, walking McGregor down and forcing him to exhaust much more energy than what he’s used to in order to keep Mayweather off of him and, by Mayweathers lack of output, give in to his own adrenaline rush of thinking he may actually have a chance. The problem with an adrenaline rush is that the inevitable adrenaline dump is soon to follow. This is something that didn’t seem to get mentioned in McGregors camp. What made this even more interesting is that this style of fighting is so drastically different than the Mayweather style that nobody in their right mind would ever have believed he was going to do it. But he did.

Floyd Mayweather is a fighter often referred to as being boring by people that don’t know or understand the sport. At least not to the extent that they believe they do, which means most of the general population. The flip side of that are the fighters and coaches that have lived it. The sport is about hitting and not being hit back. He’s not a risk taker, he fights safe. He gets away with it because his skills are so far superior to those he fights that the often lopsided fights lost any real excitement due to his lack of desire to finish off his opponent, usually opting to ride out his victory on  massive point differential. Exciting, usually not. Smart? We’ll know in 10 years if he doesn’t sound like Muhammad Ali.

So what’s the lesson here you might ask. Floyd Mayweather came out, aware of his own criticism and equally aware of his legacy and how we wanted to go down in history. He said he was going to come out and give the people what they wanted to see, mostly because of what he knew the fans saw as a let down when he fought Pacquiao. That mega fight as it was billed, wound up being as one sided as most of his other fights. It was also, in the eyes of people that know boxing, a masterpiece. Nonetheless, in what he knew was his last fight, he wanted to go out giving people something the fans hadn’t seen him do but that he claimed he was quite capable of doing. Which was to stalk someone until he was able to take him out. He did. He risked his legacy by doing exactly what sports people said he needed to avoid doing in order to win a fight with someone that had no business being in the ring with him. He said what he was going to do, against all advice and “wisdom”, and was successful at it. He did it knowing he would be criticized during and after the fight for doing it that way but he did it with enough belief in himself that what anyone else said became insignificant in the grand scheme of things. We’re told every single day of what we shouldn’t do and why we shouldn’t do it. Probably with more regularity than we’re told what we SHOULD do. It’s the problem of people being afraid instead of encouraged. The ever present value of pessimism vs optimism. Why something won’t work instead of why it will. Our ability to test that seemingly unsolid ground that lies in between what we think we believe and what others claim to know best is where few dare to tread. Often times when we do tread there we fail. When we do, those who thought they were supporting us only by discouraging our own longing for more than the ordinary will be sure to let us know that they were right. That’s a large price to pay for many. The price of failure not in our eyes but living with knowing how others view us. What if we went back to the drawing board of life and regained our own confidence while somehow calming that voice in our head that tries to convince us that we have to let others decide our value should we fall short of our goals rather than knowing with certainty that those voices don’t mean shit unless we let them?

As for my little Irish friend. Connor McGregor, you managed to talk yourself into a 100 million $ payday. You garnered yourself a fight that you had no business getting. Not only did you have no business getting it, you had no business being in the ring with someone who’s skill set was so vastly superiour to your own. The problem with this is that nobody told Connor McGregor that he didn’t belong there. He was so consistent in his needling of Mayweather that it became almost impossible for the fight NOT to happen. I say in jest that nobody told him that he couldn’t compete, everyone did. Even his own camp was realistic in his chances. Not telling him what he needed to do to win but rather reminding of him of what a great performer he is on the big stage. That translates into “do your best and everyone will be see it as a success”. Those voices never got through to him. Nobody is sure of what he truly believed his chances were but he certainly didn’t fight like an athlete that didn’t believe he could win. He proved that through persistence and hard work that you can not only succeed in someone elses domain but that you, and all of us, have the ability to create our own domain. Completely free of the restraints placed on us while trying to follow someone elses rules. He could easily have found a way out of this fight. I don’t believe he ever thought Mayweather would agree to it and I’m sure he was just as surprised as everyone else when he did. But he didn’t bail, he followed it through to it’s conclusion. He made no excuses. The energy most of us use to come up with reasons to avoid doing what needs to be done was used by him to pour back into doing whatever he needed to do to make the best showing of himself. He knew others had no expectations of him winning and he could have let that dim the light he carried with him throughout his training camp. He didn’t. He gave the FU to anyone questioning his ability, his integrity and his work ethic. He followed through with what he said he was going to do, not caring in others eyes whether or not he “failed”. In his eyes, he couldn’t fail. In his eyes, the fact that he made it to the ring that night was his success. Everything after that was gravy because he knew he became more than himself to anyone following his career.

Both of these men had every reason to fail, the odds were stacked against them both. For very different reasons. Though those reasons were different, their resolve was the same. They came out and did what they said they were going to do, regardless of what the end result may be. They laid out a plan and the stuck to it. They based their success not on how they thought others would judge them but by how they knew they’d judge themselves when it was all over. They didn’t let the game play them. They didn’t even play the game, they created their own game and in doing so they set themselves up for a scenario where they couldn’t do anything other than succeed. It’s amazing what believing in ourselves can bring to our lives. We all claim we do but not many of us are willing to show it when the time comes to make the choice between our voice and theirs. Sometimes you just have to take their voice, grab it by the arm and throat punch it. Drown it out so that all we hear is our own and follow it to it’s logical conclusion


Road Running Makes You Weak

(From Outdoor Athlete Magazine 2013)

Road Running Makes you Weak!

By Jeff Watters


Ha! Far from my belief, but it got your attention didn’t it? I’ve always found it interesting that there’s usually such a huge distinction between road runners and trail runners. You’d think that there’s just “runners”, right? Not so much the case. Well, as a devout trail rat, here is my attempt at converting the “others”.

Why trails? There’s a ton of people out there that stay away from running trails, especially those new to running, because of the belief that there’s more of a chance that they’ll get hurt. Maybe they’ll trip on a tree root or fall down a hill. So? That uneven ground that you’re avoiding is one of the things that makes trail running better on your joints than running pavement. The uneven ground on the trails will help strengthen tendons and ligaments by adjusting the amount of tension, through balance and natural body weight, from stride to stride. Flat roads don’t do that nearly as effectively. The pounding that your body goes through on the road, impact after impact, causing shin splints and other overuse injuries, is far less likely to happen on the trails. Why? The surface you’re running on is much softer than the road. What about those tree roots? Pay attention! One of the best things about trail running is the view, THE VIEW! It’s easy to lose yourself in it but, at the same time, trail running puts you into some zen like stage of hyper awareness that makes everything in your mind slow down. You’ll not only see the trail but you’ll feel it. It just takes a little time to trust yourself. Added benefit? Calories, calories and more calories. One of the quickest ways to up your cardio level is to push your limits while training anaerobically. Yes, anaerobically. Your pace on a trail will vary greatly, much more so than in road running. That’s a good thing! You’ll naturally go through slight intervals without even knowing it. One of the best tricks in my bag when it comes to working with elite athletes looking to amp up their cardio in short time? Get them on the trails for 30 minutes of natural running. No GPS, no stopwatch. Just listen to your body and run. When you need to slow down, do it. If you can speed up, do it. It’s the best quick fix there is.

New on the trails? Start out easy. You don’t have to run fast to progress fast. You should follow the same guidelines above, as their relative. Go out and run at a pace you can maintain for a couple of minutes, walk when you need to. Follow this run walk method by listening to your body. Once you can run for 20 minutes without having to stop, slowly increase your time, not distance. I’m a big believer in having a goal. This also applies to trail running. Pick a trail event, Michigan has some GREAT ones. Give yourself about a month to train for it, if you’re new to the sport. If you’re already running, substitute a road run for one on the trails. Remember, your body becomes its purpose. In other words, if you’re planning to run a trail race, train on trails. Come race day, just have fun with it! If at all possible, try to familiarize yourself with the trails you’ll be racing on. If you can’t physically get on them, try to find a map. Even if you can’t, you’ll still be fine. Another benefit to trail running? They all climb and they all drop. If you train for time, you’ll be fine wherever you’re at.

Ready to go find a trail event? First things first. Where will you train? The best trails to run on are mountain bike trails. You can check out the Michigan Mountain Biking Association’s site to find a trail near you. As I said earlier, Michigan has a ton of great trail events. Here are some of my favorites – Dances with Dirt, Great Lakes Relay, Stay in the Shade’s Mountain Man Run…  These races all vary in distance and difficulty. I’ve done them all and would encourage anyone reading this article to try any one of them. Some of them, including mine, will take registered racers out to the course to do a guided pre run the week before the race.

Whether you’re going to race or just go out and play on your own, here’s a couple of trail running tips / etiquette that should always be followed –

-Stay on the trail

-Run OVER obstacles, not around them

-Respect animals

-Keep your dog on a leash if you can’t control it

-Leave no trace; take out what you take in!

-Most importantly, GIVE BACK! Volunteer, support, & encourage others to participate in trail maintenance days.

Follow the guidelines, get some good trail shoes, take off your headphones and enjoy the sights and sounds. Now go break a leg, but not really.


Jeff Watters owns Motor City Bootcamp and Watters Performance LLC. He’s also a member of the Brooks ID (inspire daily) and PACE (performance and coaching elite) programs. You can view some of his programs, or contact him, at www.jeffwatters.com

Free Knowledge… 4/19/17

You don’t need a gym. You don’t need home equipment. You don’t need a treadmill and you don’t need lululemon pants. You need some good sneakers and to get outside. Your body is the only instrument you need. Do some hills. Drop for some push ups, even if you do them from your knees. Jump up and down for some plyo squats. Just do SOMETHING. Save money, save time and get some fresh air… spring is here

Why Not in the City Too?

This is a follow up to the piece written below, Why Not in the City, from 2006…


What Gym? Looking Back 20 Years and Realizing We Were Right All Along…

By Jeff Watters


I’ve been doing this a long time. I guess I’m quite a bit older than I feel, which is what makes this whole “doing this a long time” thing hard to wrap my hands around. I’m using this piece as a sort of follow up to an article I wrote back in 2005 that would serve to details my training philosophy to those that cared to hear it. Maybe even to those that didn’t care what it was but were curious as to why we were meeting to train each day at the odd locations, only to do some really weird shit.


It became clear to me over this past weekend that I wanted to get back into a more focused and creative space, mentally, in order to better facilitate what I’ve been trying to push on you guys all these years. When the call came from a friend of mine that was wishing to set up an interview for a men’s fitness magazine that you’ve heard of (he’s an editor there), it provided me that jolt that was needed. We’d not spoken in quite some time. He asked if I was still “open for business”, making reference to the fact that I never had a store front and that my “gym” was wherever I decided it was to be that day. He was sick of dealing with the same regurgitated bullshit coming from whatever Cross fit or some other “functional fitness” trainer or gym he had been dealing with. Problem with that stuff isn’t that it’s no good. At the core of it, there’s always some value. The problem is that most of the people using the terminology don’t actually know what it means. If your goal is to enter a competition for doing Olympic power lifting, then you need to work on those specific movements as well as other compensatory movements to support them. If not, they’re useless – in terms of every day application and fitness, as in improving your health. Other trainers and facilities may have you jump on some plyo boxes and call it functional training or something similar, and it sounds pretty cool, but that’s still not the point. My editor friend said that he LOVED the fact that I’d stuck true to my beliefs and my goals and never fell into allowing myself to become a commodity. I suddenly felt somewhat hypocritical and embarrassed when I told him that I DID in fact have a small space in Detroit that I was using for some of my sport specific work. Though I did start to think that, just like things become easy in day to day life, we can sometimes fall into the same thing with work. For instance, if I have a fighter that I need to do heavy strength work with on F am, it’s easier just to have my next one on one client meet me there rather than taking the time to design something on a day to day specific agenda that would necessitate us meeting elsewhere. Rather than designing my day around the planning, I was planning around my day. There’s a big difference.


What I’ve gotten myself back into this summer, which is exactly what I’m preaching in these words I’m hoping you read is to look at what I want to accomplish with you and figure out where best to do it in such a way that your body is actually moving through space. Actually applying the fitness that we’re installing and making your body use it to move. THIS is functional fitness. All it is, is making your training adaptable and being able to put it into practice in day to day application. Meaning the leg work we do will be applied to your running, etc. That’s my definition of it and that’s how I use it. Motor City Bootcamp was designed with that in mind. 5 days a week, at 530 am, we would meet at various parks and parking decks in the area. Depending on where the group was from, we may meet at Groves HS in the Birmingham area. The Lafayette street parking garage in Royal Oak. Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills or even Hart Plaza in Detroit. It didn’t matter because we had everything we needed. If I wanted speed work, we’d hit the track. Stairs, we’d work in a parking deck. We were doing this in ’93, before crossfit was even conceptualized or functional fitness was even a term. Guess what else? It worked. It still works. The type of training we do is varied and fucking hard. I’ll take an athlete with talent and build them into an athlete with world class conditioning, regardless of where they started. You’re not in shape unless you’re in “Bootcamp” Shape. My most dedicated have been with me through the winters, before we had someplace to train inside, and came out a different person and athlete in the spring. Make no mistake; the training program is your sport. If you can play that sport, you’re conditioned enough to play any sport. What about my facility in Detroit? I love it, though I believe it’s been overused. Roughly 25% of our training has taken place there over the last couple of years. I want that to change. Though there is a the need and benefit of free weight training, it’s not often enough for the day to day person to warrant trips to the gym. Many of my clients / pro athletes have programs in place that make it necessary to utilize it at some point but we will do so less often when possible. For everyone else, EVERYTHING you need can be found or produced in such a way that you need never train indoors again. That’s what I’m aiming to do and why you’re reading this. Not say you can never go inside to train but rather to show you another way of thinking. You don’t need to run around and throw weights with your shirts off or lay on the ground in a heap with your compression socks pulled up after all.


The Body Becomes it’s Function..

Why’s that important and why does it apply to any of this? I’ll tell you. I was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopothy when I was 37. I trained the way it was recommended for me to, I ate well, I slept well and took meds for a year with the hopes of getting to avoid a pace maker and defibrillator. My ejection fraction didn’t improve. It’s been several years now since that surgery. This past year has seen some major life changes that should have wreaked havoc on my health. They’ve caused me to sleep less, self medicate more and eat like shit much of the time. The one thing I did maintain religiously, and that was vastly different than what was considered “the right way to train” was how I chose to care for my fitness. I trained with intensity and I trained the same way I train my classes and clients. No dumb heart rate monitors because, believe it or not, you can listen to your body without one. No tools, just training and doing what felt good. Not good as in easy but good as in it was what I was supposed to be doing. Lots of boxing, lots of stairs, lots of jumping off bridges and swimming across the river, lots of hopping fences onto the bleachers, lots of carrying a partner on my back while doing lunges, lots of pushups in the fountain at that unnamed park in Birmingham. My goal was to make it through a 16 week training camp with the hope that my cardiologist would ok a fight in San Juan for me last November. She didn’t. What she did do is to tell me that my heart had improved to the point that, if the numbers I had now were the numbers they found when I was 37, she’d had never recommended surgery in the first place. This was a one year change when everything I was doing was counterintuitive to what would have been best to give me these results. Just think if I’d been sleeping and eating better. As it stands now, I am on pace to be one of the first patient / athletes to EVER have this device removed from my body. I believe 100% that it’s almost entirely due to the training I’ve taken on over the course of time between the testing. That’s good enough for me and that should be good enough for you. If my heart can double it’s ejection fraction, a number that’s not expected to move once surgery takes place (thus the need for it), your body can reap what it needs by you training the way you should be training. Because, the body becomes it’s function. Force your body to move and adapt and your body will make itself strong and fit enough to be able to move and adapt.


As I go over this, the memory comes to me of when we were making fun of the people screaming and moaning as they were “training” in the hallway – pushing their sled, loaded up with plates, down the hallway with their shits off and high fiving each other. The thought to me is funny because, for the money they spent on that sled, (which is designed to be used on grass. The grass causes friction on the skid plates which is what makes it harder to push. Skid plate on cement is the equivalent of pushing it on ice) they could have bought 100 tires. I actually get mine for free so they don’t have to pay a disposal fee at the tire place. The reason that’s funny is because I took my free tire and had my athlete push it down the hallway, past them and back, while they all looked at us like we were crazy and wondered if we were making fun of them. When I informed them that my free tire was twice as hard to push down the hall, because tires create traction on cement…. Duh, car tires on the street shouldn’t be easy to slide, than their expensive metal sled on ice, they just turned around and started to grunt some more. Because for some people it’s about the show and not the process. We are about the process. Being about the process will get you to the result. All you have to do is show up every day and let “that day” take care of itself. Show up to enough “today’s and tomorrow will happen. You don’t have to take your shirt off for it and you don’t have to pay a gym membership for it. Shit, you don’t even have to pay me for it if you decide to follow my blog routines. But then I’d hate you and want to kick your ass for ripping me off when you go to teach your own group, like so many others have done. What’s that saying again; Pioneers get copied while the copiers get rich? Maybe I’m at the wrong end after all?


Anyway, I’ll keep you posted on that story. Interested? Group sessions meet Tuesday through Friday at 5:30 am in Birmingham and Royal Oak, depending on the day. One on one training is scheduled based on specific programming needs. Once determined, an accessible location will be selected.

  • JW


Why NOT in the City?

By Jeff Watters



Many lifetimes ago, I was a boxer. One of the things I loved most about being a boxer was going to training camp. Sometimes training camps were attended less regularly than others. I was never one who, back in those days, was known to have prepared quite as much as I should have for my fights. That being said, it wasn’t necessarily the “training” part of training camp that I looked forward to as much as it was being able to get out of the city. Most of the time fighters will take themselves out of their natural environment while preparing for the upcoming fight. It’s usually out someplace where nobody else will interfere. If you’re a well known fighter, you may wind up at the boxing center at Big Bear Mountain. If you’re like me, you usually were fortunate to get out to the cabins at Island Lake Recreation Area. The thing was, it didn’t even matter that I was only 30 minutes from home. It felt like 300. My state of mind, my energy, my enthusiasm… everything was much more intense and much clearer. I attributed that to the surroundings and lack of distractions.


Many years later, when making a living boxing was 5 concussions ago, I started Motor City Bootcamp. My dream with MCB was to have an alternate to the typical gym exercisers by offering something outside, year round.  I vowed to use no equipment other than the surroundings. My thought was to have MCB run at various parks in the area. Not your local park but places like Bald Mountain, Island Lake and anywhere else that offered a “location”. The problem was that I couldn’t get people to follow me out there on a regular basis. What I loved for lack of distractions became the distraction to others. I thought to myself, I may as well just do it downtown. It’s not like people are going to follow me out to the country anyway. Then it clicked, why NOT downtown?


I began doing some trial run – throughs on routines I’d come up with, still using the surrounding areas as the exercise stations. Parking deck ramps became hills. Stairs became climbing ladders and children’s playgrounds, or even scaffolding, became pull up bars. The REAL Motor City Bootcamp was born. Now, after having offered my 5:30 am workout since 1996, I can say that the best thing we ever did was take it Urban. There’s nothing in the world like being out there before the sun comes up. You see the peace in the city. Running down the riverfront near Hart Plaza, you can see what really is great about Detroit. Now, everything I see becomes some type of exercise addition. I’m not sure if that’s a gift or a curse. I do know that, just the other day, one of my athletes said to me “When we were in NY, all I could think of was – God, if Jeff were here, he’d have us running up and down all those stairs!”. The things that were once distractions to me became the attributes of my program that kept people coming. They were now the reason for being there.


There are so many people that look to escape from the city for the brief moment of solitude. Of getting to mountain bike through the woods or spending a few hours doing an adventure race. I’m a HUGE supporter of all those things. I’m also a huge supporter of realizing how many things that there are to do without having to leave at all. Sometimes the best wilderness there is, the best escape there is, isn’t really from your surroundings. It’s from your head. I realized that Island Lake wasn’t my escape. Training for my fight was my escape. I could have been training in someone’s basement. The fact that I was focused on doing something that wasn’t part of my normal routine was the real escape.


Do you need an escape? Check out one of the several outdoor exercise programs in the area. Detroit, Royal Oak, Birmingham, Ferndale… they’re everywhere. For you athletes that, like me, love adventure racing – check out an urban adventure race. It’s a great way to change up your race routine for seasoned racers. It’s also a great way to break into the sport with a little bit less focus on many of the more technical aspects of the sport. The problem is that, unless you know about them, you’re probably not going to look for them. Fortunately, I’ve done your homework for you. Here are a couple of Michigan races that are well run and great for both beginners and seasoned racers. Check out the Grand Rapids Urban Adventure Race, and, though it’s already been held this season, check out the SMART BLAST in 2012.


If you’re tired of feeling like you need a break from your routine, take it urban. You may even feel like you just got back from a weekend of exercise up north. That’s not enough for you? How about this, taken from the clue sheet given out at The Great Urban Race –

At the start of the Great Urban Race, teams are given an envelope containing twelve clues. The clue sheet contains a mixture of challenges and is designed to expose participants to local businesses within the community in a fresh new way. According to the Great Urban Race website, clue examples incorporate:

  • Physical Challenges: Examples: Feed your teammate some tasty food, do something daring, or compete in a game. Mazes, Segways, Tae Kwon Do lessons, bicycle races, holding huge fish, canoeing and many other activities were used during the 2009 season.
  • Puzzles and Brain Teasers: Examples: anagrams, word searches, cryptograms and crosswords.
  • Interaction with the general public: Examples: Sing to a stranger, take photos with men with mustaches

Crazy huh? And just think, you didn’t even need to pack up the family and head up 75 just to deal with the Sunday traffic coming home. Just as the moniker of this publication preaches “ALL THE WORLD IS A GYM”

It’s free, Use it!




Jeff owns Motor City Bootcamp and Watters Performance LLC. He’s also a member of the Brooks ID and P.A.C.E Programs as well as the coach of Priority Health’s Endurance Racing Teams for Southeastern Michigan. Follow his blog at jeffwatters.wordpress.com or visit his website www.jeffwatters.com