COACH SPOTLIGHT – GREG NIERATKAJanuary 5, 2016 1:19 pm
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Where did you grow up?
Huntington Station, Long Island, NY ‘merica!
What sports/activities were you involved in growing up?
In High School I was on the Cross Country, Lacrosse, & Ice Hockey teams. XC was pure torture. The team however was strong. We had a former Olympian as our coach and were consistently county and state champs but I was one of the last to cross the finish line. There was one race where they almost left without me because I was puking. That was the last day I had a McDonalds #2 with a super sized chocolate shake the day of a race. XC did keep me in amazing shape for hockey and lacrosse, which was the goal anyway. In college I stayed active with intramural football getting the nickname of Hands for sacrificing life and limb to catch passes. I also boxed out of Church Street starting in my senior year of college and for a few years afterwards.
What is your educational background like?
I graduated from Villanova with a BS in Managerial Information Systems. I minored in bad penmanship as you are all subjected to on the whiteboard.
When did you first get into CrossFit and how did it happen?
In 2010 I injured my knee training for my 2nd triathlon of the season. Unfortunately it required surgery. After my initial post surgery PT, I enlisted the services of a friend who was a personal trainer to help me get my strength back. Little did I know it but he got his L1 from Glassman ages ago and while he never mentioned it by name, he had me doing CrossFit the entire time. Take my word for it, there is nothing quite like doing Fran by yourself in a quiet gym surrounded by terrified senior citizens. Needless to say I was hooked and have been doing CrossFit ever since.
Aside from Solace, where else do you work and what do you do?
I coach and run the business side of NYC Endurance. I also train endurance athletes privately through “Greg’s Endurance Training”. Running a 5K, Half Marathon, Marathon, or Triathlon? Hit me up! Believe it or not you can train for any race without losing your precious gains, and without sacrificing your social life. Just ask Noah or Rusty.
What is the main weakness or training focus you are working on right now?
As many of you already know, I broke my heel doing a ridiculously pointless Spartan Race at Citi field. So my current weaknesses far outweigh my strengths. This may be the most out of shape I have been in years. If I had to pick just one area of focus it is definitely leg strength. I haven’t squatted, deadlifted, or done Olympic lifts in months. Prior to the injury my weakness was the snatch and overhead movements in general. Throughout the course of this injury I have really focused on my gymnastics, mobility, and technique work with the PVC / training bar: back to basics. It has really be paying off. I am finding out I have unlearned (most of) my bad habits. It still doesn’t make the Spartan Race worth it, but it did give me the opportunity to work on my weaknesses.
Do you have any superstitions or rules related to competing and/or training?
I won’t walk under a ladder. No way. I did once on accident a few weeks ago. Blam-o: I stepped in dog crap about a block later. In all seriousness, when it comes to a race or competition, I lay out all of my stuff on the floor the night before. I will not pack my bag in advance because I know I will just unpack it to quadruple check I have everything. For the triathlons it is clearly more involved, but I do the same for simple road races as well as CF competitions. When I did Mayhem in the Meadowlands a few years back, which was my first RX competition, I had all my clothes & gear spread out on the floor. It looked like a crime scene with the clothes taking the place of the outlined victim. Otherwise, when it comes to actually competing, no specific superstitions. The hard work is done beforehand. Game day should be easier than the training. The more you sweat in practice, the less you bleed in battle, right?
Are there any special approaches you have for competing?
I like to keep it light. If something gets too serious I bug out and implode a bit. If I am not cracking jokes or laughing then something is wrong. Doing my first triathlon, I was out on the bike leg. At about mile 15, there was a turn around point. As I approached, I noticed someone wearing the same bike shorts as me had already turned around. Obviously, the goof in me wanted to say something so I made it my mission to catch and pass him. As I did I flashed him a thumbs up, a goofy grin while I said “nice shorts dude.” It was my homage to Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber: “Killer boots dude!” During Mayhem there was an event where we had to carry a 100lb sandbag up all of the interior ramps of Giants Stadium to the very top then back down. As I passed people on the way up & down with the sandbag on my shoulders I said “Zooooom.” I still do that today on a run or on my bike. Gotta keep it light. It’s supposed to be fun.
What is your diet like?
I survive on a steady diet of eggs, bacon, hamburgers, sweet potato fries, and cookies. Lots of cookies. #IIFYM… in this case M equals mouth. Eat all the food!
Do you have any morning rituals?
My days start very early but I still snooze once. I set the alarm to go off 10 minutes before I actually have to get moving so the snooze is built in. It helps me get mentally ready just lying in bed while waking up. I will click on the light, check my e-mails, listen to the news, and see what happened in the world while I slept. I don’t get to eat before coaching since it is so $%^& early. But I do program my coffee maker the night before so I am caffeinated and ready to rock n’roll at 4:45am.
What was the trigger that made you decide to become a coach?
Before I took the plunge, I attended a Level 1 certification at Mayhem in Tennessee and about 3 specialty certs around the Northeast. At first, I attended them purely for personal growth. I really enjoy the learning aspect of CrossFit. Sean, the owner of the CF Concrete Jungle, was very supportive and pushed me to give coaching a shot. At first I was hesitant, but after coaching a few night and weekend classes at the Jungle I was hooked. Helping people achieve their goals was the definite trigger and I knew coaching was what I wanted to do. When I hung up the suit and tie after over a decade in finance, I dove headfirst into coaching fulltime. I haven’t looked back since.
What was your greatest coaching achievement to date?
On the Endurance side, I recently trained an athlete to a 40 minute PR year over year at the NYC Marathon. On the CF side there isn’t just one thing that stands out. Solace is a new gym with a lot of athletes who are CrossFit newbies. It is amazing to see the extraordinary growth the members have made in a relatively short period of time. As a coach, that is what keeps me going.
What type of atmosphere do you try and cultivate in your classes?
I recognize that people are choosing to come to the gym. People pay good money and come on their free time. I firmly believe that if it isn’t fun, they won’t come back. While the same is probably true with gains & achievements, I feel it is more so the overall feeling of the entire hour versus the few seconds it may take to achieve that 1RM PR.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see CrossFitters making?
Neglecting the fundamentals & not honoring progressions. Everyone wants to do butterfly pull-ups even if they still haven’t mastered consecutive strict or even kipping pull-ups. Safe and proper movement is paramount. If an athlete is struggling with strict pull-ups then in my opinion they are not prepared for kipping or butterfly pull-ups. More importantly: their joints and muscles are most likely not ready for the additional range of motion and stress either. Honor the progression. At the same time, people want to lift 2 or 3 times their bodyweight, but probably haven’t revisited their form since foundations. Perfect practice makes perfect. Leave your ego at the door, strip down the weight from time to time. Hammer through perfect form. If you can’t master a movement with just the bar, chances are you won’t be efficient with weight on the bar.
What’s your favorite music for training?
I can listen to almost anything. After a while, it is just white noise anyway. I believe motivation is internal. Either you are going to push to do that rep or not. Some gangster rap or thrash metal isn’t going to do it for you. Original CrossFit badass Josh Everett said it best years ago when he said: “If you need music to do this, you need to try something new.” I agree.
Inchworms obviously. Joking. I really enjoy Kettlebells, Cleans, Front Squats, & Rowing.
What’s your least favorite CrossFit movement?
Snatches and Overhead Squats. My mobility severely hinders my ability to successfully do snatches & OHS. Even though I was able to triple my score on 14.2 year over year (10 C2B & 10 OHS @ 95#) they were not pretty. Looking forward to giving that workout a shot once again now that my mobility is improved.
What’s your favorite movie?
How much time do you have? I am a movie & music junkie for sure. There are a few movies that I will always leave on if I come across them on TV no matter how far along they are: The Hunt for Red October, A Few Good Men, The Counselor, The Godfather, American History X, The Silence of the Lambs, Fight Club any of the Bourne’s… the list goes on.
Any guilty pleasure TV shows?
American Dad & Metalocoplyse are definitely up there for sure. Can’t beat a good cartoon. I also can’t get enough of Arrested Development, Homeland, Newsroom, Silicon Valley, & Seinfeld.
What is one thing about you most people do not know?
Right after graduating from college, I took my passion for music to the next level. While spending my days on Wall Street, I spent nights and weekends as a DJ/Producer. Career highlights before retiring include producing a song that was released on vinyl in the UK in March of 2007, and in 2011 I DJ’ed the 20th Anniversary party for Industrial Strength Records alongside hardcore techno legends like Lenny Dee, Ophidian & Satronica. Of the 9 DJ’s to play the party, I was the only one to use vinyl. If you look hard enough you can find my set on-line. It is not for the faint of heart. You have been warned.
Any final thoughts or advice for our readers?
If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.
There’s always room at the 5am
There’s always money in the banana stand.