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Bill Sonnemaker Q&A: Top Trainer & Educator

By Kristin Rooke / October 22, 2018

An internationally sought after exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and educator, Bill Sonnemaker MS is recognized worldwide by his peers in the health & fitness industry as a highly motivated and committed advocate for the advancement of fitness professionals’ training and competence standards.

He is distinguished as a cutting edge leader by his credentials, scientific education, and numerous national & international awards. In 2007, Bill received both the IDEA International Personal Trainer Award of the Year and the NASM Pursuit of Excellence Awards.

Bill is also the founder of Catalyst Fitness, Georgia’s only fully accredited and medically recognized personal training and performance enhancement facility. In this interview, he shares his expertise on movement, favorite equipment, and why personalizing your training is so important.

1. What got you started in the fitness industry?

First, as a job while working my way through college. I was a pre-med student and initially saw it as a better way of earning money than bar-tending or bouncing. The hours were more conducive to school and the pay was relatively equal at the time.

I was able to apply the information I learned in school (#science) to my job and vice versa. Although I worked as a trainer throughout college, I never thought it would be my career. During my senior year, I was recruited to work at the CDC as an analytical research chemist; I chose to put med school on hold and work at the CDC while adding in a masters in molecular genetics & biochemistry – while there, my coworkers constantly asked me for information on nutrition and exercise programs.

Also during this time, I was competing in bodybuilding competitions, sticking out on the CDC campus carrying my one-gallon water bottle everywhere I could. Needless to say, I began picking up clients – just like Al Pacino says in the Godfather: just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in. And I’m glad they did.

Fast forward a bit and it was time to go to med school (you can only defer for so long!) and I had to make a big decision. Due to a number of personal circumstances, I wanted to do craniofacial reconstruction as my specialty. While it would have been extremely rewarding, it would also have been impractical with student loans and the inability to contribute financially to my family for roughly the next decade.

So, I chose personal training as a career, no longer merely a job. I always wanted my own business, and to be an educator. Personal training gave me this opportunity: my first step was to achieve all the top certifications and advanced specializations from credible organizations recognized by the medical community, including a Masters in Exercise (performance enhancement and injury prevention). In doing this, I found it easy to set myself apart from the herd – it was then I began receiving local, national, and international recognition for the work I was doing. I continued to leverage each award for a larger platform and audience.

2. What’s your specialty as a trainer and coach?

Specificty, specificity, specificity…of program design and quality of movement. All too often I see so-called trainers and coaches who only focus on “intensity,” rather than quality of movement and the specificity (mechanical, neuromuscular, metabolic pathways) of an exercise. Any “trainer” can make an exercise challenging – the real question is whether or not it is applicable to the person performing it. This is known as the Dynamic Correspondence, or Transfer of Training Effect.

3. What are three of your favorite exercises and why?

1. Redcord Side Lying Adducting & Abducting Plank

These two exercises are Closed Kinetic Chain Exercises (CKC), as opposed to something like side lying leg lifts, which are Open Kinetic Chain Exercises (OKC). CKC exercises are generally thought to be more functional because they activate Agonists, Antagonists, Synergists, Neutralizers, and Stabilizers, whereas OKC exercises activate only Agonists and Synergists. The point here is that CKCs activate more myofascial tissue (muscles and connective tissues) and place a greater demand on the nervous system.

These two exercises activate & strengthen tissues that are often under-active, thereby not functioning up to par. For people experiencing low back, hip, or knee pain, these are some of my “go to” exercises to help alleviate the pain. Even when there is no dysfunction, I see a significant increase in their force reduction/production capabilities of the hips and legs. This means they can control and move more weight due to increased stabilization of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex as a result of the activation of their adductors (inner thighs) and abductors (outer thighs). Keep in mind that if people can lift more weight and do so safely, they will achieve their goals faster.

2. VIPR Hay-Balers

This is one of my favorite exercises as it combines a deadlift-like motion (for the hips and legs) with a pulling-rotating-pressing motion (for the upper body). The movement can be easily regressed or progressed, and it utilizes all the components of the Muscle Action Spectrum (Eccentric-Isometric-Concentric).

3. SURGE Transverse Plane Arcs With Feet Moving

In this exercise, you move your feet on and off the platform. I love how it takes a traditional core-based movement and combines it with ground reaction forces. You can feel it from your toes all the way through your shoulders.

4. For the busy professional interested in losing fat, what are your top three recommendations?

Lifestyle change: in order to change your life, you must change your life – in other words, it is a lifestyle change, not merely changing a few details in your day.

Diet: cut the crap, fake food, “frankenfood,” processed foods, etc. Chemicals don’t belong in our foods for any reason. Eat organic when possible. Eat things as close to natural as possible. By natural, I mean straight from the ground or animal.

Breakfast: people who eat breakfast are more likely to lose fat and keep it off.

5. What are your thoughts on HIIT vs steady state cardio for optimal results?

HIIT over steady state cardio all day long. Steady state is so 1985. That being said, “steady state” training is important at early stages of training as it prepares the myofascial tissues and energy systems for the increased demands of more intense training programs.

6. What is the most effective way to get over a workout plateau?

Start with a well thought out and properly implemented program. By challenging the nervous system and soft tissue systems through proper mechanisms (stabilization, strength, power), one can prevent or limit plateau periods. That is, until the glass ceiling is reached. But, very few people ever reach their glass ceiling, meaning their genetic potential.

7. Do you have different workout recommendations for women and men?

I have different recommendations for everyone – the principle of individuality, one of the nine governing principles of exercise science, states that each person is unique and brings with them their set of circumstances. Thus, under ideal conditions, training programs should be based on the goals, needs, and desires of each individual performing them. Additionally, any physiological differences would need to be taken into account.

8. You are known for creative, fun, dynamic, yet effective workouts using a variety of equipment. What are the top five pieces you like?

At Catalyst Fitness, we developed a formula for evaluating the worth of a piece of equipment, using the three “V”s: variety, versatility, and value.

#1 is the human body. Bodyweight based exercises that train stability, movement, or both, are fantastic ways to start or add variety to any training program. After all, using equipment is just another way of training movement patterns by adding a new or different form of resistance.

#2 is suspension training. I use Redcord (and TRX/CrossCore) for assessments, corrective exercises, and performance training. TRX and CrossCore are great for simple yet effective fitness based workouts.

#3 is VIPR. This is the king of variety, with over 9,000 exercises to choose from. It’s always easy to find the right exercise at the right level of intensity for each individual.

#4 is SURGE. If VIPR is king of variety, then SURGE is king of intensity, whether it be feathers touch or an explosive punch, the accommodating (omnikinetic) resistance of SURGE allows users to safely train at a level of intensity that cannot be found elsewhere. Add that to the ability to train multiple energy systems and the myofascial shoulder complex in an integrated fashion and you have the best new exercise tool this decade.

9. What is a quick breakfast idea that’s healthy and on-the-go?

Below are three examples that are mainstays in our household & those of our members:

#1: Uncooked raw oatmeal and organic unsweetened apple sauce. Mix in equal ratios. You can also add in nuts or seeds for a fat source.

#2: Greek yogurt and uncooked oatmeal topped with nuts/seeds and fresh fruit.

#3: Coconut or Almond Milk Egg White Shake. Pour or pump 1 c. egg whites into a large glass, fill the remainder of the glass with coconut or almond milk. Stir, drink, place glass in sink or dishwasher. Grab a piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or seeds and head out the door.

These all take 2-3 minutes to prepare, are super uber healthy, nutritious, and delicious.

10. Anything else you would like to mention?

You can follow us on Twitter, and YouTube to get the information that I post regularly, and follow Catalyst Fitness on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube for even more!