Interview: Mike D’Andrea, T3Performance [Tips + Techniques]
Get the Basics…
Start with simplicity.
Build the foundation and then work up to hyper-specialization.
Virtue training: building courage and character in younger athletes.
Take time to break away and reflect.
Choosing to start your own fitness business can end up being a complicated and frustrating endeavor, can’t it? Up seems down, left seems right, and you have so much on your plate that you don’t even know where to begin.
Today, we’re talking to Mike D’Andrea who will share how he was able to flatten his learning curve as an entrepreneur by embracing simplicity. He explains how he pursued education and emulated the expertise and experiences of other successful fitness professionals to help develop the foundation of his successful fitness practice.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Meet Mike D’Andrea, Founder of T3Performance
Schimri Yoyo: Welcome back. This is Schimri Yoyo with Exercise.com and we are continuing our series of interviews with fitness experts. Today we have Mike D’Andrea of T3 Performance in Ohio. Mike, thanks for joining us.
Mike D’Andrea: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, let’s jump right into it. Mike, what were some of the sports that you played growing up?
Mike D’Andrea: So, I was big into basketball, track and field. I did shot put and discus, and then football, of course. So, those are the three big ones for me.
Schimri Yoyo: Is that how you developed your passion for health and fitness? While playing athletics growing up?
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah. I remember from the time I was five or six, I always wanted to play in college, or the pros. And so, I was always out there, working on my jump shot, trying to get that better. And then, as soon as I hit, I think it was 11 or 12, I started doing push-ups and sit-ups and then found a gym near me, and once I started that, I was hooked.
Schimri Yoyo: And I know that you were fortunate to attend THE Ohio State University. Who was your favorite Buckeye growing up?
Mike D’Andrea: So, probably because I played the same position, I’d have to say Katzenmoyer. Andy Katzenmoyer. He was a freak of nature, just what he could do physically. And it was pretty cool, once I got down there, and was playing down there a couple of summers, he was there helping out at the facility so I got to meet him, and even years after he was done playing, he was still a physical freak so, good guy.
Schimri Yoyo: Big Kat. I remember. I grew up in the Boston area and I remember the Patriots drafted him, but his career was cut short due to injury. But I remember just seeing him around one of the training camps and saying, “He’s different.”
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah. He was a big boy and really fast.
[Editor’s Note: Just how big and fast and different is the Big Kat? Check out the video of Andy Katzenmoyer deadlifting 615 pounds.]
Schimri Yoyo: And while you were playing, who were some of your favorite coaches and teammates— I mean, obviously, you don’t want to leave anyone out—but is there anyone that really impacted you as far as your career while you were there on the playing field?
Mike D’Andrea: As far as coaches, obviously [Jim] Tressel. I always tell people, what you see on TV is really who he is, 24 hours a day. He wants to make better people first, and then better players. I think he’s still doing that. He is president at Youngstown State now, and he is just doing that in a different way. He was a phenomenal coach, and one of those life-changing coaches.
I’d say same with Luke Fickell. He was my linebacker’s coach, then he became a D Coordinator for the last couple of years. He just had a great way with connecting with players, and showing them where they needed to improve, or where they were already doing okay. And, just a really good motivator too. [Editor’s Note: Coach Luke Fickell is now the head coach for the Cincinnati Bearcats.]
Schimri Yoyo: I know you guys train lots of different athletes at your . gym, different sports, but do you have a favorite that you like to train for, or help people to train and get ready?
Mike D’Andrea: Well, it’s funny now. It’s kind of timely because he tore up last night, but we trained Raheem Mostert last offseason and I think he—whatever, rushed for 200 yards (Actually, it was 220 yards and four touchdowns). It’s not like it was all us, but we’ll take a little credit. I personally love training track athletes. I did some track growing up and I loved the idea of just that incremental improvement. You are able to go out every single time. Whereas football and basketball, it can kind of be not as objective as track and field, right. There’s a lot of other intangibles that go into those sports. So, I personally love track, but we train athletes of all sports.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s what’s up. And so, when you’re not training, what are some of the things that you do for fun outside of your profession?
Mike D’Andrea: I’m fortunately in a position where I really don’t do much training anymore. We have a phenomenal staff of 20 to 25 coaches, and I do a lot more of the business stuff, but when I’m not working, I’m a pretty boring guy. I’m typically reading, or hanging out with the kids, and they’re five years old. I have twin boys now, so they’re just getting to the age now where I can start kind of getting introduced to stuff. So, that’s what usually keeps me busy.
Schimri Yoyo: Oh, yeah, that’s exciting enough. Fatherhood is a great profession. Great endeavor. I have a six-year-old, a five-year-old and a three-year-old at home.
Mike D’Andrea: Oh, man. Awesome.
Schimri Yoyo: Yeah, so that’s why—
Mike D’Andrea: Boys, girls, or—
Schimri Yoyo: Boy, girl, boy.
Mike D’Andrea: Okay.
Schimri Yoyo: And, they’re starting to get into sports. My oldest, he’s really into basketball and football right now. So, he always asks me to stay up late to watch the Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football games.
Mike D’Andrea: That’s awesome.
Schimri Yoyo: So, I let him get to halftime.
Mike D’Andrea: Oh, yeah?
Schimri Yoyo: That’s the compromise his mother (my wife) and I made.
Mike D’Andrea: Nice.
Building a Foundation: Starting with Simplicity
Schimri Yoyo: Now, when you’re thinking about your training philosophy and methodology, what one word would best describe your training philosophy?
Mike D’Andrea: Training philosophy, I would say simplicity. It’s funny: When you first start out—and whether you’re an athlete or coach—when you first start out down this path, everything is being thrown at you and you’re trying to simplify things and it’s like you just do what you know at the beginning. And then as you learn more you try to add on to it, and it gets more and more complex and then it gets to a point where you realize it doesn’t need to be that complex and you try to simplify it down.
And I think that’s where we’re at. We can still get into the nitty-gritty with a lot of our elite athletes and stuff. When I was first getting started, one of the things we did well as a company, we traveled around the country, visited Mike Boyle’s place and talked to his business guy. And I was actually just down in Florida visiting EXOS a couple of weeks ago and everywhere you go it’s like the 80/20 Rule. Twenty percent of what our athletes do is what really moves the needle as far as their athleticism and mobility and all that. So simplicity for sure.
Grow and manage your fitness business better with Exercise.com
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s awesome. And I guess following up with that, what would you say is the greatest lesson that you’ve learned so far? Both in business and fitness that you can pass on?
Mike D’Andrea: I would say just the ability to be open and, I guess, dynamic and I kind of look at those as really the same thing. Whether you’re dealing with an athlete on the floor or you’re doing dealing with a parent or you’re dealing with a business opportunity or situation, having multiple options available to you.
So being kind of dynamic and looking at different options as they come at you. I think it just opens up the possibilities of what you can do and you’re not limited in such a way. And really with dealing with parents, everyone’s a little bit different [about] what they want for their kids. So just having a lot of tools at your disposal.
Schimri Yoyo: That makes a lot of sense. How do you address nutrition with some of the athletes that you train?
Mike D’Andrea: I send them to a nutritionist. A lot of our coaches have a good base knowledge. Again, it doesn’t have to be that complex, especially when you’re dealing with a young kid. But we do have a nutritionist on staff, so we give them some general guidelines. But for the most part, we’ll go talk to the nutritionist.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. So it’s part of the team’s [responsibility]—that you don’t directly deal with it, but you have that as part of your team, kind of outsourcing it.
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah.
Schimri Yoyo: Okay. That makes sense. What do you say is the biggest difference that you’ve seen with your staff training amateur athletes versus training professional athletes?
Mike D’Andrea: So I think it’s just a matter of—we have this pyramid that we go off of. If you could imagine that the foundation is stability and then you have mobility and then strength, power, and skill. So the skill would be like swinging a bat or throwing a ball. And when an athlete first starts out, a lot of them, they just want to get right into the swinging a bat or throwing a baseball or throwing a football.
And we would tell them: “If you improve your stability and increase your mobility and then your strength, you’re going to be able to throw that football further.” When a kid, amateur first starts out with us, it’s more about building the foundation and then working up to where we can get really hyper specialized.
That’s why I think it’s always interesting and funny that a lot of places talk about sports-specific training. And when you’re talking about a 12- or 13-year-old, for the most part, it doesn’t matter if it’s a volleyball player or basketball player, they both need to jump high. They both need to run fast linearly or multi-directionally. It’s the human body.
It’s really not until I get up into high school and college and pros that you’re [able to] like really specialize in kind of what Cressey does for his baseball guys down there in Florida. So that’s the biggest difference kind of, we have a way to progress our athletes and then once they hit a certain level, we can really get hyper-focused.
Schimri Yoyo: What would you say is the relationship between the strength and conditioning, the injury prevention, and then also recovery and rehabilitation?
Mike D’Andrea: So it’s definitely all one spectrum. That’s kind of how we look at it. We have a great relationship with University Hospitals Sports Medicine. They’re the Browns’ provider up here and a couple of other pro sports. We have very similar philosophies in the idea that once someone’s done with rehab, we are going to communicate with that athletic trainer and get them right into our training program, train them to hopefully prevent future injuries. But if they do, then they go back to the sports medicine doc.
And there’s kind of like that seamless transition from one stage to the next. But as far as trying to prevent injury, I think it goes back to that pyramid we were talking about. Just like young kids want to focus on throwing a football or shooting three-pointers all day when they really should be working on getting stronger or faster.
We get a lot of high school kids that want to come in and max out on bench and squat and deadlift and all the meathead stuff we all used to do back in the day, but now we’re a little bit smarter with it. So we kind of have to slow them down and show them this is why we do this little stuff that you really don’t think is doing a lot, but it’s doing a ton in regards to injury prevention because we always say we’ve got to keep our athletes healthy first and then we’re going to improve performance because if they aren’t able to play, then it doesn’t matter how fast you can run.
Schimri Yoyo: It makes a lot of sense. Now in keeping with the element of keeping them healthy and measuring progress. How do you – what’s one of the things that you guys do to measure progress or measure success with your athletes besides keeping them healthy?
Mike D’Andrea: So, obviously there is the objective numbers that you can get right from a training program. How much has their squat improved? How much is their 20-yard or vertical jump or broad jump? We measure all that stuff. So we use this technology Vici and it tracks all of our workout training programs and then testing numbers and all that kind of stuff. So that’s kind of easy enough. So we track, are their numbers improving across the board? Are they remaining healthy, are they consistent with their workouts? And then the fourth piece of that for us that we’re just getting into now is we train so many athletes that we kind of feel like we want to take the next step with them.
So more than just make them a better athlete. How do we make them a better person? So we have been working on rolling out like what we call virtue training. How to build more courage in young athletes. How to help them become more honest and hardworking individuals. So we are just kind of scratching the surface on that, but I really think there’s something there and I think it goes hand in hand with sports and performance training.
We are actually working with someone that implements that kind of globally with a lot of different companies in different areas. And he’s kind of been instrumental in helping us try to get that initiative off the ground.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s pretty unique. That’s awesome. Building out a comprehensive athlete and not just the physical aspect. That’s pretty cool.
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah. Urban Meyer talks about his most important coach was his strength coach, right? Cause that’s the guy that’s with the athletes three to four times a week all year round. If you think about it, it makes sense. We’re with the 12- or 13-year-old or 14- or whatever two to four days a week, all year round, or maybe nine months out of the year, cause they’ll take a season off sometimes.
We have a whole lot of time to do a lot of good and really help them become better people ultimately. So not that I’m trying to like get on my high horse, but I think we have touched so many people that I think it’s important that we start at least exploring that avenue.
Schimri Yoyo: I mean that makes sense. Now, what would you say is the biggest misconception about the sports performance training industry?
Mike D’Andrea: Amazingly, you still have parents and even some coaches that come in and it’s really two things. It’s one, my kid’s 12 or 13 or 14 I think they’re too young to be doing anything with strength training. So there’s that continual education or reeducation process with them. Fortunately, you have groups, I mean all of these sport’s medicine groups are starting to get into our world. The performance training world.
We were talking to a group down in Tennessee that’s doing it, University Hospitals up here is looking to get into it. So you would think if you have these super high up sports medicine docs that understand that it’s okay for a 12-year-old to do strength training, parents would start to get that and most have, but you still run into that. And I think speed [is also a misconception].
So a lot of athletes and parents will say, “I want to get faster,” and I always tell them one of the quickest ways to get faster is just to get stronger. You get stronger, you’re going to have more force output and it all kind of works out. So those are the two biggest areas in which we still try to educate people.
Combining Collaboration and Expertise in Business
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. You have to fight the misconceptions with more education. So now just jumping into just some of your personal and professional experience from the business side. What are some things that you do to manage your time between being the coach but also being the entrepreneur?
Mike D’Andrea: I [visited] a lot of facilities when we first got started and we still do that every year. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of good mentors around me, business guys that I trained in the area that gave me some really good advice early on; so I was able to kind of step away a little bit from the coaching on the floor, even though I loved it, even though it was what I had done my whole life, and really step back more and focus on the business itself.
I mostly just do the business stuff today, which is probably good anyway cause we have a lot more coaches on staff that are way smarter than me when it comes to the training stuff. Nowadays, I just try to become a better leader for our people and look for other business opportunities.
I think we’re doing some pretty cool stuff and we’ve had some people in the past two to three weeks kind of reach out for either franchising or doing other [things] on locations. That is kind of what I focused on there. And then I’ve been kind of obsessed the past year or two on reading leadership books and just trying to be better for our people.
Schimri Yoyo: So you were able to delegate some of the coaching duties so that you can focus more on your leadership and entrepreneur duty. That’s pretty wise.
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah. Well, when we started, it was just me and one of the coaches, Eric, my buddy from high school. We’ve grown now, we have around 25 performance coaches and other 20 sports skill coaches. So, it’s been cool to see. I’ve had to remove myself from the floor and then we’ve had a couple of other coaches also do the same thing. They’re in more management type positions now. It’s been a really good learning experience and fortunately, I’ve had a lot of good mentors around me to give me some solid advice over the years.
Schimri Yoyo: That leads me to the next question. We just want to give you an opportunity to brag about your staff a little bit and tell our audience what makes you guys at T3Performance unique. What’s that unique flavor that you guys are bringing to the table?
Mike D’Andrea: I think again, our staff is 20 to 25 deep and all Exercise Science, Kinesiology, CSCS training certified. We have a Barbell Club. I would honestly put our staff, not only the numbers but the expertise, up against anyone in the country. And I mean, they’re just phenomenal. The number of athletes we train – we’re training over 2,000 individual athletes every single week. Some of that’s like team speed work, but then some of that’s like actual individuals and we are able to deliver individual programs through that Vici software I was talking about.
I think we’re doing some really cool stuff. And the cool thing is it’s like a flywheel at this point where we have all these athletes we’re training. We have, with these coaches, we have a good internship pipeline. And the more athletes we train, the more we learn about the effectiveness of our different training modalities. You combine that with what we are doing with University Hospitals and I think it’s a pretty lethal combination. And the idea that it’s the full spectrum like I mentioned earlier. So, we still have a lot more room to grow and get deeper on how we can perfect our programs. But I think we’ve got a pretty good flywheel in motion.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. What have you learned about entrepreneurship that you wish you would’ve known when you first started?
Mike D’Andrea: I’ve learned that there is still a lot to learn, but I’d say, it’s really tough at the beginning. When you first start, you’re just trying to survive every single day and I see it, and I have talked to a lot of young coaches in the area and outside of the area. If you can break away for even 20 to 30 minutes a day when you’re first getting started and take time to reflect–which I really didn’t do until kind of more recently.
Reflect on what’s working and what’s not working, but then take time to plan for the next week or month. Like I said, when we first started, it was just about training athletes, trying to get more athletes in the gym, training athletes, get more athletes in the gym, [etc.], and just thinking more about your systems and how you want to operate in six months or a year.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s good. Just a few more questions. Thanks again, Mike, for your time. It’s been really good. I just wanted to ask you about—you mentioned the technology, the Vici software a couple of times, but what other technologies or what are some ways that you’re using technology and social media to promote your business?
Mike D’Andrea: So technology-wise we have electronic timing systems for our athletes. We have the vertical jump mat, we’re looking at getting a force plate, all different ways in which we can objectively measure our athletes’ progress. With that Vici software, we can maintain communication with our athletes. So that’s good to send them articles and tips and all that kind of stuff.
As far as social media, that’s definitely one area where we can improve. We do some stuff on Instagram and Facebook, but we want to get better at it like being able to come up with more educational type material. Whether that’s through LinkedIn or TikTok, Snapchat or whatever. I don’t really do much social media, but I know it’s important to do it.
Schimri Yoyo: You’re right. There’s a new one that seemingly comes up every month or so. But I mean that’s always something that we can all get better at and another place where you can delegate: hire a director of social media.
Mike D’Andrea: Fortunately, my wife is an eighth-grade teacher, so she’s like up to date on all that stuff.
Schimri Yoyo: Well, that’s great. keep it within the family. Right. She gives you the trade secrets you need.
Mike D’Andrea: Yeah. Like, “Hey idiot, you should be getting on this platform and doing so and so.”
Schimri Yoyo: Alright, Mike. Lastly, what are some resources, books, magazines, podcasts that you have found helpful for yourself or that you would recommend to our audience?
Mike D’Andrea: As I mentioned earlier, I love reading, love learning, and we have a lot of learners on our staff as well. A lot of our coaches, we kind of have, we actually just got a couple of bookshelves for the office. So there’s a lot but I’ll just list a couple. Blue Ocean Strategy, phenomenal book. High Output Management, [helpful] in managing people as you grow. The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Atomic Habits, Mind is the Master and The Power of Moments.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s definitely a good start. Those are some powerful titles. So that will keep our audience busy for the next…
Mike D’Andrea: And they kind of hit on different aspects. Like one is strategy, one is management, and so you are all over.
Schimri Yoyo: That’s very helpful. I know a couple of them. Atomic Habits has seemed to be a favorite amongst a lot of the entrepreneurs. Thank you again for your time, Mike. We appreciate all the insight that you’ve given us and we look forward to checking in with you again in the future.
Mike D’Andrea: I appreciate the opportunity. Thanks.
Schimri Yoyo: Great. Have a good one.
Mike D’Andrea: You too. Bye.
If you’re ready to grow and manage your business better, schedule a demo today.
Schimri Yoyo is a writer for Exercise.com and a financial advisor with active life and health insurance licenses. In a past life, he covered Villanova Men’s Basketball and Big East Football for Examiner.com. Schimri has also produced freelance copywriting, editing, and proofreading for various websites and online publications for over a decade. He is an avid sports fan, possessing an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, and San Francisco 49ers. Schimri is an educator and a storyteller who is eager to assist individuals and families to stay financially and physically fit.