The workout may be simple, the guys may be nice, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Below are five of the ten coaches. Left to right, Britt Voss, Cam Paulson, Nik Rodriguez, Dan Geraci, and Josh Siroko.

Below are five of the ten coaches. Left to right, Britt Voss, Cam Paulson, Nik Rodriguez, Dan Geraci, and Josh Siroko.

Strength training at Hard Pressed is a far cry from easy. It is Monday and I am still feeling spent from a Saturday session with Nik Rodruigez, Co-Owner of HP.

I went to Hard Pressed because I believe in their ability to build strength through lifting. I myself do not always train this way, but it is highly efficient. Many people love it.

I want to teach people who are interested in this type of training more about where to find a good coach.

I was in Chicago September 12th-14th for a weekend full of fitness and friends. I wanted to train with Nik, in order to really get the vibe of HP before writing about them.

I hadn’t been to their studio to train since February.

I forgot how hard it was.

HP sessions are 30 minutes, no more no less, no need for more time either.

This type of training involves heavy lifting–one muscle group at a time.

My session started promptly at 12:00 p.m. with Nik.

He started my session having me to pull-ups, palms facing each other, pulling up fast, pausing at the top, and then coming down slowly for ten seconds.

He motivated me. When I started to fatigue, thinking to myself, “there is no way I can do this rep,” I would hear him say, “Okay Garrett, three more. You got three more. Get up there.”

Oh, I got up there–thanks to Nik physically assisting me. I loved the challenge. I wish I could know how much weight he helped me with… 50%? Oh well. I felt strong.

Here is Nik demonstrating how HP coaches pull-ups to the point of fatigue:

Nik practices what he preaches. Here he is being coached at HP.

Nik practices what he preaches. Here he is being coached at HP.

Talk about high intensity…it is real at HP.

To me, it feels like a game of follow the leader during a session. I would chase Nik in his backwards hat around from station to station. By the time I got to him at the next machine, the weights were set and it was time to push or pull. To a spectator I am slowly crawling for survival– in my mind, I was sprinting between stations like a football player running plays on a field. I was exhausted after each exercise.

I looked up at the clock before a set of overhead presses……12:09 p.m.

At that moment, my muscles we talking to me. It was not a nice conversation. I felt completely exerted; we had only been going for nine minutes.

Mind you, I casually walked into Hard Pressed this particular Saturday after teaching a fitness class and taking a conditioning class with friends at another gym. I was feeling excited. I thought, this will be easy; I had so much fun during past sessions.

12:11 p.m. I was sweating.

I began to think the “fun” I remembered was partially derived from the results this training gave me….

Kidding, the music is good, the coaches are awesome– it’s a win win at HP. You just have to commit to each rep.

By 12:25 p.m. I had completed the following (mind you, only one set of each exercise, repping until failure):

1.) Body weight pull-ups on Rogers Athletic Pendulum Utility Rack – eight slow/controlled reps on my own and Nik helped me get 2 more; and then he had me hold at the top for 10 seconds.

2.) Dumbbell overhead press assisted with custom Black Iron Strength space-saving dumbbells
Black Iron Strength Custom Dumbbells

3.) StriveFit Pulldown with a pronated grip

4.) Med X Overhead Press with a neutral grip and forward lean into full extension/range of motion.
Med X Overhead Press

5.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum 3-Way Row with a neutral grip and one arm at a time.
Rogers Atheltic Pendulum 3-Way Rows

6.) StriveFit Chest Press with a pronated grip.

7.) Nautilus Nitro Compound Row (custom Gold and Blue Notre Dame paint for obvious reasons)

8.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum Chest Press

9.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum Pull Down with supinated grip

10.) bodyweight dips until failure

11.) StriveFit Abdominal Rotation

12.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum Hip Press for 20 slow/controlled reps.

13.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum Leg Curl

14.) Rogers Athletic Pendulum Seated Squat – one leg at a time
Rogers Athletic Pendulum Seated Squat

15.) Manual Hip Abduction

I was spent; but there was more.

Just when I thought it was over, Nik brought me back to the pull up bar for underhand dead hanging pull-ups. He coached me through four reps, (I think he might have been pushing up 60% of my bodyweight by this time), coming down slowly and then holding the last rep at the top for eight seconds meanwhile he tugged on my legs making me feel heavier and the exercise that much harder.

Now are you interested in knowing what this place is?


Hard Pressed is located at 219 W Chicago. They have the 5th and 6th floors of a tall building. It is a strength training facility that embodies and replicates the type of strength training many collegiate and professional athletes do– but they make it applicable to the average person. Everyone needs strength and HP wants to help people find theirs.

Hard Pressed seeks to find a middle ground between athletic training and personal training styles. They are coaches; they teach people; they empower people to find their strength.

What I love about HP is how is takes away the intimidation factor of lifting heavy weights. HP provides clients with coaches to find the correct weight to pull or push, the right rep range to feel challenged and build strength, and the plan to assist in conquering the client’s goals.

I liked this StriveFit Chest press because it was by the window which was cracked, giving a nice cool breeze.

I liked this StriveFit Chest press because it was by the window which was cracked, giving a nice cool breeze.

“Having strength is important,” Nik said.

“We want to help whomever we can. If you are a yogi, we will make you a better yogi. You’re a runner? We will make you a better runner. Having strength makes for better success in any activity.” He said.

So how do they do this, you ask?

Nik explained to me the science behind it and how he truly feels that taking the muscles to that point when they fail (or break down, tearing the tiny fibers in the muscle) is the most efficient way to build strength. Typically the trainers shoot for clients to fail in the 8-12 rep range.

The cool thing about the coaches at Hard Pressed is their attitude. The HP coaches don’t take themselves too seriously and they are by no means exclusive. They do not feel their training style is the single best way to be “fit.”

But, just like Nik said, being strong makes anyone more capable in life activities. Thus, HP seeks to help people gain strength in a safe way.

That’s another thing– this style of training is made safe by assistance and coaching. In fact, HP has one client who is 73 years old and building strength to be able to play with her grandkids.

A great example of how this type of training can help someone is Nik himself. Having suffered a bad back injury in college from a bad hit in football combined with over-use injuries in his low back, he slipped a disk. Because fitness is in his nature and he loves to workout, (and by workout I mean he loves to squat), he did not want to give it up.

Knowing his days of loading his back with weight or front squatting heavy weight are over, he enjoys using the Rogers Pendulum Seated Squat machine. This way he can work the same muscles and avoid stressing his back.

Another cool thing about HP is that their clientele is almost 70% women.

HP sent many women in the fitness industry these sweet tank tops as part of recent marketing with a new logo. Thanks for the tank!

HP sent many women in the fitness industry these sweet tank tops as part of recent marketing with a new logo. Thanks for the tank!

I was so stoked to hear that they attract women. Thanks to the media scaring women away from weights for years, numerous ladies avoid weight training, myself included (in the past). Also, a large weight room can be intimidating having huge machines loaded with iron (that look similar to a college training center). If you’ve never done it, it’s daunting. But because the training bodes so well aesthetically and scientifically it builds strength quickly, soon enough new-comers become regulars at HP.

My friend, Ellie Reason, whom I  used to teaching spinning and TRX to in college, is a regular at HP. The other day she sent me this:



A lot of HP clients train two times a week working full body. The training session I did was a full body session.

Another reason I like this type of strength training at HP is because of the way it fits into someone’s lifestyle. Since it can be so intense you truly cannot do full body two days in row. It is even hard to fit three days of total body in one week– which brings me to split training.

By focusing on certain muscle groups one day at a time takes such a toll (physically tearing muscle fibers so the body rebuilds them bigger/stronger) that specific muscle will need a rest. Henceforth some people split their training, dedicating one day for legs, another for chest and back etc.–or they simply do a lower body/upper body split.

Most of HP clients do general upper body, lower body splits because HP is so efficient with time thanks to the rep tip failure mantra. With that style of training to failure, you can’t train eight different shoulder exercises in a session. You just hit one exercise; furthermore leaving more time to do all upper body muscles.

For older people, this type of training is safe. It helps people find their weaknesses in order to train better. I know a lot of fitness professionals disagree with this type of training, and opt for a more functional style. If that is your mantra, then cool– own it.

However, I found this article very interesting:

No matter what you believe, building strength is important and this type of training scientifically builds muscle.

Nik said something really cool when I met with him post-lift. He explained to me the reasoning behind why something so simple can be so effective.

“Whether you believe in evolution or not, the human body has not changed much for hundreds of years. Our bodies were designed to have muscles that pull on the bones or push on them to make us move. New workouts have been created, different systems etc, but at the end of the day, just doing the right amounts of pushing an pulling can help you get the strength you need to live.”

Nik has big goals. He has come a long way from his first fitness role as a pilates instructor. He wants to hire more trainers and maybe open a second location in 2015. They are currently working on expanding the 219 W Chicago facility, opening up the 6th floor for more equipment and adding nicer locker rooms on the 5th floor. He sees no reason why they couldn’t take Hard Pressed to other cities, too. (Boston?!) I joke.

But seriously.

Nik wants to contunie to help middle-aged people find their old, inner athlete. He strives to combine the feeling and style of collegiate and professional athletic training with real-world folks who are capable, but just need coaching.

If you are interested in gaining strength or building a physique, and having a coach to teach you how— check these guys out! They are laid back, fun to work with, and very professional.

Before I end this article I must note, I have spent months (especially during my Jamie Eason Livefit trainer phase) using machines and programing split training. NEVER, EVER, have I left one of my own sessions feeling like I do after a session at HP…They help push you past what you thought you could do.

That’s what they do— at Hard Pressed, the strength coaches train the clients to muscular failure.

Two days ago, whether Nik had to assist me with the machine or not, somehow I defied my own doubts; I did more than I imagined I could. I always felt safe. I always felt strong.

Thank you, HP!



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