LIVERMORE FALLS – Erik Stanley’s gym is housed within one room of a larger fitness center, probably half the size of a standard living room. The surroundings fit Stanley’s minimalist training methods perfectly.
No space is needed for Nautilus machines and flexibility balls. Stanley doesn’t believe in them. And so far there’s no need to accommodate hordes of high school aged health nuts. That’s because the program probably isn’t for everybody.
“This is $55 a month. The other gym down the street charges $30. A lot of high school kids go there because it’s cheap, but they go there and screw off,” Stanley said. “They come here to check it out, and I say you either do my program or you don’t, and they leave.”
Those who stick around and subject themselves to the rigors of Stanley Strength and Speed don’t take long to become addicted to the results.
High school sports recently emerged from a mandated, one-month window of no contact between athletes and coaches.
Eighteen students from Jay and Livermore Falls high schools, mostly boys, filled that void four days per week by crowding into Stanley’s sweat shop. Many were trying it for the first time. All have added between 20 and 40 pounds to their prior personal best in the bench press.
“I’ve been here a week,” said Dylan Lemote of Jay. “I want to bench 300.”
Lemote doesn’t need to look far for motivation or evidence.
On an adjacent wall, a dry-erase board divided into age and discipline categories tells the tale of high school seniors who have squatted or dead lifted 500 pounds and benched more than 350.
They do it with old-school brawn and technique that Stanley, a 1998 Jay graduate and five-year football player at Plymouth State (N.H.) University, sees coming back into vogue.
“We use barbells, squat racks, bar racks. Old school is the way to go. Basically the gyms need to make money is why that stuff is in there,” Stanley said. “Who cares if you can squat 135 pounds sitting on a ball? Congratulations. You take a kid that can squat 135 pounds on a ball and my kid that squats 500 pounds is going to dominate him.”
Tyler Dorr reported to Stanley as a freshman carrying close to 100 pounds more than his ideal body weight.
Three years later, that same 275 pounds is rock-solid, and Dorr’s handshake has a bone-crackling firmness to match.
“I was out of shape and I saw everybody else starting to lift weights,” Dorr said. “We did the three major lifts, but that’s all our coach had us do. You get more out of doing more repetitions.”
Dorr isn’t a slave to the heavy metal. Stanley’s weekly program incorporates two days of strength training and two days of concentration on explosiveness.
To that end, Dorr and his workout partners might be seen dragging giant truck tires down the sidewalks that line the adjacent streets. Think Sylvester Stallone’s no-frills workout as Rocky Balboa prepared to duke it out with Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.”
“We follow more of the Russian training methods. Joe DeFranco from New Jersey is a guy I did an internship with, and that’s how he trains all his athletes. He trains all the pro guys,” Stanley said. “That’s how I came up with what we do here, since it works for them, and that’s when I started seeing ridiculous results. It’s insane, really.”
Staggering enough that it seems to scare off most scholastic coaches.
There are a couple of notable exceptions, namely Stanley’s longtime friends and neighbors. Madison High football coach and Jay native Matt Friedman has enlisted Stanley’s help with his conditioning program. Stanley also plans to assist Jay baseball coach Chris Bessey with a base stealing and flexibility seminar.
Elsewhere, he has encountered resistance from high school coaches and college trainers alike.
“When I started training high school kids, it was for the simple fact that I wish I’d had somebody to do it when I was in high school,” said Stanley, a construction worker by trade who opened his gym in December 2005. “I was a typical Jay kid who could just get by on his athletic ability. Then I went to Plymouth and played football and got the living crap kicked out of me the first year, and said ‘I’ve got to do something now to catch up.’
“A lot of coaches want to have their kids in the weight room under their own supervision. It just baffles me. We’re putting up these numbers. We had a bunch of kids come down last month for the first time, and they’re already going up.”
Stanley trained Dirigo High School basketball star Tom Knight as a senior, in preparation for Knight’s transition to Division I Notre Dame.
In addition to the noticeable change in his body type, Knight also cleared Stanley’s goal of 500 pounds in the dead lift.
“He was a strong kid. You wouldn’t think so to look at him. But when he got to Notre Dame, he was the strongest freshman there,” Stanley said of Knight. “When he left, he was 265 pounds, lost all his baby fat. Notre Dame sent him his workout for summer and it was the exact same thing we were doing.”
Whether an athlete’s goal is a Division I basketball scholarship, a chance to walk-on with a Division III football program or simply learning lifelong skills, Stanley says his door is open if the desire is serious.
Lemote has never played high school sports. Dorr has no plans to try college football.
“But I’ll never stop doing this,” Dorr said. “It’s fun. It keeps me in shape. It’s definitely a battle.”
Stanley welcomes inquiries by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone at 778-1495. His gym also has a Facebook page with videos and photographs of multiple success stories.
As Stanley entertained visitors one recent afternoon, his class staged an impromptu battle on the bench.
“Nine guys put up anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds more than a month ago. That’s a huge increase in just a month of training,” he said.
“They like the competition. If you’re not into competition, you’re not an athlete.”