From Personal Trainer to Powerhouse: Eric’s America’s Strongest Master Journey

by Samantha Wolfe

“Every day I wake up and get to live out my purpose.”

Eric Neil, a personal trainer at HAC, is able to live out his passion every day both at work and in his personal endeavors. Celebrating his fourth year employed at the Hockessin Athletic Club, Eric has worked with many clients from ages five to eighty years and beyond as well as the special needs community. He is a great leader in the Fitness Friday group supporting those with special needs both physically and socially; he has even started his own non-profit with many of the same members known as “Community Social Saturdays.” Eric ties his passion of fitness to this special needs community by also being a powerlifting coach for the Special Olympics. He is now looking for support of his own as he trains for the America’s Strongest Masters competition later this year!

The competition hosts elite strongmen hopefuls in five surprise events: sandbag throws for max weight (30-60lbs at 14 feet), log press for repetitions (245lbs), trap bar deadlift for repetitions (573lbs), yoke (650lbs), wheelbarrow race (470lbs), and a stone event (200-285lbs). The competitors know the type of exercises to expect in advance but will not know the specific challenge until they arrive at the competition itself. Eric will be competing in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida on November 18th, 2023, but has been training for this moment for years!

Eric’s training regimen has three main components, all equally important in his road to success: physical training sessions, nutrition and diet management, and recovery.

His physical training sessions are split between HAC, the Training Center in New Castle, Delaware, and McMillan Training Systems in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. While Eric is very familiar with different workouts and training techniques thanks to his career, he works with a strongman coach that pushes him to achieve specific goals related to the high demand of the competition. Surprisingly, Eric only spends two to three days per week training vigorously – there are two personal workouts throughout the week with specific movements and muscle group(s) in mind, and Saturdays are planned specifically by his personal trainer to act as a “real-life” competition training with either higher weight or more repetitions than will be expected in competition. These big training days typically consist of a power component, increasing work capacity, and focus on the core muscles.

Within the division, the competitors are separated by weight class – Eric will be competing in the 185-200lbs division. In order to effectively train, however, he must keep his body weight 10-15lbs above his division weight in order to ensure that he has enough calories to burn during his strength building workouts. Eric has been working with one of HAC’s nutritionists, Ashley Boyer, to monitor his diet, water intake, and glucose levels to maintain this training weight. As he approaches the competition, he will alter his diet in order to shed the extra weight to reach the 185 – 200lb range.

While the physical training and diet management certainly play a big role in the journey to success, Eric also has to focus on the recovery sessions in order to balance and maintain his physical and mental health. Eric fully utilizes everything the club has to offer; he uses the sauna in the men’s locker room, the cold tubs and pools in the Aquatics Complex, the Recovery Realm compression boots, and dry needling at ElitePT He finds that the cold tub helps with any inflammation that he may endure while training, and the hot tub helps with blood flow and stretching between sessions. The compression boots in the Recovery Realm help with circulation and blood flow as well. Mark Szaroleta from ElitePT has been working with Eric in dry needling to help free his range of motion which has proved critical in his movement integrity through a training cycle.

Training this intensely does not come without its faults – in late August, Eric suffered an injury while in a workout session that resulted in a trip to the emergency room. While working on his log press at 200lbs, Eric lost his balance and dropped to his knee with his foot behind him. At that time, he lost grip of the log and it dropped on the bottom of his foot, right at the arch. Fortunately, due to the use of weightlifting shoes with a hard sole, Eric did not suffer any fractures; the bruising and pain were definitely a setback, but Eric has continued to push through with his training to the safest extent possible and is hopeful for what is to come in November!


To see Eric compete live in the America’s Strongest Masters competition, TUNE IN HERE on November 18th around 10:00 AM.

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