Yani Burmeister went from a scrawny 70kg kid with a bad back to a lean 90kg gym owner and master coach. With his brother Rad he now owns and runs the high end Unity Gym in North Sydney.
Dr J: What made you decide you wanted to change your physique? What did you do first and how did that go?
I had been an amateur boxer since I was 14 years old. Starting in the Middleweight class at 70kg and then naturally growing into the light heavyweight category in my early 20’s which was 75kg to 81kg. I’m 184cm tall, at only 75kg I was pretty skinny. My boxing coach wanted me to gain some size to move into the top weight of my category. Competing against men 6kg heavier than me was tough!
Initially I decided to pair up with a mate of mine who knew a little more than me and started lifting weights. We did what most young guys do … chest and biceps 3 days per week!
Dr J: What was the first gym you went to and what was that like?
I started at North Sydney PCYC, which was where I was boxing at the time, but soon after we moved to Fitness First in Mosman.
Dr J: You went from 70kg to 90kg, how long did that take? Was there any one thing that made a big difference to the muscle mass you gained?
It took 10 years! The first 5kg (from 70 to 75kg) happened fairly naturally after I started doing resistance training over the space of about two years. I’d attribute those kilograms of muscle gain to transitioning from a teenager to a young man.
But taking my weight from 75kg to 80kg was extremely tough and took me about 3 years. I had no idea what I was doing at the time. It was at this stage that I changed careers, moving from mechanic to personal trainer.
The study helped, but only to improve my knowledge on strength training and muscle hypertrophy. Either I didn’t listen to the nutrition theory, or we didn’t cover much of it in the PT course because I just didn’t understand the body’s metabolism and how we synthesized proteins. As a result, my body plateaued at 81kg for some time.
In 2010 I hung up the gloves and quit amateur boxing to focus on opening my gym in North Sydney. For the first time in my life I could exercise how I wanted and set myself the goal of reaching a lean 90kg physique.
But I couldn’t seem to gain any muscle. It was super frustrating! I started to think that 81kg was as much muscle as my ectomorph frame could handle. I battered myself in the gym 5 to 6 days per week for about 4 years trying and undulated between about 80kg to 83kg soaking wet!
The breakthrough occurred when I invested heavily in learning nutrition. Reading a stack of literature and studying under some great coaches and mentors I started to understand just how important the nutrition side was.
My focus quickly moved to the quality, timing and dosage of macronutrients.
Naturally, this had a HUGE impact on my physique! Up until this point, I had shared a common misconception that protein and nutritional supplements in general were rubbish and clever marketing scams, and not required.
Boy did that opinion change quickly … Getting the protein, fats and carb dosages and timing right, I put on 8kg of lean muscle in about 2 years … which was less time than it took me to put 2kg previously.
This coupled with a much better idea of exercise programming made my training life much easier.
Dr J: You and Rad gave me a tour of the Unity Gym, very impressive, and it’s certainly not your average gym. You guys have a very strong philosophy that seems to drive both the form and function of the gym. Can you give us a brief run down on that?
Yes, certainly; after 3 years of beating myself up lifting extremely high volumes of heavy weight and not moving like I used to (ie. boxing, running, jumping and stretching lots) … I started to suffer from overuse injuries.
Overuse injuries come from specialising in certain movements. For me that was mostly the big lifts, squatting variations, deadlift variations, pressing and rowing exercises and only a few remedial exercises.
Problem was, I was spending a disproportionate amount of time and effort on strength improvements and no time on stretching, balance, coordination and speed.
As a result, my body became extremely stiff and sore. I seemed to have one injury after another. I was strong, I could bench press 145kg, squat 185kg, deadlift 220kg, shoulder press 85kg and perform chin ups with 60kg strapped to my waist, but I couldn’t move anymore. My hamstrings would cramp if I ran and my back and shoulders were hurting all the time.
Don’t get me wrong, it felt great being strong. But it hurt all the time!
The thing was, my brother had none of these problems.
He focussed heavily on mobility; he could do the splits and surprisingly, when we lifted together, he wasn’t lifting that much less weight than me. In fact, on some of the lifts that required a high level of mobility like the Olympic snatch or front squat, he matched my lifts, pound for pound, fairly quickly.
Taking this data into account we agreed that the body needed certain compatibility between mobility and strength to function optimally. That’s when we went to work designing the Foundation Movement System. It’s a program we teach at Unity Gym which uses traditional weight lifting to develop strength, gymnastics movements to develop skill and coordination and revolutionary mobility movements to bring it all together.
The results are quite remarkable!
To remind us of the impact of a more holistic program, we have printed a series of quotes on our walls in the gym. One reads … “True Strength Can’t Be Achieved In The Absence Of Mobility.” At Unity Gym we live by this motto now.
Besides, what’s the point of being super strong, if you can’t replicate the strength in the real world? The slightest deviation from your practice usually results in serious injury!
For example, when I was at my strongest, lifting the bench press, if you remain in the groove, so to speak, indicating that the bar is pressed perfectly in your desired line, you make it un-injured. But even the slightest deviation from the “groove” can lead to shoulder injury and a certain missed attempt.
We now make it a priority to train outside of the “groove”. To take the body away from perfect alignment. This conditions the body in ways I never thought possible before. It makes you much more resilient to injury.
It’s a totally new way to think about exercise.
Dr J: What’s your favourite exercise?
That’s a tough question … We have three categories of movement in Unity Gym, all with their strengths and relativity. They include weight lifting, gymnastics and mobility. If I have to chose just one, I’d say the snatch grip deficit deadlift is my favorite because it requires a high degree of mobility to perform properly and the physical adaptations that occur when you do them through a program are insane!
Dr J: Who is your favourite weight training coach or which coach has had the most influence on you?
Another tough question to answer.
I have always really valued the work of Tony Boutagy because he’s a local personal trainer that has exceptional devotion to the industry. Aaron McKenzie from Origin of Energy in Bondi is also incredible and has been a big influence on me.
All of these guys have had a huge impact on how I teach nowadays.
Dr J: You hurt your back when you were quite young, do you need to accommodate that in the way you train now?
Yes, I had quite a horrific horse riding accident as a young boy. I fractured a few vertebra and really mucked up my arm, hip and back. This was actually the reason why I first started to exercise. I used movement as rehab for my back. The back injury meant I have to do things the right way in the gym. Breaking form in a squat or deadlift can have huge ramifications for me.
But this has been a blessing in disguise as I’ve had to learn to work around such injuries.
Since starting my career as a personal trainer I’ve torn the cartilage labrum of my left shoulder and torn my ACL playing soccer. Having a knee reconstruction and a severe shoulder injury forced me to learn and understand the mechanics of these joints better, giving me new skills and an appreciation for other people suffering from similar injuries.
In the end, every injury provides opportunity and makes you a better personal trainer in the long run.
Dr J: If you can have a word with the 17 year old Yani, what piece of advice would you give him?
Read more books! Slow down and invest more time in personal development. Oh, and learn to meditate!
Dr J: Thanks for sharing that with a Yani. It’s a great story.