WF History; ilg hits the NY Times

Published on Oct 27, 2012 by in WF History


during a pranic and endorphin induced post-ride high,  i posted this pic on my personal Facebook page today after my 69-mile club training ride in which i finished first…little did ilg realize that one of my most stalwart, observant devotees from LA would c(om)ment not only on my Ned Threads (clothing) but also dig up the history of the NY Times article pictured in the background!   for Archival Sake and for the sake of my newer students,  i’ve chosen to reprint it below…enjoy, and THANKS HSBG!!  NOTE:  the quoted contact and my training fees which conclude the article are not current.

WEEKEND WARRIOR; You’ve Got Mail: Mega-Fitness for New Age Jocks (Life Force Attached)


Published: January 05, 2001

During a 1983 winter ascent of the east face of Longs Peak, a 14,251-foot mountain in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, Steve Ilg, one of the top young climbers in Boulder, was muscling his way up an overhanging section of rock. The first rays of light were peeking above a panorama of snowy mountains when the slab he clung to broke loose. Mr. Ilg struck the cliff 50 feet below so hard the two large plastic water bottles strapped to his back exploded like grenades.

He fractured a vertebra in his lower back and damaged his pelvis. Doctors said he would need surgery to ever run again. ”No way,” said Mr. Ilg, an ultra-distance runner, cyclist and extreme back-country skier. Instead of following the conventional medical route, this 5-foot-7, 150-pound personal trainer applied what he knew about physiology and Eastern philosophy to the ultimate test: to heal himself.

He meditated. He honed his diet and twisted himself into tortuous yoga poses. He lifted weights and studied martial arts under a Taoist master. He ran, cycled, skied and snowshoed up and down mountains in Colorado and New Mexico. For Mr. Ilg, it marked the birth of a training program he calls Wholistic Fitness™.

”The essence of my work,” he said from his home in Tarzana, Calif., ”is that improved sport performance is a byproduct of personal growth.”

I have never met Steve Ilg, but for the last two years he has played a large role in my life. After a 30-mile kayak race around Manhattan in 1998, a competitor told me that a ”wild dude” in California named Ilg was training the National Kayak Marathon champ via the Internet.

I checked out his Web site. He was as different from your typical trainer as tofu is from beef. He wore Navajo bracelets and sported a punk rock hairdo: Rod Stewart on steroids. Yet if you measured fitness in terms of strength, flexibility (he is also a yoga teacher), lung power and versatility — he competed in five world championships in four different sports — this yin-yang version of Vince Lombardi has few rivals.

For most of us, if we even had a coach at all, the paternal figures with whistles vanish from our lives once we have played our last game of high school ball. My less-than-mediocre college basketball career left me still searching for athletic fulfillment: I cycled across America, ran marathons, tried triathlons and studied martial arts until I fell hard for kayaking. I had the motivation but no plan: I asked other paddlers about their regimens and read fitness magazines. I learned a lot, but as soon as I hit a plateau, I would try something else. Clearly I needed a coach; the question was finding one in a non paddling precinct like Brooklyn.

I fired off an e-mail to Mr. Ilg and asked if he would be willing to train me. ”Right on, Glick!” he replied. ”This path is difficult, but I think we can make beautiful music together.” His enthusiasm jumped off the screen.

Correspondence training isn’t new, but only recently has it become more than a blip on the athletic radar. After the publication of his first book, ”The Outdoor Athlete” (Johnson Books, 1987), Mr. Ilg became one of the first coaches to train elite athletes and dedicated weekend warriors by sending them detailed exercise regimes through the mail.

Today, with the widespread use of the Internet, scores of former star jocks offer their expertise electronically. Internet coaching offers many of the same benefits as e-shopping: you can find exactly the coach you need, no matter where he or she lives. You can fit your coaching to your schedule, and, compared to hands-on training, it is affordable. The majority of these coaches will never meet the athletes they train.

Mr. Ilg’s lengthy questionnaire asked for my athletic resume and goals, physical stats, hours available for training, even what I ate yesterday. (I immediately regretted the large coffee and chocolate croissant that I had had for breakfast.)

A week after our first e-mail exchanges, a training journal and three-ring black binder as thick as the operating instructions for a jet arrived in the mail. The regimen encompassed five fitness disciplines: strength training, cardiovascular training, kinesthetic or flexibility exercises, meditation and nutrition. It also addressed four lifestyle principles: breath and posture, mindfulness, appropriate action and practice. It seemed more like a package sent by Ram Dass than a workout plan.

Sprinkled across the pages of my workouts were quotations from Buddha, Helen Keller, the Dalai Lama, Emily Dickinson and other sensitive souls, but the actual strength-training sessions were positively cruel. I have lifted weights for years, but not like this. First I was supposed to load on enough weight so that at the end of each set I would reach ”momentary failure,” a phenomenon in which willpower means nothing because your muscles cease to function. That’s a daunting feeling when you’re on the bench under enough weight to crush your windpipe.

Second, instead of resting one to two minutes between sets, I paused for 30 seconds, barely enough recovery time to wobble on to the next set. This combination cranks up your heart rate and sends copious amounts of lactic acid coursing through your body.

Many of the exercises, which I had never done before, actually felt dangerous. ”Hang cleans,” for example. Holding a barbell at mid-thigh level, you shrug your shoulders toward the ceiling and simultaneously lift with your elbows. When the bar reaches maximum height (around your chest), you quickly squat and catch the barbell on your upper chest and then rise to a standing position. After the first breathless set I found it nearly impossible not to mutter profanities; by the third set I couldn’t muster the breath.

Another particularly heinous exercise was the squat to jump-squat combination. After 10 repetitions of squatting with a barbell on my shoulders, I immediately dropped into a half-squat and with my hands behind my head (without the barbell) jumped as high as possible, like a frog on a pogo stick, for 45 seconds. Do that four times with no rest in between, and your lungs are on fire and your quads turn to Jell-O.

I have worked out diligently for years. And I always assumed that I pushed myself. But my biggest revelation during those first weeks was that training under a coach, even one that wasn’t standing by my side barking instructions, was a whole different ball game. I had enlisted this man’s help, and he told me that if I trusted the process I would be fitter than I had ever been in my life. We were partners in the service of an ambition that had gripped me since adolescence. Instead of backing off when the pain got intense, under his nonwatchful eye I pushed harder than I had ever done on my own.

I trained six days a week, roughly two to three hours a day. As a lifelong jock, I was used to pushing my body; it was the ”softer” disciplines in the daily grind that I found most vexing. For example, on Wednesday, my meditation assignment was: ”Listen to your word choices. Before speaking ask yourself if it’s kind, true and helpful. If not, don’t speak.” For a gabby New Yorker not to point out someone’s obvious idiocies was like not shouting that your house was on fire.

I wrote Mr. Ilg frequently with detailed training questions about, say, the proper heart-rate zones to do intervals in my kayak. He answered all my queries with the precision of a sports physiologist; but he rarely failed to remind me of the big picture. ”Be mindful of each choice that you make every day whether it be food, voice or action.” And he usually corrected the typos in my e-mails. ”How we do anything,” he wrote, ”is how we do everything.”

My biggest breakthrough during the first six months came in the flexibility department. It’s not that I didn’t know stretching was good for me, but I found it so tedious, painful and frustrating that I could never make it a regular part of my regimen. Yet now I had a man flexible enough to dial a phone with his big toe insisting that daily stretching sessions would make me a more graceful paddler. Or, as he put it, ”kinesthetic training prevents injury by enhancing muscular and joint flexibility.”

A month into it, my chronic lower-back pain and the sciatica in my left leg (a souvenir from countless hours of sitting cramped in a tippy kayak) all but disappeared. The lesson was obvious: the thing that I resisted most, stretching, was the thing I needed to embrace.

For three weeks I would train like a New Age Spartan, take a week off and begin another cycle of all-encompassing Ilgian torment. During my high school and college basketball days, I played for a handful of knowledgeable coaches. But none talked about concepts like chi, a Chinese word meaning the life force, or the importance of focusing on your breathing instead of the competition.

While Mr. Ilg was nothing like my image of the classic coach (a little Knute Rockne, a little John Wooden), the way he integrated the martial and yogic arts with hard-core strength and cardiovascular routines felt right for me. His language might have hit my New York ear as too L.A. at times, but I was getting fitter. At the advanced athletic age of 40 I was in the best shape of my life.

Not coincidentally, I paddled faster. Last summer I was up in Canada at the World Sea Kayak Championships. Three hours into this 32-mile race across the St. Lawrence Seaway, fatigue settled firmly on my shoulders, and that little voice in my head chirped, ”Slow down!”

Instead, I did what Mr. Ilg had recommended. I relaxed into my breath and repeated the pre-event meditation I had memorized. Two hours later I finished fourth behind three world-class South African paddlers. More important, even as the pain built as the race went on, I found a rhythm and source of strength that carried me to the finish.

But the training was applicable at any speed. Two months before the 1999 United States Marathon Kayak Team Trials, I learned that my 64-year-old mother had terminal cancer. Between visits to my parents’ home and trips to the hospital, I trained voraciously, fueled by sadness and anger. A month before the race, she died. I decided to compete anyway. Early on in the 18-mile race, my resolve vanished and I struggled merely to finish. I had hoped to place in the top three and was a distant 11th.

Afterward, I wrote Mr. Ilg and told him about my discouraging results. He sent me a poem about death by Rosamund Pilcher and said he was proud of me for showing up, for finishing, for doing my best under difficult circumstances. For the first time, I understood something he had said at the beginning of our correspondence: ”You will learn that Wholistic Fitness really isn’t just about sports performance.”

E-Fitness Guru

Steve Ilg works with a wide range of athletes, who determine the amount of time they devote to their daily regimes. A month of on-line training costs $125. Information about Wholistic Fitness is available at or by sending e-mail to or phoning (818) 345-9027.

5 Responses to “WF History; ilg hits the NY Times”

  1. BB says:

    Almost 12 years later everything in this article still holds true. Coach still continues to change lives through his teachings and I am happy to be a student of his. The best part i have found about this training is it is more than sports performance; it is about life. It doesn’t take a world class athlete to be a student, but it may turn you into one…you never know! Thanks Coach!!

  2. padma says:

    “Coach still continues to change lives through his teachings and I am happy to be a student of his.”
    Om So Ti from India!

  3. Brad Gantt says:


    I owe a large part of my current awareness to your teachings!

    head bowed,


  4. coach says:

    Most Precious Students BB, Padman, and HSBG!
    you know…Yogi Jesus only had 12 Devotees, and Buddha only had 3 that remained with Him…ilg feels Beyond, Beyond the Great Beyond that you Three continue to take Study at the feeble feet of ilg after all these decades….
    one day?
    the Outer World will Awaken to the high, lofty, yet simple Teachings of WF and re-discover them for their own Levels…through YOU Three…

    head bowed,
    ego sorry that i’m not a more effective business/glossy leader for this Precious Path…
    then again?
    nah…ilg Loves it just the Way it is…cuz at least you Three are still with me!

    Ripples Make Waves,
    let’s reach Enlightenment in this precious lifetime for the Sake Of All…
    { }

  5. Andrew Baker says:

    Blessed One,

    WOW!!!!! What an epic testimonial!!! :) :) :)


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