Exclusive Interview: John “Sully” Sullivan

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Exclusive Interview: John “Sully” Sullivan

As many of you know, I made the move back to Boston just over a month ago because I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of what I believe is one of the premier performance enhancement teams in the country: Excel Sport & Fitness Training.  A few weeks ago, I profiled one member of that team: Carl Valle.  Now, it’s only fitting to look to the rest of the team – starting with my long-time friend John Sullivan.

Sully is one of the reasons that I am a strength athlete.  He’s handled for me at powerlifting meets, I’ve been at his Strongman competitions, we’ve competed in the same events, but only recently have we gotten the opportunity to work in the same facility and train together.  To say that I feel fortunate would be an understatement; Sully is the kind of lifter, athlete, and coach that makes you better at what you do – regardless of your experience level.  He has considerable experience as a strongman, powerlifter, and mixed martial artist, and he’s one of the more well read coaches I’ve ever met.

EC: Hey Sully, thanks for taking the time to talk some shop today.  I obviously know what you’re up to nowadays, but please fill our readers in on what’s new in your world.

JS:  I’ve been busy opening my training facility, Excel Sport & Fitness, with my two partners Brad Cardoza and Rebecca Manda.  On top of that, we’ve brought in Carl Valle, Matt Delaney and the great Eric Cressey to round out our staff.  That’s consumed most of my time as of late, but we seem to really be picking up steam so it’s worth it.

Aside from that I’m currently preparing for 2006 North American Strongman Nationals, where I’ll be competing on Oct. 21st in Louisville, Kentucky.  My training has been going really well, and I’m looking to come in stronger than ever.

EC:  You’re most well known for your success as a strongman, so we’ll start there.  How did you get into Strongman, and how has competing as a strongman made you a better trainer and coach?

JS: I got started in 2002 when I met a couple guys who owned a facility in my area.  I decided to give it a try for a change of pace in my training, though had no intentions of ever competing.  I did tire flips, log presses, and farmer’s walks on my first visit and I was hooked.

The main aspect of strongman competitions is that they require a fairly diverse range of strength qualities.  Raw strength, power, strength endurance, etc. are all necessary components of strongman preparation.  As such, it became necessary for me to become proficient in the powerlifts, the Olympic lifts, certain bodybuilding techniques, as well as learning different methods of injury prevention, injury management, etc.  Aside from this, it opened my eyes to the potential for using certain strongman implements to train athletes.  This has given me a pretty broad base of options with which to train clients.

EC: A question I hear all the time with respect to strongman training is “How can I prepare for a competition if I don’t have unlimited access to the implements?”  What can the Average Joe do in his gym to help him along?

JS: Of course, nothing can replace training on the implements.  But if access is limited, you have to make sure your gym training focuses on compound movements that will give you the necessary strength to manipulate the implements effectively.  As I said earlier, a blend of powerlifting, Olympic weightlifting along with some boldybuilding techniques is a good mix.  If you’re doing cleans, box squats, jerks, heavy rows, front squats, deadlifts, and the like in your training, you’ll be on the right path.

EC: I know you’re never one to turn down an opportunity to rant about something.  What frustrates you the most about this industry?

JS: Just one?  Damn.  Well, one thing I hate is when trainers and coaches are ill-prepared to train their clients.  I think the best people in the industry are very well rounded, in both the theoretical and practical aspects of strength & conditioning.  Some trainers have no basis working with clients, because they lack the fundamental knowledge to not only get results, but to keep their clients safe in the process.  In the private setting especially, I think clients would be shocked if they knew that their trainer’s resume consisted of little more than simply “I’ve got big arms.”

EC: What have been your biggest mistakes as a lifter and trainer?

JS: As a lifter, I think my biggest mistake was ignoring the boring stuff, like activation and mobility work.    It’s not fun, but eventually it catches up with you and you get an injury.  In my case, it was a back injury that nearly kept me from competing at 2005 Nationals.  Since then, I’ve smartened up and have added a lot more mobility work to my training, and my back has thanked me for it.

As a trainer, I think I used to get too advanced when people didn’t really need it.  The basics are almost always the best.

EC: You’re a very well-read guy; I don’t know many people who can quote Supertraining from memory!  With that said, what five resources (books, DVDs, manuals) have been the most valuable to you?

JS: A few resources that I really like have been:

  1. Modern Trends in Strength Training by Charles Poliquin – It’s a small book but full of information you can immediately use.
  2. Magnificent Mobility by Eric Cressey & Mike Robertson – Again, if you want to stay injury free something like this is really a must.
  3. Diagnosis & Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes by Shirley Sahrmann – Every trainer should own this book.  It’s full of useful information that will help keep your clients injury free.
  4. Supertraining by Mel Siff – It’s been criticized for being too difficult to decipher, but it’s an awesome resource with tons of information.
  5. Science and Practice of Strength Training by Vladimir Zatsiorsky – A great blend of theoretical and practical information.

EC: What are five things our readers can do right now to become better lifters, athletes, coaches, and trainers?


  1. Be able to both teach and demonstrate proper form on as many lifts as possible.
  2. Never stop learning (books, DVD’s, seminars, phone conversations, etc.).
  3. There are many ways to get people stronger, faster, leaner, and more muscular; learn more than one of them.
  4. Learn functional anatomy, you owe it to your clients and yourself.
  5. Be passionate about what you do; your clients can tell if you’re just going through the motions.

EC: Thanks again for taking the time, John.

We’ll be back next week with another all-new newsletter.  Until then, train hard and have fun.

All the Best,