THOMASVILLE - Andy Hepler always worked out on his own as an athlete at East Davidson. Little did he know, he would one day make a living helping others work out at his own gym, Hepler Strength and Conditioning, located at 1064 National Highway in Thomasville.
“When my oldest daughter was in high school, some of her friends were football players,” said Hepler. “When they found out I was lifting and training, they came over and started working out with me in the backyard. They told their friends about it and two or three became six or seven, and then nine or ten. I thought maybe I could get something going with this. I had a full-time job, so I was looking to do something part time.”
Hepler graduated in 1988 from East Davidson High School and was a cross country and track athlete. He has two daughters, Jacqueline (age 25), a yoga instructor, and Jenna, a sophomore volleyball player at East Davidson. He has coached at East Davidson the past seven years. The program has seen twelve school records broken in the specific sports Hepler has served in as a coach.
Initially, Hepler’s goal when starting his business was to pay the rent and have a place to work out that was not in his backyard. He found a small building in Thomasville to rent and put some equipment in. Shortly after opening his business, his full-time job was down-sized.
“I had two options at that point; get real serious about the gym and make something of it or go back into the corporate world and keep looking,” said Hepler. “I decided it was time to take a chance and see what I could do with a strength and conditioning room. I got certified, bought more equipment, started networking by talking to local coaches and parents and nine years later here we are. What we provide here helps our local athletes.”
Hepler sees his athletes competing with more confidence as they put time in at his gym. He works with three different age groups: a youth age group, which is seven years to middle school age, a middle school age group and a high school age group. In the youth age group, the emphasis is on skills that are appropriate for that age group, including technique, basic coordination, motor coordination skills, speed and agility work, and body weight exercises. As they move into middle school, that is when Hepler starts teaching them the basics of weight-lifting technique. The high school program is a full-fledged strength and conditioning program. Hepler stresses to high school athletes that participate in his program that if they go on to college to play a sport, they will be lifting. He communicates to them that there will be a strength and conditioning coach at a Division 1 or 2 program, and they can gain an advantage over their competition by working hard while in high school.
“For a high school athlete that has never done any weight and agility training or speed work, this facility can be a game changer.” said Hepler. “A lot of our college age athletes will come in and work out when they are home on break.”
Hepler has dedicated a wall in his facility as a “wall of fame”. Anytime one of his athletes goes off to play college sports he has them bring back a school t-shirt to place on the wall, signifying the hard work they put in at the gym. He has trained some professional athletes too, including MMA Fighters and a pro motocross rider. His business is also a first-choice training facility for the local HiToms baseball club.
Hepler has also traveled to several area schools and worked with their teams. Over the last nine years he has done workouts at Central Davidson, Ledford, and Wheatmore High Schools. At Wheatmore he actually worked with the football coach to develop the school’s weightlifting curriculum.
“There are numerous ways that we try to reach out to athletes,” said Hepler. “We also reach out to coaches at all area schools in all sports and give discounts to teams that send a minimum number of players.”
Considering there are a number of competing gyms available in the area to work out, Hepler feels certain that he knows what the difference maker is in his facility with assisting athletes with getting stronger and building agility.
“Once participants have established a good general base of strength, lifting technique and expertise, we utilize a specific method of training called the Conjugate Method,” said Hepler. “The method originated in the 1960s and 1970s in the former Soviet Union. It is best known in the United States through its use by the power lifting gym Westside Barbell Club in Ohio that trains some of the strongest powerlifters in the world. It is a specific method, which gets the most out of an individual in a minimum amount of time. Each week is a miniature training cycle working for maximum strength, speed, and power. There are other gyms around the country that use the program. We modify the program for high school athletes, as we are not training powerlifters. Many times, we may only have an athlete for 8 or 9 weeks as they are between sport seasons, so we are trying to maximize their training.”
Hepler has done a lot of research and spoke to many coaches in developing his workout methods. One such coach is Joe Kenn, strength coach of the Carolina Panthers. Kenn has been named collegiate and pro strength coach of the year and Hepler sees him as one of the greatest strength coaches of all time. Hepler uses Kenn’s system and tweaks it for the athletes he works with.
There have been some hurdles that Hepler has had to overcome in building his business.
“Early on, nobody knew who I was,” said Hepler. “Nine years ago, this type of business was just becoming popular. I had to sell this business to my customers twice. First, I had to sell that this would benefit them and secondly, I had to prove to them I was the right man for the job. Also, as I contacted coaches, I had to sell myself to them. Today, the challenge is more logistics and scalability. There are big differences training three athletes versus fifteen athletes at the same time.”
Hepler disclosed some success stories of area athletes who have benefited from his training programs. Courtney Cefalo, a former Ledford state indoor track champion in the long jump, now competes for UNC Wilmington. Lucas Rhodes from Central Davidson, became a state champion in swimming. Jasmine Charles, a former standout basketball player at Central Davidson, just completed her first season of professional basketball in Romania after a successful career at Lenoir Rhyne. Over the nine-year period Hepler has trained athletes, he says 56 school records have been broken.
Hepler anticipates some exciting times and a bright future ahead for his business. The business will be undergoing a name change to become “Dominate Athletic Performance”.
“This name change will better suit what we do, which is ALL aspects of sports performance, not just lifting weights,” said Hepler. “We will be moving into a larger facility, which I like to call a mega sports complex. The game plan is to have a facility for expanding our strength and conditioning and speed training programs, which will be under one roof.”
Hepler knows he has to be successful at his business to continue to support his family. Even with expansion plans in place, he emphasizes that his decisions will always be driven by what is best for the athletes.
“It’s all about the kids,” said Hepler. “Our mission will continue to be about helping athletes get better.”