You have probably never heard of D1 Sports Training (D1). I will confess I had not either. But we all have heard of athletes like Peyton Manning and Tim Tebow. These professional athletes are known as much for their work ethic as they are for which football teams they've played for. They also happen to be franchise owners and clients of D1. And unlike some celebrity endorsers who sign the agreement and disappear, Peyton and Tim actually work out at these facilities (time allowing) because they believe in the training protocols.
I'll admit, I was romanced by thoughts of doing wind sprints alongside NFL greats, so I was happy to visit the D1 Dallas location for a firsthand look. Even though my workout was big-name free, I was not disappointed by my experience.
Don't let the setup scare you away. At first glance, it might seem like D1 (which is an abbreviation of Division 1) is not for everyone. The workout area is AstroTurf designed to look like a football field. The walls are adorned with what D1 calls its "12 Character Words" — phrases like "Dedication. Confidence. Integrity." The weight area is full of racks of heavy dumbbells and muscled trainers and trainees. People may be running sprints or throwing pass routes as class members arrive. Whistles blow, sweat drips, and work is being done.
This is a facility that trains kids to be collegiate level athletes. It trains college athletes for the pros. And it helps keep professionals at the top of their game. It can be an intimidating place for those of us who aren't getting paid to be at the peak of our fitness level. but wouldn't it be great to have access to the same kinds of coaches and the same workouts that the best of the best have? All members, from moms to the pros, receive the same passion and coaching from highly qualified professionals. Look deeper and you'll see one consistent quality in every face, from participant to coach: Passion.
D1 prides itself on its passion for the work and its professionalism in its delivery. D1's President Mike Abramson shared with POPSUGAR that even if participants find themselves alongside Peyton in Tennessee or Tim in Florida, they somehow know to treat them like regular guys. No selfies, no autographs, just training together. Maybe it was for the best that there were no NFL greats on site during my visit to tempt me into a stealthy, yet uncool, high five. People like me may have come because of the big names, but they stay because of the training, the coaching, and the results.
D1 may be the best kept secret in sports training, but they don't want to keep it that way. They are looking for you, you boot camp hero. Before you jump in, here's what you need to know.
How Was It Started?
The training protocols are how the business began, when founder Will Bartholomew returned to his hometown of Nashville after suffering a career-ending knee injury in his first professional football season with the Denver Broncos. Bartholomew was a state champion who played with Peyton Manning at the University of Tennessee. After his injury, Bartholomew realized there was a local need for high-level sports training, when the most common question he received was "What exactly did you do to achieve your success?" He began training scholastic level kids in 2001, and has since paired with friends like Peyton to expand D1's offerings in 33 locations in 24 states (with more to come) to include boot camps, personal training, and in most locations, physical therapy.
Abramson talked to POPSUGAR about D1's approach to community fitness. "We typically service the ESPN family," he explained. This means either or both of the parents were competitive athletes at some stage, high school or even college level, are still interested in being physically active, and have one or two kids that are aspiring athletes. Because D1 offers 12-15 classes daily, kids can train at the same time their parents are getting in their workout. It's one-stop-fitness shopping for the athletic family. According to Abramson, though, D1 doesn't require you to have kids or to be a career athlete – you just have to want to train like one.
How is D1's Training Different?
Regardless of who they are coaching, Abramson says, everyone is trained like an athlete. Workouts are based on the concept of periodization, which means a D1 coaching panel develops workouts that run over a 5-to-8 week period. Each week is designed to build on each consecutive week to achieve measurable goals. Coaches don't just regurgitate pre-planned sets and reps; rather, they use their knowledge and experience to adapt workouts for participants in real time, especially if someone has an injury or joins after a workout period has started.
D1 employs coaches that have passed a rigorous audition process, are highly credentialed, and have competitive athletic experience. More than that, the coaches need to have some pizzazz. Sparkle. Entertainment value. While these coaches are skilled at identifying what each individual participant needs, they also need to inspire and encourage. Classes are limited to a maximum of 24 participants and can be much less depending on the time of day. Capped classes allow participants to feel like they are receiving, as Coach Matt Kite described, "an individualized training experience in a high-intensity motivating group environment." Translation? There is nowhere to hide, but you also can't get lost in the crowd.
This attention to participants is reflected in the D1 on-boarding process. Participants do not walk onto the field or pick up a weight until they have undergone a functional movement assessment and talk with a coach about their health (e.g. level of fitness, experience with different fitness modalities, and any pre-existing injuries or conditions), training goals, and a plan to attain them. Where many other gyms that let participants jump in cold, D1 prefers to prepare their athletes and calibrate their workouts to enable long-term success. In some circumstances, coaches may suggest a ramp-up period of working with a personal trainer before joining a general class – not to exclude, but to allow for an opportunity to safely prepare to train.
What is the Actual Workout Like?
The boot camps are broken down into four twelve-minute segments that include a dynamic warm-up, a performance section (circuits, HIIT style), core and conditioning, and a cooldown based on recovery and stretching. In the D1 boot camp I attended in Dallas, the coaches adapted the workout as we went, including offering modifications for a participant with a shoulder injury. I should mention, it's actually really fun. The coaches were the best part. They have high expectations but are positive and motivating. The workouts are varied and challenging, but are balanced enough that you aren't struggling through every interval.
For those that like a little more weights and a little less cardio, D1 also offers strength classes that focus more intensely on bodybuilding and other focused development areas like plyometrics, core and flexibility, and fast-twitch training. Both the boot camps and strength classes are part of the general membership.
With both classes, the work is not dumbed down for the participants: Each participant works at their own pace, and is coached with the same proficiency as everyone else. Members are as young as seven in the scholastic programs and go up to 70+ in the adult classes.
As Abramson said, a D1 athlete is simply anyone dedicated to their sport or their fitness. And guess what? The majority of its members are women — about 53 percent. When I trained at D1 Dallas, the boot camp was over half women. We all worked hard and when we finished, my sister boot campers didn't hesitate to brush the flecks of AstroTurf off my sweaty back for me. Teamwork in action.
If you are looking for more, personal training sessions aren't just a means to make additional money. They are a way to further address individual goals or concerns. When it came time for my one-on-one session with Coach Kite, a personal trainer and a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), we addressed some lower body muscle imbalances and I left with conditioning exercises designed to build knee and hip strength. I had never had a personal training session before, and I am now convinced it's a vital piece of personal fitness development.
Is D1 Sports Training For You?
When we work out we try to get the best bang for our buck, but we've forgotten that there is more to fitness than burning calories. Do your treadmill workouts sometimes bore you? Do you miss being on a team? Do you respond well to coaching and personal feedback? Do you like working your athletic tail off? Then D1 might be the right fit for you.
At $130-150 a month for unlimited boot camps and strength training, D1 is not a bargain fitness operation. Its main competitors are Orangetheory Fitness and CrossFit, as well as other specialty franchises like Iron Tribe and F45 Training. Personal training and physical therapy are available at an additional cost, though packages can be purchased at lower rates and family memberships can offer deeper savings. Most locations offer a week of free training, and the savvy internet bargain finder may find a discounted membership option through providers like Groupon.
More and more exercise consumers are looking for a complete experience, not just a means to an end. For Coach Kite, D1 represents more than a gym — it offers a lifestyle. D1's President would echo that, citing an over 70 percent retention rate with their one-year adult members. On top of all this, D1 is a Biggest Loser certified gym and regularly shares member success stories on their website and through social media.
Maybe it's time to dust off your inner athlete and take them for a spin around the field. What have you got to lose?