By Tracey Longo/TUA

If Lee Zimmerman a top sports physiologist in the Philly area can help heart attack sufferers harness exercise to dramatically improve their health, just think what the owner of Philly’s Counterstrike Conditioning, a world class powerlifter and sports coach can do for you. “We do more blood pressure tests than I can count every day,” says Zimmerman, who helps many different types of patients post-treatment at the leading hospital-based health and fitness center where he works. He uses the test results to determine how much work load clients can handle in the gym and then designs exercise programs to meet their needs. What can people do to avoid becoming a statistic, like the more than 700,000 people who die from heart disease each year? “Exercise,” says Zimmerman, who at the 2000-member fitness center works with 24 members over the age of 90 and 350 over age 80. The median age of members at the hospital fitness center is 75. “We live in a sick society,” he says. “We used to labor for a living. Now we sit behind computers all day. You have to join a gym. I see members reverse a lot of their illness by doing cardio and weight training. I’ve regularly seen people get off blood pressure and diabetes medicine.” He puts clients on treadmills, ellipticals, bikes and SciFit machines and has seniors do weight training for 20 minutes on free weights and machines. “I can see from their stress tests what 75% to 80% of their maximum heart rate is. I know if they exercise at least three to four days a week at those heart rates, they’ll be healthier and their quality of life will improve,” he says. A world class powerlifter who holds eight world titles and has competed for 20 years in the World Natural Powerlifting Federation, Zimmerman walks the walk of a man who likes to move.

He gets up at 4am every morning to powerlift in his home gym (which houses some 5000 pounds of weights), before heading off to the 2000-member hospital fitness center, which he fondly refers to as The Wrinkle Ranch. He opened CounterStrike Conditioning in Philadelphia inside his friend David Pantano’s martial arts gym facility (Counterstrike Kenpo Karate Premier Martial Arts) four years ago when he was bringing his son to there to learn karate. “I didn’t want Sam just sitting around. Night after night, I saw kids leaving in soccer and basketball and baseball uniforms. David Pantano had all this space in the back. I thought: If I install equipment, the parents and kids will take classes. I train them all in groups. I’m there four times a week and they can use the gym whenever it’s open. Basically, I’m done when they’re done.” It’s a family affair. Sam, Lee’s wife Andrea Greenberg Zimmerman, as well his daughter Julia, also regularly train at Counterstrike Conditioning. Zimmerman keeps the kids moving with sport-specific training. “We do a lot of prowler sledding. I have a power rack and 2000 pounds of weights as well as five sets of battling ropes. We get kids who play all kinds of sports and have four scholarship athletes who compete at advanced levels, including a full-scholarship ice hockey player (a sport near and dear to Zimmerman’s heart. Not only does he coach his son, he is in training to try out for an after-40 league that will play Israel this year).

Membership at Counterstrike Conditioning has grown to 285 members, with 35 dedicated athletes who do group training with Lee all week. “I’m sports specific. For instance in hockey, players are on and off the ice fast – playing for 45 seconds to one minute shifts at the college level. That’s how I train our hockey players. And we always follow conditioning with weights and agility training. I use cones and visuals to see how they turn in open space. I correct them so they don’t turn away from the play. I try to get them as efficient as possible, especially when they’re tired at the end of their sessions.” Zimmerman has always been an athlete, but not always so fully-realized professionally or in business. For that, he credits Elitefts.com Founder Dave Tate, who encouraged him to go back to school to become a sports physiologist. “I listened. I entered Skidmore College at age 31. I did my undergraduate degree in three years straight. As a family, we scrimped and saved, even cancelling the newspaper. But it was worth it. The hospital encouraged me to get my masters from there.” If you’re ever in Philly, check out Lee’s Gym: Counterstrike Conditioning, 13440 Damar Drive, Unit H, Philadelphia PA, 19116. Cost is $275 for three month and includes four group sessions of training a week.