Speight Drummond: What’s up AJ?
AJ Fagan: Long time no see, Speight.
S: It’s been a full year bro. All right… let’s tell the viewers what your athlete bio is.
A: I grew up at a young age playing baseball then transitioned to lacrosse in high school. I played at the varsity level and took it to the collegiate level playing at University of Tennessee. I’ve done a lot of training for the military’s OCC program as well. Other than that, I’m an avid surfer at an amateur level; but we will see where it takes me in the future!
S: So what do you think your one sport is right now?
A: Defiantly surfing 100%
S: How did you get into surfing?
AJ: I got into surfing when I took a real random study abroad to Australia. One semester turned into two semesters. I then bought a car and a board. I had a couple mates; one from France and the other from Hawaii and they really led the way for me when it came to surfing.
S: So where in Australia were you?
AJ: I was in Sunny Coast Queensland for a year, kinda northeast Australia, south east Queensland. I was also in Gold Coast for over a year and counting where I met you man. Those waves were supper sick!
S: How could you describe Bond University- one of the places where we studied abroad?
AJ: It’s located in the surf mecca of Australia for one. The school is super affluent with lots of international students, however most aren’t there for their whole degree. So, a lot of people cycle in and out every semester. It’s cool in a way as you get to meet so many different people from literally all over the globe. There are so many athletes there that have taken their sport to the professional or semi pro level such as soccer. It’s a cool school as there are a lot of great networking opportunities. Bond is the only private university In Australia. And it still stays cruzier than most.
S: Yeah that’s how I met you half away across the world!
AJ: It’s also a very active culture over there. I’m into physique training and the Gold Coast is perfect for that stuff. It’s just pretentious enough where everyone cares about their body.
S: How did you get into body building?
AJ: I got into body building because of lacrosse. I was good at beating people during conditioning and training. I liked that, and I also I enjoyed the physical gains and health benefits (and getting more women and what not). Made athletic endeavors easier. I focused on bodybuilding as a lifestyle with no ambitions of competition because I took on the philosophy that- If you aim for the moon and miss you still hit the stars. So, I was like if I’m going to get into body building I’m just going to dive in head first and shoot for being the best and inadvertently I was smashing my original goals. I started getting into the habit of setting very high goals, so I could see the gains through the progress. I think people set their original goals too low.
S: You’re a trainer correct?
AJ: I was a personal trainer for a year just long enough for the certificate to expire. I didn’t have the money to re up because I was moving to and from the U.S. and Australia.
S: How long have you been in Australia for?
AJ: It’s been 2 ½ years now.
S: What are your plans right now?
AJ: Right now, I’m back in the states where I witnessed snow for the first time in 3 years which is hella nice. I’m visiting New England and I’ve been snowboarding and surfing. I’m here for a gap semester trying to get some trips in, visit the old mates, and family. Save money (always). I got one more year of college left. I’m going back to Australia finish my degree and continue my surf progression. It’s a hella cool way of life. It’s not just a sport (surfing) it’s literally a life style.
S: Defiantly a life style! So, what’s your personal mission statement AJ?
A: Do to others as how you would have them do to you. If you follow this way of life, then people return the favor. It’s simple respect and be kind.
S: You mentioned before body building, can you tell me what your work outs look like, specifically when you’re doing weight training?
AJ: You got to do heavy compound lifts in the weight room something that’s really anaerobic, less cardiovascular/endurance based. Something that will really get the heart rate jacked up. Exercises that shock the muscle the most and the quickest tend to be your old fashion heavy ass compound lifts. I would pare that up with HIIT cardio (high intensity interval training). That’s the cardio vascular work I would lean towards because it heightens your V02 max (athleticism). It’s less catabolic. That’s where your body is going to make the true adaptations that you’re looking for in the least amount of time.
S: While in Australia how many days do you spend lifting versus surfing?
AJ: I can get away with doing those styles of training 3 days a week, 45 minutes long and still get good benefits. I was typically surfing twice a day for 3 hour sessions, one 3:00am in the morning and 3:00pm in the afternoon.
S: 3:00 in the morning?!?
AJ: The sun rises at 4:00 am in Australia so if you want to surf the best time of the day, that’s it. But if you plan on doing some type of physical activity that qualifies as exercising every single day then it makes sense to break your day up into two sessions as oppose to one long session. If your exercising 4 plus hours in one go every single day its supper catabolic to your gains. You’re not giving your muscles a lot of recovery time in between repetitions and sets. It kind of sounds contradictory because breaking up your workouts into 2 sessions a day is splitting up your recovery time too. But within the scope of the sessions, you are doing less reps, and your body won’t stay in that catabolic window for too long. So if you break your physical activity up it into say 1-hour sessions its super beneficial for not burning out. Same goes for surfing, you can’t just have one six plus hour session every day. The back half of the session will probably yield subpar gains towards surf progression and could possibly lead to injury which means unnecessary time out of the water. We did a couple 8 plus hours surf sessions in Byron at Wategos when it was pumping and that was heavy on the body. As a result, my wrists were killing me and all around I could feel my ligaments just couldn’t take that long of intense activity like my muscles.
S: I can surf well for 2 hours, at the third hour I start to bonk hard!
AJ: Yeah it’s also like running the 400meter at your fastest. At 300 meters the monkey jumps on your back and you turn to lead. But back to breaking up my weight lifting sessions… I like to have my first session be about weight lifts and the second aerobics. You got to hit the body from all angles, at all the levels and types of intensity. That sparks efficient adaptation. For example. Go through ALL the motions at ALL the different speeds. If your morning session was about doing 5 by 5’s, 5 sets of 5 reps of an exercise then you’re expected to die on the fifth rep of every set. That’s important because it works out all your muscle fiber types being: type1 and type2 A and B muscle fibers. Type1 being your endurance fibers run mostly off oxygen. Type 2 A muscle fibers run off both oxygen and glucose, in lack of oxygen they run off glucose, which is where we try to get when lifting. Type2 A are also known as your hypertrophy muscle fibers and when training these muscle fibers, you gain muscle size. Now to be truly anaerobic or to have no oxygen, well that’s using your type 2 B muscles fibers. That’s like your 1 rep max muscle fibers, those run off creatine, that’s why I would probably recommend creatine as a supplement.
S: Wow that sounds a bit complicated! On another topic have there been any books that have influenced you athletically?
AJ: The book Unbroken is my favorite as far as motivational books for athletes are concerned. It is about the trials and tribulations of Louis Silvie Zamperini. I think Angelina Jolie made a movie about him and the book. If I remember right, He is a 2nd generation immigrant from Italy. Louis was born in California from an impoverished family. He ended up being a bad kid, juvenile delinquent by high school, but got into running, because of his brother. I want to say his brother died possibly? He became the best track star out of high school and went to the Olympics in 1930 that was held in Germany. He ran through the Hitler regime and ran through all that diversity. This guy had a physical issue as well with his heart. After the Olympics he got drafted in the military during WWII. His plane got shot down over the Pacific and where he then spent 2 months adrift in the water where he got rescued by the enemy Japanese. Louis was then sent to a POW (prisoner of war) camp and made it out alive. It’s the craziest story! Spoiler alert!
S: I remember that book! During the military training he took it super seriously and read a lot of the training manuals. He read that if you swim 3 feet underwater bullets can’t penetrate you and none of the other people on the raft new that. A Japanese plane did a fly by over their rescue raft shooting them and killing everyone besides Louis because he swam below the surface.
AJ: Other than that, book I really enjoyed Arnold Schwarzenegger’s encyclopedia of body building, it’s kind of a hard read due to the encyclopedia part, but there’s a lot of great information in there.
S: What’s the best purchase that’s impacted you athletically?
AJ: I think it’s a future purchase. I’ve always wanted a set of Olympic rings, and you can do pretty much everything on them, they’re so basic. You can set them up on a tree, and do pull ups, dibs, upside down planks, leg raises, fly’s and hanging rows. The straps are free motion, its good stuff for work outs.
S: What about surf boards!? How many surf boards have you gone through?
AJ: I’ve gone through 20 boards within 2 years.
S: What’s going through your mind when you’re buying a surf board?
A: 1st rule is never to purchase a new board, always buy a used board because boards value gets cut in half instantly once you buy them. I like a decent amount of volume towards the nose of the board making it floatier. Something short below 6-foot. Just fat enough in the tail to be able to kick out the fins for air. And tick tack above the water and pull off some floaters. I really like JS boards, the monsta series!
S: How has a failure set you up for latter successes?
AJ: I defiantly think life is one big trial and error, so you got to learn from your mistakes. At some point you’re going to learn from them the hard way. It seems like people only truly learn from failures when it comes the hard way. I don’t know why that’s the case. For example. We all know what a healthy diet looks like and the results it can yield but most don’t follow the diet, until they are out of shape unhealthy and have suffered enough from the consequences, till they take action. I don’t know why we can’t diet properly from the beginning. Instead we wait till we get fat to get the motivation to diet and exercise. Surfing for example you learn the hard way. If you paddle into the wave and don’t stand up properly on the drop in, it sucks because the result is face planting and going over the falls. All ways learning from your mistakes is key and something I always try to remember.
S: Do you have any unusual habits?
AJ: I have a wild sweet tooth and that keeps me motivated to stay in the gym and live an active life style, so I can continue to eat sugar. I definitely have some OCD tendencies as well.
S: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into surfing?
AJ: It’s funny because you’re the better surfer out of us. And I feel like I’ve taught more people to surf than you… But in the terms of teaching people how to surf, that fear factor is what’s going to hold people back the most. You just have to send it! Charge the waves, put your head down and paddle. You must know how to paddle efficiently. A lot of people burn their energy too fast and just flounder out there without getting out back (past the breaking waves). Balance is huge in surfing as well as learning how to duck dive. Paddling and duck diving are the 2 things that aren’t even surfing, But you must know how to get out back through these two skills to be able to even paddle into the wave. Catching a wave is just a fear control thing.
S: How hard it is to paddle out in 15-foot waves?
A: When we were surfing together I got smashed around and almost died a couple times, it was ridiculous. When it was 15-foot double over head and you’re getting smashed on the Australian rocks. It’s really heavy. The hardest part is just getting into the water and to just try to duck dive as deep as you can. The rock send is just so vicious. When you’re paddling out there go point break all day. If you go beach break your just going to get domed five or six times over the sand bars before you get out back. When jumping off the rocks on the point to get out back its high-risk high reward but it paddles a lot easier. Its physically exhausting, it’s that HIIT cardio, paddling out back. Its like paddle, paddle, paddle, hold your breath get raddled by an oncoming wave, paddle, paddle, paddle, paddle, hold your breath get raddled. Sometimes this can last any were from 10 minutes to 30 minutes but then again that’s what gives value to catching the waves.
S: I kind of like to think of it as paddling uphill because that’s how hard it feels.
AJ: Yea You’re just getting raddled. You're exhausted you’re out of breath, and you only make it 5 feet at a time before another wave comes and you get smashed again by a brick-like white wall.
S: So picture this: your trying to paddle out past the break, the waves coming at you and it breaks and there’s all this white water making a 15-20-foot mountain while your laying on your board. Basically, what you must do is dive below the wave. While it is making all this energy it will push you down and hopefully you are able to make it under the wave diving 3 to 10 ft below water. But sometimes what happens when the wave is super big it has a super strong current. While your duck diving it can suck you up like a vacuum into the wave and pummel you for as long as it wants. I like to think of it as being put into a giant washing machine. It starts with you getting forced inside of it getting rag dolled while having no idea how long the timer is set for anywhere from 5 seconds up to a minute. Then finally when the timer is up you get let out of this turbulence and get to figure out which way is up to the surface and swim. All of this while having no idea how deep you are. And with your eyes closed the whole time!
AJ: I like it, I love it a lot haha!
S: What’s some bad recommendations you hear in your sport?
AJ: The worst recommendation from the military I hear is trying to gain muscle mass. You just need to be a fast-little whirl wind. Super light, quick on your feet, able to carry pounds on your back, able to pull up your body weight, push up your body. Having that extra body mass is not beneficial whatsoever. With lacrosse I would say a lot of people are babies. It’s a contact sport so you must train with squats and do your deadlifts. You got to build up those powerful explosive muscles. You got to run people over. Kids are soft now, there just twirling their stick around waiting to get checked. You’re going to be on the ground and your stick skills are no good there.
With surfing the worst recommendation is maybe board selection. Purchasing the wrong type of board as a beginner.
S: I feel like there’s a lot of fear towards surfing because of sharks in the water.
AJ: I’ve been evacuated due to a shark before. I was surfing in Byron Bay, most eastern point of Australia where it’s known to be supper “sharky”. I was one of five guys out in the water on a 10-foot day. This helicopter swoops in hovering 20 yards above us and there’s a guy leaning out of the door with a rifle pointed at us. A life guard dingy shows up and starts yelling at every one to get out of the water because there’s a shark in the water about 5 meters away from us. Everybody just 180’s and starts paddling franticly to the closest beach. But me I was in a priority surf zone, and this set wave came right as the life guard was saying this sentence. By the time he finished his sentence I was stood up on the wave. I heard everything and was like oh god don’t fall, but it was the wave of the day and got a few nice turns in. The dingy followed me on my wave and yelled at me to get out of the water. That basically meant there was a big shark close!
S: Every year one person dies at Bryon Bay from a shark attack. I remember hearing a story right before we went, about this surfer who was sitting on his board and a shark torpedoed the surfer sailing him in the air and snapping his board in half on impact. But thankfully he was fine!
AJ: Wategos is sick because you can see dolphins, sea turtles, whales all in the same day while in the water surfing.
S: But what I was trying to say is don’t be afraid of sharks because you are statistically more likely to get struck by lightning then killed by a shark.
AJ: There are more recorded deaths from fallen coconuts than sharks. It’s kind of hard to tell people to not think of it. Just driving to the beach is more dangerous than actually getting in the water!
S: So why do you surf?
AJ: The high you get from surfing warps all other sports! Satisfaction of surfing a wave is more rewarding then winning a lacrosse game, scoring a goal, or even the most goals. Landing an air surfing a barrel, nothing beats it. Surfing is a life style, once you get into it you start living it. It takes you around the world to beautiful places. Just by chasing surfing alone it’s taken me all around Australia, New England, Hawaii, Mexico, California, and Florida. Going to all these places to surf is unreal. I have Bali and Brazil next on the list. I can enjoy these places because these are surfing places.
S: I’m afraid of being land locked for sure! We were talking earlier about supplements what do you recommend?
AJ: When you’re looking at supplements, look for trustworthy brands. Personally, I like Optimal Nutrition and Jym. Jym has a lot of science behind there formulas. Optimal Nutrition is known for not blending its supplements. If you wanted creatine malate for instance you will get the product in pure form. It’s important not to take too many supplements at one time, because It could really hurt your liver. I would buy things based on the ingredients. You must know something about the ingredients. There’s a lot of good sources online. I do my shopping on bodybuilding.com they have a great variety and competitive prices. They have a lot of work out plans that I’d recommend and a lot of articles about the ingredients in supplements. Be aware there is going to be biases, because there trying to sell you on there products. If I had to give you some supplements with ingredients that are the most important it would be protein. It may not be a supplement. But if you can’t eat enough protein and you got to squeeze in the extra 50 grams of protein a day a protein shake can help and could break the plateau. It’s also cheaper than eating steaks all the time. Then to break down protein even further, BCAA (branch chain Amino Acids) are important. Because you can eat all the protein you want, but if you can’t synthesize that protein and turn it into muscle then what good is it then? That’s when amino acids come into play. There just more broken-down proteins. Another thing to know on top of BCAA is a serving should contain at least 2.5 grams of leucine to work. Creatine is also important, it’s an energy source first for your brain. It improves your cognition and memory. Your body naturally synthesizes creatine in your muscles. If you eat a 20 oz steak, then you’re going to get your 5 grams of creatine. Which is recommended to reach all the benefits that it can supply in athletic performance. Creatine is also the fuel source for your type 2 b muscle fibers. Creatine phosphate boosts your 1 rep max, and explosive ability. It’s important to supply your body with the fuel source it needs. Oils are important such as Fish Oil, Collagen, CLA, ALA, omega 3 and 6, these are really good for every part of your body. A lot of people don’t get enough in their diet. For instance, a serving of fish oil is 3 grams, but you need 20 grams of fish oil a day for it to benefit you. When you take that into a perspective you must reach the minimum amount of servings to get the affects. You need an actual multi vitamin. For every girl that decides to go vegetarian they better buy an iron supplement. Because eating red meat is one of the easiest ways to get your iron.
S: Who do you think would be your athlete mentor?
AJ: I got a few, Arnold Schwarzenegger started it off for me 100%. That man is exemplary of what it means to create a goal, visualize it, work with dedication towards it. Achieve it and then and go and apply the same principles that made you achieve your first goal and then set a new goal even higher. That man went from an Austrian farm boy, to the military, to European body builder champion. He moved to a country where he didn’t speak the language and became a 7 times Mr. Olympia. Then he went into acting, when everyone told him not to, because of his unorthodox body and accent. It ended up turning out to be his best assets. Over a course of a couple years he becomes the highest paid actor of his era. He then took those two successes and becomes the governor of California. The man obviously had some working principles that can be applied to the gym and in life. He did admit to taking steroids. It’s not really a big deal to me, because I know that you can’t take steroids and sit on the couch and get big like him. You must put in the work, to make steroids even work. I think it’s a load of crap when people are like he’s fake he took steroids. Everyone was taking steroids in his competitions. It wasn’t like he had an upper hand he was just doing what everyone else was doing. Steroids weren’t even illegal at the time. Even for example Lance Armstrong came out and said I wasn’t doping to get an upper hand. I was just doing it because everyone else was, so he had to.
S: Compared to steroids bloods your own blood. Do you know the science behind steroids?
AJ: On a molecular level it hypes the protein synthesis process. It makes you recover faster. You still have to go to the gym and rip up the muscles and get the blood pumped. But the steroids repair your muscles like 100 times faster than a protein shake.
S: What makes you stand out as an athlete?
AJ: I believe its sports intelligence, for example, I’d recommend that someone needs to first focus on paddling and duck diving as a priority, not getting up to surf. I think that’s a strategic way I went about learning to surf that allowed me to smash through some learning curves. I was able to get out back when I had no business to be out there when it was like triple overhead. But by having the opportunity to take those waves I was able to learn from them faster. In lacrosse for example, it would be field intelligence that helped me excel. it’s a team sport, so you must know where to be in different situations and in game play. It doesn’t seem like an important thing. But even if you are the fastest and strongest guy on the team. if you’re on the wrong side of the field from the ball what good are you then? Another thing to add about surfing is learning how to read the waves. A huge differentiating factor is wave selection, if you keep picking shitty waves you’re not going to be able to learn very easily. Maybe you must look at things around the task at hand to understand the bigger picture.
S: If today was your last day what would you do?
AJ: 100% surf! Maybe a scenario where I’d bring the family to a beach in Hawaii or Byron somewhere nice tropical and warm and then surf!
S: I’d defiantly recommend any one traveling to Australia go to Byron Bay it’s one of the coolest surfing paradises out there. Locals are pretty nice too.
AJ: There’s a huge back backing culture out there, but man those old locals are kind of mean out in the water, but I think that’s just the nature of surfing.
S: So if you are going to get into surfing respect the locals try not to drop in on them.
AJ: If you’re American don’t talk too much.
S: Because surf fights do happen!
AJ: So I’m going to leave you with some recommendations. AthleanX YouTube channel is good stuff. Puts science into exercising, its super beneficial in terms of training, and training like an athlete and being athletic in general. They also have good nutrition advice. I’ll leave you with always chase the process, not the end goal. You want to make that end goal unrealistic and love the process because then you’ll always be making progress and will never plateau.
S: Thanks AJ for the interview. Now we get to go have some fun! We going to hit the gym for an hour, do some night snowboarding at Whaleback Mountain. Tomorrow we’ll head down to the NH coast to surf some glassy chest high waves. Then I drop you off at the airport before you disappear to Australia.
AJ: Stay Surfy my friend!