Ed Downs' fitness and rehabilitative career has spanned a decade. The son of a Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Ed, while born in Nebraska, lived in Germany and Japan before finally settling in New Jersey. Ed was certified by the Shape-Up Academy of the American Council on Exercise in 1992 as an accredited personal trainer and moved to Miami to become part of its burgeoning fitness market. He quickly was recruited by many of the most influential sports names in Miami.
Ed developed the patented Downs Disc Fitness System, a training and exercise system. It is used and endorsed by professional athletes, the University of Miami basketball team, high schools around the country, rehab centers, pregnant women, and thousands of people with weight, type 2 diabetes and respiratory problems. Without corporate funding, Ed realizing his dream through self-financing (by asking clients to pay him in advance), taking out a second mortgage and the sweat equity of 14-hour days.
Bullz-Eye: A lot of trainers and coaches get involved with sports at a young age. And a lot of times it was sports, as they grew up, that got them hooked on to the training thing. Were you involved in a lot of sports at a young age?
Ed Downs : Oh man, I played football, basketball, ran track and martial arts was my thing. When all my buddies were playing baseball I was doing my martial arts.
BE: Oh yeah. I know over here it says you’ve got a fifth degree black belt.
ED: Yeah, I studied for many years. I started in Okinawa, when my dad was stationed there.
BE: So did you have any mentors growing up? Any guys that you looked up to that kind of got you involved in being in martial arts?
ED: I wish I could say yes. If I said yes it would sound really cool, but actually it was just that that was the one thing that separated me from all my friends. I did all sports, they did too but I didn’t like baseball that much. So I heard about marital arts on a military base and I use to ride my little bike down there and join the class. I used to cut yards.
BE: Just kind of went and did your own thing,
ED: Did my own thing. Cut lawns, cost me 30 bucks a month and saved enough money to pay for my own karate classes.
BE: So you ended up moving to Florida some time ago, Miami, Florida, as a trainer. I know a lot of things that I read about you say you were recruited, pretty quickly, by a lot of top names in sports. What do you think: can you tell me what it was about your training that caught the attention of such high profile athletes at that time?
ED: I think it was just the combination of the martial arts with the personal training. I promoted flexibility a lot. And at that time guys did understand that flexibility…the more flexible you are it should lessen your chance of getting injured. So Lewis Oliver, who was really into training 110 percent -- I would run with these guys at the track or at the gym and they would see me working with different people, you know just regular folks, doing marital arts. They liked my style of training and teaching. And Lewis Oliver took me on, Tony Martin, Terry Kirby. The word spread because these guys were doing well already but then they started performing even better. And I would actually do not just flexibility training but also foot work and speed training that you would do at a marital art institute; you know, combined with balance stuff, before all this balance stuff started, you know what I mean?
BE: Right. I know as a trainer, I’ve been a trainer for quite a few years and have had an opportunity to train many good athletes, pros included. Actually, I enjoy training athletes a little more than the average person. I also tend to work on a lot of flexibility and a lot of balance. I notice that it’s kind of getting more popular now, but when you moved to Miami did you see that maybe you were one of the only trainers that really concentrated on being flexible and working on balance and speed and things like that?
ED: No doubt. I mean being in martial arts and standing on one leg, you’re shaky a lot of the time. So I knew balance was just so important and these guys play in an unstable environment. If they’re on a football field, it’s a whole bunch of unexpected movements going on. I guy coming at you, you’ve got to cut, you’ve got to juke. It’s like you know what? You should be doing this kind of training. Start with defensive backs doing a lot of hand movement and quick hands that a marital artist would do. Getting a receiver off of you, getting a line guy off of you. Do you follow me?
BE: Oh yeah, It seems to be with you that this is something that kind of came off your martial arts. Instinctively you kind of knew how to train. Looking at the aspects of sports, is that how you saw it? As kind of an instinctual thing where you knew that this was what they needed?
ED: Right, exactly; you’ve got it. Like I said just looking at a defensive back what they did, I played defensive back when I was in high school and wide receiver and everything else. But I was fast and quick and I just knew. I knew it helped me get quicker. When I was running a 4.6 and ran a 4.37 in college because I started training that much harder, as far as martial arts. A lot of it was being able to do that spilt. Sure enough it transferred right over into sports.
BE: I totally agree. It’s really interesting the things I have been reading about you; it’s kind of almost validating to a guy like me who is working on a lot of the same things. It’s kind of…like I said, it’s very nice to see that someone in your position is doing very similar things that you’ve been trying to preach to different people.
ED: I love to hear that.
BE: Tell me a little bit about how the evolution of the Downs Training System started. I know you just talked about how you were working on balance training and flexibility when you first got to Miami. I’ve read a few different articles and I keep reading about how your training system got started…it has a lot to do with an autistic child that you had worked with?
ED: Yeah man, it sure did.
BE: A two year old, I think is what it was, right?
ED: That’s right. He was two years old; he was two years old at the time. That was like when I was training already a lot of guys, doing different kinds of balance stuff. But, when I ran into this two-year-old boy, I had already worked with a kid that was like 12 years old that was autistic but the parents already knew he was autistic. So they put him into my marital arts class to help him…it helped him in a lot of different ways, you know as far as self esteem and leadership skills. It just gave him confidence. But this two year old kid, the parents didn’t know at the time that he was autistic. So one thing I knew about autistic kids was that their core is really weak. I don’t know if you know this but they tend to…you know when a body is like in extension, like the butt kicks out and back goes back and the stomach’s out, kind of like loose; kind of loose. Their body was really like kind of loose, with no control of their limbs, and they also are toe walkers, they walk on their toes. This kid, two years old, I can see this and I’m like I know what the problem is. So I start playing with him, his mom was a trainer working for me so he would come to work with her sometimes. I would throw him one of these discs and make a game out of it. You know I would make him stand on one leg and stand on the other leg and sit on it and try to balance himself. My whole goal was if I could get his core strong it would help control his limb movement, which would help him be able to play like a normal kid one day and hit a ball off the tee and learn how to ride a bike and things like that. So sure enough we started getting great results with this kid, and wait until I tell you who the kid is. We started getting great results with the little boy and from that point, that was around the same time I started working with these pro athletes as far as the basketball players, whose bodies are also…what they have, they have long lever arms. Long arms, long legs, some of them have short torsos; so they are kind of like lanky, you know what I mean? So the stronger their core would be the more control they’ll have in their functional movement. So I actually started training them doing similar techniques and using the same principles I used with this two-year-old boy.
BE: Oh that’s interesting.
ED: Interesting, right?
BE: That is very interesting. You know I’ve known a few parents who have had autistic children but I have never been around them a lot so I’ve never really seen how they act like that or…
ED: They’re weak; their whole core is just weak. You know it’s like if you had no abs so your upper body and lower body disassociate from one another too easily.
BE: Right, nothing is connecting it.
ED: You feel me? It’s not connecting. If you can control that core and get it strong…but I had to get it strong Mike, not in a flexion pattern, not like doing a crunch pattern because we walk upright. I need the kid to be strong walking upright so I developed these movements, like these what I call a diagonal squat. So you’re squatting down but you’re reaching up over the left shoulder and as you come back up you bring the ball down. So I had him going with the little, bitty ball in his hand, reaching up and then coming back down or doing a lunge or while reaching up, so your body’s long so you’re getting your abs strong in an extension pattern. You’re with me right?
ED: Cool, cool, cool. So what about a basketball player that’s going to rebound a basketball? Alonzo Mourning reaches up and grabs, I was getting ready to curse, he grabs the dang ball right, grabs the sucker and pulls it down. So he’s in an elongated extension movement and if his core is strong he can pull that sucker down quicker and with control and land under control. A wide receiver diving for a ball. See a lot of athletes do this stuff naturally; you have these gifted guys, right? But what about someone like you or me? It may not come as natural but if we can get our bodies to work that way, what we would be able to do would be limitless. And that’s what I saw in this two year old.
BE: Yeah I’m sure you’ve been…like a lot of the high school and college athletes I’ve trained, lots of talent but they just don’t have…all the links in the chain don’t seem to quite…
ED: Work as a group?
BE: Yeah, exactly.
ED: And that’s why I designed this system where your body will work as a unit. Your core will help control your limb movement with unexpected movement. That’s why it’s so important to do the kind of balance training, not like; okay I like Pilates, let me back up. Pilates is great but a lot of the Pilates moves, you’re in a horizontal position. So let’s imagine taking Pilates and putting a lot of movement in a vertical movement, in a vertical position. So that’s what the Downs Disc allowed me to do. I can’t stand on an exercise ball. I love the exercise ball but one thing I could not do on it with these guys was have them stand on it, unless you are in Cirque du Soleil. So this disc allowed me to take the guy and put him in his own environment. A football player like Jerry Porter, a receiver, stands on the two discs, one foot on one, one on the other; I’m throwing the ball at you, catch the bad boy. So now you’re in a position like you would be on a football field. I put a guy at the foul line; have him shooting foul shots, standing on the discs. A guy in the batter cage, stand on the discs. A tennis player standing on the bad boy, using the proper stance.
BE: You’re actually training the natural form and function of how the body works.
ED: How the body works. How the body works my man. I love talking to somebody that understands what I’m talking about. Because sometimes it sounds so technical but it’s not really that technical.
BE: That’s kind of what attracted…you know when Stephanie gave me the e-mails and I started looking into your stuff, that’s what really attracted to me to your style of training. And there are some other coaches out there, not the same obviously but they have similar…they’re trying to accomplish the same goal. You’re taking, which actually in the lab is a fairly complex subject, and you’re making it very simple. You’re just doing what the body does.
ED: What it does. I mean, thank you. When we walk, you take your right foot forward and your left arm goes out. We don’t walk with your right foot forward and your right arm going at the same time; you would look goofy as hell. So we want to work in patterns of our natural movement. So I don’t care if I’m working with a lady or a man. A lady carrying a baby and getting ready to put it in her car seat; she’s kind of awkward when she’s reaching and bending down and they wonder why they twist their back. So I’ve got to be able to train their bodies to be able to move in unexpected movement, right?
BE: Right. Exactly. Now I noticed when you perform…I’m going to kind of get into the nuances of how you train now. When performing your program on the Downs Discs, I noticed that a lot of the program is using ones own body weight. First of all I know for most people that’s probably pretty much all they can do. And I think this is its best advantage, especially for the average person who travels a lot, that person who’s a beginner or intermediate. I just think someone like traveling salesman and the single mom who can only do it at home are the perfect demographic. I think this is an excellent program.
ED: I mean how often are we carrying more than our own body weight? We might carry a grocery bag or a briefcase, luggage is on rolling wheels now.
BE: Now I know at some point when you’re training your clients...is there any point where you do some progressive resistance, add a little bit of weight, maybe a dumbbell or something like that?
ED: For sure, for sure. Carlos Boozer, okay you take Carlos Boozer, who can squat freakin’ 450 free weights, right? If I do it for 15 reps, boom! We use 30-pound dumbbells standing on the Downs Disc and it will wear his ass out for 25 reps. You know what I mean? And that’s a big strong dude, you know. Alonzo Mourning, the T pushup…are you familiar with the T pushup? I have them doing where they like do a pushup and they like raise their hand up? Like you’re in a plank position but you open up and reach to the sky?
BE: Oh yes, yes, yes.
ED: I would actually put dumbbells in their hands. I mean a woman I might use three pound dumbbells, a guy like Zo would use 15 pound dumbbells at most, which is considered light for a big guy, right?
BE: Right. Exactly.
ED: If I told you to pick up a 15-pound dumbbell you would probably laugh. But okay, do this and have your feet on that disc in a pushup position and then do the T pushup and go down in between each side. Right arm up, down to chest, back down. You’ll be tired after 10 reps.
BE: Oh yeah and it’s the balance factor.
ED: It’s the balance factor, my man. You a bad dude Mike.
BE: Well I better know something; I’ve been doing this for quite awhile. Now do you ever prescribe any type of traditional weight training along with this Downs Training System for your athletes or just your normal clients? Do you ever incorporate…like you talked about squatting or other exercises?
ED: You mean where they don’t use the disc and just do a regular squat?
ED: Yeah, sure. Yeah sure we’ll do that but I hardly ever use heavy weight anymore man, because my whole thing is about endurance. I need that guy in the fourth quarter or in overtime to last. I don’t care if he squats 550 one time or benches 405. You know what I mean?
ED: Give me 30 reps at 135 pounds. I would rather see three sets of 135 pound, 30 reps.
BE: I see so many trainers in these gyms you know, with the 50-year-old woman and they’ve got her on the leg press doing 200 pounds for eight reps.
ED: For what?
BE: And that’s what I ask myself. Why does she need to do 200 pounds for eight reps? And she’s struggling.
ED: Well they’re probably trying to help her get a hip replacement (Laughing). Because her mother had one so she wants one too. You’re going to have some good looking quads and a nice tight ass with some metal in her hip bone. I’m just playing, I like to joke. That’s how I get through a lot of these workouts with these guys, we clown a lot.
BE: When you’re training some of the athletes or some of your regular clients and you’re using your Downs Training System, is it a total body system?
BE: How many days a week do you have your clients do this system?
ED: They’ll do it probably three…a pro athlete will do four, five days a week because they have to get the basketball in or football in. But my normal clients three days a week and you would be surprised how many of them take those discs and still knock out at least a few fire abs or some kind of ab routine in between those days. They’ll take them on their vacations. I happen to have a very wealthy cliental that they go on vacations a lot, you know they also take the disc, they take the disc with them.
BE: I would imagine.
ED: Actually that kind of started this “portable and affordable,” a little slogan of mine, because I was traveling with the Hornets and Mashburn, Jamal Mashburn had an abdominal injury so they were using a lot of exercise ball stuff. I knew how many pumps it took to inflate an exercise ball.
BE: Oh that is just…I tell you I’ve had many of them.
ED: We had to take it on every game man; we had to do a little routine. I said you know what Mash? Everything you can do on that exercise ball we can do on these little discs. And that’s what I did. I designed the whole program on the disc.
BE: It’s a tremendous innovation, it really is. And that portability is just…I mean it’s already obviously popular, you’ve sold tens of thousands of these things, but I can’t imagine that it’s not even going to do way better.
ED: We’re getting ready to go retail, that’s what we’re working on right now. We’ve got a lot of places interested in purchasing them and a lot of different retail store outlets. We’re going to go international too.
BE: What I’d like to actually start talking about now, I really started getting interested in the work that you are doing with promoting physical fitness in children. I think that’s a real commendable thing and obviously you’ve seen the importance of that, I see the importance of that. I mean with physical education basically being taken out of so many schools and the obesity problem. Why don’t we talk a little bit about what you’re doing to promote physical fitness for children.
ED: I will do that but right before, if you don’t mind, let me tell you about the two year old kid that is now nine. He is no longer autistic; playing on the basketball team, swims, competing in swimming. It happened to be Penny Hardaway’s son.
BE: No kidding. Wow.
ED: Yes. I just wanted to let you know that.
BE: And he’s doing that well?
ED: He’s doing that well. Doing that well man. Regular, athletic as hell. First kid who scored three threes in a game at age eight. Shooting threes. Tell me that’s not funny. He made three threes in a little eight-year-old game, we got it on film. All money. Hand them boy some discs.
BE: You know and that’s phenomenal because his prognosis was probably not too good.
ED: No it wasn’t, it wasn’t at all. I mean it was like a team of people. I mean myself did the physical side but he had speech therapists, occupational therapist, physical therapist. I mean they had a whole team of folks working with that kid.
BE: How could you get more rewarding than that?
ED: You know what I mean? I like to see the CEO lose 20 pounds and they’ll make a comeback, Penny will make a comeback, but give me that autistic kid and help change a kid’s life.
BE: Knowing that you played a part in changing that boy’s life has got to be rewarding as heck.
ED: Yes it was, yes it was. And as far as what we’re doing for the kids, what I did I went to a couple of CEOs that I train and also Alonzo Mourning, Penny Hardaway and Carlos Boozer and had them donate tens of thousands of discs to the schools in Broward and Miami Dade counties. Yeah man, I had a meeting with all the faculty of the Broward County school districts and we integrated it into their fitness program. I spoke with ACE, American Council on Exercise, I sent them my whole system and they recommended it, actually gave the stamp of approval and recommended it to all youth programs.
BE: Wow, that’s phenomenal.
ED: I designed a whole kids program, I mean what kids can do on the disc. That’s what I like because we finally have something you can use your whole body weight with as a five-year-old and get a workout. And they like having a device, you know what I mean?
BE: They probably love it. It’s probably like a game to them.
ED: They love it. It’s a game to them; it’s a game to them. I actually have kindergarteners…they line up 10 discs on the ground and walk across it like a balance beam.
BE: That would be kind of fun though, you think about it being a five-year-old kid.
ED: You probably want to do it yourself?
BE: Yeah, I may have to get 10 of those things and just play around with them myself.
ED: Line them up and have one walk across, the next one go across. You can go across it sideways, crawl across it. You think I’m playing?
BE: No I totally believe you. That’s awesome.
ED: Yeah that’s why they have fun with it. And I did the same thing at the Children’s Treatment Center of Autistic Children, I had them line them all up and the kids crawl across them, they side step across them, walk across them.
BE: And they don’t even realize…
ED: What we’re doing.
BE: Yeah. They’re thinking they are playing a game, they’re probably laughing and they are doing something that is going to benefit them years down the road.
ED: The rest of their life. That’s right. Those muscles are firing, thighs. Oh my legs are burning. Really? Doesn’t that feel good? (Laughing). I’m sorry man but I’m telling the truth.
BE: I know the whole workout series comes with three DVDs, that’s correct right?
ED: Yeah, what it is, is actually one DVD that has two workouts…it has an instructional chapter on it and two workouts on it.
BE: Right. You’ve got the Five Minutes of Fire.
ED: Fire, which is me and then we’ve got Kick your Abs which is more an aerobic, kickboxing kind of workout on the disc. Five Minutes of Fire was an abdominal and upper body. Within five minutes…you’re goal is five minutes to do this workout in and it’s tough. When you first start it with people they may do it in 20 minutes, 15, 10 and pro athletes now are doing it within four minutes, four and a half, five minutes. But it took them some time to get there because you’re not taking a break and you’re getting all of your upper body and abdominal and thoracic musculature all at the same time being recruited. That’s why it’s so tough.
BE: Yeah, I can’t imagine. I’m sure it’s tough. It says five minutes of fire and I’m sure it’s definetly five minutes of fire. Now are these DVDs something that you do all in the same day or is this something you do one on one day, maybe the other DVDs on a another day?
ED: Exactly. What we try and do is push them to buy the other DVD which has two other workouts on it. One is like a 30-minute aerobic workout, the other one is like a 20-something-minute workout so they’ll get like Five Minutes of Fire on Monday, Twist and Tone and Tuesday, Fifteen Minutes of Fire on Wednesday, that kind of thing, Kick their Abs on Thursday. We show them a little calendar of how to break it up.
BE: Right. Also, you’ve become the present CEO of the EDFE, Inc.?
ED: Yes, yes that’s the one that actually distributes, sells the discs.
BE: And I’ve read…I wrote down some notes here, it says you’re the only black-owned, direct-response fitness company in the United States. Well, hopefully there will be more, but congratulations to you for becoming the first. I’m sure these things take a lot of work, you know, a lot of time.
ED: It was definitely a lot of work. Trying to get in with who’s who and kind of try and network with the right people because you know, any kind of business like that is cutthroat.
BE: Oh absolutely, I can’t even imagine.
ED: That was a story in itself.
BE: So what are some of the types of things you do with that? I know you do infomercials on other products, or are these all your products?
ED: Right now it’s just my products. Now I’ve been asked to do other products and I will be doing that real soon. Because other folks have come at me and asked me to be a spokesperson.
BE: Right, right. And I’m sure having your name on it is something good.
ED: If I believe in it.
ED: Only if I believe in it. You know what I mean?
BE: Well I’m sure someone like yourself, judging from what I have read about you and having talked to you now, you’re not going to promote some product just to make a buck.
ED: Definitely not. I’m doing fine already. I’ll be okay. If I go out there and try to promote something that people go out there and get hurt…there’s a lot of junk out there, you know.
BE: Oh my gosh it’s unbelievable.
ED: It’s ridiculous. It’s unbelievable and people are buying it. I’m not saying any names. Just sit here and twist left and right.
BE: I’ve got to tell you this was a great interview. I was really looking forward to talking to you about all this stuff and I really, really appreciate how you’ve taken your success and you’re helping kids out and giving a lot back. That’s very, very commendable and I think a lot of athletes out there and a lot of people in industry should take notice of what you’re doing and the direction that you’re going. I think you’re doing a great job.
ED: I’m hoping they do. I’m trying to push them to do it.
BE: Well, this has been a great pleasure of mine Ed, and you have an excellent evening and get to your kids.
ED: Thanks a lot man, it was great talking to you. You have kids too? I think you might.
BE: Yeah I’ve got one 12-year-old daughter.
ED: Alright, cool. Yeah, my daughter is 13 and one’s five.
BE: Yeah she’s 12 going on 16, 17.
ED: My man, I understand. It’s work ain’t it dude? Watching her grow, right?
BE: Oh yeah, the whole social thing now is just…it’s difficult, but beautiful at the same time.
ED: That’s a great way to describe it...difficult but beautiful. Thanks a lot Mike.BE: My pleasure Ed.