We founded Team Soul Barbell in 2009. At the time, the only club in Miami was Team Miami Dade, and it was run out of the house of a gentleman named Art Atwater. Eventually, Team Miami Dade closed its doors, and the team had nowhere to further develop their weightlifting skills. As a result, the remaining team members found the only place close by with good bars, plates and platforms: Crossfit Soul. At the time, we had no structured “barbell club”, classes, sessions or anything of the sort. It was bare bones, and that was all they needed.
Back then, CrossFit gyms in Miami were not friendly to outside Weightlifters and vice versa. This is mostly because CrossFit had taken what is sacred to weightlifters, the snatch and clean and jerk, and used them as conditioning tools, which was very new for weightlifters to see and pretty much sacrilegious. At the time, most CrossFit gyms in the area would spend 10 minutes showing people how to snatch with a PVC pipe then tell them to do it as fast as they can for 30 repetitions at 135lbs. Needless to say, these “snatches” turned into some kind of high hip deadlift/barbell swinging exercise, and any weightlifters that happened to catch a glance of this were sure to stare in shock.
Rather than continue to grow the divide between traditional weightlifting and CrossFit, we saw an opportunity to do something different at Soul. In the developing years of our weightlifting and CrossFit programs, the flaws in how the Olympic lifts were being taught in many CrossFit gyms were apparent, and being that the snatch and clean and jerk are fundamental pieces to CrossFit, we took it upon ourselves to travel, train with, be coached by and learn from experts in the field. Many of them had TERRIBLE things to say about CrossFit, and we totally understood why. So, it became our mission to turn Olympic lifting into a strength of ours, and we were able to do so with the help of many people: specifically, Camilo Garcia, Danny Camargo, Rachel York and John Heifner.
After about 1 year of having weightlifters come in during our slow hours, Camilo Garcia, a former member of the Cuban National Weightlifting Team, came into Soul because he heard we had some weightlifters training at our gym, and he wanted to offer his help. It was that simple. Because we’re in Miami, we are inundated with Cuban National Team Members from all sports that come in asking for a coaching job or looking for a place to train, but Camilo was different. He had a genuine love for the sport of weightlifting, didn’t ask for money, and even brought countless newspaper clippings, articles and medals to prove his expertise. Even without showing us his accolades, however, it became very evident after spending some time with him that he knew something we did not. After just a short while, our team came together, and we agreed to ask him to be our first official Team Soul Barbell coach.
At the time, the members of the club paid $0 to train at Soul. Team Soul Barbell was purely a passion project, and because of this, we did something that business experts would probably think is career suicide. Wanting the club to succeed so badly and putting a major premium on Camilo’s expertise, we took money from the CrossFit operation to pay Camilo for his time. Soon thereafter, our team members saw that Camilo was putting in more and more hours and that we needed support, so they graciously offered to pay a formal gym membership in order to help the growth of the club.
Our club grew at a very slow rate for the first 3+ years. Many of our new club members were “retired” CrossFit athletes or competitive CrossFit athletes who wanted to get better at the lifts, etc. If someone came by and couldn’t afford to train, but were committed to weightlifting, we let them train for free because developing our club, over money, sustainability and even work/life balance, was 100% the priority. Every dollar we had went into buying more gear and paying Camilo for his time.
Fast forward to 2011, and we built the club so much that our team felt burnt out from having to constantly travel to compete. At the time, the only weightlifting meets were in central and north Florida, so we decided that it was a good idea to run a meet in south Florida. We didn’t do it because it was a good business decision or because we wanted to host a badass meet. We did it because it was a necessity for our club members,and because necessity is the mother of all invention, the MIA Classic was born.
Our first MIA classic was a 1 platform, 20 lifter meet in August 2011 that I asked Danny Camargo, a fixture in Florida weightlifting, to come down to and check out. I had connected with Danny before at the Iron Curtain event in Orlando, and I knew that our meet and club could benefit from his deep knowledge base. He graciously said yes and brought with him his expertise and experience in running sanctioned USAW meets. When he got here, he took a look at some of the systems we created for cards and check-in and gave us a ton of suggestions, in addition to being our head referee for both sections.
Because he is nationally recognized for his success as a youth/university aged weightlifter and a well-respected weightlifting coach, Danny’s time and attention really gave us a confidence boost. I was always very nervous about not being accepted by the weightlifting community because our base in training is, and has always been, CrossFit. For several years, weightlifting was a closed door sport. It wasn’t easy to just google “How to Snatch” and show up at American Open Series 6 months later competing in the D session. So, having someone like Danny come down to help us was huge, especially because he empowered me to do my own thing and make Team Soul Barbell’s distinctive presence felt in Florida weightlifting.
Danny basically told us to take the unique music, art and culture of the first MIA Classic and run with it. Eventually, the energy and vibe felt at that first meet became our brand that we applied to all things weightlifting and Soul: meets, team brand, vibe of the gym and everything we do. We played loud Southern Rap, Punk, Hardcore, and Death Metal at our meets. Some people complained, some people loved it. It didn’t matter. We did our thing. We made t-shirts with the grim reaper, skulls and crossbones and bears that looked like they could eat your face off. Whether people liked what we were evolving into or not, they could tell that something special was happening, and things grew quickly.
Soon thereafter, Rachel York and John Heifner started to show interest in our program. Rachel, lifting in the 69kg weight class, was a high-level weightlifter, and John was a long-time coach under John Coffee. Coffee’s Gym was one of the original weightlifting Clubs in the United States and has a deep history in the weightlifting world, from having the strongest women’s team to training/developing Olympians, coaching on International teams and much more. Being that Rachel & John’s roots were heavily planted in this history of American weightlifting, we were excited to just have them pop in every now and then. Luckily for us, after their initial hesitation due to our barbell club being in its growing stages wore off, they started coming around more and more, eventually helping to form a crucial component of our weightlifting philosophy at Soul. John and Rachel brought a very simplified approach to the lifts. They helped us understand that the lifts are NOT about pushing strength numbers but on emphasizing technicality, which became, and always will be, the center of our weightlifting program. They were both a wealth of knowledge, and our program is better for working closely with them.
Just like our past was shaped by all the people we are indebted to that helped make us who we are today, we are shaping our present and future with a team of dedicated individuals who passionately execute our vision for Team Soul Barbell on a daily basis. Our team consists of 5 coaches lead by Coach Luis Lopez. On that coaching team, we have a top-ranked USAW athlete Andres Aleman, long time Weightlifting enthusiast/CrossFit Coach Sergio Vargas, Victor Gallego, a multiple-time international coach who has coached at the highest levels within USA Weightlifting and myself.
Because of our members that put their training in the hands of our coaches, Team Soul Barbell has since transformed into a fulltime club that has produced World Team members, world record holders in the sport of Powerlifting, multiple national-level weightlifters and much more. We are used as a resource for athletes at the highest level in CrossFit to help with their weightlifting technique, everyday moms and pops who want to learn more about lifts, CrossFit clients who want to prioritize strength training and much more. If we’ve learned anything throughout the years, it’s to say yes and remain open-minded as we chase after our vision. We’re grateful for and humbled by our success, and we’re excited to continue to do what we do as we move forward into 2020 and beyond.
Chin up. Eyes forward.
Interested in joining the Team Soul Barbell Team? Click here and start your journey.