How Tragedy Inspired Levi Markwardt To Lose Over 100 Pounds And Transform His Life

 In Success Stories, Uncategorized

May 30, 2006. It was a Tuesday. Shortly after 5am I got the call I had been dreading. The 8 mile trip to the hospital was a blur. The clock in his room read 6:21am. After watching my father, my best friend, take his last breath… fear overwhelmed me.

Here I am – 28, a grown man. A husband. A father. And all I had was fear. Just like that, the man I leaned on for everything was gone. I wasn’t ready to lead. And while this isn’t a story about faith, it’s an element I can’t leave out. Without his example of having faith in dire circumstance, I’d have been lost forever.

People that know me now – whether in person or on social media – know me as a coach or trainer. A kettlebell guy. The guy that spends “too much” time in the gym.

It’s true, I LOVE training. I love the feeling of accomplishment. Of meeting goals.

levi1-1It wasn’t always this way… In fact, it was the opposite. I grew up in small town NW Iowa. I was blessed to have two loving parents, siblings, and a stable home. I enjoyed high school sports and was fairly athletic, earning a wrestling scholarship to Northwestern College.

But for various reasons not important to this story, I developed an addiction to food as a coping mechanism. I’m sure many can relate. It started in my early teen years and only got worse. And while I enjoyed sports, I HATED additional training. I was lazy, doing the bare minimum required. I honestly wasted any talent I was given.

So here I am… approaching 300lbs (at 6’1″). No longer competing in sports (so no exercise) and my appetite out of control. I was a trainer without a clue on how to take care of myself. My dad’s passing happened at the beginning of my busy season for work – June through August was crazy in 2006.

When school started in September, I had a chance to breathe and assess what was going on. I was going through the motions more than ever. I took September 2006 off from work (business was moving locations) and started to consider the path I was on.

My diet and attitude were at its lowest point. This wasn’t how I was raised. Feeling sorry for myself is no longer an option. While finally mourning, I read a book called Never Gymless by Ross Enamait. Ross is the single biggest influence in who I am today (professionally).

Never Gymless got my attention. It was time to stop making excuses. It was time to lead my family. I wanted to be Ross. Of course, that’s impossible! The man is simply amazing! But I was going to become my version of him. I needed to find what worked. I read all his books and learned that “conditioning is king”. And I started with the king of conditioning movements …the burpee.

Ross had a workout he called the “Magic 50” – very simple.

  • Dumbbell Snatch x5/arm
  • Dumbbell Swing x5/arm
  • 10 burpees
  • 5 sets for time.

I used a 50lb DB for the snatches and a 40lb DB for the swings. I did 10 burpees… 1 set. The rests were 5 burpees and 5 pushups.

[bctt tweet=”I think I laid on the floor for 20:00 when I was done. I cried.” username=”James”]

To this day, thinking about the Magic 50 makes me smile… and I throw up a little in my mouth recalling the pain of day 1. Something clicked. I’d never felt like this with something so “simple”. I started to go through the workouts provided in Never Gymless. I completely changed my diet – made huge sacrifices with my food cravings. This was equal parts miserable and rewarding. But there was no way I was going to work this hard and continue to stuff my face with all the processed crap I’d become addicted to.

The weight began to fall off. In 5 months I had lost 50lbs.

I also had a difficult realization at that point. My original goal was to weigh 240. I thought I’d be “ripped” at 240. I was now 238 and nowhere near what I had imagined. I had to keep going. I was tired and now extremely frustrated. I didn’t know I was as unhealthy as I was. The old Levi would have quit with this realization.

But the old Levi sucked and I was determined to leave him buried.

Over the next 7 months, the journey slowed significantly. But from 10/2/06 to 10/2/07 I had lost 72lbs.levi2 I was a completely different person.

Not just physically, but mentally as well. Each day was a step forward. Not always with weight loss or strength gained, but I learned more about myself. About the process. About trial and error. I learned that making mistakes was OK.

That mistakes don’t define me – but how I respond to those mistakes. I learned I could “fail” and still become better by the end of the day. I learned how to be responsible with food – still a very large hurdle for me. Finding balance in this life will be something I battle every day. But ultimately, I learned who I am. How to be a better husband and father – of course, this is ongoing as well.

So to finish – a few tips. Maybe they’ll help:

1 – There are NO quick fixes.
Our society in now conditioned for easy and fast. That’s not real life. It will never be real life. Results = commitment over time. Stop looking for shortcuts. Results aren’t a light switch. Commit to change if you want to change. And expect it to hurt – mentally and physically. But when we are uncomfortable – adaptation occurs. Work to make uncomfortable – comfortable. You won’t become extraordinary with an ordinary effort – thanks, Ross!

2 – Sacrifice.
What’s your vice? Food? Alcohol? Sweets? Social Media? Be honest with yourself and cut what NEEDS to be cut. You’re not making it without sacrifice.

3 – Everything can work when YOU work.
Like I shared, my workouts were very simple. Zero complicated formulas and/or percents. I didn’t lift weights during my process (nothing wrong with lifting weights). I didn’t take supplements (some very good products if you’re informed). I didn’t jog/run (many effective training modes for weight loss). Find what works for you – what you can commit to. Then commit. Have I mentioned commitment yet?

Levi In Training Today

Currently, I train 6 days per week. Sometimes it’s intense, sometimes it’s practice.

I’ve transitioned to KB and bodyweight training as that’s what is working for me. I was introduced to KBs by my good friend Josh Berven, an RKC. I also got my KB start with RKC. I love to swing bells.

And I love strength endurance. I’ve recently attended SMK (have you met Mark Reifkind? Genius) and love the direction of this company – strength endurance via KB! They get it! The concepts of SMK training are simple – but they are NOT easy. When I can combine simple with committed excellence, I’m home.

Levi Markwardt, SMK


Photo ofLevi Markwardt
Levi Markwardt
Job Title
Strength Matters Instructor
Strength Matters
Levi Markwardt
Manager and Program Director of Athletic Republic Spirit Lake - 1380 Lake St - Spirit Lake, IA 51360. Athlete and Personal Training since 2000 (NSCA) Husband and father of 1 daughter.
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