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

 In The Blog

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
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