By Rob Hullum | Apr. 4, 2016 | Shepherd Express
Adam Von Rothfelder began thinking about fitness early in life. Like many young boys, he became obsessed with superheroes and professional wrestlers because of their larger than life physiques. Unlike many young boys, Adam Von Rothfelder turned this initial intrigue of pushing the human body to its limits into becoming one of the world’s most revered personal trainers. He will now showcase his talents on the nation’s largest stage as a trainer in the new NBC show "STRONG" set to premiere April 13.
Adam’s path to success has been riddled with injury, death and feelings of isolation, but what has always remained is his dedication to rise up in the face of adversity.
Fitness became a priority for Adam when his uncle Bill passed away and left him a rusty old weight set.
“I had this old barbell, and I remember taking my sister’s Reebok stair stepper and leaning it up against my bed to do inclined presses,” Adam recalls.
When he was 12 years old his parents adopted a paraplegic boy named Donyia, whose staff of nurses included a bodybuilder and a part time firefighter with an interest in exercise. They would both give Adam muscle magazines, which deepened his fascination.
At 13, Adam found a job as a paperboy and put the money he earned toward his first personal trainer. He paid $400 for 10 sessions, and learned the basics of proper form and technique.
“At the time I just wanted to look buff, and I didn’t realize the importance of the actual skills necessary to do that,” Adam said. “I appreciate that now.”
He adopted a healthier diet than his family, making sure to include a variety of vegetables and lean proteins into his diet, and stayed away from fatty processed foods that were the norm at dinnertime in the Von Rothfelder household. He says it was awkward at first, but necessary.
“I didn’t think
I was the toughest, but I knew I was the most pissed”
Adam began working in the fitness industry at 22 years old when he took a job at Bally Total Fitness. It was then that he found out that his brother had died of a drug overdose. This led Adam down a spiral of anger and depression that he felt he had no outlet for. Then he saw an ad for the “Milwaukee’s Toughest Man Rumble”.
“I didn’t think I was the toughest, but I knew I was the most pissed,” Adam said.
Without any formal martial arts training, he fought in the tournament two weeks later. Adam knocked out his first-round opponent within 15 seconds. He fought in the championship the next day and lost by decision.
“I knew at that point that I could make myself feel good with movement,” Adam said. “My journey then became more than just looking good.”
Adam started training specifically for fighting; doing Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai. He went back to the “Milwaukee’s Toughest Man Rumble” the following year and won.
The victory inspired Adam to take fighting seriously, as it was an outlet for the anger he felt after the death of his brother. He began training for the next step in many martial artists’ careers; cage fighting.
He fought in two professional MMA bouts, and suffered a separated shoulder a week after his second professional win.
Adam knew that a life of constant pain and injury was not for him, but still loved mixed martial arts. This forced him to think of a way to stay close to the sport without risking his health.
Through MMA he met many amazing athletes and coaches, but saw a void in strength training on the fighting scene. He then rethought the workout routine of many of the fighters and came to the conclusion that general weight lifting was not enough.
This became an opportunity for Adam to help other fighters through strength coaching, which is a part of his current business. One of his current clients is Milwaukee MMA star Anthony Pettis.
At 28, Adam moved to California and began working at a celebrity fitness gym. He became immersed in the Hollywood lifestyle, starring in commercials and hanging out with celebrities.
“I left for California a fighter, and I came back wanting to make a change”
Only one year after moving to California Adam found out that his father had been diagnosed with diabetes. Upon hearing the news he moved back to Wisconsin to be with him.
“I left for California a fighter, and I came back wanting to make a change,” Adam said.
He began bartending at Distil on Milwaukee Street, which is where he met his wife, who he married eight months after meeting. They have two children together.
Seven months after returning to Milwaukee, Adam opened Drench Fitness Boutique. While it was popular among the fitness obsessed, it was not a commercial success. After five years Adam had to permanently close the doors.
While closing Drench was a setback, Adam quickly got to work on a new venture. He opened a new gym, CoMo, located in Walker’s Point, which he currently runs.
“CoMo is an evolution of my destruction,” Adam says, sitting on a mat in the middle of his new gym. “It’s my journey, and the experiences I’ve had that destroyed me, from professional fighting to constantly pushing myself in the gym. Injury after injury I realized it wasn’t just about going in one direction or being on one specialized path.”
Wrestling, yoga, stretching, hanging and other real life motions are the primary movements used to train clients.
Adam’s workouts reflect his worldview that many people, especially men, are too closed off from each other in our society. People become too afraid to fail and therefore refuse to try new things. He hopes to instill confidence and community among the members of his gym, and anyone he interacts with.
Adam posing with his daughter for a Versace campaignHis business model reflects this sense of camaraderie and community. Most of CoMo’s trainers are not Adam’s employees, but own their own businesses that rent space from Adam. They also have the advantage of being advised by him, as well as the other trainers in the gym.