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Oakland’s world-class SPS Gym offers free training for youth

Oakland's SPS Gym trains some of the world's top young athletes. Photo courtesy of SPS
Oakland's SPS Gym trains some of the world's top young athletes. Photo courtesy of SPS

One of the top gyms in the world is right in the heart of the Bay Area.

The Speed Power Strength gym, located in Oakland, does it all to develop world-class athletes. From an early age, Michael Jenkins – who played collegiate football at Sacramento State – and his team are molding successful individuals.

“A huge investment, everything you imagine in what a world class facility is,” Jenkins said. “That means the best equipment. That means the highest level of coaching education, that type of thing. And the goal of it was to be able to provide for any youth athlete in the area – Oakland or surrounding area – a place to train for free under highly experienced coaches, plus bring in coaches from the area, provide them coaching education and also be able to donate equipment to schools.”

But it started out with a premise that may have sounded crazy, but it’s just what Jenkins envisioned and has excelled at in Oakland.

Instead of solely focusing on a gym to train professional athletes, Jenkins completely flipped that around. Although people typically create a top-notch gym to hone in on training those already at the top of the sports world in the pros, he decided to do something else.

He invested in kids.

And he wanted to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars on the equipment and the facility to give back to the local youth.

“I brought in coaches literally from all over the country,” Jenkins said. “I brought in five different Olympians. I brought in World Champions. You name it. Even international coaches to really the level of education to give this to the kids starting out, where usually a professional athlete really doesn’t get a chance to access this high level of training until maybe deepin college or maybe even the pros, where I turned it around where we’re giving this type of professional level attention to 11 and 12 year olds, 13 year olds, 14 year olds, whoever.”

Working with the youth, their development and educational levels by the time they reach high school and college are crucial, kind of like a “cheat code” in Jenkins’ words. They’ve already taught them how to move properly, how to move safely, how to warm up, how to cool down, how to get faster, how to get stronger.

“The stronger things come last,” Jenkins said. “If you teach kids how to move correctly, then they become stronger automatically. It’s kind of an experiment. Like instead of dedicating all our time to all of these resources for pro athletes, I made this huge investment to see if I can make an actual fundamental change in athletes in this area, and it’s not just physical change, it’s also mentorship.”

Mentorship is another aspect they focus on at SPS.

They are granted opportunities to travel. There are educational field trips. 

Youth are treated with the same respect as professionals, as SPS offers scholarships and stipends to help benefit the kids.

Plus, it is all free. No charge whatsoever, as Jenkins and SPS are here just to give back to the community and provide them with structure at one of the world’s leading training facilities.

All of the work is dedicated to the Lift Us Foundation, which is committed to lifting everyone up as athletes, individuals and family members. Jenkins said it is all about “creating superhumans” and gaining qualities like confidence, a humble attitude, strength and work ethic.

“As I say to the kids and I say to the coaches: ‘What you pay for is effort,’” Jenkins said. “If you come in here and you put in effort, you’re paying. If you’re not putting in effort, then I don’t have a place for you. It’s pretty straightforward. 

“And also the philosophy, it’s not just about the five-star. We’re not just looking for the top athletes. I’m trying to raise participation in sports overall because the impact on young people in sports has profound impacts on their life. So whether they want to compete at a high level or we just want to keep them moving and moving and healthy in sports because of a sedentary lifestyle and social media, that’s real.”

Their work at the state-of-the-art SPS gym benefits individuals for the remainder of their lives. 

Weightlifting teaches people to not only stay healthy and in shape for when they are in the middle of their playing days, but also for their careers after sports.

“If you’re 40 years old or 50 years old and you want to get back in shape, you’re not going to put back on a football helmet and go run on plays,” Jenkins said. “But arguably I’ve taught you how to squat. I’ve taught you how to press. I’ve taught you how to do things. I’ve taught you how to sprint, mechanics. I’ve taught you how to do things that you literally can do the rest of your life to stay fit, and that’s another goal we’re trying here.”

The work has certainly paid off, as the first national championship weightlifters were created right there in Oakland. One winner is Seth Evans, a national champion who is also the son of Madison Park Academy athletic director and South San Francisco head football coach Dion Evans. Then there are kids who are a part of world championship teams. Another one going to the Tokyo Olympics if those do not get canceled.

In the end, Jenkins and SPS are smiling every chance they get because they are making a difference and providing experiences that will benefit each individual they come in contact with for the rest of their lives.

“To me that’s the return on investment,” Jenkins said. “The dollar amount spent, the return on investment is that level that I see here. And also our program here, we have a lot of kids here. We have mostly girls, little girls dominate the boys here for sure. 

“Our girls are the strongest here, and there’s something you can see it in, specifically in girls and boys, but when you make a young person more confident about their body, when you have them feeling stronger, everything changes about them – the way they talk to people, the way they stand, the way they interact, the way they become young, little leaders, and that’s that return on investment. It’s huge.”

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