NFL trainer, PT specialist Billy Voltaire: “I pride myself on versatility’

Standing in the middle of Kinitro Fitness in Bellaire, Billy Voltaire is directing traffic while he orchestrates a carefully planned, high-intensity training program for several Texans players.

The strength and conditioning and performance therapy specialist puts the NFL athletes through their paces while rapper Future's sound track plays loudly on the stereo. 

On one side, offensive linemen Justin Britt, Charlie Heck and Justin McCray are performing Olympic-style lifts. In another part of the Bellaire gymnasium, running back David Johnson and long snapper Jon Weeks, a regular at training sessions, are pushing a heavy weighted sled while wide receiver Isaiah Coulter does flexibility and weightlifting exercises. Former Texans fullback Cullen Gillaspia, a Katy native and former Texas A&M 12thMan now with the New York Giants, is participating and has significantly improved his health and mobility since suffering a serious back injury last season that forced him to be placed on injured reserve.

A former Texans and Denver Broncos strength and conditioning coach and physical therapy specialist, Voltaire, a board-certified New York native, trains several NFL players. That includes Texans Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson,

Offensive tackle Tytus Howard, defensive linemen Whitney Mercilus, Jacob Martin, Vincent Taylor and Jaleel Johnson, former Texans starting offensive guard Zach Fulton, now with the Giants, Green Bay Packers offensive guard Elgton Jenkins and former Texans and Kansas City Chiefs offensive lineman Martinas Rankin, Texans safeties Lonnie Johnson Jr. and A.J. Moore and Moore’s identical twin brother, Detroit Lions safety C.J. Moore, and Texans linebacker Nate Hall are among Voltaire’s clients along with a growing group of non-professional athletes and fitness enthusiasts.

Explosiveness, power, flexibility and safety are the primary emphasis of the individually tailored workouts designed to improve performance on the field and prevent injuries.

“Billy is a great trainer,” said David Johnson, a former Arizona Cardinals All-Pro selection who joined the Texans last year in a trade for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. “He’s done it in the league, so I know I can trust in him to have the right training regimen for me. He’s done a great job. I trained a little bit with him last year, so I knew what he had in store for us. Man, he doesn’t sugarcoat anything.

“He lets me know when I need to go down in weight or up in weight. It's all built towards football. A lot of these trainers, it’s just about lifting heavy weight or doing things that look cool on video whereas with Billy it’s all geared toward our position and football movement. It’s been a great offseason for me.”

Here’s a conversation with Voltaire about his approach to training NFL players:

What’s your philosophy about training these guys?

“So it’s performance-therapy based. Basically, I’m looking at a mix of performance therapy, wellness, health, tissue preparation and strength and conditioning and helping them to be able to perform at a high level. That’s probably the middle ground between peak performance and maintenance and injury prevention.”

Was training something you always wanted to do as a career?

“Growing up in New York, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing. I fell into this when I started studying for physical therapy. You had to have an undergraduate degree, so I studied strength and conditioning and was enamored and interested in training at a high level and training athletes. So, I started doing that back in Boca Raton, Fla., at the Cris Carter strength and agility program and Florida Atlantic University strength and conditioning program and then I went to school at Florida International to get my doctorate. I realized that I wanted to work in the NFL and it took off from there.”

What do you feel like sets you apart as a trainer?

“Traditionally, the one thing I pride myself on is the versatility That’s why I wanted to pursue a career in the NFL I knew that would be very, very competitive. When I did get my doctorate, I knew I had to do a little something extra. So when I went back to school and studied for my athletic training, I knew there were plenty of athletic trainers and went for my board certification, I added on more certifications to kind of separate myself from the pack and create additional value to my resume.”

How do you approach working in the private sector after working in the NFL?

“Basically I treat it the same way my experience was in the league. You’ve got to be organized. You’ve got to treat folks with respect. You have to be professional and treat people well. At the same time, you have to have personality, be personable, care about people and ultimately what sets me apart from any other brand is being personable and, at the same time, being professional and versatile. I try to accomplish many things most athletes wouldn’t be able to get in one shop. You would have to go to a performance gym and not being able to do the physical therapy or if you go to a physical therapy center it wouldn’t be aggressive enough to get you back to playing at a high level. You want to combine those two things.”

Who are some of your clients?

“This offseason, it’s been numerous guys, Justin Britt, who’s currently with the Texans now, Jon Weeks, who’s one of my favorites. Laremy Tunsil, A.J. Moore, C.J. Moore, Nate Hall, quite a few guys who are with the Texans. Elgton Jenkins, who’s with the Packers. Martinas Rankin, who was formerly with the Texans and Kansas City. David Johnson, a lot of guys. Charlie Heck is a great guy, puts his head down and goes to work. Tytus Howard is great. He always comes in with a great motor. The group in general comes in with a lot of energy Tytus adds a little bit of extra flavor to the workout because he’s very competitive. Put him alongside Justin Britt, they’re always pushing each other. Tytus has always come in with the mindset that he’s going to work. When it’s time to have fun, he has fun. When it’s time to work, he’s putting the work in.”

What’s the atmosphere like at the workouts?

“The music is blasting and the room is buzzing with electricity. The guys are yelling. The weights are dropping, hopefully softly because of the tenants downstairs. It does feel like an NFL strength and conditioning room and that’s what keeps these guys together is it’s very energetic. They’re always pushing each other. It really is electric in here.”

How do you measure their progress?

“Most guys are typically surprised. As I mentioned before, the philosophy is very different from what they’re used to. That’s not to discredit anyone else or say there’s only one way to do it or a wrong way. I like to find the sweet spot in the middle where I’m taking care of your body and anything that aches and pains and fix that and at the same time take it to another level or performance. Most guys aren’t used to just because it says six sets of two that doesn’t mean we have to do that. You may come in and feel great one day and you may come in and feel terrible one day. I’ve got to know that and adjust accordingly. The running is another thing most guys aren’t used to. We run often. We run four days a week. Some long distance, some short distance. It’s a mix between speed and strength and conditioning.”

How do you construct each workout plan?

“It’s a group workout, but it’s still personalized. So, we try our best if a guy has something going on with his ankle, say he has a mobility problem with his ankle. The meat and potatoes of the program are the same. If we’re doing squat or hang clean, that guy that needs ankle mobility might have a couple of sets of ankle mobilization. The other guys who have hip issues might do something with squat or pigeon stretch to do something for his hip.”

How do you approach training non-professional athletes who just want to improve their fitness levels?

“That one thing they’ll say is they don’t know the fall-off between when I’m training the pro guys and treating them. Everyone gets treated the same. The level of detail is a little bit different because with a professional athlete that’s their job, so I have to be a little more detailed with that. The effort you get from me is everyone is doing a different program and I try to find something a little different every day they may come in today and do some exercise they’ve never done. You’ve got to come in with a lot of energy and juice as a client and from myself as a coach. Once you walk through these doors, it’s time to go and turn the energy up and they’re tough workouts. Some people enjoy them. Some people don’t like to work that hard. I try to make it enjoyable. When you come here, you’re guaranteed to get your results.”

What is your why, your motivation?

“My son. I’ve written things down and said why do I do this every morning and it’s Sebastian, who just started playing football this week. I remember working long hours at NFL facilities, whether it’s NRG or down at Mile High and you put those hours in and you’re missing time with the kid. Once you finally see what he’s able to do at practice and his fun smile, you say: ‘I’ve got to work hard during these hours while I’m here so I can enjoy time with him.’ It’s a major thing for me. Every weekend, we do something. If I’m always at work, he deserves that regardless of how tired I am. I could be herefrom 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.and I’ll rush 25 minutes to Pearland and pick him up, grab something to eat and head to practice. As long as he’s happy, I’m happy.”

Do you have a cheat meal?

“I’m not going to lie to you. I have multiple cheat meals. I love Mickey’s Soul Food in Pearland: fried chicken candied yams, mac and cheese, string beans. If not that, Chick-fil-A, once a week at least. If Sebastian wants pizza, I’ll get pizza.”

What’s next for you?

“My next goal is to scale out and to try to be more available at Texas Southern University. That’s how I propelled myself to where I am now. I wanted to give back to the university, so, if I can, be there more often. I’m working at a country club down in Sugar Land. My time is split. From January to August, I’m primarily training professional athletes. From August to January, it’s rehab and guys who want to play golf and tennis.”

What’s your relationship like with TSU?

“So, basically one of my colleagues J Lew helped set that up. Prior to working out there, we were finding space to run at whether it was the IX Innovations gym, Eleanor Tinsley park, Delmar High School. We were always moving around and staying safe with COVID. We started using the TSU field and it was very convenient. We both had a need. TSU had a need for additional services and we had a need for use of facilities. It’s just a perfect marriage”

How do you decide how to individual a workout routine?

‘It’s completely structured. We don’t just come in and randomly pick things. I know some folks want the fancy Instagram videos and that’s not me. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. I know what works. I may put in something extra into it, add some 22-inch rims figuratively, but we’re not trying to do anything fancy. I know where my baseline is, how much yardage my big guys need to run at the start of the offseason program, how much my skill guys need to get to where we’re getting to in July. We get there strategically through block periodization. We don’t do any guesswork. I try to get my guys there safely and when they get there to camp they feel fresh fast and strong. Most guys feel beat-up and sluggish at the start and that makes for a tough camp”

You’re around the Texans’ players a lot during the offseason. What’s your expectation on what kind of season they’ll have?

“I’m not going to guess on how many wins they’re going to have, but, from the guys I’ve worked with the past two years, they’re very competitive. Remember, these guys have to go home and they’re playing for the names on the back of their jerseys and their families. They’re not going to just lay down that organization is putting something together I think they’re going to have a very competitive season and guys are going to put it out there every Sunday. Fresh energy. Guys are going to put in the effort. It’s going to be a gang of guys fighting together. As long as A.J. Moore and those guys are on the field, they’re going to put in a good fight.”

Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.

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