From Navy SEAL to a Lifetime Dedicated to Teaching the Importance of Proper Exercise: Meet Fred Stellabotte!


The exercise itself will never hurt you–
it’s improper form that will injure you.

Fred Stellabotte, a veteran of the US Navy’s Underwater Demolition Team (forerunner to the present-day Navy SEALs), is an expert in physical fitness and strength. He has focused particularly on bodybuilding and has been preaching the importance of proper exercise and weight training for over 50 years. Weight training is Stellabotte’s forte. He has trained champion bodybuilders, as well as professional athletes, triathletes, and members of the general public. According to Stellabotte, weight training is the only way to sculpt your body.

Captivated by the Human Body as a US Navy Seal

Stellabotte’s fascination with the human body began while he was a US Navy SEAL on leave in China. He spent time with monks who practiced martial arts and observed the way they carefully watched animals move. That experience inspired Stellabotte to better understand human movement.

After Stellabotte returned home and retired from the Navy SEALs, his career aspiration was to master how the body moved and muscles functioned so that he could help others achieve superior levels of fitness. To accomplish this, he studied his own body in depth for hours at a time: he would stand in front of his home mirrors, carefully moving individual muscles while observing and documenting the detailed workings of each one. This personal study complemented his extensive coursework in anatomy, kinesiology, and neurology.

Manhattan Athletic Clubs Prosper

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Stellabotte worked as a hair and makeup specialist for Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and before opening his first athletic club, he owned a small chain of beauty salons. The four Beachcomber Salons (located between Playa del Rey to Redondo Beach, California) provided him with capital to start his club enterprise.

In 1970, Stellabotte opened the Manhattan Athletic Club (MAC) for Women in Manhattan Beach, California. At that time bodybuilding had not yet become popular–early on, he had to threaten to fire his women instructors just to get them to lift weights! The Women’s Club had a weight room and a wide range of amenities that complemented the weight-training program: classes in aerobics, yoga, and dance with such facilities as Olympic-size swimming pools, saunas, steam rooms, whirlpools, sun beds, babysitting, valet parking, and massages, as well as a full-service beauty salon, snack bar, and lounge.

In 1972, he founded the Manhattan Athletic Club (MAC) for Men less than a mile from the Women’s Club. It had 8 racquetball courts, a weight room, a running track, whirlpools, saunas, steam rooms, sun beds, and massages, as well as a juice bar, a cocktail lounge, car washes, pool tables, and a full service laundry. It also had a daunting contraption known as an “ice plunge”–the men grasped a rope hanging above a pool of 46° water for quick entry and exit. For six years, the clubs hosted a battle-of-the-sexes one-ton tug-of-war on the beach: a group of men weighing a total of 2,000 pounds would square off against a larger group of women with the same total weight. The women usually won.


Safety First–Always!

When asked his advice for someone interested in starting a health club, he says, “Don’t! It’s a hard business in which you have to deal with a lot of personalities and wear a lot of hats.” He personally trained all the employees. First he interviewed and evaluated them in a class at the club. If they fit his criteria for stamina, style, and form he hired them. Then for 30 days, he trained them (at his own expense) in his program, following which they had to pass the club’s test for employees in order to stay on.

With over 13,000 members, the clubs hosted at least 800 workouts a day. Ensuring safety for everyone required Stellabotte’s extreme dedication. At all times during business hours, instructors were present on the weight-training floors, vigilantly overseeing the members to ensure that they executed all exercises properly. Whenever new members joined the club, they were assigned a weight-training program tailored to their skill level; new members met with their assigned instructor monthly to update the program. Stellabotte’s clubs helped thousands of individuals look better, feel healthier, and learn the importance of proper exercise, in addition to producing champion bodybuilders and triathletes whom he trained personally. The clubs were open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Stellabotte frequently oversaw the entire shift.

After nearly two decades of ping-ponging between the two clubs, Stellabotte decided to sell. When members first heard about his plans, many cried–the clubs had become a part of their lives. Both clubs were sold by 1989.

While Moving to Retire, Even More People Come

Stellabotte relocated to San Diego County, where he still resides. When he began training at a local gym, people increasingly approached him with questions about workouts and bodybuilding. He began to train people part-time and only recently retired after nearly 50 years of training. Not only did Stellabotte change the lives of thousands–he also changed mine. That’s another story. In brief, I began training with Fred while in high school. I was experiencing chronic knee and back pain and had been told by a physician that I needed to strengthen my body through proper weight training. My time with Fred evolved me to become his star student and led to my pursuit of graduate work in the exercises sciences.

Stellabotte’s Book–His Legacy! How to Train With Weights Properly, Without Injury

Eventually, we collaborated to write the book, Weight Training Without Injury: Over 350 Step-by-Step Pictures Including What Not to Do! As Fred’s protégé, I had been fascinated by his knowledge, and my tutelage with him for over 15 years led to the production of this nearly 300-page endeavor. The book simply and meticulously explains how to train safely, with extensive support from current scientific literature (over 90 peer-reviewed publications are referenced). It makes Fred Stellabotte’s lifetime of knowledge accessible to future generations, and it is my hope that it will change your life as it has changed mine.


To learn more about Fred Stellabotte, Rachel Straub, and their highly acclaimed book, Weight Training Without Injury, visit them online at

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Source: Huffington Post

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