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How to Work Out Like a SWAT Guy

Dead-lift disciple and simple sandwich artist Brent Potter shares his secrets.

Brent Potter
Photo: Lisa Predko

His work as a special agent with a federal law enforcement agency (exactly which one he prefers to keep under wraps) requires both brains and brawn. Much of his time is spent investigating white-collar crime, but for the past 18 years, he’s also worked on that agency’s SWAT team. Here’s how the 48-year-old army veteran and Evanstonian keeps his mind sharp and muscles shredded.

Workout philosophy

“In my job, you might have to carry your body armor, weapon, and a bunch of equipment up five flights of stairs. So my workout combines strength and endurance. My core exercises are pull-ups, dips, pushups, dead lifts, farmer’s carries, and kettlebell snatches. I especially love to dead-lift; when you stand up with a heavy weight, it feels primal. My sets range from 405 to 495 pounds, depending on reps. My all-time max is 505.”

Cheering squad

“On weekends, I work out in the gym in my detached garage. I keep the door open, even on 10-degree days; otherwise, it’s too depressing. There are a couple of neighbor kids who have a treehouse. They’ll poke their heads up above the fence and ask me how much something weighs or say I’m moving a little slow. I’ve been called a ‘poopyhead.’ ”

Climate control

“I always wear shorts. If it’s really cold, I’ll add a long-sleeve Under Armour shirt, hoodie, and stocking cap. You can’t snatch a kettlebell wearing gloves, so I’ll do a set quickly, then jam my hands under my arms. If it snows, shoveling is another good workout.”

Family affair

“I have a daughter in high school and a son in elementary. This summer, my daughter wanted to get stronger for soccer, so she dead-lifted and squatted with me. The boy is a budding gymnast, so we have a set of rings in the garage. It’s a chance for me to pass on lessons learned from a lifetime of workouts.”

Agent vs. agent

“The SWAT team does an annual fitness test. There are pull-ups with your body armor and helmet on. A sprint portion involves getting up off the ground wearing your gear and running 50 yards. Then there’s an obstacle course that includes a body drag; one of us plays the part of dummy, never a mannequin. It’s a pass-fail for every event, but all these guys are pretty type A, so there’s a little bit of an informal competition.”

Meal plan

“I wake up at 4:30 and eat a small carton of banana-flavored Oikos Greek yogurt with some blueberries and a piece of whole wheat toast. I try to cut starches, but bread is my weak point. Lunch is a sandwich with deli meat and cheese, always dry. I’ll bring a bag of salad and eat the leaves without dressing. I have a snack when I get home — a piece of fruit or some more toast. I cook dinner most of the time, meat or fish and some kind of vegetable, like eggplant or spinach.”

Morning snack

“I’m always hungry. I bring a couple of liquid eggs in a to-go cup to work and microwave them with salt and pepper and maybe a piece of cheese. It works well — unless I forget about it in my gym bag for a day or two. It gets to stinking pretty bad.”


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