“We Shape The World” OPTIMA Europe Fitness Conference Belgrade 2024

Optima Fitness conference
Written and edited by: Author

Under the slogan “By changing our lifestyle, we’re changing the world” European Optima Fitness conference was held in Belgrade on the 23rd and 24th of March. It is renowned as the largest fitness event and even won the gold Stevie International Business Award for Best Educational Conference in America in the year 2021.

This event was organized by HFS Academy within the beautiful hotel Mona Plaza. 350 experts who work in the fitness industry came to attend, some of them traveling all the way from America, England, Ireland, Turkey, Italy and Greece.

Our StrideStrong team was given a difficult task- to participate in various educational activities throughout the event.

All About The Organization

General sponsorships for Optima 2024 included Mega Gym Fitness Centre and Recreation, while the golden sponsors were Redbull, Fitpass, iFit and Prosportshop. The opener featured a touching guest appearance of the Mixed Inclusive Choir ISON from Novi Sad!

OPTIMA EUROPE hosted 48 workshops that aimed to spread awareness about the importance of physical activity but also connecting with experts from all over the world that followed trends in fields such as fitness, sport, nutrition and marketing.

The two-day long program ran from 10am until 7pm within 4 workshops parallel to each other.

The workshop participants got a certificate that will count towards renewing licenses and certain certifications such as NASM and AFAA.

For those who don’t already know, the NASM certifications are the most prestigious ones amongst fitness instructors because their system and methodology make them “the golden standard” in the fitness industry.

This is now the second time this event was held in this region of Europe, the capital city of Serbia to be more precise.

There were three different areas delegated to different fitness segments such as – Sport, diet, sports injuries, as well as topics on business and marketing in sports. Some of the guest speakers that attended were experienced personal trainers, professors from sports academies, medical specialists and businessmen.

The Main Event – Suspension Training With TRX

The thing that differentiates TRX training from regular training is the potential to use your entire body during the duration of the exercise.

Furthermore, the instrument used for TRX training allows the activation of one muscle group or several groups at a time, making it a highly customizable asset. When you use TRX, every move is a core move which makes you stronger.

Type of TRX workout Instructors Explanation
TRX Fundamentals Workshop Marko Tajs, TRX master trainer Violeta Novkov, HFS Academy Ideal for beginners, learn basic exercises, correct form, and safety considerations for using TRX straps effectively.
TRX and Y Bell Fusion Darren Dillon, TRX International educator Slobodan Tiragic, Personal Trainer, HFS Academy Combines TRX and Y Bell exercises for a full-body workout.
TRX for Core Strength and Stability Darren Dillon, TRX International educator Marko Tajs, TRX master trainer Focuses on using TRX for core strength and stability, targeting the core muscles for a strong and stable core.
TRX HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) Slobodan Tiragic, Personalni trener, HFS Academy Sofija Tasic, Personal trainer. Learn about how you should use TRX for HIIT workouts that deliver a maximum session in a short amount of time, focusing on cardio, endurance, and calorie burn.

The workshop about the basics of the TRX suspension trainer was the ideal choice for beginners and for those who, as suggested by Marko, want to enhance their strength by making the most out of their body weight.

Participants learnt basic exercises, how to execute them correctly, and received valuable information about how to prevent injuries and use the suspension trainer efficiently;
TRX adapts to you, not vice versa.

Marko explained how amazing it is that you can make progress by using just two ropes tied onto a ceiling or some other stable surface.

It’s because the TRX instrument was invented in a way that you use only your body and therefore activate your whole musculature, activate all of your muscles; you control the difficulty level of your training and that’s how you adapt the training and its exercises to you, your body and goals.

This simple instrument is ideal for those who have to sit at work for 8 hours a day (and most of us are like that).

Why? TRX training does not require jumping (though several exercises with jumping can be included), it also does not include anything that would induce back pain.

All of these factors make TRX the training program without limits! It suits every age group, every level of fitness and every level of knowledge about TRX training.

Fans of TRX claim that this form of exercise increases mobility and stability, helps boost your metabolism, muscles and overall body strength.

For every suggested exercise there exists modifications for people who are already in shape and for total beginners. Always keep in mind that you should listen to your body. While doing the exercises, you should always take into consideration the advice given by experts.

Marko showed us a more difficult variation of an exercise where the leg is removed from the foot cradle and bent at the knee to strengthen your core even further. He emphasized that your posture should remain straight in the plank position when your legs are hooked to the links. It is highly important to tighten your whole body because in that way all your muscles work simultaneously at a high level.

After the introductory lecture, we watched Darren Dillon‘s (first Irish TRX master trainer) and Slobodan Tiragic’s (a personal trainer from the HFS Academy) training program and they selected a group of volunteers who had the chance to participate in the program.

Darren demonstrated 8 different exercises and the volunteers had the chance to become more familiar with more strenuous sets.

1. Y-Bell Reverse Lunge

Y-Bell Reverse Lunge

Y-Bell reverse lunge is an exercise where you use your body weight and legs to strengthen the muscles in the lower part of your body. The basic principle is Taking steps backwards while holding the Y-bell. You can hold it against your body or above your head.

The participants lifted the Y-Bell so they could include their shoulders in the workout. The leg that is placed in front must be at a bend of 90 degrees.

2. TRX Inverted Row

After that came the TRX inverted row. Here, the muscles of the upper back are engaged primarily -, trapezius, latissimus dorsi, as well as biceps as the secondary muscle group.

3. Y-Bell SS RDL

The participants followed Darin’s instructions, they distanced their legs shoulder-width apart. The exercise started with half-squats (Daren pointed that the focus should be on imagining a line that doesn’t go beyond the tips of their toes..) After that, the Y-Bell is brought down to the ground before lifting it with the strength of your lower back.

4. TRX Shoulder Press

TRX Shoulder Press on Darren Dillon_s workshop

Which muscles are activated while doing the TRX shoulder press?

Daren explained that the main muscles utilized here should be in the shoulders and upper chest area. From the deltoids to the triceps, this is one of the most complex exercises that you could do for your shoulders. Those of us who watched from afar got the impression that it was a type of stretch rather than a full-blow exercise.

5. Y-Bell Single Arm Row

Y-Bell Single Arm Row on Darren Dillan_s workshop - step 2

The Y-Bell exercise strengthens your back muscles with the use of a single arm. These muscle groups include the latissimus dorsi, trapezius, rhomboids and the rear deltoids with the involvement of abs and biceps. Darren slowly bent his hips at a 90-degree angle without slouching and showed us the proper form.

We tried this one and agreed that it was easier than the previous exercises but, of course, the catch is to keep repeating it.

6. TRX Lunge / TRX Burpee

TRX Lunge and TRX Burpee on Darren Dillon_s workshop

To put it simply- Welcome to Hell. The basic Burpee alone is already a daunting exercise but when you add the TRX bit it becomes a real challenge. If you would like to make the exercise even harder, raise the leg you’ve placed behind to stabilize you and add more pressure to your arms and core.

7. Y-Bell Sit Up

Y-Bell Sit Up on Darren Dillon_s workshop

This exercise strengthens the abs. The Y-Bell makes the sit-ups harder which is the entire point. Those who did the exercise were lying on the floor, with their feet and toes touching the Y-bell that was previously lifted.

8. TRX Chest Press

TRX Chest Press exercise on Darren Dillon_s workshop

Finally, we got to Daren’s last exercise. The TRX chest press strengthens the muscles in your upper body and helps with stabilization. It’s the chest that is primarily contracted, but the arms and abs are also involved.

Darren’s main points for why TRX is a great workout:

Reason Description
1 It challenges your core.
2 A functional training, which imitates the movements from daily life.
3 A method of high-intensity training that helps you burn more calories during a workout and maximize the burned amount per session.
4 It provides a complete body workout with just one piece of equipment.
5 It is accessible to all fitness levels.
6 It builds strength, endurance, and stability.
Find out more about NASM here:

  • Nasm is an organization with more than 35 years of experience and leadership in the fitness industry.
  • It has won awards for the best place to train in 2020 under ‘2020 Best Place To Work’.
  • It exists in over a hundred countries and has supported more than 1.5 million people.
  • They own over 12 thousand gyms and Health Club Partnerships.

OPT Program Design: Programming for Sport / Assessment and Programs for Low Back Care

NASAM designed a simple OPT model of education for trainers.

It is a model of training for optimal performance based on scientific evidence and principles that allow individuals to progress through five phases of training: stabilization endurance, strength endurance, hypertrophy, maximal strength, and intensity.

This method has proven to be successful in working with the general population by reducing body fat, increasing muscle mass and improving overall health.

At a seminar “Clusters: Challenging Circuits, Supportive Prep, and Programming Made SimpleRick Richey showcased exercises that were conceived in a way to be an interesting challenge to the clients so that they don’t become boring or tiresome.

The workshops run by Kenneth Miller in Room 1 were focused on strength and stability, as well as discomfort and pain in the lower back.

Kenneth talked about the traditional components of strength and endurance training and the things that make an athlete powerful, healthy, and hardy.

In the phase of muscle recovery from training, as Kenneth pointed out, the myofascial technique is important, as well as the foam roller with which this technique can be implemented.

It is a form of manual therapy, similar to a massage, but it differs from classical massage in the way it is performed and the effect it has on the body because it deals with the treatment of causes and not consequences.

This type of massage allows the fascia muscle to remain elasticated and relaxed, thereby removing the tension pressure, which leads to the appearance of various painful symptoms.

Injury to the fascia affects physical flexibility and the health of the musculoskeletal system, so a healthy fascia is an important factor in our ability to withstand daily physical activities and stress.

Fascia surrounds the entire body without interruption and is negatively affected by excessive physical activity, poor posture, various inflammations in the body, and, of course, stress.

Due to all these factors, the fascia becomes hard and rigid. Research has shown that the fascia supports 80% of the load, while the muscles only support 20%. A tight fascia, which wraps the body from head to toe, eventually leads to muscle tension, poor circulation, reduced joint mobility, and pain.

Honorable Mentions

Marko Vukotic, Professor of sports and physical education, spoke about nutrition for building muscle mass. We learned that muscle growth must be accompanied by a lifestyle, which includes regular muscle hypertrophy training. With proper nutrition, sleep, and supplementation, you’re ensuring the right conditions for muscle growth.

Stjepan Ursa talked about his life and the challenges he faced and how he solved them. His answer isn’t difficult to understand but very challenging to accomplish: Pure discipline. Motivation is a short-term wave that we cannot always overcome, he explains, but that’s why discipline is the key that opens the door to success.

Nemanja Milovic talked about various tools we can use to slow down aging. He also explained what we do wrong, how it affects aging, as well as how far science has come in this area.

Mineral That Makes A Difference

When the summer heat starts, many people complain of cramping, especially in the calves.

Janko Samardzic, a pharmacology graduate, held a lecture named “Mineral that makes a difference – why magnesium is important for healthy exercise” in Room 4.

He explained to us that painful muscle spasms occur due to dehydration, insufficient stretching, prolonged sitting, loss of electrolytes due to sweating, poor arterial or venous circulation, wearing shoes with high heels, as well as the use of certain medications or great physical exertion.

Janko put emphasis on a lack of magnesium.

If the cramp lasts for several minutes, especially at night, and affects the calf, it is usually an indicator of magnesium deficiency in the body.

To avoid this, he suggests stretching briefly in the evening, especially the calf because it is a long muscle and is prone to being affected by a spasm. And occasionally using supplementation, ie magnesium.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a metabolic condition characterized by increased levels of insulin in the blood and cell resistance to the insulin signal. Even famous athletes, like Alexander Zverev, have a problem with this condition.

Anyone who wanted to know more about what is insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, triggers, whether obese people have IR and what are the symptoms could find out everything in Marko Dimitrijevic’s lecture “Insulin resistance – everyday life and a trainer’s nightmare“.

Business Lectures

In addition to other interesting topics and speakers, a large number of lectures were aimed at improving business – for managers, owners of fitness clubs, and trainers who want to develop their entrepreneurial knowledge.

Thus, visitors had the opportunity to hear a lecture on “How to Get More Gym Members?“, by James Breese – A coach and founder of Strength Matters and Cricket Matters.

In this dynamic workshop, James revealed how to expand our client base. He discovered methods to attract and retain clients, target market psychology, and how to use the latest fitness marketing trends.

In his lecture “How to open a fitness club – checklist, practical tips and most common mistakes“, Milan Zaric showed us the mindset we must have if we want to open our own fitness club. So far, Milan has opened 8 fitness clubs.

How important is building your personal branding in the fitness industry?”, “How do we connect with clients and build long-term relationships?” and “How important is our presence on social networks and in the media, and how important is education and certifications in building and strengthening a brand and building authority in the fitness industry?

The answers to these questions were shared with us by Maja Dimitrijevic in her lecture “Building personal branding: key steps towards achieving success in the fitness industry“.

He taught us step by step how to create an advertisement and a sales system in order to reach new clients in a proper and measurable fashion.

Artificial intelligence, a trending topic, has not bypassed the fitness industry either: “Top lessons from the video games and AI tech to increase your gym revenue“, by Corentin Bernard, CEO of Accolade Pro was a lecture that was also held at the event.

Our dear Vladimir Jakovljevic shed light on the marketing side of the story through a lecture named “Concrete steps for creating advertising that will bring sales“.

StrideStrong team with Vladimir and Uros from LevUP Digital
StrideStrong team with Vladimir and Uros from LevUP Digital

Final Words

If for some reason you were unable to attend the lectures, and you have paid the registration fee, you possess the possibility to do it online in the next three months.

We hope that the great impressions left on us from this two-day event will be renewed next year as well!

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