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Strength Training Gives Chris Mittelstaedt of the Fruit Guys ‘an Important Mental Oasis’

For Chris Mittelstaedt, lifting weights is a lot like selling fruit. Growing his business and learning to hoist hundreds of pounds both require patience and strategy to see results, he says.

Heavy weightlifting is the workout of choice for the 45-year-old chief executive of the FruitGuys, which stocks company break rooms nationwide with fresh fruit. When Mr. Mittelstaedt started weight training about 10 years ago, he could barely bench-press two 35 pound dumbbells. Now the former college rugby player bench-presses almost double his 165-pound body weight, he says. Working with a trainer, he spent the past two years increasing the weight he bench-presses from 225 pounds to 315.

The FruitGuys started delivering fruit in 1998 to about a dozen companies from a handful of farms. The San Francisco company now delivers to about 6,000 companies from some 400 farms across the U.S.

Mr. Mittelstaedt lifted weights in college to get in shape for rugby. Shoulder pain, made worse by carting fruit boxes in the early days of the company, meant he needed a routine that would help him recover from the injury and prevent further problems.

It wasn’t until he met trainer Philip Leung about 10 years ago that he developed a consistent strength regimen. Mr. Leung helped him rebuild his strength while focusing on his form. For instance Mr. Leung taught him to relax his shoulders during pull-ups and not bend his elbows past a 90-degree angle when bench-pressing 135 pounds or more.

Weightlifting gives Mr. Mittelstaedt, who has a 16-year-old son and 14-year-old twin daughters, “an important mental oasis,” he says. “There’s something incredibly clarifying about trying to lift 315 pounds and knowing there’s only one thing you can think about: Lifting 315 pounds so you don’t drop it on your head.”

The Workout

Mr. Mittelstaedt lifts weights twice a week, once at the Bay Club San Francisco and once on Thursdays with Mr. Leung at Synergy Fitness Studio in the city’s Marina District.

On Sundays, he does a “lighter” lifting session. After stretches, he does bench-presses, starting with 95 pounds and building up to 225, at 10 reps each. This warm-up includes shoulder raises with 20 pound dumbbells and lunges to get his legs moving.

Then there are several more rounds of bench-presses, with repetitions at up to 260 pounds and a “drop set” where he gradually decreases the weight to 135 pounds. “By the time I get to that fourth set, 135 pounds feels like an elephant on my chest,” he says.

Between and after the bench-pressing spurts, there is more shoulder and back work with heavier weights than in his warm-up.

To work his core, he uses a kettlebell, which he swings between his legs and switches hands in a figure eight motion. Rounding out his session are triceps exercises and, while standing on a balance board, biceps curls with 35 pound dumbbells. He reduces the weight as he does more sets.

On Thursdays with Mr. Leung, he does a similar workout, but the weights are heavier. On those days, his main goal is four sets of 10 reps at a maximum of 315 pounds.

He rests on Monday and tries to get in a cardio session on the treadmill or elliptical machine for about 45 minutes in the days before his Thursday workout.

Mr. Mittelstaedt usually starts his day with an apple because it’s light and gives him quick energy, he says. Lunch is a salad and family dinners often involve simple Italian cooking: roasted chicken, homemade sauces and lots of vegetables.

After lifting, he satisfies protein cravings with a soy-based shake or scrambled eggs with olive oil.

The Gear

He wears basketball shorts and usually a Nike, Under Armour or American Apparel T-shirt with Asics running shoes. His weightlifting gloves cost about $20 on His sessions with Mr. Leung are $100 each, and a family membership at the Bay Club is about $300 a month.

The Playlist

“When I was younger,” he says, “music would pump me up.” But now he can’t perform as well if he’s distracted, so he usually leaves the headphones at home. “I remove the emotional piece and focus on the form,” he says.

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