The Truth About the Bulgarian Program as Told by Pyrros Dimas

The Mash Mafia recently traveled to Lima, Peru for the 2019 Pan American Games. One of the best parts of the trip is hanging out with three-time gold medalist Pyrros Dimas.

THE BULGARIAN SYSTEM

On the trip, I got Pyrros talking about what really happened in the Bulgarian System. After he spent the better part of an hour explaining, now I understand how the program worked. For such a simple program, there are a lot of rumors and false information. The purpose of this article is to clarify what it means to truly train in a Bulgarian system.

There’s something to make note of first, which is Pyrros spent nine years in a Russian system before taking on a Bulgarian program. That means he had a massive base to work from. His entire body was strong. His work capacity was through the roof, and his technique was perfected. At that point, I 100% agree that specificity, frequency, and intensity are going to rule. It only makes sense.

The problem is when young American kids skip all the base work, train once per week, max out with crappy form all the time, and tell everyone they are lifting Bulgarian. No, you’re just being a dumb American boy.

Let’s look at the program, and then I will explain more in detail:

SAMPLE PROGRAM

Monday, Wednesday, Friday:

Session One – 8 am
Back Squat: 1RM
Snatch: work up to 85% of 1RM for 1
Clean and Jerk: work up to 85% of 1RM for 1
Front Squat: 1RM

Session Two – 4 pm
Snatch: 1RM
Clean and Jerk: 1RM
Front Squat: 1RM

Session Three – 7 pm
Snatch: 1RM
Back Squat: 1RM

Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday

Session One – 8 am
Back Squat: 1RM
Power Snatch: 1RM
Power Clean and Jerk: 1RM
Front Squat: 1RM

Session Two – 4 pm
Snatch: 1RM
Clean and Jerk: 1RM
Front Squat: 1RM

Sunday

Only One Session
Snatch: 1RM
Clean and Jerk: 1RM
Back Squat: 1RM

IMPORTANT NOTES

Let’s now go over a few of the notes I took while Pyrros talked:

1. Limit the misses – If you miss, you wave back down and work up again. If you miss again, you wave down, make a nice lift, and stop for the day. This is key, or consistency will be out the door. Plus if an athlete has an episode of five or more misses, it ruins them for the rest of the week. Discipline is key, and that’s what is lacking in more Americans. You absolutely need a coach to tell you “no more.”

2. Pyrros added in specific accessory work – He completed very specific accessory work to target weaknesses and to correct movement flaws. He also skipped the last squat on the days of three practices and practiced his jerk. The key is making the accessories very specific to the individual. You wouldn’t want to add in unnecessary work on a program like this one. Remember this plan should be reserved for athletes who have been training for at least eight years, have perfect technique, and have a massive work capacity built up.

3. Use drills and accessories as warm ups as well – Pyrros would use certain drills as warm ups to target flaws. For example, warm up with snatch (paused at knee) plus snatch, or push press to overhead squat to warm up for snatch. You could perform press from split to warm up for clean and jerk.

4. Auto-Regulation (Max of the day) – This is the key to this program. You can’t expect to PR everyday. That’s unrealistic. The goal is simply to work up to a max of the day. Sometimes that’s 90%, sometimes 95%, sometimes 98%, and sometimes 101%. Focus on the process and perfecting the movement. Eventually, the athlete will get to a point of using the same warm ups and picking the same attempts. At that point, the competition is just another training day.

Of all my athletes, 15-year-old Morgan McCullough is the best at auto-regulation. I think it comes naturally because his mother, Crystal, is good at the same thing. Ryan Grimsland, my outrageous 17-year-old, is getting better at this process – which is leading to him peaking when it counts. This brings up a point of getting your athletes early, but I will discuss that later in the article.

5. Pyrros was given three months per year off of the program – This is a big one. He would take November, December, and January off from the Bulgarian Program. At that time he would continue training, but with a more Russian approach. During this phase he could focus on hypertrophy and let his joints rest a bit away from all of the absolute strength. It’s during blocks like this I have witnessed Nathan Damron experience the most gains. Basically he would spend a few months focusing on high repetitions and volume with some basic bodybuilding, and then shift back to a more high frequency and high intensity program. Every time he was able to do this, I witnessed him rack up PR after PR.

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6. Recovery is a must – Pyrros would partake in two saunas per week and two massages from a sports medicine specialist (lots of soft tissue work) per week. This goes for any athlete in any program who is trying to push their body to an Olympic level. This is a part of training most athletes skip.

7. Nutrition must be in alignment with your training – Pyrros would eat two steaks every morning before eating breakfast. The calories have to match an athlete’s training volume – that’s simply a fact of training. If you don’t want to take responsibility with your nutrition, then don’t tell me you want to be an Olympian. Pyrros took responsibility for each section of his life, and it paid off with three gold medals.

COACHES AND ATHLETES

Now I want to address all of the coaches and athletes who are reading this. I am sure a few of you are like, “Heck yes, I want to train like a Bulgarian.” You will try the program, possibly hit a few PRs, and then you will break and never train again. I know of two Americans who were great, but the program broke them. You have to have a massive base.

I am at an advantage with my young athletes like Morgan and Ryan. They have been training for several years already. Right now we are in a phase to perfect their technique. I am addressing each detail of each of their lifts. We are slowly adding more volume, and soon we will add more sessions. However, it’s a process. It’s crazy to go from one session four times per week to training like a Bulgarian. Instead, you could take things like this:

1. First three years of training (starting at age 9) – Start with one session per day at three times per week, and by the end of year three have things ramped to five days per week. The focus is perfect technique, absolute strength in the major accessory movements (squat, pulls, presses, and rows), hypertrophy in the muscles that will help with weightlifting (quads, hamstrings, glutes, spinal extensors, lats, traps, shoulders, and triceps), GPP (gymnastics, relative strength, sprinting, jumping, flexibility, and agility), and work capacity. Work capacity is something that will always be a focus, and it’s something that should always be tracked. You still want to compete during these years with the focus being on making lots of lifts. You want to get your athlete used to making lifts.

2. Years three through six (ages 12-15) – Now the focus shifts to perfecting the competition movements, and the process of pushing those numbers begins – yet slowly. The GPP will slowly start to transfer to SPP (special physical preparation). Basically things get a bit more specific. Remember these athletes are still young, so keep things fun with games and competition. Jump competitions are always fun both vertical and broad jump. On a side note, don’t try to coach like a Bulgarian or Russian coach. We are Americans coaching American kids, so remember that. I want my kids smiling and laughing.

During this phase, you can push things to six days per week and maybe a couple of two-a-days for technique only (though it will also get them used to the extra sessions). Competitions will get a bit more serious. Morgan is 15, and he’s already competed at three international events – earning medals at each one of them. This is the stage they get used to competing against the best in the world, and hopefully they get used to winning like Ryan and Morgan.

3. Years six through eight (ages 16-18) – This is where it gets debatable, but in my observation this is a great time to push it a bit. Their endocrine systems are through the roof, and most athletes are done growing at this point. I think this is a great time to start pushing the athletes a bit. The goal here would be to take the sessions from 8 to possibly 12 sessions per week. Remember, we are in America, and things are different now. If I see an athlete not handling the volume or frequency, I am not going to make a round knob fit in a square hole. Now their programs will look more like an exact weightlifting program with specificity being the key. Of course there will still be accessory work, core work, and work capacity.

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4. Years eight plus (19 years old and on) – They might still be Junior weightlifters, but they are in the big leagues at this point. Their hormones are maxed, and their bodies will never be more primed for improvement. The key is proper development up to this point, disciplined athletes, and a coach who can control the intensity. I’m not sure I would ever get to 16 sessions per week, but it’s at this time I would start increasing frequency. I suggest using your brain – add a session, assess the athlete’s ability to adapt, and then either keep it or ditch it. It’s that easy. I am definitely going to keep a similar schedule for Morgan and Ryan, and possibly some of my other young ones if they continue to develop. I think given the right circumstances, Meredith, Nathan, and Hunter could move to something similar during the next quad.

I wouldn’t use the plan Pyrros laid out exactly, but I would use a lot of the same parameters. I would definitely try to individualize the program for each of my athletes as to maximize their individual genetics. The conversation definitely sparked some ideas, so now it’s time to go home and put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard in this case.

I hope this article clears up what it means to really train Bulgarian. If you are simply maxing out once per day, you are not training Bulgarian. Really that is being lazy and not maximizing your potential. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the article.

Christian Thibaudeau on the Industry, Coaching, and Dopamine – The Barbell Life 267

It was such an honor to talk on today’s podcast with Christian Thibaudeau.

I tell the story of being a young man at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado – the early days of Testosterone Nation Magazine. I kept hearing people talk about Christian again and again.

And for good reason.

Coach Thibaudeau joins us today to talk about the realities of the strength business and how everything has changed with social media. But he also tells us about what makes a truly great coach.

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Video: Ryan Grimsland Dominating

Our friend Will, owner of William Breault Photography, captured this incredible moment at the Youth Nationals.

This moment means so much to Ryan and me. When he first started training with me, he simply wanted to get stronger for CrossFit. I could see right away that he was going to be a special Weightlifter. Now he’s the number one ranked youth athlete in America. This video captured his last Youth Nationals. It’s a moment I will never forget.

He set a PR clean and jerk of 155 kilograms / 341 pounds at this meet after competing just days earlier in Cuba at the Junior Pan American Championships and setting four Pan American records. Incredible week for this young man and his coach!

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The Yoda of Weightlifting, Coach Dan Bell – The Barbell Life 266

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He’s not one who puts his name out there, but every time I talk to him I wonder why he’s not more well known. This guy just breaks down weightlifting in a way that few others can.

He’s been in the weightlifting game for decades, he was Olympian Holly Mangold’s original coach, and he’s got so many great stories to tell.

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Pyrros Dimas: Stop Humping the Bar

During the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba, I had the chance to sit down with Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone to discuss technique.

In case you don’t know, Pyrros and Mike are basically USAW’s head coaches at international events. Pyrros’s official title is Technical Director, and Mike’s is Senior Director of Sport Performance. Pyrros is a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, and Mike has been coaching for thirty years. Mike coached the Tara Nott – Olympic Gold Medalist. What I am trying to explain is that between the two, they possess a wealth of knowledge. You would have to be a fool not to at least listen to these wise men.

AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE

We ended up discussing all of my individual Team USA athletes, and then the conversation turned to Pyrros’s observations of America in general. Over the last few years under the leadership of Phil Andrews (USAW’s CEO), American weightlifting has exploded. During the last Olympic quad, Americans talked about “making the world team at the Olympics.” Now we are medaling at every international competition. Heck, now our teams are winning the big events. For example, at the Youth Worlds, the men’s and women’s teams both won the team competition. That was a first in American weightlifting history.

With all the “new normal” happening, Pyrros explained a couple of things that still have to happen before American weightlifting can truly dominate:

  1. Identify and recruit younger ages to create pure weightlifters.
  2. Stop humping the bar.

As far as identifying and recruiting younger athletes, I totally agree. It’s so much easier to develop athletes when you get them young. I have two incredible youth athletes, Ryan Grimsland and Morgan McCullough. I have several others who have the ability to become incredible. It’s simply easier to teach athletes at a young age. They don’t have faulty movement patterns to unlearn. For the most part, they aren’t distracted by life events like college, work, and relationships.

Morgan Snatch

I have found the earlier you can get an athlete, the better. The goal early on is development regarding technique, strengthening positions, and work capacity. Competition at an early age is also very important to prepare the athletes mentally to excel on the platform where it counts. Proper development during these younger years prepares the athletes to explode when they are prime for international competition – usually between the ages of 18-28 (this is just an average with some athletes peaking much later).

USA Weightlifting has a grassroots and recruitment specialist, Suzy Sanchez, who is working hard to recruit new athletes to ensure the success of USA Weightlifting for years to come. It’s my belief we need to focus in this area for stage two of “make America unbeatable forever.” I’d like to see some of the top American coaches form a committee to brainstorm this area, giving positive feedback to the folks at USA Weightlifting. However, this article isn’t about this goal. (I will write more about that in a later article.)

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“Humping the Bar”

This article is in reference to Pyrros’s second observation of American weightlifting and how lifters “hump the bar.” Let me explain this deficiency a little more clearly. He’s talking about the athlete beginning the second pull too early and reaching for the bar with his or her hips – pushing the bar on a more horizontal course. The goal is to use one’s legs as long as possible during the initial pull while squeezing the bar close to the body. Any horizontal displacement of the bar’s path will lead to a missed lift.

I am going to explain the first and second pull briefly. Then I am going to tell you a few mistakes Pyrros pointed out. Finally, I am going to explain how I am trying to counter those mistakes with my own team.

First and Second Pull

Let’s look at bar path first:

  • Off the floor the bar should travel either straight up or preferably a bit toward the body
  • The bar bath should continue to travel straight up or slightly back toward the body – with the athlete extending their legs, sweeping the bar into the body with their lats, maintaining an angle of the torso with the shoulders well above the hips, and keeping the shoulders over and slightly in front of the bar.
  • The first pull should last until the bar is as far above the knees as possible with the knees having cleared the road for the barbell. Don McCauley used to say “pretend the legs are longer than they really are.”
  • The second pull begins when the legs have extended. At that point, the hips begin the move to create the power position with the feet staying flat and pressing forcefully into the ground. The weight should be centered now in the middle of the feet.
  • The power position is formed when the feet are preferably flat, knees bent four to six inches, shoulders on top of the bar, arms long, and elbows out. Of course there are examples of athletes being successful with slight variances of each, but this is the optimal position.
  • The completion of the second pull happens when the hips and knees extend violently with the shoulders extending vertical and then slightly back.

View this post on Instagram

After a long talk with @pyrrospyrros and @mgattone64 I have implemented a whole new system for our accumulation and preparation phases. The goal is to correct what @pyrrospyrros believes is the number one issue with American weightlifting and that’s humping the bar. He explained that we needed to focus on using our legs even more during the pull while exemplifying patience with staying over the bar. I’m also working on consistency with getting the bar in towards the body off the floor. In this video, I am demonstrating a few of the ways that we are working to fix these three issues (using our legs, staying over the bar, and sweeping the bar in off the floor. I am going to finish a longer video and article tonight for you guys. Enjoy this clip. FYI it’s pretty cool to see 17-year-old @ryangrimsland totaling 250kg with this complex. Lots of progress in only two weeks with lots more to do. This is one of many examples of @usa_weightlifting working together on the one solitary goal of making American Weightlifting dominant. I appreciate this so much @a.phil . =================== www.mashelite.com <link in bio> for: . – Mash Mafia Online Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 22 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -Online Video Seminar . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit @shruggedcollective @andersvarner @usaweightlifting #usaw

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Problems Pyrros Identified

The three mistakes that Pyrros pointed out in several American weightlifters are as follows:

  • The bar traveling away from the body during the initial pull
  • Pushing the hips past vertical to meet the bar, causing horizontal displacement
  • Beginning the second pull way too early

I let his comments resonate for several days while looking at the pull of my athletes. As a whole we are great at the clean and jerk, but several of my athletes are slightly lacking in the snatch. Even though a few of my athletes are incredible in the snatch – such as Hunter Elam – we aren’t as consistent in the snatch as compared to the clean and jerk.

As a coach, the only way to ensure your team is improving is to objectively analyze the performances of your athletes. If you want to believe your training program and technique are superior to the entire world with no room for improvement, then you are doomed to never improve. I have no pride when it comes to my abilities as a coach. I only have a desire to be the best coach, and therefore giving my athletes the best possible chance for success.

Implementing Solutions

After pondering Mike’s and Pyrros’s advice and analyzing my own team, here is what I set out to improve with my team:

  • Bar traveling back off the floor
  • Pushing with the legs longer while staying out over the bar
  • Strengthening the optimal pulling position

These are the exercises and cues we are using:

1. Lift off to knees – We are using lift off to the knees with both the snatch and clean. The goal is to focus on the initial pull coming in toward the body off the floor. We are thinking about pushing with the legs versus pulling, sweeping, or squeezing the bar in with the lats, setting the back tight by tucking the scapula together and down, bracing at the core with the valsalva maneuver, and lifting the chest. The main cues I am using are: push, squeeze, and lift.

In case you don’t know, a “lift off” is simply pulling the bar to slightly above the knees working on that initial pull. A lift off is followed by the full lift with a snatch or clean. I tell all of my athletes to perform the pull of the full movement slowly during warm ups to ensure the proper bar path is being used. We’ve only been doing this plan for two weeks, and so far the difference has been quantifiably excellent. We still have room for improvement, but I’ll take bar path improvements of any degree.

2. Hang Snatch Pulls hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – Pyrros gave me the idea of slower eccentric hang snatches and hang cleans, but I added this variation with just the pulls. The main reason is the ability to add more repetitions without the threat of decreased technical proficiency. I wanted more repetitions to further ingrain the better movement pattern into the athletes’ CNS, and I wanted to take things to the 5RM range for optimal hypertrophy. For a lot of my younger athletes, it’s simply a matter of strength. They aren’t able to hold those positions out over the bar for as long as is required for best results.

The hang assures constant tension along with the hovering two inches from the ground. Too many athletes set the bar down, and then take 30 seconds between repetitions. It becomes another whole repetition prescription with that much rest between repetitions. The whole goal for this exercise is to strengthen the pull of the snatch with a more optimal position. Therefore if you can’t maintain the position I discussed earlier, you should cut the weight or stop the exercise. This entire block is designed to perfect our athletes’ pull, so precision is everything.

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3. Hang Snatch hovering two inches from floor with a five-second eccentric – This movement is the same as the preceding one except the athlete is actually snatching. This movement is performed lighter with more sets to ensure the precise technique is being used. We are literally using something pull-related every day during this accumulation block to ingrain the optimal pattern into the brains of our athletes.

This movement starts from the hang (bar at the crease of the hip with the athlete standing erect). The athlete takes five seconds to lower the weight to around two inches from the floor before exploding upward into a hang snatch. During the snatch, the athlete should make sure to extend their legs and sweep the bar in with the lats – while keeping their shoulders over the bar for as long as possible, maintaining the angle of their torso for as long as possible.

4. Snatch Pulls off four-inch blocks – Here’s one all of you are probably familiar with. I like to use this exercise to overload the pull in the snatch and the clean. However the key is maintaining the proper position. This is a good exercise to push past 100% of an athlete’s maximum, but only if proper positions can be maintained. If there is any breakdown in movement, the exercise ends. In this case, we are really emphasizing using the extension of the legs, sweeping the bar close off of the floor, and maintaining a good angle at the torso with the athletes’ shoulders out over the bar.

5. Snatch Pull to hip paused at hip three seconds + Snatch – This is one of my favorite exercises we are using right now to improve the positions of our athletes. This is an exaggerated pull where the emphasis is completely extending the legs while staying out over the bar. If an athlete completely extends their legs while maintaining a good angle of the torso (shoulders well above the hips), the bar will be somewhere around the hip crease with their legs extended. The three-second pause is our way of using an isometric contraction to stabilize the proper position. An isometric contraction is the best way to strengthen a joint at a specific angle – in this case the knee joint, hip joint, and all of the intervertebral joints. Isometric contractions are also great for strengthening the joint slightly below and above the specific joint.

Since the goal is to practice the improved pull and to strengthen the specific joint angles, we are using more repetitions for the pull than the actual snatch. For example – in week one, we performed three snatch pulls with a three-second pause and one snatch. During the snatch, the goal is to really focus on maintaining the drive in the legs to further ingrain the proper movement in the athlete’s brain. I recommend my athletes perform the pull during the snatch slowly during the warm up sets to perfect our emphasis during this stage of training.

6. Clean Pull to hip paused at upper thigh/hip three seconds + Clean + Jerk – This is of course the exact same thing as the snatch pull to hip + snatch, except we are focusing on the clean. With most athletes, when their legs are extended, the bar will be somewhere around the upper thigh – give or take a few inches due to arm length.

7. Lasha Snatch Pulls – I’ve had several people ask me about this movement. This is where the conversation started with Pyrros and Mike. Pyrros showed me a video of the famous Georgian heavyweight Lasha Talaxadze performing pulls while completely staying over the bar, violently extending his legs, and remaining flat footed the entire pull. There’s a shrug that happens from the momentum caused by his awesome extension. He keeps his arms long and loose, which allows them to move quickly after extension. Here’s the video on Instagram brought to you by “All Things Gym.”

This type of pull will lead to a more powerful pull, a better bar path, and a faster turnover with an athlete’s arms. Overall this pull will help my athletes emphasize a better technique and a stronger position. Right now we are using it once per week, but I will probably take this to two times per week after this first block. We are simply doing so many pull-emphasis movements that I thought adding one more day of Lasha Pulls might be too much.

8. No-Hook-No-Feet Snatch + Hang Snatch below knee with five-second eccentric – No hook and no feet snatches are great for emphasizing a better bar path without the athlete having to think too much about the movement. Without a hookgrip, most athletes will keep the bar close to them naturally to avoid losing their grip. Of course it will also emphasize better timing at the top of the lift as well, since the athlete will have to rely on the pull under versus up. Once again, we are using a five-second eccentric during the hang snatch to further strengthen the proper movement and position.

9. Clean Deadlifts with mini-Bands – eccentric slower than concentric – If you want to strengthen your pull in a way that recruits more fibers throughout the pull, this is the exercise for you. I just performed this movement recently – and man, did I get sore. The bands are great, but the slow eccentric portion is the key to strengthening the pull with perfect positions. Of course the athlete should be cut off if they can’t maintain a good position throughout the pull. I prescribe taking this movement heavier as long as they can maintain proper movement and positions.

If you are a strength and conditioning coach, this movement is great for getting any athlete as strong as possible. This is one of the movements that helped me personally obtain an 800-pound deadlift. If you are a weightlifting coach, this will strengthen your athletes in a way that will transfer to the sport. Accommodating resistance will teach the body to recruit fibers throughout the pull, leading to an explosive second pull. As the band lengthens, it adds more and more resistance to the pull with maximal load at the top.

10. Barbell Hyperextensions, Reverse Hypers, and Rows – All of our accessory movements are designed to strengthen the posterior chain, so the athletes can gain the strength required to maintain a solid position during the pull. The spinal extensors should be the key muscles targeted, so the athlete can gain the strength to stay out over the bar for as long as possible. Of course, we are trying to strengthen the hamstrings, glutes, and the entire back. Personally, my favorite movement to strengthen the spinal extensors is the goodmorning. However, during this phase we are performing so many pull exercises that adding the goodmorning might be a bit too much on the back. We will probably add the goodmorning in to our program during the next block.

I hope this article gives you all the ideas necessary to improve the pull of your athletes or yourself for that matter. I am grateful for men like Pyrros Dimas and Mike Gattone. We have an amazing family at USA Weightlifting thanks to the leadership of Phil Andrews. I am proud to be a part of this family.

These movements will be great for athletes as well, since the focus is strengthening the posterior chain. If you want strong, explosive, and durable athletes, you might want to try a few of these exercises.

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Live with Coach Joe Kenn – The Barbell Life 265

I’m privileged to live very close to my good friend Coach Joe Kenn – and I love talking with him every time his schedule allows.

He’s an absolute giant in the strength and conditioning world, and every time we get together I could talk to him for hours.

So we thought we’d do something different and have a live podcast while we still had the chance to get together (before his football season gets geared back up). Coach Kenn gives so much amazing value in this podcast about all aspects of training – and particularly the lessons he’s learned training his sons. I guarantee this is one you’ll love to listen to.

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