Greg Nuckols on Training Men, Women, Young, and Old – The Barbell Life 264

Chances are if you’re reading this, you know who Greg Nuckols is.

I am so proud of this young man. He has gone from being an intern at my facility to now being a pillar in the strength industry.

Greg joins us today to talk with us in depth about what he’s been studying lately related to men and women. We talk about their different training needs and challenges – and we also talk about how men and women differ dramatically as they age.


Principles and Real-Life Case Studies on How a Master Programmer Customizes a Program to the Individual

Peek inside Travis's brain... and learn how to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.


  • The affects of different birth control prescriptions on lifting
  • Major differences in the specificity needs of men and women
  • How men and women lifters change as they get older
  • Why Greg will NOT be getting a doctorate
  • Hormone replacement therapy for men and women
  • and more…

Understanding the Olympic Lifts Before Teaching Them

I am a huge proponent of teaching the Olympic lifts – the snatch and clean and jerk. They are great movements for sports performance, at times general fitness, and for competitive sport of course.

For sports performance, you get the most bang for your buck when performing these Olympic lifts. For starters, you get a pull, a squat, and an overhead press with one movement versus three separate movements. In a field where time is everything, you can’t beat it. You also get:

  • force absorption when you meet the bar during the catch phase.
  • power production which is second to none in the weight room.
  • kinesthetic awareness as you learn to move around a heavy bar in space.
  • mobility because it is required with these movements.
  • core stability – especially in the torso as it stabilizes during the pull and catch phase.

If you are coaching general fitness, CrossFit has shown us all that the Olympic movements are great for coaching adults… if the adults are able to perform the movements properly. A simple assessment using the front squat, overhead squat, snatch deadlift, and the strict press will tell you if the athlete is capable of performing the movements. This goes for athletes and general fitness adults. If they can’t perform these four movements, then you probably need to start with teaching them these four movements and helping them improve their movement patterns.

Guys, a 40-year-old accountant who has been strapped to his desk and computer for the last twenty years isn’t prepared to snatch. They might never be prepared to snatch. That’s ok! They can do other movements that will improve their mobility and strength without hurting them. This is part of the main point of this article. As coaches we have to be experts in what we are teaching. If we aren’t experts, then we shouldn’t be teaching.

Last of course, the snatch and clean and jerk are great movements for competitive sport. At Mash, we coach some of the best weightlifters in the world. However, if you want to coach the sport, you dang well better understand the movements and the ins and outs of the sport. FYI there are a lot of ins and outs. Too many athletes get burned out and/or hurt by coaches who simply don’t understand the sport. It never fails, no matter how many ‘how to’ videos and articles I produce, we see rookie coaches who literally have no idea what they are doing at meets.


Here’s the main point of this article: If you don’t know how to teach the Olympic lifts, please don’t try and teach them. If you are dead set on teaching them, then take a USA Weightlifting Level 1 Coaching Course and get a foundation. From there, find a mentor near you to shadow and ask questions. I’ve had so many great mentors over the years who have helped me with the lifts – like Coach Sean Waxman, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Kevin Doherty. Don’t let your ego get in the way. Your athletes deserve better.

I am not talking about specific technique, degree of plantar flexion, or how much to move one’s feet. I will save all of that for a pure weightlifting article. I am talking about teaching the lifts in a way where the athletes will be able to perform the competitive lifts safely and in a manner where the aforementioned benefits will be realized by the athletes. I am going to break the concerns into two categories: Safety concerns and performance concerns.

Safety Concerns

There are four main things I am looking for to determine the safety of the Olympic lifts:

  • Properly tracking feet and knees
  • Neutral spine
  • Safe rack position in the clean
  • Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch

Properly tracking feet and knees: Two days ago I got into a Twitter argument with a lady about a video I posted. I had found a video of one of her athletes on a meme account on Instagram performing the worst clean I have ever seen. First he was performing the clean with some sort of free moving machine, which was the first mistake. Regardless if they were using a machine or a barbell, you always want the athlete pulling, catching, and squatting with knees that track with the first two toes (big toe and pointer toe). Significant amounts of valgus or varus (knees inside the feet or knees outside the feet) are bad for an athlete over time and can cause injury if left untreated. The athlete was demonstrating massive amounts of knee valgus during the pull and the catch phase. The worst part of the whole thing is the coach had no idea they were putting the athlete at risk. One could wonder – what made the coach believe they were qualified to coach athletes? I tried to offer the coach free help to teach them basic biomechanics, but instead of taking me up on the offer she just tried to make excuses and defend their style of training. Coaches – don’t let a silly thing like pride keep you from improving in your chosen craft.

Neutral Spine: Keeping a neutral spine is the most important part of the equation for the safety of the athlete. During a deadlift there is some pretty good evidence that pulling with a flexed thoracic spine will not end up in injury – noting that’s when the athlete begins the pull with a flexed spine and maintains that degree of flexion throughout the pull. When your spine starts moving while in motion and under load – that’s when injury can quickly yield its ugly face. Personally, I have never had any back issues since adhering to the teachings of Dr. Stuart McGill. As far as I know, he’s performed more research on the spine, especially where sport is concerned, than any other scientist of his kind. Therefore, I have to go with neutral spine most of the time with my athletes.



After combing through the research and interviewing the experts, the result is a guide that will refine your technique and boost your squat in a safe and effective manner.

When it comes to the dynamic Olympic lifts, I recommend neutral spine all of the time. If you let your spine flex during the dynamic pull of the snatch or clean, you are asking for a major injury. If your spine flexes during the catch portion, you are putting yourself at significant risk by flexing with a massive load at those speeds.

If you are a sport athlete, you will negate the benefits of force absorption if you catch with a flexed spine. The goal is to teach the athlete to absorb force with a flat back (aka neutral spine), so they can then turn around and deliver the blow to their opponent. If you watch really good rugby players or NFL football players, you will notice their backs never budge during collisions.

Safe rack position in the clean: There are a few necessities when it comes to the rack position in the clean. An athlete will be required to have optimal shoulder protraction and elevation to form the resting position for the bar. The bar will sit behind the front delt and in front of the traps. There is a nice little crevice for the bar to rest in between the delt and trap if the athlete has proper shoulder protraction. The athlete will also be required to have good lat and triceps mobility to allow for proper elbow height as well as good mobility to allow the elbows to get around and up in a quick fashion.

If the athlete can’t get into a good position, they are at risk of hurting their wrists – especially on a mistimed clean – causing the elbows to hit the knees and trapping the bent wrists with the barbell. The collarbones are at risk if the athlete can’t protract and elevate their shoulders. Athletes have actually broken their collarbones over time by not having proper rack positions.

Safe overhead position in the jerk and snatch: If you want to see a bad overhead position in the snatch, simply visit a poorly coached CrossFit. If the coaching staff is forcing all members to snatch, you will see some middle-aged adults trying to snatch with techniques that will make your skin crawl. I am not talking about simply bad technique. I am talking about snatches that are literally risking the orthopedic health of the athletes with each and every repetition.


I’ve got news for you all. Some people are never going to perform a proper snatch. If they have been working at a desk for the last twenty years and have naturally poor movement, they are going to be restricted. Some are never going to get the movement required to snatch, and that’s okay. They simply want to be healthy. It’s our jobs as professionals to help them get healthy without hurting them.

A snatch requires shoulder mobility and spine mobility, especially in the thoracic spine. The scapula will need to move properly as well. The athlete will be required to place the bar at arm’s length somewhere over the ears or slightly behind that line. The athlete will need to maintain a neutral spine and be able to keep their ribcage down. If they can’t keep their ribcage down, they are getting movement from their lumbar spine as opposed to the thoracic spine. The lumbar spine is meant to be stable during loaded movements. When it starts moving under load, an injury is probably going to occur.

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For a good coach, there are several other options for adults – like snatch pulls, dumbbell snatches, kettlebell snatches, or snatch pulls from blocks. Meanwhile, you can work on their mobility unloaded in a safe manner. The goal is to have your adults leaving your facility feeling better than when they walked in. They shouldn’t be driving home cringing in pain from snatches they weren’t meant to do.

Some coaches use the excuse that their adults won’t listen to them. I’ve heard coaches say their adults want to do what everyone else is doing, so they grab a bar and start snatching even though their coach had told them not to. My response is for them to be the professional. It’s all about communication. Your athletes/clients have to trust that you have their best interest at heart, and they have to believe you possess the knowledge to best lead them in a direction most suited for them.

Let me be clear on something: I am not just talking to CrossFit coaches working with adults. I am talking to you coaches working with young athletes. If you can’t teach the movement proficiently, then you shouldn’t teach the lifts at all. You can always learn to teach a perfect squat, pull, press, and row. Then you can add in some plyometrics and med ball throws to have a perfect program. The Olympic lifts are only awesome if taught properly.

Let me end by saying the Olympic lifts are great movements. But they are only as good as the coach teaching them. If you are a strength and conditioning coach, put your time in and learn the lifts properly. You can normally find a weightlifting coach in your area who would love to mentor you on the movements. CrossFit coaches – you need to do the same thing. All coaches need to realize not everyone is ready to learn the Olympic lifts. You need to always have regressions in your toolbox. Your athletes trust you, and they believe you have their best interest in mind. It’s up to us meet these expectations.

Auburn University’s Basketball Strength Coach Damon Davis – The Barbell Life 263

Coaching basketball players is a unique beast.

Fortunately, we’ve got a guest on today’s podcast who can tell us all about it. Damon Davis, strength coach for Auburn University’s basketball program, joins us today.

Coach Davis talks a lot in this podcast about the importance of recovery. He structures his program, his conversations with athletes, and even the way their team plays games in a way that keeps them maximally recovered… and keeps them from getting injured.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

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  • The importance of Vitamin D and working with athletes on their sleep
  • Why he has basketball players do full snatches from the floor
  • The biggest issues he sees with the incoming freshmen
  • What really wins games… and why that matters
  • How to create a culture of mastering the mundane
  • and more…

What We Learned from Our Super Week

A week ago, our coaches were facing the most challenging week in the history of our team.

We had three competing at the Junior Pan American Championships in Cuba – and then 21 were scheduled for the Youth National Championships in Anaheim, CA. One of our athletes, Ryan Grimsland, was signed up for both, since it was his last Youth Nationals.

This article is not just a massive brag session, but it could definitely be. We did kill it! However, as always I want you to get the most out of everything that we do. Therefore we are going to talk about the lessons we learned so all of you can benefit from our trials. As always the goal is to leave this sport and the entire barbell world a bit better than we found it.

Individual Approach with a Team Concept

Since the 2017 Senior National Championships, I haven’t entered a team. The main reason is this is an individual sport, and I don’t want to make decisions based on some team championship. I want to make all of my decisions based on the goals of the athlete – like making an International Team or getting a stipend. I don’t want the extra pressure on the athlete of worrying about some team championship.

Coach Joe Cox, the owner of Krypton Barbell, convinced Coach Crystal and me to consider a National Team. We also partnered with the awesome people from ODC Barbell in Kentucky. Basically it works out to be one big mentorship. Crystal and I mentored Coach Joe, and now Coach Joe is helping Coach Karina.

It definitely makes my heart happy to see our competition philosophies being passed from one coach to the next. Plus it makes it so easy for the entire team because we end up having big coaching staffs, which is much needed at a big competition like Youth Nationals. Team ODC has a house full of talented athletes. It was so much fun helping Joe teach her the science of timing warm ups, counting cards, and making strategic jumps.

Here’s the kicker! Coach Karina is only 21 years old, and she is the head coach. I’ll tell you one thing, Coach Karina is going to be amazing. She had six athletes at Youth Nationals and six medalists with four National Champions. Tim Davis is her father and is legally blind. It’s awesome to see what he has done working with all of these amazing kids. It’s even more amazing to see what great people his actual children are turning into. If I had a child anywhere near Owensboro, KY, I would 100% want them to be a part of what they have going on at ODC Barbell.



* Special Facebook Group Access to the Team

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Now let’s get back to maintaining an individual approach. Each and every decision we made was based 100% on what was best for the athlete. Some were trying to PR their totals, some were trying to win a National Championship, and some were trying to make Team USA.

Each attempt is very different from each other. Obviously the first attempt is somewhat conservative because it normally sets the tone for the rest of the session – especially the opening snatch. When I choose an opener, I consider:

  • Training PR – roughly 93% plus or minus 2% in each direction
  • Minimum – the weight that the athlete can hit in training without any misses on their worst day
  • Bar speed during warm ups
  • Overall mentality during warm ups – relaxed, focused, nervous, etc.

I don’t really consider the weight the athlete is trying to end with because I have no problem with hitting a big weight in the back in between an opener and a second attempt. The only time I will open above what I consider to be conservative is during a meet where the one and only goal is making Team USA. I bet some of you still remember when I opened up Hunter Elam with one kilogram above her lifetime personal record. We didn’t care about winning an American Open Series 3. We only wanted to earn a spot on Team USA… and that’s exactly what we did.

I will never be that aggressive with a youth athlete because I want them to form successful habits. However, I have no problem being aggressive with the older youth on second and third attempts to make Team USA. Some would probably think my aggressive nature would lead to a low make to miss ratio, but that isn’t the case at all. Let’s take a look at the official numbers of our Super Squad:

Stats from Youth Nationals/Junior Pan Ams:

So if we were totally focused on what’s best for the athlete, how did we do so well?

For one thing, it’s a youth competition. I am not trying to put any undue stress on the athletes. I want them to build up several wins under their belt, so they get used to winning. We were only semi-aggressive with the older 16-17-year-old athletes, and it was only the ones who had a chance at Team USA. Otherwise we stuck with a 93%-97%-PR structure of taking attempts (give or take a couple percent).

One other thing is we are much more sport specific nowadays, especially in the last month before a meet. At that point we don’t talk a lot about percentages or bar speeds – but instead we talk in terms of openers, last warm ups, second-to-last warm ups, and so on. It really prepares our athletes with what to expect come game day )but we will talk more about that later in the article).

To tell you the truth, I have never really looked at make-to-miss ratios until this competition. It’s fun to see where you fall. When I learned we made 77.3% of our attempts, I was tempted to really rub it in the faces of a couple of social media sites who aren’t big fans. However, I decided to take the high road. I did make a few jabs, but then quickly backed off because at the end of the day we could have a bad meet sometime in the near future.

No other team in America is putting as many athletes on Youth, Junior, and Senior teams as we are. There are going to be ups and downs. That’s the nature of sport. In 2016 Nathan Damron crushed it at Junior Pan Ams, and then he came in seventh at Senior Worlds in 2017. Then he had a rough 2018. In 2018, Morgan McCullough went 5:6 in his first Youth Pan Ams and won a gold medal – and Ryan Grimsland went 6:6. At the 2019 Youth Worlds, they both struggled a bit. Now they both went 5:6 and won a bronze medal in their first Junior Pan Ams, breaking six combined Youth Pan Am records between them. My point is the sport and the athletes are always evolving. Sometimes athletes are trying to overcome injuries, but no one knows that besides the coaches and the athlete.

It shouldn’t bother me when silly meme pages criticize us, but it does. It makes me mad for my athletes mainly. Most of them are kids, and the rest of them are like my kids. I love them – so yes, I take it a bit personal. One site published an opinion that my guy would bomb out at Senior Pan Ams. Well, he didn’t. We took Silver – but dang, it got to me. All I could think about was what that site might do if we actually bombed out. It was silly, I know. The fact is I have never had an athlete bomb out in the back with me at a Youth/Junior/Senior Pan Ams or World Championships. I did withdraw an athlete once because his back was bothering him not because he bombed or was bombing. Who cares really? It’s my fault for letting those folks get to me.

I just love this sport. None of the coaches make a penny from coaching this sport. We do it because we love it. It’s not like some MLB coach making millions. Heck, if I were making a few hundred a month from this sport, I would welcome the criticism. However, I am not making anything. I am simply trying to improve the status of American Weightlifting around the world, and we are doing just that with the help of USA Weightlifting headed my Phil Andrews. That should be my focus, and I will be working to make it 100% my focus moving forwards.

I will end that little pity party rant with the good news that we did kill it at these two meets: seven National Champions, six Pan American Records, Best Male Lifter, Best Overall Female Team, and qualifying three youth for Team USA. I’ll take it whether people want to talk about it or not. Either way I am proud of my entire team. I am also proud of my fellow coaches – Joe Cox, Crystal McCullough, and Coach Karina. Our entire team and staff killed it, and now it’s on to the Pan Am Games in three weeks.

Individual Mindset and Coaching Approach for the Different Athletes

I wish I could tell you a specific way that we coach our athletes to produce results like we just experienced. The truth is it takes a special person to understand the feelings of others. Then it takes a special person willing to spend their entire career molding that ability. Right out of the gate, I am going to recommend Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. That book is a great place to start, but there is one requirement: empathy.

I talked to several coaches this past weekend with several of them asking me what is required to be a good coach. I told most of them this: be nice and have some empathy. It sounds simple, but sadly both are missing from too many coaches. Instead they want to bury themselves in programming and technique – and don’t get me wrong these are important as well. However, programming and technique are useless if no one likes you. If no one likes you, it will be hard to recruit new athletes, it will be hard to keep athletes, and it will be almost impossible to get athlete buy-in. If you don’t care about the feelings of your athletes, do you really think you are going to listen to them enough to understand what makes them tick? No, you’re not!

I have one of my athletes who I am failing to get through to, so guess what keeps me up at night? I refuse to not understand each of my athletes. Not to mention getting buy-in is an ongoing process. Athletes change sometimes on a daily basis, and you have to change with them. If you take the time to get to know them on a deeper level, you will know what I am talking about. I suggest starting by simply asking your athletes what makes them tick. Yes, that’s right! Straight up ask them!

Remember this one more thing, outside stress is perceived by the body as any other stress (just like training). If your athlete is getting crushed at home or with a bad relationship or at school, you can bet their training is going to suffer. You have to alter their program and adapt your approach to compensate for the added stress.

To wrap it up, I take it very seriously to understand what makes my athletes tick. Do they want to get hyped? Do they want to laugh and have fun? These are the things you have to find out to be successful regardless of what you’re coaching. It’s also the aspect of coaching that most people fail in the most.

Cutting Weight

There are a couple of ways people look at cutting weight for sports. Some people want to cut down to the weight class and roll into their competition at weight. That way they can eat like normal, and nothing really changes. Others like to stay a few kilos/pounds over their weight class and then perform a water cut to get those extra kilos off.

Based on observation alone, I am going to go with water cutting. I watched two athletes in a low weight class in the female division with both taking the opposite approach. The girl who performed the water cut (it was an extreme one – like four kilos) seemed to suffer the least from weak legs normally associated with a big cut. Since then, I have been very observant, and I am now very convinced. Plus I performed a water cut as well, and I never noticed a major dip in performance.

I’ve heard of several ways to do it, and I don’t think there is a real science to it. Here’s one that you guys and gals can use to get those last few kilos off:

  • 5 Days out – limit sodium and drink 2 gallons of water
  • 4 Days out – cut out most all sodium and drink 1.5 gallons of water
  • 3 Days out – no sodium and drink 1 gallon of water
  • 2 Days out – no sodium and drink 0.5 gallon of water
  • 1 Day out – no sodium and only sip on 8-12 ounces of water throughout the day
  • Day of the meet – obviously no sodium and no water until weigh-ins

You can eat healthy during the cut, sticking to mainly lean meat and vegetables. If you are two kilos over the day before, you are going to really cut your calories – especially if you have early weigh-ins. Also if you have early weigh-ins, you are going to want to go to bed with a kilo or less of body weight to lose.

Here are a few ways to cut to get those last few kilos off:

  • Sweet Tarts – These are the best. Now every single competition, a parent or athlete will challenge me by trying to bring some other candy. FYI Jolly Ranchers don’t come close. It’s the intense sour taste that makes you salivate like a dog staring at a raw steak. Also just in case there are some challenged folks reading this, don’t eat the candy. You simply swish one around your mouth and spit.
  • Sauna – Most of us know this one
  • DIY Hotel Steam Room – Cover the cracks of the hotel bathroom, and then turn on all the hot water. You will quickly have a steam room. You can splash some more hot water on the walls to get things really steaming.
  • Rake sweat with credit card – Regardless if you are using a sauna, DIY hotel room steam room, or some other sweat producer, I recommend taking a break to rake away the sweat from your body with a credit card every hour. What’s the science? I don’t know. I just know that it works. Supposedly it blocks the sweat from being absorbed back into the body.
  • Stand on your head for 30 seconds- yeah I know it sounds crazy, and once again I don’t know the science. Yet I have watched it work multiple times. Right before you weigh-in, simply stand on your head or on your arms for 30 seconds, and then immediately jump on the scale. This can help you appear to lose .1-ish kilograms. Try it if you don’t believe me.

After you make weight, make sure you have everything you need to rehydrate. Most people use Pedialyte and/or Gatorade. I would recommend drinking slowly, and trying to eat something easily digested. Weightlifting only gives their athletes two hours, so picking something you can eat is key. I recommend moist chicken and rice – or even a simple meal replacement. This is also a great time for simple sugars like you might find in fruit or even your favorite candy. You are only going to compete for two hours, so you need fast energy that doesn’t have to last for days. You will also need some nutrition between snatches and clean and jerks. Once again, I recommend something like a delicious protein bar and your favorite candy like gummy bears.

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Peaking, Tapers, and a Coach’s Response

Obviously it appears we tapered our athletes pretty well. The majority of them hit some type of personal record, and since they averaged going 4.6 for 6 in their attempts, I’d say they were all feeling ready for competition. The keys to a good taper are all the lessons learned from previous ones. If an athlete does poorly, make note of it and make alterations to the plan. If something seems to work, then you will only want to make small adjustments until you design the perfect plan. Also, you will want to start the process a month out by switching to a sport specific type of plan. By that I mean not using percentages, and instead referring to sets as second to last warm up, last warm up, opener, and second attempt. This prepares the athlete for what they will encounter during competition.

You can pretty much gauge the final week or the taper week by how your athletes respond throughout the plan. If they respond well to high frequency and high intensity, you will want to stay semi-heavy – just trim the overall volume. If going heavy seems to hurt their performance, consider staying under 90% or 85% during the taper week. It’s that simple really. Whatever happens, I recommend that you collect as much data as possible.

Evolution of USA Weightlifting

I am not going into major detail here because I plan on writing a complete article on this topic in the near future. However, I will say things have changed. These youth athletes are doing weights that would have won Senior Nationals just last year. Our goal as an organization was to prepare our athletes to medal at all international competitions, and that’s just what we have done with the leadership of Phil Andrews and the entire staff at USA Weightlifting. As Mike Gattone says, “It’s the new norm.”

With a new paradigm a new mindset must follow. None of us can look at things like we used to. Your athletes can’t take months off at a time just because they might be ahead right now. There is simply too much competition out there. Coaches, your hunger for information needs to be insatiable. Your athletes are going to need every edge to succeed in this new norm of ours.

Well, my reflection on the 2019 Youth Nationals and 2019 Junior Pan Ams is over. I don’t have time to spend too much effort thinking about these competitions. I am preparing two of our athletes for the Senior Pan American Games, which are the Olympics of the western hemisphere. I leave for Lima, Peru along with Hunter Elam and Nathan Damron in less than three weeks. I can only pray for this trend to continue. I pray you have the same success.

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Athletes and Entrepreneurship with Sheridan Lintz – The Barbell Life 262

Sometimes it takes an “athletic identity crisis” to show us who wee truly are.

And that’s exactly what happened with Sheridan Lintz. After a trek through Nepal, her knees were in crippling pain.

It made her question who she was as a lifter. And it let to her digging deep and finding out what really matters in life.

Now she takes those skills and works with an organization training the next generation of entrepreneurs. As you know, that’s something we’re excited about because we want to help our young men and women reach their dreams.



* Special Facebook Group Access to the Team

* Discounts on Ebooks

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  • Why athletes make the best entrepreneurs
  • Out-squatting her older brother when she was 11 years old
  • Her “athletic identity crisis” in Nepal
  • The difference between good coaches and bad coaches in her past
  • How you can work now to set yourself up for entrepreneurial success later
  • and more…

Top Movements for Strength and Conditioning

Lately, my greatest mission has been to improve the quality of strength and conditioning around our country. It seems my focus has been on high schools and middle schools, but really I aim to help all coaches. That’s right, my aim is to help you guys and gals.

There are times I post videos on Twitter mainly to shed light on the need for change. Yeah it might hurt some feelings, but a lot of you don’t even realize there’s a problem. No one really governs our industry, so there’s no reason any of you should know there are issues.

And that’s the problem! When sport coaches are hiring strength and conditioning professionals, there is an inherent challenge. How do these sport coaches know the first thing about strength and conditioning?

So instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it in the way of helping you all. My goal is to help you all through articles like this one and videos. That way I can at least do my part.

The Barbell

The first thing I want to talk about is exercise selection.

The good thing about the Internet is that people get introduced to our industry via videos thousands of times per day. The problem is that people are getting introduced to junk multiple times per day. How do new people to our industry know the difference between a good coach and a bad coach?

The Internet is also a temptation for money-hungry coaches to post videos that are more for show than for performance. When you see videos of lifts being performed with bosu balls, slide boards, or an excessive amounts of bands, you can rest assured that the video is for show only.

Look, there are only a few movements that are scientifically proven to improve performance. I have no problem adding in some new movements as long as the main movements that we know work are the core of what you are doing. If your Instagram Page is filled with bosu balls, bands attached to every limb on your body, and other circus tricks – I know right away you are simply trying to get followers and money.

Last week, someone asked the question, “Can you call yourself a strength and conditioning gym without owning one barbell?” You already know my answer was that you absolutely can not. It has nothing to do with the fact that I love the barbell movements. My answer has to do with science.

Science has proven that certain barbell movements directly affect athletic performance in the way of faster sprint times and vertical leap. There is no doubt the barbell can help improve those two markers. However, there is so much more the barbell helps to improve:

  • Power production
  • Force production
  • Force absorption
  • Hypertrophy
  • Kinesthetic awareness
  • Reduced injury rates
  • Work capacity
  • Absolute strength and muscle control
  • Rate of force development
  • Motor unit recruitment
  • Synchronization of motor units
  • Core stability as it relates to the body on the field of play (standing upright)
  • All qualities of strength with velocity based training

As you can see the barbell is irreplaceable.

So can you open a strength and conditioning facility without the barbell? Well yes, I can jump off a cliff if I want to… but it’s going to be a bad idea. I could use kettlebells, dumbbells, and sandbags – but that is still not optimal for my athletes to maximize their potential. If you’re training adults in general fitness, it would totally be fine to use these instruments as long as you are quantifying their improvement. If you want to train top athletes like I do, you are going to need to use the barbell.

The Big Five Movements

Now that I have cleared that up, what barbell movements are essential for strength and conditioning? I could give a long list and make an argument for each, but I am going to narrow it down to five.

I want to provide younger coaches a go-to list to master and implement. When you master the five movements, then you can slowly add in other movements if you deem that necessary.

However, if you master these five, you will have a top rate facility, and your athletes will benefit from these movements that will help them reach their goals.

The Squat

No doubt that the daddy of all lifts is the back squat. Research has proven that the squat can be directly attributed to increases in speed and vertical leap. Bryan Mann actually set out to prove that the clean was superior in these areas, but his research proved that the squat was dominant.

With the use of velocity based training, the back squat can be used to improve every quality of strength (absolute, accelerative, strength speed, speed strength, and starting strength). However, the goal for the first few years of training should be absolute strength. If you read Coach Mann’s articles and books, you will learn that absolute strength will directly improve all qualities of strength for the first couple of years. Once your max reaches two times your own body weight, you can start spending training blocks on qualities of speed that will be more specific to your sport.

The back squat will also strengthen the body in a way that will prepare athletes for battle. All you have to do is think about all the joints that are strengthened with the squat: ankles, knees, hips, and all intervertebral joints. Basically the squat helps to bulletproof the body. If you are a football player, strengthening the back to absorb the impact of collisions is a must. You are asking your athletes to get into small car wrecks each and every day. To prepare the body for that kind of trauma, you are going to need to put a load on the body forcing adaptation where you need it.

If you coach or you are a parent to a soccer player, you know all to well that knee injuries are everywhere in the sport – especially for female athletes due to their steeper Q-angles. I laugh when parents tell me that squats are dangerous, especially when their children play soccer. Parents put them in a sport that causes more knee injuries than any other sport on the planet, and they let them play year round without any strength training. It’s almost like they want to see them get injured.

Look, if you are a parent, you better have your soccer player squatting to strengthen their knees. I bet you don’t drive your car everyday year round without getting any maintenance performed on it. Why do you do that with your children? I once had a parent get mad at me because my battle rope was too heavy for their middle school daughter – making it dangerous for her. Yet the same parent had that same little girl playing year round soccer and sometimes for multiple teams at a time. Are you kidding me?

One thing to consider is maybe using front squats if you are in a busy high school. Front squats don’t require spotting since the athlete simply dumps it forward if they can’t complete the lift. This will take one worry away from the coach. And if you are coaching 30+ people at a time, you will appreciate one less worry. Front squats are superior for strengthening the back, and almost as good as the back squat for strengthening the quads. I’ll take it as a win when you eliminate spotting catastrophes.

I definitely want to mention variations because they can be very helpful regarding specificity. For example, squat jumps at around 40% and quarter squats have been shown to improve speed and vertical leap at a faster rate than full depth squats. However, these two movements work after an athlete has spent a couple of years maximizing absolute strength. I would recommend shooting for 2 or 2.5 times body weight in a full depth squat to maximize the results of these partial movements. One reason that these partial depth movements are so effective is that the angles of the joints are more specific to sprinting and jumping. Once again, specificity is king.

The Clean

Power production is maximized with this movement. Let’s take a look at the numbers in this figure courtesy of USAW:

Power Production

As you can see, the Olympic lift movements are five or more times the traditional power lifts. This quality makes adding at least one of the Olympic movements a necessity – not to mention the other factors that make the clean an incredible choice:

  • Force absorption. Personally this is my favorite quality of this movement, especially for my football players. When you catch a 300 pound clean over and over, this prepares the body for taking on 200-300 pound athletes on the field of play.
  • Kinesthetic awareness. This is learning to understand how your body moves through space. I coach some of the best weightlifters in the world, ranging in ages from 10 to 50. If you visit my gym on any given day, you will find them out back walking on their hands, performing back flips, and doing other crazy circus tricks. My point is they are all very aware of their bodies in space. When you are floating through space with 300 pounds and suddenly catching the weight on your chest or overhead, you learn to understand where your body is in space.
  • Mobility. Practicing the Olympic movements frequently will obviously contribute to improved mobility. If you know any weightlifters, then you know they are some of the most mobile athletes on the planet. The completion of the lifts requires ankle, hip, and thoracic spine mobility. When you perform these movements on a daily basis, the body adapts to required movement. Athletically optimal movement trumps strength. However when you pair movement and strength, you get a dominant athlete.


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The Push Press

This is where my opinion differs from a lot of traditional strength and conditioning coaches. Up until recently the bench press has been the king of the upper body movements for most strength and conditioning coaches. But when it comes to power production (the ability to move weight quickly through space), the push press is supreme to the bench press. However, there is something that makes it even more specific to sport.

The bench press is performed lying down on your back. Specificity wise, the only time that happens is when you get knocked down. The push press originates with massive knee and hip extension followed by an upper body push, which is similar to all athletic movements that involve the upper body: throwing a baseball, punching, throwing a football, or shot put. If you’re a football player either taking on a block or delivering a block, it’s a very similar movement. The funny thing is that I have always noticed an increase in an athlete’s bench press after an increase in their push press. I can’t explain this relationship, but I’ve witnessed the phenomenon time and time again.

When you top this movement off with the benefits to the core and the overhead stability, you have the perfect upper body movement. I want to be clear that I do not hate on the bench press. Heck, I was a world record holder in the bench press – and I love the pump we all get from a massive bench session. However when it comes to benefits to sport, the edge has to go to the push press.

The Deadlift

Dan John once said that the deadlift is the best movement for bulletproofing football players. I’d agree.

Have you ever seen a good deadlifter with a weak neck or weak back? I know I sure haven’t. The deadlift is excellent for developing the back – especially the spinal erectors, the hips (glutes and hamstrings), and the quads. The deadlift can directly be attributed to increases in speed and jumping, just like the squat – not to mention the angles of the hips and knees are more specific to sprinting and jumping.

The trap bar deadlift has been shown to be even more effective for improving sprint times and vertical leaps. The center of mass is in a more advantageous spot as well making the lift easier to teach and bit safer. Either trap bar or barbell deadlifts are both great movements for athletes regarding injury prevention and optimizing performance.

Along with the squat, the deadlift is the most functional movement on earth. Our life is spent picking things up and squatting down, so it’s safe to say that both the squat and the deadlift are great for improving overall wellbeing. A lot of people refuse to deadlift because they say the deadlift hurts too many people. Guys, if you are hurting people with the deadlift, you don’t know how to teach the movement. If you can’t deadlift, how in the world is a wrestler ever going to throw their opponent? If you focus on establishing a fairly neutral spine and you understand the hinge pattern, the deadlift is one of the safest movements on earth. It’s also a great movement for making sure you don’t get hurt playing other sports.

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Heavy Carries

Bringing up the rear are heavy carries. Too many people talk about building the core without having the first idea about what that phrase really means. The core is every muscle that supports the spine and pelvis. As an athlete you want to strengthen the core in a way that relates to sports, which means you want to strengthen the core in a vertical manner. That means you want the core strong while standing upright or running in an upright posture.

Newsflash: performing lots of crunches and sit-ups isn’t a great core workout. Performing sit-ups and crunches is a great way to teach the torso to be a flexed position, which is the last place most athletes want to be in. Heavy carries are the best way I know to build the core in a vertical manner.

We use the following versions of the carry:

  • Bilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Front Squat Rack Position Carries
  • Zercher Carries
  • Axle Bar Overhead Carries
  • Fat Grip Dumbbell Carries

You are strengthening the traps, pelvis, and grip with the farmer’s walk. Dr. Stuart McGill has some good research stating that farmer’s walk will improve speed, especially change of direction because the pelvis down to the foot gets strengthened so much with each step. The supporting leg will take on the entire load making that joint sturdy and able to absorb massive amounts of force. The front squat and Zercher carries shift even more of the load to the spinal erectors making these carries super specific to strength sports like weightlifting and powerlifting – not to mention football for absorbing those big hits. The overhead carries are excellent for overhead stability, making these carries awesome for baseball players.


I have to give the following movements honorable mention as important movements to strength and conditioning:

  • Pullup
  • Dip
  • Pushup
  • Bentover Row
  • Reverse Hyper
  • Bench Press
  • Barbell Hyperextension
  • Goodmorning
  • RDL
  • Snatch
  • Overhead Squat
  • Lunge
  • Rear Leg Elevated Split Squat

A Sample Program

I also put together a nice little four day per week workout for you guys that could literally be used ongoing for your athletes. Let’s take a look at it, and then I will explain it a bit more in detail at the end.

Strength Block
Day 1 Week 1

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 5 x 5 at 75%
Back Squat – 5 x 5 at 75%
Overhead Fat Grip Dumbbell Carries – 4 x 20 yd each arm, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 8, work up to an 8-9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1c. Reverse Hypers – work to an 8 RPE, 4 x 40 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 3RM at 8 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5 x 5 at 75%
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 30 yd, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd, work to an 8 RPE

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 4 x 10 reps, working up to a 9 RPE

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM at 8 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 20 yd each arm, building to a 9 RPE Max

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, building to an 8-9 RPE
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg, building to an 8-9 RPE

Day 1 Week 2

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – 4 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 8, work to a 9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 4 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1b. Reverse Hypers – 4 x 45 sec, work up to a 9 RPE

Day 2

Hang Clean – 3RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Bilateral Farmer;s Walk – 4 x 30 yd. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM, then -10% at 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM, then -10% for 2 x 5 (last set is 5+ but no misses)
Zercher Carry – 4 x 40 yd, work up to a 9 RPE

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 4 x 10 reps with the ending weight from week 1

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM at 9 RPE, then -10% for 2 x 5
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 4 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg. Stay where you stopped in week 1
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg. Stay where you stopped in week 1

Day 1 Week 3

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – 3 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 3 x 8
1b. Pullups – 3 x submaximal reps (use weight if more than ten)
1c. Reverse Hypers – 3 x 35 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 90% of 3RM for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric Slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 3 x 5
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – 3 x 30 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10ea leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 5RM
Back Squat with Belt – 5RM
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 3 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 3 x 10 reps with the ending weight from week 1

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 3RM
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 5RM
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – 3 x 20 yd each arm. Stay with where you stopped in week 1

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, 10% less than where you stopped in week 1
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3x 8 each leg, 10% less than where you stopped in week 1

Day 1 Week 4

Push Presses (If possible and if not strict presses) – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Back Squat – 90% of Day 3’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Overhead Fat Grip DB Carries – Maximum weight for 20 yd each arm, and then subtract 10% for 2 x 20yd each arm

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Bench Press – 4 x 6, work to 9 RPE
1b. Pullups – 3 x 10
1b. Reverse Hypers – 4 x 50 sec

Day 2

Hang Clean – 1RM, then -20% for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric Slower than concentric) – 90% of Day 4’s 5RM for 5 x 5
Bilateral Farmer’s Walk – Maximum weight for 30 yd, then subtract 10% for 2 x 30 yd

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. DB Lunges – 3 x 10 each leg, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1b. TRX Leg Curls – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE
1c. DB Power Cleans (focus on external rotation) – 3 x 10, staying around a 8-9 RPE

Day 3

Push Presses – 3RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Back Squat with Belt – 3RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Zercher Carry – 3 x 40 yd

Optional Assistance Work
1a. Dips – 4 x submaximal reps (add weight if able to get 10)
1b. BB Rows – 10RM, and then -10% for 3 x 10

Day 4

Clean from Blocks – 1RM, then -20% for 3 x 3
Deadlift (eccentric slower than concentric) – 3RM, then -10% for 2 x 3
Unilateral Farmer’s Walk – Maximum weight for 20 yd each arm, then subtract 10% for 2 x 20 yd each arm

Optional Assistance Exercises
1a. Unilateral RDLs – 3 x 8 each leg, building to a 9-10 RPE
1b. DB Bulgarian Split Squats – 3 x 8 each leg, building to a 9-10 RPE

This workout is designed to go on and on in a very simple way. If you notice, I am not recommending a lot of percentage work because I realize a lot of you are coaching high school athletes. If you’ve ever watched high school boys and girls trying to figure out their percentages for the day, then you know that will eat up too much of the limited time you have with them. It’s so much easier to explain the RPE system, and then tell them to work up to a 5 rep maximum.

On day one we are starting with 75% for 5 x 5 to get things kicked off. After that, it depends on you Day 3 rep maximum. That way you are taking into account increases in strength for volume. Remember, especially with high school kids, they get stronger sometimes week to week and definitely month to month.

We are including a type of carry every training day because they cause almost no muscle damage, meaning they are easy to recover from. I’ve also programmed to progressively overload the carries in a strategic way. This is important because athletes will go through the motions on carries unless you either turn them into a competition or present a simple way to progress them.

The assistance work is simply a suggestion and is definitely optional and interchangeable. I would recommend you leave in pull-ups and dips as upper body accessory work because both movements are so good for relative strength and upper body development.

In case you don’t know what the PRE Scale is, I will explain it simply. Basically it goes like this:

  • 10 RPE is an all out maximum for the prescribed repetition maximum
  • 9 RPE is stopping one set before maximum
  • 8 RPE is stopping two sets or a couple of reps before maximum
  • 7 RPE is stopping 3 sets or three reps before maximum
  • etc etc etc

On the strength work (squats, push presses, and pulls) we are not taking it to a complete 1RM simply for safety reasons. However, 3RMs can get dangerous if athletes take it right to the edge. I recommend stopping before a potential miss just to keep things progressing without over reaching too much with your athletes. With the Olympic lifts, we are taking it to a 1 RM because technique is just as important as the amount. Testing with repetition maximums can turn into some ugly reps very quickly. Even with singles I recommend stopping before the reps slow down or get ugly.

I hope that this article sheds some light on what a solid strength and conditioning program should look like. I will add that sprints, jumps, and change of direction have to be a part of a solid program. I was simply pointing out the weight room portion. One thing to consider might be pairing jumps and sometimes sprints with squats or cleans. We all have to consider time so complex training might be a solution.