Pursuing Coaching Excellence with Crystal McCullough – The Barbell Life 287

We have a very special guest on the podcast today.

One who isn’t really a guest at all.

Coach Crystal McCullough has grown over the years to be more and more a part of the Mash Mafia. And now I don’t know how I would survive without her.

So we talk about her coaching journey, the lessons she’s learned along the way, and how she plans to continue to get better and better as a coach.

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* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World


  • Why verbal cues are the last step – and what to do first
  • What makes her a great coach in the back room
  • How she got to be a coach for the Mash Mafia
  • Crystal’s biggest lessons
  • A simple process and a crazy tip or recruiting
  • and more…

Is Competition Good or Bad?

It’s an interesting era we are in.

I am not sure if this is the point where I am old and simply blaming a generation for the shortcomings I am experiencing, or if this is a real thing all over. Let me dive right in, so I can catch you up on what I am talking about.

Competition – Then and Now

When I was a young strength athlete, I loved competition. I drove 90 minutes each way twice per week just so I could train with someone stronger than me. Eventually I hooked up fulltime with Chris “Ox” Mason, which is when I became my strongest. Ox and I were in the same weight class most of the time and sometimes one weight class apart. We were competitive with each other in the gym but remained the best of friends outside the gym. Heck, inside the gym we helped each other. Basically we were each other’s coach.

Westside Barbell is legendary because most people think Louie Simmons is some kind of magical programmer. The secret is that he placed a bunch of lions in the same room – and the toughest lion became the alpha. There were battles within the gym, but they were family outside of the gym. This arrangement reminds me of my home with my two sons, Rock and Behr. They fight all the time, but they won’t let anyone else pick on the other.

Recently I have noticed in my gym, as well as other gyms across America, that athletes don’t like having someone in their own weight class training with them day in and day out. I have witnessed arguments break out and cultures destroyed over this. Instead of complaining to all of you during this entire article, I am going to explain the way it should work and the advantage that competition brings. Hopefully this will enlighten some of the athletes out there so we can use this tactic to our advantage as a country.

Attitude of Excellence

Why do you think wrestling programs like the one you will find at Penn State University are so awesome? Why do countries build Olympic Training Centers? Yes, in both cases you are trying to give your best athletes the best coach and conditions – but there is another reason that trumps all the rest. If you toss the best athletes in the same room with a great coach, you can rest assured the best athlete will make their way to the top. Not only that, even the athletes who aren’t the best at first will get better. The ones who were never going to make it in the first place will fade away, and that’s fine too. You will either become the absolute best you can be – or you will realize it wasn’t meant to be.

I had an athlete several years ago named Michael Waters. He was a two-time 4A state champion here in North Carolina. He was a rockstar in this state. He could have gone to several collegiate programs in America and started right away, but he chose Penn State. He wanted to become the absolute best wrestler he could possibly be. He knew Cael Sanderson, the Penn State head coach, and the amazing tradition at Penn State would do just that. Michael is now serving in the Army Special Forces, which fits this attitude of excellence.

Here’s what you have to ask yourself:

  • Do I want to be the best athlete I can possibly be?
  • Do I want to be the best athlete on the team?

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2020...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

Competitive Environment

If your coach recruits someone in your same weight class or who plays your same position, that doesn’t mean they think less of you. It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in your abilities. It doesn’t mean they love you any less. They are simply trying to create a competitive atmosphere conducive to forming champions.

The way you react to the recruitment of new athletes says a lot about you as an athlete. If you fade away from a battle during practice, you will fade away during a battle in a real competition or game. The best athletes in the world thrive on competition. Guys like Michael Jordan will thrive when threatened or pushed. If this isn’t you, you will need to embrace competition more than the others until you are comfortable in competitive situations. Otherwise, realize you will never be a great athlete. I know these are tough words, but I am being brutally honest. However, it’s never too late to change, so you aren’t locked in to a life of losing.

Here’s what athletes should experience from competitive environments:

  • The best athlete with the best attitude will get even better as they rise to the top.
  • Athletes will feed off of each other, especially during max effort days or scrimmages.
  • Athletes will learn from each other.
  • Athletes will encourage each other during training.
  • Athletes will encourage each other outside the gym.
  • The athletes who aren’t necessarily winning right away are still getting better as they seek to keep up and surpass.

Peer Pressure

First, if you are the top dog and your coach recruits someone in your weight class or in your position, don’t get offended. You should be excited because that new person is going to elevate your level of play to a place you didn’t believe was possible. This is going to make your next meet or game way easier than ever before. Remember this: if you can’t beat this person in training, you sure aren’t going to beat them at a competition. Champions always elevate their level of play based on the competition in front of them, and now you have the advantage of having that stimulus daily versus only on game day.

This is a life lesson, which is exactly what sport is supposed to be. What if you are the top accountant at a firm, and then one day your boss hires someone with equal or slightly better skills? Are you going to quit or get mad at your boss – or are you going to use the competition to raise your level of play? Parents, remember that sports are designed to prepare your children for life – not simply to showcase their skills to make you look cool in front of your family and friends. This is something most parents always forget.

If you have a max effort day or highly competitive day, athletes will feed off of each other. If one is feeling sluggish, they will elevate to match their competition. If you want to see athletes surpass never-dreamed-of levels, put them in a room filled with lions. The weak will get stronger, and the strong will get stronger than ever! This environment will make the competition, game, or match seem easy – just ask the Penn State wrestlers.

Peer Support

One of my favorite aspects of competitive teams is that athletes will learn from each other. Coaches can’t be everything to everyone. There are going to be times when coaches are struggling to fix flaws in their athletes. Sometimes hearing it from a peer is easier to accept and assimilate than when it comes from a coach. I have seen it happen several times. Sometimes athletes will struggle with an issue their peer has already overcome, so their peer can explain how to overcome the obstacle both physically and mentally.

Sometimes training is hard. We have all experienced the moments in training that felt like we were in the middle of a desert all alone. This is a lonely place to be, so having a teammate look at you and say that it’s going to be okay is a definite asset. It’s easier to endure trials when you’re not alone.

Enduring with teammates in the gym is much easier than overcoming the temptations out of the gym. Champions are not made inside the gym. Everyone trains hard, but the champions are the ones who make the right choices outside the gym. If you create a culture filled with focused and determined athletes, you will also form a culture of athletes who will keep each other accountable. We are all tempted once in a while to break our diet, drink that beer, or stay up late. It’s nice to be surrounded by athletes who will help keep you focused on the primary goal.


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If you are in a gym or on a team with two other athletes who are just as good or better, don’t get upset or get mad at the coach. This isn’t a bad thing. Whether you end up being the number one or not, I promise that you will get better in those conditions. You will work as hard as possible in an attempt to get ahead or stay ahead. That’s the point of competition – it will make you better.

I am not sure what has happened with today’s athletes not embracing competition. I guess we are in the “everyone deserves a trophy” era. Here are my final words. If you quit and run away from competition now, you will carry this action with you through life. Instead of running away, I suggest making a stand, getting better, and staying number one. Are you really a number one if you run away from another potential number one? I don’t think so.

Business and Staying Jacked as You Age with Marc Lobliner – The Barbell Life 286

Marc Lobliner of Tiger Fitness has been in the fitness game for years and years.

From the fitness magazines back in the day to Scivation and other nutritional supplements, he’s been an energetic force that you just saw everywhere.

This guy has some great stories (he reminded me about the time I confronted a group of big Samoans), and he’s seen enough in the industry that he can tell you all about what really goes on behind the scenes.

Not to mention he’s pushing 40 and is still crazy jacked.

So listen in to this one to hear from the machine himself.


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning


  • Stories about how Travis confronted a group of big Samoans
  • What happened with bodybuilding.com
  • His tips for productivity and organization
  • How he gets jacked and stays jacked
  • Getting abs with overhead presses
  • and more…

Listener Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 285

I want to start off by thanking everyone who writes in to ask us questions.

First, thanks for the privilege of helping you. It’s not something we take lightly, and it’s something we are honored to do. Plus it’s something we love! Few things in life are better than helping out other people.

But also I want to thank people for writing in with questions – because if someone writes in with a question, chances are lots of other people have the same questions and just have never asked.

And when we get questions, we love answering them right here on our podcast. So listen in!


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning


  • Recovery for older/busy athletes
  • Gaining size in the legs
  • Jerk technique
  • Elbow pain
  • Back squat frequency
  • and more…

What I Learned from Top Sprint Coaches in Jamaica

Stronger Experts recently organized a trip to Jamaica for some of the world’s best coaches to work with the amazing athletes there.

I just got home from Kingston, Jamaica a few days ago – and now I’ve had some time to think over all the things I learned from my recent trip with Stronger Experts. It was a great chance to help athletes who simply don’t have access to a lot of great coaching resource – and it was a great chance for me to learn from the coaches who went with me. I am continually amazed at their expertise.

First I want to thank Phil Tremblay, the creator of Stronger Experts, for organizing this event. I can’t imagine how much time he puts in to get this up and running. I’d also like to thank the other experts, Coach Kav and Coach Dean, for freely giving their knowledge to all the coaches present. Last, thank you to all the coaches who made the trip down to Jamaica.

With that being said, there is no better way to instill concepts in your brain than to put them into writing. On this trip I was able to take two of my athletes/coaches, so the whole thing was more impactful. They got to see some amazing athletes, but they also got to see just how lucky they are.

You see, the athletes in Jamaica aren’t always granted access to top-notch physiotherapy, chiropractic, weight rooms, or even nutrition. They take what they can get, and they make the best out of it. I wish every American athlete could visit Jamaica. They would see these amazing athletes are great in spite of their circumstances – and definitely not because of their circumstances. Too many athletes spend their time dwelling on what they don’t have versus being thankful for what they do have. In Jamaica, the athletes are determined to win with what they do have.

This article isn’t about the Jamaican athletes persevering through the toughest of circumstances, but I definitely wanted to mention it. This article is about what I learned from the other experts and from my own observations. I think a lot of this information will help all of you produce faster athletes. I also hope that some of this information will help the coaching industry as a whole. If you get on social media, it’s pretty evident we need a lot of help.


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

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Keep it Simple!

High-level sprinters are already fast, so you don’t have to be real fancy to help with their improvement. Something I noticed as a whole is that sprinters don’t move really well. I assume that’s because the entire sport is linear and their joints don’t require much range of motion to perform their daily tasks. However, after listening to Coach Kav, this poor ROM leads to poor performance. One of Coach Kav’s major points was that a closed joint wouldn’t create as much force as an open joint – meaning that a joint with optimal movement will perform by creating maximal force against the ground.

A majority of the athletes were afflicted with poor ankle mobility, tight hips (mainly regarding internal rotation), tight hamstrings, tight quads, and poor shoulder mobility. There was one athlete present who demonstrated excellent mobility, and it was no surprise he was the best sprinter of the group.

The need for strength and conditioning

All of this brings me to my next point – and that is a lot of this could be rectified with an optimal strength and conditioning program.

If athletes snatch, clean and jerk, squat, pull, and push press (all at a full range of motion), over time a lot of these ROM problems would subside. If you test our athletes, whether strength and conditioning or weightlifting, they will all have optimal ankle mobility, optimal internal and external rotation at the hips, and optimal range of motion in the quads.

There are a couple of factors to consider. They will need to train at least three or preferably four times per week to notice these changes. Also, it helps to start young (16 and younger). If an athlete starts later on (say, after 20) the process will take longer and will require more individual joint work.

In my experience, the quickest and most efficient way to alter a range of motion is to work on that ROM on a frequent basis – and the best way to alter a ROM is to do so in a weighted capacity. When I was 42 years old, I performed a “squat every day” program. I wanted to try it out since my friend Cory Gregory was making “squat every day” famous. I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

I definitely got stronger – but more importantly to this article, I noticed major improvement in my range of motion. That was the last time I was able to snatch and clean and jerk with good technique, and it was all due to a high frequency squat program. I performed minimal stretching, but I did use a lot of banded joint distraction on the areas I needed the most help (such as my hips).


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High Frequency Programming

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If you can’t teach the Olympic lift movements (snatch and clean and jerk), keep it even simpler. You could use the following movements:

  • Overhead Squat
  • Front Squat
  • High Bar Back Squat
  • Trap Bar Deadlift
  • Strict Press (with attention to posture – ribs down, neutral pelvis, and neutral spine)
  • Overhead Carry (with attention to posture – ribs down, neutral pelvis, and neutral spine)
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Trap Bar Jump
  • Box Jump
  • Depth Jump
  • Squat Jump
  • Lunge (with attention to a vertical torso)

Solid Assessment is Critical

Coach Kav is phenomenal in the area of assessment. There are two assessments that are important to the performance of speed, whether on the track or speed in general. A coach has to be proficient in assessing both sprinting mechanics (start, acceleration, and maximal speed) and joint assessment.

The first thing we did as a group was go to the track. Coach Kav reminded me of so many weightlifting coaches who I have worked with in my lifetime. His eye for sprint mechanics was spot on, which comes from years of watching people run. For example, he could see a lack of internal rotation at the hip during a start, which is a crucial part of the start.

The track is the first place that a coach should start to determine what elements can be fixed on the track with technical improvements and what needs to be addressed in the gym or on the therapy table. For example, hip internal rotation needs to be addressed with joint distraction, manual therapy, and solid movement in the weight room. However, arm action and block set up needs to be addressed on the track.

A solid joint assessment can be performed on a therapy table, looking at the big toe, joints of the feet, ankles, knees, hips, spine, and shoulders. Finding a joint that needs attention is actually a good thing – especially in someone who is already fast. That simply means that with some joint distraction, manual therapy, and a solid strength program, the athlete should see some major improvements.

After as solid assessment, a coach can then take a very individual approach. With a solid assessment a coach should be able to individualize:

  • Mobility plan
  • Warm up plan
  • Speed plan
  • Strength plan
  • Recovery plan

If possible, I would recommend an individual approach to nutrition and even supplementation. The keys are finding every area that affects performance and improving each of those areas a little bit at a time. When you improve each of those areas incrementally, you can add up to major improvements. All you have to do is look at Great Britain Cycling to see this approach works well.

We Need to Learn to Discuss Our Differences

This isn’t a knock on anyone. It’s an observation I have been making in the athletic performance realm. I get it, man. We are all passionate about what we do. We have to be filled with all the confidence in the world, or we will never acquire buy-in from our athletes. However, when we meet up with other successful coaches, we need to put our pride aside in the name of progress. This is a tough one even for me. Heck – especially for me!

In Jamaica, we met up with three successful sprint coaches. One of those coaches was even a two-time Olympian (one Summer Olympics running the 200m and one Winter Olympics on the Jamaican bobsled Team). Yes, I said a Jamaican bobsledder. I met a real life Jamaican bobsledder, Xavier Brown. Besides hanging with my main man, Brave, meeting Xavier was the highlight of my trip. Of course, we had Coach Justin Kavanaugh, a very successful speed coach from America. Coach Kav has worked with multiple track and field Olympians, NFL football players, and professional athletes from multiple other sports.

I believe they learned a lot from each other, but there were times when they disagreed in a way that wasn’t productive. In their defense, I totally get it. It happens all the time in the weightlifting world. Most of my followers have witnessed the epic battles between Coach Don McCauley and Coach Sean Waxman. Was anything ever accomplished by either coach? Probably not!

When coaches disagree, there is an opportunity for the industry to benefit. If the two coaches could sit down and discuss their differing opinions, then magic could happen. Here are my thoughts. USA with 327.2 million people is 116 times larger in population than Jamaica with 2.89 million. Yet Jamaica has dominated sprinting in the last three Olympics. I know that Coach Kav has produced amazing results for athletes, so he has a lot to teach.

I would have enjoyed watching the different coaches sit down together to discuss their differing programs. Here’s the format that I would like to see followed:

  • They’re each given the same athlete
  • Detailed joint issues
  • Stride length and stride rates
  • Mechanical flaws
  • 10m times, 30m times, 50m times, and of course top times
  • Number of steps to complete the 100m
  • Whatever else data they might need

Then I would like them to design a yearlong plan and defend that plan. They could ask questions regarding each other’s plans once all plans are delivered. There would need to be a commentator to keep a positive flow amongst the conversation. I would also like each of the coaches to outline two things they learned from each of the other coaches. Each coach should go into the debate with an attitude of learning.

Will this ever happen? I doubt it, but it’s a nice thought. It would be nice to see this format followed in all coaching arenas. This would be a great way to assure continued progress. Does anyone really enjoy the bantering we all see on social media everyday? I sure don’t.

#ProjectStrongerJamaica was yet another success. I look forward to watching Stronger Experts evolve in the world of strength and conditioning, and I can’t wait to see the impact we have on the world. The key is learning from each other, so we will need to figure that part out. It will all depend on our motivations as coaches. Is our motivation to become the best strength and conditioning coach we can possibly be – or is our motivation to prove everyone else wrong? Personally I want to see the progress that could come from such an amazing group. I believe that is the path Stronger Experts is on… one of progress.

Next time, I hope to see all of you in Jamaica with us.


These samplers of programs cover weightlifting, powerlifting, functional fitness, athletic performance, and more. With all these programs at your hands, coaches can handle any athlete who comes their way - and athletes can explore a variety of approaches.

CrossFit Controversy and Getting Jacked with Ryan Fischer – The Barbell Life 284

Ryan Fischer has a life that could be made into a movie.

He’s gone from being a BMX racer as a kid to training for bob sled and skeleton racing to becoming a superstar CrossFit athlete.

He went from homelessness to a thriving athletic career to now doing even better as a box owner and entrepreneur.

And of course many people remember Ryan from the infamous “no rep” controversy from a few years ago. You’ve got to hear his story… and you get to hear it today.

Oh – and did I mention we talk about how to get jacked? Because Ryan’s all about that too.


The latest and greatest methods from Travis Mash as he continues to innovate Mash Mafia programming.

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Super Total

Garage Gym Warrior - Functional Fitness - Strength and Conditioning


  • The real story behind the “no rep” controversy
  • High Intensity Interval Bodybuilding
  • How an unpleasant family environment led to his pursuit of greatness
  • Going from being homeless to being a successful entrepreneur
  • Dealing with knee problems
  • and more…


Champion powerlifter and world-class weightlifting coach Travis Mash shares his powerful neural activation technique - proven to instantly increase your strength as well as lead to more long-term gains.

Grab the FREE ebook today to ramp up your strength, athleticism, and muscle gains.