Category Archives for "Athletic Performance"

NSCA Coach of the Year Jason Spray – The Barbell Life 238

“A little puking never hurt anybody.”

That’s what Jason Spray said as we were talking about mental toughness. Sure, he doesn’t run kids until they’re sick – but as I share in this one, sometimes I think that’s what some kids need.

Jason Spray is one of those coaches who can not only motivate and drive athletes, but he’s got the knowledge and experience to really get results. In fact, that’s why he was recognized as one of the NSCA Coaches of the Year.

We talk about training, we talk about safety, we talk about the realities of coaching in a high school environment… and we talk about the crucial career advice Jason has for aspiring strength coaches.


The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...


  • Preparing an athlete not only for the game… but also for practice
  • Mental toughness on the field
  • When to stop squatting heavy
  • The most important thing coaches can do to advance their careers
  • The movements he loves and how he organizes training
  • and more…

Kelly Starrett of MobilityWOD – The Barbell Life 237

When anyone in the CrossFit world thinks about mobility, one name comes up first.

And Kelly Starrett joins us today to drop some wisdom.

Too often you don’t get answers straight from the horse’s mouth, but you only have opinions that have been formed by picking up pieces of information here and there.

So it was great to talk to Kelly today about all sorts of issues from knee valgus to elbow overextension to spinal flexion and more. Get ready for a dose of truth.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

Work Harder. Train Longer. Prevent Injury.

Prevent injury, reduce pain and maintain joint health with Travis's specific corrections for your individual muscular imbalances.


  • The real deal on knee wobble in the squat
  • Spinal flexion – good or bad?
  • How to keep quad mass after surgery
  • Unilateral split squats working better than bilateral?
  • Protocols for strengthening lifters who are very elastic
  • and more…

Where Coaches Get in Trouble

Ever since I posted the video on Twitter of the young athlete performing a clean with terrible technique, I feel that most of my attention has been drawn to the high school strength coaching world.

But this article is about all coaches in the strength world: high school, collegiate, CrossFit, weightlifting, powerlifting, etc.

I want to teach these coaches how to stay off the CCR… the crappy coaching radar.

A lot of coaches possess all the skills necessary to stay off of the CCR, but they swerve out of their lanes. Suddenly they are directly in the bullseye of the CCR.

Here’s how to stay out of CCR trouble.


Look, no one loves Olympic weightlifting more than me. But just because you go to a Saturday clinic and someone tells you that Olympic weightlifting is a great way to get athletes ready for their sport doesn’t mean that you start teaching the snatch and clean and jerk come Monday. You have to know how to teach the lifts. Personally I think teaching the snatch and clean and jerk isn’t that hard, but that’s because I have years and years of experience.

Teaching the lifts

If you are really good at teaching the squat, press, and deadlift, I suggest sticking to those movements. Most athletes are so raw that anything will prove to be monumental in their development. Whatever you teach, you need to be 100% proficient in teaching that movement.

Athletes will benefit in a big way from squats, benches, and deadlifts with a few simple plyometrics and accessory movements thrown in. However, poorly taught cleans and snatches will not only yield poor results, but now you have put your athletes in danger. I’m sure that’s the opposite plan that most coaches intended, but those are the results nonetheless. I suggest getting really good at two to three movements first, and then slowly add one or two movements to your toolbox each year.

Could you give us your input?

We're hoping to create a paid video seminar series on technique for the main lifts. We want this to be an awesome resource - so we want to know what YOU think it should include.


You see this all the time. Old school coaches love to teach athletes how to work hard, and I agree that good old-fashioned hard work is something everyone needs to learn. But whatever you do, it needs to be done safely.

Some coaches see a program with 5 x 5 at 75% on the back squat. Then they think if 5 x 5 at 75% is good, then 10 x 5 must be better. You know… because if our rival high school is doing 5 x 5, then we will work harder than them with 10 x 5. Sounds awesome! Right?

Wrong! Now you’ve placed the volume into a dangerous level.

A good place for coaches to reference regarding volume is Prilepin’s Chart:

As long as you stick to these parameters, you will be pretty safe. Based on this chart, 50 repetitions at 75% intensity would obviously be more than double the maximum suggested volume. This chart was produced back in 1974 after looking through the numbers of hundreds of top-level athletes in the old Soviet Union. It has stood the test of time, so you can trust it as a great foundation.


Coaches really need to be able to answer the why to whatever you are prescribing. This one rule will keep you out of trouble. If you don’t know the why to your program and every exercise prescribed within the program, stop reading this and go figure that out. If I can’t explain why a movement is in a program, I drop it.

If you find yourself getting mad or offended when athletes ask you questions about your program, that’s probably a sign you are feeling insecure about your program. If this is you, change things right now. You should invite kids to ask. There is no better time to explain the benefits, connect with your athletes, and to get the buy-in that we are all looking for.

Connecting with your athletes and getting buy-in is more important than your program itself. If you can connect with your athletes, you can create real change within their lives. If an athlete believes that something will work, it will work. If they don’t, it won’t. That’s just a fact.

One last point about this issue is that within time constraints placed on you in the school system, none of us have time for an exercise that is of no value. This is another reason to know your why for each and every exercise.


Before you design any workout, you need to ask yourself a few basic questions:

  • How many people will I be coaching per class?
  • What equipment do I have readily available?
  • How much time do I have per class?
  • What is the main goal I am hoping to accomplish?

A version of Coach Joe Kenn’s Tier System would work nicely here. For example you could front squat, box jump, and plank for the first set of exercises. Then you could finish up with lunges, lateral step-ups, and a carry for the next set and be done. This would take forty to fifty minutes at the most.

What happens if a few people aren’t ready for the front squat? That’s easy. You group those folks together, and they’re doing kettlebell goblet squats, box jumps, and a plank. You have to know your area and your athletes.


This is my biggest pet peeve and the number one mistake I hope to change. We’ve all seen a high school coach write a workout of the day on the board, explain it a bit, and then walk out of the room until the end of class.

If this is you, you need to change things right now. You are putting your students at risk. You are putting their very lives at risk. You and the school need to be held liable.

Do I sound upset? If so, well… I am. I have children, and I want them to be as safe as possible when they are away from me. I need to be able to trust the adults that are supposedly teaching them at school. If you don’t want to do the job, then don’t. You should quit if you don’t want to do it. If you are in a public school just collecting a check, you need to reevaluate your priorities. You might not like your students, but they are someone’s children.

Real coaching means you are coaching every repetition of every set. Don’t tell me your athletes lift perfectly. I have the best weightlifters in the country, and they still need direction each and every day. Don’t tell me that your 16-year-old boy is performing a clean perfectly on every repetition. Heck – when they perform a repetition perfectly, that’s the perfect time to coach them. That’s when you tell them to remember exactly what they just did, so they can repeat it.

If you want your athletes to improve and more importantly to be safe, you have to be present. I’m not just talking about being in the room. I’ve watched coaches prop their feet up on a desk and read a magazine. I am talking about being attentive to what’s going on.


This is one of the most common mistakes. Coaches get so caught up in big numbers that they let movement go right out the door. You will see bench presses bouncing off the chest, high squats, and crazy cleans like I posted a few days ago. Why? For what? Just so the coach can tell their friends and athletic directors that their guys are getting strong. It’s crap, man! Learn to coach so you can actually get someone strong in a way that will translate to them being a better athlete. The best way to do that is focus on perfect movement.

If I take a guy with less than perfect movement and improve his movement significantly, I have made him a better athlete whether I got them stronger or not. On the other hand, if their squat goes up while movement quality goes down – congratulations, you just created a worse athlete. This is why I am excited about creating some basic standards for movements and teaching these standards to coaches all over the country. I want to emphasize functional movement patterns over increases in strength. Sound crazy coming from a strength guy? It shouldn’t because a functional movement will always be the strongest movement.


If you're local to our gym in North Carolina, I am teaching a free strength and conditioning seminar on January 12 entitled Jump Higher and Sprint Faster from Work in the Weight Room.


Keep it simple! There is no reason to get fancy, guys. If you’re getting results from basic movements and programming, then keep it basic. Here’s another rule that will never steer you wrong: Get the most out of the least!

If you are getting results from a basic barbell squat, there is no reason to add bands or chains. If linear periodization is getting the job done, then don’t worry about conjugate. Keep it simple and get the most out of the least.

This is a lesson I learned a few years ago. I swear there is a paradigm shift that all strength coaches go through. We start out keeping it simple, focusing on good movement, and getting a bit stronger. Then we start reading all these fancy books and articles. The next thing you know our programs look like something you might find on an engineer’s desk at N.A.S.A.

Then someone (such as Coach Kenn or Coach Dan John) reminds us to slow our rolls and keep it simple. Then we start simplifying things, and we realize that results come much quicker with a simpler approach. This goes for all levels – not just high school.

The simplest workout I ever wrote brought the most gains. I wrote a basic four-days-per-week workout with high frequency and high intensity for Cade Carney to get ready for his freshman year at Wake Forest University.

Here’s an example of what it looked like:

Day 1

Back Squat (with belt) – 1RM (paused 2 sec), then -15% for 2 x 3 (not paused)
superset with 36″ Box Depth Jumps and Touch for Height – 3 x 5
Clean EMOMs – Start at 70% for 8 x 1 rep, working up heavy
Bench Press – 1RM (paused 2 sec), then -15% for 2 x 3 not paused (last set is 3+)
Dips – 3 x submaximal reps
superset with KB Bat Wing Rows – 4 x 8

Day 2

Front Squat (with belt) – 1RM (paused 7 sec at a 8 RPE)
Complex: High Hang Clean + Low Hang Clean – 1RM (8 RPE)
Push Presses – 1RM, then -15% for 2 x 3 (last set is 3+)
Glute Ham Raises (eccentric slower than concentric) – 4 x 6 weighted
KB Staggered (one OH and one to the side) Carries – 4 x 20 yd each way

Day 3

OH Squat – 1RM (2 sec pause in bottom), then -15% for 3
Complex: Clean Pull + Clean – 1RM
Bench Press (pause all reps, add mini bands) – 8 x 3, start at 40% + bands, working up heavy but no misses
Deadlift Max Effort – 1RM from 4″ deficit
Chest to Bar Pullups – 3 x submaximal reps
superset with KB Swings – 3 x 12 reps

Day 4

Warm Up with OH Squat Variations – work up to 70% for 3 reps with 1st rep paused 5 sec
Front Squat (with belt) – 2RM
Hang Snatch – 3RM
Strict Presses – 1RM, then -15% for 3

See how simple it was? We used lots of repetition maximums because he was fresh out of football season. We agreed to stop one or two sets before potential failure unless I gave him the green light.

This simple program worked like a charm. His squat went up by over 70 pounds, bench press by over 50 pounds, and clean by over 70 pounds. Sounds crazy I know, but he was weak when he first started after a long season of football. His team actually won the state playoffs, so he was really beat down. Needless to say, he made a huge impact at Wake Forest to the point that all of his coaches have been by our gym to check us out. As a strength coach, there is no bigger compliment than to send a guy or gal to college only to have their new strength coach commend your work.


I am committed to making the weight room in high schools all across America a safer and more productive place for student athletes. You might think that I am crazy, but there is an army of us preparing for this battle. It’s not just me. I am developing a database of folks who want to help out. I just spent an hour talking with Coach Sean Waxman last night, and he’s fired up as well. If you get the two of us loudmouths together, things will change just to shut us up.

Could you give us your input?

We're hoping to create a paid video seminar series on technique for the main lifts. We want this to be an awesome resource - so we want to know what YOU think it should include.

The Path to Improving High School Strength Coaching

A few days ago I posted a video on Twitter of a high school athlete performing a clean. At least it was their version of a clean.

The video and my statement sparked a 500,000-view discussion that I believe might have started a movement. Strength coaches from around the country chimed in with their thoughts and suggestions. People such as Kelly Starrett and Zach Even-Esh voiced their concerns, and we all agreed that the responsibility falls on us to correct this issue.

Real Danger

Before I get into how we can change, I want to paint a picture showing the real need for change. The only argument against having certified and experienced strength coaches in our high schools was that of money – that high schools couldn’t afford their history teachers, books, and/or materials, so they aren’t going to fork over the money for a position like a high school strength coach.

So what do I think about that issue? I get it. Money is tight. But think about it this way. The weight room can be the most dangerous room in any school. When proper movement is taught under the watchful eye of a competent coach, the injury rate is somewhere around 3.3 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. This number is lower than most all other activities. For example soccer experiences about 35 injuries per 1,000 contact hours. However, these numbers are thrown out the window when a coach isn’t competent, or worse isn’t even watching the class. Sounds crazy, but I have witnessed multiple high school weight rooms with a missing coach.

When a coach isn’t competent or even present, the weight room can be a death trap. The bench press is the most dangerous movement in the weight room – especially when performed without a spotter. I’ve watched heavy weights dropped from arm’s length onto chests, throats, and even heads. Anyone who has ever lifted weights has probably been pinned under a bench press due to exhaustion. If you have a trained spotter, that’s not a problem. Lifting to failure is one of the quickest ways to add muscle size (hypertrophy). However, people have died by getting pinned under a heavy barbell in the bench press.

Bad technique in any movement can cause injury. But during a squatting or pulling movement (examples: back squat, deadlift, and clean), the spine and pelvis are put at risk. Shoulder and knee injuries are horrible, but spinal injuries can affect everyday activities for the remainder of the athlete’s life. Are we really willing to put our youth at risk of a major injury due to lack of funds? If that’s the case, I recommend not offering weight training at all in schools. I want my children to understand history as much as any parent, but I’d rather their history knowledge take a bit of a hit versus risking their lives or their long-term health.


There’s something else school boards and the powers that be are forgetting.

“There is substantial evidence that physical activity can help improve academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores.” (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “The Association Between School-Based Physical Activity, Including Physical Education, and Academic Performance”). Here’s a link to a report about the combined studies on this subject.

If the priority were academic performance and safety, all the data would point towards an effort to improve the circumstances within our high schools and middle schools. I’m not going to sit here and write about all the problems within our schools. That’s not who I am. I get it! There are some major challenges, and I agree if there isn’t any money, you can’t pull dollars out of the air.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Performance Standards

First, let’s standardize the performance of movements. I know that there are several techniques for movements such as cleans, squats, benches, and deadlifts – and I am not trying to make coaches teach a certain way. However, there can be standards set that all experts would agree on. For example:

  • Clean – neutral spine (flat back without excessive hyperextension or flexion), shoulders have to stay above the hips, elbows can’t touch the knees (this helps to avoid broken wrists), and knees stay aligned with the first two toes.
  • Squats – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. It’s hard to standardize depth because there’s some pretty good evidence correlating half squats with increases in speed and vertical leap due to the specificity in joint angles. However, I suggest that most squats be performed below parallel in a controlled manner, especially during the first two years of strength training.
  • Deadlifts – neutral spine, shoulders remain above hips at all times, and knees stay aligned with the first two toes. For all of you powerlifters who like to round your thoracic spine, remember these are high school athletes.

Once you’ve standardized the movements, all coaches should take a course and pass a test. That way all coaches in a high school setting will at least have seen proper movement patterns. Then they can be held liable if they choose to deviate from the standards. The video within my tweet that went viral wouldn’t have passed any of these standards.

2. Programming Standards

The next step is to standardize programming protocols. There are a lot of amazing experts out there who would love to come together on producing these protocols (such as Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman). A four person team like this would rock because you have two-time NSCA Coach of the Year Joe Kenn, DPT Kelly Starrett coming at things from a functional movement approach, Doctor Andy Galpin who heads up a lot of the latest research in the industry, and Coach Sean Waxman who is one of the best weightlifting coaches in the country. When these dynamics come together, something beautiful is formed. I just want to avoid things like 10 x 10 at 70% in the clean. This could help avoid crazy workouts that some coach thought of on New Year’s Eve that puts 5 athletes in the ER due to rhabdomyolysis.

A group like this could even develop basic plans that an inexperienced coach could follow. In middle school and high school, basics work the best anyways. Standardized movements and programming leads me to my next suggestion.

Six of the Greatest Minds in Strength & Conditioning in One Book


Some of the greatest coaches in the industry have collaborated with the Mash Mafia to bring you a sampler of programs that packs a punch. Take a peek inside the minds of these experts so that you can take your knowledge and performance to a new level.

3. Qualify the Unqualified Coach

If we have standardized movements and standardized programming, now we are set to prepare all coaches. If we can’t afford to hire certified and experienced strength and conditioning coaches, the next best thing is to prepare the coaches that we have.

I am a firm believe that most coaches in a high school care about the students. They wouldn’t hurt anyone on purpose. They simply don’t know any better. Heck, if I started coaching a high school football team tomorrow, I would do a terrible job. I wouldn’t do a terrible job because of my dislike for the athletes. I simply wouldn’t be prepared for the job.

I’d like to see a solid curriculum developed that would teach these coaches the movement standards and the programming protocols. The curriculum should also contain the basics of biomechanics, anatomy, and physiology. There should be a testing procedure proving the coach’s proficiency. After that, I recommend one more thing – which brings me to my next point.

4. Coaching Mentorship Network

I am a good coach because of my network. I’ve learned from amazing coaches: Coach Joe Kenn, Coach Sean Waxman, Louie Simmons, Coach Don McCauley, and Coach Dragomir Cioroslan to name a few. My time spent with these coaches helped to mold me into the coach I am today. If we could provide these coaches with a mentor to answer questions and give suggestions, we could be assured that coaches wouldn’t slip back into their old ways. Mentors would be for accountability as well as continued growth.

Who becomes a mentor? I am sure that several of you are asking that very question. The first thing to do is find a group of amazing coaches to form a board. An example of a high-powered board would be people my suggestions above: Coach Joe Kenn, Kelly Starrett, Andy Galpin, and Coach Sean Waxman. This board could develop the standardized movements and programming protocols, as well as give their seal of approval for potential mentors. Even if mentors required a monthly fee like $350-500 per month, that’s still a lot cheaper than hiring a strength coach for $40,000 per year.

5. Certifying Clinic

If we could keep the other suggestions and top it all off with a clinic, I think that we could be assured the conditions within high school weight rooms would at least improve. Just like USA Weightlifting’s Level I Certification, we could recruit proven and experienced coaches to teach other coaches based on the developed standards. Personally I like the USA Weightlifting Level I because it teaches the progressions of the competition lifts as well as the main accessory movements. That also guarantees a qualified coach gets to witness the competency of the potential coach’s ability to teach the movements.

The USAW Level I also teaches the basics of programming and gives examples of well thought-out programming. We could start by requiring the USA Weightlifting Level I. I like that curriculum over the NSCA CSCS simply because of the practicality of the certification. The potential coaches are actually taught to teach the lifts, and they have to demonstrate their competency in teaching the movements. The CSCS does an incredible job of teaching the science, but the USAW Level I is more practical. To solve the problem in our schools, we need the practical.

Personally, I would like to see USA Weightlifting get together with the National High School Strength Coaches Association, make a few tweaks to the USAW Level I to make it more strength and conditioning based, and then boom you would have a perfect certification for high school strength coaches. Let’s just get started! I just want to see change taking place.

The Beginning

Of course there are other things that I would like to see happen like:

  • A certified strength and conditioning coach in every middle school and high school.
  • P.E. Coaches doubling as certified strength and conditioning coaches
  • Fundraising events to help handle the costs

However, I know that schools are strapped for cash. I know that our teachers are underpaid. I care more about academics than sports in my own family, so I get it. I hope these suggestions will help spark some real change that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. I think these suggestions could be implemented quickly.

Now if some of you don’t like these ideas or have better ones, I want to hear them. If this article simply gets people talking, then it has done its job. Let’s start the discussion, ladies and gentlemen. Let’s teach our kids to be strong, but let’s keep them safe.

Five Most Important Movements for Athletic Performance

I have come up with these movements based on the science available and my experience. I love science as much as the next person – but unless your research contains a control group with thousands of people over the course of twenty years or more, then I have a little more and little better data than you. There isn’t a block of programming I have used in the past two decades where I haven’t tracked the results. If you are a new strength coach, I recommend tracking results from day one, making sure to track such items as:

  • Total volume
  • Average intensity
  • Average increases in maximums
  • Injury rate
  • Athletic measurements vertical leap, broad jump, and 20/40 yd dash

There are a lot more, but these five categories will get you started. Based on my findings and my experience, here are the five movements I would consider the staples for any good athletic performance program:

  • Clean (and all variations)
  • Squat (and all variations)
  • Deadlift (and all variations)
  • Push Press (and all variations)
  • Carries (and all variations)

Each of these movements have variations which are great for attacking weaknesses, avoiding the law of accommodation, and keeping things fun. That last one is something a lot of coaches need to learn. You probably love the weight room naturally. Heck, that’s why we are strength coaches, but our job is to teach these athletes to love the weight room. One thing I can promise is that the modern athlete loves variation. With the world at their fingertips through their phones, we need variety to keep them engaged. Variety along with a naturally fun (yet safe) culture will keep the young folks coming back.

Clean (and variations)

The best way to express power in the gym is with the clean. The snatch is great for power as well, but if I had to choose, I am going with the clean. The clean prepares the body athletically in multiple different ways, such as: rate of force development, force absorption, mobility, kinesthetic awareness, core stability, and balance (to name a few). I prefer the clean versus the snatch mainly because of the higher load, leading to greater amounts of force absorption and core stability. However, someone could make a case for the snatch due to the higher velocities, greater mobility needs, and overall greater postural development.

Here’s a quick absolute power comparison:

Exercise Absolute Power (Watts)

Bench Press: 300
Back Squat: 1100
Deadlift: 1100
Snatch: 3000
Second Pull: 5500
Clean: 2950
Second Pull: 5500
Jerk: 5400

Now are these comparisons absolutely correct? No, because you could increase absolute power outputs in movements like the squat and deadlift by going lighter, or with different variations like squat jumps. However, I like to go with the clean because of the greater bang for your training buck. Force absorption is my favorite, and many of you have heard me talk about it. Here’s the thing. If you can clean 400 pounds, you can sure take on a block or deliver a bigger blow to your opponent. My star football player, Cade Carney (starting running back at Wake Forest University), cleans over 400 pounds – and you can see it when he runs the ball. When he runs into someone, he doesn’t go backward.

Tommy Bohanon, starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, cleans over 450 pounds. I love watching him play. He does everything correctly – he sticks his blocks, catches the football, and runs the ball north and south for positive yards when given the chance. When I watch football, I watch my guys more than the whole game. Tommy doesn’t just make blocks. He crushes his opponents. Now I agree it’s more than one trait that allows him to dominate his opponents: genetics, his size, and skills acquired. However, I promise a 450-pound clean helps.


Travis Mash shows you all the details and reasoning behind the recent off-season program for Tommy Bohanon (starting fullback for the Jacksonville Jaguars)

Then you can use these principles to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

Based on the second pull producing the most power, there are several variations which work well:

  • Hang Clean
  • Hang Power Clean
  • Clean from Blocks
  • Power Clean from Blocks
  • No Hook Grip
  • Pause in the Catch
  • Slow First Pull to Explosive Second Pull

Hang cleans not only focus on the power output of the second pull, but they are more specific to the vertical leap with a counter movement. If you don’t know what the S.A.I.D. Principle is, you need to. “Specific adaptation to imposed demands” essentially means the body will specifically adapt to the types of demands placed on it. (National Academy of Sports Medicine)

Once an athlete has trained for two years, they will hopefully have developed some solid base levels of strength such as: max squat = 1.5 x bodyweight, and max deadlift = 1.75 times x bodyweight.

After that, specificity should become a major key of your programming. Cleans from blocks are better for starting strength in relation to sprinting. Clean from blocks are specific in regard to starting from a dead stop and the joint angles required. The pauses in the catch are great for force absorption. Once again, pauses in the catch during power cleans are more specific to most athletes. I want you to think about taking on a block in football, running into someone in soccer or basketball, or setting up a throw in wrestling. You normally won’t be in a full squat when performing these sport specific movements. Specifically, you will be in a position above parallel – much like a power clean.

The no hook is to functionally strengthen your grip, but more importantly to improve timing. Too many people spend too much time at the top. If you over pull without a hook grip, you will lose the bar out of your hands. No hook teaches you or your athlete to extend the hips, and then immediately begin the pull under the bar. A drill is always a better way of teaching versus any kind of verbal instruction.

Squat (and variations)

I love cleans as much as the next coach. Heck, I am a three-time Team USA Head Coach for USA Weightlifting. However, squats are the king of athletic performance. When it comes to vertical leap and 40-yard dash, the squat is more directly related to improvements than cleans. Coach Bryan Mann was the first person to open my eyes to that data. For specificity reasons, I recommend paying close attention to all qualities of strength:

  • Absolute Strength (0.3m/s and slower)
  • Accelerative Strength (0.75 to 0.5 m/s)
  • Strength Speed (1.0 to 0.75 m/s)
  • Speed Strength (1.3 to 1.0 m/s)
  • Starting Strength (anything faster than 1.3 m/s)

You can read more about this and these qualities in my eBook Bar Speed. Along with my co-author, Coach Spencer Arnold, we break down the mystery of velocity-based training.


Mash Elite's Guide to Velocity-Based Training

By measuring bar speed (simple to do with your smartphone), you can guarantee each and every training session is as effective and safe as possible.

Some of my favorite variations are:

  • Paused squats
  • Eccentric based
  • Isometric based
  • Half squats
  • Jump squats
  • Front squats

Paused squats, which can also be lumped into isometric squats, are great for stability – especially at the exact angles of the pause. You can add some deep breaths for improvements in mobility along with stability. Another benefit of the pause is to limit the load due to the increase in difficulty. Front squats are the best way to strengthen the spinal extensors because the weight is in front of the body, maximally lengthening the spinal flexor moment. You could say all of these variations are a form of the conjugate method, which is simply varying the training stimulus to avoid the law of accommodation (fancy phrase for the dreaded plateau).

Deadlifts (and variations)

Deadlifts are arguably just as specific as squats. Some studies show greater gains in athletic performance from deadlifts (especially trap bar deadlifts). I also like deadlifts for their ability to (as Dan John calls it) “bulletproof the athlete.” Deadlifts develop the posterior chain of the body from the neck to the ankles. You’ll never see a great deadlifter without a massive neck/traps and back. Ed Coan immediately comes to mind. All of this comes in handy on the football field or wrestling mat.

I love to use the following variations for the deadlift:

  • Off blocks – for the obvious specificity of joint angle for sprints, jumping, and a strong athletic position.
  • Pauses anywhere during the pull – to strengthen any potential kink in the armor.
  • Velocity based – for the same reasons listed in the squat section.
  • RDLs – to strengthen the hamstrings and glutes a bit more due to the lengthening of the muscles under load.
  • Suitcase deadlifts – for addressing or preventing asymmetries. We normally use a twp to four inch deficit along with a farmer’s walk apparatus.

Push Press (and variations)

Without a doubt, the push press is the best upper body exercise because it begins with the lower body – just like any great athletic upper body movement, such as a punch, javelin throw, shot put throw, or pass block. (I’m not saying the bench press is a bad thing. I’m just saying it doesn’t make my top five.) The push press is the perfect movement in the gym to develop explosive upper body strength.

The only variations I might use are simply using different implements like dumbbells, kettlebells, or an axle bar. The only reasons I would use different implements are for symmetry, stability, and to avoid accommodation. Dumbbells are great for young athletes to develop stability.

Carries (and variations)

Carries should be a constant with any good program. When it comes to the stability of the spine and hips while the body is upright, which is 95% of the time in most sports, nothing is better than carries. There are two people who have greatly influenced me who are colossal proponents for carries: Dr. Stuart McGill and Coach Dan John.

Dr. McGill brings up a point I had never heard of. The unilateral farmer’s walk has been shown to improve an athlete’s ability to change direction because they are preparing each side to absorb massive amounts of force when they pick up each leg. This movement is also great for avoiding back pain by properly working the quadratus lumborum. The QL lifts the hips up and down from side to side, so asymmetrical work is the best way to strengthen and properly work the QL.

We use lot of variations with carries:

  • Bilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Unilateral Farmer’s Walk
  • Zercher Carries
  • Barbell or Axle Bar Overhead Carries
  • Dumbbell or Kettlebell Overhead Carries
  • Kettlebell or Dumbbell Staggered Carries

Sample Program

Here’s a sample week of programming to show a way I would possibly program these movements:

Strength Phase
Day 1

Clean Complex – Clean + 2 Front Squats: Max (no misses)
Back Squat – 5 x 5 at 78%
superset with
Prisoner Squat Jump + Knee to Chest – 5 x 5
Deadlifts (velocity based) – 75% straight weight (or 60% straight weight and 20% bands/chains) for 8 x 2 with 60-90 sec rest, velocity goal 0.75 m/s or faster
Wide Grip Bench Press – 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec)

Day 2

Hang Power Clean – 3RM (8-9 RPE, no misses)
Push Presses – 5 x 5 at 78%
Closegrip Axle Bar Decline Presses with 100lb of chains – 5RM, then -15% for 3 x 5 (last set is 5+)
Barbell Rows (paused 2 sec on sternum) – 4 x 5
DB Fat Grip Overhead Walks – 3 x 20 yd forward and backward

Day 3

Clean (from blocks) – 3RM
Back Squat Box Squats (add weight to the last two sets if the speed is there) – 50% Bar Weight + 20% Bands or Chains for 6 x 3 (60-90 sec between sets, velocity goal 0.8 m/s)
superset with
Seated Box Jumps to 40″ Box to Depth Jump for Height – 6 x 3
Suitcase Deadlifts (from 4″ deficit) – 3 x 5 each side (stay at 7-8 RPE)
Leg Curls (Band, DB, or Machine) – 4 x 10

Day 4

Clean Complex: Pull + Clean + Front Squat: Max
Front Squat – 3RM (first rep paused 5 sec) 8 RPE
Weighted Dips or Nosebreakers – 4 x 8
Pull-ups – 4 x submaximal reps


In this workout, I included all the movements I recommended in this article, along with several of their variations. I also included some accessory movements I like to use simply as a reference. Rows, dips, and pull-ups are accessory movements that almost everyone should use (unless they have mobility issues that put them at risk). I normally include some form of leg curl mainly for injury prevention. Knee extension is so common in athletic performance workouts that imbalances can form rather quickly. All I have is anecdotal evidence, but I have witnessed a simple leg curl alleviate 80% of all knee pain.

The key for an effective athletic performance workout is to keep things simple. I like to use rep maxes a bit more than percentages just because athletic performance classes are normally taught in bigger groups with a time cap. If you start throwing lots of percentages at teenagers, you will add several minutes of simple math to the workout. Not to mention, they’ll often mess up the percentage.

Keep it simple and do your job as a coach. When the bar speed starts to slow down, cut them off. If you are blessed to have velocity instruments, set those numbers in stone to avoid potential injuries in the weight room. An experienced coach is just as good as GymAware in most cases. We know when the bar is slowing down.

Here’s the last bit of information I want to leave you with. You should know the why behind each and every exercise you prescribe. If you don’t, either cut the movement or find out the why. If an athlete questions your program or exercise selection, take it as a chance to teach. If you get offended, I take it as you not being able to defend your program. That’s a real lack of knowledge in my opinion.

I am a teacher. A good coach is a great teacher. I value every opportunity to teach my athletes. You should too.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

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Integrated Periodization with Dr. Scott Howell – The Barbell Life 234

I think this is the first podcast guest we’ve had who grew up in my hometown. He used to workout in the very first gym I ever trained at back when I was just a kid.

And Scott Howell has had an inspiring life. He had a rocky start, but he came back to get an incredible education. Now he writes and studies and thinks all day about periodization.

Specifically, Scott talks with us about a plan that fits everything together – nutrition, training, and mindset. This guy is just smart.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2019...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World


  • Why the best weightlifters will not make the Olympics
  • Arguing about periodization on the internet
  • Meeting and learning from a strength legend
  • His rocky start in life and his inspirational rise
  • The complicated rules of the Olympics
  • and more…
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