Category Archives for "Athletic Performance"

A Reminder Why We Coach

Sometimes in life I find myself in what feels like a hamster wheel.

I get up, write a bit, answer emails, train, coach, hang with my family, and go to bed. This goes on day after day, and week after week. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I wonder if I am really making a difference. If I am just collecting a paycheck, there are easier ways.

I coach because I want to help young men and women reach their goals. I want to see them become better humans, and I want to see them living a healthier lifestyle after they leave me as a coach. If this isn’t happening, I’m going to open a different business or just get a job.


This morning, I was training at one of my original gyms, Jack King’s Gym in Winston-Salem, NC. Number one, I love this gym because everyone leaves me alone to crush my grind, and it’s the most hardcore gym in America. You know – the kind of place that’s dirty with chalk-filled air. Man, I love it!

Toward the end of my grind, in walked one of my former athletes, Grayson Alberty. I didn’t even recognize him. Now he is tall, lean, and muscular. He also runs his father’s plumbing business, and he’s only 19 years old. He trained with me about six years ago. If I remember right, he was having a tough time in school, so he would come hang out with me right after school. He was into training for a bit, but then – like many people – he stopped coming. I remember being pretty sad because I invested a lot into this kid and had wanted to see his life improve.

Some coaches can just shrug it off when an athlete leaves. I am not wired that way. I connect very personally with each and every athlete. That’s why I am a good coach, but it’s also why I feel crushed when they stop.


As a coach, I have a few goals with each of my athletes.

  • I want to help them reach whatever goals they have on their hearts. (Notice I said ‘their’ and not ‘their parents’ goals.)
  • I want to be a catalyst for the athletes becoming better human beings. I want them to be exceptional spouses, fathers, mothers, business owners, doctors, and lawyers. (We have an exceptional record in this department.)
  • I want them to take the gift of fitness and continue it for the rest of their lives – while sharing it with the people they love.

That’s it! These are my goals for all of my athletes. It’s got to be about more than just their athletic development.


Sport coaches are important to athletes for sure. My high school football coach was very inspirational in my life. Like most high school coaches, he also doubled as the strength coach. It was in the weight room we developed our relationship. In college I was way closer with my strength and conditioning coach, Coach Mike Kent, than any other coach.

As strength and conditioning coaches we have to keep this in mind. We will be with these athletes a bigger part of the year than their sport coach. We will also be with them in smaller groups, allowing us to form stronger bonds. Several of my athletes have thanked me at their senior banquets and senior games before their sport coach, which every time was a massive honor. However with honor comes great responsibility, or at least it should. Of course if you are a weightlifting or powerlifting coach, you will probably be even closer with your athletes. You are their strength coach and sport coach, and that’s a big responsibility.

Grayson is an example of planting a seed only to see the seed blossom years later. Our job is to plant as many seeds as possible, but ultimately it is up to the athlete to let the seed sprout and bloom. Today I got to see one of my seeds in full bloom, and it totally rejuvenated my desire to coach and help young people.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!


Everyone knows us for our first goal because we have helped several athletes reach their incredible goals like:

  • Tommy Bohanon to the NFL
  • Cade Carney to starting running back for Division I Wake Forest University
  • Landon Harris making the Division I High Point University basketball team (after not making the team during the prior two years)
  • Multiple World Team members to Team USA in weightlifting (including four in 2018: Hunter Elam, Nathan Damron, Jordan Cantrell, and Meredith Alwine)
  • Multiple Junior World Team members (with two sitting on the team right now)
  • Multiple Youth Pan Am Team members to Team USA in weightlifting (including three in 2018: Morgan McCullough, Ryan Grimsland, and Jared Flaming)
  • Morgan McCullough taking the gold medal at the 2018 Youth Pan Am championships

That’s awesome, and of course I am proud of all my athletes. However, I am just as proud of my athletes who have gone on to become incredible humans.

  • Adee Cazayoux is the CEO of Working Against Gravity – a multi-million dollar business that pretty much owns the nutrition world.
  • Jared Enderton is now a social media celebrity and the head weightlifting coach for Invictus Weightlifting.
  • Malcolm Moses-Hampton is a doctor in Chicago.
  • Michael Waters, former Penn State Wrestler, is now in the Special Forces.
  • Hayden Bowe is one of the founders of Hybrid Performance Method and Gym.
  • Greg Nuckols and his amazing wife, Lyndsey Nuckols, are the owners of Stronger by Science. They’ve been featured in Forbes Magazine.
  • Landon Harris, the same guy who made the basketball team for High Point University, is now a banker applying to MBA Schools. I actually wrote a recommendation for his Harvard application.


We have a big responsibility as strength and conditioning coaches. Our responsibilities go way past helping our athletes reach their goals. Our goal should never be to glamorize ourselves as coaches. We become popular by the results of our athletes, and by the recommendation of our athletes. Our legacy is our athletes. It’s what our athletes do in their sport, and throughout their lives. It’s in the information we share with the world.

Becoming a coach is much like becoming a pastor. Being a pastor is hard work. If you are contemplating going into the ministry, most pastors will tell you that if you feel in your heart that you can do anything else, you probably should. But if you can’t imagine a life where you’re not a pastor, then pursue it.

It’s the same with being a strength coach. Don’t do it for the money, and definitely don’t do it for the fame. Do it for the love of others. I have never written anything more true, and I hope all of you men and women out there considering becoming a coach will read this before making a decision.

Today was a great day seeing Grayson Alberty. It’s days like today that encourage me to push on. However, there are a lot of hard days you will have to endure as a strength coach. With all of this being said, the beautiful days are simply amazing, and I can’t imagine anything else outside of my family and my God bringing me so much joy.



Help us give these young ones the chance to succeed at athletics and at life.

The Most Common Technique Mistakes for the Main Lifts

Whether you are a strength and conditioning coach, CrossFit coach, Olympic weightlifting coach, or powerlifting coach, you must possess two crucial abilities – visually recognizing dysfunctional movement patterns and correcting those dysfunctional movement patterns.

A lot of coaches are good at recognizing dysfunctions. Simply pointing out a movement flaw is the easy part. The difficulty lies in properly fixing an athlete’s dysfunctions – and that’s what separates a good coach from a great one.

I hear way too many coaches say things like:

  • The bar drifted in front.
  • Your arms bent on the catch.
  • You pushed the bar out on the dip and drive.
  • Your butt came up too high in your squat.

Believe it or not, most athletes already know these issues. They need to know how to fix the issues – not simply to be reminded of them. That’s what this article is about.


Of course I can’t give you the fix to every mistake an athlete can make – it would take a series of books. However, I can give a few for each lift, and over time – in a series of these articles – I can help you start to understand dysfunctions and corrections.

This year, I am determined to make a change in the coaching world. I ended 2018 recognizing the need for change. All at once it was clear to me what I needed to do. I was tired of talking and complaining about the issues in coaching. I am now determined to make a difference – which will be the moral of the story for 2019 and the foreseeable future. It’s time to make a difference. If you’re a coach or an athlete, I want to provide you with tools to reach your goals.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

I’m going to start with the big six lifts I have so often written about:

  • Snatch
  • Clean
  • Jerk
  • Back squat
  • Bench press
  • Deadlift

I will write about other movements during this series – such as front squat, trap bar deadlifts, and push press – but the focus will be the big six for now.


MISTAKE: Hips push the bar out during bar-to-body contact

CAUSE: Pushing the bar out in front happens when the hips are pushed past vertical. This can be for two main reasons.

REASON #1 The bar drifts forward off the floor, leaving it in front of the body, and forcing the hips to reach for it to make contact.

VERBAL FIXES FOR #1: If the issue is the bar drifting away from the body off of the floor, here are some of the cues we use:

  • Chest up or to the crowd
  • Drive the feet through the floor
  • Sweep the bar in with the lats during the entire pull

The goal is to focus on using external cues versus internal cues. Internal cues are specific instructions which direct an athlete’s attention to a certain region of the body or a muscle group. External cues direct the athlete to an intended movement outcome or a direct shift in performance of a movement (example: push with legs versus thinking about pulling). External cues have been found to work quite a bit better than internal cues. I don’t think any weightlifter on earth is really thinking about internal or external rotation during the catch of a snatch.

DRILLS FOR #1: if the bar is drifting forward off of the floor:

  • Snatch or clean lift off from the floor just to the knees and pause at knees. Breaking the movement into sections makes it easier to focus on those specific sections. Isometrics are great for teaching the body proper movement patterns and strengthening the body in a particular position.
  • Use the Mac Board. We use the Mac Board (invented my Coach Don McCauley), which is a piece of plywood, designed to hang the athlete’s toes off the end – which teaches them to push through the middle of their foot. You can’t let the bar drift forward without getting pulled forward onto the toes. This will give the athlete visceral feedback or instinctual feedback much more effectively than any other kind of feedback.

Here’s a video:

REASON #2 Another reason the hips are pushed past vertical is there can be a misconception of what is really happening. To the blind eye, it looks like the top weightlifters are throwing their hips into the bar when in reality they are just standing up, sweeping the bar in, and upper-cutting the bar, causing a vertical lift.

VERBAL FIXES FOR #2: If the issue is pushing the hips past vertical during bar-to-body contact:

  • Stand up tall
  • Long legs
  • Keep the bar right up the shirt

DRILLS FOR #2: if the hips are pushing past vertical:

  • Power Position Cleans or Snatches teaching the athlete where the hips should be during contact.
  • Snatch or Clean from the floor pausing in the power position once again teaching the body where it should be during this phase of the movement.


MISTAKE: Hips landing behind bar during the catch phase

We are working on this one with a few of our athletes right now, so it’s fresh on my mind. If the hips are behind the bar, there is nothing to support the weight overhead. It would be like building a slanted wall to hold up a roof. That would be a bad idea, and so is this.

CAUSE: It’s just bad footwork really. For whatever reason, the athlete has established the wrong motor pattern for the split jerk. You can see it a lot of times during the warm-ups with long and slow splits, or extra-wide splits. The split is a very fast thing, with the back foot being driven down as the anchor. If the back foot goes out the back, you can guarantee the hips will follow.


  • Fast feet
  • Back foot down
  • Drive the bar vertical

If you don’t drive the bar vertical, it’s really hard to get into the correct position. This seems obvious, but too many athletes are solely focusing on the split – forgetting to drive the bar up.


  • Split cleans from blocks – I got this one from the man himself, Coach Sean Waxman. We set the athlete up toward the back of the platform, so they have visceral feedback regarding the back foot. They can’t throw the back foot out the back without going off of the platform. The drill teaches them proper footwork and needs to be performed frequently to ingrain the movement pattern into the athlete’s brain.
  • Press from split – Once again we are using isometrics to teach the body where it should be during the split and to strengthen that position. The key is keeping the hips under the bar, equal distribution of weight with the back and front foot, and back knee slightly bent but firm.
  • Here’s the press from the split position:

(If you want to see a case study on how Nathan Damron made some improvements to his jerk, read it here.)


Arguably, the back squat is the most functional movement on earth. Today I want to talk about a mistake I believe is easily preventable.

MISTAKE: The hips coming up and the chest dropping forward out of the bottom during the ascent

CAUSE: Once your hips fly up and the chest drops, it’s almost impossible to recover. It could be a strength issue, but it’s probably a movement pattern dysfunction.


  • Drive your chest or back into the bar – I use “or” because some people respond better to chest and some to back. Either way the key is to drive into the bar, activating the spinal extensor muscles, which are responsible for keeping your spine neutral and in position. This cue will also keep the hips closer to the shoulders, keeping a smaller spinal flexor moment, giving the spinal extensors less to overcome.
  • Feet through the floor – This cue works well only in conjunction with the previous cue. This cue gets the legs driving, while “drive your chest into the bar” keeps you in the right position.


  • Bottoms – This is where you descend to the bottom of the squat and then only rise four to six inches before returning to the bottom. Repeat for four to eight repetitions. This is a great way to practice the start while strengthening that position.
  • Pauses – Pause six inches out of the hole and hold it for three to five seconds. You can do this along with full squat repetitions or in conjunction with bottom squats.

Exercises to strengthen the ascent:

  • Goodmornings – These are great for strengthening spinal extensors and hips. The movement strengthens the hips in the proper movement patterns as well with the hips moving forward as the torso drives into the bar. We normally use three to five sets of five to ten repetitions. Make sure to start light and build the capacity of the back. We normally start around 25-28% of an athlete’s back squat. The back is a delicate spot in the beginning, but it has the ability to get incredibly strong over time.
  • Hyperextensions with a barbell – These work great (just like the goodmornings), but they are easier to recover from – making them perfect to use late in a training cycle. In hyperextensions the load increases as the muscle shortens. In goodmornings the load increases as the muscle lengthens, creating a greater degree of muscle damage. Goodmornings are great for hypertrophy and strength, but they are harder to recover from – leaving very little for the priority lifts.


Everyone wants to know what someone benches. My weightlifters get asked all the time, “What do ya bench?” That’s simply the way it is, so let’s get it stronger.

MISTAKE: Pushing the bar straight up or forward versus straight back.

CAUSE: Shoulder flexion demands are a big part of why you make or miss a bench press. Those demands increase the farther the barbell is away from the shoulder joint. Due to a shorter range of motion, an athlete will touch the bar lower on the chest because it’s the highest point. If you drive the bar correctly off the chest, you can decrease the shoulder flexion demands right away if you drive the barbell back toward the shoulder joint.


  • Drive back – This cue goes for the legs and arms. The legs drive back at the same time as the arms drive back.
  • Flare the elbows on the way up – The elbows have to flare to catch the barbell as it travels toward the shoulders.

Presses four to six inches off the chest – This is the best way to make sure you are driving the bar properly, practicing the rhythm between the arms and legs, and strengthening the position and movement.

Additional bench press notes:
Important aspects of the descent – The descent really sets up the ascent in the bench press. This isn’t a bench press article, but I will go over a few important points pertaining to the bench press.

  • First tuck the shoulders together and down, raising the chest to its highest point.
  • Either tuck the legs back behind the body or put them wide and in front of the body, so you can drive the bar back off the chest. Don’t put the feet directly under the knees, or you will probably drive the bar straight up.
  • Don’t tuck the elbows. Instead slide the elbows toward the hips – keeping the wrists, forearms, and elbows directly under the bar for a better launch off the chest.

Practice the pause – I don’t know why powerlifters touch-and-go on their repetitions when they have to pause in their competition. The timing in the pause is the magic of the bench press. The key is learning to explode back with the arms and legs at the same time, launching the bar back toward the shoulders.


Personally this is my favorite movement, and the one I think is the most functional. I believe we bend over to pick things up more often than we squat below parallel, but they’re both awesome movements for getting jacked.

MISTAKE: Hips flying up and bar drifting forward

A deadlift is heavy – so if it drifts forward, you will quickly find yourself in no-man’s land. Here are the most important cues for avoiding this mistake.


  • Drive your feet through the floor – versus thinking about pulling. For whatever reason, pulling causes one to pull with their arms. This movement dysfunction will cause the hips to rise and chest to drop. Just like in the clean, the athlete will maintain a better position by driving with the legs and sweeping the bar close to the body.
  • Lift the chest – This will keep the chest from tilting forward. A big challenge with a conventional deadlift is overcoming the spinal flexor moment. When the hips drift back and the chest drops forward, the spinal flexor moment is increased and demands rise for the spinal extensors. Getting off to a solid start can be the difference in a made lift or a miss.


  • Deadlift lift offs with a pause at the knee – This is a great way to practice being in a good position when the bar reaches the knee. If an athlete is in a good position at this point of the lift, the odds of completing the lift increase. Obviously the pause is great for strengthening that position with an isometric contraction.
  • Deadlift lift off into deadlift – I like this one because you perform a lift off focusing on the perfect start, return the bar to the floor, and then complete a full lift. Your body will remember the first movement, giving you greater odds of completing the full movement correctly.

Exercises to strengthen the body to make the functional movement pattern more likely:

  • Goodmornings
  • Hyperextensions
  • RDLs


I hope this first article in a series of articles I am working on will be helpful for all of you. Maybe in a year or two we will have an article for every possible mistake all of you might make – who knows? This entire year is devoted to articles, videos, and posts to educate the world of strength coaches. This new goal is just as much for the athletes as it is the coaches. I want the athletes to know what to do if they don’t have a coach. These articles should also inform athletes as to what to look for in a coach.

Nothing is more comprehensive than the new video curriculum we are working on. If you’re a coach or an athlete, if you’re a beginner or advanced, if you’re into CrossFit or powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting or athletic performance, I want to teach you everything I know in this online video curriculum resource.

We want to partner with you to create this so we will know it’s something that benefits you. So we’re opening up this resource for pre-order.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!

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.

The Mash Elite Video Curriculum: Coming Soon

We're in the process of creating a massive video curriculum series on technique for the main lifts, programming, mobility, and coaching. Thanks to those who pre-ordered... and get ready for the full resource to be released soon!


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.

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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.

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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.