Category Archives for "Athletic Performance"

Hip Thrusts Are Bad? The Safety Squat Bar Is Bad?

Hip thrusts are bad? Safety squat bar squats are bad? Stop with the absolutes!

When will the absolutes end? Scrolling through social media, I saw two of my respected peers tossing around absolutes as if N.A.S.A. were backing them. However, their accusations about two of my favorite movements were made with no scientific backing at all.

Look, I don’t care if you don’t like a movement. Maybe you don’t believe an exercise works. That’s ok. You don’t have to use it, and you don’t have to prescribe it to your athletes. But when you get on social media or take to your blog and claim that a certain exercise doesn’t work without any research to back up your claim, you could be keeping someone from the very exercise they need to break through a plateau.


A lot of people who I consider colleagues (and some I even consider friends) constantly hate on the hip thrust made famous by my friend Bret Contreras. Glutes are important for just about everything that’s awesome in sports. If you want to sprint fast or jump high, strong glutes are a must. If you want to snatch big weight or squat monstrous loads, powerful hip extension is a must. Have any of you yanked a big deadlift off of the floor only to have it stall right at lockout? It’s happened to me, and I’ve watched it happen to others. Glute bridges are the obvious choice.

But wait! Is this simply my opinion? Am I simply doing the exact opposite of the coaches screaming that hip thrusts don’t work? Well luckily I can back up my statements with mounds of research stating that hip thrusts are superior when it comes to strengthening the glutes. I just now did a quick search of the web, and I saw a few rants from coaches who want to seem smart. My articles aren’t written to convince you guys that I am smart and everyone else is dumb. My thoughts and systems are backed up with the results of my athletes.

The information I pass on to you guys and gals is either proven by research or proven by the results of my athletes. I don’t pass on my random thoughts. I don’t look at an exercise and cast judgment without looking at the data. I don’t look at what someone else is doing and then write an article explaining why they’re wrong. I am interested in facts. I am interested in what works.

There is one more thing I want to say to my powerlifting brethren who are constantly criticizing the hip thrusts or making fun of it as a soft exercise. I was inspired to write this article when I saw a video of Stefi Cohen performing the hip thrust to improve her deadlift lockout. Of course she is y’all! It’s targeted hip extension, which is the lockout of the deadlift. Duh!

I prescribe hip thrusts to my Olympic hopeful weightlifters, champion powerlifters, and to my NFL Football Players. Are my athletes soft? If my athletes are soft, there are a lot of really soft athletes out there since we are beating most everyone else. Guys, I want you to look at the research and just think about it for a bit. If you want better hip extension, then find a way to load your hip extension.



World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash takes a look at Louie Simmons's Westside Barbell strength principles and applies them tom the world of Olympic weightlifting.

Safety Squat Bars

I had never heard anyone say a negative word about the safety squat bar squat until recently. A good friend of mine was answering questions on his Instagram story the other night. (By the way this is a good way to connect with your followers.) Anyway, he was asked if using a safety squat bar for squatting was a good idea for weightlifting. My friend replied that it absolutely was not – unless you or your athlete are injured. Once again, a colleague of mine is using an absolute without any basis (research) for his statement.

In Olympic weightlifting, a back squat isn’t specific to the snatch or the clean and jerk other than the angle of the torso, which is true with using a safety squat bar. Either movement is simply a way of building strength to get better at the sport of weightlifting. If you’re a powerlifter, one could make an argument around specificity – especially when getting close to a meet. But in either sport, the safety squat bar provides one major benefit. The safety squat bar increases the length of the spinal flexor moment.

As I explained in Squat Science, the spinal flexor moment depends on two factors: 1) the load on the bar and 2) the horizontal distance in the sagittal plan relative to the torso between the bar and any intervertebral joint.

There are three ways to increase the spinal flexor moment: 1) move the bar higher on the back or in front of the body, 2) increase the load, and 3) incline the body more (which increases the distance of the load horizontally to the floor from any intervertebral joint).

So here’s the point I want to make – the safety squat bar moves the weight toward the front of the body. The part of the bar that holds the weight is bent toward the front of the body.

Some bars displace the weight farther in front of the body than others. The more the weights are displaced toward the front of the body will equal a greater demand on the spinal extensor muscles. The front squat is also great for strengthening the muscle groups responsible for spinal extension. However, the front squat is limited by the shoulder’s ability to remain protracted and elevated – not to mention the rack position in general. Since the safety squat bar is still secured behind your neck, you can normally handle a bit more weight than in the front squat. Depending on the bend of the bar, you should be able to place more of a load on the spinal extensors. This is a great way to get the back strong while strengthening the hip and knee extensors as well.



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

The weightlifters and the powerlifters on my team use the safety squat bar for this very reason: to strengthen the back. For a lot of weightlifters, they lack the strength in the back (mainly referring to the groups of muscles responsible for spinal extension) to maintain a good angle of the torso during the pull. Some lack the ability to maintain a neutral spine during the catch phase of a clean. Have you ever seen a weightlifter’s elbows drop and thoracic spine round during the catch? I know that I have. If this is you or one of your lifters, the safety squat bar is a great tool.


I’m all about specificity, but sometimes weightlifters can take this too far. Let’s think about it for just a minute. I’m only going to refer to my own weightlifters right now. We snatch and clean and jerk at least three times per week on each of these. We back squat with a straight bar one to two times. We front squat one to two times. We perform snatch and clean pulls. Do you really think that adding in safety squat bar squats is going to somehow mess up your technique? If that’s true, aren’t you at risk of messing up your technique when you perform any assistance movement outside of simply snatching, clean and jerking, front squatting, and pulling? I think we are all a little too overboard with specificity.

Besides a simple safety squat bar squat, there are a couple of more movements with the safety squat bar that I recommend. I am a fan of safety squat bar goodmornings (and all variations like seated, chain suspended, off pins, etc.) and safety squat bar box squats (I know, I know… this is taboo).

Safety squat bar goodmornings are my absolute favorite for strengthening the spine – especially when a hip hinge is involved like during a pull of any sorts. With my weightlifters, I normally stick to a regular goodmorning, but there are several variations you can try, such as wide stance, suspended from a chain, off pins, seated, and with bands or chains. (This sounds like a chance for another article.)

Depending on the variation, you will be working specific weaknesses. For example, a goodmorning that starts lower on pins will more closely mimic starting in a more static position – like a pull with an initial concentric contraction. This will focus on performing a concentric contraction without the advantage of the stored kinetic energy you gain from a typical eccentric contraction. Once again, I am working on an article fully dedicated to variations of the goodmorning.

Safety squat bar box squats are great for strengthening the spinal and hip extensors. Now I agree that this movement isn’t specific to a squat necessary in weightlifting, so I only use it sparingly and in the off-season (at least eight or more weeks out from a competition). I only use this movement once per week and in conjunction with at least two to four other straight bar squat sessions. The most non-specific part of this movement is that I have the athlete sit back. I want them on the box with a vertical shin and a more horizontal torso. This movement is designed to strengthen the pull more so than the squat portion of the lift. However, you will reap the rewards of strengthened hips and back muscles.

Obviously this isn’t a great movement to strengthen the quads because the range of motion at the knees is minimal. However, the range of motion at the hip is maximal or near maximal depending on the height of the box. The demand of the internal spinal extensor moment is now through the roof because 1) you’re using a safety squat bar with the weight is distributed in front of the body and 2) your torso is inclined.

This movement is excellent for strengthening the pull especially at position two (when the bar is at or slightly below the knee) when the shins are vertical. The box will teach the body to fire the proper muscles from a static position with the advantage of stored kinetic energy produced by the eccentric phase of the lift. This movement is still great for strengthening the parts of the body required for squatting (back and hips), but it’s not a replacement for high bar back squats and front squats. I consider this more of an accessory movement, whereas back squats and front squats are primary strength movements for Olympic weightlifting.

Once again, the moral of this entire article is to relax with the absolutes. Unless science has proven that a particular movement won’t work or is dangerous, there’s probably a time and a place in training that it will help a lifter. Specificity is key especially in the sport of Olympic weightlifting, but let’s not go overboard. One of Hunter Elam’s biggest competitors is Mary Peck, and she uses low bar back squats in her training. With a 211kg total at 64kg bodyweight, I’d say that the low bar back squat isn’t interfering with the specificity of her lifts at all.

As long as we stay true to specificity the majority of the time, some variation is a good thing. Of course, it’s key to know your athletes. Some athletes respond really well to variation, and some don’t respond well at all. It depends on the individual’s overall athleticism. Athletes that grew up playing multiple sports are normally better with variation. Once again, as a coach you have to know your individual athletes. The big takeaway is to not throw away the baby with the bath water. Almost all movements have a time and place that’s up to us as coaches to determine.

How to Use Olympic Lifts for Strength and Conditioning

Which weightlifting movements should coaches use for athletic performance? Are they even necessary?

This is one of my favorite debates because it can go on and on. Some coaches feel that the Olympic lifts have to be used in a strength and conditioning program for a program to be legit. Other coaches feel that the snatch and clean and jerk are too hard to teach and carry too much risk of injury. So who’s right?

The easy answer is that a program can be successful using just about any choice of movements. If you don’t agree, all you have to do is look around the country. Programs have been successful using the Olympic lifts, and programs have been successful without the Olympic lifts. The real key is choosing movements the strength coach and his or her staff feel comfortable and proficient teaching to their athletes.

Teaching the lifts


Yesterday I asked a question on Twitter, “If you could only use five movement to train all of your athletes, what five movements would you choose?” The answers varied from person to person with a form of barbell squat (front or back) being the most common. Personally I would choose:

  • Clean and all variations. These deliver power production and velocity.
  • Back squat. Squats increase lower body strength and core stabilization. Not to mention the research states that vertical leap and improvements in speed are more closely related to the squat than any other movement in the gym.
  • Push press. The push press is the most functional way of demonstrating upper body strength because the power originates from the lower body. For example, a football player blocks their opponent with force originating from the hips ending with an explosive punch in the arms.
  • Deadlift. Just like the squat, the deadlift can be linked to improvements in athletic feats like the vertical leap and 40-yard dash. I also chose the deadlift to strengthen the posterior chain to promote symmetry when used with the back squat.
  • Barbell bent-over row. This was a hard choice between rows and pull-ups. However, it’s just a bit easier to load a row. A strong back is imperative for any athlete. The barbell row is particularly useful due to the stability component necessary of the spinal extensors to maintain the hinge position of the bent-over row.

One more thing I would like to note is the importance of spine stabilization from pretty much all of these movements. If you want to protect the spines of your athletes, you need to strengthen all of the muscles around the spine – especially all the muscles that extend the spine. The abdominals help, but it’s the spinal extensors that keep the spine locked in neutral. Deadlifts do a great job of strengthening the back, hips, legs, and neck. That’s what makes the deadlift the best bullet proofing movement in the gym (as Dan John says). Have you ever seen a good deadlifter with a small neck and traps? I haven’t.


I love the Olympic lifts. Of course I do – I coach some of the best weightlifters in the country. But if someone isn’t proficient at teaching the movements, then they shouldn’t add those movements in their program no matter how good they are. A movement is only beneficial when used correctly. If I didn’t understand how to teach the Olympic lifts, I could still create a program that would deliver athletic improvement. I could use the following movements:

  • Squat variation
  • Deadlift variation
  • Push press
  • Bent-over rows
  • A type of carry (farmer’s walk, Zercher, overhead, etc.)
  • Squat jumps or another type of plyometric

I could use these movements along with a closer look at velocity, and I could cover every quality of strength required to maximally improve any athlete. With that being said, I want to talk about the use of the different variations of the Olympic lifts specifically: full lift variations, hang variations, power variations, and block variations.

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Full Variations

The full snatch and clean are great for total athleticism. You’re going to get power production, proprioception, balance, coordination, mobility, and force absorption. I’ve never seen a bad athlete complete a full snatch. When a person learns a snatch, they have learned to produce power, move their bodies through space, and move quickly (speed). They’ve also developed incredible mobility. All of these characteristics are important to athleticism.

There are challenges and maybe even some drawbacks to the full variations. For one, these movements take a bit longer to learn. They’re complex in nature, so they take a little extra time. And in the world of strength and conditioning, time is valuable. Remember we are talking about non-weightlifting athletes. Their sport isn’t Olympic weightlifting.


This is probably my favorite because it mimics the countermovement of a vertical leap. You are going to receive a stretch reflex just like when you jump. Plus this is the one variation that begins with an eccentric contraction, which is great for hypertrophy and strengthening the movement. The range of motion involved in the hang variations is more specific to sprinting and jumping as well. Nowhere on the field (football, soccer, basketball, or baseball) are you asked to perform a full squat. I’m not saying that there aren’t benefits to a full squat catch, but the specificity of the hang movements will normally yield a higher return to sport specific requirements. When you catch the hang movements in a power position (above parallel), you have the most specific movement in the gym.



This refers to the catch of the snatch and clean being above parallel. I already talked about this position regarding the hang movements. I like the power movements because they are a bit easier to teach. I also like the fact that they require the athlete to move faster. Everyone thinks that power movements are all about how high they pull the bar. I’ve got news for you. All you can control is the velocity of the bar. You pull it as hard and as fast as possible. When your hips extend, the height of the bar is already determined. There is nothing you can do to pull the bar any higher after the hips extend.

If you want to get good at power cleans and snatches, the focus needs to be on:

  1. Timing
  2. Speed of the third pull
  3. Strong catch (force absorption)

To get good at power movements, timing is crucial. If you waste any time at the top, you will miss the peak of the bar. You will find yourself pulling under while the bar is on the way down. The biggest reason I prescribe power movements for my weightlifters is to get them better at timing. Timing is crucial to be good at the sport. Timing isn’t necessarily important for non-strength athletes, but it helps in being able to handle higher loads.

Obviously speed is important to all athletes. In a perfect world, the barbell should move faster throughout the movement – with the third pull (the pull underneath the bar) being the fastest. The power movements require athletes to move quickly, so it teaches speed without the athlete actually thinking about it.

The strong catch is the quality that transfers to athletes the most because it requires the athlete to absorb large amounts of force in an abrupt manner. When you think about football or rugby, it’s easy to see the benefit of power cleans and power snatches. When you add the velocity required for power movements to the force absorption, you have a very functional movement for just about any sport. Plus the catch height of the snatch and clean is at a position that is much more specific to other sports, such as softball, baseball, football (linebacker, running back, etc), or even soccer.


I like variations from blocks for a lot of the same reasons as above, and they have one advantage regarding specificity. Block cleans and snatches begin from a dead start, which is specific to sprints. There isn’t a countermovement with sprinting. With block cleans and snatches, the movement begins from a dead stop. This teaches the athlete to generate force as quickly as possible and is a great way to improve the rate of force development. Let’s face it: sport is played at a fast pace. Athletes are asked to go from 0 to 100 as fast as possible. The athlete who can react and get to full speed at the fastest rate will end up being the best athlete. Blocks can be done from whatever height is the most specific or from the height that is the weakest.

For specificity reasons, I would say that hang powers and block powers are the best movements for directly affecting athletic performance. I recommend using hang powers to improve vertical leap and broad jumps. Hangs are also good for improving elasticity, strengthening position, and tendon strength. Block powers are great for improving sprinting times especially the start and acceleration portions.


There’s a place for all the Olympic variations, including the jerk. But if I had to choose two variations, I would use hang powers and powers from blocks. I hope this helps some of you strength and conditioning coaches decide which movements to use and when to use them. Remember, there isn’t a movement that is an absolute must-have for any program. Coach Mike Boyle has made a career out of getting athletes better without bilateral squats or cleans, so obviously you don’t have to use those movements. I recommend squats and cleans, but you don’t have to use them.

The only must-have I require of all my coaches is that they know the why for each and every movement they program. If you don’t know the reason for a movement, then drop it from your program. As a coach, you should be excited when one of your athletes asks you why you’ve programmed the way you have. It’s a chance to teach them and get buy-in. Coaches, do your homework and know the why behind your program.

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Cal Dietz on Triphasic Training – The Barbell Life 227

When I was talking recently with my friend Dr. Andy Galpin, he mentioned he was a big fan of Cal Dietz’s Triphasic Training.

And if you’ve been in the strength game for any amount of time, you’ve surely heard of it.

I was so excited to have Cal on the podcast today to talk with us. He’s doing a lot of crazy things in the gym that sparked my curiosity – stuff like having his athletes squat with their heels up. Or Cal’s love of the single leg squat with a safety squat bar.

Cal talks about such profound training concepts, but he has an ability to break it down and make it sound so simple.


The concepts Cal talks about with us could allow any athlete to make big changes or just slight changes to their training – whether the athlete is into weightlifting, powerlifting, CrossFit, or field sports.


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.



  • Why he has his athletes squat with their heels up
  • The power of the single leg squat with the safety squat bar
  • Eccentrics, isometrics, energy systems, potentiation clusters, and cortisol management
  • Going from squats to light kettlebell swings?
  • The injury prevention aspects of triphasic training
  • and more…

My Amazing Athletes Teach Me So Much

We recently launched our new guide, Mash Files.

When we were talking about writing this book, we started talking about our mission. That’s kind of a trendy term at this point, but it’s worth talking about. I know one thing I definitely consider a mission: to leave the coaching world a bit better than I found it.

I want all of you who take the time to read my work and listen to my podcasts to benefit from our content. In this case, if you’re a coach, I want to teach you the exact method we are using to individualize our programming. Our process has led to some outrageous recent results.

We have so many success stories in so many sports, and we want to pass that success on to all of you. I don’t care about keeping my “secret” method to myself. That doesn’t help anyone but myself, and I promise that’s a lonely world. If I can help one of you create a program that allows one of your athletes to get better, then that is real change. That’s a life worth living, and the older I get I realize that’s more important than any personal victory.

My Family

Every time we drop a Mash Files book (yes, that’s a hint there will be more), I am going to write an article like this one explaining why we chose each athlete. In doing so, we hope to add to the information in the book. So why did we choose the athletes that are in the book? That’s a fun question to answer.

My athletes are extensions of my family, so this will be like bragging about my kids… just bear with me. Here are the athletes in the book:

  • Hunter Elam (Senior World Team Member Olympic Weightlifting)
  • Jordan Cantrell (Senior World Team Member Olympic Weightlifting)
  • Crystal McCullough (Silver Medalist USAPL Powerlifting Nationals and 41-year-old mother and wife)
  • Tommy Bohanon (starting Fullback Jacksonville Jaguars)
  • Nathan Clifton (CrossFit Games 4th Place in the World Teenage Division)


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

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

Hunter Elam

Hunter made the book for obvious reasons. Last year, she wasn’t on anyone’s radar to make a Senior World Team. Last year, she hadn’t even medaled at a National Event. I started working with her at the beginning of the year, and she responded like a charm to my programming. After a few months together, she medaled at Senior Nationals taking the Bronze Medal.

At that point, she became a believer. We decided to work on every aspect of her game as a weightlifter. She took control of her nutrition by hiring Jacky Simeone, Mash Eat What You Want Nutrition Coach, and hiring Lee Howard, DPT to be in charge of her recovery. Then the world of weightlifting was nuked with the new weight classes.

The announcement left us with having to make some decisions. We had to decide:

  1. Stay at 71kg for a year and then go up or down.
  2. Immediately gain up to the 76kg class
  3. Immediately drop down to the 64kg class

We decided to approach the decision with a scientific approach. I sent her to my friend a longtime chiropractor Lawrence Gray, D.C. to have her body fat measured. We found out that we had plenty of room to move down to the 64kg class without losing any strength. This was of course a controversial call with the whole world of weightlifting wondering if we were crazy. It was funny how many coaches told me that was a smart thing to do after we made the world team. Just an FYI coaches, if you tell me that after the fact, I am going to lose a bit of respect. I prefer honesty up front if you want my respect as a coach.

Then came the controversial call at the AO Series that was heard round the world. Her snatches didn’t go as planned, so we were facing a 121-kilogram clean and jerk to lock in a position on the world team. We didn’t go to the AO Series to win the AO Series. We were there for one reason and one reason only – and that was to make a world team. We decided to open up at 121 kilograms, which was a lifetime PR. Two of my good friends, Sean Waxman and Spencer Arnold, helped me make that decision – but ultimately it was up to Hunter and me. It was an easy decision.

Once again, I was actually told about the coaches in the audience who thought I was being crazy. I was told that some even called me stupid. Of course they are the same coaches who will be at home watching the live stream of the World Championships on their couch, while Hunter and I will be hanging in Turkmenistan battling the best weightlifters in the world.

We had so many obstacles to overcome. The biggest was confidence. Hunter is very athletic with an immense amount of experience with team sports. However, weightlifting is an individual sport. It’s just you out there on that platform with the three old referees staring at you along with the crowd. Well, she made some amazing strides with confidence and performance.

I learned a lot as a coach as well. Coaching Hunter has been a welcomed challenge. This challenge led me to reading Brett Bartholomew’s book, Conscious Coaching, which explains the scientific approach to getting buy-in from your athletes. Here’s what I learned from Hunter: she’s a true “technician” as explained in Brett’s book. Technicians want to understand what they’re doing, and why it’s important to their sport. They want to know what’s going on.

Once I started explaining the process of strength training, Hunter was able to perform without a lot of stress. I had to explain that I am purposely giving her more stress than she can handle to cause the body to adapt and get stronger. I explained that at times she would go backward as the body strived to keep up. Just the other day during the peaking phase, she had a great day at practice just like I anticipated. She looked at me and said, “You want me to say that you told me so, don’t you?”

I just laughed and said, “No, but that’s what I am thinking in my head.”

We both had a laugh, and she continued to practice. The workout in the book is the very workout that she used to total 215 kilograms at 64 kilograms, which was a lifetime PR total in a weight class down. She actually lost 9 kilograms (she had a little too much fun after Nationals) in all and added 5 kilograms to her total. It would be cool for all the haters to admit they were wrong, but I am not holding my breath.

Jordan Cantrell

Jordan Cantrell was an obvious pick for the book. He was a lot like Hunter at the beginning of last year. Nobody was really picking him to make a world team. Heck, nobody was talking about him medaling at Senior Nationals. But by the end of last year, he was one of the best weightlifters in the country. We added 30 kilograms to his total in 28 weeks, which is unheard of in an athlete already at a high level.

Jordan is a lot of fun to work with, and a challenge at the same time. The biggest challenge is that he has mild form of spina bifida, which is a small separation or gap in one or more of the bones of the spine (vertebrae). It doesn’t really affect him that much, but we have to stay away from back squats. We also have to find creative ways to strengthen his back that won’t cause any flare-ups.

Our main focus is on the front squat, and it doesn’t really affect Jordan as long as we are smart about our approach. It’s a lot easier to get an athlete stronger with back squats, but we’ve progressed at a nice and steady rate with front squats only. The key is using all the different variables to stimulate the body like:

  • Varied repetition ranges (we use undulating periodization)
  • Different lengths of pauses
  • Pausing one or all of the repetitions
  • Chains or bands
  • Box
  • Tempo

As you can see, the variables are endless, so his body has never completely adapted. Therefore, we’ve noticed a nice and steady rate of growth. I’m leaving next week to meet Jordan and the rest of my athletes at the Senior World Championships in Turkmenistan. I’m excited to watch them battle it out with the best weightlifters in the world. Jordan is definitely one of the good guys who are easy to cheer for.

Tommy Bohanon

Tommy Bohanon is the athlete I chose for athletic performance. Tommy’s story is a real American tale of overcoming. He played three years with the Jets before getting cut after a coaching change. He sat out a year and returned to the NFL via the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s been of fire since being with Jacksonville.

Tommy is the hardest working football player I have ever coached. He loves the weight room, and it shows. He’s used strength training to build an incredibly powerful physique, which is crucial for the fullback position. This year, we switched things up a bit. We peaked his absolute strength early on, and then peaked him for the football season with a velocity-based program focused on speed-strength and strength-speed. This strategy ensured that he would enter the season powerful and fast.

That’s the very program we included in the book. If you’re an athlete (football, basketball, or soccer), this is the program I would recommend for optimal performance. I talked to Cal Dietz, associate director of athletic performance for the University of Minnesota, a few days ago. He told me that they peak their athletes in this manner. It totally makes sense for the speed and power, and it makes even more sense due to the lower load giving the joints a break right when athletes need to feel the freshest.

Crystal McCullough

Crystal McCullough is the athlete we chose to highlight for powerlifting and super total. She took silver at last year’s USAPL Powerlifting Nationals, but there is something even cooler about this athlete. She is 41 years old, she’s a mother, she’s a wife, and she works full-time for Mash Elite. She represents the working adult who is still able to make waves in the world of strength.

Crystal is the mother of our incredible man-child, Morgan McCullough. Obviously, he gets his incredible strength from Crystal. She squats 360 pounds, bench presses 200 pounds, and deadlifts an incredible 400 pounds. She loves teaching the Olympic lifts, so she normally follows a super total program that is technique focused in the snatch and clean and jerk. You guys are going to be inspired by the program of this hard working lady.


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

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

Nathan Clifton

Nathan Clifton gets the comeback of the year award. Last year in the CrossFit Games teenage 16-17 category, he didn’t quite make the cut. This year, he not only made the cut, but he also ended up fourth overall in the world. Nathan has a built-in engine that simply never ends. However, he needed some work in the strength category – so he came to me for some help.

All of you functional fitness junkies are going to love this program. It’s actually two different programs. The first is the off-season program that helped him peak for Junior Nationals. The second program was his pre-season program that focused on maintaining the absolute strength we built and maximizing his ability to move light to moderate weight as fast as possible. Strength endurance is also a goal for preseason CrossFit.

Nathan has now fallen in love with weightlifting, and his goal is to make an international team. Obviously for me, it’s exciting to watch an athlete go from wanting to get a little stronger to wanting to be the strongest young man in the world. We are having a lot of fun perfecting his technique. I am looking forward to this year’s Junior Nationals.

I hope this article has given you all a lot to think about when designing your own programs. A general program will yield general results. An individual program will maximize those results. There is nothing wrong with a general program in a class-based setting. People will see results from this type of program.

However the athletes that I referenced in my new book, Mash Files, are not into typical results. They desire to be the absolute best that they can be. As you can tell from their results so far, we are on our way to achieving greatness for each of them. I hope that this article will help all of you do the same.

Coach Travis Answers Your Questions – The Barbell Life 226

I always love these podcasts!

On this one, we get to questions that you guys have asked us. We always try to make these podcasts as valuable as possible for you guys – but when we’re answering questions that we have been asked, we know that this will be worth a listen.

We focus in this podcast on lots of questions about programming. It’s something we’ve discussed a lot lately because we just dropped our newest guide, the Mash Files. This one is 300 pages full of programs and content teaching you all about how you can customize your programming. Like I always say – make the program fit the athlete instead of forcing the athlete to fit the program.


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

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



  • How do you figure out if you’re doing enough in the gym… or if you’re doing too much?
  • Preventing plateaus
  • Why the optimal frequency for squatting is so different from the deadlift
  • Using the Mash Method for meets
  • Moving on from 5/3/1
  • and more…

Six Factors to Coaching Success

If you read most blogs written by coaches (weightlifting, powerlifting, or strength and conditioning), you will read about programming, technique, or preferred exercises. However, there are so many elements to coaching outside of what you typically hear – especially if you are a coach in the private sector. It’s these factors no one talks about that really make a coach great or not. And these are what hold a lot of coaches back.


I started focusing on the sport of weightlifting at the end of 2013. By 2015 I had athletes on Team USA. This year we had four of our team members on the Youth World Team, and we have four team members heading to Turkmenistan for the Senior World Championships. Eight total Team USA athletes gives us more than any other team in America. Next year we are projecting to have four Youth, four Juniors, and four Senior World Team Members.

Before weightlifting, Mash Elite Performance had one of the most successful Athletic Performance programs in America. At one point we had three locations and were constantly sending athletes to Division I programs in sports like football, basketball, softball, baseball, wrestling, track and field, swimming, and even water polo. We have worked with NFL, NBA, MLB, and MMA professional athletes. I must also mention we’ve always had amazing powerlifters, even though they don’t get enough of the spotlight.

Although I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished at Mash Elite, none of this is meant to be bragging. I just wanted to show all of you that success is a formula. There are certain elements I apply to coaching that have helped to bless us with amazing athletes.

Contemplating our success one night at the AO3, I started wondering if I could teach these factors to other coaches. The answer was a definite yes.

But here’s the thing: for coaches to learn, they have to put their pride aside. Pride is the number one reason most coaches aren’t succeeding. They want everyone to believe they have all the answers. When another coach starts producing better athletes, they would rather make excuses and false accusations instead of learning from that coach. This is the biggest mistake in coaching, and it leads me to my first element that leads to success in coaching.


You might hear this one a lot, but do you act on it properly? I have learned from so many coaches – like Joe Kenn, Louie Simmons, Dragomir Ciorsolan, Zach Even-Esh, and Sean Waxman just to name a few. Finding a mentor is critical if you plan on being successful.

Finding a mentor isn’t as easy as just calling a coach and asking to hang out. You have to find someone who matches your personality. I recommend going to coaching conventions, symposiums, and clinics and getting to know coaches who are doing better than you. When you meet one who seems to click, someone who could actually be your friend… there’s the one.


Here’s another key: you need to give as much as you take. Actually the key is giving more than you take – especially in the beginning. Hopefully this comes naturally to you.

When I met Mike Bledsoe, one of the creators of the Barbell Shrugged Podcast, we became friends almost instantly. Immediately, I wanted to do as much for him as possible simply because he was a buddy. I started coaching him for free without wanting anything in return. I wrote for Barbell Shrugged’s website without wanting anything in return. I just liked Mike and all the dudes at Barbell Shrugged. Those guys literally changed my life as you know it by teaching me about this wild and crazy online world. Now I can affect the lives of so many more people while hanging out with my children on a daily basis. If you have to be in the gym from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm everyday, it’s hard to make time for the family.

I became friends with Vinh Huynh at the end of 2014. By 2015 Vinh’s gym (Undisputed Strength and Conditioning in Eagan, MN) became the first Mash Mafia Affiliate Gym. In 2014, I reached out for help to all the gyms in Minneapolis. I have a daughter in Minnesota, and I wanted to establish a base in Minneapolis for seminars and clinics. I wanted to see her more often, but I needed help. From the moment Vinh agreed to help, we became like brothers. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him.

His weightlifting team exploded onto the scene almost right away. Less than two years after opening his gym in 2015, Vinh had three of his athletes on Team USA: one senior on the World Team, one youth on the Youth Pan American Team, and one collegiate on the University World Team. Instead of congratulating him and learning from him, a lot of the other coaches in Minnesota started spreading rumors that he was just getting lucky or cheating. They said his programming was too hard. They constantly tried to steal his athletes – and are still trying to this day. This is the behavior I was talking about when I referred to pride being the number one cause of mediocrity in coaches. Whether it’s Vinh or me, I don’t understand why the coaches simply don’t ask us what we are doing. I would allow any coach to come hang out, ask questions, and learn. I know Vinh would do the same.


My mentors are also my friends. People like Sean Waxman, Kevin Doherty, and Don McCauley helped me when there was nothing in it for them. Now there is nothing I wouldn’t do to help them. In weightlifting, we are all on the same team. At least we should be. We should all desire to see Team USA improve year in and year out. Lately we have done just that. We’ve watched our athletes improve at the International level. A big part of that is the relationships that are forming between coaches.

Danny Camargo just taught me that at the AO3 like no one has ever before. Meredith Alwine, one of my athletes, was trying to qualify for the World Championships. At the same time, she was trying to beat Mattie Rogers, Danny’s athlete. During the snatch portion, we were struggling a bit, and he had the opportunity to steal our two-minute clock. Instead, he looked at me and said, “Let me know if you need extra time, and I will slow things down a bit.”

I couldn’t believe it. I thanked him, and he told me that we are all on the same team. That’s class! I’ve never had a coach help me during the heat of battle. I can say I learned a valuable lesson I will definitely pass along.

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

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This goes hand-in-hand with the first element. Pride and arrogance will also keep coaches from continuing to learn. A big red flag is using the exact same program template, the same exercises, and/or the same technical cues year in and year out. A great coach is always improving and always evolving. Not one of my athletes has ever performed the same program twice.

There are lots of ways to continue the learning process. One convenient way I just discovered is audio books. I am listening to Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew, and it has already helped me connect with my athletes in a better way. I’ll probably listen to it twice in order to really put it to use. If you are like me, you have a few minutes every day as you drive to and from work. You can either waste those few minutes, or you can put them to use. I choose to improve myself as a coach.

There are also clinics, courses, seminars, articles, and traditional hardback books you can use to improve as a coach. With the Internet, your options are endless. The only limit holding you back is making time. I recommend choosing a source you enjoy, putting time on the calendar, and committing to constant growth.


This one sounds easy, but unfortunately most coaches struggle with this one the most. They have this sense of old school-ism where they have to be cold and withdrawn. I don’t understand this at all.

My athletes come to me because they know I care about them. We have a lot of fun. I tell them when they do well. I encourage them to be the absolute best they can be in athletics and life. I use encouragement rather than negativity to coach my athletes. They hear more about the things they are doing right than the things they are doing wrong. This leads me to the next element.


I fill my team with coaches and athletes who are also encouraging. My athletes are going to see more smiles and hear more encouragement than they will ever see me shaking my head or shouting negative comments. I expect the same thing from my athletes.

Nathan Damron and Hunter Elam do incredible jobs mentoring the other athletes. You should see the faces of Morgan McCullough or Hannah Dunn when Nathan and Hunter encourage them. We are a team. We win together when one of us succeeds. We lose together when one of us doesn’t do well. Lately there has been a lot of winning.

Culture starts with the coach. The athletes’ attitudes will normally reflect the attitude of the coach. Athletes will normally be attracted to programs with coaches who share the same values and attitudes. Now that doesn’t mean that a few bad apples won’t show up, but it’s up to the coach to either mold that apple or cut it from the tree. We made this realization about a year ago, and that’s when I instituted our latest policy. Now if an athlete is looking to join our team, they have to do a tryout. I have to approve them, but that’s not all. The entire team has to give them a thumbs up.


This is the one most coaches fail at. They expect athletes to walk in their doors, and they get mad when the athletes end up in someone else’s gym. If you read the entire list of elements, you will see a list that leads them to certain coaches. Athletes naturally flow to clubs with coaches who are always learning, coaches who are nice, and gyms with good coaches.

My athletes do most of the recruiting for me. They enjoy their team, and they tell other athletes about their experience. We have fun, we get strong, and we win. Athletes see that. It draws the type of athlete who wants to win and who wants to have fun. We just acquired a new athlete who’s going to take the sport of weightlifting by storm. She met one of our incredible youth athletes, Ryan Grimsland. Ryan told her how much he has improved with our team, and he told her how much fun we have as a team. The next thing you know, we have another amazing athlete. The same goes for our athletic performance athletes. If you help athletes get results while having fun, they are going to tell other people.

Being nice at competitions goes a long way. If someone needs help, then I’m there to help. You’ll be surprised how many athletes you pick up just being nice. That shows what a terrible culture that weightlifting had before this new wave of coaches.

Last thing, I recommend using Instagram as a tool. If you see a promising athlete who looks to be without a coach, I recommend sending them an encouraging message. If they don’t have a coach, you could offer your services. If you don’t know them, this is not the time to give them technique advice. I see this mistake all the time. You come across as a jerk with unsolicited advice. You have to earn the right to coach someone. It makes me chuckle when I see a so-called coach critique someone online. Remember, when you comment on someone’s video, the first thing they’re going to do is look at your profile. If you don’t have any athletes to your credit, you are going to get laughed at. Right or wrong, that’s what’s going to happen.


Soon we will be releasing our newest book, The Mash Files. It’s all about individualizing each program for your athlete. It’s not just programming, however. There are so many elements that are personal to each athlete: recovery, nutrition, accessory work, and coaching relationships.


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

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

Guys, you can’t coach each athlete the same way. I recommend all of you read Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. You have to spend quality time getting to know each athlete – and only then can you get to know what makes each athlete tick. If you are putting some program on a board for your entire team to follow, you can rest assured you are not going to beat my athletes.

If all you do is sit around and talk about how your technique is the best or your programming is the best, you are going to die an unfulfilled coach. If you lurk on social media giving unsolicited advice, you will die a joke. I am being aggressive with my wording because I want the best for all of you reading this. It’s easier to be a nice guy. That’s the main moral of this story. If you’re nice and surround yourself with nice athletes, you will probably succeed and have a great time doing it. I hope this helps some of you and opens the eyes of the rest of you.