Category Archives for "Barbell Life"

UNC Chapel Hill’s Jonas Sahratian – The Barbell Life 194

I’ve been trying to get this guy on my podcast for a long time. And it was worth the wait. Jonas Sahratian is one of my go-to guys for all things related to strength and conditioning.

I’m sure most of the world has heard of men’s basketball at UNC Chapel Hill. They are easily one of the most successful basketball programs of all time. And Jonas has been right there as a part of it for years as the head strength and conditioning coach. His job is the one many people dream of.

So listen in if you want to hear how Jonas got to where he is, and what his advice is for up and coming coaches. And of course we get to talking about his philosophies on programming and training. Jonas is one to listen to.


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  • Should tall basketball players squat?
  • Assessing athletes
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  • When he uses single leg training
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Coach Mash Takes a New Path

In the middle of a new book I am writing about concurrent training, “Do What You Want”, all of a sudden it dawned on me to try a new plan of my own. I’m 44 years old, and I still thrive on goals. I simply can’t workout just to workout, and that’s ok. It’s who I am, and I am ok with that. The problem is that I needed to find something new to intrigue me.

Determining My Goals

It took me a while, but I finally came up with my new goals. I decided to perform a SuperTotal, which is something that I enjoy and have done in the past. The kicker is that I also decided to train for a 5K road race. There is a part of me that wishes that I had chosen a rowing for distance goal, but it’s too late – I am in it now, so maybe next time. Some might say that the SuperTotal isn’t very challenging for me, but you would be wrong. Last year, I tore my triceps tendon completely from the bone twice: once lifting and once from falling down the steps like a fool. I thought for the longest while that I would never snatch again, but I hate the word ‘never’. That word literally freaks me out, so I’ve decided to not let some silly injury dictate what I can and cannot do.

My overhead stability needs a lot of work. My left side is compromised from fracturing a cervical vertebra in 2007, and my right arm, the triceps tear. That leaves zero good arms and a lot of work to do. Week one has been fun and challenging, but it’s obvious that this isn’t going to be easy.

Notes on The First Week

The powerlifting portion isn’t quite as challenging, but wow it crushed me. I’m training the same as I did when I was in my prime; the volume is just as hard, but I am being a lot smarter on max effort days. I am not going to go to absolute failure. The goal is to listen to my training partner of over twenty-five years, Coach Chris Ox Mason. If he tells me to stop, I am going to stop. We have told each other that we are going to stop one to two sets before failure, and simply progress like that. This will take a lot of discipline for me, but my priority is my family, not working out until failure during training. That realization will keep me in check.

I am getting a pump every training session with a focus on my weaknesses like glutes, triceps (obviously), and shoulders. Plus, I’ll be 100% up front and tell you all that I want to get some pumps for the coming summer months. Yep, I too like to look good in my swimsuit.

The one piece of equipment helping to make all of this possible is the Westside Barbell Belt Squat Machine. I perform some type of movement on this machine 100% of the time that I am in the gym. The glute activity the machine promotes aids significantly in keeping my hips healthy. This glute activity, required for hip extension while using the belt squat, helps to keep my femur in a position that alleviates the hip pain that I feel most of the time. This machine alone has kept me out of surgery. I was scheduled to get a hip replacement at the end of last year until I started using this miracle machine.

Believe it or not, my favorite part of this new workout routine has been the added cardiovascular work. I’m using the assault bike for interval work, which ends up being the hardest part. On Fridays I am performing a recovery row with the Concept 2 Rower. Saturday afternoons I am taking a run/walk for 20+ minutes while keeping my heart rate at around 75% of my max. This is the key to increasing cardiovascular capacity without requiring lots of downtime for recovery.

I am also using information that I have gathered from Alex Viada. If you haven’t read his book “The Hybrid Athlete”, you really should. I refer to that book on a regular basis. It forever changed the way I look at concurrent training.

The mileage, time, and distance of my run/walks continues to increase for the next twelve weeks. The program is designed to peak me for a 5K, which is frankly something I thought I would never do, especially with this wrecked hip. However here I am looking forwards to cardio days. Who the heck am I?  Alex what have you done to me?

Do What You Want

The whole point to all of this is to show you that you can do pretty much whatever you want. I hope this teaches you that no one should define the way that any of us looks at fitness and strength other than ourselves. The key is to enjoy what you are doing. I suggest challenging yourself in new and exciting ways on a regular basis. My new book is filled with a limitless amount of workouts designed to challenge you in several different ways. I am going to show you how to combine:

  • Olympic Weightlifting
  • Powerlifting
  • CrossFit
  • Endurance Work
  • Bodybuilding
  • Strongman

It was so exciting fitting these disciplines together in a way that coincides with the body’s energy systems and muscle fiber recruitment. It was like several big puzzles, and I used science to fit the pieces together. I am enjoying this new workout more than I have enjoyed a workout in over a decade. I look forward to pushing my body over the next twelve weeks. I intend to report back major success. I hope that all of you report back the same from challenging your own body in ways you never thought possible.


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Here’s a little sample of Week 1:

Accumulation Phase
Day 1 Week 1
Hang Snatch  below knee 3RM 7 RPE, then -10% for 3
Box Squats 75%  7×3 with 60-90 sec rest
Seated Box Jumps 7×3
2″ Deficit Snatch Grip Deadlift  w 5 sec eccentric 5RM 7 RPE, then -10% for 2×5
1a. Belt Squat RDLs 3 x 60 sec
1b. One Arm OH Fat Grip Dumbbell Carry 3x25yd ea arm
Day 2
Airdyne or Row Sprints 2 min warm up
45 sec on and 60 sec off x 8
5 min cool down
Day 3
Wide Grip Bench Press (wider than normal comp grip) 10 x 3 at 80%
Push Jerks 5RM 7 RPE, then -10% for 5
Pull-Ups 5 x submaximal reps switch grips ea set weakest to strongest
DB or KB Upright Rows 5×10
Dips  with Eccentric Slower Than Concentric 5 x submaximal (if ten reps plus add weight)
Banded Rows 4×60 sec
Day 4
Hang Clean 3RM 7 RPE, then -10% for 3
Front Squats 10 x 3 at 80%
Sumo Deadlifts 75%  7×3 with 60-90 sec rest
Rear Leg Elevated Split Squats  stay at a 7RPE 4 x 15ea leg
Unilateral Farmers Walk 3 x 40yd ea arm
Recovery Row 10-15 minute recovery row
Stay in zone 2 or 75% of Max HR
Day 5
Snatch Complex P. Snatch double work heavy
Clean & Jerk Complex P. Clean and push jerk double work heavy
Closegrip Bench Press 5 x 10 at 60%
Incline DB Press 5 x 10 at 60%
KB Bottom Up Z Press 3×10 ea arm
Preacher Curls 3×10
Long Slow Run 20 Minute run/walk
Stay in zone 2 or 75% of max HR
with a 5 minute warm up & cool down

The Importance of Evening and Morning Routines by Paluna Santamaria

This week while training a client the topic of my “pre-bed routine” came up. I’ve changed this routine throughout the years and morphed it into what it is now. It has helped tremendously, and I thought it would be a great idea to share with you! I should note I follow it exactly 98% of the time. The remaining 2% is when I fall asleep before I can get through the whole list.

So I present you, straight from the piece of paper stuck to my fridge:

Paluna’s Daily Bedtime Routine

  1. Put phone on airplane mode by 9pm
  2. Read one page minimum of a non-work related book
  3. Meditate five minutes minimum (after reading or in place of)


  • This one is really hard for me.
  • I always end up reading way more, but I commit to one page because it’s manageable and I know I will get through it no matter what.
  • I use one of the meditations for sleep offered by the app “Calm.” They are to be done in bed, which is a treat. I set it up for 20-40 minutes depending on the day. I don’t even remember falling asleep the next day. Win-win!

Paluna’s Daily Wake-up Routine

(Yes I do have a wake-up one too, what a nerd.)

  1. Keep phone on airplane mode until after coffee
  2. Meditate while coffee is being made
  3. Review past to-do lists
  4. Make to-do list of the day (PRIORITY)
  5. Read / write / listen to podcast / listen to music

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  • I work at this daily. The first thing I want to do is turn my phone on.
  • By default I practice Zen meditation, which is what I learnt as a child. The past few years I’m more into mindfulness so I’ve been using “Calm” pretty frequently. It also helps that it’s guided, so I only worry about selecting the length of my practice.
  • I enjoy doing this. I divide my to-do lists into sections. This helps me remember the things that really matter.
  • I borrowed this technique from Tim Ferriss. I choose the three things that are stressing me out the most – and from those three things I commit myself to taking care of the most stressful one first. I don’t add anything to my list of that day until that one thing gets done. It turns out, with this approach I always end up getting through more than I thought; if I don’t there’s no stress because I completed the one thing to which I committed . Win again!
  • This is my favorite part of the morning. It usually continues during my commute.

There you have it! Now I know it looks like I have a ton of free time. The reality is, I’ve identified the things I need to do to manage my stress and I MAKE time to get them done.

Supporting Routines

Here are a few things I do daily to support my routines:

  1. I prep my clothes and everything I’ll need for work the night before. I have been doing this since I was a child. It’s annoying some nights but when you have to wake-up as early as I do, you’d do anything to not have to stress or rush first thing in the morning.
  2. I wake up 30 minutes earlier than I need to get ready. Thirty minutes may sound excessive to some but when I say I don’t like rushing, I really mean it. This extra time allows me to finish my entire cup of coffee in peace, go through my entire wake-up routine and get dressed as slowly as possible. Who thought you could take ten minutes to put on some leggings and a tank top?
  3. I don’t snooze. I’ve come to realize snoozing makes me tired. It feels like running behind the ice cream truck knowing it’s empty. Five to ten minutes extra sleep doesn’t make a difference in my day – so as soon as the alarm goes off, I’m up. Sometimes I’m dragging my feet to the kitchen, but I’m up. By the time I get through my whole routine I’m more than awake and ready to go.
  4. I wake up to Adele, City and Colour or any sweet acoustic/cheesy/calm track I’m into at the moment. Slow enough to help me wake up relaxed but not so spa-like to put me to sleep again.

Do you have any routines you can’t live without? What are they like? Perhaps you are trying to develop one? Share in the comments. I’d love to know!

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Shawna Mendelson on Being a Jacked and Strong Woman – The Barbell Life 193

Shawna Mendelson is pretty amazing. She has dominated in powerlifting, rocked the Highland Games, stood on the bodybuilding stage multiple times, and operated a successful barbell club for years. She’s a boss in so many areas, and she shows that women can be jacked and strong.

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On top of all that, she’s been in the game long enough that she has some good perspective on how things have changed – and how things need to get better. So we had a chance to talk about geared powerlifting and the return of the WPO. This podcast is packed!


  • The tool she’s used to add tons to her squat
  • Hilarious stories from the past
  • The return of the WPO – and how it almost really ticked her off
  • Balancing business and training
  • Training Conjugate before it was Conjugate
  • and more…

Maximizing The Effectiveness of Training Alone by Nathan Hansen

Training can involve a mix of emotions, from the initial excitement of working out itself, to the reluctance of actually doing it (especially at the end of a long day). We often feel accomplished and happier when it’s all said and done. This is due in part to the endorphins – those feel-good chemicals that spike during physical activity – and the support of training partners and their expectations.

When training in groups, we typically work harder because we don’t want to be the weakest link. We don’t want to let the team or our training partner down. Despite telling ourselves, “I’m tired,” “I hate that movement,” or “I don’t want to do this right now,” we push through because we have that external motivation driving us forward. So even on days when we’re exhausted or reluctant to pick up a barbell, we often fight for those reps, heavier weights, or stellar times because we know someone is counting on us.

Training in a social environment also offers us an outlet for our minds. We can unload emotional baggage (e.g., work, family, personal affairs), express ourselves, and share our state of mind. In doing so, we have the weight of those negative thoughts and emotions lifted from us, and we tend to be more enthusiastic, optimistic, and focused going into the workout.

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What About When We Train Alone?

For many of us, working out is a solitary experience conducted in our garages or personal corner at the gym. We’re fighting a constant battle between pushing ourselves and finding the motivation to simply pick up a dumbbell. With limited support and a lack of external accountability, training alone can invite a series of issues if not handled correctly. But training alone may be the only option we have in our time-strapped and chaotic lives.

So how do we work through it? How do we make ourselves train when there is no one to push us forward?

Develop A Habit

One approach is developing a consistent and effective habit. The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. Habits typically take at least 28 consecutive days to cultivate (and sometimes longer). Consecutive doesn’t mean working out Monday through Friday and taking Saturday and Sunday off. It means you have something planned every day for at least 28 days to continue that habit. It means your rest days include some form of activity that may not be as taxing as a workout but still meets that objective. For instance, you could stretch, do yoga, go hiking, or bowling (be creative!). The intent is you’re doing something that stimulates and engrains that daily fitness routine.

A word of caution: It’s easier to say that you’re going to do something and another thing to actually do it, so you need to have a plan to optimize your success.

Develop A Schedule

Think about your sleeping habits. Is there a certain time you find yourself tired every night? What time do you find yourself waking up? How long have you been on this schedule? If it’s been longer than a month, you probably find that your body naturally tires or wakes up at specific times. A workout schedule functions similarly. The more you train at a certain time, the more your body and mind will remind you to get going. So you need to schedule when you’re going to work out ahead of time to plan for it effectively.

I recommend developing your workout schedule at the beginning of each week (and if you meal prep, do it around the same time to keep those like-minded goals together). Also, when you set those workout times, treat them like critical business meetings; block them out on your schedule. Guard those time slots. By placing emphasis and importance on these training periods, you are more likely to (1) take time to do them and (2) have a desire to complete them.

Create A Process

Once you’ve scheduled your workouts, you need to establish a process that will ensure you make it to the gym. For instance, this process may include the following:

  1. Pack workout clothes in car (to ensure you have the gear you need)
  2. Bring snacks/post-workout shake (to reduce hunger-related excuses)
  3. Change at work (to indicate how you plan to transition between work and the gym)
  4. Leave work no later than 5pm (or another specific time, to give yourself a deadline for action)

While it seems simplistic, determining the process leading up to the workout itself will make it easier to get to your destination. Once you arrive at the gym, all that’s left is taking the first step to begin your session.

Log Your Workouts

Once you’ve made it to the gym, log your workout to hold yourself accountable. Document what you accomplish during the session, to what intensity or degree, for how long, and at what level of quality – which includes marking lack of motivation and energy. If you miss a workout, is there a punishment? If you complete a workout, is there a reward? (My reward is a nice hot shower or ice bath!) By logging your workouts and the elements that comprise those workouts (e.g., quality, time, intensity, weight lifted), you create a tangible history that holds yourself accountable to your goals and allows you to review your progress.

Set Realistic Goals

Logging your workouts helps you generate a frame of reference for your workouts, but you need to have a strong and clear goal leading toward a positive and consistent pattern for a desired outcome. Specifically, this goal should be a fire starter. It should be something that is easily obtainable and simple; there should be no reason not to do it. For instance, my daily goal is to change into my workout clothes, which I pack in my car each night before work. This goal is simple, attainable, and near impossible to ignore, and it helps me get to the gym on days when my motivation is lowest. For instance:
“Self, you’ve had a mentally brutal day. Just go home and rest.”
“Self, that’s lame. You’re already changed, and all you need to do is step foot into that building.”
“Fine. But it’s going to be awful, and it’s going to suck.”
If I at least get myself to the gym, I can get into my flow process – my routine – and bring my focus back to the present and to my current training.

We tend to measure success by how well we do during a workout, but success is more about holding yourself accountable and understanding that some days will not be as excellent as others. And success starts with having that simple, daily goal. Whatever your daily goal is, it needs to be something that you can definitely achieve.

Make Time For Training With Others

Humans are social animals, and it can be relaxing to have human interaction when it comes to fitness. But working out with others also allows us to review our lifts and intensity in a group dynamic. This isn’t to say we should seek opportunities to compare our strengths to others (since comparison can be the thief of joy), but we should consider how we work out with others compared to how we work out alone. The social fitness environment allows you to gauge whether you are pushing as hard as you can at a sustainable level. Not only will this give you feedback on your fitness practices, but it may also reignite your motivation and desire to continue with your practice.

And when there’s no way to work out with others, consider sharing your workout plans and/or accomplishments to hold yourself accountable. Knowing that another person is aware of your workout plans and goals may encourage you to keep moving forward.

Scheduling, planning, logging, goal setting, and accountability will help you stay consistent and establish a workout habit, but consistency is not always sufficient. In the end, you need to have a motivating factor for creating that habit. Have a reason why you want to train each day. Without that high-order objective, training loses purpose and priority – both of which are essential to ensuring the event becomes a part of your routine and lifestyle. When we become busy, we look for ways to optimize our time, and those items that lack a place in our lives are usually the first to go. But if we make training a part of who we are, our workout gains power and purpose in our lives – reducing our excuses and encouraging us to focus on results.

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Three Things I Would Change if I Could Do It Again by Jacky Bigger

“If you could restart your weightlifting career, what things would you do differently?”

The other day someone asked me this question.

This really got me thinking. There are actually a lot of things I would change. Mainly because I know way more about the sport now than I did when I first started. I started learning the snatch and clean and jerk as part of my college strength and conditioning program. I loved the lifts so much I decided to compete. My coach and I were brand new to the sport, so there was TONS to learn. Fortunately since then, I’ve had the opportunity to lift alongside many high-level weightlifters and be coached by and learn from two of the best coaches in the country. I can now look back and see how silly some of the things I was doing actually were. I want to take some time to share a few of the biggest mistakes I made early on in my weightlifting career in hopes you guys won’t end up making some of the same ones.

I Would Have Moved Up A Weight Class Sooner

When I first started weightlifting I was a pretty skinny 56-kilogram lifter. I lacked muscle development in many places – so once I started training hard, I gained weight and muscle fast. In no time at all, I was up to weighing 62-63 kilos on a regular basis. However, not knowing much about how cutting weight over and over again affects your development as a lifter, especially a young one, I continued to make the cut down to 58 kilos. I also didn’t have the knowledge about nutrition that I do now, and I learned everything I knew about cutting weight from the wrestlers at school. Starving myself and doing extra cardio every day took a drastic toll on my strength and performance. Thankfully, I met coach Don McCauley, and he finally convinced me to go up to 63 kilos. After I made that decision, my strength shot up!

I see so many people making this same mistake. Either they’re too focused on aesthetics or are trying to make the cut down to qualify for the AO series or Nationals. Although this immediate satisfaction may feel good, letting your body grow and develop will pay off in the long run. If you’re just starting out, already have a healthy body composition, and your goal is to become a great weightlifter, I encourage you to put the weight cut on hold for a while. Take a moment to see what your body is capable of before depriving it of necessary nutrients and energy to recover and adapt properly to training.

I Would Have Done More GPP

Like I mentioned above, when I first started weightlifting, I was playing college softball. At that time, I was still getting plenty of conditioning, weight training, and plyometrics. Once I graduated from school and made the choice to really focus in on my weightlifting career, the extra GPP (general physical preparedness) work became almost non-existent. I was training under a coach whose program consisted mainly of the Olympic lifts, a few of their variations, and squats. I soon found myself feeling un-athletic and unbalanced.

When I started training under Coach Mash, he programmed so many variations of exercises and muscular balance work – some I hadn’t seen before and some I hadn’t done since college. At the same time, I started working at a few CrossFit gyms and would jump in on some metabolic conditioning workouts here and there. I quickly began to feel like my old athletic self again, and it showed in my Olympic lifts. I do recommend having structure and a good plan with extra GPP work added to your programming. It’s a necessary part in being a healthy, balanced athlete.

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I Would Have Done Way More Local Competitions

I was pretty naturally talented when I first started, and the qualifying totals and competition level were nowhere near the level they are today – so I found myself easily qualifying for Nationals and the American Open. I chose to make those meets my main focus and didn’t get in any competition experience outside of those major meets. At the time, there was one Nationals and one American Open per year, so my meets were few and far between. Some people are naturally great competitors and always crush weights at competition, but I’m not one of those people. I was constantly going 2 or 3/6 at these big competitions and not getting the experience of making lifts in competition.

If I could go back, I would have either done more local competitions with the goal of showing up and making lifts and going 6 for 6. I’m still today working on becoming a better competitor. So, if you’re a newer athlete, or a coach of a newer athlete, get out on the competition platform or get your lifters out on the completion platform often. Learn to make lifts now, and you’ll be more likely to do it in the future when you do qualify to compete at the national level. Plus, making lifts at competition is much more fun than going 2/6 or bombing out.

Those are three major things I would change. We all make mistakes as athletes and learning from them and moving forward is the best way to become better. Through all these mistakes, I’ve learned a ton and can now take my personal experience and share them with you, hoping you can learn from them and grow as an athlete.

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