Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

The New Science on Velocity Based Training with Coach Bryan Mann – The Barbell Life 358

If you’ve been following me for any length of time, you’ll know I am a huge fan of velocity based training.

So it is my privilege to once again have Bryan Mann on the podcast – the man who knows more about VBT than anyone else on the planet.

We talk today about how some people go too far with velocity, and we talk about how to get jacked with velocity. This one was so fun.


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  • Hypertrophy and velocity
  • Do some coaches over-rely on velocity?
  • It’s about the speed of RELAXING, not contracting
  • Changing terms because of so many misunderstandings
  • What changes with velocity based training as we age
  • and more…

Cytokine Hypothesis of Overtraining

Overtraining is a topic that has been highly debated in the strength world for quite some time now. I remember Glenn Pendlay saying that he didn’t believe in overtraining – only under-recovering. I think you will see from this research article review that it’s quite easy to discern between overtraining and overreaching.

Last week I read an interesting abstract from (Smith, 2004.) citing 75 studies backing her claims regarding the Overtraining Syndrome (OTS). My goals for this short article is to help all of you understand:

  • What is the Overtraining Syndrome?
  • How does one distinguish between OTS and overreaching?
  • What are cytokines and what is their purpose?
  • What distinguishes between acute/local and chronic/systemic inflammation?
  • How do cytokines affect the brain?
  • Difference between cell-mediated vs. humoral immunity?
  • Which branch of the immune system is altered by cytokines?
  • And consequently, how is the activity of the other branch affected, and with what result?
  • More importantly to you and your athletes, how does one avoid the Overtraining Syndrome?

What is the Overtraining Syndrome (OTS)? And what distinguishes OTS from “overreaching”? What is the most consistent symptom of OTS?

By definition overtraining syndrome is a decline in performance due to an amount of intensity in which the amount of recovery is not being met. This decrease in performance remains even after an extended rest period. OTS can last several weeks to months – and in some occasions for the duration of the athlete’s career.

The difference in OTS and overreaching is that overreaching is a training stimulus to promote adaptation leading to improved performance. This is the main premise behind supercompensation that we all strive to elicit with our athletes. The short decrease in performance only lasts a few days with overreaching, and most coaches would agree that overreaching is a planned stimulus that ends with increased performance.


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The most consistent symptom is a decrease in performance that persists even after prolonged rest periods. However, a change in mood is normally the first indicator leading me to believe a solid athlete monitoring program could help avoid OTS. There are several other symptoms that we will discuss later on that could easily be monitored with the most basic of monitoring systems.

How can exercise lead to an excess production of cytokines? What distinguishes regional inflammation from systemic inflammation?

Exercise is known to cause microtrauma. That’s the whole point of exercise – or in the case of weightlifters, powerlifters, and strength and conditioning athletes, the whole point of weight training. The trauma is healed by regional inflammation (aka acute) with a well-orchestrated response that leads to the healing and regeneration of tissue. This is why preparing wisely for performance is so important.

However, if the acute inflammation isn’t resolved with proper recovery, then chronic aka systemic inflammation is the result. After certain intervals of time regarding traumatized tissue, specifically white blood cells show up on the scene to aid with healing – and those WBCs are directed by cytokines. Cytokines in the bloodstream are a primary way of determining that acute inflammation is now systemic. Now the different organ systems of the body become involved, directed by the cytokines.

What are some specific effects of cytokines on the brain? Which regions of the brain have been found to be affected by cytokines?

Hormonal effects in the form of lower testosterone and higher cortisol are due to the effect of cytokines on the hypothalamus – also causing lower libido and a drop in appetite. The hypothalamus is also to blame for the lower energy levels and even depression associated with cytokines. A simple questionnaire would easily quantify this issue. I recommend asking questions like:

  • How was last night’s quality of sleep on a scale from 1-5 – with 5 being perfect? If their normal answer is 4 or 5 and all of a sudden you get a 2, it’s time for further conversation.
  • How is stress outside the gym (ex. relationships, school, or work) on a scale from 1-5? The goal is to look for an out of ordinary number.

The hippocampus is also affected by cytokines during systemic inflammation – which disrupts learning, memory, and academic performance. This again could lead to simple questions to encourage intervention to avoid a case of OTS. Also simply being aware of your athletes could help prevent OTS. Do they look mentally fatigued or in a fog? If so, don’t be afraid to ask some follow up questions.


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Which branch of the immune system is altered by cytokines? And consequently, how is the activity of the other branch affected, and with what result?

Cell-mediated immunity is related to the elimination of intracellular viruses and bacteria. Humoral immunity focuses on eliminating extracellular pathogens operating in the fluid of the body, such as blood and other extracellular fluid. It is thought that humoral immunity is increased while cell-mediated immunity is suppressed – mainly due to the research pertaining to responses to major surgical trauma. If this hypothesis is correct, chronic inflammation associated with OTS leaves the athlete open to viral or bacterial infection.

This hypothesis makes total sense when you look at the common side effects related to overtraining. This is why so many athletes get sick close to competition. They are a few days before a taper – meaning they are beatdown – and then boom, they get the flu. Avoiding going so far as to cause chronic inflammation is the way to avoid a lot of these negative side effects.

Here are some of the author’s recommendations to avoid overtraining that relate specifically to exercise programming:

  • Maintain meticulous records of training and competition. Monitoring your athlete in the following areas: choice of exercise, order of exercise, volume, average intensity, and rest between sets.
  • Don’t increase volume more than 10% per week.
  • Have at least one day of complete rest per week and also make note of required rest between sets and exercises.
  • Preferably vary loads and exercises at least somewhat from day to day – even if total load stays the same week to week. They’re referring to monotony, which is actually a measurable marker.
  • Vary hard and light days.
  • On heavy days, split loads if possible and avoid long durations on high intensity days.
  • Include seasonal variety including the use of macrocycles, mesocycles, and microcycles.
  • Avoid too many competitions.
  • Eat a well balanced diet, and possibly use a vitamin supplement and increase intake of antioxidants.
  • Monitor stress and axiety away from training ex. Family, relationships, school and work.
  • Make use of rest and recovery.

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This was a great article to read, and one that I will consider as I build my athlete monitoring system. Several of these are easily monitored, assuming that athletes are honest on daily questionnaires. This article will definitely lead to an article from me focused on prevention.

Here’s a list of signs and symptoms from the author to look out for:

I hope you enjoyed this short article, and I hope that it helps you and your athletes.

We are here for you during this Coronavirus crisis.

Let us help with customized programming and coaching when you have limited access to gym equipment.

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Hustling to Build a Supplement Company with Jeff Evans – The Barbell Life 356

Sometimes the ingredients of success can’t be taught.

That’s how it is with Jeff Evans – because this guy has HUSTLE.

Yes, we talk about CrossFit. Yes, we talk about coaching and technique. But really on this podcast we get deep into how Jeff is launching a supplement during the middle of the pandemic.

Get ready to be inspired.

Short on time in the gym? Here's the blueprint you need to follow.

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  • Childhood abuse, divorce, and suicide attempts
  • Reasons to prefer Front Squats over Back Squats
  • Starting a supplement company during the pandemic
  • Hustle that no one can teach
  • The ingredients that boost performance
  • and more…

The Pull Setup Debate – The Barbell Life 353

Shaking during the pull?
Falling out of position immediately?
Bar drifting in front?

Sometimes a lift is missed because of what happened before we even started applying force to the bar.

I’m talking, of course, about the setup.

This is an area of so much confusion – so we wanted to set the record straight on this podcast.


Master Technique and Programming for the Conventional Deadlift, Sumo Deadlift, and Clean Pull

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


  • What does CrossFit teach – and where are they right or wrong?
  • Diagnosing issues when one lift “outranks” the others
  • Why you lose positioning immediately
  • Sumo, conventional, and adapting into the ultimate athlete
  • Is it genetics? Or are you just a lazy desk jockey?
  • and more…

Finding the Best Coaching Methods with John Patrick – The Barbell Life 351

It was a blast talking with Coach John Patrick.

He has worked with so many amazing coaches, he’s worked with so many amazing athletes, and he’s worked with so many amazing different styles of coaching and programming.

So listen in to hear his thoughts on what truly works.



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.


  • Doing only Hatfield squats?
  • Conjugate to get buy-in
  • The biomechanics of throwing insane fastballs
  • Is there merit to high intensity training?
  • Amazing things using bands (true pioneers)
  • and more…

Simple Ways to Monitor Athlete Nervous Systems

The performance of a coach’s athlete sometimes seems to be a mystery.

I have personally spent hours putting together a program only to have an athlete perform poorly. I have thrown programs together only to witness lifetime personal records.

What does all of this mean? Is it luck? Well, the truth is sometimes it is – but there are so many factors we aren’t accounting for that could very well be the reason for success or failure.


Right now, I mainly coach my athletes at Lenoir-Rhyne University – along with my high-level super studs from around the world trying to dominate. On any given day, my athletes are dealing with high workloads, stress from exams, relationship issues, lack of sleep, time constraints, forced skipped meals, financial worries, fluctuating biorhythms, and more. All of this leading to PNS fatigue or worse CNS fatigue.

Now this is not an article debating CNS v PNS fatigue. I find those arguments interesting, since really, they work so closely together. At the end of the day, the peripheral nervous system is either following the orders of the central nervous system or sending the CNS information.

You can think of the CNS as the CEO of the entire body making all of the big decisions, and the PNS as workers on the street either carrying out the orders of the CNS/CEO or sending the CNS/CEO information being gathered on the street (aka our bodies). However, it’s this information being passed to the CNS that actually stimulates a sympathetic nervous system response or a parasympathetic nervous system response.

The goal is to spend more time in a parasympathetic nervous system state, since that is a more calming state for the body. The more we can stay in a parasympathetic state will relate to improvements in digestion, respiration, lower blood pressure, and a reduced heart rate. All of these factors leave the body not only feeling fresh and ready for training, but physiologically the body is ready to perform.

On the other hand, when an athlete spends excessive amounts of time in a sympathetic state, their heart rate is increased, blood pressure is increased, digestion is impaired, cortisol is released, and adrenal glands are fatigued. None of this is good for an athlete trying to improve, especially at the higher levels.


What can a coach do to help? We can only suggest that our athletes get sleep. We can only give suggestions regarding proper nutritional choices. We can tell them until we are blue in the face to get off of their cellphones an hour prior to bed, and yet they are still in control of their lives. Does this mean that we are powerless? May it never be!

We have the power of data collection, which can help us predict trends. Here are a few data points to track:

  • Questionnaire
  • Test/Cortisol Ratios
  • RFD
  • Velocity
  • Vertical Leap
  • Absolute Strength

None of these matters unless you consider the relationship with the variables or variables of importance. For example, as a weightlifting coach I need to see how each variable trends with the snatch and clean and jerk of each athlete. If the snatch and clean and jerk are numerically unaffected by a particular variable, then that variable is definitely not as significant in relation to performance. I might consider that particular variable regarding overall health, but it probably won’t matter in relation to improved performance in a competition.

Let’s take a look at each variable. We’ll discuss how the following information could easily help coaches in track and field, powerlifting, weightlifting, and just about any sport.


What are the questions you are asking your athletes? Here are a few that I suggest:

  • Rate your sleep on a scale from 1-5
  • Rate your nutrition on a scale from 1-5
  • Score your overall rate of perceived exertion on a scale from 1-5
  • Rate your stress levels in the classroom on a scale from 1-5
  • Rate your stress levels regarding your relationships on a scale from 1-5
  • Rate your performance anxiety on a scale from 1-5

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If you are coaching higher level athletes, you might consider separating out the nutrition and sleep into categories of their own. You can look at sleep on a few different levels. A simple way is tracking the number of hours of sleep per night, and the other is with a wearable like the ‘Whoop’ tracking the quality of sleep. You can do the same with nutrition, tracking total calories and preferably separating the macronutrients. It would be really wise to see how sleep and nutrition trend with performance. Normally those two will trend really closely with performance within a range.

What I mean by a range is that performance will be fairly stable from 7-9 hours for most – but when they dip below the 7 hours, performance will tend to be almost immediately affected. The same can be said for nutrition. Most athletes can fluctuate 250-500 calories, but if they drop below that range, obviously performance and recovery are affected.

Test/Cortisol Ratios and levels

This seems like quite the task, but there are some simple tests out there that are actually somewhat affordable. The endocrine system gives us some real insight into which branch of the autonomic nervous system is really running the show. If your athlete is spending the majority of his or her time in the sympathetic nervous system, then their cortisol levels are going to be elevated. Once again, the key is establishing trends.

Rate of Force Development

There are several ways to measure RFD, but in simple terms it is the time it takes to reach maximal force production. A force plate is needed for a reliable reading, so this one might not be practical for everyone. This is one of the advantages I have with being in the university setting. RFD is normally going to trend well with sprinting, weightlifting, throwing, or jumping.


This one has become the favorite of many top strength and conditioning coaches. It’s a bit more simple to measure than RFD, and thanks to my friends at GymAware, it’s now quite affordable with their ‘Flex Unit’ (Discount available here). One way to easily track trends is to pick a percentage that can easily be elicited by the athlete on a daily basis like 75-80%. Like RFD, velocity will normally trend nicely with explosive movements like sprinting, weightlifting, vertical leap, and throwing.

We are here for you during this Coronavirus crisis.

Let us help with customized programming and coaching when you have limited access to gym equipment.

If you are financially able to join our online team for customized programming at this time, we would appreciate your support.

If you are financially struggling during this time, we still want to help. Email us and we will try to help out in any way we can.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

Vertical Leap

If you have a jump mat, this one is very easy to monitor on a daily basis. Since the vertical leap is simply a product of RFD, this one can be a nice fill in. The key is to ensure the athlete is performing this and all the tests in the same manner. Preferably, you will want to ensure the athlete works out the same time of day with the same warm up, same verbal cues, and same motivational encouragement. If an athlete is competing with another student during this test, they need to compete with the same student athlete every day.

Absolute Strength

Now some people don’t like the idea of squatting heavy or deadlifting heavy on a consistent basis. However, working up consistently to 85% in the back squat, deadlift, or bench press (while monitoring the velocity) isn’t so demanding on the body. However, this will show trends in strength improvements in relation to explosive movements. Coach Dan Schaefer (soon to be Dr. Schaefer) did a great job of this with the track team at Florida State University while he was their head strength and conditioning coach.

Next week I am going to release a video teaching you guys how to build an excel sheet that will show trends, and that will tell you the correlation. Your sheets will look something like this:

I believe the next trend in strength and conditioning is going to be athlete monitoring – with an emphasis on data collection along with correlation. It’s already started with sports that have lots of money on the line and is slowly making its way into the more niche sports like weightlifting. You could use this type of data collection for weightlifting, powerlifting, sprinting, throwing, and many other sports with quantifiable outcomes.

Understanding the data is only half the battle. When a coach knows what to do with the data, then they’re dangerous to their competitors. Individualization is the future of all sports including the strength sports. It’s only with data that a coach can truly quantify his or her decisions. Therefore, you can either stick your lip out grumbling about how you don’t need this, or you can take some time to learn. Whether you become obsolete or not is up to you. I am simply trying to help all of you.


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.

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