Category Archives for "Functional Fitness"

You Need to Know How to Scale Your Workouts by Crystal McCullough

“It has always bothered me when an athlete walks up and says, “I only used this weight” or “I couldn’t do the handstand push-ups” with a look of disgust. Every athlete is different and they are all on their own journey.
This fitness race is a marathon and not a sprint.  We must realize not to push athletes too far and, in turn, athletes must not get discouraged and realize that it is a culmination of training that gets them to where they want to be, not one training session.”

Coaches need to know how to program for all skill levels and athletes would benefit from knowing how best to scale workouts in any given setting.

Consider three different scenarios:

Scenario 1:

You are a high school strength and conditioning coach for a women’s basketball team in their off-season. The workout calls for strict pull-ups and running. You have 3 athletes who are unable to do strict pull-ups and 2 athletes that are coming off of ankle injuries and running is contraindicated. How do you appropriately scale them in order to give them the same stimulus as the other athletes?

Scenario 2:

You have a CrossFit class full of general population members of all different skill levels. The workout calls for handstand push-ups and heavy deadlifts. How do you appropriately scale them in order to keep them safe and still challenge them within their skill level?

Scenario 3:

You are an athlete that follows an online programming blog and you don’t have a coach right in front of you. The workout calls for movements that you are not yet proficient at? How do you scale appropriately?

Most of my focus in coaching has been with group classes (general population, youth, and competitors) mainly in a CrossFit-type setting and personal training. Although, this is where my specialty lies, regardless of if you are a CrossFit coach, high school strength and conditioning coach, or personal trainer, this applies to you.  We have to know how to scale appropriately for our athletes!

Photo credit: BAW Photography / Girls Gone Rx

Scaling is not a dirty word!

From my experience, the common theme, especially among the general population and youth classes, is the thought that scaling is a dirty word. This can’t be farther from the truth! If you are unfamiliar with a CrossFit class, at the end of the workout, each athlete’s time gets written on a whiteboard. The standard most everyone wants to reach is RX (as prescribed). Anything else is considered scaled.

It has always bothered me when an athlete walks up and says, “I only used this weight” or “I couldn’t do the handstand push-ups” with a look of disgust. Here is why! Every athlete is different and they are all on their own journey.  This fitness race is a marathon and not a sprint.  We must realize not to push athletes too far and, in turn, athletes must not get discouraged and realize that it is a culmination of training that gets them to where they want to be, not one training session. It is easiest to do this by having them keep a notebook of where they started versus where they are now. Sometimes, simply looking back will put it all into perspective.


Why do we scale?

Scaling is an art form coaches must learn. There are specific reasons why we scale an athlete and they need to understand the why. This will allow them to become self-sufficient, to know how to scale specific movements for future workouts, and if they are visiting another gym and working with a different coach, staying consistent. Athletes rely on us as coaches to give them safe and effective progressions that will give them the same stimulus as if they were doing the workout as prescribed.

There are different types of scaling and different reasons to scale:

  1. Lowering the weight to provide the correct stimulus
  2. Modifying gymnastics movements by using progressions due to skill level
  3. Alternative movements due to injury

We might have to lower the weight simply because the prescribed weight is too heavy regardless of the circumstance and lighter weight is necessary. Other times, it might be because the stimulus of the workout is for the weight to be light in order to get through the repetitions fast for an all-out effort workout. In this case, just because an athlete can do the weight, it doesn’t mean they should. I am going to use the fretted “Fran” for instance. Fran is 21 reps of thrusters at 95 pounds for men and 65 pounds for women, 21 reps of pull-ups, 15 reps of thrusters, 15 reps of pull-ups, 9 reps of thrusters, 9 reps of pull-ups. The best times in the world are sub 2 minutes. This means that you should be moving at all times and taking minimal rest breaks. For the general population, the workout should be scaled in order for it to be done in less than 7 minutes. So, for argument’s sake, you are slow at pull-ups and have to break them up AND the thruster weight is heavy, you might complete the workout, however, you won’t be getting the stimulus that is meant from Fran.

How you should probably look like after “Fran”.

There are other times when the workout is meant to be heavier to slow the athlete down, so the weight would be prescribed to be heavy. The weight might still be scaled in relation to the prescribed weight, however, if we use the thruster again, the weight you use for this workout would be heavier than the weight you used for Fran. You also have to look at the individual athlete and know their strengths. Women tend to have better strength endurance and can rep weights closer to their max than men. So, that can sometimes make it difficult to simply place a percentage on the weight to get the appropriate stimulus.

Some athletes may not be able to perform the bodyweight movements as written and will have to use progressions instead. The progression should be a version of the same movement that will allow the athlete to get stronger and eventually be able to perform the movement they are aiming for.  You can also program these progressions on a skill day to reinforce proper movement patterns in all athletes. Common bodyweight movements are push-ups, handstand push-ups, handstand walks, pull-ups (chin and chest to bar), ring rows, toes to bar, dips (stationary and rings), muscle ups (ring and bar), L-sits, box jumps, and one-legged squats. 

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Progressions for Common Bodyweight Movements

The progressions I am going to list are not the end all be all, however, these are what I have found have worked best for the athletes I have trained.


You want your athletes to be able to perform a push-up where they can keep their body tight and get full range of motion. For me, full range of motion is chest to the ground and full lock out in the top position. Hand placement depends on what muscle group you want to work, but standard push-ups are where the shoulder, elbow, and wrist are all stacked. The elbows stay nice and tight and don’t flare out. As far as progressions go, I prefer not to use the knees approach. Too many athletes don’t keep a straight body when they do them this way. Rather, raise the height of the hands to take some of the load off of the exercise. The higher the hands, the less the load is. As the athlete progresses, lower the height of the hands to make it more difficult.

Handstand Push-ups

To start, if an athlete cannot perform proper push-ups, then they should not progress at all to this movement. Continue to have them doing regular push-ups. If they can do regular push-ups, but are unable to do handstand push-ups, these are progressions I recommend. First, they can do what is called pike push-ups. To get to this position, you start out in the normal push-up position and walk your hands back until you are in a vertical pressing position rather than a horizontal pressing position as with the regular push-up.

Another progression is pike push-ups off of a box. The feet get placed on the box and the hands are walked back to where the hips and shoulders are stacked and eyes are staring at the box. Both of these progressions strengthen the shoulders and will help to increase strength in this movement. Negatives are a great strength component for athletes who can get upside down on the wall and hold themselves in that position for at least 15 seconds with arms locked out. Have them kick up on to the wall and slowly lower themselves down to a mat. Do this for 3-5 sets of 3 two to three times a week.


Handstand Holds/Walks

This can be as simple for some athletes as just getting upside down for the first time against a wall. Kicking up drills with a spot might be the first step in getting athletes to feel comfortable upside down. A drill that can be done to increase shoulder strength is getting in the same position as the box pike push-ups and walking around the box in both directions. Also, starting out farther away from the wall, kicking up and walking the rest of the way to the wall is a great way to begin handstand walking. As athletes progress, simply move them farther out from the wall.


It is my firm belief if an athlete cannot do strict pull-ups, they have no business doing the kipping pull-up. Strength should come first before ever introducing a ballistic movement. Once strict pull-ups are accomplished, never stop training them, but kipping pull-ups can be added into the arsenal. So, this progression is more for the athletes who struggle with strict pull-ups. What I have found works best to accomplish the same stimulus as a pull-up is a seated jackknife pull-up.  Put a barbell on the rack where it sits low enough for the athlete to sit on the floor and extend the arms fully. The shoulders should be stacked over the hips during the movement. Straightening the legs makes this movement harder, while bending the knees and placing the heels on the floor makes it easier. This allows for the legs to be used as needed, yet keeps the tempo strict, and allows for full range of motion.

For chin over bar, simply pull until the chin breaks the plane of the bar. For chest to bar, pull until the chest touches the bar. Negatives are also another great strength component that can be done in small sets. Have them jump up to the top of the pull-up position and slowly lower themselves down and then drop. Do this for 3-5 sets of 3 two to three times a week.


Ring Rows

Ring rows can be made difficult if the athlete is pulling their entire weight by placing their feet on a box or bench and getting in a horizontal position. The arms are straight and then pull the rings all the way to the armpits for full range of motion. The key is not to use the hips for momentum, but to instead keep a nice straight rigid body throughout. To scale this movement, the feet come down to the floor and the athlete walks their feet back to a position where they can get full range of motion without using the hips for momentum. The larger the angle to the floor, the less the load is.


Toes to Bar

This movement requires a good amount of core strength as well as grip strength. Some athletes may not be able to hold their own body weight on a pull-up rig. If that is the case, bring them down to the floor to do v-ups or leg raises. If the athlete can hold their body weight from the pull-up rig, but is unable to get their toes fully to the bar, they can do knee raises to 90 degrees. The rhythm of the toes to bar can be difficult to master. I recommend teaching the rhythm of the toes to bar to athletes and tell them to get the toes as close to the bar as possible while keeping the rhythm. Keep going even if the toes don’t reach the bar on every rep. They will eventually be able to do them and they will have already mastered the rhythm part. It is sometimes hard to unlearn the muscle memory of swinging in between the reps.


First of all, make sure the athlete has the core strength to hold themselves steady in the support position on the rings. If not, you can put them on a stationary dip bar. Full range of motion in a dip is full lockout at the top and the shoulder moves below the elbow with the height of the hips changing drastically in the bottom of the dip, meaning, the body stays vertical and there isn’t a lot of forward lean in the movement. Progressions that I have found work best are lowering the rings or the dip bar where the person can place their feet on the ground. This allows them to get a full range of motion in either the rings or stationary bar while using the legs as needed. Raise the rings as they get more proficient in the movement and this will force them to use more upper body rather than their legs.


Unless an athlete can perform efficient strict chest to bar pull-ups and dips, they will most likely lack the strength to do the muscle up. For these athletes, continue to work the strength component with them on the pull-ups and dips. Have them do ring pull-ups to the armpits and hold for 2-3 seconds. Have them do dead hang holds from the rings in a false grip. Do strict dips. For athletes who can do the pull-ups and dips efficiently, they may be lacking in the simple transition phase. For these athletes, work with them on the above drills and add in transition drills from low rings.


L-sits can be performed on parallettes, hanging from a pull-up bar, or from the support position on the rings. An l-sit is where arms are fully locked out with shoulders, elbows and wrists stacked, legs raised and straight parallel to the ground and chest is up. Progressions for this movement would be a bringing the knees in closer to the chest to make the hold easier or hanging from the pull-up bar with legs straight and parallel to the floor or knees bent.


Box Jumps

Unless an athlete has an injury that is contraindicated with jumping, I recommend having them start out jumping on a very low box to get the desired stimulus rather than step-ups. Jumping has much more of an effect on the heart rate than step-ups do. Continue to progress the athlete in height as you can. This will sometimes depend on the number of reps to be performed.


One-legged Squats (Pistol Squats)

Before introducing this movement to an athlete, make sure they are proficient in a simple air squat first. Due to lack of mobility/flexibility, some athletes will have trouble performing a one-legged squat. Progressions I have found work are using a box. You can start with a taller box and lower the box as they are able to perform the progression correctly. I also like taking a band and placing it across the j-hooks of the pull-up rig. This progression requires more stability than the box progression.  The lighter the band, the harder the progression. The band should be placed so that when the athlete sits back, their butt is already in contact with the band.

What about injuries?

When an athlete is injured, coaches must know how to modify movements in order to keep the athlete safe. One example would be a thruster. If an athlete has a shoulder issue and the pressing movement is contraindicated, simply have the athlete perform the front squat portion of the movement. Another example would be if an athlete has an ankle injury and running is contraindicated, place the athlete on the rower or the air bike instead. If jumping is contraindicated, have them do step ups instead. Think through the movements you have programmed for the day, think about the athletes that you have, and have a plan for modifications going into the day’s workout beforehand.

The responsibility does not solely lie on the coaches, however. Athletes, you have a responsibility as well. You have to trust the coach, put your ego aside, and be coachable. When the coach tells you to reduce the weight or perform certain progressions for a movement, believe they have your best interest in mind and only want to see you get better. Ask why, but don’t argue. Once you have mastered a progression, don’t be afraid to make the progression harder in order to continue advancing. Make sure to let the coach know if you have an injury or something is bothering you and one of the movements might exacerbate the issue. Communication is key to your success and your safety.

These are just a few suggestions I have found has worked from my own experience.  Having only been in this industry for a little over 6 years, I realize I still have so much to learn. I know, I know a woman getting started at age 35? Yes! Thankfully, CrossFit opened the door for me to pursue my passion for coaching. I find that when you surround yourself with those who are successful in the industry and know more than you, you get better! I will never stop learning and I hope you don’t either. Continue to hone your craft and continue to learn from others. Don’t be satisfied with the knowledge you have. I’ve written a few resources and programs specifically for functional fitness in our program samplers. Check them out if you’re looking for new ways to program for your athletes. 

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“Preventing Excessive Weight Gain After Weight Loss” by Coach Matt Shiver

A few weekends ago, I attended NSCA’s North Carolina State Conference. I was very impressed with the speakers who attended the event. One of the talks that was given focused on metabolism and body composition for athletes. I wanted to share some of the points that I took away from the lecture. Enjoy!

America does not have a problem losing weight. Every year in January we see thousands of people join the diet craze. They all are able to shed weight but it is only temporary. Many of them end up lowering their metabolism with these detox diets that rely on elimination and eating hypocaloric (less than they are burning throughout the day). After they do these diets, they go right back to the way they ate previously and expect to keep the weight off. Unfortunately, that just doesn’t work!

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Recent research coming out of the University of North Carolina’s Exercise Science Department is making correlations between the amount of weight that is put back on after dieting with the amount of lean mass loss during the diet.

What they are finding is that the body wants LEAN mass. When dieting, it is crucial that you are doing exercise and using nutritional strategies that support keeping lean mass. We all know how much easier it is to put on fat compared to being able to put on muscle. It takes a LONG time to add 1lb of true muscle.

What the body does when you lose lean muscle mass from a hypocaloric lifestyle, is that is CRAVES more calories to get that lean muscle back. This is why we are so hungry after our diet. We have this crazy ability to shove food in our mouth until our stomach hurts. The body wants to get back your lean body weight that you lost during your diet. It doesn’t care about your fat mass. It will do whatever it can to get you to eat more and get that lean mass back. This causes us to gain more fat mass than we had before the diet. All diets that are designed for large amounts of weight-loss are set up for failure because the body doesn’t want to do it. Your body likes homeostasis (no change). We are creatures of habit both mentally and physically.

While it is impossible to limit weight loss to just fat, there are different nutrition and training guidelines that can maximize your potential for holding onto lean muscle mass.

The researchers at UNC have found that a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio has been best for keeping lean body mass. While there were questions about the ketogenic diet, there has not been enough research to support any of the claims. The presenter emphasized that your body will function better as an athlete with carbs!! The last thing that was emphasized was that females need more fat in their diet than males. They should still have the 2:1 ratio but if their fat intake gets too low, their hormone cycle can be thrown for a loop. It is important to keep them high enough to not experience any variation in monthly cycles.

Another idea that was brought up in the lecture was the idea of periodizing your nutrition. Have specific times a year that you eat more, less, and just maintain your body weight. I have seen so many people who are looking for diet device who have been eating in a deficit for the majority of the months of the year. What I tell them, is that they need to eat more. Some people may need to gain a few pounds before starting to continue to try to lose weight.

Eating more food increases your metabolism. Eating less, slows the metabolism. If you are always eating less than you are burning, your metabolism is not going to be very high. This makes it nearly impossible to lose weight. Spend some time each year upping your calories to make dieting easier on you. Losing weight off eating 2000 calories is much better than losing weight eating 1200 calories!

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The researchers are finding that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) along with proper nutrition has shown to decrease the amount of lean muscle loss during a hypocaloric phase. HIIT interval training stimulates large muscle Type II fibers and uses the glycolytic pathway to keep the muscle! Slow and steady long-distance work stimulates Type I fibers and uses the aerobic pathway. If you aren’t familiar with these pathways and fiber types, don’t worry. I’ll make it simpler. Look at your long-distance marathon runner and compare them to a world class sprinter. You will see the sprinter is JACKED while the marathon runner is thin. This is because to be good at endurance running you need as little amount of body weight as possible to run. You don’t want big muscles that make you heavier and make you work harder to go long distances. Sprinters need to create POWER. Power comes from muscle!

When trying to lose fat mass and spare muscle mass let’s switch our focus to this HIIT training.

Here are just a few examples of ways to do HIIT Training:

Type of Exercise: Row, Run, Bike, Jump Rope, Stairs

10 reps of (30 seconds -1 minute of activity), (30 seconds – 1 minute of rest)
5 reps of 2 minutes on (hard), 1 min of rest
3-4 reps of 3-4 minutes on (moderate to hard), 3 minutes of rest

This can be done 2x a week and with 4x being the upper limit to allow your body to fully recover.

Research has shown that there is even a higher compliance to this HIIT training with obese clients compared to a traditional slow and steady training session. It feels AWESOME to feel like you worked hard! Just look at CrossFit. It is a variation of high intense interval training!

I hope this was educational! If you want personalized help with your nutrition/weight-management check out the online nutrition coaching!

If you guys live near Lewisville, NC or the surrounding area, we are open for business at LEAN Fitness (home of Mash Elite and TFW Winston-Salem). If you want to try us out for a FREE Week or have any questions, email us at


Coach Matt Shiver-

Coach Shiver is currently pursuing his DPT at Duke University. He is also an avid weightlifter himself.

Will Velocity Based Training Change the Way I Coach Athletes?

Will Velocity Based Training Change the Way I Coach Athletes?

Spencer Arnold and I have been talking about this question for months. Will velocity based training change the way that I coach athletes? It will definitely be a tool that I use from now on. Whether you are a strength and conditioning coach, weightlifting coach, powerlifting coach, or CrossFit coach, velocity based training offers multiple ways to improve your craft. Here’s the way that I am going to implement:

1. I am going to collect data on all of my athletes for at least 10-12 weeks. This will give me all the numbers that I need to put ranges on my guys and gals.

2. I will use VBT to give me ranges of speed at various percentages for all of my athletes, so that I can predict outcomes and alter daily routines. I want to know each of my athlete’s velocities at 60%, 70%, and 80%. If bar speed is up, then I might go big that day. If it’s down, then I might focus on technique.

3. I want to know the speeds that all of my athletes tend to fail, so that I can set limits for each of them. The goal would be to end the majority of misses to avoid injuries and over-training.

4. For my field and court athletes, I want to avoid all misses and injuries.

5. I will use VBT to teach my athletes effort and intent. I will also use it to teach new coaches to speed up their learning curve.

Coach Spencer Arnold and I have been working on this book for some time. I am personally excited, as it is so different from anything that I have ever written. This book will help my readers in so many areas of their coaching and programming. For athletes it will open them up to a whole new way to quantify their training, and understand their strengths and weaknesses.

This is the sixth article that we have written on the subject, so I wanted to put links to all of them in one spot for you guys to understand the concept a little better. Here you go:






I hope that this series on velocity based training has given all of you some ideas that might apply to your athletes or your own training. Let us know what questions that you still might have. We will be more than happy to answer.

This week, the new Mash E-Book “Bar Speed” drops. It is written by Coach Travis Mash and Coach Spencer Arnold. This book will help coaches and athletes:

• Define daily intent
• Keep the weight room safer
• Teach effort
• Prevent over-training
• Guarantee that all qualities of strength are being trained

It will provide you full programs for the sports of:

• Weightlifting
• Powerlifting
• CrossFit
• Athletic Performance
• SuperTotal

I even provided a high volume and low volume program for each. This will be unlike any program that I have ever written.

Stay tuned! If you are not on our newsletter list, you can get a FREE Copy of our E-Book “The Mash Method” all at the same time at:

“Maximizing Efficiency in the Sport of CrossFit” by Coach Spencer Arnold

Maximizing efficiency in the sport of CrossFit using Velocity Based Training.

by Coach Spencer Arnold, Head Coach Power and Grace Performance

If you have been around the competitive CrossFit scene at all you have heard the phrase, “slow is smooth and smooth is fast.“ This phrase, that many CrossFit coaches like to apply to their athlete’s movement, denotes that smooth will ultimately be the most efficient way to accomplish a task without any of the fatal flaws that comes with being reckless. The phrase itself likely has its roots in the military, which only heightens the necessity for precision.

In CrossFit, the speed at which I’m able to accomplish a task or workout or a combination of workouts is the all-important factor. For most workouts it’s about the clock when I’m finished. Therefore, both the efficiency at which I move a bar as well as the speed at which it is moving carries a crucial amount of importance in performance. Spectators easily notice this distinction in watching high caliber CrossFit athletes compete. One of the most often reference examples is watching Rich Froning complete workouts. For me, watching him work through a set of thrusters is mind-boggling. The bar is moving with relative ease continuously at the same velocity. It’s like he never slows down. The movement itself is far from reckless and is in fact uncannily in its efficiency. There’s a quick pause at the top of every rep with a properly loaded bounce through the bottom. Many of the competitors at his level perform the thruster a similar fashion.

The reason I bring these examples up is to point to two incredibly important factors. The best CrossFit athletes in the world waste no energy. They are able to move a barbell or their body or any other random object with the least amount of energy needed to accomplish the task with the greatest amount of speed. Secondly, these athletes move at high rates of speed for longer periods of time then most considered humanly possible. As a coach, there are a lot of moving parts around the success of a high-level CrossFit athlete but these two factors rank pretty high.

I say all this to point to one of the many ways that a velocity based training philosophy can be used in a CrossFit environment. Obviously the constructs of the tether attached to the velocity unit (Linear Position Transducer) itself prevent a lot of mobility that is required in a typical CrossFit workout. However, velocity units could be used in testing and in specifically engineering workouts to test these two factors of training mentioned above. The question you should be asking right now is how in the world does a velocity unit measure my efficiency. That’s simple. Take a look at a weightlifter that moves with really clean smooth efficient technique through a snatch. That weightlifter is going to be maximizing the speed at which the bar moves simply because there are no “power leaks“ within their technique. A high-caliber weightlifter will eliminate faults like the early arm bend or shifting to the front of the feet early or a lack of finish in the second pull. Their inefficient technique allows for greater velocity. How can I use a velocity unit to measure this? Simply by attaching the unit to the bar as they are performing those movements and noting the speed at which the ball moves when the movement is clean. Then, use the unit to the note lack of efficiency in the movement as a velocity begins to drop. Obviously fatigue will play into some of that but if it’s a relatively short amount of reps then it’s easy to see inefficient technique playing a part in dampened velocity. I can take a Rich Froning type athlete and attach a velocity unit him while he is performing a thruster and put him next to an athlete who has multiple technical faults and see the velocity difference. Especially in reps 3,4 and 5 this will become clear. While most good coaches can see this error with their eyes, an athletic training alone may not catch it. One of the biggest faults I often see in an athlete performing a heavy thruster is a shift to the front of the foot during the concentric phase as well as a collapsing of the anterior core doing the same phase. This is seen by weight shifting to the ball of the foot and their elbows dropping. However an athlete completing the movement by themselves may not have the kinesthetic awareness to recognize this fault but will be able to look at a screen in front of them and get immediate feedback on a technique failure. This will allow them to go back and correct the movement or during the next round focus on those two areas in order to maximize the efficiency during the lift. I recognize it seems a little crazy to attach a velocity tether to your bar for a workout like Fran. And I am not at all advocating that you should attach a velocity unit to every barbell movement as a CrossFit athlete. What I am saying is a velocity unit can be a good tool to measure inefficiency in movements that may be your weakness. I’m also saying that it’s worth measuring the velocity of those units at multiple points during a training phase in order to see if you were getting more efficient and moving about a higher rate of speed.

The mixed modality nature of the sport of CrossFit makes the utilization of velocity based training chaotic in most cases. However, there are specific scenarios in which the principles of VBT can be utilized. Experimenting with those situations especially with a proper understanding of your weaknesses will allow just a little bit of an edge on your competition. We all know that in the sport of CrossFit one rep in one round on one work out can be the difference in a podium or going home. Every edge matters! If an athlete is able to identify inefficiency or notice at what rep during a set fatigue begins to happen or understand their threshold for power endurance in the push press these are all little pieces of information that can go a long way in fixing weaknesses, becoming a better athlete, and reaching your goals.

Next week, the new Mash E-Book “Bar Speed” drops. It is written by Coach Travis Mash and Coach Spencer Arnold. This book will help coaches and athletes:

• Define daily intent
• Keep the weight room safer
• Teach effort
• Prevent over-training
• Guarantee that all qualities of strength are being trained

Stay tuned! If you are not on our newsletter list, you can get a FREE Copy of our E-Book “The Mash Method” all at the same time at:

Sola Fides,

Spencer Arnold
Owner/Head Coach
Power And Grace Performance

Can Velocity Based Training Replace Good Coaching?

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Can Velocity Based Training Replace Good Coaching?

by Coach Travis Mash

I have been studying velocity based training for the last three months just about every day. That’s what I do when I am interested in a topic. I check out the research, and then I look up my friends in the industry that I respect that are actually using what I am interested in. Then I read what they have to say, and then I call them or go see them. That’s exactly what I did here.

Velocity Based Training is a tool for coaches and athletes to use. It’s not really a method like the dynamic method for example. It’s a tool that can be used for to better quantify any method that you might use. VBT can do a lot more than just that like:

• Keep athletes safe
• Guarantee intent of training
• Teaching effort

These are just a few, but we will use these three benefits of VBT to make my point. A good coach desires first to keep his athletes safe. No matter what the goal is, safety has to be first. In the weight room, two of the biggest injuries in the weight room are wrists and lower backs. How do these injuries happen? A lot of wrist injuries occur when a lifter goes too heavy on a clean, and ends up with his elbows on his knees. A good coach knows when the bar speed is slowing, and will therefore cut the athlete off. Once in a while, a coach makes a mistake, and then boom a lifter breaks a wrist or sprains a wrist.

One time in my career, we had a major injury in my gym. I wasn’t there, and a younger coach let an athlete continue one set too many. It was a terrible day in the history of my gym. If we had used VBT, we could have put a minimum on our athletes. For example, we could have said that the minimum bar speed for a clean is 1.5 m/s. That would remain the same whether I was there or not. This would give a younger coach a quantifiable number instead of having to use their gut. Over time this can help speed the development of the coach as well. They will start to relate speed with a number. What takes most coaches years of experience can be taught if a few months of training.

You can do the same for squats and deadlifts. If you are a high school coach, you will definitely want to listen to this one. The last thing that you want to do is see a young athlete hurt their back. Is there really a reason for a high school athlete to try a maximum deadlift? That’s debatable, but I recommend putting a limit on the velocity. For example you could have them max out, but with at least a .5 m/s velocity. You could test them in this way avoiding grinding with slower velocities putting more stress on the athlete’s back. Of course a good coach knows when to cut off an athlete, but when you are coaching 30 athletes at the same time all by yourself in a high school, it’s hard to watch every single athlete max out. Setting this minimum immediately makes all the athletes watching become a coaching assistant.

Guarantee Intent- We all know by now that there are different qualities of strength. Let’s call them zones of strength. Here’s the way Coach Bryan Mann labels them:

Absolute Strength- .3 to .5 m/s and somewhere over 90%
Accelerative Strength- .5 to .75 m/s and somewhere between 65-90%
Strength Speed- .75 to 1.0 m/s and somewhere between 45-65%
Speed Strength- 1.0 to 1.3 m/s and somewhere between 25-45%
Starting Strength- 1.3 and greater m/s and somewhere less than 25%

All of us that coach have a reason for programming the way that we do. Some of us want our athletes going heavy very often. Some of us want to focus more on higher velocities. Personally I like a combination of the strength zones focusing more on the ones that relate to the sport I am programming for. How do we know that the athlete is actually training within the zone that we want?

A lot of us use percentages to control training intent. The problem is that an athlete’s 1RM can range 18% each way on any given day. That’s a 36% swing. Coaches like Don McCauley can see that in the way his athletes are moving, and he can make changes based on what he sees. He has two decades in the sport training the best athletes that the United States has to offer. It’s unreasonable to ask a coach with two years of experience to be able to do the same thing. Velocity can help all coaches quantify their training intent.

Teaching Effort- this is a big one. Heck this is hard for me at times. I can tell an athlete to push as fast as they can, but some simply don’t grasp the concept. I’ve had an athlete performing a speed squat only to push faster when verbally prompted. That shouldn’t happen. If you are pushing as fast as possible, you shouldn’t be able to push faster on command. VBT is a way to show the athletes with a number on a screen. Soon an athlete starts to relate speed with the number. Therefore they start learning the concept of speed.

They will learn that .8 is moving pretty fast probably with a descent amount of weight. They will learn that 1.0 to 1.3 is really starting to generate some major speed and power. They know that anything faster than 1.3 is freaking moving man. It’s an amazing tool that I wish had been around when I was coming up as an athlete.

So does velocity based training replace good coaching? Obviously the answer is no, but it sure does help in a lot of ways. It shortens the training curve of less experienced coaches, and it helps advanced coaches teach their assistants and their own athletes. It’s just a tool, but it’s pretty darn amazing.

Right now VBT has been used primarily in the strength and conditioning world. Coach Spencer Arnold and I are bringing it to the rest of the barbell world. Next week we are dropping our latest e-book “Bar Speed” all about velocity based training. We are teaching:

• Weightlifting Coaches and Athletes
• Powerlifting Coaches and Athletes
• CrossFit Coaches and Athletes
• Athletic Performance Coaches and Athletes
• Even SuperTotal Coaches and Athletes

We are going to teach all of you everything that we have learned about velocity based training. We also have laid out full programs for each division and explained them to give you a better idea. I am excited about the programs because they are different from the ones that I normally write. I think that you will all enjoy them as well.

I can’t wait to release this book, as the programming inside will be different from anything that I have ever published. This book will help coaches and athletes:

• Define daily intent
• Keep the weight room safer
• Teach effort
• Prevent over-training
• Guarantee that all qualities of strength are being trained

Stay tuned! If you are not on our newsletter list, you can get a FREE Copy of our E-Book “The Mash Method” all at the same time at:

“Basics of Training Frequency” by Coach Matt Shiver

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Basics of Training Frequency

by Coach Matt Shiver

One of the biggest questions we hear as fitness professionals is how often should I exercise? The question then gets broken down into: “How often should I train specific movement patterns or specific body parts?” Well the answer to this question is “It depends”. Like many of the training variables, frequency is going to be changed throughout one’s fitness career based on their goals, training history/progress, and lifestyle. But the basics of frequency need to be laid out so that is what I will do here.

High Frequency Training for Strength

The most effective way to increase strength and hypertrophy is through resistance training using progressive overload. The easiest way to “progressively overload” an athlete is to increase the total poundage of weight lifted over a given time period. The equation is as follows: weight x sets x reps. If you did 100lb squats for 3 sets of 5 reps in one week, your total volume will be 1500lbs for that week. Your body will adapt to the 1500lb stress you applied to it. This means that the next week, you need to use more than 1500lbs to elicit an anabolic response.

To get more poundage added in your training program, at least one of the three variables (weight, sets, or reps) must be increased each week. Notice how I highlighted each week. You do not have to add weight, sets, and reps to every training session. Instead you can add another training day. For example, if you are used to squatting 1x a week and you start squatting 2x per week, you increased the frequency and total volume just by adding one more day. You do not have to add more sets or reps to each workout with an additional training session. You could actually decrease the amounts of sets and reps you do each day and spread them out over the week to leave your legs feeling fresh and still progress through the principle of overload.

For example, if you did 100lb squats for 2 sets of 5 reps twice a week, you have a total of 2000lbs of total volume. By taking this approach, you actually decreased one workout’s sets by one set in the process and increased the total workload by 500lbs.

You do not need to train your body to exhaustion by adding weight, reps, and sets to one day of training to make progress. By spreading out the amount of times you stress that muscle each week, you can directly increase the total volume. This approach allows you to get more work done and feel much better through the process.

We all have done a typical bodybuilding split that had its leg day. The leg day consisted of absolutely demolishing the legs. The DOMs you got made it difficult to use your legs the next day. Your legs sometimes took a full week to recover from the training stimulus.

This approach is most likely not optimal for maximal strength gains. It limits the total poundage that can be lifted due to the muscle damage that was caused from such a high volume. If we took an approach that lessened the muscular damage done in one session, allowed us to train a movement pattern more often, and increase the total poundage of weight lifted over a given week why not do it?

High Frequency Training for Hypertrophy

My biggest concern for doing the classic “bro split” (spending one day on a specific muscle group) is that you are could be missing out on more opportunities to stimulate growth of the muscle tissue. If the body part is fully recovered in 48-72 hours, why wait another 4-5 days to stress it again? You will be getting much more bang for your buck by increasing your exercise frequency over a given week rather than increasing the amount of total work done in a single session.

If you are currently training using a conventional “bro split” for hypertrophy and want to give this a try, here is how. First, you need to find out your baseline volume. You need to find out how much total volume you need to continue to make adaptations in your training. I suggest doing this by tracking your workouts for an entire week. Then break down the week into movement patterns or body parts: vertical pressing, horizontal pressing, vertical pulling, horizontal pulling, squats, hinges, carries, core, etc. OR biceps, triceps, chest, back, quads, hamstrings and glutes, calves, etc.

Then, find the total SETS for EACH movement pattern/body part. From there, decide on how many days a week you want to exercise. For most people I would suggest doing full body workouts on each of these days splitting up the amount of sets of each muscle group evenly over these days. If you were used to training vertical pressing 1x per week with 9 sets, now try to train vertical pressing 3x per week with 3 sets each. You are going to be stimulating growth more frequently than you were before. You will NOT be as sore. Soreness is not a marker of muscle growth. You do not need to be sore to increase your muscle size. If you can hit a muscle group more often with less damage, you are setting yourself up for success.

Experience Determines Training Frequency

Frequency is also going to be determined by how the experience levels of the athlete. The more experience you have, the higher frequency you will need to have to meet the total volume needed to adapt to an exercise stimulus. This is what we see when we have elite level weightlifters training 9-12 training sessions a week. They have built up to this level of frequency. There is no reason to start a program that makes you train 5x-7x a week if you are used to 2x. That is a huge jump! You are actually going to LOSE gains from this. You could easily continue to make gains with minimal jumps in total training volume. By increasing your frequency and total volume too quickly, you are going to be making a new set point for your body. Now to improve, you have to increase even more in total volume. Why would you want to train for 2 hours a day for 5-6 days a week if you can get the same, if not better, response to exercise from training 3 days a week for 45 minutes to an hour. It gives you more time to focus on what really matters in life. More is not necessarily better when it comes to hypertrophy and strength training.

Next week our latest e-book “Bar Speed” drops teaching you guys everything there is to know about velocity based training for all athletes (Weightlifting, Powerlifting, SuperTotal, Athletic Performance, and CrossFit). Coach Spencer Arnold from Power & Grace Performance and I explain all the ways that VBT can be applied to each sport, and we give you sample programs for each sport.

Until then you can download our Free E-Book “Mash Method” to learn several ways to set new records in your training right now. Check it out at: ==>