Category Archives for "Powerlifting"

Failure Leads to Victory

We all love to win. No one loves to win more than me!

If you know me, you probably would agree. Some would say that I have an unhealthy desire to win, and that might be true. However, I have learned to have a healthy relationship with failure. Does that mean I enjoy losing? Not even close! Does it mean that I don’t get upset when I lose or one of my athletes loses? Absolutely not! That’s a normal reaction.

What does developing a healthy relationship with losing look like? That’s the question.

I am not saying that you should be indifferent. I hate the phrase, “you win some, you lose some.” When you work hard for a goal, commit to it, and execute a plan, you should go into whatever endeavor expecting victory. I don’t know about you, but I don’t work hard to lose.

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What is victory?

Before we go on, I want to define ‘victory’ because it’s different for everyone. Let’s look at a few examples. If you’re a strength athlete, some of us are looking to qualify for a national-level event. Some of us are trying to make the top ten, medal, or win the competition. Yet again some of us are trying to make an international team, win a medal at worlds, or even win the Olympics. Heck, maybe you are just trying to make all your planned lifts at your first meet.

What if you are a traditional sport athlete, such as a football player, wrestler, or softball player? A victory to you might look like the following:

  • Making you high school team
  • Earning a starting position
  • Earning all-conference
  • Earning all-state
  • Earning a scholarship
  • Playing Pro

You get it. The same can be said for teams. A victory to each team can be defined slightly different. This same outlook on victory can be applied to all aspects of life:

  • Family
  • Business
  • Friendships
  • Spiritually

The point I want to make is we are all working hard toward our own idea of victory.

The question is, “what happens when we lose?” It’s taken me a lifetime to figure this one out, and sometimes I still get it wrong. However, I can shed some light on the subject for all of you still struggling to deal with the losses that life will occasionally throw at you.

Case Study 1: Powerlifting Nationals 2004

In powerlifting, I rarely lost. One of the hardest ones to face was flying all the way out to California to earn my first ever bomb out. Here’s the saddest part of this tragic tale. I bombed out opening up at 930 pounds, when I could have easily won opening up at 850 pounds. It was my ego that drove me that day. No one could talk sense into my closed-off brain. My brain was too filled with testosterone to do the smart thing. So how did I respond?

Part of my response was wise, and part of it was immature and silly. I stormed to my hotel room like a furious bull and started formulating my plan for the next competition. I didn’t talk to another human for over a week, which was the silly part of all of this.

I’ve since learned to win with humility and lose with composure. You never know who is looking up to you. That might not mean much to some of you, but it means everything to me. If we aren’t inspiring others in our physical endeavors, then what are we doing? Who cares if we win the Olympics or world championships if we aren’t trying to encourage others? Winning is meaningless without substance – at least in my eyes.

So I flew home, and I started working toward the next big competition – which was the WPO Semi-Finals (the professional powerlifting organization of the time). I squatted deeper, better, and more often than ever. I worked on every known weakness. I improved on my recovery, especially in the nutrition and sleep department. I left no stone unturned.

The result was the all-time world record total of 2410 pounds in the 100-kilogram / 220-pound weight class. That was also the pound-for-pound best total of the time worldwide. I had turned my failure into success, increasing my total by 110 pounds during that time period. A lot of things changed in my life forever due to that victory, but really it was all due to a semi-good response to failure.

Case Study 2: Weightlifting Nationals 2017

In 2017, our Mash Team was stacked on the men’s and women’s side. We were the clear pick for winning both. That was until everything that could go wrong actually went wrong. Let me throw out a few:

  • Six people either bombed out or got hurt
  • One missed their weigh-in
  • Several under performed

It was a nightmare! I admit that for a split second I contemplated quitting as a weightlifting coach. It was truly a defining moment in my career. Obviously, I didn’t quit. But I did make several changes.

After looking back over the competition, there were quite a few bright moments in an otherwise dismal weekend. We won some individual national championships, and we left the competition with three men on the senior world team. However, there were some real changes that needed to take place:

  • Culture
  • Team Focus
  • Details

Our culture had taken a turn for the worse. My desire to win a team championship had clouded my judgment as to whom I would allow on our team. Coach Sean Waxman, my friend and mentor, pointed this out to me in his direct New York City style. Several of those team members are no longer with us, and now the culture is so much better. We are no longer a bunch of rebels running crazy. Our athletes listen to their coaches, and slowly all of them are becoming masters of the mundane. They are also kind to one another, and they are competitive yet supportive of one another.

The other big change we made was deciding not to take part in the team competitions anymore. I am not saying they are bad goals. It’s simply that our goal as a team is to help each individual reach the absolute pinnacle of their capabilities. The team competition simply adds extra stress to an already stressful competition. I want to do what’s right by the athlete not what’s right by the team.

At the end of the day, the team that sends the most athletes on international teams is the team that is actually winning. If I win a national championship and send no one to the world championships, I have failed. Now I am not trying to pass my ideology of to all of you as some law. It’s simply the way that I see it, and it’s the view of my team.

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The decision has led us on a streak of success. For example we average 4:6 at the Junior National Championships and Senior Pan American Championships Qualifier – and zero bomb outs. I am not saying we never bomb out, but they are few and far between now. Normally, if something like that happens now, it’s because we are being ultra aggressive and trying to make Team USA.

There’s one other benefit this new philosophy has given us. We make a much higher percentage of those aggressive attempts. All you have to do is look at the American Open Series 3 held in Las Vegas at the end of 2018. We absolutely crushed it. Hunter Elam came out of nowhere to earn a spot on the World Team by opening up at a lifetime PR clean and jerk of 121 kilograms and nailing it. We were aggressive all weekend just like that, and the entire team hit some sort of personal record. We also left the competition with four locked on the Senior World Team, two locked on the Youth World Team, and multiple American records. That’s victory to me, y’all. If the entire team goes 2:6 with this result, I am ok with it. 6:6 with no one on Team USA and/or no one breaking an American record is not a victory. You can keep your little wristband. But once again, this is just our mindset. I’m not saying everyone should think like us. Heck, life is a lot easier not thinking like this.

We’ve also learned to communicate better, and now Coach Crystal handles most of the details like what time weigh-ins are for each individual. Overall the tragedy of 2017 has been a major blessing. Our team is winning more than ever, enjoying each other more than ever, and having a better time slinging weights. That terrible competition helped us define ourselves as a team, and we are all better for it.

And now…

Recently at the Vegas Invitational/University Nationals/Youth World Championships, we had a 90% success rate with a couple of hiccups. We didn’t even flinch at the hiccups. We simply addressed the issues and moved on. It’s a necessary lesson all of us have to learn in life.

What’s the moral of the story? You don’t have to like losing. You shouldn’t like losing, or be indifferent to it. However if you want to be someone who wins most of the time, you have to be able to learn from losing. Otherwise, you’ll be the one who continues to lose again and again. I refuse to be that person, and I don’t want that for any of you no matter how big or small your goals are.

Your Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 247

On this podcast, we answer listener questions – and these are always some of my favorite podcasts.

You put out content that you hope benefits people, but you’re never really sure. But with these podcasts, we know we’re answering your direct questions.

So join us as we discuss powerlifting, weightlifting, athletic performance, programming, and tons more.

Seven of the Greatest Minds in Strength & Conditioning in One Book


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Featuring insight and programs from Coach Cal Dietz, Dr. Mike Israetel, Dr. Stu McGill, Coach Dan John, Dr. Bryan Mann, Matt Vincent, and Coach Danny Camargo


  • How to get your chest to grow
  • Getting a faster first pull
  • Dealing with “butt wink”
  • Increasing your deadlift by not working on your deadlift
  • Programming for a tactical athlete or super total athlete
  • and more…

Unilateral Work: A Case Study with Ryan Grimsland

I’m going to make a case for unilateral squats.

That may be surprising to many of you who have seen me debating bilateral vs unilateral squatting with Coach Mike Boyle. You’ve either seen me on Twitter, read my article, listened to my podcast, or you’ve seen the debate on Stronger Experts.

But make sure to read this article because I point out the positives of unilateral squatting. Once again, I want to be clear that I never said unilateral squats were bad. My whole point was bilateral squats are effective for improving athletic performance, and the research states they are relatively safe.

Getting Sore or Getting Hurt

When it comes to absolute strength and improving athletic performance, I believe bilateral squats taught correctly give you more bang for your buck when coaching athletes. The increased load is going to produce more hypertrophy, especially in areas that need it – like the legs, hips, and back.

Yes, I said back. I hate it when an athlete performs squats and goodmornings, wakes up sore, and then comes to a coach to say they’ve hurt their back. All good coaches understand this is soreness or muscle damage. It’s a necessary part of the strength and hypertrophy protocol. You break muscles down, and then you rebuild them stronger than ever. That’s the process of getting stronger.

I’ve never seen an athlete hurt their back while back squatting outside of powerlifting. Of course, in powerlifting you are pushing the biology of the back past its tipping point. That’s the name of the game for any sport. When people start squatting 3.5 to 4 times their body weight in the back squat, they are at that tipping point. It’s only a matter of time. However, in athletic performance we are asking the athletes for 2 to 2.5 times their body weight. This is hardly the biological tipping point.

When Back Squats Hurt

However, what happens when an athlete has a preexisting condition that irritates the back? We had a case of this during the last 13-week preparation for Junior Nationals and the Youth World Championships. Ryan Grimsland, a 67kg weightlifter, actually fractured his right hip when he was still competing in CrossFit. That injury causes his back to become irritated every so often.

Ryan’s back flared up about eight weeks ago. At first, we cut one of his squat days and added safety squat bar rear-leg elevated split squats on that day. We didn’t notice any change in leg strength or performance during the first two to three weeks. However, his back kept getting worse. We were in the middle of competition preparation and going quite heavy quite often. After talking to Dr. Lawrence Gray, Ryan’s chiropractor and my long-time chiropractor, we decided to make a few changes:

  1. Turn two of the three squat days into unilateral squat days.
  2. Make the third bilateral squat day optional, allowing the athlete to unilaterally squat instead.
  3. Trim the intensity of the competition lifts – except for Max Out Friday.

The plan worked really well for Junior Nationals. Ryan didn’t perform any bilateral squats during the final three weeks before Junior Nationals. His leg strength didn’t increase, but he maintained his strength really well. He also set personal records in the snatch, clean and jerk, and total – and he increased his lead as the number one youth weightlifter in the country.

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Obviously by now you all know that we killed it, but here’s one more highlight video because I freaking love this team. 1 overall Gold @ryangrimsland (also second to CJ Cummings for best lifter), 2 Silver @mad_lifts_15 and @reagan.henryyyyy , @hannah_dunnjoy PRed everything @nathan_clifton set PRs after a deathly illness, and @meredithalwine hit PR in the Snatch and Total and she was going lift for lift in the most epic battle in American Female history. Side note, we left with two boys on the Junior Pan Am Team and one on the Junior World Team all Youth age. We also left with two girls sitting pretty for Youth Pan Ams. I’ll take it! =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit

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Moving On

Before the Youth World Championships, which were three weeks after Junior Nationals, we added in one front squat day to each week of the final three weeks. At this point, his leg strength was finally starting to decrease. However, Ryan pulled off a competition PR clean and jerk at the Youth World Championships to take the bronze medal. He clean and jerked 148 kilograms at Youth Worlds, but his legs barely stood the weight up. He clean and jerked 150 kilograms in practice about nine weeks ago, and he stood it up with ease. He cleaned 155 kilograms as well during this training cycle about eight weeks out, but there is no way he could clean that weight right now.

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16-year-old @ryangrimsland with a competition PR Clean & Jerk of 147kg/324lb to secure Bronze at the Youth World Championships. Ryan is the third male in American history to medal at the Youth World Championships. =================== <link in bio> for: . -Online Video Seminar . – Mash Mafia Online Team . Feats of Strength Online Meet (proceeds benefit 501c3 Mash Weightlifting Team . -Hundreds of Free Articles & Workouts . -Donate to the 501c3 nonprofit team . – 21 Awesome E-Books . -Seminars . -FREE “Mash Method” E-Book . -FREE “The Barbell Life Podcast” . . @intekstrength #intekstrength @athleteps @harbingerfitness #harbingerfitness @tfox66 #nikeweightlifting #athleteps @mg12power #mg12thepowerofmagnesium #wodfitters @wodfitters @strongerexperts #strongerexperts @leanfitnesssystems #LEANFit

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Unilateral squatting got us through the Youth World Championships. It also helped Ryan eliminate the pain he was experiencing. My theory is that weightlifters spend the majority of their training time squatting and extending our hips with both legs in flexion. Over time, the overuse of hip flexion can put a lot of stress on the low back. The major hip flexor is the psoas, which originates in the bottom of the thoracic spine (T12) and lumbar spine (L1-L5). When the psoas shortens, it starts to put pressure on the low back. I think cutting the load on the spine and pelvis along with the rehabilitative properties of the unilateral squatting helped to strengthen the back and pelvis in a healthier way.



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

Core Training

We will continue to use unilateral squats at least once per week. We also use the “McGill Big Three” (developed by Dr. Stuart McGill) as a warm up and to encourage stiffening of the muscles which support the low back and hips. Proximal stiffness leads to a safer way to produce distal power and more power as well.

The McGill Big Three are as follows:

  • Bird Dogs
  • Side Planks
  • McGill Curl Up

Dr. Gray at Gray Chiropractic and Sports Associates was a big help with keeping Ryan healthy. Not only did Dr. Gray adjust Ryan’s spine, but also he added a new machine to his care, the AllCore 360 (which trains the core). Now, fancy machines or gadgets never fool me. I am only impressed by results, and that’s exactly what Ryan got – results. I remember the day I was sold on that piece of equipment. Ryan snatched 110 kilograms like a twig one day, just like he had on countless occasions. However, there was something different about the catch phase. It was more stable than I had ever seen it. He went on to snatch 125 kilograms that day for a 5-kilogram personal record. I attribute a big portion of that PR to Ryan’s core protocol at Dr. Gray’s.

Unilateral squats are amazing for keeping athletes healthy. They are also very specific for sport athletes, so I think everyone should use them as a part of their program. However, if you have an athlete with back issues irritated by back squats and front squats, unilateral squats are a great way to continue training without major leg weakness. They will keep you strong for standing weight up. They will strengthen you in other ways that bilateral squatting won’t. If you are a sport athlete like football, soccer, and lacrosse players, you will want to use unilateral squats simply because of specificity. You might not agree with Coach Boyle, but let’s not make the same mistake as him. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water!

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Athletic Performance with Tim Suchomel – The Barbell Life 246

Tim Suchomel lives in both the worlds of academia and of the strength coach.

So he gets to work with great athletes and then research what will help make them even better. Then he gets to teach us all about it.

He joins us on this podcast to share tons of science about safety, velocity, loading, depth jumps, postural work, and more. We also talk about the massive importance of individualization – something that we’re all about here at Mash Elite.


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.


  • Why we absolutely need individualization
  • Can your athlete even clean?
  • What’s even more important than load
  • The benefit of half squats and quarter squats
  • Snatching instead of cleaning to produce maximal speed and power
  • and more…

Bilateral vs. Unilateral Squatting

Several of you who follow me are aware of the debate between Coach Mike Boyle and me.

If you aren’t familiar with the debate, I will give you a bit of the background. Coach Boyle’s take is that all bilateral squatting is both unsafe and ineffective for improving athletic performance. He concludes that the compressive load on the spine is dangerous, and that the spine isn’t designed for compressive forces. He also concludes that unilateral is superior because sports are played unilaterally. Specificity is king, making unilateral the best choice.

My take is that both bilateral squats (front squat and back squat) and unilateral squats (split squats and lunges) are great choices for improving athletic performance and for stabilizing the body to prevent injuries.



This debate has prompted me to take a closer look at the research on this subject. Before I go into my findings and my thoughts on the topic, I want to say that I respect what Coach Boyle has accomplished and contributed to our industry. I have actually paid for two of his seminars, so I am in no way saying that he is a bad coach. That would be a foolish assumption on my part. I am simply disagreeing with him on this one issue. We agree on so many topics like:

  • Sport specific training should be left to the sport coach.
  • Box squatting can be dangerous – especially the bouncing and rolling box squats.
  • Cleans are awesome for power production.

With that being said, let’s take a look at what I found.

Point #1: Bilateral Deficit

Let me first explain what the bilateral deficit really is. If you test out your one-repetition maximum unilaterally and add the right max to the left max, the two combined will normally be about 10% more than your bilateral maximum. There are a lot of theories as to why that is, but the data is really inconclusive.

The two main theories are:

  1. We are wired to be unilateral creatures because we walk around our entire life unilaterally.
  2. When we perform a movement unilaterally, we are able to counterbalance or shift around to find a mechanical advantage. An example is when you perform a preacher curl with one arm; you will naturally contort your body a bit to bang out a couple of more repetitions. Obviously when you perform a movement bilaterally you are in a fixed position making counterbalance much harder.

I am going to go with the cause as just a neurological response from all of the normal day-to-day unilateral movement we all do naturally. Coach Boyle uses this finding to say the body performs better when using unilateral movements. He goes on to say the body shuts down neurologically when performing bilateral movements. However, the research doesn’t agree with him.

The research will show that athletes will narrow the bilateral deficit after performing bilateral movements for a length of time. A lot of studies show athletes eliminating the deficit altogether, and a few show bilateral facilitation (bilateral outperforming the sum of the unilateral movements). Regardless, what does any of this have to do with performance?

So far the only study performed on the bilateral deficit regarding athletic performance showed that athletes with little or no bilateral deficit were able to produce more force against the blocks at the start of a sprint. So once again, this is a great point to use both in your training. Clearly this is the stance taken by most coaches.

The other studies performed on unilateral and bilateral squats in athletic performance showed that both worked about the same regarding actions like sprints, vertical leaps, and broad jumps. Once again, the finding didn’t surprise me. This just showed that either option is fine. However, I still have to lean toward performing both due to the one study showing a smaller bilateral deficit contributing to more force into the blocks in a sprint.

Point #2: Building Back Strength

Then I brought up a point that hasn’t been discussed that often. Coach Boyle said the limiting factor in a lot of squats is the back and not the legs. I would agree that is true with most, but there are a lot of athletes who lose squats due to leg strength. I’d say 70% of people lose big squats due to back strength, which brought me to my point.

The fact that the spinal erectors must overcome a major spinal flexor moment during squats and even more in the front squat means that you are increasing the strength of your back when squatting. The load is at least 40% less in the unilateral squat, so the back is only forced to adapt to this light load. If you are a competitive football player or rugby player, you are going to need that back strength.

Here’s a crazy finding: an average defensive back in the NFL weighing 199 pounds and running a 4.56 40-yard dash is capable of producing 1600 pounds of tackling force. If you are building monsters capable of this kind of force, you better build monster backs capable of withstanding 1600 pounds of force.

Obviously even with trap bar deadlifts, the spinal flexor moment is great – but it is reduced because of the proximity to the center of the body. The farther up the spine that you move a bar will increase the spinal flexor moment. When you perform a front squat, the spinal flexor moment is even bigger because now the bar is in front of the body and ever farther away from an intervertebral joint in the spine. If you want monster athletes, use monster movements.



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

Specificity and Safety

At the end of the day, specificity will always win. If you are creating athletes who sprint, run, and cut, you should perform unilateral work specific to those movements. However, unlike the popular opinion of the unilateral crowd, not all sport is performed unilaterally. Just look at vertical leap, broad jump, the start of a sprint, athletic stance, batting, a wrestling throw, the start of a swim race, and so many jumps during volleyball. Once again, using both seems to be the answer.

To date there is no research on bilateral deficit as it pertains to risk of injury. Boyle simply references anecdotal data that several of his guys either got hurt bilaterally squatting or bilateral squatting was irritating the backs of his athletes. My data would say something much different. We haven’t noticed that squatting irritates anyone’s back. However, there are two cases on our team where athletes had prior injuries that didn’t allow them to back squat or squat as much. In one case, we simply performed front squats. In the other case, we performed unilateral squats once or twice per week and performed bilateral squatting two to three times.

Before I participated in the debate, I actually called Dr. Stuart McGill. Here were a few of my takeaways. First, here is Dr. McGill’s quote:

“Everything in biology has its tipping point. Below that tipping point everything is anabolic. Everything above that point is catabolic and damaging. This goes for unilateral squatting, bilateral squatting, and pretty much every lift.”

So either movement can be helpful or damaging based on the load and the particular athlete.

Dr. McGill and I agree that bad movement patterns can also get an athlete hurt regardless of load. If you notice a lot of knee valgus or anterior pelvic tilt while performing bilateral squats, you are probably going to get hurt. If you use a wide split stance during a unilateral squat, you are going to mess with the pelvic ring and cause SI joint pain. The takeaway is to find a good coach, learn the movement, and only load functional movement patterns.

All the research points to the back squat being one of the safest movements you can perform. When you are trying to build your absolute strength in those first two to three years, bilateral squats performed heavy are great. Once you reach that threshold of squatting around twice your bodyweight, you might want to consider specificity. At that point, based on these findings, I would focus on one day of velocity based training for the bilateral movements, one day of bilateral based movement for absolute strength, and one day of unilateral movements for hypertrophy and strength.

It might look like this:

Day 1

Unilateral squats – 5×5

Day 2

Velocity based back squat

Day 3

Front squat maximum effort
Unilateral squats – 3 x 8 each leg


I would like to say one more thing in defense of Coach Boyle. He coaches 1,000 athletes per year. He has to design a system to fit his athletes in their culture to get the most results. I think he has done a great job. His athletes are performing, so that’s all that needs to be said. (Of course I believe my athletes are performing even better, but I’m a little biased.)

Feel free to do your own research. I used two really great sources that led me to my research:

  1. “The Whole is Less than the Sum of the Whole” by Greg Nuckols in his online research review MASS
  2. “How to Squat: the Definitive Guide” also by Greg Nuckols

Yes, I am a Greg Nuckols fan mainly because he was one of my interns and powerlifters several years ago. He’s become quite amazing at diving into research and presenting his results in a way that is easily digested by coaches like me. I highly encourage all of you to check him out.

Matt Bergeron Brings Science to the Squat Debate – The Barbell Life 245

Maybe you’ve seen that I was recently in a little Twitter debate on the squat.

Are they safe? Should you only go unilateral?

Well, Matt Bergeron joins us today on the podcast to share the research.

We address many of the myths out there about safety and squatting – and we also talk about the important differences between exercise science and many other forms of science.



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


  • Do Mash athletes do unilateral squats? (Yes, we do.)
  • How I hurt my back squatting and what I learned from it
  • Why high performance athletes are unsafe
  • When to teach mechanics and when to not worry about it
  • Keeping football players healthy… by lifting heavy?
  • and more…