Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Olympian Cara Heads Slaughter – The Barbell Life 225

We talk today to an Olympian. We talk today to a pioneer.

Cara Heads Slaughter was not only in the Olympics… she was in the very first Olympics when the sport of weightlifting was opened up to females.

In fact, her story is one of breaking through barrier after barrier on her way to the Olympic platform.

Now, she’s a coach and uses her decades of experience to train her athletes – so of course we get into programming and coaching. Cara learned some great lessons that we can all benefit from.
 

WESTSIDE BARBELL METHODS IN WEIGHTLIFTING?

COACH TRAVIS MASH GETS INSIDE THE MIND OF LOUIE SIMMONS

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.

 

LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • What breakthrough led to her greatest PRs
  • How she benefitted from never seeing her program
  • What were the Olympics like?
  • Winning $18,000 in a weightlifting competition
  • How her various coaches have had different approaches
  • and more…

Understanding All Aspects of an Athlete

Every athlete is an individual.

Coaching them to greatness requires you to learn about who they are and how they think – and then to put this knowledge into practice.

Right now I am reading Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew, and I have to give this book a big thumbs up. I thought it was going to be some guy’s opinion about how to get buy-in from your athletes. I was totally wrong. Coach Bartholomew does a great job of using science and research to come up with a list of archetypes, which is a system of classifying athletes based on their personality traits.

He goes on to define each archetype with their pros and cons, and he gives you some pointers on how to deal with each archetype. I am going to read this book a couple of times and put it to practice before I give a complete report. However, I can say right now it already has me thinking about each of my athletes… and that’s a lot of people.

THE CHALLENGE

Some of my athletes are easily classified. But others are hard to put a finger on – like Hunter Elam. She was talking yesterday about being hard to coach, and I laughed it off. She’s like a seven-sided Rubik’s cube, which might freak some coaches out. However, I enjoy the challenge – and that’s why her performance at the AO3 was so emotional.

There was so much thought that went into her performance. We lost 9 kilograms of bodyweight to get to 64 kilograms. We had to get stronger during that process to beat all those amazing women in the 64kg class (minus Mattie Sasser, of course). She had to hit that huge 121kg clean and jerk opener. We had to prepare her mentally for competition, which is the hardest part for most weightlifters. Team sports don’t prepare you for an individual sport like weightlifting. It’s just you out there on the platform with the three judges and all the people in the crowd staring at you waiting for you to succeed or miss. All of the training and preparation comes down to just six attempts. It doesn’t matter how well training went or how bad it went. It all comes down to those six minutes of your life. Your dreams will either come true or falter in those six minutes.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2018...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

GOLDEN RULE

How do you get to know your athletes to prepare them for their individual sport? There’s one thing that Brett says that I disagree with but just in degree. He says that the golden rule (“treat people the way you want to be treated” or the biblical “love your neighbor as you love yourself”) is wrong. He says people want to be treated the way they want to be treated. I agree, but I think he’s reading to deep into the golden rule.

Everyone wants to be treated with respect. Everyone wants to be treated fairly. Everyone wants to be heard. These are the keys to understanding what archetype you are dealing with. If you don’t get these basics right, you’ll never get to the suggestions that he gives for dealing with each archetype.

WHAT A COACH SHOULD BE

These qualities I’m suggesting can be quite rare in coaching – especially in the strength and conditioning world. Too often the role of the strength and conditioning coach, weightlifting coach, or powerlifting coach is filled with a Type-A personality who wants to beat his chest, bark out some commands, and never be questioned. If you’re in the university setting that may work because the athletes have to listen to what you say. I don’t think that this gets the best results, but they can do what they want.

The problem with the university coach is they can hide behind good recruiting and a good relationship with the head coach. Personally I think the standards need to increase instead of it being the good ol’ boy network. We’ve all seen the crazy videos of athletes performing heavy lifts with terrible form while the shirtless strength coach is screaming and yelling to pump him up. Look, I am all for bringing the juice if there are some brains and substance behind it.

Coach Joe Kenn is a great example of what a strength coach should be. Yeah, he’ll pump you up – but there is substance and reasoning behind everything he does. His son, Peter, is going to be amazing as well. Peter has spent his life preparing to be the best strength and conditioning coach on the planet. He’s worked with me to perfect his weightlifting technique, and he’s worked with Coach Chris “Ox” Mason and me on his powerlifting technique. He’s going to end up with his Master’s Degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University – and don’t forget that he’s grown up with the man himself. He will be prepared to coach!

MUST HAVES

Here are some qualities that a good coach in the strength world has to have:

RESPECT

You have to respect each of your athletes. Respect will earn you the ability for athletes to open up to you. If you disrespect an athlete, you can expect to never know or understand that person. No one is going to open up to someone who doesn’t respect him or her.

LISTEN

Listen to your athletes! They will normally tell you everything you need to know. This is how you figure out what archetype you are dealing with. You have to get to know each and every one of your athletes by asking a question… and then shutting your mouth and listening. Listening is a skill that very few people possess. Most people feel like they need to be talking. Here’s some news for all of you: the person talking isn’t learning anything. The quiet person is learning everything.

TREAT PEOPLE FAIRLY

This is a tough one, and this quality needs to be nurtured. We are all naturally drawn to certain types of people – but as coaches, each one of our athletes needs to know without a doubt that we have their best interest in mind.

One process I am going to institute is more scheduled one-on-one meetings with my athletes. I want to know their struggles in life and in the gym. Struggles in life affect results in the gym. Let me give you an example. If an athlete is working more on a job or is having to study more (both of which affect sleep), that’s a great time to lower volume and/or intensity to match the added stress in life. I know that we want our athletes to live this perfect life where they get nine to eleven hours of sleep per night, but that’s not the real world all of the time. A good coach adapts to life’s circumstances while encouraging the athlete to work towards a better situation.

INDIVIDUALIZATION IS THE FUTURE

I believe the next big movement in the strength world will be toward individualization. I’m not just talking about programming. I’m talking about everything from recovery to mobility to nutrition – and yes, I am definitely talking about programming and everything involved with programming. One solid truth I know about the human body is that there aren’t two alike. If that’s true, how can one program ideally work for a big group?

I just wrote The Mash Files, which talks about all the different ways I currently individualize for each of my athletes. We’ve had a lot of success lately, and I attribute this success to our individualized approach. I’ve worked hard researching all the ways to perfect individualized coaching, and now it’s time to pass it on to you guys. Like always, I want you and your athletes to benefit from the same knowledge that is helping my athletes crush it.

COMING SOON: THE MASH FILES

CASE STUDIES IN TAILORING PROGRAMS TO INDIVIDUAL ATHLETES

Sign up for the Mash Elite Newsletter to be notified when we launch the Mash Files. Plus you'll instantly receive the Mash Method - Travis Mash's powerful neural activation technique that will have you setting PRs tomorrow.

As always, thank you so much for reading and following this crazy team of mine! The only way I can support these amazing athletes is from the help and support of all of you.

Six Factors to Coaching Success

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

SUCCESS IS A FORMULA

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

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

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

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

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

FIRST FACTOR: FIND A MENTOR

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

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

GIVING

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

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

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

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

THE SAME TEAM

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

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

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

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2018...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

SECOND FACTOR: ALWAYS LEARN

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

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

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

THIRD FACTOR: BE NICE

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

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

FOURTH FACTOR: FORM AN AWESOME CULTURE

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

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

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

FIFTH FACTOR: RECRUIT

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

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

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

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

SIXTH FACTOR: INDIVIDUALIZE FOR YOUR ATHLETE

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

COMING SOON: THE MASH FILES

CASE STUDIES IN TAILORING PROGRAMS TO INDIVIDUAL ATHLETES

Sign up for the Mash Elite Newsletter to be notified when we launch the Mash Files. Plus you'll instantly receive the Mash Method - Travis Mash's powerful neural activation technique that will have you setting PRs tomorrow.

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

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

The Path to Being a High Paid Coach with Jeremy Augusta – The Barbell Life 223

Jeremy Augusta is the owner of BarbellJobs.com – so he would know better than anyone else about the recent trends in the fitness industry.

And he’s got great news for everyone who loves the barbell!

Right now there are coaching jobs out there for $90,000 – and Jeremy thinks that’s just the beginning. Strength training is on the rise, and we may soon reach the time where more people are back squatting than jogging. It is so exciting to think that it’s now possible to have a full-time, high-paying career in powerlifting or weightlifting.

Are you one of those who’s looking for a job in the industry? Then you’ll definitely want to listen to Jeremy’s advice on how to go about crafting the perfect application on your hunt for your dream job.
 

Travis Mash's Masterpiece for Strength Training and Programming

The Mash System

World champion and world-class coach Travis Mash gives you every trick in his programming toolbox plus FIVE 12 week strength programs for weightlifting, powerlifting and athletic performance and more.

 

LISTEN IN TO TODAY’S PODCAST AS WE TALK ABOUT:

  • How to apply for a high-paying coaching job (so that you get hired instead of ignored)
  • Marketing yourself on YouTube and Instagram
  • Certifications are worthless?
  • The biggest reasons gyms don’t grow
  • The number one thing you can do to add value to the gym where you work
  • and more…

Why Strength Athletes Should Condition by Crystal McCullough

My own athletes have questioned the reasoning behind why I add conditioning to their programs.

“I’m a strength athlete, why do I need conditioning?”

“Will doing GPP affect my strength?”

Eric Bowman wrote a great article about heart health and how it relates to the strength athlete. His focus was mainly on bigger athletes, and I completely agree with his assessment of how those athletes can begin to make improvements in their cardiovascular health. My focus for this article is on the strength athlete in general – and why it is a good idea for all strength athletes to condition.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...
and DO WHAT YOU WANT.

CrossFit

Both the sports of weightlifting and powerlifting have become more mainstream in recent years partly due to the popularity of CrossFit. I find there are generally three types of CrossFit athletes:

  1. The athlete who does CrossFit for their health and for the community.
  2. The athlete who does CrossFit, finds a passion for competing, and may aspire to make it to the CrossFit Games one day.
  3. The athlete who finds CrossFit and, as much as they enjoy it, finds a passion in a specialty within the sport with either weightlifting or powerlifting.

Personally, I started out in category two and (after a couple injuries) moved to category three. The benefit for the athletes who come into the sports of powerlifting and weightlifting through CrossFit is they generally like to condition and have built up a good work capacity. They don’t have to be convinced to do GPP. This will normally carry over in some form or fashion into their new sport. It is the athlete who finds weightlifting or powerlifting through other avenues who might be de-conditioned and not see the value in conditioning.

What GPP Really Is

General Physical Preparedness (GPP) is defined by Athlepedia as “a preparatory phase of training that is intended to provide balanced physical conditioning in endurance, strength, speed, flexibility, and other basic factors of fitness… it can be considered all-around fitness.”

Merriam Webster defines conditioning as “the process of training to become physically fit by a regimen of exercise, diet, and rest.”

If you live a balanced life, which for your sake, I hope you do, your sport does not define you. You have family, friends, and a job. Training only takes up a small portion of your 24-hour day.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can you walk across a room without getting winded?
  • Can you walk up a flight of stairs without getting winded?
  • Can you easily get up and down off the floor?
  • Can you sit Indian style on the floor?
  • Can you touch your toes?
  • Can you squat barefoot?

If you said no to any of these questions, then you have room for improvement! What is the point of being able to lift a huge amount of weight if daily tasks are difficult? I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone say, “Man, I wish I wasn’t in such good shape.” Have you?

While strength may be your focus in the gym, the conditioning gets you prepared for other important things outside of the gym:

  • Flexibility to get on the floor and play with your small children
  • Endurance to get out in the yard and throw a football or baseball with your teenager
  • Energy for sex

Adding in Conditioning

Generalized conditioning for both a powerlifter and a weightlifter would include some of the following:

  • Low impact steady state cardio at 75% heart rate. You can do this on a bike, rower, or treadmill/road. You could start with 20 minutes and slowly build each week up to 60 minutes depending on how much time you have. I personally prefer not to run. I feel it too much in my lower back and hamstrings the next day. You can speed walk if you don’t have any other equipment.
  • Row or Bike Intervals. You can do anywhere from 10-40 sets with varied timed intervals. You can start out on the low end and build each week . My favorite is 20-30 seconds of work with 30-40 seconds of rest. Eventually, you can remove the rest and do 20-30 seconds fast and 30-40 seconds recovery pace for the same number of sets.
  • Strongman implements are great for conditioning. You will feel it while you are performing the movement, but there is usually no residual muscle damage or soreness. I like to do these as part of my accessory work and treat it like a conditioning piece. Most days, I am limited on time, so I get more bang for my buck by turning it into:
    • Carries – Zercher, farmer (unilateral and bilateral), overhead carries (unilateral and bilateral), front rack, sandbag
    • Sled work

Conditioning for powerlifters and weightlifters should be a complementary piece and can be done wrong IF you are choosing exercises that cause additional muscle damage on top of what you already get with your sport. Movements to avoid are anything that has an eccentric portion, especially with load. Examples of the eccentric portion would be the descent in the squat or deadlift. Research says the eccentric portion of the movement can cause DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Because you get all the benefits from eccentric training in your strength movements, there is no need to add additional muscle damage and soreness in the conditioning piece.

For my CrossFit athletes who are in a strength cycle, they will do barbell cycling during downsets as part of their conditioning. Being able to barbell cycle during a workout for competitive CrossFit athletes is extremely important. Speed and efficiency with these movements can make or break a workout.

Something important to note for competitive weightlifters is when lifting in a meet, you may not know how much time you have between lifts. You may think you have two minutes, but then someone takes your clock. That puts you right back up in the hot seat. Conditioned athletes are prepared for that moment. It’s the deconditioned athlete who comes off the stage winded from an attempt that may crumble if they have to step right back up.

Here's the key to unlocking even more gains in 2018...

Become a member of the Mash Mafia.

* Fully Customized Programming

* Unlimited Technique Analysis

* The Best Coaching in the World

I hope you read this article and can now see the value in adding conditioning to your training if you didn’t before. You receive benefits directly related to your sport from conditioning – but more importantly, you are able to enjoy all the little things in life that require you to have energy, endurance, and flexibility.

Sources:
Eccentric Exercise: A Comprehensive Review of a Distinctive Training Method

The Most Important Muscle for Longevity in Strength Athletes… and How to Optimally Build It by Eric Bowman

Thanks to the efforts of strength coaches such as Alex Viada, Travis Mash, and Brandon Lilly, we’re seeing a shift in the strength sports community.

We’ve moved from the stereotypical “fat guy with a big gut who eats three Big Macs every meal” to a leaner, fitter, healthier strength athlete. As someone who used to work in cardiac rehab and helped start two programs, this warms my heart (no pun intended).

But it also concerns me because cardiovascular exercise, especially in bigger people with various health issues, needs to be done safely in order to minimize risk. Risk can never be eliminated, but it can be minimized.

COACH MASH'S GUIDE TO HYBRID TRAINING

The Art of Combining:

Weightlifting - Powerlifting - Bodybuilding

Strongman - Functional Fitness - Endurance Cardio

Learn the art and science of how to train multiple disciplines simultaneously. Get stronger, faster, bigger...
and DO WHAT YOU WANT.

So let’s go over some heart health advice for the strength athlete. Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor – nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, so it’s tough for me to give very specific pieces of advice without understanding your situation and your goals. Take what I say with a grain of salt.

Here are the two most important pieces of advice for strength athletes who want to start taking care of their cardiovascular health.
 

Get a blood test

People ask me all the time – what supplements should I take? My answer is… get a blood test. I don’t know what nutrients and hormones you have deficiencies or excesses of. A blood test can help reveal all that.

This gives you a good start in terms of dietary changes and/or supplementation if needed. By contrast, overdosing on multivitamins may give you excess levels of fat soluble vitamins and/or just lead to you having really expensive urine from the vitamins that you pee out.


 

Get a graded exercise test

While there are various protocols for how these are done, a graded exercise test involves exercising on a stationary bike or treadmill at a gradually increasing resistance and/or speed. During these tests the evaluator will measure your ECG (heart rhythm), blood pressure, (if present) chest pain, and heart rate along the way to determine a safe cardiovascular exercise intensity range. This is the range that will enable you to improve your fitness while not working into an intensity that provokes symptoms in an unsafe manner.

When I worked in cardiac rehab, this method minimized the amount of incidents to one episode of chest pain over many years. Conversely I’ve heard of other centers that don’t give patients specific exercise intensities, and they report high rates of chest pain and even heart attacks during sessions. You don’t want that happening to you.

Also getting these tests (and just ECGs) done in general can help detect heart defects, such as the one that killed 2005 World’s Strongest Man runner-up Jesse Marunde.

Seek out a cardiologist or go to an ACSM (in the US) or CSEP (in Canada) Certified Exercise Physiologist. Make sure your practitioner has performed these tests before.

With these tests out of the way, now we move on to building our heart health with the following concepts.
 

1. Start with low impact exercise

While prowler pushes and hill sprints are quite popular, many athletes may not have the cardiovascular fitness or the orthopedic health to do them without developing pain, aggravating pre-existing issues, or just plain getting exhausted and throwing up. Plus if you’re a strong athlete, these methods are harder to recover from and should be used more sparingly.

By contrast I’m more of a fan of low-impact options:

  • Sled pulls
  • Sled walks (props to Jim Wendler for this idea)
  • Stationary bike or recumbent bike
  • Incline treadmill or weight vest walking

What about running?

Running is a higher stress activity that can have injury rates actually higher than those of strength sports. That’s not to say you should never run, but the decision to run has to be looked at in terms of the following criteria:

  • What is your general health like? If you have cardiovascular, pulmonary, or lower body orthopedic issues (like joint or muscle pain), then running may not be the best choice for you.
  • What is your baseline fitness like?
  • What are your goals? Do you plan to run or are you just using it as a general means of getting in better shape?

 

2. Prepare

Make sure to do your cardio in areas that have people with appropriate first aid/AED training in the event that something does happen.
 

3. Start Easy

When in doubt, start easy. One thing I learned from my experiences in ICU and in pulmonary rehab is that a little bit of cardiovascular fitness can go a long way in terms of improving health, disease prevention, and improving recovery from hard training.

Athletes with a Type A mindset can often (in my opinion) go way too hard on their cardio and end up puking, passing out, or just plain stalling their recovery from training.

Once you’ve had your stress test and know what exercise intensity is safe for you, I recommend starting at a lower volume and intensity.
 

4. Build volume before building intensity

A common saying I’ve heard is to build anaerobic power before anaerobic capacity and to build aerobic capacity before aerobic power. None could be truer.

In simple terms, focus on building endurance to 20-40 minutes per session within your desired range before adding intensity.

If you’ve built a good base of cardiovascular fitness and are cleared to exercise at a higher intensity through a graded exercise test, then you can progress to more strenuous methods.

Just because you’re a strength athlete doesn’t mean you have to be a 300-pound cardiac patient during or after your career. Take these steps to heart and let me know how things turn out.

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