Category Archives for "Weightlifting"

Simple Ways to Monitor Athlete Nervous Systems

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Test/Cortisol Ratios and levels

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

Rate of Force Development

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


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


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Vertical Leap

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

Absolute Strength

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

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

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

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


Principles and Real-Life Case Studies on How a Master Programmer Customizes a Program to the Individual

Peek inside Travis's brain... and learn how to individualize your own programs to fit an athlete's strengths, weaknesses, age, gender, sport demands, and unique response to training.

Making Weightlifting Fun for Kids with Elizabeth Oehler – The Barbell Life 347

If you know me, you know youth development is at the core of who I am.

And it drives me crazy when people tell me that no child should ever touch a barbell.

So I’m joined on this podcast today by Elizabeth Oehler, a German weightlifting coach who is an expert on training young athletes.

Not only is she just as passionate as I am about why it’s important – she’s got some great insight on how to do it properly. (Hint: listen in to see how she makes it fun for the kids.)


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  • The myth of growth plate injuries
  • How programming changes as children age
  • An interesting spin on competition that is PERFECT for young athletes
  • Ridiculous Twitter debates
  • Ways to make training technique FUN for kids
  • and more…

Analysis of Spencer Arnold’s Yo-Yo Clean

In America and really all over, the biggest weightlifting mistake athletes make is getting behind the bar too soon.

They’re impatient! Some have come up in the sport believing athletes actually bang the bar with their hips. Really that’s an optical illusion as it’s actually just gradually meeting an uppercut.


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The goal of the first pull is to set up the second pull and to create as much velocity as possible. That velocity comes from having a long first pull. A longer first pull will:

  • create more velocity due to impulse (the longer an athlete can apply a given force will create more and more velocity).
  • lengthen the muscle spindles of the hamstring, creating a stretch reflex and equalling even more velocity during the second pull.
  • lead to a better bar path.

Why is more velocity important? The more kinetic energy we create in the first pull will ultimately lead to more potential energy (aka height on the barbell). For you strength and conditioning coaches, more velocity means more power – which is the reason most of you choose the clean or snatch for your program.

My good friend Spencer Arnold uses a drill called the Yo-Yo Clean to emphasize this first pull. I suggest you give it a shot!

So the keys to a solid Yo-Yo Clean are:

  • Drive your feet through the floor.
  • Stay over the bar, keeping the relationship between the shoulders and the bar as relative as possible.
  • Keep the bar close by using the lats to sweep the bar in towards the body.


  • “Whole foot through the floor”
  • “Long legs”
  • “Stay over the bar”
  • “Sweep in”

Thanks to Coach Spencer Arnold for coming up with this catchy drill!


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Sports Psychology with Dr. Ariane Machin – The Barbell Life 345

The difference between a good athlete and a great athlete is often their mindset.

It’s the same with coaches. The difference between a good coach and a great coach is often their ability to understand the mindsets of their individual athletes. (Because every athlete is unique!)

So it’s frustrating to me that sports psychology has this stigma surrounding it. It’s personal to me… because my whole life was absolutely changed by sports psychology.

And I’ve seen how sports psychology has totally transformed the performance (and the lives) of some of my athletes. In fact, one of the great sports psychologists we’ve worked with is on the podcast today. So give this one a listen!

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  • Why my entire life was changed by sports psychology
  • The source of HUGE problems in sports and feelings of self worth
  • Why some athletes don’t need help on the platform but need psych help AFTER the competition is over
  • Are PEDs really due to bad psychology?
  • The reality about sports that hits everyone hard
  • and more…

Assessing an Athlete’s Readiness

Coaching athletes is the most difficult endeavor I have taken on in my adult life.

Being an athlete is a lot simpler than coaching twenty or more individual athletes. Each athlete is unique in their:

  • Perceived exertion
  • Ways of dealing with stress
  • Abilities to recover
  • Discipline to recover (sleep, nutrition, etc.)
  • Nutritional habits
  • Personality (for example, some will communicate and some won’t)

Athlete testing and monitoring is just a way of gathering information. Your exact protocols for dealing with the information is where the art of coaching comes in. I have an entire class on athlete monitoring this semester, so you can rest assured you will also be getting your fill of knowledge. In this series, we will go into detail about topics such as:

  • Basic athlete readiness
  • GPS tracking
  • Velocity
  • Force plates
  • Detailed data tracking via excel
  • Wearables: the good and not so good
  • Psychological factors

Today we are going to start with basic athlete readiness because all of you can benefit from this knowledge starting Monday morning. Although it’s basic and easy to gather the data, it’s some of the most important data you can receive for your athletes.

Here’s why it is so important. Most of the research performed over the years on programming and periodization was collected in athlete populations in countries like Russia with state sponsored programs where athletes have perfect situations: food, sleep, recovery, etc. The same countries are also known to be riddled with performance enhancing drugs.

Does that mean we should ignore their data, and therefore ignore their programming suggestions? No way! Like with most research, you extrapolate the pertinent information and leave behind the impertinent. First we have to realize that our populations in America, much like the rest of the world, have jobs and/or school. That means they have stress outside of the weight room. They have exams, personal relationships, demands at work, and genetic psychological difficulties.

Protocols for Aches and Pains, Muscular Imbalances & Recovery

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Load and Response

When we write a program, most of us are great at taking into consideration the increasing stress implied by the program. However, many of us neglect the other stress in athletes’ lives. One thing we have to remember is that the acute response experienced by our athletes is training load plus life load. Therefore:

Training Load + Life Load = Acute Response

Training Load Considations:

  • Volume – this is simply the weight lifted times the repetitions times the number of sets. This can be tracked in the weight room or on a field of practice like football
  • Average Intensity – average percentage of one’s 1RM handled in a given period
  • Relative Intensity – can be defined as the weight you are using for X amount of reps, relative to the maximum weight you can perform X amount of reps for
  • Frequency – how often one trains or performs a given movement
  • Duration – how long one trains or performs a given movement
  • Injury
  • Diet
  • Sleep

Life Load Considerations:

  • Work
  • Study
  • Relationships
  • Stress
  • Life Events
  • Genetics to handle each

Accumulated ‘acute response’ leads to chronic response. The goal of most training programs is to produce an overreaching response in each athlete’s program right before a predetermined taper. This creates a supercompensation response. But without proper recovery, overreaching becomes overtraining. Then you have a problem that could equal months of a setback or an injury. Now let’s talk about the simplest way to prevent any of this.



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Daily Training Readiness

The easiest way to prevent overtraining is to assess your athletes’ daily readiness. Now there are some complicated and expensive ways, and there are some inexpensive non complicated ways.

Complicated and expensive daily readiness tracking:

  1. GPS – this is one of the latest instruments used in the strength and conditioning world. It tracking an individual athlete’s running speed, distance run, their position on the field, their heart rate, and their body’s work rate.
  2. Force Plate – for high force output sports, some coaches use a force plate to assess force output in movements like an isometric midthigh clean pull or isometric squat from a particular height.
  3. Inertial Measurement Unit – this measures the acceleration and angular velocity of an object along three mutually perpendicular axes. IMUs measure these quantities based on the physical laws of motion.
  4. Velocity Based Training – This measures the velocity of a barbell or person. Velocity is simply the amount of time it takes to cover a specific distance. An easy way to use velocity for daily readiness is to track the velocity of a certain percentage of an athlete’s 1RM in a given movement. If that velocity is 10% less than normal, it’s time to abort. If the velocity is higher than normal, consider pushing things a bit.
  5. Wearables – these monitor biodata including heart rate variability (which is a look at the sympathetic nervous system). Here’s an article that I wrote all about the topic: Diving into Heart Rate Variability. Wearables also monitor sleep resting heart rate, sleep quality, and respiratory rate.
  6. My Fitness Pal – this app allows athletes to track total macronutrients against the amount they should actually be consuming. The app also takes a look at activity levels and calories lost from heat.

Over the coming months, I will dive deep into each of the aforementioned systems, but today I want to give all of you insight regarding some very simple and inexpensive ways to monitor your athletes. I will also give you some insight as in what to do with the information.

Ask Your Athletes

Daily communication is so important. This is where it’s so important to be more than some data collector. You have to sincerely care about the people you are coaching. I like to ask the following questions on a daily basis:

  • How did you sleep?
  • What have you eaten today?
  • How’s school? Any tests?
  • How’s the girlfriend or boyfriend?
  • How’s life?

The goal is to get them talking. Now the problem is this information is very subjective. However, I can also assess their facial expression and their body language. Together with their feedback and body language, I can get a pretty good idea of their daily readiness. I can either decide to intervene immediately, or I can choose to watch them warm up. I can then determine how much I am willing to alter their program based on all data points:

Subjective data points:

  • Body language
  • Verbal responses to readiness questions

Objective data points:

  • Quality of movement in warm ups
  • Velocity of movement
  • Intensity used

For example, if an athlete gets to 70% of a given movement and appears uncoordinated, is looking tired and worn in his or her body language, and answered your readiness question by explaining they were up late studying for a major exam – then that’s a good day to back off, perform some low eccentric bodybuilding, and go home to get some extra sleep and recovery. It’s that simple, but for some reason a lot of coaches struggle with communication and observance of others.

Vertical Leap or Grip Test

A vertical leap is a very common high velocity movement that is used by coaches of athletes from power driven sports like weightlifting or track and field to assess their athletes. The key is obtaining that data from athletes during peak conditions. Then test the vertical leap under the same conditions for the daily test. For example if the original data was taken after a ten-minute warm up, you will need to perform a ten minute warm up prior to the daily test.

If the athlete’s vertical leap is 10% lower than normal, the coach might consider altering the daily plan. Some coaches adjust programs if the daily marker is 5% lower than normal. It really relies on the perception that you intended during the exact period of the training plan. Once again, if 15% lower than normal, I recommend aborting the session all together by performing some low intensity bodybuilding and then going home to sleep, eat, and recover. You can do this exact measurement with a grip test as well.

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These are just a few ways that you might assess the daily readiness of your athletes. The art of coaching comes into play with the actions taken from the data. Some coaches might decide to push through to incite an overreaching response. Some might have the athlete perform some bodybuilding and then go home and recover. Some might lower the volume and intensity slightly and then have the athlete continue the training session. Some coaches might have the athlete abort the session all together, go home and rest. That’s what makes a coach an artist. I just want to give all of you some more tools and skills to sharpen your game a bit. Over the next few weeks, I intend on taking this series a lot deeper. I hope that you all will come along on the ride.

Fuel – Nutrition and Your Questions Answered – The Barbell Life 344

Anyone who is serious about their fitness knows their nutrition has to be dialed in.

You can workout for hours every day with the perfect program, optimal technique, and the mindset of a champion – but you will be wasting your time if your nutrition is poor.

So today we get to several of your questions on nutrition – as well as some other questions about injuries, programming, and more.

This is a podcast you don’t want to miss.

FUEL: Mash Elite Nutrition

Find the Nutrition Plan that Fits You.

Whether you are an elite athlete or an average Joe...

Whether you are someone who hates counting calories or you are a fanatic about tracking every tiny detail...

Mash Elite's new resource will give you the nutrition tools you need to make fast results without guesswork, stalled progress, or unbearable restrictions.


  • Gaining as an ectomorph
  • Olympic lifting for track and field
  • Learning how to write programs
  • Nutrition for busy people
  • Dealing with multiple back injuries
  • and more…
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