Hanging with Coach Gillespie

This past Thursday I had the honor of hanging out with the Godfather of Strength, Coach Bill Gillespie.

He works with Sorinex Exercise Equipment as their strength coach. I will explain more about that after I give you a quick background on Coach Gillespie.

Coach Gillespie has worked in the world of strength and conditioning since before I graduated from Appalachian State University. In the early 90’s, I would read all of his articles in “Powerlifting USA” as he was already considered one of the strongest men on the planet and a top rated strength coach.

He was benching in the 800s back in the late 90s and early 2000s, and now at 62-years-old he has the all-time world record in the bench press at 1052lb in the drug tested category. The best part is that he’s lifetime drug free. I can’t even wrap my head around these words I am typing.

To date he has broken 92 world records in the bench press. He’s also one of the most decorated strength coaches in the country having worked in Division I Football and the NFL. Most of you know him as the Head Strength Coach at Liberty University where he coached fifteen years before transitioning to his current role at Sorinex. Now he gets to travel all around the country hanging out with strength coaches like me to collaborate on new ideas, further improve the world of strength, and to build relationships with likeminded coaches.

I have to give Sorinex a thumbs up for creating a position like this because it shows the world where their hearts truly are. They are building their business on relationships, and they are investing back into the education of new and established coaches in America. They aren’t sitting around complaining about the culture of strength and conditioning. They aren’t gossiping about the level of competence with the strength coaches of America. Instead they are dropping their money on producing a culture of collaboration amongst coaches to ensure that American Strength Coaches as a whole are growing in knowledge, and they are using funds to nurture a culture of growth, collaboration, and community. This isn’t an article about Sorinex, but I had to mention the company that paid for me to hang out with this legend.

This article is to pass along some of the knowledge that I learned while hanging out this walking text book of strength. I want to start by encouraging all of the strength coaches reading this to take a page out of Coach Gillespie’s playbook. Yes, he reads and studies the current literature on strength and conditioning, but more importantly he gets in his car and visits the people who are successful. When I was coming up, that was the main way to grow. Now everyone reads articles they find on the web, and they watch the latest YouTube Video. I am not knocking any of that, but it shouldn’t be your go to source.

Step 1: You need the basics

First, you all need the basics just so you can discern between the solid information and the ridiculous. Unfortunately, you can’t really master bar path if you don’t understand the basics of biomechanics. If you don’t understand the basics of physiology, then you can get fooled by any random nutrition article. However, once you have the basics, now you can really grow as a coach. I recommend at least the following:

• Anatomy and Physiology
• Exercise Physiology
• Biomechanics
• Athlete Monitoring and Basic Statistics
• Sports Nutrition

You don’t have to pursue a PhD, but you need these courses. I am biased, but the Exercise Science Program at Lenoir-Rhyne University is the most underrated program in America. I have grown 10-fold as a coach over the last two years, and I had already produced 27 Team USA Athletes for USA Weightlifting, coached hundreds of Division I, II, and III athletes, and several Pro Athletes (NFL, NBA, MMA, and MLB). I highly recommend the Exercise Science Department at LRU for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. The professors love strength and conditioning, and they understand how to apply it in the real world. The Athlete Monitoring Class is perfect for the new age strength coach because you will learn about GPS Tracking and all of the current ways to track and more importantly to discern athlete data and trends. Hopefully soon, I will be one of those professors, and I will be about the most real-world professor ever.


Learn the High-Level Muscle Science, Physics, and Biomechanics Principles to Give Your Athletes the Fastest and Safest Progress Possible

All profits go to benefit the Lenoir-Rhyne Weightlifting Team during this unusual and challenging time. Thank you for your support!

Step 2: Visit with the Coaches who are producing

This leads me to address a trend that I am seeing amongst strength and conditioning coaches and Olympic weightlifting coaches. Due to social media, too many coaches are more worried about his or her status as a coach than they are worried about actually being a solid coach.

I see it all the time. A coach will start producing amazing results in speed like my guy Coach William Bradley or start producing Olympians like my friend Coach Spencer Arnold – and instead of reaching out to these fine coaches and asking them what they are doing or what changes they might have made, they will make excuses for those results. They will say Coach Bradley’s athletes were already fast. Other people have commented that Coach Arnold was given his athletes by USA Weightlifting. Both of these allegations are ridiculous.

When I heard about Coach Bradley, I drove my butt to his gym and paid him to coach me in sprinting. You know what? I got faster even as a washed-up ex-powerlifter in my mid-thirties. I learned more about speed training in those sessions than from any YouTube video or article. Instead of creating fabricated rumors, I learned from the man himself – and now we are friends to this very day. He’s still my go-to speed guy, and I know some of the best. Coach Kav’s the man too!

As far as Coach Spencer Arnold, USA Weightlifting didn’t ‘give him’ anybody. Those girls chose him due to the amazing culture he created in his Atlanta-based gym. People train where they are happy and having fun. I have taken a lot of notes regarding culture from him as of late, and it has paid off immensely.

If someone is winning or producing, get your butt in the car and go visit that person. It’s that easy. Well, call ahead first, but you get the point. If I were a brand new coach starting all over again, I would save the money to visit a different coach every month or every two weeks for a year. I can’t imagine how that would accelerate a young coach’s knowledge base.



It's finally here... Learn about technique, programming, assessment, and coaching from a master. For strength coaches and for athletes, these 53 videos (7 hours and 56 minutes of footage) will prepare you to understand the main lifts for maximum performance and safety. Get ready to learn...

I did that very thing without even planning it out. I have always followed my gut, and that has really helped me in becoming a better coach. Early on when I was in Colorado Springs, I would visit Champion Health almost every day because Coach Charles Poliquin, Dr. Mike Lehey (A.R.T. Founder), and the crew from T Nation (Tim Patterson, TC Luoma, and all the boys) were there. I am sure that I drove them crazy, but I had so many questions. They were making a good living in the world of strength and fitness, so they had the answers and held the keys to unlocking the doors to my dreams.

I could have sat around, made up some rumors about them, and grown bitter towards the world – but instead I got to know them. I helped them in as many ways as I could. I actually brokered T Nation’s first affiliate deal, gaining them access to the World Gyms in Colorado Springs to sell their Biotest products (which were new then). That landed me a six-week internship with arguably the greatest strength and conditioning coach of all-time: Charles Poliquin.

I did the same when I wanted to meet Louie Simmons. I drove to Columbus, Ohio – and I visited Westside Barbell. I did the same thing with Martin Rooney, Coach Joe Kenn, Wes Barnett, and so many others. When MuscleDriver USA came to town, I put my wife in the car, drove down, and visited. That ended up landing me a professional Olympic weightlifting coach job along with two years of learning from Coach Glenn Pendlay and five years with Coach Don McCauley. I think that I have made my point.

Coaches, hear me when I say this: if someone is killing it in your little section of strength, shut your mouth, humble yourself, and learn from that person. Then and only then will we further the cause as strength coaches.

You owe it to your athletes to gain every bit of knowledge that you can. Who cares about your ego? Odds are if you consider yourself the smartest strength coach in America, you probably aren’t even close. The ones producing are too busy trying to get better to have the time to convince others of their status.

You guys probably don’t even know Coach Kevin Simons or Coach Jonas Sahratian. You know why? It’s because they are too busy learning and winning instead of proclaiming their status of greatness on the Internet. The same goes for Coach Gillespie. He’s 62 years old, and he’s driving to hang out with me in hopes he might learn a little more.

Step 3 Anecdotal Evidence Really is the Best Evidence

Now it’s time for you guys to learn a little bit of awesomeness. While we were at Outback Steakhouse, we started talking about Coach Gillespie’s own training and his coaching. FYI, he was one of the first adopters of velocity based training even before my man, Coach Bryan Mann.

He was telling me that “it was his theory” that the last reps of the last set was actually the training effect. He went on to say that he didn’t want to get anywhere near failure most of the time because he didn’t want to teach his athletes (or himself) to be slow.

I laughed and told him that in 2017 (Pareja-Blanco, et al., 2017) his theory was confirmed. They found that velocity losses of 20% or less produced greater hypertrophy in fast twitch fibers versus the traditional 40-60% that bodybuilders might experience.

My point is that guys like Coach Gillespie have data on thousands of amazing D1 and Professional athletes to confirm their “theories.” Coach Gillespie was very good at referencing the correlations between changes in his program and athletic measures like 40-yd dash times and noncontact injuries.

When he was at the University of Washington, his teams were notorious for winning with fourth quarter comebacks. Before some of you say that it was the head coach or the great recruits, the coaches were made aware of his direct effects when they let him go and those wins disappeared in the same season. They were so aware that Coach Gillespie won Pac 10 Strength Coach of the Year, and he was asked to come back to the team.

However, it was too late. The Seattle Seahawks saw the effect he had, and they hired him. Look, strength coaches can have major impacts on teams if they are good at their job. I hear a lot of you downplaying that, and it makes me wonder if you are actually good at your job. If you can make athletes stronger, faster, and more resilient, then you can impact a team in a major way.

He told me so many other nuggets that I am already applying, but here’s my main point to all of you: You really should focus on monitoring your athletes in as thorough a way as possible so that you too can learn to draw those correlations. You will need to learn the difference in correlation and causation, so pay attention in stats class, guys.

Or don’t do any of that, and guys like Coach Gillespie will just keep winning.

I want to close by saying thank you to Coach Gillespie for coming to see me. I cherish two relationships in this strength and conditioning world. The first is obviously Coach Joe Kenn, and now Coach Bill Gillespie has earned that loyalty as well. It was an honor that you valued me enough to drive and hang out with me, and to hear you say those kind words about me in front of my athletes and colleagues was the greatest honor of my career. Thank you also to Sorinex for creating this position that I believe to be so crucial for improving the quality of coaches in America as well as improving the and nurturing a culture of community and growth. That shows all of us coaches that your values are right where they should be.



It's finally here... Learn about technique, programming, assessment, and coaching from a master. For strength coaches and for athletes, these 53 videos (7 hours and 56 minutes of footage) will prepare you to understand the main lifts for maximum performance and safety. Get ready to learn...

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