Simple and Savage. Brilliance with the Basics.
Don’t complicate the training. Get those athletes OUT of the weight room to experience some animalistic style work. When outdoors, I use a more Holistic approach. I am not getting too caught up in sets and reps, I look at technique and effort, I look at teamwork, overcoming challenges and camaraderie.
I’ve seen too many ugly cleans, hunch back deadlifts and half squats in weight rooms which tells me there is NO foundation of strength. Get back to the Simple 3: Carries, Calisthenics, and Sleds.
The 3 Essentials:
It’s amazing how powerful those simple training tools and methods are.
You can see these tire, sandbag and outdoor training methods in our DVD, ‘Ancient Training Methods’, which is inside The Underground Strength Academy.
To make the tires heavier, you can keep the wheel inside the tire. You can usually find these old tires at a junkyard or piled on the side or behind an auto garage.
Power Endurance Training
As I’ve coached athletes from youth to D1 and then the athletes prepping for Olympic trials, the big differentiating factors have commonly been the level of sports skill, the speed of these sports skills and the ability to maintain high output for longer periods of time.
A weaker athlete will struggle, get injured and overall be less durable physically and mentally. The key to progress is consistency. When I hear about “Summer Workouts” I wonder what happens during the other 9 or 10 months of the year?
If you’re a sports coach, I suggest you find the best Strength Coach in your local area and develop a positive relationship with them.
Depending on where you live, I’ve seen some high school weight rooms that rival D1 Universities.
I’ve also seen weight rooms that are overcrowded and dangerous because of old, broken equipment, lack of space, lack of knowledge (Both Athletes and Coaches) and often times the wrong equipment. Administrators, Parents, and Coaches should look to have an expert running the weight room. Just as we have qualified experts teaching specific subjects in school, experts for cooking food, nurses – we need experts in the weight room.
When the weight room is properly organized and the athletes are properly coached, we will see athletes developing and achieving more of their full potential. It is NOT just about strength or just about size. We want to help athletes develop explosive power, which is their ability to move with speed.
Speed and Power Endurance are applicable to all sports. Here are some examples you’ve likely seen that demonstrate a lack of power endurance:
– The Football team that falls apart in the last quarter or second half.
– The Wrestler who gasses out after the first period.
The runner who can’t maintain speed during a track meet or can’t sprint at the end of a cross-country race.
The Basketball Team that falls apart in the last quarter.
If a team or athlete isn’t trained properly, it will show during competition. I have often said that common sense goes a LONG way. We don’t need a lot of aerobic work for power athletes such as shot putters, pitchers, high jumpers. Yet, I commonly see these power athletes running distance almost daily with their high school sports coaches.
– Why do I see the local Baseball team going on a distance run after practice?
– Why is the shot putter taking a long run (1 mile +) with the other runners?
Common sense tells you that a shot putter or thrower, baseball players NEVER run or do anything with distance.
When I train the college wrestlers, especially in season, their practices are intense and often resemble intense circuit training from their drilling and live wrestling. When I train them in the weight room, I don’t add more circuits during the season because their practice essentially trained that energy system.
I focus on explosive power and strength, to blend and optimize a system of training that compliments and feeds their sports performance, NOT take away from sports performance.
When training an athlete, always ask yourself, is this going to complement and improve their sports performance, or is this going to hurt their sports performance?
Train your weak areas in training or practice so they become your strong areas. If an 800 meter athlete struggles to finish his race strong, you can assess their performance and adjust training accordingly.
Does he start the race too fast causing fatigue too early?
Does his competition pass him during the final 50-100 meter leg?
Assess the performance of the athlete and adjust training accordingly.
Watching wrestlers, often times the athlete’s arms have gotten such a pump & burn from lactic acid build up they simply cannot function at full steam anymore, so their muscles practically shut down on them.
In wrestling, I always look at the physique of the wrestler. I look to see how the appearance and performance match up. If a wrestler has trained like a bodybuilder with mostly slow, controlled reps and lighter weights, he will appear strong, but will often times be slow and lacking explosive power.
At the college level, I was able to assess our wrestlers every time they competed. I had constant feedback. I could see why and where certain wrestlers struggled. The wrestlers who missed out on our off-season training or in-season training would often struggle against stronger opponents. It was REALLY that simple.
You can’t get stronger or better when you don’t show up consistently. At my gym, the athletes who train all year have more success than the athlete who never trains in season. Common Sense would tell any coach, athlete or parent that you can NOT get stronger, faster, more confident when you stop training.
Barbell Complexes are excellent for all athletes, especially MMA Fighters & Combat Athletes. I met Coach Istvan Javorek around 2008 and he is known as the Father of Complexes. Coach Javorek uses both BB and DB complexes. He told me how he was using BB complexes with pro basketball players using up to 185 lbs! THAT is impressive. The complexes gave his athletes the strength and power endurance to remain strong and explosive throughout their games and competitions.
If you can train at this high repetition / high fatigue mode with repeated efforts, or using heavy weights for high volume, you will train your body to work more efficiently under what is normally a fatigued state for the untrained athlete. Circuit training is also great, and so you’ll see many examples when we get to the programming portion of this book.
Another way to improve lactate tolerance and muscular endurance is to use heavy weights, low reps (3 – 5), and multiple sets (8 or more) with short rest periods (30 sec. – 1-minute maximum). You continue moving a heavyweight with short rest intervals for a larger volume of sets.
I’ve watched Louie Simmons of Westside Barbell take his fighters through 5-10 exercises, each lasting 45-60 seconds as a circuit, to mimic the energy demands of an MMA fight, Grappling match, etc.
If you’re an old school student of the fight game, Louie used to train Kevin Randleman, who was a dominant collegiate wrestler who became 1 of the early MMA fighters. Back then, it was actually called NHB (No Holds Barred Fighting). Kevin was 1 of the pioneers of “Ground & Pound” with his old college teammate, Mark Coleman, another Ohio State wrestler & national champion. Kevin struggled with longer matches, so Louie would perform the following with Kevin to build up his strength endurance, muscular endurance & power endurance:
205 lb Barbell
Perform 1 complex rep every 30 seconds
10 Minutes total
- Clean & Jerk x 1
- Power Clean x 1
- Hang Clean x 1
DB Benching from Physio Ball (50-70 lbs)
- 4 – 10 Minutes of Pressing without putting down DBs
Sled Drags for Distance (1 mile) or Time (5-10 minutes)
Note how each of these “extended sets” worked the body differently. The BB Complex was a full body focus of Power Endurance. The DB Benching was for the upper body to train Kevin to handle grappling from his back for 5 minutes. The sled drags for time or long distance developed aerobic capacity as well as lower body specific muscular endurance.
Circuit Training Favorites for the development of muscular endurance are push-ups, pull-ups, recline pull-ups, light barbell squats, light deadlifts, light bench pressing, dips, BW squats, rope climbing, kettlebell, barbell and dumbbell complexes.
Here are Sample Circuits:
Circuit 1: Max Work in 10 Minutes
- Squat Jumps x 10
- Hindu Push Ups x 10
- Lateral Lunges x 5 / 5
- Pull-Ups x 10
- V-Ups x 10
- Jump Rope x 100 Reps
Circuit 2: 5 Rounds
- Double KB Thrusters x 10
- Double KB Row x 10
- Double KB Rack Walk x 100 ft
- Clapping Push Ups x 5
- Recline Row x 10
- Band Pull Aparts x 30 (15 reps overhand/underhand)
Circuit 3: 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps
- Alternate Forward Lunges
- Frog Jumps
- Med Ball Cross Over Push Ups
- Med Ball Slams
- Recline Row
Hanging Leg Raise
Circuit 4: 15 Minutes. 30 seconds work / 30 seconds rest
- Shadow Boxing (Use heavy bag if you have one: kicks, punches, knees & elbows)
- Wrestler/MMA Sprawl
- Sit Through Drill
- Sandbag Shouldering
- KB/DB Farmer Walk
- KB Swings
Circuit 5: BB Complex / 5 x 5
- Clean & Press
- Back Squat
- Reverse Lunge
- Bent Over Row
- Sumo DL
Circuit 6: KB Combat Complex
- Snatch x 5 / 5
- Clean & Press x 5 / 5
- Goblet Squat x 10
- Reverse Lunge x 5 / 5
- Swings x 10
- 1 Arm Row x 10 / 10
Circuit 7: Loaded Conditioning with Sandbag
2 – 3 Rounds:
- Overhead Carry x 50 ft
- Clean & Press x 5
- Zercher Carry x 50 ft
- Zercher Squat x 5
- Bear Hug Carry x 50 ft
- Shouldering x 5 / 5
- On Back Carry x 50 ft
- Back Squat x 5
Circuit 8: Loaded Conditioning w Double KBs
2 -3 Rounds:
- Overhead Walk x 50 ft
- Push Press x 5
- Rack Walk x 50 ft
- Squat x 5
- Farmer Walk x 50 ft
- Bent Over Row x 5
- Farmer Walk x 50 ft
- Shrugs x 5
Circuit 9: 4 Rounds
- DB Bench (2 sets flat / 2 sets incline) x 15 reps
- Back Extensions x 15
- Broad Jumps x 5
- Med Ball Rotational Wall Throw x 10 / 10
- Bulgarian Split Squats x 10 / 10
- Band Face Pulls x 15
Circuit 10: 4 Rounds
- Tire Flip x 5
- Keg Carry x 100 ft
- Rope Climb x 1
- Sled Sprint x 100 ft
The circuits above will give you variation as you experiment with different styles that all develop greater overall muscular endurance. Some develop more strength endurance, others more power endurance and others more muscular endurance.
During Circuits, I don’t like to incorporate very complex or high skill exercises. The more advanced you are in training, the more you can handle complex exercises. Beginners and Intermediates can implement basic circuits and get a great benefit from them. High rep BB snatches are NOT suggested. This is how / when injuries occur. Let the simplicity of the movements allow for high intensity during these circuits.
Be creative and have fun. Keep the circuit workouts well balanced. Include lifts that work lower body as well as upper body. As always, vary the exercises. Do not perform high rep benching every single week, or high rep deadlifts every single week. Avoid the overuse problems that come with repetitive movements.
My younger years, unfortunately, were all on my own, I had no true mentors and no access to proper sports performance training. If I knew how to listen to my body more and followed a Conjugate style program which included max effort, dynamic effort, max rep, energy system & GPP training, then I would have been a much healthier athlete in my younger years. I went full steam year-round. I got caught up in forced reps, drop sets and other bodybuilding intensity techniques that only partially improve sports performance and also beat up my joints. I did these intensity methods all year round which is never a good idea.
Light days were unheard of and I NEVER did any GPP training to work on weak areas or performing prehab and rehab and flexibility work. None of this information was available to me as a young athlete. You were told to lift weights and take long runs. Today, we have an abundance of information but the knowledge and ability to implement this information is not abundant.
Another point concerning variation is for your max effort day. Your max effort lift does not always have to be a conventional barbell lift (Powerlifting / Weightlifting). It can be an odd object or strongman lift like a farmers carry with heavy dumbbells, or heavy sandbag walks uphill. Try pushing a wheelbarrow up a hill for a few sets. Max Effort work can be Dumbbell work (Heavy DB bench, Clean & Press, etc) or Heavy Calisthenics (Weighted Push Ups or 1 – 5 RM Weighted Pull Ups). There’s enough information in this manual to educate you and give you the knowledge to organize your own training and to pull variety from.
Active Rest. This can be placed into your yearly training program AT ANY TIME. You use active rest on the day (s) you are feeling tired or simply in need of change, yet you still want to do something active. Here are a few examples of active rest:
- Wall/rock climbing (indoor or outdoor)
- Mountain Biking
- Swimming at the beach
If you are a Coach and have access to a pool or volleyball courts, take your athletes and have them play a game of water polo or hoover ball- Anything fun that gets the athlete out of the day to day routine. Give the mind and body a rest by doing something different and fun, low stress yet helps recovery.
You can come up with more of these activities, but they simply give you a break from the daily grind if you’re a sports athlete and this keeps your mind and body fresh. My friend Mark Bell simply encourages people to take a daily 10-minute walk. Get outdoors, breathe in the fresh air, swing your arms as you walk, and you will feel energized and rejuvenated mentally.
Dr. Stu McGill, one of the leading lower back experts in the world says the 10-minute daily walk is non-negotiable. The body thrives on training to achieve balance or homeostasis. The slight break from heavy training in the gym or regular, intense sports practice gives the body a feeling of normalcy, improving recovery as well as your mental state.
The importance of rest is truly underestimated. If you feel exhausted, run down, agitated, then you need to do a few things to get back to optimal performance:
First, take at least 3-4 days off from training, ALL training. Some athletes need 2 weeks off depending on how run down they are and what level of sports they are competing in. During this downtime, dial in the 3 simplest things you can do to enhance recovery: Better sleep habits, better nutrition habits, better hydration.
The sleep, nutrition, and water are all simple and basic (mostly free). Most athletes are undernourished and under recovered (lack of sleep). In other words, they are overtrained. Meaning, they eat, sleep and live a lifestyle that is crap! I haven’t met too many athletes that overwork themselves. Most of them get to bed extremely late, skip breakfast, don’t enough and when they do eat, the food is not healthy.
After a few days of sleeping 9 hours a night, maybe a 30-60 minute daily nap, hydrating properly and eating a solid balance of healthy foods, your body can completely transform itself within a few days. The key is to live this Champion Lifestyle with consistency.
Second, cycle your training more often via The Conjugate method. Change the volume, intensity, order of exercises, type of exercises, etc. Conjugate training is excellent because of how we can change the stress our body experiences. Changing exercises and having heavy days (max effort) with speed days (dynamic effort) improves recovery. You can NOT go heavy every training session.
Dynamic Effort and Speed days don’t require you to get crazy fired up because the weights are lighter. If you’re always maxing out, struggling and straining, you WILL hit a wall.
Following the conjugate or the concurrent method will have you training 3-4 times a week in the offseason. In Season, this can be blended down to 1-2 x week. If you’re not in the starting line up, then give yourself the 3rd day in the season since you’ll have off on the days of competition.
Remember this: Your training must feed and improve the sports performance, NOT take away from the sports performance.
Overtraining means you are overworked and need a rest, plain and simple. You will know when you’re overtrained. Here are some signs:
- Lack of motivation to train
- Amassing injuries
- Feeling weak and exhausted during training
- Easily irritated by friends or normal social circles
- Getting weaker in the gym
- Lack of mental focus
- Easily irritated
- Feeling overwhelmed
- Losing Passion for your Sport
- Talking about Quitting the sport to yourself and others
If you do not listen to your body and you keep on pushing you to increase chances of injury. Most injuries come when the body sends you signals to rest and you ignore these signs.
Autoregulation is a powerful tool you can learn to use for yourself or coaching others. Assess the body language, assess the verbal and non-verbal communication. Assess during the warm-up. You can quickly gauge who is ready to train vs who needs to back off or perhaps be sent back home to rest and recover a few days while dialing in the overall lifestyle (sleep, nutrition, hydration).
Max Effort Days
On these days, you choose your first exercise to be the most important exercise of that day, and the heaviest. This exercise will likely fall into a powerlifting/weightlifting exercises, but it can also be anything heavy, such as farmer walks, stone lifting, throwing an object, weighted pull-ups.
Conventional training will be a deadlift, some form of a press (overhead, bench), a squat variation or weighted and heavy calisthenics such as weighted pull-ups. You would traditionally perform sets in the 1 – 5 reps on this first exercise. Shooting for heavy weights as well, but still having 1 or 2 reps left in the bank if you are a novice. I call this a technique max, where you stop the set before technique falters.
I always remind my high school and college athletes that the strongest athletes have the best technique. They have clean reps, no squirming or grinding with poor form, rarely, if ever, missing a rep.
The more advanced trainee is looking to set a PR (personal record) and so they will go to the maximum effort with a closer % of their 1 RM. The Max Effort work is usually a higher % of the 1RM. For the sports athletes, I train, I rarely do a 1RM. Some argue that a 1 RM is safer than a heavy 3 or 5 rep set and that depends not only on the coach, but who is doing the lifting.
High school coaches who test the 1RM every 4 weeks on the squat, bench and Clean are outdated. There are MANY safer ways to test athletes and the majority of high school athletes I have worked with are NOT ready physically, technically or emotionally to properly hit a 1 RM on these barbell lifts.
I also want to know what is the purpose of the max test. If you are collecting the data, what are you doing with the data? Are you tracking the data short term? Long term? Are you looking for a correlation of weight room numbers in relation to increases in speed? Agility? Don’t test for the sake of testing. Have a purpose.
You can track progress on a paper or an excel sheet, giving each athlete an individual notebook or excel card. Or, nowadays with technology, you can use software to track progress. At “The Underground Strength Gym” I use a software system where we can see all the weights we’ve tracked in every exercise.
I love the software because I can see the graph and the dates, weights, reps, etc. It gives the coach and the athlete a visual and then you can see progress which boosts confidence in the athlete.
If an athlete feels inspired and fired up to break a record, we look at their history of the lift and can say OK, your best 3 rep Box Squat is 295. You can go for 305 today and get a double or triple.
Either way, we see this athlete is breaking a record; more weight for 2 reps or more weight for same 3 rep test. You can also change the variation of the exercise. Change the height of the box, the width of the feet, straight bar or safety bar, etc. Conjugate style the exercise selection.
After the main exercise, you would follow with your movements working on power and strength endurance. Rep work for muscle building, circuits for aerobic capacity or muscular endurance. Essentially, you create the program that builds the athlete! Strength alone is not enough.
In my Encyclopedia of Underground Strength I wrote a chapter titled Strong & Useless.
The realization came to me in my early days of training a few Football Players from my garage gym and my first location of the warehouse Underground Strength Gym. These Football players moved big weights on the barbell lifts, they held the weight room records for squat, bench and clean.
They could not do push ups or pull ups.
They could not do a set of farmer walks without their grip failing on the 2nd set.
They could not do bodyweight lunges without stumbling all over the place.
They were destroyed after doing our movement prep warm up.
These big guys were Strong & Useless!
You must be in shape. In shape to handle the rigors of practice week after week, month after month. In shape to handle a tough game and then return to practice the next day.
Being strong on a 1RM barbell lift will not be enough to prep you for sports practice where the Coaches are pushing you, challenging you and testing you to see if you have the physical AND mental tools needed to handle the long, sports season ahead. The athlete needs durability, aerobic capacity, anaerobic capacity, strength, speed, agility, athleticism, mental fortitude and more.
The Sports Coaches are not worried about the science of perfect or optimal training. They’re looking to see who WANTS it. Who is a leader? Who is cutting corners? Who is working his a** off and staying calm and cool under pressure?
Proper training gets you ready for competition AND practices. The Westside Barbell Conjugate Method is a big influence at “The Underground Strength Gym”, especially their special strength methods. This program blends strength (all types) with explosive power as well attacking weak areas, building muscle and essentially assessing the athlete and building them into WHAT they must become to attain their maximum potential.
For more information, you will want to review the Underground Strength Coach Certification.