Having been promising you an interview with my recently hired lifting coach, I finally found a time that worked for both of us to sit down and have a chat. The man has a wealth of information, and has already proven to me (via my numbers) that he knows what he’s talking about. Here’s what he had to say. I hope you learn something (I know I did):
So what is your fancy title, certifications held, and all that?
I am the Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach and Internship Coordinator at a Division I University and have been with my current employer for the past 4 years. I have a Masters Degree from VCU in Coaching and Administration. I’m certified through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association. I went through a rigorous progress that included a 640-hour practicum under the supervision of Master Strength and Conditioning coach (10+ years experience) and then I had to successfully complete a practical, written, and oral examination to get the certification. This differs from CSCS credential that you’ll get from the NSCA, which a lot of coaches and athletic trainers have because you can work in any sector. The SCCC certification is strictly for collegiate strength and conditioning coaches and in my opinion is the gold standard for our profession. It’s a much more rigorous process as far as getting the certification and my basic specialty is working in the collegiate sector, and I strictly focus on the collegiate sport athlete.
I also hold numerous certifications from nationally recognized organizations such as USA Weightlifting and USA Track and Field. These certifications allow me to coach and teach the Olympic lifts and their variations as well as proper sprint and running mechanics for track and field athletes, team sport athletes and weekend warriors.
I played football at James Madison University and upon graduation did a 12-month internship with Robert Morris and Liberty University before starting my current position
I’m also a competitive power lifter; [at one point] ranked in the top 100 in the country in the 275lb. weight class with 800lb squat, 540 Bench, and a 560 Deadlift.
So you focus on all athletes, for all sports, at the collegiate level?
Yes, so basically here at the university I am in charge of designing, and implementing, physical preparation programs for my designated teams. I also develop our graduate assistants and interns and help them start the path of becoming strength and conditioning coach. I also train professional athletes, high school athletes, competitive power lifters, competitive strongmen and recreational lifters in my free time and on a private basis.
You’ve got a pretty impressive resume of people you train, so what’s your motivation to train a hack like me?
Honestly I enjoy seeing people maximize their own personal potential [and] accomplish the goals that they set for themselves. To have a part in that proves to be a very rewarding experience for me. It doesn’t matter if you are one of my collegiate athletes, professional athletes or just an average Joe off the street. We all just want to get better and I enjoy being a part of that process.
Okay great… I also would’ve accepted “show me the money” (though having shopped around, I can say that Ryan’s rate is very competitive)
What’s the difference between power lifting, or Olympic lifting, and your standard “go to the gym 4-5 times a week and lift some weights” style of training that most people subscribe to?
It all comes down to your goals, and then based upon your goals, that’s what you’ll emphasize in the program. With Olympic weight lifting and competitive power lifting, you are focusing on specific movements not necessarily specific body parts. In Olympic lifting it’s the clean and jerk, and the snatch. In competitive power lifting it’s the squat, bench, and deadlift. That is your main focus. Everything you do is done in order to bring those lifts up.
Whereas if a guy is on a bodybuilding split, where he’s training chest and bi’s, most of the time his specific goal is aesthetics; or to look a certain way. Maybe make his bench go up, but not in the sense that he has specific, concrete goals of either stepping on the platform or having a specific number in mind. Really what they’re focusing on is what muscles are being used to perform a movement, and seeing it more based off of muscular effort, rather than looking at it as a skill and the technical component that’s needed to perform a given lift. Does that make sense?
Sure it does. It’s kind of like your magazine model “designer” muscle, versus your working, brute force muscle.
Yeah, what it comes down to is: you’ve got guys that are built for go and guys that are built for show. A lot of times, you’ll [notice] power lifters usually have an appreciable amount of muscle mass, it’s kind of hard not to. But you’ve got to remember [that] as a power lifter and Olympic weight lifter, you train muscle groups in order to bring up the competition lifts.
Now, everybody likes being big, having big arms and big legs, and big chest and big back, but the simple fact of the matter is, you’re training your chest, you’re doing your specific movements, because they’re going to bring up the competition lift.
When I do dumbbell presses, I’m not doing them because I want to get big pecs, or I want to create definition in my chest; what I’m doing them for, is to increase my strength at the bottom end of my bench press. So every single movement has some type of emphasis or goal that is designed to increase my one repetition max in a competition lift.
Okay, I got ya. Now with that in mind, how is the training split for power/Olympic lifting different when compared to bodybuilding?
For this kind of lifting there are a lot of different things that are involved: when we first get a lifter in, the first thing I look at is technique. That is number one by far. The program (frequency, loads, volume, specific movements) is adjusted based on your technical proficiency in the given lift.
In your case, you’re not a competitive power lifter or competitive Olympic weight lifter but because your goals are to increase your one rep max in those given lifts I will train you as such.
By performing a thorough evaluation of your technique I can gather what your muscular weaknesses are, what your imbalances are, and then from that I can develop the specific components of your program.
Some guys are overdeveloped on the front-side, so if he’s been training his chest, biceps, triceps, abdominals, and quads, everything that you can see in the mirror, but hasn’t been training his backside, as far as his hamstrings, glutes, lower back, lats, and traps, well then you can see: if I bring those things up, it’s going to help bring up all of your lifts like we’ve already seen. So every single template that you do, is based off your specific technical needs, your specific weaknesses that are usually the cause of your technical failures and sub-par performances.
Everything else is based off where you’re at in regards to a competition or testing date. So the specific movements, sets, reps, volume, frequency and intensity are all programmed with this date in mind.
Considering I’m completely new to this, what would you expect my biggest challenges and weaknesses to be from the get-go?
The biggest challenges in the get-go that I see from guys that have been lifting for a while is that usually you’ve been doing something wrong for a lot longer than you’ve been doing something right. So I spend a lot of my time re-educating and re-teaching the techniques on every single movement. Also, re-programming you to think of an exercise and how it’s going to improve the competition lift and how it’s going to help you reach your goals. Not seeing the dumbbell press, or the Romanian deadlift, or glute ham raises as a means to make your muscles bigger and/or stronger, but how it’s going to bring up your lockout on the deadlift, or how it’s going to help your starting strength off the floor. How increasing the flexibility of your wrists, and forearms is going to allow you to rack your clean better, which in turn is going to put you in better position and allow you to lift heavier loads.
From what you’ve seen so far in the short time I’ve worked with you, what strengths or advantages would you say that I have…. if any.
Your biggest strength right now is going to be your willingness to learn. It’s not going to be physical, it’s going to be fact that you believe in what we’re doing, and you have the mental capacity to physically push yourself and pay attention to finest details of what I’m teaching you. This gives you a greater appreciation for what it is we are trying to achieve and will continue to motivate you week in and week out.
Right now we really need to strengthen the entire posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, erectors, lats, traps, etc.). This is very common with entry-level lifters because you cannot see these muscles in the mirror and as a result they are often neglected. The bad thing is those are the muscles that are usually hindering you the most. Your legs [and] your upper body [are disproportioned] as far as your numbers are concerned. Your bench is a lot more impressive when compared to your squat and your deadlift. A large number of lifters neglect their squatting and deadlifting because they’re scared they’re going to get hurt, aren’t familiar with the lifts or are just plain lazy. We just need to focus on balancing everything out in order to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury.
So my goal for you, is to slowly work on your flexibility, in the specific sense of racking your cleans and work on strengthening and stabilizing your shoulders since you have had issues with them in past. This will allow us to clean and bench effectively without putting unnecessary wear and tear on the wrists, elbows and shoulders.
Once we get you healthy we can start pushing harder and focusing on improving your technique, increasing your confidence, and continuing to work on bringing up lagging areas/muscle groups.
Knowing what my goals are, how realistic do you think they are?
I mean they’re very realistic. Your deadlift, I mean last time we tested, you’re very close and you’re getting better every single week. Your bench is far greater than you thought it was, after the technical adjustments we made. Your squat is probably moving the fastest out of any of your lifts (36 lb increase in 4 weeks!). You are making extraordinary progress from week to week. That is a result of your beginner/intermediate lifter status. With that, you get results fast. Most of the gains early on are a result of technique improvements and neurological adaptations.
So for instance, when we did your bench press max and we looked at that, you did it your way for the first couple sets. Then I made some technical adjustments, had you pull your shoulder blades together, teach you how to arch, teach you how to get your feet set, teach you where to bring the bar down and where to grip the bar, teach you all those things, and then you hit a 20-30lb PR (personal record). I didn’t make you stronger; I put you into a position to use your current strength more effectively.
So that’s an immediate increase. That’s not because your central nervous system has been adapting to heavier loads, or we’ve increased your muscle mass, it’s because we made the necessary adjustments to allow you to get the most out of your leverages.
Lifting is nothing more than a skill. Especially with the classic barbell movements and strength in general. It’s just like throwing a baseball. Like I’ve told you a million times, if you want to squat more [weight], you have to squat. If you want to bench more, then you need to bench etcetera. In order to become successful at the barbell lifts you have to do them over, and over, and over again until it becomes second nature.
I find that with you, and with all my athletes, you move from simple to complex. You exhaust the simplest means, meaning exercises, before moving on to more complex things.
With me it’s different than some other guys you might go to that focus on using the latest gadget like bands, chains, bosu balls, suspension training or some new age cutting edge program that promises to put 50lbs on our bench in 6 weeks. You don’t need any of that stuff right now, because you’re not even proficient with just the barbell and sub-maximal loads. This isn’t a circus sideshow. I’m not trying to “wow” you or impress you with how many different exercises I know. I’m trying to improve all the movements and motor patterns that you need to perform the lifts necessary to achieve your goals in the safest and most efficient way possible.
Knowing where I’m at, in what kind of time frame do you think it realistic to shoot for achieving those goals?
To be honest, I think it’s important that we look at it as: you have your long term goals, but you just never know what’s going to happen. It could be shorter, right now, I’m thinking it’s going to happen a lot quicker than you think it’s going to happen. Just from the simple fact of how you’re progressing.
But we’ve already hit speed bumps: you’ve gotten sick and had to miss a week of training, things like that happen. But the key is that we’re progressing from week to week, and the numbers will come if we focus on improving day-by-day, session-by-session; and I think that if you’re committed to it for the long haul, less than a year easily, you’ll have those goals.
In some cases, for some of your goals, you’re looking at anywhere from 4-6 months to even sniff at those. Lifts like the clean are moving the slowest, because it’s the most technical lift that you’re doing. I’m going to say that one is going to be further down that range. But things like the squat and deadlift, that you’re really making a lot of great progress with, those things are going to happen sooner. So it’s really not looking at it as a set date, because I just don’t know, based on how you adapt and how the training goes, but let’s just say that with the way you’re training and with the way things are moving right now, I think within a year’s time you should have all your goals accomplished…. Depending on you staying injury free, and staying healthy.
Knowing my three goals are in the deadlift, front squat, and clean, is there anything else that you think I should add to that list, or is that a good place to start?
I think that’s a good place to start, but with you I think it really come down to looking at it as you really want to develop yourself as you first start out [to] be as well rounded a lifter as possible. Once you learn all the movements, you start to specialize based on your predisposition and where you fit in best. You might not be built to be a great Olympic weight lifter but you might be built to be a great power lifter.
So in the beginning, we’ll teach you everything, you have a power clean goal, you have a front squat goal, you have a deadlift goal, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect the other classic barbell movements such as the overhead press, the bench press, and the back squat. All those different lifts are going to help facilitate improvements in the ones you’ve already mentioned. I think it’s important for you as a beginner lifter to focus on the basic compound barbell movements, because those are going to give you the greatest amount of strength possible. This will give you a solid base to build off of for years to come.
It’s different when you’re not competitive as an Olympic lifter or power lifter, because it’s like saying “I play a lot of different sports. I like to play baseball sometimes, basketball sometimes, etcetera.” A jack-of-all-trades is a master of nothing and I feel that all lifters training should be purposeful with a specific goal in mind.
So with you, at this point, it’s to expose you to a lot of different things to make you well rounded, and to make sure that we’re covering all our bases and increasing your strength in every movement possible, as far as being able to vertically press/pull and horizontally press/pull, be able to squat, and do hinge lifts like the deadlift and cleans.
It all builds on one or the other. Sometimes if you focus on the front squat, yes, that’s going to help build up your clean; because it’s the same position, and you’re going to develop and strengthen the same range of motion. In the same token, in the back squat, it’s going to help you snatch; but it’s also going to help your entire body because the load is going to be greater, because you can handle more weight on a back squat than you can on a front squat. [The] average person’s front squat max is anywhere between 70-80% of their back squat max. So, in turn, the front squat is going to get you stronger, it’s going to help bring up your clean, it’s going to help you get comfortable with catching your cleans, but the back squat is going to allow you use more load which is just going to increase your overall strength.
Alright Ryan, I appreciate your time and the info. Let’s get to work…
No problem Luke I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to do this interview.
Ryan is currently accepting clients for online programming, consultations, phone consultations and personal training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.