The Best Way to Learn About Strength

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I can’t think of too many conferences I have been to where I had the chance to learn from highly respected Ph.Ds, gain the latest practical knowledge from respected professionals, and have my lifts coached by elite Olympic and Powerlifters in the same weekend.

For any aspiring professional, attending seminars in one’s field are a must.  The electronic age has moved a lot of people away from mass social gatherings of shared knowledge and demonstrations, but smart individuals will always spend the resources needed to connect with others whose passion meets their own.

What things are really, truly important about learning through in-person experiences?  I became aware of far more than I originally thought this past weekend.  I’ll get to the summation of what I gained from my total experience at the end of this review.  I’ll start by sharing some great things I took away from the individual presentations and lifting stations at the “Become Unstoppable 3 Conference” that I am a better coach (and lifter) for.  I’ll start with the first of the five presentations, Chad Smith and Brandon Lilly.

Chad Wesley Smith and Brandon Lilly

When a guy who totals over 2200 in raw powerlifting talks about training, you quietly turn your phone off, and listen.  When two guys who have totaled over 2200 in raw powerlifting talk to you about training, you had better tape your eye lids open and give them your full, undivided attention.

Overall, the breakdown of smart and progressive training with a powerlifting theme was a great reminder of the solid training concepts I have learned from the coaching greats, as well as a discovery for me as to how they all fit into the framework of an elite powerlifter’s training.  Learning from powerlifters is awesome, because their training represents the top of the specialization pyramid, and is a system where every training success (or mistake) becomes self-evident.

A highlight from this talk for me was the bit about how European nations train athletes in the competition lifts prior to age 14, but judge them on technical ability, just like gymnastics.  They also don’t let them go over .75x bodyweight for the clean and jerk, and .5x bodyweight for the snatch.  Also, Chad mentioning the all-around physical development of a young Ilya Ilyin before he actually started lifting the big weights reminds us all just how important a base of movement prior to strength is, both in the short-, and long-term scheme of things, even in something so specialized as powerlifting.

Brandon’s talk about the consistency and stability of results that one can get from the Cube method for powerlifting really got me thinking about the same concepts in my training for dynamic athletes.  I have gotten a lot of athletes jumping very high in 12 weeks, only to watch them struggle in subsequent training cycles.  This presentation got the conference off to a great start.

(A quick news flash here: every coach struggles with the stability of the results their athletes achieve, so I have become highly interested in the implications of this method over the last 6 months for other training outcomes.  It was great to gain some more insight from hearing about it in person.)

Ryan Brown and Quinn Henoch

Ryan Brown and Quinn Henoch are two great coaches in the world of breathing, mobility and corrective exercise, not to mention strength training.  The whole corrective exercise world can be a pretty complicated and confusing place, but these guys really gave an informative and easy-to-understand presentation that gave a wonderfully practical progression any athlete can use to improve their breathing as a tool to facilitate greater core and hip power.

I never knew before the BUS3 seminar that I could get such glute activation from a simple breathing drill!  I found that the activation of my trunk musculature could really facilitate the power of my hips in a side-lying 90/90 position.  I actually didn’t know that was the goal of the drill until I actually felt it, and then asked about it.  The implications of something like this for athletes are huge!

Strangely enough, when I went home to show my wife the same side-lying glute drill, I couldn’t get the activation I achieved at the conference.  After watching some more of Ryan and Quinn’s videos, and re-hashing what they went over at the conference, I realized that there were some meticulous points that I hadn’t been performing right when I did it again at home.  This goes to show how important having a qualified professional is when you are performing this type of work where exact details mean everything.

These guys showed me a wonderful progression of breathing drills that will filter into nearly anything I do or coach.  I learned about both breathing into the lower back during supine drills, and also how this carries over to “circumferential” breathing that is so important during things like heavy squatting or deadlifting.  I am looking forward to incorporating the breathing work I learned into my future training programs.  Overall, it was a great presentation and practical follow-up during the lifting stations.

Mike Israetel

They say that the best athletes in the world do the simplest things related to their event, extraordinarily well.

I would say that Mike Israetel embodies this concept in the world of nutrition better than anyone I have ever heard.  His explanation of the amount and ratio of macronutrients in an athlete’s diet was second to none, and really re-ignited my enthusiasm for this area of human performance.

If there is a guy who can make nutrition (probably the most muddied up area in all health and wellness) relevant, exciting and humorous all at the same time, it is Mike.  In lifting and training, we so often find ourselves moving back to making the “main thing the main thing” after running down a different trail of accessory or supplementary work a bit farther than we should have.  Nutrition is tough because it is so hard to quantify the exact results of your plan.  That’s why Mike’s talk was so valuable, because he brings us all back to reality in the often disorienting world of nutrition.

Here are just a few things I learned from Dr. Mike at the BUS 3 seminar:

  • Just how important getting your total macro-nutrient intake correct is compared to the other, comparatively insignificant aspects of the equation are (such as timing or supplements).

  • How high the caloric intake requirement is for many athletes.

  • How the protein requirement for athletes stays fairly consistent; carbohydrate intake being the variable that will fluctuate depending on the type of workout day.

  • And many other concepts that have already influenced the way I view daily macro-intake

To me, the simplicity, and effectiveness of Mike’s presentation can perhaps be summed up from this quote of his from the weekend:

“Take a look at Blaine (Sumner) back there.  How did he get that big?  (audience laughs)  Did he time his nutrients super-scientifically?  Can you imagine coming up to him in the gym after he squats 800 like “bro,bro; what’s your intra-workout like?”.  I mean, it might be something, and that might be a tiny fraction of the difference, but you don’t weigh 380 without eating tons of food, or people, or whatever the hell he eats!”

Overall, a fantastic presentation on nutrition by Dr. Mike Israetel.

Sean Waxman

After reading some of Sean’s previous interview answers regarding Olympic lifting on, I was really excited to gain some in-person knowledge from Sean on the performance of the clean.  As a strength coach, I am constantly looking for the biomechanical similarities (and potential dis-similarities) between Olympic lifting and what we see in various athletic movements, such as sprinting and jumping (something Sean drew a lot of attention to in his interview answer on the “catapult” vs. traditional clean technique).  Aside from some great historical anecdotes from Sean on the evolution of the Olympic lifts, I learned some great pointers about the critical aspect of “setting one’s self up to receive the bar” that Olympic lifters are so good at.

Sean also gave a great talk about developing speed in the Olympic lifts that really jived with my world-view in building speed in jumping and sprinting, but is something I had never linked to the Olympic lifts. Sean mentioned that it is the principle of relaxation that builds speed in the Olympic lifts.  You must relax to be fast; whether it’s lifting or sprinting you are concerned about.  It is always great to see these concepts cross worlds.  This made me realize just how teaching athletes to become better receivers of the bar can also teach them principles of becoming faster in other, more specific pursuits (if they aren’t strength athletes).

Through the whole conference, I also realized just how few athletes are taught to receive the bar correctly in various positions (especially the full catch lift versions), which is where a great athletic benefit of the Olympic lifts is derived (rate of eccentric loading, contraction/relaxation, and more)!  Overall, a great experience to be able to listen to such great wisdom.

Alex Viada

As a strength coach working with track and swimming, I deal with athletes who train through the full range of energy systems.  Listening to Alex was a wonderful chance to gain some insight from a truly remarkable athlete (800lb squat, while running ultra-marathons at competitive paces, as well as a 4:30 mile time) on things like:

  • A great primer on the energy systems and training implications

  • The myth of lactic acid

  • Specific muscular adaptations of endurance work vs. strength work

  • How strength work can offset the shrinking of type I fibers that heavy endurance work brings

  • Just how you balance squatting and deadlifting massive weights with multi-hour endurance runs (no junk mileage!)

Alex is definitely one of the most intelligent guys in his field.  It was great to be able to pick his brain a bit afterwards in regards to the distance runners I work with and their strength programming.

Lifting Stations

One might make the assumption that if you are a collegiate strength and conditioning coach, then you probably have an intimate knowledge of all the powerlifts, as well as Olympic lifts, and also be able to demonstrate them to competition standards.

Well, this is how it should be, but is rarely the case.  I came into this conference thinking I had a pretty decent handle on the Olympic lifts, but quickly found out that I knew relatively little about things like how to receive the bar properly in the split jerk, or even the snatch.  These are simple concepts, but for some reason, they go through the waves of strength and conditioning coaches unnoticed (because it is easy to get away with; athletes aren’t judged by their technique, or even the weight they lift, and performance transfer can be subjective in many cases), but implementing them into athletic regimens properly makes a big difference, both in improving biomechanical similarities between sport and barbell work, the buy in of the athlete, the prevention of injury, and the ability to use the lift as a diagnostic tool to improve athletic movement patterns amongst other things.

Aside from receiving some of the best technical lift instruction out there, it was an irreplaceable experience to be coached (and in the environment of) lots of really strong coaches and athletes.  It is this type of environment that just makes the bar feel that much lighter!  Although I wasn’t trying to grunt out any PR’s during the lift coaching sessions, I did tie my lifetime split jerk best due to some technical adjustments.  (As a side note, I’m pretty sure just having Blaine Sumner, Chad Smith, and Greg Nuckols in a 20 foot radius when I was working at the squat station instantly put 30lbs on my squat max, had I really tried to go for it.  If you haven’t lifted around really strong guys, I would highly suggest it.)


The unique aspect of the “Be Unstoppable” conference was the combination of learning through presentations, being coached at lifting stations, and then chatting about it all with others in your field just as passionate as yourself.  If you are familiar with the learning process behind the “Rosetta Stone” language system, and other effective learning tools, it is that randomized learning (alternating between different types of styles) is a far better experience than doing the same tedious drills over and over again.  In the same vein, learning from a great coach for an hour, physically moving and training, and the subsequent dialogue was an incredible experience I could never hope to experience reading internet articles.

It is one thing to go to a conference and listen to a coach or researcher talk about his or her philosophy on things like training arrangement, or some aspect of physiology that we might be able to extrapolate (wash, rinse and repeat) but another entirely to attend a conference devoted to physical culture on multiple levels.   Overall, I had a great time at the “BUS3” seminar, and learned a lot of great things that I’ll take with me, not just into my next few months of coaching, but into my lifetime.  I would highly recommend it for any coach, or serious athlete.

If you’re interested in an experience like this, you don’t have to wait until Become Unstoppable 4.  All you need to do is click here to register for a Juggernaut clinic, or request one at a gym near you.

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