Training

How I Got Here: A Reflection On My Journey From Beginner To Advanced


Written by

It is important to understand what elite athletes, like those on TeamJTS, currently do in their training, isn’t what they’ve always done. As you evolve from beginner, to intermediate, to advanced, your training must evolve as well. This series is designed to give you a glimpse into the evolution of TeamJTS athlete’s training…

The internet has been great for lifting in so many ways, but one way that it has been a hindrance, is by overexposing the novice trainee to high level information. While training logs like here on JTSstrength.com are great to get a glimpse into the training of elite athletes, it is important to understand that the training myself, or Brandon Lilly, or Dan Green is doing right now, isn’t necessarily the training that brought us here.

My training career truly began when I was 8 years old and started competing in Track & Field. Though I have played a number of sports since I was 5, I would say that my introduction to any formal training began with track & field (track & field, along with gymnastics are the basis of great athletic development). I started in track with the 100m (maybe 50m at that age) and shot put, I think the early exposure to a lot of sprinting, jumping, calisthenics and throwing built a tremendous foundation of for my future athletic success. I wont go into too much detail about the training we did there and while it wasn’t a perfect model for youth development, it had a lot of great things in it for me and really helped grow me into a strong and explosive athlete.

Even as a kid, I loved to train. When I was 9 years old I had my first year of football and I remember using bungee chords tied around a tree in my backyard to do resisted sprints and setting up furniture in the house to use as obstacles for my own improvised agility work.

Any true strength training for me began when I was a high school freshman. I think it is important to note that from the age of 14 to the present I have essentially always been in control of my own programming, minus 18 months during college and the advice I’ve sought from Josh Bryant and Brandon Lilly. This first portion of my training that I’ll address is this high school period, which I’ll call The Workhorse Phase.

The Workhorse Phase

I love working with high school athletes, particularly football players, because high school guys have a seemingly endless supply of energy and motivation-and I was no exception.

As I mentioned before, I wrote my own program throughout college and like any 14-17 year old in charge of his own program I made a lot of mistakes, but I made those mistakes working as hard as I possibly could.

I would scour the internet for training advice on websites and message boards, mind you in 2000-2004 the resources available were limited. My training for the most part was basic and intense. It went through various formats but always the goal was to get big, get strong and get fast. As a reference point, I was 5-8 175 pounds running a 5.3 on my freshman football team and 6-0 275 running a 4.8 and dunking a basketball, when I graduated high school.

Squats, benches and cleans were the basis of my programming and the sets and reps were very basic, things like 3×10, 3×8, 4×6, 5×5 and 5×3 were my bread and butter. Another big portion of this time in my training career was sprinting, jumping and throwing. I was training to be a better football player and a better shot putter. I have to admit that I used JumpSoles (those raised toe platform things) for a year and…they worked great! They helped me become a lot stronger, through the outrageous volume of high intensity jumping and bounding and really did add 5-6″ to my vertical. I wouldn’t advocate using them extensively though because they place so much stress on the achilles and if I tried to use them now, I’d probably be broken in a week. The training that comes with those things is CRAZY, I was sprinting, jumping and bounding in them 2-3x a week for an hour and a half, plus lifting, plus throwing the shot and disc.

All this sprinting, jumping and throwing was great and really built my work capacity, I could train my ass for 3 hours straight 4-6 days/week. The big errors that I made in this period of my training were not doing enough back work and not seeking out more competent coaching, so my technique in the squat, bench, and clean were really just what I figured out myself, it was actually more natural for me to do a split clean and I went up to doing 275ish this way.

Here is what a typical week would have looked like for me during the football off-season while I was getting ready for track season…

Monday

Jumpsoles Training (hundreds of contacts of jumps for height or distance, high knees, bounding, jumps up stairs, sprinting), Squat 5×5 (this was my bread and butter and did as high as 455×5-albeit I’m sure they were a bit high), Lunges or Step-Ups 3×10 each leg, Hamstring Curls 3×10, Back Raises 3×20-30 (these were great for me and I went up to doing 3×30 holding a 45# plate on my chest), Abs. After all that I would throw the shot put, which is far from idea but is what I needed to do to work with my coach.

Tuesday

Throw Discus (disc was very much secondary to me), Cleans 5×1-5, Clean High Pulls 5×3-8, MB Throws (the only one I ever really did was backwards throw for height and I would see how high up against the gym wall I could throw a 10-12# ball), Bench 5×5, Cable Rows or Lat Pulldowns 3-5×8-15, Some bodybuilding tricep/shoulder/bicep stuff-I’ve never really been into this kind of stuff and I kind of regret it now.

Wednesday

Same as Monday but Front Squat instead of Back

Thursday

Same as Tuesday but Seated Military instead of Bench

Friday

Same as Monday

As you can see that is a lot of work and if I could talk to the 14 year old version of myself I would go back and make adjustments but I did a lot of great stuff (sprinting, jumping, throwing, big compound lifts) and did them with great intensity. In high school I benched about 335, squatted 550, cleaned 308, threw the shot 62’6″, the discus 169’6″ and was an All-Southern California offensive lineman. I came out of high school with a great work capacity and big time lower body strength and power.

Check out more about my training as a high schooler. 

During this phase of my training career, the things I did great were…

-Worked my ass off on stuff that matters (sprints, jumps, throws, squat, bench, cleans)

-Ate like a horse, focusing on quality whole foods, instead of getting caught up in supplements

-Did high frequency and high volume training that built muscle, work capacity and skill in the lifts.

The things I could have improved on were…

-More efficient training that would have aided my recovery more

-Trained my back harder

-Improved my lifting technique (ie. squatting deeper all the time, better oly tech)

I went to Cal on a shot put scholarship and this is the only real portion of time that I didn’t control my program, we will call these The Lost Years…

The Lost Years

The first two years for a college shot putter should be a time to get outrageously strong and for me, it wasn’t. The programming we did there just wasn’t that well designed (which I didn’t realize until later in life) and didn’t yield a ton of returns for me.

We did a lot of good things like Olympic lift, squat and bench at high intensities, sprinted, jumped and of course threw but the organization of them was far from ideal. I’m certainly partly to blame here as I ‘enjoyed’ my years at Cal a bunch and wasn’t treating my body the best.

I can’t really remember the structure of a typical week there for me, but I would say the biggest issues with our training were a lack of organization for the program and too much work in the 85%+ range instead of more volume and quality lifts in the 65-85% range.

Though I didn’t make the progress I think was possible during my 2 years at Cal, I did improve to about 385 in the bench, 615 in the squat and 396 in the clean (tons of that clean improvement was technical from working with a coach named Tony Ciarelli, during my times home from breaks).

After 3 semesters on the track team there, I quit for a variety of reasons and one semester later moved back to Orange County and didn’t train seriously for almost a 20 month period. During that time, I got fat, got less fat, lived at the beach and had a lot of fun.

During this phase of my training career, the things I did well were…

-Improved my weightlifting and squat technique

-Began thinking more critically about my training

During this phase of my training career, the things I could have improved were…

-Focused more on my nutrition and lifestyle, but I enjoyed the parties and don’t regret that

-Done higher quality work in sprints/jumps

-Focused more on mobility work and active recovery.

I was talked back into coming out for track at a small school in my hometown and throwing for the same coach I worked with in high school. For that first year back, shot put was very much an afterthought as I was going to school, coaching football and track and running the off-season football program. It was during this time though, that I began discovering things like Defranco, EliteFTS and Zach Even-Esh and was really starting to get some good ideas about training.

Westside for Skinny Bastards was my go-to for the next 2 years, but after a nearly 2 year hiatus from serious and consistent training, I wasn’t ready for the training and injured my back-nothing serious but it severely limited my lower body training for about 6 months. At the end of this 6 months of lackluster training and the lackluster throwing that accompanied it, I was ready to be done with competing and just focus on coaching but after a heart to heart with my dad (in which he said if I quit track I would have to transfer schools for financial reason and inevitably stay in college) I decided to stay with it and after a few weeks of sulking decided that if I had to do it, I was gonna do it right.

This time marked the real shift in my training and will be known as The Resurrection.

The Resurrection

Primetime started off with a simple WS4SB approach. I was all in on Westside and was reading articles about guys squatting 1000+ pounds and wanted to do what they did-mind you at this point in 2007 I had no real idea what a squat suit or bench shirt was. My exercise rotation was simple though, Box Squats with Bands, Box Squats with Chains and Box Squats for ME Lower Body; 2 Board Press, Floor Press and Bench with or without chains were my ME Upper Body favorites. For me ME Work I just cycled through the same 3 exercises for 5rm, then 3rm, then 1rms. I did speed bench with bands, chains, both or straight weight but did not do much if any DE Lower Body work via squats or deadlifts, but rather did lots of sprints and jumps. Also notice that I wasn’t doing any Olympic lifting.

My regular training for my last year of college, in which I threw 19.46m (63’10”) and my year as a post-collegiate thrower where I threw 20.00m (65’7″), looked something like this…

Monday

Sprint, Jump, Throw the Shot Put, ME Bench

Tuesday

Recovery work or extra work with sleds, kettlebells

Wednesday

Sprint, Jump, Throw the Shot Put, ME Lower Body

Thursday

Recovery Work

Friday

Throw the Shot Put, DE Bench

Saturday

Sprint, Jump, Accessory Lower Body OR Compete.

This training worked great for me but it isn’t how I would organize my training for throwing now, you can read about that here.

Towards the end of this type of programming my progress stalled both lifting and throwing, granted much of that can be attributed to the stress of starting Juggernaut. I had to give up throwing at this point because I just didn’t have the time I needed to dedicate to it to compete at the level I wanted, plus my coach had passed away and I was without any technique guidance.

During this phase of my training the things I did well were…

-Focusing on my nutrition and recovery

-Thinking critically about why I was doing what I was doing

-Seeking out tons of knowledge

-Doing high quality work

During this phase of my training, I could have improved on…

-Doing special strength work with higher transfer to my training

-Better organizing my aerobic work so it wouldn’t interfere with my power development

With the end of my track career began the start of my powerlifting career and eventually strongman career which is much more well documented for you guys to check out. Making that transition wasn’t too tough, as I was pretty damn strong at this point Box Squatting 705 (Free Squat was about 635) and benching 500 (Shot Put style with a bounce, maybe 415 paused). About 5 months after my last track meet I did my first powerlifting meet where I used The Juggernaut Method to train, squatted 800 w/ wraps, benched 462 and deadlifted 700-I had never really deadlifted much before starting to train for powerlifting. When I began powerlifting, I would classify myself as an intermediate lifter with advanced talent-realistically evaluate where you are in the spectrum of beginner to advanced.

Hopefully this post has given you some insight in how my training has evolved over the years and sparked some ideas for you about where you are in your training and what you need to do to improve.

Chad Wesley Smith is the founder and head physical preparation coach at Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad has a diverse athletic background, winning two national championships in the shot put, setting the American Record in the squat (905 in the 308 class, raw w/ wraps) and most recently winning the 2012 North American Strongman championship, where he earned his pro card. In addition to his athletic exploits, Chad has helped over 50 athletes earn Division 1 athletic scholarships since 2009 and worked with many NFL Players and Olympians. Chad is the author of The Juggernaut Method and The Juggernaut Method 2.0.

Facebook, YouTubeTwitter

More articles

4 Ways To Make Any Program Work
Training

4 Ways To Make Any Program Work

There is constant debate about what program is best, Cube Method, Westside, Juggernaut Method, 5/3/1, the list goes on. All of these programs have their …

A Week of Fine Dining with Chad Wesley Smith
Training

A Week of Fine Dining with Chad Wesley Smith

Nutrition is a critical component of any athlete’s diet, whether your goals are performance, physique or both, you must properly fuel your body.In late June, …

Of Strength And Stereotypy: Training the Autism Population
Training

Of Strength And Stereotypy: Training the Autism Population

by Eric Chessen If I wanted to be a jerk about it, I could claim the title of “America’s Most Hardcore Trainer.” Sure, the powerlifting, linebacker, …

Smart Training is Hard Training: The Principle of Overload
Powerlifting

Smart Training is Hard Training: The Principle of Overload

How much volume do you need to get bigger? How much intensity do you need to get stronger? The principle of overload dictates that training …

JuggerCube
Powerlifting

JuggerCube

One Thousand and Sixteen Days, 1016 days…That’s how long between my last 2 squat PRs. 1016 days filled with injuries, doubt, great training, other sports …

Scientific Principles of Strength Training
Powerlifting

Scientific Principles of Strength Training

Understanding the principles upon which effective Powerlifting Programming is built is critical to being able to create effective strategies to help athletes improve their strength.

Consolidation of Stressors, Part 1
Powerlifting

Consolidation of Stressors, Part 1

The concept of consolidation of stressors is a topic I’ve written about on several occasions before, but as I grow as an athlete and coach, …

Get Chad’s RAW squat training guide FREE!
Training

Get Chad’s RAW squat training guide FREE!

Juggernaut Owner Chad Wesley Smith joined extremely elite company when he squatted 905 pounds raw. Smith's squat broke the American Record in the 308s weight …