Athletic Performance Roundtable – Things you need to know to become a freaky athlete

Gather three top strength and conditioning coaches for a discussion and what do you get; information that you’d normally never read or hear about anywhere else.

Wannabebig was fortunate enough to have Jimmy Smith, Brijesh Patel, and Eric Cressey agree to discuss and answer some questions on how they make their athletes bigger, stronger, and faster as well as deal with some of the issues that surround training an athlete.

Bear in mind these guys have pro athletes coming to them for help because they deliver results!

Wannabebig: What is your training philosophy for athletes?

Eric Cressey: Build the athlete first, and the player later. To do so, you need just the right mix of strength, reactive ability, speed-strength, kinesthetic awareness, mobility, activation, and recovery modalities in conjunction with proper diet and supplementation. There is no one right way to train an athlete.

Brijesh Patel: I believe that training for athletes should accomplishing two main goals, which are to:

  • Reduce the chance of injuries
  • Improve Athletic Performance

Reducing the chance of injuries is the most important as you can’t perform if you can’t play. The second goal is to improve performance by working on all parameters of sport performance, which are:

  • speed
  • acceleration
  • agility
  • strength
  • power
  • flexibility/mobility
  • nutrition
  • mental toughness
  • quickness
  • reaction
  • movement skills
  • conditioning

Our goal as strength and conditioning coaches or performance enhancement coaches is to improve general athleticism that can carry over to the particular sport.

Jimmy Smith: My philosophy is very unique and blended; I don’t believe in having a one size fits all mindset. We can learn from powerlifting, Olympic lifting, bodybuilding, and track and field to better prepare our athletes since they all involve different neural, metabolic, and muscular processes. It is really hard for me to sum it up, I’m sure everyone will agree that athletes typically have a bad case of weakness, that is the first place that we have to look.

What are the four requirements for the sport? That will dictate the frequency of repetitions used. What is the available time to train the athlete? If I don’t have an athlete year round, I am going to have to decide if his performance is suffering because he doesn’t have enough size or that he doesn’t have enough strength for his cross-sectional area. What’s the genetic make-up of the athlete? Some athletes respond better to higher reps and others respond better to lower reps. What is the athletes’ rate of adaptation? As coaches we have to notice how the athlete adapts, after two weeks is the program useless? I might need to alter their reps or sets.

It’s never an open and shut case.

Wannabebig: When you meet with an athlete who you’re going to potentially work with what are some of the things you look for when you are screening them pre training?

Eric C: I’m screening for flexibility and strength deficits, poor structural balance, and bad soft tissue quality – and considering all these factors with respect to that athlete’s sport(s) of choice and injury history.

Brijesh Patel: I don’t do any pre-participation screening as I typically work with teams and groups the majority of the time. I assess as we go through training. I watch the way they stand statically and move through a dynamic warm-up; how they lunge, how they squat, how they bend, etc. These things tell me what weakness that athletes possess and what they need to work on. We are also limited by time for training, so it’s my responsibility to teach them how to improve their posture or which exercises to do before training, after training, or on an off day.

Jimmy Smith: If I am dealing with an athlete one on one, not in a team setting my screening is going to be extensive. First, I am going to just watch them move. How do they look when they walk? Do they rotate at the trunk too much or too little? Do they have enough shoulder extension and opposite hip extension? Then I will take them through some movement screens and muscles tests.

How do they look when they do a reverse lunge with an overhead reach? How do they look when landing from a jump squat? Watching them squat and lunge is a huge basic assessment that shows everything.

I’ll also look at where they store fat; this is going to be a huge indicator of what’s going on with the hormones in their body. There’s so much past the basic “eat more protein and eat good carbs” nutrition that is out there. What’s going on in their gut? What kind of food allergies and inflammation do they have? How much insulin resistance and cortisol do they have? While being able to test for this is optimal there are several common patterns, very much like the patterns of functional anatomy that shows certain muscles will be tight and weak.

Wannabebig: What are some tests you would use to assess an athlete?

Eric Cressey:

1. Upper body max strength:

Bench press (not in overhead throwing athletes) and 3-rep max chin-up

2. Lower body explosive power:

Vertical jump, broad jump, 4-jump test (Just Jump System), Single-leg triple jump

3. Agility

Pro-agility (5-10-5, or 20-yard shuttle, depending on who you ask). We also can extrapolate some results from the single-leg triple jump.

4. Core stability:

Prone bridge to side bridge transitions, side bridge hold time, and just watching them move (you can tell a lot about their joint-specific mobility/stability if you get them moving and know what to watch for).

Brijesh Patel:

Upper body max strength

Bench Press – I use a repetition test to assess strength and use the Husker formula to calculate a 1RM to prescribe loads for their programs. The Husker formula is:

1RM= (Weight * Reps * .03) + Weight

The reason I use predicted maxes rather than 1RM’s is because I test every 3rd week in my training programs to see how my athletes are progressing and to assign a new max to their next training phase if they’ve gotten stronger.

I also use a maximum medium grip pull-up test for all of my athletes, males and females. For some it becomes a test of max strength, while others it becomes a test of muscular endurance. But I like to incorporate both a test of pushing and pulling to show them the importance of both movements.

Lower Body Explosive Power

Hang Clean – this is a 1RM test and we prescribe loads for Olympic lifts from this exercise.

Vertical Jump with countermovement – this is a test more of static ability as it doesn’t rely too much on elastic strength

Vertical Jump with approach step – this is a test more of reactive ability as the approach before the jump stores elastic energy so the consequent jump should be higher. I’ve found that there should be a 4 inch difference between these jumps for optimal balance. If there is a less than 4 inch difference the athlete needs more elastic/reactive work. If there is a greater than 4 inch difference the athlete needs more strength work.


Basically any test that is going to force the athlete to accelerate, decelerate and change direction. The better the time, the more efficient the athlete is at absorbing force, controlling their body to move again.

For basketball players, I’ll use a lane agility test; for football a pro agility; for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey a 5-10-15 shuttle would be more appropriate.

Core Stability

I don’t use tests for core stability as most of our core training is all stability based. So you can say that our core training is core testing as well, as we can see what compensation patterns athletes will use when their core musculature starts to fatigue. Take for example a forearm bridge, typical errors are excessive lumbar lordosis, lifting the hips in the air (not parallel to floor), and weight shifting.

Jimmy Smith:

1. Upper body max strength:

I don’t really test the barbell bench press any more. I test with a 3-RM chin-up, I just find that it has a better carry over to all aspects of athletic performance. Sports coaches like to see big bench press numbers but you can improve that with the chin-up and doing heavier tricep work. In my mind the pull-up is the ultimate upper body test

2. Lower body explosive power:

I like the bounce drop jump/countermovement test that Eric describes in his manual. It is a great test and really lets you know where you need to program your athletes training. If no one is familiar, you simply test your vertical jump the way that you normally would. Swing your arms back and spring up and try to touch a point, now mark that point. Next take a 12-inch box and place it 6-8 inches away and drop off the box and explode up. Compare the differences.

3. Agility:

I use the classic T-test; it is old school but gets the job done.

4. Core stability:

This is a test that Stuart Mcgill uses in rehab settings; I call it the crossover drill. The athlete assumes a push-up position with their elbows locked out. They have to cross one hand onto the other without allowing their low back to rotate; their spine must stay flat. This is both a test for low back rotation issues as well as core stability and is a killer workout in of itself.

Wannabebig: How much of a mental coaching approach do you have to take with the athletes you train?

Eric Cressey: Coaching, by nature, is largely mental. And, you have to be a little mental to be a good coach!

I love Brian Grasso’s model of coaching approaches depending on the athlete; my experience has been that these classifications hold true in the overwhelming majority of athletes I encounter:

High Motivation, High Skill: Delegate
High Motivation, Low Skill: Guide
Low Motivation, High Skill: Inspire
Low Motivation, Low Skill: Direct

Brijesh Patel: I use a lot of sport psychology in to my coaching style in an attempt to get my athletes to work harder. One of our goals in a team setting is to improve confidence and build a sense of team camaraderie. The best way to improve confidence is through work and doing things that you did not thing were possible. Our bodies are extremely amazing and are capable of accomplishing great things, but our minds will always want to give up before the body physically can. My goal is to teach my athletes how to push their limits and how to work. When you learn how to work, you know you can do anything.

I also hold my athletes accountable to themselves as well as their teammates. If they are going to be late for a training session, they have to call me or email me. If they don’t do something right during a training session the entire team is punished. If you hold athletes accountable they’ll realize it’s important. And it’s mostly the little things that I get on them about. If you can’t do the little things right, then you won’t be able to accomplish big things, like winning a championship.

Jimmy Smith: It is a huge part of my training. If you’ve ever read Dale Carniege he talks about how dealing with people is 85% of ones financial success, it is the same way when you are trying to increase performance. You have to know when to push and win not to. Motivation is key you have to be able to successfully influence your athletes even when they don’t want to be there. I don’t over do it, I was an athlete myself so I know the buttons to push and not to push.

Wannabebig: Top 3 things you’ve found wrong with the athletes you’ve trained?

Eric Cressey:

1. Poor diet.
2. Ignoring imbalances for too long; many of these imbalances are the result of ignorant coaches with whom they’ve worked in the past.
3. Not appreciating that it is both what you do AND how you do it.

Brijesh Patel: The top three things that I’ve found with athletes that I’ve trained have been:

1. Lack of mobility
2. Poor landing mechanics
3. Poor nutritional habits.

The lack of mobility is becoming more and more profound as society has made our lives easier and the belief that children need to specialize early in their sport. With the development of technology, we can accomplish everything we need to from a seated position. If we don’t move our joints through their full range of motion, we lose the ability to move through that range of motion. This can cause a whole host of problems up and down our kinetic chain which can lead to injuries. Specializing in a sport at an early age can retard athletic development as the athlete only learns the skills of that one sport and those movement patterns. Overuse of those movement patterns can lead to injuries as the same muscles and movements get trained over and over again throughout the year. Specialization can also cause early burn-out because the athlete is involved with the same sport continuously.

Poor landing mechanics is another large issue that we have to teach my athletes, especially females. My goal is to get the athletes to learn how to engage their posterior chain when landing/absorbing force so they can move efficiently. What I see is that athletes will tend to engage their quadriceps to a greater degree when landing rather than the glutes and hamstrings. This can be seen when the athlete drives their knees forward and have an upright torso when landing from a jump or making a cut. The ideal position would be to have the knees slightly bent, the butt back and a slight forward torso lean. This position loads the posterior chain for the subsequent movement.

The other big issue that we see is how poorly athletes eat and how little they know about proper nutrition. They get upset and worried about how come their not making body composition progress and need to realize that nutrition plays a huge role. I think it’s a huge part of our job as coaches and trainers to educate our athletes on proper nutritional habits/practices and increase their awareness of good food.

Jimmy Smith:

1. Zero glute strength, this is going to be the case with 99% of people. It wasn’t until I could get their glutes to fire that they started making significant strength gains. Athletes will come to me and every single one of them will lock out a deadlift with their low back. You’ll also see a side shift when they squat because one glutes medius is going to be weaker then the other.

2. Weak chin-ups. For years the primary method of upper body strength with athletes has been their bench press. If we improve an athlete’s chin-up, we improve their running speed. You’ll see upper back weakness being a limiting factor is deadlifts, bench press and just overall athletic weakness

3. Locked mid- spine. This is an area no one has really focused on when it comes to athletes. This is going to give our athletes a hunchback posture but also wreck proper firing patterns of our upper body muscles. Think of a basketball player trying to get a rebound, if he can’t get the shoulder flexion to reach up since his thoracic spine is locked, he won’t get to the ball as fast

Wannabebig: What is the biggest misconception when it comes to training athletes?

Eric Cressey: Hands down, it’s the perception that it takes bodybuilding-like volume to build good athletes. I wish more people would realize that it’s about quality, not just quantity.

Brijesh Patel: The biggest misconception when it comes to training athletes is that they know healthy habits. People tend to make the assumption that just because their athletes they should know how to take care of their bodies and eat properly. Like I mentioned earlier, we need to educate them about the training that they’re doing as well as educate them on what to do outside of training to maximize results.

Jimmy Smith: That they can’t use hypertrophy work. The term functional hypertrophy is taken way out of context these days. It is almost an after-thought; it is used to bring up the weak areas and really isn’t given too much priority. I’m not saying we should perform body part splits or a huge amount of isolation work but if we program it correctly then our athletes are going to benefit, remember if it is done right a bigger muscle can produce more force.

Wannabebig: What are some of the mental roadblocks athletes have in regards to their training and performance on and off the field?

Eric Cressey: Believe it or not, some of the biggest roadblocks are a product of previous and current coaches and sometimes even the athlete’s own parents (at the high school level). Implementing bad programming with impressionable young minds makes them think that such programming is the only way to go. The rounded back deadlifts, crap abdominal training, and “go heavy or go home” mentality that characterizes the Bigger, Faster, Stronger program has, in my opinion, hurt the strength and conditioning field (and many athletes’ backs) more than it has helped.

On the parent front, many times, these individuals are resistant to change from what they did when they were growing up. From diet, to supplements, to actually lifting in-season, to wanting to use extra conditioning to make up for poor diet, many parents can be “tough sells” for coaches; old habits die hard.

Brijesh Patel: The biggest roadblocks seem to be not being able to stay in the present and thinking negatively. Staying in the present is extremely difficult for many athletes. I often have to remind them to leave the stuff that’s not important at the door before training. What’s in the past can’t be changed and the future is determined by what you do right NOW! It’s difficult for college athletes who have exams, issues with a significant other, and other social matters to block everything out and focus on the task at hand. The athletes, who are good at this, tend to be the mentally toughest athletes as not many things will faze them.

The other roadblock is thinking negatively. If something bad happens, let it go. There’s nothing you can do about it. You’re better off thinking positively and being happier. It’s amazing how you think can affect the way you perform. Thinking positively, more times than not, will result in better performance. If you think you’re not going to be able to do something, you’ll never be able to do it.

Jimmy Smith: Athletes are scared to fail. Look at the best athletes of all time, not one of them was scared to fail. I remember a poster I had of Michael Jordan and he is quoted saying, “I’ve missed over 300 game winning shots but I still want the ball at the end of the game”.

Wannabebig: Are there any common injuries you’ve seen athletes suffer from repeatedly? How could they have been addressed so they don’t occur in the future?

Eric Cressey: Lots of them. Here are a few examples…

Rotator cuff issues: need to prioritize scapular stability, thoracic extension, mobility of the contralateral hip and ankle, optimal (belly) breathing patterns, and (finally) rotator cuff strength. Overhead throwing athletes really need to address posterior capsule stiffness with soft tissue work and sleeper stretches.

Extension-based back pain: emphasize lumbar spine stability and mobility of the thoracic spine and hips. Drop all the traditional “core” training ideas and start training stability. If it’s unilateral back pain, check hip external rotation range-of-motion on that side. Get the glutes firing.

Adductor and hamstrings strains – get the glutes firing and improve soft tissue quality on the affected muscles

There are obviously a ton of other factors involved in preventing and correcting inefficiencies. I check calluses on the feet, ankle ROM, and a host of other things; we’re really just getting the tip of the iceberg here.

All in all, improve soft tissue quality (foam rolling, lacrosse ball work, and massage), enhance mobility where appropriate, and get activation work in, and you’ll usually be in good standing. Pack some maximal strength on top of those efficiencies, and you’ll be bulletproof.

Brijesh Patel: The most common injuries are muscle strains or pulls. They can be greatly reduced by proper training, well devised warm-up routines, and planned recovery.

The most common types of strains tend to be hamstrings and groins. Strains tend to occur in synergists (helpers). When this happens, look to the prime mover of movement to find out what’s wrong. The prime mover will tend to be weak or under active, so therefore the synergists will take over their job and perform more of the work. In the case of hamstring and groin pulls, the glute max will tend to show up weak or under active. The hamstrings and groin are synergists to the glute max. To fix this problem, make sure you are cueing your athletes properly to use their glutes properly and including exercises to “turn them on”, such as bridges, and prone hip extensions.

Jimmy Smith:

Hamstring strains – which can be prevented by cleaning up the anterior hip and getting the glutes to fire.

Shoulder injuries – which can greatly be reduced by working on the scapula, prompting more depression work, getting the mid-low trap to fire, having the thoracic spine move better and performing more reverse crunches.

Knee issues – either pain or tears which can be avoided by cleaning up the ankles and hips as well as the adductors and tfl.

Ankle sprains – this is my personal favorite since I have some personal experience on them. If we get our athletes out of Shoxs or shoes that are elevated into barefoot training and Nike Frees then we can really reduce these injuries. Mobilizing the ankle and working on more single leg force absorption work is also hugely critical.

Wannabebig: I’m going to throw out three different sports. Can you break down the 5 qualities (i.e: mobility, single leg strength etc) that need to be addressed in training the athlete for the sport.

Eric Cressey: Well, it’s a lot more than five, but here goes…

1. Tennis

a. Posterior capsule mobility and soft tissue work, scapular stability, and thoracic extension ROM
b. Hip and ankle mobility
c. Rotary stability (ability to resist rotation)
d. Lower body strength (posterior chain emphasis to counteract quad-dominant nature of the sport)
e. Frontal plane stability (single-leg proficiency)

2. Basketball

a. Ankle mobility
b. Hip mobility/lumbar spine stability/rotary stability/glute activation
c. Strength…everywhere!
d. Reactive ability (only if we’re talking about a guy who hasn’t played years of street ball)
e. Frontal plane stability (single-leg proficiency)

3. Hockey

a. Hip and ankle mobility
b. Maximal strength
c. Psoas activation
d. Lower extremity soft tissue work
e. Frontal plane stability (single-leg proficiency)

Brijesh Patel: This is where I may disagree with some other coaches, but I tend to train my athletes the same when it comes to strength training and basic movement skills the things that will differ are conditioning and attention to common injuries. The reason why I believe this is every sport tends to rely on the same qualities for success. These are the same parameters of sport performance that I mentioned earlier. What sport doesn’t need hip mobility, lower body strength, explosiveness, hip stability, scapular stability, eccentric strength?

Jimmy Smith:

1. Tennis

a. First thing that we have to look at is the t-spine and hips. If we can improve the movements first by getting more t-spine extension and our hip external rotation, our athletes will greatly benefit from some rotation work but only after these areas are cleaned up.

b. Ankle mobility, tennis is stop and go sport. Since we are pounding on our ankle during the game, we are going to see increased knee injuries. So doing some simple ankle mobilization is huge

c. Shoulder External rotation. Think of all the internal and external rotation that goes through a typical tennis match, we need to be strong in external rotation for both our back serves and to counteract all the internal rotation

d. Single leg strength, every athlete needs it, period

e. Glute strength, very much like single leg strength, we’ve got to have our athletes glutes firing correctly to prevent back pain and improve lower body power

2. Basketball

a. Single leg strength- look at all the pivots and movements that basketball players make off of one leg.

b. Glute strength-they need it badly to keep exploding up.

c. Ankle mobility- basketball players are always in high tops and ankle braces or tape. Their ankles are going to be cinderblocks so we have to open them up.

d. Hip mobility-Basketball players hip are just locked up.

e. Lower body max strength- They do a ton of reactive work, they need to get strong.

3. Hockey

a. Thoracic spine extension- If hockey players are locked up here, they will never get the power behind their shots that they want

b. Hip abduction strength-The primary motion in skating is bring the leg toward each other, so we need to counteract that with some lateral hip strength. Hockey players typically present with either adductor strains or hernias, which can largely be eliminated by strength up their outer thigh.

c. Hip mobility- same reason as above, they need it

d. Shoulder external rotation- If they are lacking external rotation strength there is no way that they get the power they need.

e. Glute strength- The glutes are the center of everything

Wannabebig: Name three athletes who display athletic qualities (not skill) that serve as an example of what good training is a result of.

Eric Cressey:

Barry Sanders – This guy might be the most athletic guy in the history of sports – certainly football. He has amazing ability to control his center of gravity within his base of support. Squatted over 600 pounds and had tremendous single-leg stability, reactive ability, and kinesthetic awareness.

Felix Hernandez – Who? I’m big on relative improvements, and this guy is an example of how an off-season can change your career. He’s a 20 year-old pitcher for the Seattle Mariners who dropped 20 pounds in the off-season to become the major leagues’ youngest opening day pitcher in 22 years. On opening day, he only allowed three hits and struck out a career-high 12 in eight innings of shutout baseball. Having “stuff” isn’t good enough if you’ve got 20 pounds of blubber holding you back.

Roger Federer – This one probably comes as another surprise to many of you, but the fact of the matter is that he’s likely the greatest tennis player of all time – and he’s only 25. This guy is incredibly efficient and powerful in spite of the fact that he weighs in at 177 on a 6-1 frame. Combine efficiency with technical precision and there’s no need to “muscle anything” on the tennis court. The hallmark of a good athlete is that he makes it look effortless, and Federer does just that. Rumor has it that he spends up to three hours per day on the massage therapy table, too – something that’s indicative of his attention to detail in taking care of his body.

I think that a guy like Karl Malone deserves an honorary mention, too, at the very least. He was arguably the most durable player in NBA history; it should come as no surprise that he was notorious for his rigorous off-season lifting programs (and for getting in the weight-room in-season, too).

Brijesh Patel: In my opinion, I think all athletes who are at the top of their respective sports possess fantastic genetics. If you want to be a good athlete, choose your parents carefully. That being said, good training plus good genetics is an awesome combination.

The athletes that train well tend to be the ones who don’t miss games due to an injury. Therefore the athletes that are good examples of good training are the ones that are at the top of their game and rarely miss games.

Peyton Manning – started 16 consecutive games for 8 consecutive years. Unbelievably consistent and is known for his strong work ethic.

Jerry Rice – played 189 consecutive games before a serious knee injury in 1997. He is the best wide receiver ever to play who always trained like a maniac in the off-season.

Karl Malone – missed only 5 games in his first 13 years in the league and continued to play well until the age of 40. He was an extremely hard working power forward that was built like a football player rather than a basketball player.

Jimmy Smith:

Reggie Bush – the guy is a freak and his training just makes him freakier.

Michael Jordan – who didn’t hear about his passion and drive in the weight room? The guy was insane about it and it allowed him to come back way past his prime and still be a top 20 player in the NBA.

Barry Bonds – people will laugh but the guy has busted his butt in the weight room time and time again and made himself one of the top three baseball players of all time regardless of the other “stuff” around him.

Written by Maki Riddington

Discuss, comment or ask a question

If you have a comment, question or would like to discuss anything raised in this article, please do so in the following discussion thread on the Wannabebig Forums – The Athletic Performance Roundtable discussion thread.

About The Roundtable Contributors

Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith, CSCS: is a body enhancement coach who has helped individuals and athletes of all levels from high school to the top collegiate and national ranks in reaching their elite performance and body enhancement goals. Although Jimmy is well versed in several bodies of knowledge, he specializes in performance and body enhancement as well as biomechanics as it relates to injury rehabilitation and human movement. In addition, Jimmy is currently advancing his education as a master’s degree student in Human Movement and writes for various online magazines.Visit

Jimmy’s website to sign up for his FREE newsletter that contains a FREE report with exclusive fat loss information.

Jimmy Smith

Brijesh Patel

Brijesh Patel, MA: a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (NSCA) and USA Weightlifting Club Coach (USAW), has been a Strength & Conditioning Coach at the collegiate level since 2000. Currently employed at the College of the Holy Cross, Brijesh has also worked with Mike Boyle at his professional facility in Massachusetts, the University of Connecticut, and with the Worcester Ice Cats of the AHL (American Hockey League). Brijesh has trained a variety of athletes ranging from middle school to the professional and Olympic levels. Brijesh has been published in magazines and has presented on the regional level.To contact Brijesh email him at

Brijesh Patel

Eric Cressey

Eric Cressey, MA, CSCS: is a Boston-based performance enhancement coach and record-setting competitive powerlifter who has worked with athletes of all levels, from youth sports to the professional and Olympic levels.

The co-producer of the Magnificent Mobility DVD and Building the Efficient Athlete DVD set, Eric is also the author of The Ultimate Off-Season Training Manual.You can find out more about Eric and sign up for his free newsletter at

Eric Cressey

Where to find and how to buy gym equipment

My previous article, Home gyms Rule! described a rationale for home gyms and touched lightly upon which equipment you will need to create your own. This article is going to delve more in-depth into equipment needs and where to find it, but I first want to make a point. The value of a home gym lies in its use. Irrespective of how the gym is equipped if you do not make use of it you have effectively wasted your time, money, and space. Use your home gym!

In my home gym I have a combination of equipment that was purchased new, used, and I also have my own “home-built”. I prefer to buy new gym equipment, but it can get costly.

If you are open to buying used equipment there are some great options available to you.

Olympic Weight Set “101”

There is a significant difference between a “standard” weight set and an “Olympic” weight set. A standard bar is approximately 1” in diameter from end to end. An Olympic bar is also approximately 1” between the sleeves, but is generally a bit longer. An Olympic bar also has a 2” diameter revolving sleeve on each end. It should be obvious that Olympic plates therefore have a correspondingly sized 2” center hole. The quality of materials, rated capacity, and preciseness of machining for an Olympic set is usually far greater than a standard set. Bottom line, for the relatively small difference in price the Olympic set is the only way to go.

When I am looking for a new Olympic set I will usually look for a good sale from a big-name retailer like “Sports Authority” or “Dick’s Sporting Goods”. Prices can vary substantially by store and location. If you are patient and carefully track weekly sales ads you can usually find a new 300 lb. Olympic set priced somewhere between $90 and $120 USD. That price assumes store pickup as either the shipping will be extra or the price will be higher.

If you are open to a used Olympic set you can usually get an even better price. What I have found is that unless an Olympic weight set has really been abused it can pretty much last into perpetuity. I buy used Olympic sets and additional plates all the time with tremendous success. There are, however, a few basic tips to help avoid getting a “lemon”.

First, visually check all of the plates for cracks. It tends to be rare, but I’ve seen plates that have been cracked from use. Usually a cracked plate results from someone who either drops the bar following deadlifts (without some measure of cushion or a platform under it), or when a lifter gets over-anxious and “dumps” a bar.

Next, check the bar itself. This might sound tricky, but it is actually quite simple. Rotate the sleeves on each end by hand to make sure they move freely. Pull each sleeve outward from the end of the bar to make sure it is fully attached and the play is reasonable (no more than 0.25” maximum). Then, roll the bar across the floor to look for visible bends or warping. You also want to be sure to check the knurling is not completely worn off.

The final check I perform is to verify the plates are all from the same manufacturer. Although the 2” sleeves and the concurrent holes in the Olympic plates are supposed to be a standard you will see some variance in the actual measurements of each between manufacturers and even between equipment of the same manufacturer in the lower quality brands. Usually, equipment from the same manufacturer will work well together and that is why I look for unity of brand on the plates. In any event, it is always a good idea to check that the plates fit well on the bar. The tolerance and play should not be significant, nor should the plates fit tight. There is no sense getting stuck with a bar and plates that don’t work together.

So what about price?

If the Olympic set is 300 lbs (total weight including the bar at 45 lbs, and an assortment of plates at 255 lbs) the going rate for a used set should be less than $90 USD. If the used Olympic set is priced higher either try to negotiate a lower price, or in my opinion – walk away. You’ll find a much better deal later. Used Olympic plate prices can vary, but I find that a published price of $0.35 / lb. is the most common. New plates tend to run around $0.50 / lb.

One important thing to note that is that most of the local sports stores and commonly found Olympic sets and plates are made in China. They are durable, effective, and if cared for can last a lifetime. However, like any commodity there are also brands that are of far greater quality and are respected in the lifting community. Brands of “respect” that come to mind include: Eleiko, Ivanko, and York. This is not to say that other brands are also not of good quality, but an Eleiko, Ivanko, or York will usually bring a much higher price.

I have a mix of brands. While my preference is for the very best, reality for me is that price plays a huge factor. If I can find a great deal on a top quality brand I’ll pick it up, otherwise, I go with the lesser expensive brands. One recent example of a great buy on a top brand is that I picked up a pair of Ivanko 100 lb. Olympic plates for $0.50 / lb.

Generally, I’ll stick to used Olympic plates. If they are not obviously damaged, they weigh just as much and work just as well as new plates. If they are a little dirty, some spray cleaner and a rag can go a long way. While the asking price for used Olympic plates is around $0.35 / lb., I always try to negotiate a lower price. We’ll save the price and negotiation topics for the next article.

Where can you find new and used equipment?

Most major sporting goods stores will carry one or more brands of Olympic sets and other equipment such as benches, racks, and machines. Some stores like Sports Authority even carry their own custom branded Olympic sets. You can also find equipment online.

If you prefer to buy new and want to see the item in person a local sporting goods store or fitness outlet is probably best. Although this is not an exhaustive list by any means names that come to mind are: “Sports Authority”, “Dick’s Sporting Goods”, and “Big 5 Sporting Goods”. No doubt there are many others you can find in your area.

Alternatively, you can always search the Web. There are numerous “e-tailers” of sporting goods and fitness equipment. Shopping online can be very convenient as the “e-tailers” will arrange shipping directly to your home. I’ve purchased a few items online and have been quite happy with the outcome.

I do advise caution when using an online “e-tailer” because if there is a problem it can be difficult to get resolved. My advice? Do your homework! If you find an item of interest from an online site do a Web search for that “e-tailer”. See if there are any posted complaints on the various forums. You can always check with the Better Business Bureau as well. Even when you’ve done your “due diligence” you might still run into a problem here or there but you’ll have significantly reduced the potential.

Something else to consider with an internet “e-tailer” is shipping. Given the increasing cost of transportation and fuel, shipping is becoming more and more costly. This is especially true with heavier items such as home gym equipment. Be careful that the shipping charges do not make the initially attractive price become prohibitively expensive.

If you are looking for used equipment there are a few good sources. First, there is your local newspaper and its classified ads. I take time every Sunday morning to read through my local classifieds. Every so often I run across a great deal. To divulge a little “secret”, the period between February 1 and June 1 is ideal. The “New Year resolution wannabes” will often invest in some great equipment and then find out a few months later that it takes real work to lose weight and shape up. They often give up and will let their equipment go at an excellent price just to get it out of the house. Another great source for used equipment is There are versions of the craigslist site for most major cities and they allow posting of “for sale” items.

A couple notes of caution when buying used from an individual. Always perform a thorough inspection of the equipment as you will very rarely be able to get your money back. You will often have to disassemble, load and move the equipment yourself so having a helpful friend or two along can be of great use.

Another source for used equipment is “Play It Again Sports”. They are a national chain of stores (most individually owned) where you can find a great assortment. As with the other sources, do your homework! Make sure the equipment is up to snuff, meets your needs, and is in good shape.

Is home-built an option?

As noted earlier, I also have some home-built equipment. All of mine is steel and welded framework. Fortunately, I learned to weld and I have several family members who are welders. You can build some interesting and very economic equipment if you are careful. The real key is to carefully plan out the construction and to really know what you are doing. There is a higher degree of risk when building your own equipment. You need to understand the capacity of the base materials and have sound construction methods. It would not be a good thing to build a rack and then have a couple of hundred pounds or more come crashing down on you.

Wood can present another solution and it is often of even less cost than welded steel. Again, you really need to know what you are doing and have sound construction methods. Use only the strongest grade of materials and make sure that all joints are properly seated and fastened. Do not use warped materials or smaller dimension materials just because it will save a few dollars.

Perhaps the greatest down-side to home-built equipment is the risk of damage and injury. Even with steel and welded construction, if you don’t know what you are doing the resulting equipment can fail. I cannot stress caution enough.

So what should I do?

There are pros and cons to every approach.

As I’ve noted above:

  • Do your homework – research is simple and inexpensive
  • Check out the quality of the weights and equipment you want
  • If buying online, check on the “e-tailer” (complaints, BBB, forums comments, etc.)
  • If building it yourself, make sure you know what you are doing and only use the best quality materials

Keep on lifting !

Written by Jim Bean

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The Bench King – An interview with Ryan Kennelly

Do you think your bench press is impressive? Maybe you bench the most at your gym or have a couple bench press competitions wins under your belt. Can you bench-press 405 pounds for twenty reps?

Yeah, that’s what I thought – you’re not so impressive are you?

There’s something special about bench-pressing 500 pounds or more, but there’s something even greater about someone who can press over 900 pounds! Meet Ryan Kennelly. At 6’2 and weighing around 300 pounds, this guy means business.

Wannabebig: Hi Ryan. Other than training, what do you do for a living?

Ryan K: I work as a drug rep for a major pharmaceutical company. It’s fun stuff.

Wannabebig: What is your best lift for the bench press?

Ryan K: I was the first man to bench press 800 pounds and my current best bench press is 902.5.

Wannabebig: Now that’s some serious weight! How long did it take you to get there?

Ryan K: Well, seeing as I started training at the age of 18 and I’m 31 now, you can do the math.

Wannabebig: What does your training week look like?

Ryan K: On Monday, it’s back and biceps. On Tuesday, I focus on speed bench. Wednesdays, I take off. Thursday is leg day. Friday is another rest day. On Saturday I go heavy on the bench, and on the seventh day I rest again.

Wannabebig: What kind of workout did you do when you first got into lifting and how old were you?

Ryan K: I was 18, and I bench pressed every day of the week for the first two years, and never trained legs, that’s no shit! Then finally I had to start training my legs to overcome my bench press plateaus that I was having. I didn’t know any better back then, and thought that benching all the time would work. Then again, maybe it did?

Wannabebig: Well, whatever it is you did, worked out pretty damn well for someone who is pressing over 900 pounds! So, what about your workouts when you first started competing? Did your style of training change?

Ryan K: I followed Ken Lain’s bench press matrix program.

Wannabebig: For those who are not familiar with Ken Lain, he was a former world record holder of the bench press at 708 pounds. What kind of power lifting equipment (bench shirt, squat suite, etc.) do you use?

Ryan K: I use Inzer rage-x, Inzer double denim and Inzer leviathan squat suite.

Wannabebig: What are your measurements?

Ryan K: My arms relaxed measure 21 inches, chest 54, shoulders 63, quads 28, calves–who cares, forearms 18 ½ and my wrists 10.

Wannabebig: Damn, you’re a big boy! In terms of the lifting advice given you, what has been the one piece that has stuck with you?

Ryan K: It has to be Louie Simmons on how to train with percentages, bands and chains. He turned my benching around for me and made me what I am today!

Ryan Kennelly – Big Bencher!

Wannabebig: What about the worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Ryan K: Honestly, a suggested drug cycle from an elite lifter that would have killed superman himself within a week.

Wannabebig: I’m sure you’ve had your fair share of injuries. So what was the worst injury you’ve had and what did you do to overcome it?

Ryan K: It was a pec tear. I had to rehab the son of a bitch and get art therapy on it for months. I started over with the bar and 135 pounds. Then I kept progressing back until I fully came back. In total, it took me 4 months.

Wannabebig: Where is your sticking point in the bench press, and how did you fix it?

Ryan K: It’s my lockout in the bench press. I overcame it by doing 4 board presses with 55% of the bar weight and the rest in band tension working up to 855-900 pounds at the top. It worked and as a result I hit my famous 800.5 bench press.

Wannabebig: What exercises do you believe have increased your bench press?

Ryan K: There are two movements I give credit to. One is speed benching and the other is 3,4 board close grip bench-presses with tons of band tension.

Wannabebig: Let’s talk about food. What does your diet consist of?

Ryan K:
4 solid meals a day, and 4 Kennelly shakes a day.

Wannabebig: What about supplements, what kinds do you use?

Ryan K:
I use Eclipse creatine, glutamine, and ISS am/pm GH formula.

Wannabebig: Do you have any mentors?

Ryan K: Easy, it’s Louie Simmons.

Wannabebig: Any words of wisdom you’d like to share regarding training?

Ryan K: Eat, sleep, and live it. Give 110%, or just show up and get your free t-shirt and watch.

Wannabebig: It’s all go or no show, which is true of any competition. What are your future goals?

Ryan K: To help others bench big, and stay healthy. I also want to keep going up and up in all my lifts.

Wannabebig: Spoken like a true role model!

Written by Maki Riddington

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Home Gyms Rule!

If you have read past the title of this article you either agree with it or are strongly opposed, but curious. As you can probably tell, I am biased toward home gyms. In my case, a home gym really means a garage gym, but the idea is the same (home gym, basement gym, garage gym, patio gym, etc.). I can walk out my door and hit the iron in a matter of seconds. My personal gym setup might be an exception, as it is quite well equipped. Irrespective, I make the same assertion for almost any home gym – that is, home gyms rule!

I would not take such a strong stand for home gyms without having some experience with other gym alternatives. Perhaps it might be best to provide a little personal background. I’m approaching 50 yrs old and have over 35 years of bodybuilding and powerlifting experience. I competed as a teen and into my twenties.

My start with weight training was perhaps not unlike yours. I received a plastic covered 110 lb. (with concrete inside) weight set as a Christmas gift. A year later, I also received a bench. I followed the exercises as prescribed in the accompanying manual and acquired a set of Weider courses by mail. I also read a number of bodybuilding magazines and dreamed of the day when I might achieve a physique as exhibited in those pages.

I had a very high metabolism and limited access to appropriate supplementation and diet. As a result, my mass and size gains proceeded slowly. Despite this sluggish progress I enjoyed every workout. After I married, we lived in an apartment for a number of years and as a matter of convenience I joined my first commercial gym. Over the years I patronized many different gyms.

I had some fantastic commercial gym workouts, good gains in size and strength, and I found some great workout partners. I also had some less than desirable experiences.

The most annoying things from my commercial gym experience included:

  • Travel time to and from the gym
  • Sanitation (someone else’s sweat left on the benches)
  • Having to wait for equipment
  • Searching high and low to find a matching pair of dumbbells (they were rarely re-racked)
  • Horrible workout music

Ok, so the list is possibly unfair. Your gym might not be quite like this and I’m not saying that this was my experience with every workout or at every gym. However, it was frequent enough as to be quite irritating. I’d be quite surprised if you have not had at least one similar experience at your gym.

To provide the alternative view, I must admit there are also a number of positive aspects to a commercial gym:

  • Availability of spotters and safety (of critical importance)
  • A broad selection of equipment
  • Motivation that naturally occurs from being around other lifters
  • The “scenery” (if you get my drift…)

Note that the last item can be both a plus and a minus. I enjoyed watching the ladies, but it can be somewhat distracting when trying to focus on your workout.

In the end, my negative commercial gym experiences far outweighed the positives, and I returned to my roots – working out at home.

When I first returned to home gym training I realized that if I intended to continue down the path of competition I would need to look beyond a simple 110 lb. weight set. I knew that there was a minimum amount of equipment which would allow me to achieve my training goals and not “break the bank”. Below is listed what I consider to be the minimum equipment for those who want to workout at home:

  • 300 lb. Olympic weight set
  • Bench (adjustable – flat and incline)
  • A set of dumbbells (if cost is a factor, adjustable handles with extra plates work great)
  • A power rack is also strongly recommended

This basic equipment will allow you to work every body part with quite a lot of variation as to exercise and range of motion. Note that safety is critical and I strongly recommend a power rack. When properly configured and put to use, a rack can result in a high degree of safety for those who workout alone. Personally, I do not use a power rack in my home gym as I am lucky enough to have a full-time spotter for questionable lifts.

Something less tangible and not reflected by my recommended list of equipment, but equally important is “motivation”. Just because you have the convenience of a home gym, do not ignore motivation. With a home gym, it can be just as easy to decide to watch television rather than working out. If you have or will setup a home gym, remember to keep it interesting and fun to use.

In my case, equipping my garage gym has become almost as big a part of the workout lifestyle as lifting. I enjoy every workout as if it was my first, and I enjoy every exercise that my gym can provide.

So, in that vein here are my “ultimate” or “dream” home gym add-ons:

  • Significant number of additional Olympic plates (of various weight, and plenty of plate racks)
  • Lat pull down machine (also for triceps press downs, seated cable rows)
  • Preacher curl bench
  • Leg Press
  • Calf raise
  • Pec Deck
  • T-Bar, Lat Row
  • Ab crunch machine
  • Pull-up, Dip stand
  • Roman Chair, Hyperextension
  • Dumbbells from 5 lbs. to 120 lbs. (in 5 lb. increments)

I still have a few items to acquire in order to reach my idea of the ultimate home gym, and getting there is half the fun. If you’ve followed along and find this article interesting, watch for the next installment: Where to Find and How to By Home Gym Equipment.

Until then, thanks for listening and keep on lifting !

Written by Jim Bean

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Methods of Max Effort – Part 2

In part one of this series I covered the following; Multiple Exertion Method, Maximal Concentric Method, Maximal Isometric Method, and the Maximal Eccentrics Method. If I am doing my job then you have gained a little more insight into the Max Effort Method. It can be much more than “maxing out”.

This article will cover Maximal Force Repetitions, The Maximal Restricted Range Method, The Cheating Method, Maximal Circa-Maximal Method and The Maximal Yielding Method.

Maximal Forced Repetitions

I am sure you all remember forced reps from high school. There are several ways to utilize this method for many different applications. Leaving bodybuilding aside we will focus on the pure strength aspect.

One way to use this method is also one way I do not suggest. I will still include it because there are many others who think this application has great strength training properties. This is a very simple application composed of one or two assisted reps after failure has been reached. Since this is Max Effort Training you will still need to keep your percentage over 90% with 1-5 reps being performed.

One other way to use forced reps is by using a method many have been using over the past few years. This method has also become known as the Lightened Method or Reverse Bands. To use this method you simply hang your barbell from bands so the bands help to lift the weight. This is used on the squat, deadlift, and bench press. Unlike the above application this method provides help from the beginning of the set. I feel this makes this a much safer method. This is also a great method for those who are looking to increase the mid to end point of a lift.

The Maximal Restricted Range Method

This is another one that has been HOT for quite awhile. Some examples of this method include:

  • Rack presses
  • Pin pulls
  • Board presses
  • High box squats
  • Squatting off pins
  • Partial leg presses
  • Arch back good mornings
  • Over head pin presses
  • Pulling off stands

This method allows for maximal overload of very restricted ranges of motion. This method has been very popular over the past 30 years for one reason. It works very well. If you are looking to get strong then you need to include this method in your training.

While I am also not a big proponent of cheating, I do feel there are certain movements where cheating can make a huge difference. One of these includes a chain suspended good morning. This movement is performed by hanging a barbell from strong chains at a mid waist position. The lifter will then duck under the barbell and arch the bar to the top position. With this movement the “strain” is the most important thing. Just getting the bar up is more important then if you are doing a good morning or squat. I also feel a slight sink and drive on board presses can do wonders for those who need extra work at the top; it will however hurt those who are weak at the mid or lower position because they are cheating where they need the work. This cheat will, however, allow the weak lock out lifter the opportunity to train with heavier weight. Once again, it is very important to know your weaknesses.

Circa-Maximal Method

This method has many cross over applications. It has been used as a 3 week wave in place of straight Dynamic Method Training for some time with great results. While this method can be viewed as Dynamic or Max Effort, it really depends on how it is used. Here are a few examples of the Max Effort:

  • Squats with multiple bands for a 1-3 rep max
  • Deadlifts against multiple bands for a 1 rep max
  • Bench press with chains and bands for a 1 rep max

The key thing to understand with this method (regardless of application) is to make sure the weight at the top of the movement exceeds 90% of your one rep max. This is what makes this circa-maximal.

The best way to accomplish this while avoiding over-training and acute training injuries is to use chains and/or bands with your barbell weight. There is not a magic percent of weight to bands or weight to chains with this method (This is very different when used as a dynamic method) so all you really need to do is load the bar up to around 50-60% barbell weight and add bands or chains. Here is one example of what I mean for a 500 pound bencher.

Close Grip Bench Press

  • 45 pounds for 3 reps
  • 45 pounds for 3 reps with double light band
  • 95 for 3 with double light band
  • 135 for 3 with double light band
  • 185 for 3 with double light band
  • 185 for 3 with double light band and add one chain per side

The lifter will now keep adding one chain per side and work up to a 1RM.

There are several other examples and combinations of how this method can be applied. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works best for you.

Maximal Holding Method

This is one that you see from time to time. I am also not a big fan of this one, but it is also very popular with a very large number of lifters. This method is great for what I call strength stabilization. Strength stabilization is how well you can stabilize maximal loads. It really does not mean shit if you can stand on a stability ball if you can’t stabilize maximal weights. Many of you have heard of (or have done) walkouts for the squat.

This is exactly what this method is. Many lifters who do walkouts or stand ups will set up the weight and hold it for a certain count. This may be 3, 5, or 10 seconds. I feel the best time would be 1-2 seconds more than the exact amount of time it takes the lifter to finish a maximal lift with the same lift being trained.

For example, if it takes you 6 seconds to perform a 1RM squat then you will hold your walkout for 7-8 seconds. Remember to keep your body tight! Here are a few other examples of the Maximal Holding Method;

  • High pin deadlift holds
  • Very high pin squats
  • Very high rack lockouts
  • Bench press holds
  • Very high board presses

If the exercise has more movement than the set up and hold (very high board presses), then you will do one rep by holding for a couple seconds at the top, lower and press the bar, and then hold for 2-3 seconds at the top again.


As stated in part one of this series some of these names may be different than what you have seen. I have noticed over the years many people call the same methods many different things. I just make up what is the easiest for you to remember and understand. It is not my intention to come up with a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo that you have to use your decoder ring to understand. My goal is to give you stuff you can hit the gym with today.

Good luck on your journey.

Written by Dave Tate

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About Dave Tate

Dave is the co-owner of Elite Fitness Systems Dave Tate is the founder and CEO of Elite Fitness Systems has been involved with powerlifting for more than two and a half decades as a world-class participant, coach and consultant.

He has logged more than 10,000 hours of personal training and strength consulting sessions with professional, elite and novice athletes, as well as with professional and university strength coaches. He holds Elite status in powerlifting (in three weight classes) with best lifts of a 935 squat, 740 deadlift, 610 bench press and 2,205 total.