Thinking!!!!…and the Strength Coach

Years ago, a friend of mine was spending a lot of time on the road selling whatever he was selling at the time. He took some good advice and decided to turn his travels into a “Mobile University” and he began collecting audiotape books. These came in large boxes with dozens of cassettes inside. Part of the fun of a road trip was pulling out the right one and hoping to flip it in on the correct side.

As he bought more and more, he would often give me his overflow. When he gave me Earl Nightingale’s “Lead the Field,” my life changed. Nightingale, a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor (he was a Marine on the Arizona), he was the pioneer of recorded motivational work. His website sums the key point:


“When he was 29, Earl’s enlightenment had come to him as a bolt out of the blue while reading, ‘Think and Grow Rich’. It came when he realized that the six words he read were the answer to the question he had been looking for! That, ‘we become what we think about.’”


I have often argued that we need to spend more time thinking about our training. Earl’s advice to all problems was to get out a legal pad and come up with every idea, no matter how crazy, to solve this problem. My athletic career reflects the insight ‘we become what we think about.’” I have a shelf of training journals, yards of magazines and books and my telephone contact list is worth gold in this industry. I would like to talk about just three “little ideas” in the three key areas of strength training that I think are the basis of improvement: repetitions, workouts and programming.


A few years ago, Brian Oldfield (former world record holder in the Shot Put) and I were just sitting around talking about lifting. He told me about a Polish school where the kids were lifting and he came away with this gem: instead of counting “up,” like most Americans, they were counting down, like a takeoff at NASA: 5-4-3-2-1. Brian loved the idea because the concept of “Blast Off” was perfect with the explosive nature of training.


It’s not a big deal, but it is worth a try. I am a huge fan of the 5 x 5 workout for most people and this would little change might be very valuable on those tough sets at four and five. I have always thought that the second to last set is the toughest mentally and this is a way to maybe get around that issue.


In programming, I keep my eye on two basic concepts which open the way for a third. First, I am all about looking for gaps in training. Gaps are anything you should be doing but you are not doing. Here is my list of the fundamental human movements (there are other lists and all have value, but as a strength coach, you have to keep it simple and clear):





Loaded Carry

(Everything Else)


Most people skip squats and loaded carries. I have argued for years that just adding goblet squats and farmer walks to most workouts will take care of most people’s training problems. When we train, Mike Brown does the math after every session to see if we are really getting a balance across our movements. It is always a challenge, of course, to judge a 700 pound deadlift (hinge) with light goblet squats and see if there is a balance, but even looking for gaps is all I ask.


Next, logically, comes the standards. I have been working on dozens of standards and I have shared them with my readers in the past. The key to understanding standards is that you have to have them adjusted for your goal. A special operator would probably be best at fives on a scale of ten. The NUMBER of things the SO should be at a five might go into the hundreds.


I have found that when a high school boy gets over 200 in the bench press, clean and front squat, good things seem to happen. Here is my “Big Blue Club,” the basic standard for being a Varsity athlete:

Power Clean 205

Deadlift 315

Back Squat 255

Front Squat 205

Standing Press 115

One Arm Bench 32kg5 Right/5 left

Power Clean & Jerk 165

Bench Press 205


This should be easy enough for the boy to do all in one training session.


The third idea to help your programming is to trust yourself and train with your intuition. A decade ago, it was called “Instinctive Training,” but it is simply this: when you have put the time, effort and energy into your training and your training thinking, you can sometimes “get a hint” that you need to do x, y or z.


Many of my morning sessions are done with a group of people from various ages and athletic backgrounds. I often ask: “does anyone need to work on anything?” Sometimes, a participant will say something very simple and direct and the group will all be now working on this issue or problem. Generally, within a few minutes, we all agree that we needed the exact same corrections.


If you keep a running log of checking your gaps and trying to be up to standards, you can allow yourself a lot more flexibility in your training because you can see over a week or month whether your “instinct” is right or wrong. I have never thought it was wrong or ill to focus on an issue, a weakness or a gap for up to two years to bring it up to standard. Your strengths will stay, in fact, they tend to actually improve when the whole system is improved. So, when it comes to training on intuition: “Trust, but verify.”


I spend a fair amount of time simply “thinking” about how to make my training and my athletes’ training better. Time spent with a yellow legal pad might be far better than much of what you do in the gym each day.

Back to top