Monday, December 9, 2019

Interview With Professional Powerlifter Cosette Neely.

Think vegans can't be strong? Think again! In this interview I chat with Cosette Neely. Cosette is a professional powerlifter who fuels her training with a plant-based vegan diet. She recently took 2nd place in the WPO Super Finals where she broke the all-time world record in the bench press.

Photo by Jessica Wiggins Photography.
Scott Shetler: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview! Please tell my readers a little bit about yourself and your background.

Cosette Neely: I was born in the Philippines and moved to California when I was five years old, where I spent most of my life. After I finished graduate school, I married my high school sweetheart. We’ve moved around a bit since due to his military service. We got out of active duty military in 2014 and moved back to our hometown of Monterey, California. We relocated to Ohio in January, 2019 with our two sons. I work as a behavior specialist where I help children with behavior challenges, mostly children with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Photo by Jessica Wiggins Photography.
SS: How did you become interested in powerlifting?

CN: My husband got me into lifting weights after high school, but he didn’t get me to start lifting heavy until I was in college. My first meet was when I was 23 years old, 18 years ago. I set a federation world record for the bench press at this meet as a junior, and was bitten by the bug instantly.

SS: Have you always competed in equipped powerlifting?

CN: I started powerlifting equipped from the beginning and have never competed raw. There wasn’t really an emphasis on raw vs. gear then. You could compete raw, but most were competing in gear. I’ve always entered multi-ply in competition, even when I used single-ply bench shirts.

SS: What gear do you use and how do you cycle it into your training?

CN: I’ve used several different brands of gear throughout the years. After competitions, I usually don’t get back into gear for a couple of weeks. When I get back into gear, I generally wear briefs for squat and deadlift. Since I am a geared competitor, I feel it is important to train in gear regularly. However, I work in raw training into my cycles as I also believe a strong raw base is important. As I get closer to a meet, I start to wear my bench shirt, deadlift suit, and squat suit more often.

SS: What are your best competition lifts and total at the various weight classes you have competed in?

CN: In the 97lbs. class, my best lifts in competition are 225.9lbs. squat, 220.4lbs. bench, 259lbs. deadlift, and 705.4lbs. total. In the 105 lbs. class, my best lifts in competition are 457.4lbs. squat, 319.6lbs. bench, 370lbs. deadlift, and 1124.3lbs. total. I was the first in the 105 weight class to bench over 300 lbs. and I hold the all time (all federations) world record for equipped bench press for my weight class. This is a triple bodyweight bench, which only 7 other women in history have done in all weight classes. I also hold the all time world record for total for the 105 weight class.

Photo by Jessica Wiggins Photography.
SS: What does your training look like? Do you have a specific coach you train with or specific training program you follow?

CN: My training follows the Westside conjugate template created by Louie Simmons. This means that I have two upper days, and two lower days per week, which consists of a dynamic effort day and a maximal effort day. My husband, Dayan Neely, has always written my programs and coached me. Since we joined Sweatt Shop earlier this year, I’ve started following Shane Sweatt’s programming and have been receiving guidance from Shane as well as Laura Phelps. However, Dayan still coaches me every day and oversees my bench program as I get closer to meets.

SS: What is your favorite lift and why?

CN: The bench press will always be my favorite lift. When I started competing, I started as a bench only competitor. Therefore, I have spent a lot more time training my bench press, so, naturally, it is my best lift.

SS: What lift is the most challenging for you to progress in and why?

CN: Even though the squat has always scared me the most, the strength in my deadlift has lagged behind my other two lifts. Most people would think that my stature is beneficial to this lift, but I have found it more of a challenge. Also, wearing equipment can be very antagonistic for pulling.

Photo by Jessica Wiggins Photography.
SS: Congratulations on your 2nd place finish at the WPO Super Finals and world record bench press! It was amazing to see professional powerlifting on ESPN. Overall, what are your thoughts on the event?

CN: Thank you! I think this year’s Super Finals was run incredibly well. It is a big step in the right direction for powerlifting and draws a lot of positive attention and new understanding and respect for geared lifting.

SS: What are your thoughts on the sport of powerlifting as it is now?

CN: I loved powerlifting when I started and I love it now. Sure, some things have changed, but I still see the pureness that reeled me in in the first place. Weights are being pushed past limits many thought were impossible 10 to 20 years ago and that’s amazing. Yet, there are some records that still stand, which is equally impressive.

SS: When did you become vegan and why?

CN: I became vegan 6 years ago. It was a decision that I had thought about for years, so it was not a spur of the moment idea. I can’t recall what finally pushed me to make the choice, but I can tell you the simplest reason for my choice: if you can do less harm in this world, why wouldn’t you?

SS: What are some of the things you noticed after switching to a vegan diet?

CN: When I became vegan, I was on my second hiatus from powerlifting, each hiatus being for my two children. There were many changes in my life around the same time, so I cannot honestly say that I noticed any changes to my health in any way that I can attribute directly to my change in diet. I was quite healthy before going vegan according all my physicals and blood work. That didn’t change. Once I started training again a year later, my recovery and overall health was at least as good as it was before the hiatus, and at an older age.

SS: What does your normal diet look like? What are your favorite foods for meet day and is nutrition difficult at all when you are travelling to compete in meets?

CN: Actually, I still experiment with my food. I’ve gone through phases where I made a lot of shakes, paid for meal prep, used vegan meat replacements, did away with meat replacements, and changed my ratios of macronutrients. I think as long as I’m not eating a lot of “vegan junk food” and my training is consistent, I’m always happy with my results. Nutrition is always more difficult when traveling, but I’ve traveled for most meets I’ve done in my life, so I’ve gotten used to it. My favorite meet day food is vegan pizza.

SS: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about plant-based nutrition and being a high level strength athlete?

CN: I think the biggest misconception is that it can’t be done: you cannot be a high level strength athlete without eating animals and animal products. However, I have not had any issues gaining strength in the past 6 years.

SS: Have you received any concerns from coaches or training partners about your diet? On the flip-side, has it sparked any interest or made people consider eating plant-based?

CN: I have been lucky in that people don’t tend to challenge my choices in lifestyle or diet. Some of my coaches, including my husband, have found it a challenge in figuring out my caloric needs and how to disperse my macronutrients. However, there has never been negativity or debate about my diet. At this age, I am fairly confident and sure in who I am and what I do and I think most people respect that. In fact, I have had people approach me interested in eating plant-based.

Photo by Jessica Wiggins Photography.
SS: What are your plans for powerlifting in the future?

CN: As long as my body will let me, I have no plans on stopping or slowing down in the near future. I am always looking to improve all of my lifts in terms of strength as well as technique. My next meet will be the WPO Semi-finals at the Arnold Classic in March.

SS: Do you have any final thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

CN: While I haven't been vegan my entire life, I've been vegan since I got back into training. I'm stronger than I've ever been. That's not me saying that I'm strong because I'm vegan. All I'm saying is that it can be done. I'm proof of that.

SS: Thanks again for doing this interview! If people are interested in learning more about you, or following your powerlifting career where should they go?

CN: Thank you so much for the interest! Currently, I am most active on Instagram, but also have a Facebook page. Both are called cosetteneelypowerlifting.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Strength Training for the Combat Sports Athlete.

The training method that I use for the combat sports athlete is pretty simple. It is based around their specific sport training. For the combat athlete (and for those critical of the term "combat athlete" it is a simplified term that I use when referring to the various jiu jitsu, MMA, wrestlers and other martial artists I train) their sport training is the primary training. All other physical training must enhance the sport training.

An important point to consider is that all physical training that is not martial arts training is considered general physical preparation (GPP). Specific physical preparation (SPP) is the training of the martial art itself. One of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to make GPP SPP. This is often seen when an athlete overloads a specific sport movement pattern. Often, overloading a specific movement pattern will actually distort the biomechanics of the movement. Instead what we try to do is strengthen the muscles and movement patterns from a general approach, for instance if hip extension is important for the sport we will perform exercises like deadlifts, kettlebell swings and reverse hyper extensions with the goal of making the athlete's hips stronger. The athlete will then be able to create more powerful movements when practicing or competing in their sport. One of the things I regularly hear from fighters I've trained is that within a month or two of beginning out training program they are punching and kicking much harder without "trying" to punch and kick harder.

Another consideration for training is recovery. If you cannot recover from your training you need to reduce the total training volume. This tends to be an issue with most competitive martial artists. Most of the time they train too hard too frequently.

What I've found is that the best approach for strength training is to have two primary training sessions. One maximal effort workout where the goal is to build absolute strength and a dynamic effort workout where the goal is to improve the athlete's rate of force production. Other less stressful workouts may be implemented throughout the training week to strengthen weak points, develop aerobic capacity, and improve joint integrity or anything else based on the individual's needs.

Here is a very general overview of the training sessions and methods I use with my combat sports athletes. There is always individualization based on injury, training experience, if they are in a fight camp or preparing for a competition, etc.

Max Effort Training Session

  • Jumps x 20-40 reps (We begin every workout with some form of jumping as it is a great way to build explosive power. We rotate variations regularly, some examples being box jumps, jumps from a kneeling position, jumps from a seated position, broad jumps, bounding, with and without external resistance.)
  • Max effort lift. General a deadlift, zercher lift, or good morning variation. Occasionally we use a squat variation either with a safety squat bar or in our belt squat machine as both of these put no stress on the athlete's shoulders and shoulder health is something I pay a great deal of attention to with my grapplers and fighters. Most of the lifts we utilize are sumo deadlift variations either from a deficit, a pull from the ground against bands, deadlifts with the plates on blocks or with the bar on the pins in a power rack. Good mornings can be done normally or suspended in special straps. Most of the time we work up to a 1 rep max in the deadlift, squats and zercher lifts, and a 3 or 5 rep max in the good mornings.
  • Upper body press variation. We do not do a lot of bench pressing, particularly heavy benching, since heavy bench presses can be tough on the shoulders. Most of the barbell work is done with a specialty bar that allows the lifter to use a parallel grip which tends to be easier one the shoulders than using the regular straight bar. A lot of the time we use the floor press as our barbell lift. Some other favorites are single arm dumbbell bench press, all manners of push ups, and overhead presses with dumbbells or kettlebells. We typically work 5-8 reps for "heavier" sets on the barbell work, and higher reps for muscular endurance on the other variations.
  • Upper body pull variation. Here we always work some variation of rows or pull-ups. Single arm rows with dumbbells or kettlebells, barbell rows, cable rows, inverted rows, and pull-ups with a wide variety of grips are worked regularly. Another thing we like to do to build grip strength simultaneously is to use an old gi top hung over the bar for pull-ups and inverted rows.
  • Posterior chain exercise. Strong and powerful hips are important for combat sport athletes. For this we work many different "hip hinge" exercises with some of our favorites being glute-hamstring raises (GHRs), reverse hyper extensions, 45 degree back raises, and kettlebell swings.
  • Torso exercise. We do a lot of torso work, mostly static or rotational exercises. We do a lot of standing ab curls and static holds against heavy bands or the lat machine, we will hold an extended static position on the GHR bench and do alternating punches against bands, leg raises and dragon flags, ab wheel roll-outs, full contact twists and Russian twists are all regularly performed.
  • Finisher. We generally like to finish the workout with some belt squat walking drills where we walk for various durations while doing different types of loaded carries or even pummeling drills, mitt work, and shadow boxing. Sled dragging is done as well or in lieu of the belt squat work.
Dynamic Effort Training Session

The dynamic effort training session is the same format as the max effort session except for the main lift. On the dynamic effort day the main lift is usually a box squat, either with the safety squat bar or more commonly in the belt squat machine, using between 50-60% of a 1 rep max with an additional 23-35% band tension. Occasionally deadlifts are performed with the same loading pattern. For work sets 5x5 is common. We use the same format for all the other exercises, but we do different variations from the max effort workout.

Those are the two primary workouts our athletes perform weekly in addition to their martial arts training. Outside of this extra workouts are performed based on the individual's weaknesses and specific needs. Usually things like kettlebell and bodyweight circuit training to improve muscular endurance and anaerobic conditioning, extra grip/neck/abdominal work, and aerobic conditioning are performed for 2-3 extra workouts weekly.

In addition a lot of my athletes perform specific joint integrity exercises for elbow, shoulder and knee health in particular. Exercises are usually different type of club swinging for the shoulders and high rep band exercises for the shoulders, elbows and knees. The goal is to perform very high reps, upwards of 200-300 per workout, with very little muscular stress. This increases circulation to the connective tissues to improve joint health and resiliency. These joint integrity exercises may be performed after primary workouts or as their own mini workouts 3-4 times per week.

Flexibility and joint mobility exercises should be performed daily. Often joint mobility is utilized as a warm up for training and flexibility exercise are performed at the conclusion of the training day.

As far as periodization goes we max out weekly and just rotate to a different exercise variation the next week. For the dynamic effort day we follow the 3-week wave recommended by Louie Simmons of 50% in week 1, 55% in week 2, and 60% in week 3, then starting a new 3 week wave with a different squat or deadlift variation. We keep this up year round and generally implement a specific 2-3 week taper going into a major competition.

This may sound like a lot of work but keep in mind most of the combat sport athletes I work with compete at some level, some at a very high level, so they are training harder than most who do not compete.

Remember, this is a very general overview of our training plan. There is a considerable amount of deviation from the plan sometimes based on the individual I am working with and their specific needs at the time.

Hopefully this article gave you some ideas of things you can implement in your own training and if you have any specific questions feel free to email me at or if you are in the Atlanta area come on by the training center.

Stay Strong!


Thursday, October 24, 2019

The Vegan Athlete Myth.

It's been a few weeks since the new documentary, "The Game Changers" was released and is now streaming on Netflix. This is another documentary concerning itself with the benefits of plant-based nutrition, but the focus is mostly on athletes who eat a plant-based diet. It centers around former UFC fighter James Wilks and the journey he made switching to a plant-based diet while undergoing rehab for a knee injury he suffered. Throughout the documentary he interviews a variety of athletes who follow a plant-based diet to discover the benefits on athletic performance and recovery.
James Wilks, former UFC fighter, producer and narrator of The Game Changers.
Just like every other documentary in the plant-based and vegan space, the usual suspects are already "debunking" it. One of the biggest anti-vegan proponents is Joe Rogan. Joe is a stand up comedian and commentator for the UFC and has accomplished something I seriously thought was an impossibility, he talks about "vegan" more than vegans talk about "vegan". Kudos Joe!
Joe Rogan, "Those dirty vegan strength athletes use steroids! If they ate meat they would be able to optimize human performance." Also Joe Rogan, "I've been on testosterone since I was 40."
Joe's logic is awesome. Anytime a vegan athlete succeeds it's because they are using steroids/PEDs. Anytime a vegan athlete is beaten it's because of their plant-based diet. And people eat this shit up as he spoon feeds it to him.

Here are some examples.

Joe on vegan strongman competitor Patrick Baboumian. (Note: Patrick, weighing around 255lbs he has bench pressed 474lbs, squatted 816lbs, deadlifted 794lbs, log pressed 408lbs, carried a 1213lb strongman yoke for 10 meters and carried a 1235lb strongman yoke for 28 seconds. -These are just stats I found through a Google search, it's possible he has lifted more, for instance I seem to recall in a video where he stated he deadlifted, possibly for a triple, 800lbs.) 
Vegan strongman Patrick Baboumian performing the yoke lift and carry with 1213lbs for 10 meters.
Joe's comments about Patrick, "Yeah he's strong, he's on steroids." Ok. While I am a healthy skeptic when it comes to strength athletes, if they claim to be drug-free I give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise. I heard that Patrick claimed to be natural in his interview with Rich Roll. However, I will play devil's advocate here. The majority of all strength athletes at a high level, that I'm aware of, use anabolics and/or other performance enhancers and the vast majority of them are not vegan. Joe, buddy, let this argument go. World class strength athletes use anabolics regardless of diet. World Strongest Man, Hafthor Bjornsson, better known as The Mountain from HBO's Game of Thrones eats a shit ton of meat and uses anabolics. Plus, Mr. Rogan himself has admitted to being on testosterone since he was around 40 years old. If your hunter and gatherer meat-based diet is so optimal, why the need for exogenous testosterone Joe?
Mac Danzig may have never won a UFC belt, but neither did any of the meat eaters he beat.
Joe on former UFC fighter Mac Danzig. "Mac is a great guy, but he never won a championship title." Joe made these comments to "Cowspiracy" producers Kip and Keegan on their episode of the JRE implying Mac's failure to win a UFC Championship belt was due to his vegan diet. Let's think about that for one second and realize how utterly stupid that logic is. While Mac never won a UFC belt he did win Season 6 of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality show that is a gateway for up and coming fighters to enter in to the UFC. He had winning amateur and professional records of 5-1 and 22-12-1 respectively. It is safe to say that every fighter he beat to win TUF 6 and in his amateur and professional career were meat eaters. So using Joe Rogan Logic (JRL for short) those fighters MUST have lost to Mac due to their sub-optimal omnivorous diet, right? Wrong. Mac beat those guys because he was the better fighter when they fought, just as the fighters who beat him were the better fighters in those matches.

Joe also mentioned something about "tons" of athletes who quit being vegan and had to be edited out of The Game Changers. By "tons" of athletes he's referring to one. Tim Shieff an American Ninja Warrior competitor who was vegan for around 6 years but claimed health issues as his reason for switching back to an omnivorous diet. While he blames his health issues on his "vegan" diet I would bet it has something more to do with the extreme 30 day water fasts and drinking his own, and other people's, urine. No athlete, vegan or not, will perform well on water fasts and urine.
Is human piss vegan? Tim thought so. Seriously? Dude drinks piss? Call me insane but I'll stick with oat milk.
It is about skill, not diet.

What Mac, Patrick and all other vegan athletes are proving is that you can compete at the highest levels of your sport while eating a plant-based diet just as you can eating an omnivorous diet.

Speaking of strong plant-based athletes, in 2016 the ONLY US male weightlifter to qualify for the Rio Olympics was Kendrick Farris, a vegan featured in "The Game Changers" documentary. So using JRL the other weightlifters couldn't qualify for the Olympic team due to their meat eating diet, right?
Vegan athlete Kendrick Farris was the only male weightlifter to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
On the topic of vegan weightlifters, check out Clarence Kennedy. Clarence is a monster weightlifter who only weighs 207lbs/94kg and has posted lifts of 407lbs in the snatch, 485lbs in the clean and jerk, 661lbs in the squat, 440lbs in the bench press, and 749lbs in the deadlift. Here is a video of Clarence performing some big lifts and discussing what he eats:

Speaking of strong vegan lifters, I have to mention my friend Ali a vegan powerlifter who is literally one of a handful of women to break the 500lb bench press barrier. In addition she owns a few blocks of real estate on the legendary Westside Barbell Club Record Board.
Catching up with my friend and 500lb bench presser Ali Crowdus at the legendary Westside Barbell Club.
In the social media news lately I've seen Cam Newton coming under fire for being injured due to his vegan diet. More nonsense. Football is a sport where athletes regularly experience high speed collisions with other athletes. Your chances of experiencing an injury in football are 100%. Look at the NFL's injured reserve list which at the time of this writing has 258 players on it. The majority of those players eat meat. Is their diet to blame for their injuries? Sorry folks, this is not a one way topic.
Wait, you mean to tell me a vegan diet does not create an invisible force-field around you to prevent taking hits? I guess Cam's vegan diet is definitely to blame for the defense doing their job.
Outside of athletic performance, something else that drives me nuts is the notion that somehow a vegan diet is less ethical than an omnivorous diet due to mono-cropping of soy and corn. The majority of mono-cropped soy and corn goes to feed factory farmed animals. I met a couple at a workshop I attended recently in California (not a vegan couple BTW) who told me that the town they live in in the mid-west is the highest producer of soy in the country and their town is considered a food desert. So all that soy is going to feed farmed animals, not humans. 95% of the mono-cropped corn goes to feed farm animals, ethanol production and industry. Sorry guys, it's not vegans and vegetarians consuming all that soy and corn.

Oh, and the combine harvesters killing more animals and wildlife than farming practices? Please. If I walk towards a wild animal it turns and disappears in the blink of an eye. I'm pretty sure a massive, loud farm machine isn't going to sneak up on wild animals when they aren't expecting it.
Chipmunks, deer fawns and moles see me coming from 100 yards away trying to get a picture with my cell phone and get the hell out of Dodge, but a farmer driving this "stealthy" machine has no problem sneaking up on and obliterating wildlife. Makes perfect sense.
Here are a handful of points that I've learned about plant-based/vegan athletes:
  • A whole food plant based diet that incorporates a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains can offer athletes a tremendous benefit by reducing inflammation and promoting recovery.
  • All athletes need to eat more protein than the average person but not as much as protein manufacturers want you to think.
  • Animals used for food get their protein/amino acids from plants. Thus their muscle tissue when consumed by humans is simply a delivery system for the plant's amino acids.
  • All plant-based foods contain all of the essential amino acids, just in varying amounts. Eating a wide variety of foods is important regardless of the type of diet you follow.
  • There is no reason to worry about combining foods as long as you are eating your calories from a wide variety of plant-based foods daily.
  • If an athlete consumes the requisite number of calories to sustain their activity and performance level, and those calories come mostly from whole plant-based foods, they will get all the protein, carbohydrates and fats they need along with tons of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.
  • Everyone supplements, not just vegans. Go to any vitamin store or GNC and you'll see the majority of protein powders are whey and animal-based.
  • B12 deficiency is an everyone thing not just a vegan thing. I know many omnivores who require B12 supplements or even shots.
  • A diet does not make the athlete; skill, training and performance do. On top of that their diet simply needs to contain enough calories to sustain their performance. I've seen elite athletes perform well on junk food diets and I've seen elite athletes perform well on healthier diets. I'd rather look at those athletes in 20-30 years and see which are doing better.
  • Your diet will not protect you from an injury, especially if you participate in a combat sport or a sport that exposes you to collisions and contact. However, a healthy diet will be much better for recovery and restoration than an unhealthy diet.
  • To say that you cannot get stronger, build more muscle and perform optimally on a plant-based diet is complete and utter nonsense. I worked with a hip hop artist who put on 20lbs of muscle in 2.5 months eating a whole food plant-based diet, no supplements, pills or powders!
The vegan athlete is not a myth. I don't know why people have such a hard time accepting the fact that athletes can perform at the highest level eating a plant-based diet. Especially now that we are seeing so many athletes from all sports and levels of competition doing it. Not only are we seeing great athletic achievements there is plenty of research showing the health benefits of plant-based eating as well. 

Personally I dramatically improved my health when I switched from a heavy meat-based diet to a completely plant-based diet. I've been vegan for 7 years now and have no intention on going back to an omnivorous diet. There is nothing you need to get from animal-based foods that you can't get from plant-based foods. Please don't take my word for it, and don't take the advice of a stand up comedian who's biggest podcast sponsor is a meat company. You alone are responsible for your health, fitness, and performance. Do your own research, read everything you can, experiment and draw your own conclusions. 

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Recovery-Based Training Plan

I recently published a social media post and podcast concerning training frequency with the idea that training must be based on one's ability to recover and the importance of considering other activities into the weekly training volume.
While I no longer compete in powerlifting, heavy deadlifts are still a staple in my training program.
I have been experimenting with spreading my weekly training plan over two weeks in order to maximize recovery from my max effort training sessions and my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training.

My training has always followed Louie Simmon's conjugate method using a weekly plan as follows:

Monday: Max Effort Squat/Deadlift
Tuesday: Lower Body Extra Workout (focusing on joint integrity and/or restoration exercises)
Wednesday: Max Effort Bench Press
Thursday: Upper Body Extra Workout (focusing on joint integrity and/or restoration exercises)
Friday: Dynamic Effort Squat/Deadlift
Saturday: Off
Sunday: Dynamic Effort Bench Press
*In addition I practice Taijiquan and qigong 4-5 days per week, stretching and mobility work daily, and would usually perform some sort of cardiovascular training 2-3 of the training days.

This past January I began training BJJ and immediately realized I could not maintain my current strength training plan. You cannot keep adding high stress training activities and expect to recover properly. Since my BJJ schedule is regular class on Monday and Wednesday morning and usually an open mat workout on Thursday I decided to adjust my strength and conditioning to allow for optimal recovery while still hitting hard training sessions.

While it is common for a microcycle to last 7 days, I decided to spread my weekly training microcycle to 14 days and shift the days to keep high stress activities like the repeated effort and dynamic effort strength training sessions on the same days as my regular BJJ classes, and my max effort days were adjusted to the end of the week so I have the entire weekend to recover from the hardest lifting days. This allows for more recovery days between the higher stress training days. After a couple of weeks I am doing well with the training plan.

My current training plan spread over 14 days is as follows:

Monday: BJJ nogi class, repetition effort upper body strength training
Tuesday: low intensity cardio and upper body restoration exercises
Wednesday: BJJ gi class, dynamic effort lower body strength training
Thursday: occasional BJJ open mat training, low intensity cardio and lower body restoration exercises
Friday: max effort upper body strength training
Saturday: off
Sunday: off

Monday: BJJ nogi class, repetition effort lower body strength training
Tuesday: low intensity cardio and lower body restoration exercises
Wednesday: BJJ gi class, dynamic effort upper body strength training
Thursday: occasional BJJ open mat training, low intensity cardio and upper body restoration exercises
Friday: max effort lower body strength training
Saturday: off
Sunday: off
*I still practice Taijiquan and qigong usually 4-5 days a week in addition to the Taiji classes I teach each week as well. I include stretching and mobility work daily as well.
Taijiquan and qigong has been one of the best practices I've added for health and longevity.
Since I don't compete in powerlifting any longer and my goals have shifted more to health and longevity, I have found that more frequent, lower intensity training sessions seem to be the way to go. Instead of having two max effort workouts weekly, I only have one. I will also make adjustments based on daily readiness (I use the Morpheus recovery app to monitor this) and back off on max effort days if I am really run down in favor of submaximal effort work.

In fact all of my pressing work is submaximal or repetition effort at this point anyway. My shoulders and elbows are pretty beat up from jiu jitsu training and there really is no need to push the bench press heavy at this point any way. I have found high rep presses with the bandbell bar, push ups and dumbbell/kettlebell pressing work, along with plenty of single joint accessory exercises for the shoulders, lats/upper back, and arms to be much better on the joints while still getting in plenty of quality muscle work.

In addition I have eliminated squats performed with a regular straight barbell in favor of belt squats, Hindu squats, and specialty bars like the safety squat bar or even the Buffalo bar. This seems to be much better on my shoulders as well. Pretty much the only lift I push to a true max effort anymore is the deadlift and that only happens every other week. I have found this to do wonders for my recovery between sessions and every training session I am pretty amped to lift.

The Tuesday/Thursday workouts are purposely low intensity. For conditioning I stick to lower intensity cardiovascular training, since my BJJ workouts are much higher intensity at this point. In addition I tend to do a lot of single joint exercises with bands for joint integrity - exercises like pushdowns, pullaparts, leg curls and good mornings all performed with bands for very high reps are great for restoration and joint health. I sometimes do some light club swinging or kettlebell conditioning on these days as well, and basically live on abdominal/torso work.
Banded single joint exercises done for very high repetitions are excellent for joint integrity and injury prevention.
All in all this helps promote a much greater recovery while allowing me to put greater effort into the harder training sessions.

There is no one best training program. It is crucial to understand all training methods and variables and how to implement them for your own level of readiness. You can only improve from training that you can fully recover from. That is optimal training and it is never static, the program must evolve as you become stronger and attain greater levels of conditioning. Simply put, if you are not able to recover you will not progress.

For more training tips and information be sure to follow my YouTube channel (click here) and my Strength and Health Podcast (click here).

Stay Strong AND Healthy!


Monday, June 3, 2019

Sled Dragging Benefits for Athletes.

Sled dragging is one of the best means of training an athlete can do.
There are many benefits some of which are:
1. Training economy: with an upper body sled strap athletes can do virtually any strength exercise-upper body, torso, and lower body-while doing conditioning work.
2. Developing mass specific force and fast recovery: due to the lack of eccentric muscle action athletes don't get sore after training or build unnecessary muscle mass.
3. Restoration: due to the lack of eccentric muscle action, sled dragging can be used to promote recovery and restoration after extreme workouts.
4. Low impact conditioning: power walking with a sled is a great way to develop both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems with much less impact on the load bearing joints than running.
5. Economics: sleds and weight plates are very inexpensive which will give a coach / training center a massive ROI.
6. Massively increasing training volume: walking while pulling a heavy sled will allow an athlete to accumulate much more training volume than doing traditional sets and reps with a barbell or dumbbells.
One of my volleyball athletes, Sarah, is seen here performing sled dragging to finish her strength training session today as she begins her peak and taper into her National tournament in 3 weeks.
She performed 8 trips of 60 yards with a 120 lbs. sled. She averaged 66 steps per 60 yards, 33 steps per leg.
Her total training volume for the sled dragging portion of today's session alone-not even counting the weighted box jumps, deadlifts, GHRs, full contact twists, shoulder presses and lat pulls-was 63,360lbs (or 31,680lbs per leg).
There are many ways to implement sled dragging into your, or your athlete's, training program, hopefully you are taking advantage of this incredibly versatile tool.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!

Friday, April 12, 2019

General Physical Preparation for the Combat Athlete

General Physical Preparation, or GPP, is one of the most important-and most overlooked-aspects of physical training for the combat athlete. Louie Simmons loves to use the example that taller pyramids must have larger bases. The parallel for the athlete is their physical development (strength, speed, power, endurance, etc.) In order to reach the highest levels of physical development, the athlete must have a huge GPP base.

Unfortunately, particularly here in the US, our exposure to general physical development sucks. Due to a lack of proper physical education in our school system and the fact that our kids are usually pushed into specializing in particular sports at a very young age, proper physical fitness training is nearly non-existent. As a result athletes usually experience shorter competitive careers and increased injury rates unlike athletes who are more highly qualified.

I have spent a good portion of my 20+ years as a trainer working with combat sports athletes, including wrestlers, BJJ players, and MMA fighters. The wrestlers I've trained, as well as the grapplers and fighters with wrestling backgrounds, are some of the best conditioned, most resilient athletes I've ever worked with. It's no surprise that a significant portion of a wrestler's training is dedicated to the development of physical fitness.

I am currently working with some BJJ players who are getting ready for competition and need some serious work on their general conditioning and muscular endurance. Two in particular are quite strong in regard to maximal strength and it's benefits for BJJ, but are seriously lacking in aerobic capacity and muscular endurance. One of the best forms of training for this is good old fashioned circuit training. My favorite forms are resistance for circuit training are bodyweight and kettlebells. Circuit training with bodyweight and light kettlebells is a great way to build muscular endurance and increase cardiovascular fitness and overall conditioning.

The Shingitai "Six-Pack"

"Strength and Conditioning Secrets of the World's Greatest Fighters" is hands down the best book on physical training for combat athletes I've ever read. The author is John Saylor, a multiple time national Judo champion, coach and owner of Shingitai Jiu Jitsu Association. You can learn more about John and pick up his books by clicking here!

A great workout that John presents in his book is something he refers to as the Shingitai Six-Pack. Basically six exercises you perform in a circuit. On this surface it may look very basic and it is! This is an excellent example of how the ultra basics deliver the best results. By working a series like the Six-Pack hard and building up to very high reps and athlete will experience superior gains in muscular endurance, conditioning, and joint integrity through the development of the connective tissues. This will make the athlete extremely well conditioned and more resilient to injury. If an athlete spends a great deal of time working on their general physical preparedness and builds a tremendous base, they will be able to tolerate higher training volumes and intensities as they progress allowing for the highest levels of physical development to be attained in their sport career.

The Shingitai Six-Pack is simple and requires little equipment. The core exercises are:
  1. Neck Bridging
  2. Hindu Squats
  3. Hindu Push-Ups
  4. Pull-Ups
  5. Glute/Hamstring Raise (GHR)
  6. Sit-Ups
John does note that you may regress or progress the exercises based on the athlete's level of physical preparedness. For instance move to single leg squats, jumping squats, etc.

Since my athletes have been using this method for their conditioning, I decided to add it in as part of my personal program as well and found this to be a great means of training. Some of the guidelines we use are to perform the six exercises in a circuit format with no rest between exercises and a short rest between circuits in which we strive to reduce the rest interval to 30 seconds or less. We begin most exercises in the 10-15 rep range and increase reps over time and perform a total of 3-5 circuits. This makes the workout only 10-20 minutes in length. If you don't have a GHR bench at your gym you can easily substitute back extensions or kettlebell swings. If you don't have those options find a new gym!

My experience with the Six-Pack.

For my first session I decided on the following for five total circuits, rest periods were basically taking a drink of water after each circuit and since beginning with the neck work that allowed for a bit of recovery since the exercise is not very dynamic:

1. 4-Way Neck with a neck harness and band x 10 reps each front/side/side/rear.

2. Hindu Squats x 10 reps, these were full range of motion butt to heels.

3. Chin-Ups x 10 reps.

4. Glute/Ham Raise (GHR) x 10 reps.

5. Push-Ups x 10 reps. I prefer to do these on a barbell placed on the sumo base of my power rack as it feels better on my wrists than traditional push-ups.

6. Ab curls x 25 reps.
The total training session, 50 reps each of the neck drills, squats, chins, GHRs, and push-ups and 125 reps of the ab curls took only 20:00 and as you can see from the training data from my Morpheus app each circuit pushed me deeper into my conditioning zone with a max HR of 163 BPM and average HR of 137 BPM. I had a high HRV/recovery score the day of this session so my conditioning zone threshold was fairly high.

Hopefully you enjoyed this article and it inspires you to consider going back to the basics to push up your general physical preparation!

If you have any questions or suggestions for future blog topics please feel free to email me at Be sure to follow my on social media and YouTube and subscribe to my Strength and Health podcast all of which can be found on my website at

Thanks to my BJJ teacher and long time athlete from EPTS Gym Chris Jones of Nucleus Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for providing the photos for this article.

Stay Strong AND Healthy!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Kettlebell Training for Combat Athletes: the Seated Mil Press

In this video Scott Shetler, strength coach and owner of Extreme Performance Training Systems and Chris Jones, BJJ athlete, multiple time Masters Worlds and Pans champion, and owner of Nucleus Brazilian Jiu Jitsu go over one of their favorite press variations, the seated kettlebell mil press. Our goal when training grapplers and fighters is training economy, how to get the most benefit from the fewest number of exercises. While we don't have our combat athletes perform a lot of maximal effort press exercises, we do quite a bit with the repeated effort and dynamic effort method. In addition we look for ways to challenge the torso musculature and grip in a way that is beneficial to their sport as well.
If you have any specific strength and conditioning exercises you would like us to discuss or cover leave them in the comments section below and be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for updates on future videos. For the best in kettlebells and BJJ gis and apparel be sure to visit our friends Kettlebell Kings at and Day by Day Jiu Jitsu at For more information on our strength and conditioning and martial arts training programs visit us at and Thanks! Scott & Chris