Strength Athlete Quick Reference Guide


This is a point by point copy of the exact document I use when I am doing in person strength sport seminars as well as the main and valuable pointers that we give to our clients every day at all levels.

Depending on your current level of training knowledge as well as your experience, some of these pointers or terminology may be very new or confusing to you- and that is totally cool, they were to me before as well!  I have simplified them to the best of my ability and with these you will be able to take ANY program you are following and get more from every training session.

There is an abundance of information out there for you to access. What you will find is that the way I have compiled this information will be mentioned or heard over and over again from multiple sources you may learn from over the course of your training life.

I have learned from world champions, and have had the pleasure of coaching world champions throughout my career. I have also been able to produce year round results for hundreds of clients every year. I am saying this merely so that you know that I am not claiming to have  “created” all of this information, but rather I have compiled my real world experience with the words of wisdom, methods and teachings from many greats.

Take a read through, highlight the points that resonate big time for you, and then keep learning or message me directly to get clarity on anything you are unsure of.

Now, let’s get right into the main pointers I feel every person who is chasing maximal strength and performance should know or begin to understand.

  • Find your optimal stance, grips and leverage points (this may change slightly day-day depending on joint stiffness, mobility or injuries you are working with)
  • Utilize various bars, grips or implements in order to continue making progress on any lift which needs an adjustment for an injury or other issue on any given day
  • Auto-regulation is imperative for the advanced strength athlete or lifter. You MUST listen to your body and on any given day, make necessary adjustments and changes. Have a plan, but be ready to adjust it and not just push through. Training hard can always happen, but it will not always be a top end day with personal records. This is ok, and all a part of long term training and consistent improvements.
  • When considering the above point….” Live to lift another day” is a great way to look at training and avoid ego lifting- we have all done it!
  • Utilize a proper hip hinge when moving around and loading plates. Moving lazily or with a slack system is a total waste on spinal bend cycles and will weaken your discs and lead to faster injury and also produce injuries under less load due to the tissues lowering their tolerance and capacity to resist injury.
  • Lifting is a skill, respect this fact and move with intention on all loads and reps completed. Lazy lifters will get hurt, it is just a matter of when and how badly!
  • Remember that super stiffness and tension is a key to maximal neural drive and stability.
  • Breathing must be done “actively” and not simply an in and out natural response. You must stiffen and “tune” your tension and breath in a “hissing “or “leaking” air fashion. This ensures stiffness and stability is constant and will actually enhance overall full body stiffness as a result!
  • Leave reps in the tank. Your passive tissue structures do not want to be taken to positional or negative failure (joint capsules, ligaments, etc…) . This means stop any sets as soon as you cannot maintain pristine technique. Grinding reps is good for your mental training, and important, however bad technique will eventually catch you- just keep that in mind. If you were aiming for a top set of 5, and on rep 4 the weight gets surprisingly heavy and slow, just stop the set, back the weight off 10% and perform a max rep set. This added volume will be helpful and allows you to stay within your daily abilities (given everything else is in check).
  • Be sure to pay attention to weak links in the bodies chain. Weak lats or obliques will quickly lead to a weakened squat or deadlift, as well as an unstable shoulder in a bench press or overhead movement. If you have weakness in general in an area, make this a priority in your training until it is now a strength.  Repeat this process over and over until you are solid as a rock!
  • Wear appropriate footwear for the lift you are doing.  Use common sense and ensure that your footwear is not the reason you have poor leverage or inappropriate balance on the feet to ensure a safe and ideal base to lift from.
  • Understand the demands of your particular sport (for example, a powerlifter requires a smaller flexibility reserve than a football player, whom will encounter forces chaotically and unexpectedly from all angles)
  • Do not be a program jumper- trust the program and make small incremental improvements. This is called progressive overload and is an essential process needed for continued tissue and neurological adaptations to continue taking place.
  • Do not skip your supplemental work and accessory work. If in a rush, complete at least 1 set of all movements for the day with focused intensity and effort.

    “The one thing you can always control, is effort”


    Simply put, this law means that an organism consistently stimulated by the same stressor will slowly begin to have diminished adaptations. For beginners-intermediates, simply working to increase the load incrementally and utilizing some other basic techniques listed (moving loads faster for maximum neurological recruitment), one can cause adaptations to happen longer on the same task. For strength and power, focus on improving on the basics and adding load. If stalling becomes an issue, you can include some very simple adjustments to continue making progressive progress:

  • Adding pauses to 1 or more reps in a set
  • Adding eccentrics to 1 or more reps in a set
  • Increasing or decreasing the length of the pause or eccentric
  • Using different bars similar to the lift you are stalling on
  • Varying the grip
  • Using bands or chains (*advanced methods and should be used appropriately)
  • Combining the basic options listed above


PAP is a phenomenon by which the force exerted by a muscle is increased due to its previous contraction. PAP is a theory that purports that the contractile history of a muscle influences the mechanical performance of subsequent muscle contractions.  Basically, if you use a weight or load slightly higher than your goal work weight, you can get an increase in neural output for a short time after. This is not perfectly documented, however between 20-60 seconds seems to work well for most people to experience the “boost” in neural drive following feeling the heavier load on their system, although studies have been done where minutes have been found to be highly effective.

A few simply ways to use this for yourself when going for heavier top end sets:

  • Add 5-10% above your work set weight to a bench press or squat and un-rack it and hold isometrically for 10-15 seconds. Then load your work weight and complete your work set within 20-60 seconds. Remember that the time you need is not set in stone. Experiment with this and see if it works for you. Finding the sweet spot is the real goal here and not fatiguing yourself enough to have a negative impact on the actual working set afterwards.  A simple example of the PAP effect is a baseball batter using a slightly heavier ring weight on their bat while in the batter’s box. If timed right, this will make the bat feel lighter and the batter can potentially take advantage of this increased neural drive to hit a harder drive, as long as it does not have a negative impact on the batters timing. (I 100% learned this specific trick from Coach Travis Mash, so I must give him direct credit for me using it on myself and with my athletes).
  • Before completing your daily work sets, such as a 5 x 3 @ 85%, you could work up to a heavy single for the day (not a fail rep attempt), and then take your appropriate % or work weight and complete your sets. The heavier short sets above work weight will make the daily work sets feel lighter in most people.
  • Use light chains or bands for your work up sets, then remove them for your daily work sets at your set loads or %, or work up to a rep max with the chains or bands, then work up again to straight weight on the same pattern or lift.  This can also be done with Mark Bell’s slingshot.  Some of my powerlifters really enjoy using it to feel heavier weight in their hands before working up with straight weight.


CAT training was a term and method coined by Dr. Fred Hatfield many years ago.  I personally learned it somewhere around 2007-2008 I’d say, and have always lifted with a different mental intention ever since. Essentially, it means to accelerate or move the concentric (up phase) of any lift as fast as possible. This is not a natural instinct and MUST be practiced on ALL sets and reps of your main lifts. By maximally accelerating the barbell/object, you will force a greater number of total motor units and muscle fibers to contribute to the force production.

This acceleration will allow you to get past sticking points along the strength curve easier and will teach you to train in the most efficient manner, and one that is consistently recruiting the most productive motor units for a given lift and joint angle.

This concept is best applied to strength, power, ballistic and plyometric exercises. Some exceptions would exist in certain hypertrophy protocols, where total blood flow (pump) and mechanical tension are needed to create a stimulus for greater muscular growth.

For maximal neurological drive, set your position, create appropriate stiffness and tension and then accelerate the bar as fast as possible throughout the entire concentric range of motion.

*A quick note on this…DO NOT apply this technique until you are certain that your lifting technique, bar path and body mechanics are in check.

“We do not want to build strength on aberrant movement patterns or become better at bad technique”

Address your personal weak points. These will change as you develop and should be a high priority during your supplemental and accessory work.

Accept that some lifts simply DO NOT work for you. This is a harsh truth for some people, however your natural bone structure, lever lengths, hip architecture and tendon insertion points on your bones all play a factor in what works and what doesn’t. Accept this and focus your effort on appropriate main lifts and accessory lifts to achieve the best improvements.


  • Injuries and pain are a direct signal from your body. If you consistently work through pain, you will shorten the shelf life of various tissues (typically passive structures such as ligaments, joint capsules, etc…).  Some discomfort is just part of the game.  Don’t be made of glass, but also pay attention to anything that may potentially get worse or cause a bigger problem down the road.
  • Use pain as a predictor of changes that need to be made and seek advice where and when appropriate on how to alter your training to accommodate the minor injuries before they become major ones.
  • Every strength athlete has a lesson to learn from the barbell, it is just a matter of when and how bad that lesson may be.
  • It should be noted that the importance of ENDURANCE in the core musculature and spinal stabilizers has been greatly linked to back and spinal injuries in particular.
  • A “strong” back is not necessarily a healthy back. The importance of endurance in this area should be a high priority and is explained in the notes ahead.To improve endurance as well as strength in the core musculature, the following exercises should be included in EVERY strength athletes program for optimal injury prevention and success potential.

The core has a multitude of muscles and compartments that together make up a sort of “hoop” or “sling” system that work together as a guy wire system to support and stabilize during movement. This creates a natural “back support” for the spine.

This hoop or sling system must be strong and have appropriate endurance for the tasks you want to take part in, otherwise injury will happen at some point as the weakest tissue becomes the fail point.

These exercises should be started with intervals or set times where the position can be held with perfect positioning and stiffness in the involved musculature. When you can hold a movement for up to 60 seconds, you can work to progress to a higher level or more challenging variation.

Planks variation
Side planks
Bird dogs, dead bugs
Pallof press/holds
Stir the pot
Suitcase carries, farmers carries and offset load carries Yolk Carries
Odd object carries

*Note that the lower level isometric exercises can be used for spine sparing short activation exercises before heavier lifting (highly recommended) as well as added to your accessory work or daily routine to increase endurance and general work capacity of the core musculature around the spine.

I strongly recommend utilizing at least one variation in EVERY training session (or include an additional shorter session where these exercises are completed).

How you program this work is very dependent on the individual and your strengths and weaknesses. Start on the low end and master a given exercise, then advance to a harder version or more time, Do not try to be a hero and do it all at once. You must allow adaptation to safely take place by applying a stimulus below your tissues

There you have it. The list above is a simplified breakdown that could be expanded into a book consisting of hundreds of pages. That was not the goal of this article, but rather to give you a quick reference guide to refer to or even print off and keep in your training journal!

Remember to keep training simple! CS