9 Things I’ve Learned While Interning/Training at a Starting Strength Gym

This holiday season, I had the great fortune of interning and training at a Starting Strength gym.  In this environment, I made several observations of what separates Westminster Strength & Conditioning (WSC):  A Starting Strength Gym from other gyms I have either been a member or trained throughout my extensive travels. 

Here are the 9 things I learned while interning and training at a Starting Strength Gym:

1.  Community – it takes a village to raise a child, and a Starting Strength village will make you strong. 

Where were you when Conor McGregor knocked out Jose Aldo?[1]  I know where I was:  in a room full of foreign people to me – all of whom had one thing in common, WSC.  

I flew home to Maryland from California, made a quick trip to Philadelphia to witness Navy’s 14th consecutive drubbing of Army, and then immediately made my way to a UFC 194 viewing party hosted by a close friend back home in Maryland.  Initially, the invite was disclaimed with, “(The party) will be mostly people from (WSC).  That’s who I hang out with these days.”  

Little did I know at the time, but the people I met that evening would be the same people I would see training at various times ranging from early morning to the evening.  This level of camaraderie is unique.  Camaraderie is regarded as a staple in the effectiveness of successful organizations – WSC is no exception.

2.  Training Logs –review an athlete’s training log and a story will unfold like reading the box score of last evening’s baseball game. 

Remember those classic Mead Composition Books[2] that were mandatory in elementary school?  You know the one – the black and white covered book that was rarely utilized, and, when it was, who really wanted to ‘creatively write?’  Well, they’ve returned and at a WSC their presence is nothing short but noticed.

3.  “Hard.  Simple.  Effective.” – mastery of fundamentals is a universal principle that does not require innovation – only dedication. 

The ‘Novice’ Linear Progression (NLP), detailed in length in Practical Programming, is the foundation of any strength program that is scalable to any athlete of any background.  The program is best summarized in those three words:  Hard.  Simple.  Effective. 

Squat.  Press.  Deadlift.  The mastery of these lifts will introduce an acquisition of strength unparalleled.  The development of strength is paramount for the crossover to all athletic modalities.  Given two athletes with equal ‘average’ genetics – the deciding factor in who wins regardless of endeavor is the one with superior strength.  

What makes WSC effective at NLP is how it is implemented – through its coaching.

4.  Coaching – not every ‘coach’ or ‘trainer’ can instruct and develop, but a Starting Strength Coach can do both in spades. 

A SS Certified Coach’s value to the NLP is immeasurable.  WSC currently has 5 certified SS Coaches with others in the process of being groomed simultaneously. 

No matter the time of day in which you train, early/late morning, late afternoon, or evening; there is always a SS Coach available for questions, a spot, or provide sufficient yelling that ensures a quality lift.  “Poor form in the gym is caused by insufficient yelling,” is one of many quotes by Rip and seeing that quote played out in front of my eyes is a huge take away. 

“Big Air.”  “Knees.”  “Stay Tight.”  Several cues that many have read or seen in a SS video; however, when these cues are yelled by a legitimate authority, they transcend the rep to higher quality – immediately.  Several times Beau would yell, and before you know it, the athlete would ‘find’ the few remaining inches required to squat below parallel.  Amazing.

5.  Battle of the Sexes – women are superior to men in the weight room.  Period. 

If you were to tell me this prior to my time at WSC, I would believe you were full of sh*t, and that exact thought process is why women are superior to men in the weight room.  Grinders.  Gracious.  Gratitude.  The 3 G’s which define women who train at WSC. 

Ever see an athlete discover and flourish in their pain cave?  I have.  Women have official residency in their pain cave like geriatrics have in Florida.  A level of determination as evident by witnessing several women train through injury and ailments was eye opening.  Conversely, men enter the pain cave by dramatically busting through the door and leaving as quickly as they entered.  The greatest difference – the intensity in which one arrives and the duration in which one stays.

Ego, men have plenty and will tell you they know about it, too.  Women, they have never even heard of the word or the idea.  The measurement of an individual’s ego is correlated to their ability to be coached.  From the novice to the national level power lifter, women trump men in their ability to be coached.

6.  Diversity – the barbell does not discriminate and is an equal opportunity employer. 

Just discussed is the subtle difference between the male and female athlete; however, a matter that is universal is the diversity of athletes you will find at a SS gym. 

Age.  Sex.  Ethnicity.  Athletic Background.  If you believe the barbell is not for you, I assure you there is someone training at WSC with a similar background as you.  There are many success stories at WSC and these are not success stories about the individuals who are training for national level competitions or those who represent the national team either.  These are people who want to improve their quality of life and just want to do one thing:  become stronger. 

Many feel that they must be ‘in shape’ prior to training.  This is a huge, huge misbelief.  These people will spend countless hours mindlessly on the elliptical or treadmill in pursuit of fitness.  WSC has taken many individuals from the couch to the squat and have scaled the barbell and movement to the athlete’s baseline. 

Everyone from the local high school athlete who is in his off season to the local college’s president was in WSC – squatting their 5s.  

7.  Monthly Dues – an opportunity for results comes at a price but the dividends are unrivaled. 

I received a text message inquiry from a friend, “How much does WSC cost?”  I responded with the monthly cost and the individual was immediately turned away.  Their response is that (Insert Name) Gym only costs X dollars. 

Recently, NPR Planet Money released a podcast that articulates well why most gyms do not want you to show up to their gym.[3]  In one word, the relationship between the customer and gym is summarized as:  indifferent.  (Insert Name) Gym is indifferent to your results, strength, goals, and frankly, just who you are as a person.

 WSC is not (Insert Name) Gym.  The monthly dues include everything aforementioned and more.  The moment you decide to afford the cost is the moment you decide to become strong.

8.  Squat.  And Squat Again.  –  Friends never let friends skip squat day. Ever. 

Mentioned prior in the note about NLP is the core lifts that compose SS (squat, press, and deadlift) – the King of these is the squat.  I have never been to a facility in which everything begins and ends with the squat.  New to the gym – you’re going to squat.  You will squat below parallel with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart and toes pointing out while driving out your knees.  Not only are you going to do this, you will do it for 5 reps, too. 

When you are introduced to the squat, you will learn HOW to squat.  Low bar.  Looking down.  Hip Drive.[4]  The cues mentioned earlier from coaching could be done in unison with a group of athletes who are all on the same program.  There’s no secret formula, there is no exercising legs, there is only training.  This training at WSC begins and ends with the low-bar back squat.

9.  (Extreme) Ownership – Culture is reflective of leadership and WSC’s culture is reflective of the owner – Beau Bryant. 

The greatest influential factor in what makes WSC a superior gym is the owner – Beau Bryant.  Beau’s fingerprint is on EVERYTHING.  Modest by his nature, Beau will disagree with everything I am writing; however, Beau has dramatically improved the quality of life of hundreds of people in the Maryland area. 

His commitment to his business, but more importantly the people of WSC is easily transparent.  You’ll find him wearing a Carhartt knit hat[5] in the winter months carrying around a white coffee cup at 5am every morning at WSC.  Watching athletes and through their lifts becoming stronger people is something Beau takes great pride.  Additionally, his athletes have great pride to perform for Beau, too.  There are times rest times are extended for Beau to come watch an individual squat (myself included). 

During a hectic holiday season, including the recent delivery of his fourth child (and first girl), Beau presented a nutritional seminar on a Saturday to a packed house.  Again, the owner delivered a nutritional seminar.  Not anyone else.  

A recent book on leadership titled, ‘Extreme Ownership’[6] is fitting of Beau and WSC.  A quote from the book, “there are no bad teams, only bad leaders.”  WSC is an exceptional team, community, and gym due to an exceptional leader – Beau Bryant. 

Thank you, WSC, for exposing me to such high quality, and remarkable people – who, at this very moment, are squatting with cues from Beau.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yha2XAc2qu8

[5] http://www.carhartt.com/products/Acrylic-Knit-Hat-A205

[6] http://www.amazon.com/Extreme-Ownership-U-S-Navy-SEALs/dp/1250067057

About the Author:  Patrick Jones is a Lieutenant in the United States Navy and is currently a student pursuing a Master’s of Science in Electrical Engineering at Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. He is a graduate from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Patrick enjoys the constant pursuit of strength, fitness, and human performance.

Adding Conditioning Work To Your Strength Program

Posted by on Dec 4, 2012 in Articles | 0 comments

For many people the transition from a pure strength program to a program that incorporates more conditioning while still building strength can be difficult in the early stages.  Once you have run a strength program past the novice phase and begin intermediate programming it may be time to begin adding a couple days of conditioning work in addition to your intermediate strength work.  What, when, and how you add this conditioning will be somewhat dependent on the strength program you are running and your goals but there are generally a few rules you will want to follow.

1.  Add conditioning work slowly.  Just as you would not start a strength program after 6 months of sitting on your ass with a 5×5 squat session at 90% intensity, your first jump into conditioning after months of a pure strength program should not be 8 x 200m sprints at 90-100% effort.  Add conditioning work slowly over a few weeks.  Start with a light session the first week and slowly increase the intensity and add sessions over the next several weeks.

2.  Think about your conditioning work and how it fits with your established strength program.  This is pretty easy to do but it’s one of the biggest mistakes I see.  At no point should an earlier conditioning workout cause your strength work to suffer later in the week.  You would not use heavy farmers walks the day before a heavy deadlift session.  Your grip and upper back may be fatigued the next day causing your strength work to suffer.  A good way to avoid such mistakes is to use your conditioning work as assistance exercises for your strength work.  Lets say your strength work on Monday is volume squats, bench, and deadlifts.  You will not touch these lifts again minus a couple back off sets until Friday.  Proper conditioning work may consist of a few short rounds of prowler pushes, close grip pushups and heavy double KB swings (low reps, short fast rounds, with rest intervals) the same day as your volume work or maybe the next day.  Let your conditioning work for your strength program not against it.

3.  More is not better.  Like everything else we do in the gym, focus on quality over quantity.  If you structure your conditioning correctly and you really put in the effort there’s no reason that most if not all of your conditioning needs as a power athlete cannot be handled in 2 maybe three sessions a week.  In most cases with proper structure and intensity 2 sessions are more than enough.

4.  Start slow and gradually increase the work load.  You will need to make adjustments as you phase in conditioning work.  Give your body time to adapt slowly.  Some changes may need to be made.  You may need to eat more, you may need to eat different macro nutrient ratios, you may need more rest, more water, or any number of things that you should be paying attention to over the first few weeks as you begin new work.

In the last several years we have developed more than a handful of conditioning circuits that we like to use for our strength athletes.  I’ll list a few and if you want to fit them into your strength program where they make sense you can.  Let us know what you think and if you have any you like to use we would love to hear them.  It’s easy to get in a rut with conditioning work so its nice to share some ideas that have worked for you.



5 rounds w/2 minutes rest

50m Prowler push

10 close grip plyo push-ups

12 Double KB Swings


Prowler push for recovery

3 rounds of:

3 minutes on 3 minutes off with a light to moderate load


5 rounds w/1minute rest of

50m prowler push

1 x 25m bear crawl

1 x rope climb (substitute strict chins)


5 rounds w/2 minute rest

50m prowler push

50m farmers walk


10 x 100m sprints on Concept 2 rower with 1 minute rest intervals


Row one minute one minute off for 20 minutes.  3K meter goal at the end of 20 minutes (CF Football)


10 rounds of:

Heavy prowler push for distance w/complete rest between intervals.  Load with a weight you can only move for 30-40 feet.  Once you can no longer move the sled stop and rest, compete 10 rounds.


5 rounds of:

25m prowler push

10 sledge strikes each side

30 heavy bag strikes

1 minute rest between rounds


Prowler push, one minute on, one minute off for ten rounds.  Goal is max weight moved for all ten rounds.  Once weight goes on the prowler it cannot come off.  (this one is particularly interesting)


Tabata series

Ball slams

Row for Cal

Ball slams


5 rounds w/2 minute rest of:

25m Heavy Prowler push

max set of chinups


With an 8 minute running clock complete:

one 500m row sprint

then AMRAP with remaining time of:

3 burpees

6 box jumps

9 KB swings



Unsticking a Sticky Bench

Posted by on Sep 20, 2012 in Articles | 0 comments

Usually one of the first lifts to stall is the bench.  There are a couple reasons for this.  For the ladies, upper body strength is tougher to come by and while you slap pounds on the squat and deadlift with ease the bench and press become a constant struggle within a couple month of your strength journey.  For the guys its usually because you come to us from Gold’s with a big bench but your squat  resembles that of a 12 year old boy’s strength.  You are closer to an intermediate in your bench so we run out of the simple solutions pretty quickly in adding more weight to the bar.  Finally, what you both have in common is the amount of muscle used in the bench is relatively small when compared to the squat or the deadlift.  This all leads to a bench that can get stuck unless we take some other measures.

Missing the a bench just off the chest shows us a lack of pectoral strength. Increasing strength and size of the chest using wide grip bench work will get the bench progressing again.

If you stall on your bench one of the first things to look at is dips. Have you been doing them consistently?   We program dips frequently but if your are not getting them in then you will want to add them after your bench work.  A couple sets to failure in the 10-15 range IS sufficient.  This will usually get the bench moving again.  But alas, you will stall again.

Usually by this time you will see a pattern to exactly where you miss your bench.  Some will see a miss happen just off the chest.  Others will have trouble near the top end of the bench, about 6-8 inches from lockout.  If you are consistently missing as the bar leaves the chest

Missing the bench just off the chest gives us a pretty good idea you need additional chest work to get past this sticking point. If your misses look like a wide grip bench for assistant work will get your bench moving again.

you will want to add wide grip bench presses to your routine.  This will build strength off the chest when the pecs are doing most of the work in the bench.  We are putting more emphasis on the pectoral muscle to build strength and size to get you passed the sticking point.  If you are having trouble near the lock out you will want to add close grip bench presses to your routine.  After the pecs have done most of their work off the chest the triceps begin to take over to lock the bar out.  Building the triceps size and strength will help you past a late sticking point in the bench.

Missing a bench just short of lockout shows us a lack of triceps strength. Adding additional close grip bench work will build the size and strength of the triceps and get the bench progressing again.

So how to program them?

When you are finished with your working sets you should complete 2 back off sets using a wide grip or narrow grip bench press.  Back off sets should be in the 70-80% range and will usually be done for two sets to near failure.  This puts most in the 6-10 rep range.  Each rep should have a 2 second pause at the bottom.  A minute or two of rest between sets is sufficient.

A wide grip bench should have a grip about one hand width wider than your normal bench.  A narrow grip bench press will be about a hand width more narrow than your normal bench.

A great rule of thumb for most situations is to use assistance work that most resembles the actual movement you are doing the assistance work for.


Build More Strength – Deadlift Stance

Posted by on Sep 7, 2012 in Articles | 0 comments

As much as I try to find the time in my day to sit down and write about a variety of topics I seriously just have yet to find the time to get it done.  If I’m not coaching at the gym, for the military or at a high school I’m home chasing 2 or 3 kids around.  So I have finally come to the conclusion that it just won’t happen.  I have had a few draft posts in the queue for the last 6 months that I just haven’t gotten finished.  So its time to try something different.


We will try a weekly tip of the week.  I will see if the short and more often works any better than the long and never approach.  If you have any ideas for topics let me know in the comments and I will spin them up each week.  This will be a place to get questions answered also so ask away.  I answer a lot of questions over the phone, in person, on Facebook and by email every week.  If we get these questions centrally located for all to see I may spend less time answering the same question each week.  We will see.


Deadlift Stance

Lamar Gant, one of the greatest deadlifters of all time. Notice the width at the heals and the bar position at lockout! Just above the knees. Amazing!

One of the most common corrections I make with the deadlift is the stance width.  I always say to take a more narrow stance than you would like, but what exactly does that mean and why do we want a narrow stance?  A narrow stance really does two things.  First it allows you to shove your knees out at the bottom of the deadlift.  A knees out stance lengthens the adductors and this lengthening makes them help in hip extension.  This is a pretty important function of the adductor and will immediately make your deadlift stronger by adding a significantly large muscle into the pull from the floor.  The second thing a narrow stance does is allow you to narrow your grip on the bar.  The more narrow the grip on the bar the less distance the bar has to travel to lockout.  This is important for everyone but especially if you have long legs and a shorter torso.  Anyone with long legs and a short torso knows the deadlift comes off the floor pretty easily but will grind to a halt the closer you get to lockout.  Reducing the distance to lock out becomes real important to these folks.

So how narrow of a stance should you take?  Just over a fist width at the heals seems to work

Notice the stance and the bar position as it nears lockout. The best part of this picture is the boy in the background willing the bar up!

pretty well for most people.  Point the toes slightly out with a little over a fist width between the heals and I will bet you will have a stronger pull.  Remember to shove the knees out at the start of the pull and keep them out.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.