For the past month I’ve been getting some online coaching from strength coach Matt Reynolds. He was a co-owner of STRONG Gym in Springfield, MO, the largest barbell-based strength training gym in the country with over 1,000 members. Matt’s in the business of making regular folks strong. He’s got over 100 men at his gym who can deadlift 500 lbs and these guys aren’t professional powerlifters. They’re office warriors and soccer dads — just really strong office warriors and soccer dads. Matt’s also a Starting Strength coach and travels the country with Mark Rippetoe doing seminars on the finer details of barbell training. Today on the podcast Matt and I discuss why everyone — and we mean everyone — should include barbell training in their fitness programming. Lots of great practical takeaways in this episode.
- How Matt started the largest barbell-based strength training gym in the country
- How coaching high school football prepared him to be a strength training coach
- Why endurance athletes like runners should embrace barbell training
- Why barbell training is the ideal exercise to start with for someone who is completely out-of-shape
- How to prevent injuries that come with barbell training and how to rehab injuries you sustain while maintaining training
- What to look for in a great strength training coach
- The psychological aspect of strength training
- And much more!
Check out Matt’s business Starting Strength Online Coaching for great content on barbell training as well as more information on his online coaching. I’ve been training with Matt for a little over a month now and am really happy with the progress I’ve made. His critiques on my form through the videos I’ve sent him have been extremely helpful. Make sure to follow me on Instagram to track my progress.
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
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Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We’ve had Mark Rippetoe on the podcast, the author of Starting Strength, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that you can get certified to be a Starting Strength coach. It’s pretty rigorous and there are a few Starting Strengths coaches around the country.
One of those coaches is a guy by the name of Matt Reynolds. He’s a co-owner of a gym in Springfield, Missouri called Strong Gym. It’s one of the largest barbell-based strength gyms in the country. He’s a former power lifter himself, Strong Man competitor. He also does online coaching. I’ve been doing some coaching with him online and I’ve seen some significant progress with my strength training since I started with him. I wanted to get him on the podcast to discuss his story of how he opened up Strong Gym because it’s a great inspiring story for entrepreneurs out there, completely bootstrapped operation.
Then also, we get into some details and some nitty-gritty about strength training. How barbell training can help if you’re an endurance athlete, if you’re a trail runner, obstacle course racer, why you need to incorporate strength training into your programming. We discussed why strength training or barbell training is a great stepping stone for someone who’s completely out of shape, who’s never exercised, and they need to lose a lot of weight, why barbell training is a great way to start that process.
We also discuss the prehab and rehab you can do to overcome and prevent injuries that often occur when training. We also discuss the psychology of strength training, how do you get over those plateaus, right. How to lift weight you don’t think you could lift, but your body can actually do, and what you can do to psych yourself up. A lot of great information if you’re a strength trainer, I think you can get a lot of out of it. Without further ado, Matt Reynolds and strength training.
Brett McKay: All right, Matt Reynolds, welcome to the show.
Matt Reynolds: Thanks for having me, man.
Brett McKay: All right, Matt is actually, you’re the first person I’ve had inside my closet studio to do the podcast. How does it feel?
Matt Reynolds: This is the first time I’ve been in a closet with a guy maybe my entire life.
Brett McKay: Yeah, anyways, I got Matt on here. He’s a strength coach, owns a gym in Springfield, Missouri called Strong Gym. He also does online coaching. He works a lot with Mark Rippetoe, we’ve had on the podcast before with Starting Strength.
Today, we’re going to talk about Matt’s story of how he got into strength training, how he opened up this amazing gym that is one of the largest strength gyms in the country. Then, we’ll delve into something like strength training questions and helping guys out there get there stronger.
Matt, tell us your story, how did you get to become a strength coach? What’s the story that got to the point before you opened up Strong Gym?
Matt Reynolds: That probably starts with I was very painfully average in junior high and high school. I was just a normal guy. I was a smart kid. I was a skinny kid, played a lot of sports, was always usually the last starter on the team. There were two or three other people on every team that were better than me that didn’t start. I just worked hard.
I think part of how I am now as a pendulum swing into the strength and conditioning world came from the fact that I just was really probably unhappy with being average. I started to fall in love with strength training my senior year of high school, just did it for sports and again, wasn’t great at sports and seemed to be a little bit better at weight lifting than I was in sports. Got into that and got out of high school. Wasn’t good enough to play anything in college, but was unbelievably competitive and so needed an out for that competition.
Shortly after I graduated high school, I actually found an article actually by Dave Tate who runs elitefts.com, called How to Bench Press 600 Pounds. I didn’t think that anybody in the whole world could bench press 400 pounds so, this whole 600 pounds thing was new to me. I read the article and it was about power lifting basically and it was this introduction to power lifting. I was 19 years old in 1998, somewhere in there, 1998, 1999, and realized hey, there’s a sport where the goal is to eat tons of food and get really big and really strong. That really appealed to me.
I got into power lifting, trained for power lifting. Did my first competition in 2001 and did okay. It was just still average. Slowly got better and better and by 2005 or so, I had achieved my elite status in a handful of weight classes. It was about that time in 2005, I graduated college. I started teaching school and started working as a strength coach at a big high school in Missouri.
A big piece of this with the strength coaching side is I’ve always been interested in this stuff and I read everything I get my hands on it, everything that Louie Simmons wrote or all the stuff that the Soviet coaches pre-Communism falling wrote. They came over, either stuff had been translated into English or they came over in the ’90s and started to teach here and I just loved that stuff. It just it never wore off. It wasn’t just a phase I went through.
Yeah, I love coaching. I started coaching 2005 and it started with mostly high school kids. The interesting thing about that is that high school kids a lot of times were toughest thing to coach. They don’t listen very well. They don’t eat enough. They don’t sleep enough. You’ve got kids … I had 8th graders who were pre-pubescent for sure. I had kids smack in the middle of puberty. I had kids who’d been way out of puberty and you’re trying to deal with all of those kids, 60 of them at the same time in the same weight room. We did that.
At the same time, I continued my competitive career. In 2005, I switched over and started competing in Strong Man like what you see in World’s Strongest Man, and won my pro status in 2006 at Utah Strongest Man. Won that actually, won the pro card at the same show that Brian Shaw, who’s now the World’s Strongest Man. We won at the same show and competed on the Strong Man circuit for a few years there. Two thousand eight opened Strong and opened Strong Gym with really no delusions of grandeur. Just wanted a place to train for power lifting and strength training.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk a bit about your gym because it’s different from a lot of … It’s not like a power lifting gym, right, where it’s grungy and they’re playing Pantera. It’s not like a nice big box gym where they have a spa and all that stuff. You guys are focused primarily on barbell training, but barbell training for soccer moms or soccer dads. How do you make that a viable business because most people aren’t really into barbells. If they go to the gym, they’re going to do machines. What did you do to turn Strong into one of the largest strength gyms in the country?
Matt Reynolds: Yeah, you’re exactly right. The reality is I didn’t know it was going to be able to do this. I didn’t know we were going to be able to be successful and so, as we have worked and we really focused on a couple of things. We focused on correct training, strength training with barbells. That really is the same thing that most power lifting gyms do, but you’re right. The difference really comes in in all of the other stuff.
There are tons of great power lifting gyms in the country, but they’re exactly what you said. They’re in a warehouse. There’s no air conditioning. There’s no heat. There’s no showers. They’re grungy. They’re dirty. We looked at how can we make ours better. We ended up opening up at an unbelievable 15,000 square foot state of the art facility, super clean, and just had an incredible focus on customer service.
Look, the reality is this. I have an unbelievable staff that buy into what we do. I’ve a staff that most of my staff that work for me now, from the lowest guy on the totem pole all the way to my managers started as interns for me. They all have exercise science degrees. The colleges sent them over. They got passionate about what we do. They see the results that we get. The way we train works, but it works in an atmosphere that’s appealing to business professionals and soccer moms. Now, you’ve got this gym that’s full of people who are in their 30s and 40s and 50s and 60s, and they all dead lift, and they all squat, and they all bench press, and they all press, and they train in a similar style that the power lifters do.
Brett McKay: At lunch today, you were telling me that one of the things you take pride in about your gym is about the amount of people who can dead lift a certain weight. Tell us what the average weight that people are dead lifting at your gym?
Matt Reynolds: Yeah. One of the things you’ll hear a lot of gym owners or even I would hear high school football coaches say is they would brag about their strongest guy, right. I’ve got a high school football kid who dead lifts 600 pounds and who squats 500 pounds. The reality is that has nothing to do with your program. That kid’s a freak. He’s going to squat 500 pounds in any high school in America.
Strong is really no different. We have some of the best power lifters in the whole world are at our gym, but if they weren’t at our gym, I’d like to think that some of our atmosphere helps them and facilitates that, but the reality is they would be some of the strongest guys on earth with or without Strong.
For me, what we really like to be able to brag about is that our average guys, we have 100 guys that dead lift at 500 pounds. A 500-pound dead lift is entirely average at our gym. A 300-pound dead lift for a female, that is an average dead lift for a female. We have a handful of females that dead lift 400 pounds. I’m not talking about girls that look like they’re going to step on a body building stage. Girls that look like … Guys that read Art of Manliness. We’re talking about soccer moms. We’re talking about ladies who are 36 years old, who drive their mini van to the gym, drop their kids off at school, and they walk in and they dead lift 350 pounds. That’s what they do. I’m really proud of that for sure.
Brett McKay: What’s the secret then? It sounds like dead lifting 500 pounds, that’s a goal I’ve had for a while, haven’t been able to reach and hoping I can get that with your coaching I’ve been doing. What’s the secret sauce? I’m sure there’s a lot of guys out there that they want to have the 315-pound bench, 405-pound squat, 500-pound dead lift. It sounds like you don’t necessarily have the genetics for it. You can train this. What is the secret sauce? Is there a secret?
Matt Reynolds: There’s no magic pill. It’s form, programming, atmosphere, right. Form … Here’s the deal. Starting Strength is the best thing ever put out ever for form. Every single person that lifts at our gym that comes in that’s a novice does a Starting Strength program. We teach them how to low bar back squat. We teach them how to dead lift correctly. We teach them how to press. We teach them how to bench press. It’s the most authoritative piece ever put together on how to lift and so everything we do, even when someone comes out of novice programming … You hear that name, Starting Strength, it’s for absolute beginners. It is. It’s great for absolute beginners, but the form, the method that we use doesn’t change as you become more advanced.
Then outside of that, we start with very basic programming. Programming should be simple, hard, and effective. Programming often is way too complicated. In the beginning, programming should be we’re going to add a little bit of weight on each lift every single work out. That’s it, right. If that works, why would you do anything else? If you can come in and add 5 pounds to your squat three days a week, why would you not do that, right? People get in a hurry to not do novice programming and that’s a mistake, right, because they compare it to other sports. I don’t want to be a novice basketball player. I want to be an intermediate or an advanced basketball player, but the reality is that the best type of lifter is the novice lifter because you can get better every single workout.
Then as they move out of that progression, we just still have simple, slightly more complicated progressions for our intermediate and advanced lifters. Then when you take somebody who’s lifting exactly correct over a long period of time and you put him in an atmosphere where the strength standard is hey, a 500-pound dead lift really isn’t that impressive. Now look, we celebrate PR. I have a 79-year-old lady, actually she turns 80 in two weeks. She’s 80 years old. Today, she dead lifted 105 pounds for five reps. She’s 80, right. We celebrate that as much or more than a 700-pound dead lift because a PR, a personal record is a PR. That’s huge for somebody.
When you’re in an atmosphere that celebrates PRs along with this same atmosphere that cultivates correct lifting, correct programming, simple hard effective work that’s … Our people have an understanding that anything that’s valuable is going to take some work. It’s going to take some effort. The easy way isn’t the way that works. We don’t walk on purple treadmills and read Cosmo magazines. That’s not what we do at Strong, right. We squat.
Brett McKay: It sounds like consistency is a big thing. I know one of the things that I’ve gotten in trouble with is that what you just said that I don’t want to be a novice. I’m doing the same thing. This is boring. This probably isn’t working anymore. There’s this idea that I have to do something new and sexy and some kind of crazy, I don’t know, weird auxiliary exercise to actually get something going and I just stop doing the programming. Is that one of the big mistakes you see people making with strength training?
Matt Reynolds: Yeah, absolutely. Not only that, you see it with trainers. The hard thing to get across for trainers is you have to be able to continue to motivate your clients to do essentially the same thing every day for a long period of time. Day one, they’re going to squat, they’re going to press, they’re going to dead lift. Day two, they’re going to squat, they’re going to bench, they’re going to dead lift. Day three, they’re going to … Day 50, they’re going to squat, they’re going to press, they’re going to …
Very quickly, the concept of … We don’t even like the term trainer. I don’t like to be called a personal trainer. I’m a coach. I coach form. You think about it more like if I were a sport coach. I would be coaching form. I’m not here to count reps. I don’t go three, four, five. That’s not what you’re paying me to do. Being able to motivate somebody to stick with the basics while the basics work is huge. That’s a big motivating factor. People get bored and they want to move on to something else.
A good trainer can still add some variation to programming. We can change up the conditioning a little bit. We still do conditioning. We push the prowler. We do things like that that allow people to sweat, allow their heart rate to get up. They can put themselves in great cardiovascular shape and it gives them enough of that variety that they can stick with the program.
Then here’s what happens. Somebody comes in and they say, “Look, here’s my goal. I want to run a half marathon in six months,” right. I may or may not think that’s a great goal, but I’m not going to shoot down their dreams on day one. I’m going to say, “Let me show you how strength training will make you be a better half marathoner.” What will almost always happen is two or three months into the program, they get so addicted to getting strong, they forget about the marathon thing. They go, “You know what, actually, I’m thinking about … You know what, I think I might want to do a power lifting meet in six months. What do you think about that?” “I think that’d be great,” right.
It’ll be great because if you mail in an entry form on a power lifting meet, your training level goes up a notch because now you go, oh, my gosh, I’m not doing this just in front of my coach. I’m doing it in front of a whole group of people and so man, there’s nothing cooler than seeing a 75-year-old lady doing her first power lifting meet. That’s great, right. The reality is it’s better for her than running a half marathon. It’s more healthy. It’s less impact on her joints. Part of that, too, is just knowing how to work with people. We do low impact exercises. We don’t have them doing high rep jumping. We don’t have them do … They’re not doing stuff that’s going to get them hurt. We don’t put them in vulnerable positions and that’s where we have this constant commitment to come back to the main barbell lift because that’s where the biggest bang for your buck is.
Brett McKay: Speaking on that idea of strength training for half marathons, do you train people who that’s what they do like they do long distance running and how can strength training help with endurance sports?
Matt Reynolds: Sure. Yeah, we train them all the time. We get people all the time, especially with this culture right now of Spartan Race type things. I love that outlook. People that are training for something like a Spartan Race, I think you had Joe De Sena on at one point, that’s an incredibly tough thing to train for. If you think about it like this, let’s take something really simple like endurance bicycle ride, right. We’re going to ride our bike, going to be endurance. I’m just going to go ride my bicycle, right. It’s not complicated at all.
I can go out and let’s say I can ride, I’m going to ride in a certain gear. Let’s say I can squat 100 pounds. I’m not very strong squatter, 100 pounds. My legs aren’t really strong. I can ride at 17 miles an hour in a specific gear. Let’s say that in that gear five I’m riding in, every stroke of the pedal represents 20% of my max leg strength. Let’s say take that person, I take him off the bicycle and get him in the weight room. I take their squat from 100 pounds to 200 pounds, which still isn’t that strong, but I’ve doubled their leg strength. Now what percentage is every stroke on the pedal? It’s not 20% anymore. It’s 10%.
Now every stroke, it’s easier every single pedal stroke is now easier for that person because I’ve got their leg stronger, which means they can now ride in a gear that allows them to be more powerful and ride faster or they can now because they’re only representing each pedal stroke being 10% of the strength, they can now ride longer, twice as long even, right, because I’ve doubled their leg strength.
For endurance athletes, the hardest thing to deal with, with endurance athletes is to get them to either stop or cut back on their endurance training for a season. Listen, right now is the perfect time. Here we are, we’re going into the holiday seasons, right. We’re going into winter time. It’s not easy to go out and run, trail run when it’s 30 degrees outside or 10 degrees or ride your bikes. Now would be a perfect time to continue to do your endurance training say once a week, but get in the weight room and get strong three times a week.
Then watch what happens when the spring time comes and here’s what you’ll notice. Your first couple rides, you’ll feel a little bit out of shape because you put on some additional muscle and your cardiovascular system isn’t there, but your cardiovascular system comes back extremely fast. It’s the most quick thing gained, piece of fitness gained. It’s also the quickest thing that you lose. This is why if you’re in great shape and you go on vacation. You go to Cancun for 10 days. You just sit in a pool and drink Margaritas and come home, your conditioning is not very good all of a sudden, but it doesn’t take very long to gain it back.
Strength is the exact opposite. Strength takes decades to build, but it doesn’t go away very fast, right, like a long, long time. I bench press 450 pounds. I could probably not bench press for two years and still lay down and bench press 300 pounds, right. Well, 300-pound bench press is still fairly strong, but if I got good at cardiovascular conditioning, didn’t do anything for two weeks and came back and tried to do it, I probably wouldn’t be that great for the first work out or two. When that endurance athlete comes back and gets back on their bike or back on their trail running or back from whatever, the first work out or two isn’t going to be great, but by the third, fourth, fifth, sixth workout, they’re going to be better than they were before they started strength training …
Brett McKay: Awesome. That’s great. We often get that one, whenever we published things about strength training, we often get the comments that this is going to ruin my endurance training, but yeah, it’s great that strength training can actually supplement and even make you a better runner. Now another question we often get from readers who are … They want to start, they read our articles on the site about fitness and strength training. They want to get started, but they’re like, “I’m really out of shape. I am obese. I don’t know if I can do this.” Any advice? Do they just get started right with barbell training even if they’re a couple hundred pounds overweight? Is that something barbell training can help?
Matt Reynolds: Yeah. I do. I actually think it’s easier than what you will tend to find is people don’t know what else to do so they start jogging. It’s not a great thing on your joints for a 400-pound man or woman to go out and start jogging around the neighborhood, right. That’s pretty tough on your knees and ankles.
What you’ll find is that you’ll gain a tremendous amount of cardiovascular fitness from just barbell training. Theoretically, if you weren’t doing anything and you just started riding your bicycle, actually your squat would go up for the first week or two. After that first week or two, riding your bicycle doesn’t make you any stronger, but strength makes everything better for a long period of time.
If I take a kid that says, “Hey, I want to increase my vertical jump, how do I increase my vertical jump?” I can work with him and teach him how to jump correctly and within the first two or three sessions, I can get him within 95% of a correct jump. Then what? Then how do I increase his vertical jump? I have to get him stronger. It’s the only other option, right. It’s the same thing here.
I can take somebody who is really out of shape, what we call totally D-Train like they haven’t done anything. They haven’t walked. They haven’t run. They’ve sat on their couch. They’ve eaten a bunch of junk. They’ve never done anything and I can take them and bring them into a weight room and I can teach them how to body weight squat. They might not be able to put a barbell on their back on the first day.
You know what I can probably do is I can probably sit them on a bench or sit them on their dining room chair and teach them how to squat down correctly and not get on their toes and not get into their knees and be safe with the knees and teach them how to body weight squat.
Then I can take a barbell and I can teach them how to dead lift an empty barbell. Then I can take them on that same empty barbell or even something lighter, a very light barbell, a 10-pound barbell and I can teach them how to press. That’s enough on day one. Thanks for coming in. Come back in two days.
What they’ll find, they’ll get done and they’ll go I don’t feel like I did very much. Then the next day, they text me or call me, they go, “I’m actually kind of sore.” I go, “I know. You haven’t done anything in 20 years.” They come back two days later and we go up a little bit more, right.
What you’ll find is for those people, they will lose a tremendous amount of fat, especially people who are really, really morbidly obese, they’ll lose a tremendous amount of fat, gain a tremendous amount of muscle, gain a tremendous amount of cardiovascular fitness. Their blood lipid profile is often better after just a few short months of only barbell training, of no cardio, of no cardio. If I can just get them to basically cut out the McDonald’s and cut out the fast food and quit stuffing their face with junk and just start barbell training, then they make lots of increases. Then, we start to add in those additional steps. All right, now we’re bringing in some cardiovascular work.
Brett McKay: All right, Matt, we’ve had Rip on the podcast. Actually, that’s kind of funny. Can you tell us how you met Rip? It cracks me up every time you tell me the story. Because for those of you who know, Rip is a character. I love Matt’s story about how he met Mark Rippetoe so share that with us, Matt.
Matt Reynolds: All right. Actually, Rip had a coach that was his Olympic lifting coach that I knew before … I had never even heard of Mark Rippetoe. I just knew this guy and he was an Olympic lifting coach. He’s a fairly well known Olympic lifting coach. I had one of my work out partners, super strong kid, actually one of the strongest kids probably that’s ever lived. The kid, he dead lifted 800 pounds when he was 19 years old. We ended up sending him down.
He had gone to Kansas University, needed an internship for his exercise science degree, and we sent him down to Wichita Falls Athletic Club to what is Rip’s gym. I just didn’t know it was Rip’s gym. I just thought it was where this Olympic coach coached.
He got down there. He calls me back and he said, “Hey, I saw the best coach I’ve ever seen today.” I said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, it’s this Olympic coach that you’re working with, right.” “No, no, no, it’s not him. It’s actually the owner of the gym.” He said … Remember, this kid is smart. This kid is finishing up degree in exercise science. He’s an extremely advanced weight lifter, very, very smart, very intelligent kid.
He said, “I worked with a girl for two hours on how to squat correctly and she could not get it. This guy who’s the owner of the gym, he literally sticks his head out the window out of his door of his office and just barks three words at her and she does it right immediately, right.” I said, “What?” He said, “Yeah, I’m telling you, this guy, he’s the most efficient. He’s got the best eye I’ve ever seen.” I said, “Who is he? He said his name’s Mark Rippetoe. They call him Rip. He’s super weird. He drinks booze from a horn. He’s into Norse mythology.” That’s really who Rip is.
I was writing for some online magazines, bodybuilding.com and stuff like that at the time and I had done some interviews with that Olympic coach. I called Rip and a couple of days later and introduced myself. He knew who I was from the interview I had done with his coach and said, “Hey, I want to interview you. I’d like to just talk to you about coaching and what you do with underweight high school kids. I hear that you’re really good with underweight high school kids.” He said, “You know, it’s actually interesting that you’d ask. I’m actually writing a book called Starting Strength.” He was smack in the middle of the book. It was still I think a year from coming out, but he wanted to be able to start promoting it. I think I did one of the first interviews he ever did. That article, that interview is still in his lobby. You go in the gym, it’s sitting right there. You can still find it online, too.
Brett McKay: I’m curious. One of the things that I love about Rip because I went down there, did the videos with him, right, I was amazed. That was the first time someone actually sat me down and told me how to lift. Because I know in high school, I did this usual typical strength and conditioning, and the coaches basically just say, “Okay, there’s the squat rack, there’s the bench,” that’s it. I learned a lot of bad habits that way. I’m curious, what makes Rip such a good coach? What should people look for if they’re wanting to hire a coach to help with their strength programming? What makes for a good strength coach?
Matt Reynolds: There’s a handful of things. One of them is that the coach has done it before, right. Not just coached it, but have they actually been under the barbell because you have to ask … It is hard to get under three sets of five of heavy, heavy squats and you’re asking something that’s not just physically demanding, but extremely emotionally and mentally demanding of your clients. If you haven’t been there, if you don’t know what it’s like to get under the bar and think I don’t know if I’m getting through this set or if you haven’t gotten under there and go like, “I might pass out on this or I could die,” right, if you haven’t been there, how can you ask that of your clients? One is have they been there.
Then two is Charlie Munger has a quote that I love where he says, “I’ve never met or heard of anybody in my life who didn’t totally and completely immerse himself in books, right.” Another thing that makes a good coach is this guy who wants to constantly learn it. I don’t care how long you’ve done it. One of the things about Rip, my favorite thing with Rip … I see Rip at least once a month. We do seminars together. One of our favorite things to do is we go back in his hotel room after the seminars, we hang out, we have a drink and we talk about the stuff we’re reading. Here’s a guy who’s coached for 40 years, right, barbell training, owns one of the oldest, longest standing single proprietorship gyms in the country, the most well-known strength coach of all time and the guy is still reading everything he can get his hands on to be a better coach every single day. That’s one of the things that makes a great coach.
Then from there, there are some actual genetic pieces that are hard to learn. A great coach is a great communicator. One of the things that makes Rip so great is he’s a great communicator both in person with spoken word and with written word. If you’ve ever read Starting Strength or you’ve read the articles that he writes, he’s really, really good at communicating. He’s efficient and he’s effective at communication. A good coach has got to be able to do that with their clients.
When I’m watching you squat, we’re going to go do a session here in a few minutes, right, I’m going to use the fewest words I can to fix your squat. That makes a great coach. If your knees aren’t going out and I want them to go out, I’m not going to say, “Okay, Brett, what I want you to do is I want you to get your knees out.” That was way too many words. I have already told you knees out. If you’re in the middle of a set, here’s what I have to say, “Knees,” or at very worst, “Knees out,” and they go out. You’ve got to have somebody that understands, has the content knowledge, anatomy, physiology, bowel mechanics and then is able to communicate what you’re doing based on a model.
We have a model, Starting Strength has provided that model for us. We know what a squat is supposed to look like. We know what a dead lift is supposed to look like. If I know the model, if I know the anatomy, if I know the physics, I can then watch you squat and compare it to the model. If it doesn’t hit the model exactly and it probably won’t, it’s going to be off a little bit, I know what to say efficiently to fix it. That’s what makes a good coach. Some of that is just experience.
Brett McKay: On that same line, you’ve spent almost your entire career coaching, right, whether it was 60 kids in a single gym or now with your gym that you have now and your online coaching, I’m curious what your idea of a ideal student I guess we would call them? Are there traits that a coachable person has?
Matt Reynolds: Be able to do anything I say. I’ve got a kid right now, he’ll hear this and he’ll know who I’m talking about, I got a college kid, tall, red haired kid who literally will do anything I ask and will never question it, right. Look, you got to have a lot of trust in your coach to do that, right, and I’m not saying you should do that with all of your coaches. You got to make sure you’ve got a great coach, but I have a kid who never complains, right. As a matter of fact, this kid squatted. He had rotator cuff surgery about six weeks ago and five days after rotator cuff surgery, he was in squatting. We put a safety squat bar on his back, which is a little bit different kind of bar that’s got a yoke, he can hang onto it, it protects his shoulders. The kid squatted.
One of the things I’m looking for is somebody that walks in and says, “Hey, you know what, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve read up enough to know that you know what you’re doing and so I just want you to tell me what to do. I’m not going to complain. I’m going to do it.” I’ve had a lot of clients like that that come in and man, they’re a joy to work with.
Then what will happen over time is you develop a camaraderie. You spend a lot of time with your clients, right. I am really close friends with all my clients, all of them. I’ve got that same 79-year-old lady, she’s the organist at her church. When she has a concert, I go to her concerts, right. We’ve developed this friendship because we spend a lot of time together every week.
I’ve also had clients that walk in and every single day when they walk in, their first thing that they tell you is they complain about something or they call in every other workout, right. Consistency is huge. I had a lady that I had for several years. It was a great, great athlete. She had no genetic skills as an athlete whatsoever, but she never missed a workout. A lot of times, we talk about, I talk about blue color days in the gym and so, those blue color days are days that you absolutely do not feel like training. You don’t want to train. You don’t want to go in, but you go in. You take your time card. You take your punch card and you clock in. You get your work done. You clock out and you leave. Those are the days that make you better, right.
Everybody has their days where they go in, everything feels great, and everything feels light, and they’re hitting PRs. Everybody has those days. Those don’t make good lifters. Great lifters, people who make incredible changes to their body are the ones who will never ever miss. Now, there’s caveats, all right, you wake up and you run 102 degree fever, you shouldn’t go to the gym, but outside of that, you got the sniffles, your stomach’s hurting, or you’re just achy or sore, walk in the gym, punch in your time card, punch out, get your work out. That makes a great client.
Brett McKay: Matt, one thing I’ve encountered with barbell training is that at a certain point when I start getting really heavy with the weights, injuries start happening. Not really injuries, just weird pains happen. We just published a post of yours about bicep tendonitis. It’s something that I’ve struggled with, with the low bar squat. I’m curious, besides some of the stuff that we talked about on the website, do you emphasize like prehab or rehab in your program that you do with your athletes?
Matt Reynolds: Sure. We do. Although, I’ll say this, the best prehab is just correct barbell movement, right. If you do a press correctly, an overhead press, what some people call a military press, what we call the press, if you do it correctly, you will not hurt your shoulders. If we are having shoulder issues while pressing, there is a problem, right. At that point, yes, we have to rehab sometimes.
We will do prehab. There are things that I do that I just sometimes they just make me feel better, right. There’s a lift called a face pull where you take a high cable, like a tricep rope, and you pull, you stand away from it and you pull the bar back towards your temples. It’s just a really good. It opens up your shoulders and makes it feel good on your rear delts. Do I know if that helps my shoulders any for my press? I don’t know, but it makes it feel better, right. A lot of times prehab, what we call prehab, which is you’re not really hurt, but you’re trying to keep yourself not hurt is a lot of times I think more mental.
Rehab becomes more of an issue of how to deal with soft tissue. We deal with that all the time, too. We see bicep tendonitis all the time. You see muscle strains all the time, hamstring muscle strains, bicep muscle strains, pec muscle strains. I torn my pec September two years ago now, just over two years ago. We have methods to fix all that stuff, right. For us, we have found that an aggressive, being aggressive with the injury will often help it a lot more than letting it sit around.
If you just think logically. If you have a muscle strain, which is really a small muscle tear, and you do nothing, right. If you call your doctor, physical therapist, whatever, they say, “Ice it, don’t do anything for two weeks and then come in and we’re going to start doing some isolation movements.” What happens in those two weeks when you’re icing it is it’s just going to scar. It’s just going to scar up, right. It would be much better if I could actually safely move it through a full range of motion and pump a bunch of blood into that muscle because that blood brings nutrients and it fixes it, right.
You’re exactly right. In strength training, it has a very low injury rate, surprisingly low injury rate especially compared to other sports. When you look at it compared to say soccer, soccer is super dangerous, right. There’s a pendulum swing here. I have to have this conversation with my clients sometime, when they hire me, they are almost always very, very weak and unhealthy. Then, we spend let’s say six months, seven months, eight months together and they get pretty strong and healthy.
Then they have to make a decision when they get pretty strong and healthy. Do they want to stay pretty strong and maintain their healthiness or at that point, have they been bitten by the competitive bug and do they want to get competitive and do they want to do power lifting or Strong Man or Olympic weight lifting or whatever that is? At the point they decide to be competitive, we’re going to start swinging the pendulum away from healthy again and back to a little bit unhealthy.
Nobody would argue that playing in NFL is healthy. It’s not, right. Rarely does somebody say oh, you shouldn’t play with the NFL because … Maybe we’re getting that way with head injuries, but that’s a decision you have to make. The reality is as you’re moving from very, very weak to generally strong, the chances of you being injured are very, very low. Once you’ve been generally strong, and now you’re getting to an advanced level of strength where you can compete and do well at competitions, then you absolutely start running the risk of injuries.
Outside of that, we’re looking at just really basic. Yeah, we’ll use lacrosse balls and we use foam rollers and we definitely use massage. I’ll tell you this, massage is significantly better than lacrosse balls or foam rollers, significantly better because you get that lateral sheer from their hands. You can’t when you roll on a foam roller, it just smashes you. You’re just smashed. When you have somebody’s hand that can move laterally, across the surface of your skin, that’s really what you’re looking to do because we need to bust up that scar tissue and adhesion in some places where the skin and the tendons and fascia are sticking to muscle where it shouldn’t be stuck to. We want to be able to really rip that away. It’s almost like combing out a female’s tangle hair. She had tangled hair and her hair’s all tangled, you try to comb it out. That takes a little bit of pain and some lateral sheer. You can’t just mash on it and have all the tangles go away.
Yeah, we see that stuff all the time and it’s just biceps tendonitis is a big deal. Most of the population by the time they’re 40 years old have some form of a herniated disk in their back. That’s a scary word for most people. They think oh, I have a herniated disk. I can’t do anything. There are four clear grades of herniation. Grade 1 is not a big deal. Grade 2 is really not that big a deal. Grade 3 is kind of nasty. Grade 4 means you’re going to have surgery on it, right. Most people have a grade 1 or grade 2 herniation and we can work through that and get through sciatic nerve pain.
Brett McKay: Another aspect of strength training that I’m encountering, I think we’re going to talk a little bit about this today during our work out, you mentioned it, is the psychological aspect of training because there’s a certain point when you get heavy. You squat down with that bar and you’re like, “I don’t know if I can get this up.” When you’re in the middle of a bench, right, and you have that one rep that it’s really hard to grind to get at, but you have two more to go. At that point, does strength training become more psychological than physiological?
Matt Reynolds: Yeah, definitely. Probably if there were a fourth thing that I was going to tell you would be make us successful at Strong is that we teach people how to strain. You have to learn how to strain. Straining is uncomfortable, right. If you do a super heavy dead lift, you’re picking up something really heavy off the floor, the most you’ve ever picked up off the floor is 100 pounds or 200 pounds and now, you’re dead lifting 300 pounds, that feels incredibly heavy and your mind is it’s saying, “Put it down, put it down, put it down,” right. You have to learn how to strain through that.
The best lifters I’ve ever seen in my entire and I’ve lifted with some of the absolute best power lifters, historically, the best power lifters, guys like Kirk Karwoski, he was never scared of anything he got underneath. It was unbelievable. The guy could throw 1,300 on his back, 1,300 on his back and squat it for a double. Something is crazy about that guy. That’s not normal, right.
Teaching people, it’s going to be okay. We have spent months and months and months and months making perfect form. What’s the worst that could happen? Worst that could happen is it’s not going to go up. You’re not going to hurt yourself because we’ve taught you that the motor pattern in your brain and the motor pattern established in your body is that the form is going to be perfect whether it’s the empty bar or whether it’s your max weight. You just decide this is a confidence lift.
There’s all the time, something like a press, a heavy press, I yell the word confidence all the time to my clients when I feel like they need a boost. I tell them, “I know you can get this.” They get underneath the bar and I go, “Confidence.” I yell confidence. You can see them yeah, I got this. I got this. That’s a big piece of it. How you take the bar or the rack, how you’re feeling going into it, it’s why people listen to the music they listen to while they’re working out because they’re trying to get stuff that pumps them up and gives them confidence. You want a little bit of that adrenaline rush for those heavy sets. Yeah, it’s so much mental. So much of that is mental.
Brett McKay: All right, Matt, we’re coming to an end here. I’m curious, where can people learn more about your work? Can you tell us a little bit about the online coaching? I think a lot of people they hear, how can a guy coach me online? Can you tell us a little bit what goes on with the online coaching?
Matt Reynolds: Sure. First, you can find me at reynoldsstrong. I think I’m reynoldsstrong on almost everything, social media so reynoldsstrong on Twitter, reynoldsstrong on Instagram. I’m probably most active on Instagram, Facebook, reynoldsstrong and reynoldsstrong.com. Email is [email protected] Then yeah, I do online coaching.
Here’s what online coaching is. I send you, if you’re interested in coaching, send me an email. You’re not signed up to start, we’re not going to guarantee, we’re not going to take money from you. Send me an email, “Hey, I’m interested in online coaching.” I’ll send you a questionnaire. Questionnaire’s pretty in depth. It’s going to ask about all your background. Have you trained? Do have injuries? What have you done over the last several weeks? What’s your diet look like? All that kind of stuff. That’ll take you a little bit of time to fill that out, measurements, height, weight, waist measurement, chest measurement, hips measurement.
Then basically, I sit down and work. It takes me quite a bit of time. There’s a lot of front end work. I sit down and I really lay out a program that will work. Again, it’s not necessarily complicated. A lot of times, for a beginner it’s going to look a lot like Starting Strength. You go, “What am I paying for? I can just get Starting Strength.” What you’re paying for is your last set of every heavy, of every barbell work, you video tape on your phone. We all have HD cameras on our phone now. You video tape your last set and at the end of the day, you text me or email me your sets and then, I’m able to break down those sets. I really just break down the form of the set.
I see here’s what’s going on. First three reps on your squat were great. I noticed on four and five, the bar slid forward on the mid foot a little bit so that’s why it looked a harder because it didn’t stay over the middle of your foot. Dead lift, your low back got rounded a little bit. It’s really important to get tight there. You got a belt that doesn’t look great. Make sure you get a better belt, right, whatever. We can start to tweak those things and so then each time …
There are times when if I’ve got clients who have a big day coming up and I know they’ve got a big day coming up, they’ve got to hit heavy weights. They have my phone number and so, they can text me and in the middle of the workout a lot of times, they say okay, here’s my last set before the heaviest set and so yeah, I’ll tweak this. Let’s tweak this. Then I text them right back real time.
Is it optimal compared to hiring me or hiring a good coach to work with you one on one in real time and yelling at you during the time? No, it’s not as good, but here’s the deal. Most of us are between $100 and $200 an hour to have us train you face to face. Online training is going to be closer to that $100 a month for that or somewhere in that ball park, right. It’s a lot cheaper.
If you live in a town that has a Starting Strength coach and you can go to startingstrength.org and startingstrength.com and find Starting Strength coaches, look them up in your town, then you should hire a Starting Strength coach. There are no bad Starting Strength coaches and there aren’t very many of us. There’s just a few. I think there’s 110 or so. If there’s not and in most cities there aren’t, then there’s some great options for online coaches. I’m one of them that does it, but there are other guys who are good, too.
Brett McKay: Yeah. Like I said, I’m doing the coaching with you right now. I’ll be posting my progress on Instagram so you guys can follow along with that. Matt Reynolds, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Matt Reynolds: Thanks, man. Thanks for having me.
Brett McKay: Guys, that’s Matt Reynolds. He’s the co-owner of the gym Strong Gym based in Springfield, Missouri. If you live in the area, go check it out. You won’t regret it. It’s awesome. You can also find out more information about the gym at stronggym.co and make sure to check out his personal website reynoldsstrong.com, lots of great content there. As well, you can find out more information about Matt’s online coaching program. As someone who’s doing it right now who’s seeing significant progress, I can’t recommend it enough. Go check it out.
That wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoyed this podcast, I’d really appreciate it if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher 45:25. Help us get the word about the podcast. Also, give us feedback on how we can improve the show. Thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.
Last updated: November 30, 2017