When I found out that I would be training at elitefts on the weekends, it was like a dream come true. That thought turned into fear during my first one-hour drive to London when I realized that the idea of training there scared the hell out of me. I was beginning my meet prep for the XPC Finals at the Arnold Classic and I was going to be squatting with Joe Schillero on Saturdays. At the time, I had no idea how much my idea of training was about to change.

Day 1

When I showed up  on the first day, Dave and I were the first to arrive. I was beyond nervous and intimidated to introduce myself and explain to him I was there to train with Joe. After awkwardly introducing myself, he was very welcoming and more lifters started to show up. Joe and I started warming up as Matt Smith ran our training session. We started with cambered bar box squats — a challenge for me, because I've used neither a box or a cambered bar in my previous training. Apparently this was obvious from the start. Within the first couple of working sets Matt had given me more coaching cues and pointed out more issues that needed fixed than I could remember. My main issues were keeping my upper back and lats tight (which the cambered bar only made more obvious), keeping my knees pushed out, and not dropping the last couple inches on to the box. After the first couple working sets, Matt had all or our assistance work planned to address my very evident weaknesses. We eventually worked up to 365 bar weight with two chains per side. Assistance work included inverse hamstring curl, which Matt correctly predicted I would suck at before I started due to my weak hamstrings, followed by a lot of glute ham raises, seated band abduction, and standing abs.

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The first training session was a big wake up call for me. I am a pretty competitive person and it pissed me off I did so poorly. For the next several weeks I did glute ham raises and the inverse hamstring curls multiple days per week, hammering away at them every week until I built my hamstrings up.

xpc pre deadlift

Photo courtesy of Tina Marie Photography

Training for the Meet

The following months after that first session in the S4 Compound, I kept going back. Our training sessions revolved around squats using the safety bar, cambered bar, or buffalo bar, usually with bands or chains. These specialty bars were rotated usually in three-week waves, with a three-week wave of good mornings mixed in. This quickly led to a 100-pound good morning PR for me. Speed deadlifts against average bands followed our squats every week. After deadlifting, our accessory work was set up specifically to address the weak points Joe and I had.

Fast forward a couple months and a couple thousand glute ham raises later: circa max. Matt accurately describes the circa max phase as “three weeks of hell.” No matter how hard I try, I will never forget the first week of circa max. Week 1 started off with elitefts team members Joe Schillero, Mario D’amico, (who were also lifting in the XPC Finals) and I getting called out by Dave for not going hard enough. After a few choice words, which continued non-stop throughout every single set, the workout was underway at 100% effort and intensity at a pace I had never seen before.

I believe our workout called for 5 sets of 2. We ended up doing 10-12 sets of two followed by 6 sets of 1 at a pace that left you dripping sweat and no time to catch your breath between sets. My working sets were done with 315 bar weight and two average bands and one light band per side. This was by far the hardest workout of my life. The bad news: my bar weight had to increase the next two weeks.

After mentally preparing the entire week, the next two weeks weren’t near as terrible. We stuck with the 5x2 instead of doubling the workload. My final work sets in the circa max were done with 360 bar weight and two average bands and one light band per side.

The following week was our final lower body max effort day. We took our openers and possible second attempts. My opener was set at 595, which felt light and fast. For my second attempt we jumped to 640, a five-pound PR for me. This was another story. When I took my projected second attempt of 640, everything I had been working on the past couple months started to fall apart. I could feel myself lose tension in my upper back and my knees cave coming out of the hole. The squat was wobbly and rough but I moved the bar from Point A to Point B without dying or tearing anything. I figured at this point I was beat up and worn out from the circa max and that I would hit 640 no problem in the meet.

750 deadlift

Photo via Paris Productions

On the day of the meet I felt great and was ready to go after spending the whole training cycle at elitefts. Unfortunately, my attempts were nearly identical to my last training session. 595 opener was light and fast, 640 second attempt I rushed myself and made the same mistakes I made in the gym. I was given two reds for and up and down motion of the bar. After grinding that one out I didn’t have the gas left to hit it on my third attempt either. Needless to say, I was pissed after the bad start to the day. I benched okay—not great, but okay—hitting 400, 420, and barely missing 440.

My deadlift was an issue of concern for me. I have always been a pretty decent deadlifter and enjoyed deadlifting, so I would program it in some variation in my weekly training. With Matt Smith’s programing, he didn’t have me deadlift other than my speed pulls after speed squats and very rarely on a lower body max effort day. I had asked Matt about it several times throughout our training and he assured me every time that with the speed pulls, good mornings, and all the glute ham raises we were doing that I would be fine.

RELATED: 2016 Arnold Sports Festival — Expo, XPC Meet Reports, and S4 Compound Events

I hate to admit it, because I do like deadlifting regularly in my training, but he was right. I opened with and easy 685, and jumped to 735, which would be a five-pound PR. That went up easier than anticipated. My third I took 750, a number I had wanted for the past year or two. As I started to pull I could feel the bar roll and a callous tear, but I knew at that point I wasn’t going to let that bar go. 750 was rough but went up for a good lift.

It definitely was not the meet I wanted totaling 1,765, the exact same as I did in last year’s XPC Finals. In that training cycle I cannot even begin to describe how much I learned about training, programming, and technique. Having the opportunity to train alongside Joe and Mario with Matt Smith and Dave Tate coaching our workouts was an incredible experience. Despite the numbers from the meet I have become a significantly better lifter, training partner, and coach. Taking everything I’ve learned from training with these guys and having a little more time to fine tune some technique I’m confident that I will be able to put everything together next meet and put up a big total.

Bryan holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science and co-owns The Strength Lab, a 15,000 sq ft sports performance facility in Wilmington, Oh. He trains athletes 8 years old through professional athletes. Additional certifications include: USA Weightlifting Sports Performance Coach, Parisi Speed School Sports Performance Coach, and International Youth Conditioning Association Youth Fitness Specialist. Bryan’s best lifts include a 635 squat (Raw w/ wraps), 430 bench, 750 deadlift, and a 1,795 total.

Header image courtesy of Tina Marie Photography