elitefts™ Sunday Edition

I have been to over 50 clinics, seminars, and conferences as a speaker and a delegate over the last 15 years. The first time I attended the NSCA National Conference was 2002 where I parlayed the trip with a visit to see Chris Doyle at the University of Iowa.  No matter how many conferences I go to, I always come away with something I can use to better myself professionally.  I truly believe that there is always at least one thing I can learn from every seminar or clinic I attend. Often times, these learning experiences can range from discovering an entirely new perspective, to learning a new process of teaching, to reaffirming your principles in training. The 2013 NSCA National Conference was no different.

Instead of giving an overview, short bullet points, or providing details about committee meetings, I figured I would summarize a few presentations I was able to attend. There is no way I was able to attend all of the sessions. Frankly, I learned as much in the exhibit hall and lobby from networking and talking shop with some of the best practitioners and researchers in our field.

Seeing old colleagues and meeting new ones is always a great time and representing elitefts™  is an honor.  From the first few minutes that I checked in, I ran into two former players and interns, Brett Comstock and Shawn Flanagan. They are both currently working on their PhDs at University of Connecticut with William Kraemer. Dr. Kraemer, who got me a beer at the exhibitor reception, is one of the top researchers in our field and has co-authored two of the best books for coaches: Optimizing Strength Training and Science and Practice of Strength Training.

In the morning training session, Boyd Epley came and watched Joe Kenn and I get coached up by two of the best Olympic lifting coaches in the country, Mike Gattone and Leo Totten. Without Epley, the Founder of the NSCA, the strength and conditioning profession would never be where it is today. His book The Path to Athletic Power is one of the best guides for implementing a strength and conditioning program from the ground up.

In this three-part series, my intention is to to re-cap some of the presentations I was able to witness and provide some feedback to possibly help coaches. In part 1, I will summarize some lectures primarily on programming, from Dan Baker, Mike Favre, Joe Kenn, and the staff from The University of Mary Hardin Baylor.


The Effectiveness of the Wave Cycles from In-Season Training:  20 years of Evidence in the In-season Maintenance of Strength and Power in Professional Athletes

Dan Baker, PhD

“If our guys don’t want to squat, I’ll hit’em with a stick.”

I am thoroughly convinced if you speak in an Australian accent you are automatically tougher than just about all the other presenters. Picture Harry Selkow talking like Crocodile Dundee and that was what it was like to hear Dan Baker present on his in-season training program with the Brisbane Broncos. Although he was sans knife, he did refer to hitting his guys with a stick if they were too sore to squat. There wasn’t anything about Dan Baker’s presentation to lead me not to believe him. Dan’s methods will look very similar to a lot of training programs today as he gave credit to Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 along with others. The thing is, he started implementing the wave cycle system back in 1995. Since then, Dan has kept his teams in the 98% to 107%  for their max bench and max squat.

elitefts RugbyBaker had a lot of data supporting his methodologies and is able to apply the science to the practice in the weight room.  Along with the traditional lifts, Baker employed testing with the squat jump and bench throws, keeping sustained power outputs throughout the season.

Baker redefined an Effort system based on Training Load and Rate of Perceived Exertion. Basically, combining a rep-max system with RPE from the athletes, he was able to provide a more comprehensive system during this season. This combination was also talked about by Michael Tuchscherer in his book, The Reactive Training Manual.

EFFORT (1-5 reps) Rate of Perceived Excertion
Max Effort No additional reps could be done
Near Max Effort 1-2 reps short of ME
Hard Effort 2-4 reps short of ME
Medium-Hard Effort More than 5 reps short of ME

he Wave Cycle is based on a Russian distribution of volume across three or four weeks of training. For a three week cycle, 44% of all lifts for the three weeks are performed on week one, 33% on week two, and 23% on week three. If using a four-week cycle, the percentage of total lifts on week one through four would be:  34%, 25%, 25%, and finally 16% on week 4. Baker would implement a strength day for the first training day of the week which was usually 2-3 days after the last game and a power day, usually 2-3 days before the next game.

Baker illustrated a typical six-week wave cycle for both strength and power lifts. Obviously, the difference in rep ranges are due to time-under-tension. One of the most unique aspects of the system is that Baker articulated the difference between de-loading volume and de-loading the central nervous system on different weeks.

Week LOAD DE-LOAD Olympic Lifts Strength Lifts
Week 1 Volume Load, Neural/ Adrenal De-Load 5 Reps @70% 8 reps @70%
Week 2 Base Load 4 Reps @80% 5 Reps @80%
Week 3 Intensification, Neural Load Volume De-Load 3 Reps @88% 3 Reps @88%
Week 4 Base Load 5 Reps @80% 5 Reps @80%
Week 5 Intensification, Neural Load 3 Rep @88-92% 3 Reps @88%
Week 6 Intensification, Neural Load Volume De-Load 1 Rep @90-95% 2 Reps @92%

Dan Baker elaborated on every aspect of the organization and implementation of his in-season programming. He went into detail about utilizing accommodating resistance, PAP training, and alternative exercises for injured athletes to name a few.



Athletic Based Strength Training:  The Tier System

Joe Kenn, CSCS, RSCC*D

"Don't train a sport with a sport."

I first met Joe Kenn in Orlando in January of 2003 when he was speaking at the NSCA Sports-Specific Conference. Since then I have followed House's articles on elitefts™ and read The Coach's Strength Training Playbook which outlines the Tier System. Over the years Joe has become a mentor and a friend. So needless to say I was honored when Scott Caulfield asked me to introduce him. I was the most nervous person in the packed ballroom. It was the first time his mother, a cancer survivor, had ever heard him speak. If you haven't heard House present at a conference, it is a large dose of truth which combines the science and the art of coaching better than anyone.

The number of strength coaches who have been influenced by the Tier System is widespread and components of the unique organizational system of training can be seen in professional, college, and high school weight rooms across the country. Kenn has listed some of the key characteristics of the Tier System being full body, ground based, explosive, and variable. One of the many advantages of the Tier System is the program density. Kenn gave the example of a training session with the Carolina Panthers consisting of around 56 work sets in just over an hour.

Comprehending the Tier System as a strength and conditioning coach was made easier when I was able to adapt it to the situation that I was in. When explaining to athletes or interns, the easiest way to demonstrate the basic concept usually started with reviewing Vladimir Zatsiorsky's three methods from  Science and Practice of Strength Training: The Dynamic Effort, the Max Effort, and the Repeated Effort. This was how I would break it down to its simplest concept. Keep in mind, this is my explanation and not necessarily Coach Kenn's. Let's take a movement like a double-leg push or squat variation and see how it will fit in a typical micro-cycle (7-21 days).

Dynamic Effort Method: Speed Box Squats with Chains—8 sets of 2 reps w/ 60% and 1 minute rest interval.

Maximum Effort Method: Barbell Back Squat—Work up to a 3-rep max, then perform 3 singles with same weight.

Repeated Effort Method: Dumbbell Goblet Squat— 25% of body weight for as many reps as possible in one minute.

As you can see, the athlete would squat three times in a cycle. The movement would be the same, the method would vary. This would provide the athlete an opportunity to address all three methods with the same basic movement pattern on different training days.

During his presentation, Kenn goes on to explain the necessity of justifying your program based on the equipment you have and whether you can teach the movements. Athletes adaptations will also dictate how the coaches teach the movements. Instead of branding specific terminology to his system, House encourages adaptations and ownership of your own terminology based on your experience and athletes. Below is an example a general set-up of the Tier System that I have used in the past using five tiers for off-season training.

Setting Up the Tier System






Tier 1

Dynamic Effort

Total Body

Lower Body

Upper Body

Tier 2

Circa-Max Effort

Lower Body

Upper Body

Total Body

Tier 3

Sub-Max Effort

Upper Body

Total Body

Lower Body

Tier 4

Repeated Effort

Total Body

Lower Body

Upper Body

Tier 5 Repeated Effort

Lower Body

Upper Body

Total Body

Creating an Exercise Pool

Categorizing movements based on their biomechanical characteristics is a crucial piece of the puzzle when developing your own Tier System. Classifying movements with parameters: unilateral vs. bilateral, plane of motion, or speed of moment, are just a couple that can be used. In this example, total and lower are combined with a triple extension category added. This is a template I have used in the past:



Hang Snatch

Block Snatch

1-Arm DB Snatch


Hang Clean

Block Clean

Floor Clean



Seated Box


Swings/ Throws

MB Rotational


KB Swings


Double Leg Push

DB Goblet Squat

Front Squat

Box Squat

Back Squat

Double Leg Pull


Trap Bar DL


Single Leg Push

Split Squat

Reverse Lunge

Walking Lunge

Single Leg Pull/GHR

SLRDL w/ Plate




Horizontal Push

Bench Press

BP with Chains

Fat Bar BP

Vertical Push

Military Press

Barbell Push Press

1-Arm DB Push Press

Horizontal Pull

Blast Strap™ Row

1-Arm DB Row

1-Arm KB Row

Vertical Pull

UH Grip Chin-Up

OH Grip Pull-Up

NG Pull-Up

Putting it All Together

The Tier System can be summed up as a structured rotation of movement categories. This is a very basic example of plugging in specific exercise categories to each means of training effect. This was a template used for off-season training for Olympic sports. Keep in mind some exercise categories can be used for multiple training means. For example, hang cleans or box squats could be used in a dynamic or maximum effort capacity. This is entirely at the strength & conditioning coaches digression.






Tier 1


Snatch Variation

Clean Variation

OHP, PP or Jerk

Tier 2


Squat Variation

Bench Press Variation

Deadlift or RDL

Tier 3



Row Variation

SL Sqt or Lunge

Tier 4




Rear Delts

Tier 5 Conditioning



Farmer's/ Sled/ SB



Developing a Division III Program Using an Auto-regulatory Progressive Program vs. Linear

Brian Braham, PHD, CSCS, Lee Munn, CSCS, and Marcos Garcia, MS

“The Cost of Regret Far Exceeds the Price of Discipline”

This was an interesting topic for me because I had used an Auto-regulatory system the last couple years of my coaching career and felt it worked well with the population I was coaching. I was also excited to hear some DIII coaches talk about what they did with their program. The presentation was in two parts, the first by Dr. Braham who is a professor in the Exercise Science department. The second half was done by Lee Munn, one of the graduate assistants, who actually worked with the Mary Hardin Baylor football team that past year.

elitefts NSCA Dr. Braham felt the research showed APRT was a periodized plan utilizing individual adjustments that allow the athlete to increase strength gains at their own pace. The adjustments could be made daily and he felt that the program “may” maximize strength gains. The presentation referenced some research that elitefts.com Columnist, Dr. Bryan Mann had conducted with the University of Missouri Football team in 2011. Dr. Mann is the author of The APRE: The Scientifically Proven Fastest Way to Get Strong Ebook and co-author of Powerlifting with Dan Austin.

Here is a chart the Dr. Brabham provided in the lecture which covers three variations on the APRE protocol. A similar chart can be found in Supertraining.

elitefts APRE-Protocols1This system could work for any repetition maximum and I feel additional sets could be added after the first adjustment set, depending on your methodology, time of year, etc. Below is a chart on the general guidelines for adjusting from the first set.


My only issue is I feel the rep ranges for a typical set 3 are too vast. As a coach, I don’t feel athletes should be able to perform eight or more reps on the 3RM or get stapled on it either. Unless this is the first testing day after a long hiatus from being on campus, I don’t see how a coach can be that far off.  Also the rep ranges are about the same in terms of the prescribed rep max with the adjustments being the same whether it is a 3RM or a 10RM. The system is a good guideline, but can be improved.

The only disappointing part of the presentation was that in actuality, the UMHB football team wasn’t using this system, based on the presentation. They were using Jim Wendler’s 5/3/1 straight out of the book. The only adjustment they made was changing maxes (while using the same percentages) week to week. They didn’t utilize the second work-set agenda, which would have provided more volume and work representative of the actual research done. However, after four consecutive Division III playoff appearances and 42 players totaling over 1000 pounds in the clean, squat, and bench, I cannot argue the results of their off-season training. The talent, work ethic, and atmosphere is among the best in the country.

Below is a method of Auto-Regulatory training I have used based on using the DAPRE system outlined in Supertraining. I am not saying that these methods of auto-regulatory sets are better than any other system.  I just felt utilizing rep-ranges instead of a rep max fit the situation and the athletes I was working with.

Auto-Regulatory:  Static Weight with Descending Reps

Auto-Regulatory Static Weight

If you get…then

Set #1 87.5 x 5 reps (4-6 range) 6 reps 5 reps 4 reps
Set #2 87.5% Same Weight for 4 reps Same Weight for 3 reps Same Weight for 2 reps
Set #3 87.5% Same Weight for 2 reps Same Weight for 1 rep Drop 10% for 6 reps
Set #4 Back Off Set Drop 10% for 8 reps Drop 10% for 7 reps


Auto-Regulatory: Adjustable Weight with Static Reps

Auto-Regulatory Static Reps

If you get…then

Set #1 85-90% x 3-5 reps 5 reps = Add 5% for next set 4 reps = Same weight for next set 3 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #2 Adjusted Weight from Set #1For 3-5 reps 5reps = Add 5% for next set 4 reps = Same weight for next set 3 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #3 Adjusted Weight from Set #2For 3-5 reps 5 reps = Add 5% for next set 4 reps = Same weight for next set 3 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #4 Adjusted Weight from Set #3For 3-5 reps 5 Reps =


Auto-Regulatory:  Adjustable Weight with Descending Reps

Auto-Regulatory Descending Reps

If you get…then

Set #1 85-90% x 4-6 reps 6 reps = Add 5% for next set 5 reps = Same weight for next set 4 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #2 Adjusted Weight from Set #1For 3-5 reps 5 reps = Add 5% for next set 4 reps = Same weight for next set 3 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #3 Adjusted Weight from Set #2For 2-4 reps 4 reps = Add 5% for next set 3 reps = Same weight for next set 2 reps = Drop 5% for next set
Set #4 Adjusted Weight from Set #3For 1-3 reps 3 Reps =


Points to Ponder with Auto-Regulated Sets:

Because of the lower training age, reduced neurological efficiency, and the less-than-optimal inter-muscular coordination of college aged athletes, a flat loaded system with a two-rep drop off (if the last set was truly maximum RPE) may be better.

Depending on the previous set, the athlete may go up or down in weight for each subsequent set. The advantage of this is the athlete feels empowered to control the next set with each performance. This system can also breed competition among teammates (a much needed entity in team strength training). Also, the adjustments between sets are more user-friendly.  Anyone can figure 10% in their head and cut that in half.

There is a chance an athlete could drop weight then add or visa-versa with this system. For the adjustable weight and descending set example, a typical work set protocol could be:  300×6, 315×4, 315×3, 300×4.

There will be more fluctuation in volume between athletes.  Athletes being able to perform the higher reps in the range will accumulate much more volume by the end of the work sets. The advantage of this is the athletes able to perform the prescribed reps at the higher end of the range are using a lower percentage of their training maxes and the increase in volume is tolerated. Over four sets, the deviation will be no more than eight total reps.

Coming Soon

Part II of this series will look at training for MMA, intermittent fasting, research to application, and career advice for aspiring college strength and conditioning coaches.