Transformation of a Young Athlete

TAGS: mass, even-esh, transformation, muscle, athlete, strength, training

Dan White had a lot of trouble gaining weight through his years of wrestling. As a freshman in high school he barely weighed 90 lbs and wrestled in the 103 lb weight class. As a sophomore he finally gained enough muscle and was able to wrestle at 103 lbs with no problems making weight. He had a great season, taking 2nd in one of the toughest tournaments in the USA, ‘The Beast of The East’. He capped off his year winning the Prep School National title at 103 lbs. For Dan, being the best wrestler in the country at 103 lbs was not enough. He did not feel like he could rest on his laurels. Like a true champion he wanted more and was ready and willing to commit.

Dan is the type of athlete every coach would love to have because he busts his ass all the time. During the school year Dan lives at Peddie Preparatory School in New Jersey. Yes, he actually lives there! It’s not uncommon for him to wake up before 6 am to train with kettlebells and work on his conditioning with sprints.

You’ll notice that much of the program has been greatly influenced by the crew here at EliteFTS, Louie Simmons, as well as the training of strongmen and the ancient gladiators. At the same time I had no problems tweaking what I have learned to individualize the program as much as possible. I had many conversations with Louie on training wrestlers and young athletes in general and every time we spoke this opened up my mind greatly. Joe DeFranco has been a major influence on program design as well, as has James Smith.

During the summer, Dan trains here with his younger brother and other wrestlers three times a week. Dan also does extra work outs. This is something Louie Simmons preaches frequently so they can improve General Physical Preparedness. I never pushed him to do the extra workouts and at times, am worried that Dan could be doing too much. If you know wrestlers, their problem is primarily psychological. They want to out work their competition and feel this is the only way to train. In addition, wrestling training is still locked up in the dark ages. Distance running is still prevalent and crappy strength programs which include leg extensions and other garbage remain the norm. Educating wrestlers, their coaches and parents can be quite the battle!

In early June, Dan arrived weighing 108 lbs. When he left at the end of August he was about 126 lbs and now he weighs 130 lbs. Once September rolled around, I had Dan follow Joe D’s WS4SB program while he was at school. Dan’s father also purchased a few kettlebells so he was able to add them to the program and we did more supersets in this WS4SB program.

The summer months gave Dan a little time to step away from wrestling which I feel is a very smart move. Wrestling can beat up the athlete’s mind and body quite easily. From March through mid July Dan wrestled 3 – 4 times per week. His school and the local wrestling club held practices and Dan kept at it until finally eliminating wresting for the months of August and September. If you have ever wrestled, or trained in any form of grappling you know that the sport is a form of strength training in itself. You’ll see plenty of pushing, pulling, lifting, rotational movements, all of which are against resistance. Try doing this for 2 hours four days a week plus weight training. It will kill the average individual.

For Dan, each training session lasts approximately 45 minutes and includes a variety of training tools and methods. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Dan did full body workouts each day. Monday would focus on legs. There was less volume for upper body. On Wednesday this was exactly the opposite (less emphasis on legs, more volume of the upper body). Friday we used high reps to add the muscle needed for weight gain which was a critical part of his training. I spoke with Joe DeFranco about this and he emphasized (and reminded me) about the importance of young athletes needing to gain muscle through high rep training. I had gotten carried away with higher sets and lower reps to train the nervous system, especially with the wrestlers who were concerned with weight gain. This allowed to us to do some extra work, which Dan responded well to. If the focus was lower body then the upper body would get calisthenics mostly such as dips, pulls ups and push ups. Then again, not much was written in stone. If Dan didn’t feel great, I wasn’t going to push him with heavy weights and high intensity. If he felt great we took advantage of his high energy levels.

A warm up included a variety of calisthenics and band training (Jump Stretch bands and regular fitness bands). Here is how a typical warm up might look like, repeating the circuit 2 – 3 times:

  • 1A) Squats or lunges x 15
  • 1B) Face pulls w/ Jump Stretch band x 15 or pull a parts w/ fitness band
  • 1C) Leg raises while upright on dip bar x 15 or abdominal wheel roll outsv
  • 1D) Push ups w/various hand spacing x 15

Since Dan was here during the late spring and summer, at least 50 % of our work outs took place outdoors. 2-3 days out of the week we started the workouts or finished them with approximately 12 minutes of non stop sled training. We would alternate the placement of the sled training each work out. For example, Monday sleds first, Wednesday sleds last, Friday sleds first, Monday sleds last, etc.

The sled portion was done non stop except for water breaks whenever they felt necessary. We kept moving because I place a big emphasis on having overall fitness. Using a strap shaped like a Y allowed us to do various drags, pushing and pulling motions. Here is a typical sled work out:

  • 1A) Forward drag w/various hand placements (hands behind back, arms locked and extended in front, hands and elbows in tight against chest) x 150 ft.
  • 1B) 8 – 10 rows (variations:1 arm rows, 2 handed rows, high pulls)
  • 1C) 5 – 8 chest presses
  • 1D) Backwards drag x 50 ft
  • 1E) Forward sprint x 25 ft.

The above circuit was usually repeated 3-4 times. It all depended on Dan’s energy levels for the day. Another variation of a sled work out, one which would be performed at the end of the work out would be 6 minutes of non stop hand overhand pulls using 30 ft. of tow straps. Dan would pull until the sled reached his feet, jog backwards and repeat. This was done non stop for 6 minutes (the length of a wrestling match).

After the initial portion of the work out (sleds and calisthenics) we went into the meat and potatoes of the work out. Much of these movements was full body in nature and allowed us to hammer away at the bigger muscle (the back, posterior chain, and overall lower body). Here are some sample workouts:

Monday

  • Warm up with push ups, lunges and squats
  • Sleds x 10 – 12 minutes
  • Keg clean and press - 5 x 3 – 6 reps
  • Log squats – Zercher position (using an actual tree log, Dan would rip the log off the ground and hold it in Zercher position) - 4 x 6 – 12 reps
  • 5A) Pull ups (hold medicine ball between legs for added weight) - 4 x 6 – 12
  • 5B) 2 hand Kettlebell swings - 4 x 10 reps
  • 5C) Parallel bar dips or feet elevated push ups - 4 x 12 – 20 reps (sometimes dips were performed with a mini band around the neck or squeezing a medicine ball between the legs)
  • Grip, abdominal work and reverse hyperextensions for 2-3 exercises.

Wednesday

  • 1) Warm up with bands and calisthenics
  • 2A) Trap Bar deadlift - 5 x 4 – 10 reps
  • 2B) Pull ups - 5 x 5 – 12 reps (add weight with medicine ball sometimes)
  • 3A) Bench press - 5 x 3 – 10 reps
  • 3B) 1 arm dumbbell row (sometimes using kettlebells for 1 arm rows) - 5 x 5 – 10 reps
  • 4) Sled work out x 10 – 12 minutes
  • 5) 1 or 2 sets of truck pushing (often times alternating 15 second pushed with a partner, each set getting 2 pushes of 15 seconds)

Friday

  • Warm up with bands and calisthenics
  • 1 arm snatch with kettlebells 4 x 3 – 20 reps
  • Sandbag shoulder and squat - 3 x 5 – 6 reps on each shoulder (10 – 12 total reps)
  • 4A) Incline dumbbell press - 3 – 4 x 6 – 15 reps
  • 4B) Bent over barbell row - 3 – 4 x 6 – 20 reps
  • 4C) Reverse lunges holding kettlebell or sandbag in Zercher position - 3 x 6 – 8 reps per leg
  • Grip work, reverse hyperextension and some abdominal work for 2-3 sets.

(Note: The exercises that have numbers and letters denote that these exercises are done in a circuit fashion.)

Things can always change. There were days when Dan never touched a barbell or dumbbell and only did sled training, log carries, log squats, log lunges and high rep bodyweight training with squats, lunges, push ups, dips, pull ups and abdominal work.

On his own, Dan would often do 50 – 100 pull ups on his “off days”. I never told him to do this but he loves training and chooses to do extra work. I recall one day he came in very sore. I asked him what he did and he told me that he did 100 reps each of push ups, pull ups and dips. When I told Dan I was asked to write an article about his training methods he told me to say, “Just say hard work!” This is exactly why so few can achieve status of state champ, national champ, etc. It requires a rare breed of athlete and certainly genetics play a role here, but, we all know that smart training done regularly will work like magic!

There were certainly times when I had to force him to rest more and give his body time to recuperate, but he was falling in love with training as many of us have. I made sure to communicate with Dan. I wanted to know what his extra workouts were like and how he felt. It’s very important to know your athlete. There were days he would do extra benching at his friend’s house so we made sure to adjust work outs accordingly.

I didn’t want to steal his thunder and shoot down his creativity by forcing him to train only when under my guidance. If he wanted to train on his own I say, “Go for it.” Let kids be kids and that means having FUN! I just made sure that I accounted for this extra work. That is why you must know your athlete and develop trust and communication. As much as I screwed up as a kid from reading all the bodybuilding magazines I wouldn’t trade those days for anything! Those were my golden days and they were damn fun! Jason Ferruggia emphasizes the fun in training young athletes as does any smart coach. As hard as Dan trained he had a blast doing so. Using strongman training with kegs, logs, sledge hammers, sleds, sandbags, trucks and more was great fun for him as well as the other kids.

There were times when we threw kettlebells across the field and jogged up to them after each rep, repeating for 6 minutes non stop for some conditioning and power training mixed together. We also used sled racing against other workout partners, beating past PR’s with pull ups, snatches, and such made training fun and competitive for the kids.

Notice we use a lot of different tools when training. I am very much against using only one tool. There are many effective tools and this is what we use to get the best results. Not all athletes can respond so well to such a high volume of training. I have some athletes that respond to hard training for maybe 2 weeks before the need to back down a bit. Others barely ever feel the need or want to take it easy. Could Dan have progressed quicker or better if he took more days off and did less volume? I don’t know because no matter what, Dan loved training and wanted to do more on his own. On the flip side there are other athletes who won’t do anything unless you hold their hand.

Dan had a great appetite which made the recovery and muscle building process much easier. Most kids eat cereal and school lunches and lots of empty calories. Dan’s school serves healthier meals than most and when he was at home he ate like a lumberjack. Here is a typical day of eating:

7 am - Protein shake w/milk if there are no eggs available. If there are eggs: 4 egg whites, and 3 to 6 packs of oatmeal.

9 to 11 am - Since Dan is in class He will have a Protein Plus bar and or a bagel, or muffin

12:20 pm - 2 sandwiches (one is a turkey, cheese and lettuce sandwich and one is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich) He will also have some raisins and sometimes a large plate of pasta

Before wrestling practice - Trail mix and cranberries

5 pm - (This is after practice or lift) protein shake mixed w/milk

6 pm - The main dish at school: usually chicken, rice and veggies, and a bowl of cereal or a salad

8 to 10 pm - Study hall: munch on raisins and trail mix

10:30 pm – Peanut butter and jelly sandwich before bed

I am sure most of you prefer an athlete such as Dan. Am I responsible for all his success or possibly most of it? No. The coaches I learned from are greatly responsible. But most important is Dan. He sweated buckets during our training sessions and on his own. He is responsible for his own success.

I feel that wrestling less in the off season would have been a better move. I say this because after a long wrestling season it’s time to let the mind and body heal. During the time off, I prefer to see wrestlers begin strength training and then get involved with a different form of grappling such as Judo. Most coaches and parents have brain washed these athletes into believing that if they outwork the competition, then they will win. Instead we see overuse injuries and the athletes are burned out. This is because they wrestled year round from ages 5-18.

So when Dan or any young athlete expresses or shows their need for some lighter training, a few days off, etc then this is what they will get! REST is one of the most underestimated training methods we can use to speed and improve overall progress.

Thanks to the crew at EliteFTS and the coaches elsewhere who have guided me and coached me. Thanks to Danny White for being a kick ass athlete who is always a blast to train!

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