Episode #15: Getting Strong: Interview with Juggernaut Training System’s Chad Wesley Smith

Chad Wesley Smith is the owner of Juggernaut Training Systems…one of the best resources for strength athletes in the world.

He is one of the top power lifters in the world, a sought after coach and conducts workshops around the globe.

Needless to say, I think we can learn a thing or two about getting strong from this guy!

Push play to listen or Download the full podcast below:


Download the full interview here: Chad Wesley Smith, Juggernaut Training Systems Interview

In this interview, we discuss:

  • Assessing the individual
  • Muscles, mobility, imbalances
  • Energy Systems
  • What is functional?
  • Exercise selection
  • The Pyramid of Strength
  • Breathing, posture, pelvis.
  • Recovery techniques
  • and much more.

You can connect with Chad at jtsstrength.com and be sure to check out their upcoming workshop schedule and store for more resources.


Full Transcription of Our Podcast with Chad Wesley Smith



COREY:         Hey guys, this is Corey Beasley with Fight Camp Conditioning and I’m on the phone here with Chad Smith from Juggernaut Training Systems. Chad, how are you doing?

CHAD:           You’re very welcome. Thanks for having me on.

COREY:         Absolutely dude. I appreciate your time. So Chad, just for everybody that’s listening and everybody that’s following us here, just give everybody an idea of who you are and what you do.

CHAD:           Yeah, the main thing what Juggernaut Training System does is try to educate athletes and coaches, try to provide them with the best information possible from top level athletes, top level coaches, guys who are living strength and conditioning and nutrition and physical therapy and all that stuff on a day to day basis. We focus mainly in power lifting, weight lifting, CrossFit, strongman, sports performance, trying to cover as many basis as we can, as effectively as we can and then personally.

I was two time national champion — collegiate national champion in the Shot Put, then have squatted 937 pounds in w/wraps the total 2248, and a I got eighth highest squat of all time, the 15th highest total in the history of power lifting and then also earned professional status in strongman in 2012. So I’ve done a little bit of everything when it comes to being strong.


COREY:         Yeah absolutely. Chad, how old are you now?

CHAD:           I just turned 28 this summer.

COREY:         28; and you’ve been competing how long? I mean obviously you had the Shot Put and stuff like that in college. But weightlifting —

CHAD:           Yeah, Shot Put, that was from when I was eight years old until I was 23 I guess and then power lifting since I was 24, with strongman kind of sprinkled throughout there when I was 26, 27.

COREY:         That’s awesome. That is a huge accomplishment dude. I mean, the numbers that you’re putting up are insane.

CHAD:           I probably lose perspective on it sometimes I’d say. I have the eighth highest squat of all time but I personally know five of the guys who have done more. So maybe it’s just a consequence of having really strong friends. But when you say eighth highest squat of all time, that sounds a lot better than the sixth strongest of your friends.

COREY:         Right. It’s very true. Who you hang with makes a big difference, han?

CHAD:           Yeah, certainly.


COREY:         So Chad, as you’re going through that, you’ve done that in a relatively short amount of time. I mean, obviously you have a pretty significant strength background with your collegiate training and as you’re growing up, who were some of the influential people that have kind of helped you along the way?

CHAD:           On a more personal scale I’d say the two biggest influencers would have been my high school [incomprehensible] peloton coach, a guy named SA Roberts, who’s a big bad ass Samoan dude. He set very high expectations for me that he had and it really forced me to rise to those expectations and showed me what it really meant to work hard and be tough and all that kind of stuff. And then my high school and college track coach, my last two years of high school last two years of college, his name is Lamblootrik and he was almost like a grandpa to me. We worked one on one together, he just really cared about my success, had a huge impact there. I’m sure if we didn’t start working together when I was in high school, maybe I was a college [incomprehensible] without his help, but [inaudible] at the level that I was able to do it. Unfortunately, he passed away shortly after I graduated college so that was kind of the end of my training career there. But yeah, those two guys extremely impactful on my own athletic career and then as far as training others definitely sprinter James Smith, this is like powerdevelopmentinc.com would be his website. He came in and worked for me for about a year after he was at the University of Pittsburgh and I can’t give him enough credit as far as teaching me directly but also just being able to watch and put into practice a lot of things that are very complex ideas and I think people read in science and practice with strength training or super training or transfer training, whatever it is, and they think they understand it. But then when you see someone who has a true mastery of that, and to be able to watch them put it into practice on a day to day basis. He was — that was like a master’s program and probably beyond the master’s program for a year being able to work with them. And he’s just truly phenomenal coach, whether it was maximal strength, sports performance, energy system training, nutrition, rehab, prehab, he could do soft tissue work, like there was no training problem I ever saw him presented with that he did not have a very good answer to.


COREY:         Oh that’s a gift to be able to work with somebody like that, han?

CHAD:           Definitely, yeah.

COREY:         So Chad, as we’re going through this, I think out there now in the strength and conditioning world, there seems to be a lot of little niches and little opinions and people doing different things. I mean, everything from what you just mentioned in that sense, everything from prehab to corrective exercise stuff to the power lifting to the Olympic lifting to CrossFit to unconventional stuff that’s out there. I mean, there are a million things out there that can be great options for people, but can also be very distracting. When you’re working with somebody when somebody walks through your doors, and let’s just say, for the purpose of this podcast, is an athlete, whether it’s a wrestler, jiu-jitsu guy, football player, MMA fighter, whoever it may be, when they walk through the doors and say, hey, I need your help, where do you kind of start out? How do you get them going?

CHAD:           Yeah, I think one issue that a lot of people who are coming from my kind of competitive backgrounds, trap that they fall into is, they always want to use what they do with their clients. So maybe in power lifting and strongman, I want to have athletes do power lifting and strongman; if you’re an Olympic weightlifter, they’re always trying to have everyone do snatch and clean and jerk or a kettlebell guy or whatever it may be. I really try and steer clear of that because it’s not about necessarily what I want the athlete to do, it’s about helping them reach their goals. I’m not training — if we’re talking about an MMA fighter, he’s not a power lifter, how much he can squat bench and deadlift is not the most important thing. It’s just whatever means that we’re going to go about using with them, how’s that going to transfer to his performance in the ring.


So the first thing you got to do is just assess the athlete’s abilities and that’s going to happen on kind of micro scale of muscular imbalances, movement issues. And then also on a more macro scale of are they weak in this energy system or that energy system, balancing technical and tactical work with them.

So as far as the kind of little micro assessments, I’m fortunate enough to have some really good physical therapists and chiropractors that I work with and I kind of let them be experts in that regard as far as creating these sort of corrective programs that the athlete needs. So I don’t personally adhere to anything like an FMS or any assessment protocol that I personally use. I’m more just going by the eyeball test there and observing how they move. And I think a lot of times coaches will get caught up in thinking like, well, this app or this exercise is the best to develop athletes or this is a very functional movement. And I’ll talk more about that whole idea I’m sure as we go here.

But what coaches need to understand is that in the training of the athlete, there’s only one irreplaceable modality that they have. The only thing that’s irreplaceable in athlete’s training is sport practice, and everything else is interchangeable to varying degrees. Let’s say power clean; power cleans is a great exercise and it can provide all these different great benefits, but to be a great MMA fighter or jiu-jitsu athlete or whatever, you don’t have to power clean, you have to practice MMA.

So I think avoiding that trap is a really important thing for them to understand that it’s not that they have to power clean, it’s that they have to do some forceful triple extension exercises and forceful hip extension exercises. So that’s definitely something I’m trying to — in the assessment processes as informal as that may be for me trying to figure out what level or what progression or regression of exercises this athlete is ready for to help them bring the necessary quality that they need to succeed.


COREY:         Right on. Yeah, I think that’s a pretty common mistake or trap that everybody gets kind of caught up in. I think especially these days with the social media and the internet and YouTube and all these different things I think also a lot of people will see oh cool check it out Johnny Hendricks is doing this or whatever or even looking at hey, look at Chad Smith, he squatted 900 pounds, that’s fricking amazing. Right? I should have all my guys do that because he’s a beast. You know what I mean? But at the time, it is very important that you can assess the individual standing in front of you and then set up a program to fit their needs, right?

CHAD:           Yeah, definitely. That is definitely a problem with Instagram and YouTube and all that kind of stuff, like sure it’s cool to have videos available to see what the top athletes do but from where I’m at with the world of powerlifting and weightlifting and all that kind of stuff, people they always want to know, like, oh, well how many sets and reps exactly you do or what exercise do you use for this. And sometimes, yeah, it’s appropriate to answer and tell them I like to use close grip bench to work on my lockout strength so the bench press but telling them do this many sets and this many reps, I think it’s really selling a lot of people short, and people are selling themselves short by trying to seek out the information of what is this top athlete doing right now. Because unless you’re also at a comparable level, that’s not the question that you need to be asking. It’s what did this person do to get there? And what was that guy doing three years ago, five years ago, ten years ago.

I was fortunate enough to attend the Olympic weightlifting clinic with Dmitry Klokov and Ilya Ilyin, two of the greatest lifters in the world this past December and with Klokov especially because he’s so popular, everyone is asking him what percentage do you do with this exercise and how many sets and reps. And I’m just sitting there listening to them I was like, dudes, it doesn’t matter what he’s doing now. You need to know what he was doing 20 years ago.

COREY:         Correct.


CHAD:           And I think with videos and just kind of the nature of ego and all that stuff, like, of course people want to get likes on videos. I get excited when my videos get shared and get a bunch of cool comments and all that kind of stuff. But falling into the trap of doing like novel exercises for the sake of novelty just for the sake of doing something different that people are like, oh my gosh, this coach is so innovative – sorry not innovative, but doing it for the sake of novelty is definitely a problem that people need to avoid as well.


COREY:         Yeah absolutely. I do agree that there’s a lot of things out there that with, the word functional or sports specific or whatever you want to call it where people go overboard. They’re bouncing on Bosu balls and doing one handed, whatever it is with their leg pulled behind their back or whatever it is, you know what I mean? Absolutely, they get taken too far for sure.

CHAD:           Yeah, and I think that’s probably the [inaudible] on misunderstanding of what is functional. Like an MMA fighter’s function is to fight. So functional exercises are things that are going to enhance that ability, enhance that function, and Dr. [incomprehensible] he’s really the father of this idea of special strength, specificity of training and choosing exercises with high transfer training. And his classification system of exercises is so intuitive. Maybe at first when people look at it, they’re kind of overwhelmed with that and some of the language they’ll use is a bit overwhelming and of course, it’s all translated so it’s a bit rough to get through, but once they can understand this hierarchy of competitive exercise, special developmental, special preparatory, general developmental, general preparatory and what makes exercises fall into these different categories, I think they will be so much better informed in making the right choices for their athletes.

COREY:         Right.

CHAD:           I know you had mentioned that you kind of wanted to talk about this. But I had written an article last week called the “Pyramid of Strength” that relates to this whole idea of when different exercises are appropriate and how broad the pool of exercise selection should be.


COREY:         Yeah absolutely. Can you go into a little bit more detail with that?

CHAD:           Yeah. So the concept that I used to explain how specific exercises should be, it’s related to the athlete’s preparedness level. So because the audiences I work with are powerlifters and weightlifters mostly, I use it in that context and it’s a bit cleaner to understand in those contexts as well because they’re very singular discipline sports.

So let’s say Ilya Ilyin is probably the greatest Olympic weightlifter competing currently in the world. He has the world record in the clean and jerks, the world record in the total, has won two gold medals, now he’s moving up in weight class and is looking to probably do the same thing at World Championships here in a couple weeks. And Ilya Ilyin’s training consists entirely of the snatch, clean and jerk and the squat. So just the competitive exercises plus this one very foundational assistance exercise.

So Ilya being at the very, very peak of his sport is — I think of it as him being at the very tip of the pyramid. The tip of the pyramid is very narrow and very few exercises fit on it. And the exercises that do fit on there are the ones — I’m talking about putting on there are the ones that are going to have a high carry over to his success. So that’s going to be basically a competitive exercise at varying intensities for the absolute most qualified athlete. And then as we progress down this pyramid and it gets wider and wider, you have — as you move down the pyramid, the athletes are less and less qualified. But there’s a much broader area there on the pyramid. So a much broader pool of exercises that they can use, that’s going to allow them to continue to improve their sporting performance.


As I said, with weightlifting, power lifting, throwing where my background is, it’s much easier concept to understand because we’re really just testing this one quality where for an MMA fighter, you could have someone who’s very near the top of their competitive field that has a bit more like glaring hole in some part of their preparation, but because they’re so excellent in some other aspect, it kind of masks that. And the same thing with a team sport athletes.

Fair to say like Tom Brady or Peyton Manning, the absolute best at their position maybe ever, but no one would say like, oh, they’re these phenomenal athletes. They’re so strong and fast and all this. So yeah, as you give them the sports that involve a lot more tactical qualities and strategy and all that kind of stuff, it allows to kind of cover up maybe some of the physical shortcomings that someone may have.

But really the heart of the matter is that the better the athlete gets, the less general exercises are going to help improve them. So for like Jon Jones, now putting 10 or 20 pounds on his bench press isn’t going to make a difference in whether he wins his next fight or not. But if we have a high school sophomore wrestler putting 10 or 20 pounds on his bench press might be the difference for his next match or his next season coming up. So it’s just well correspondence between general exercises like that and then as you get up higher and higher, it’s going to become more about sport practice, even like I said, sport practice is always the most important but it’s going to become even higher prioritized and then choosing true special strength exercises that are mimicking the direction, duration and velocity of the competitive exercise or a part of the competitive exercise.


COREY:         Right on. Yeah, so I know that you worked with some fighters and some pretty high level jujitsu guys in the past, when you were working with those guys, I think a lot of times these days, especially in the combat athlete, the strength and conditioning for those guys, wrestlers and jujitsu and fighters and boxers and all that, I think there’s a trend of everybody just wants to get smashed. If I’m not lying in a pool, my sweat, vomiting on the parking lot, I didn’t work hard enough, that Dan Gable mentality kind of stuff. With those guys, you and I both know, they train a lot of hours, most of them probably two or three times a day. They’ve already got a myriad of injuries and stuff like that they’re kind of dealing with. When they walk through your doors, what are some of those foundational exercises that you might be able to use, the movement patterns, and then as well as some sports specific type drills and exercises that you use with those guys?


CHAD:           Yeah, I think from a corrective standpoint and restorative work, because the guys are training so much and training so hard, it would be a mistake to continue to compound the same stressors on them now that they’re already getting in their sport practice. An easy analogy for it is like a basketball players of course wants to jump higher to improve with their sport, but they’re already jumping 100 times in practice. So how is jumping 50 more times in training after practice going to improve their jumping? It’s not. It’s just going to tire out [inaudible] that they’ve already trained more.

So having guys do these highly lactic circuits and stuff and yeah, these are mistakes I’ve made and I’ve had guys do this stuff and it wasn’t the best thing to do at the time. Like, yeah, it definitely gives the athlete the impression that they’re working really hard and that that’s going to be a great thing for them, when it’s not necessarily.

So the first thing of course you got to do is make sure that the athlete is healthy and one of the biggest revelations for me in the last 18 months, two years has been the value and power of breathing and different diaphragmatic breathing drills and improving athletes’ posture and their pelvic positioning and how improvements on those two things will yield performance results across the board.

And to plug one of our guys Dr. Quinn Henoch, he’s a physical therapist currently based in Louisville, Kentucky, and he writes a lot for my website and a lot for a company called Darkside Strength and talks about this all the time, using different breathing drills to improve the athletes’ movements and that’s something so simple and so overlooked in the athlete’s training, that’s really a foundational thing to do because breathing is the most foundational piece of human existence. You can go a while without drinking water, without eating any food, but without breathing you’re not around for very long. So improving that is the first thing and so the breathing, teaching them how to brace properly in a neutral spine position, doing that is going to make everything that they do after more effective.


And from there, there is four main movement categories that I’m looking at for any athlete — well sorry actually let’s make that seven. So three kind of more explosive athletics and then four more load bearing.

So the first three which I think are playing the greatest role in improvement for most athletes, especially speed power based athletes like a fighter-would-be are going to be sprinting, jumping and throwing; very foundational movements for any athlete and are going to yield great training results and improved speed, power and conditioning. All kinds of different variations of that can be used.

Usually with athletes who don’t actually have to sprint as part of their sport, I tend to stay more with sled sprint or hill sprint because that reduces the chance of any kind of hamstring pull. It would be pretty foolish to have a fighter pull a hamstring and miss training for something that’s still fairly general exercise albeit an important one. And then all kinds of different jumps; jumps up on the boxes, off the boxes, for distance, lateral, single leg, double legs, where – [interviewer interrupts]

COREY:         There’s all kinds of stuff you can do there.

CHAD:           Yeah, so just teaching them to rapidly develop power in all these different directions. And then they’re throwing as well, whether it’s lighter weight medicine ball throws, or even kind of heavy throws with maybe a sandbag, or heavy bag or heavy medicine ball, that’s really teaching them to coordinate force through the whole body, and it’s going to have a pretty good, pretty high transfer for any kind of throw that they have to make in the ring.

Then the four more load bearing activities are going to be — and remember I’m talking about these as movement categories, not specific exercises, are squatting movements, a low back hip extension movements, and upper body press and an upper body pull. And there are so many different exercises that can fall into those categories based upon the athlete’s abilities because when I say squat, people think bar on the back like a barbell back squat, and to fold up, let’s say. And of course, that’s maybe ideal that we’re trying to strive for. But an athlete who doesn’t have either the stability or the movement quality and mobility in their ankles and hips to do that properly, trying to force them into doing that exercise and looking bad, isn’t going to help them. But if that athlete can goblet squat, or split squat, or even front foot elevated split squat, or any of these different regressions of it, although I really care about is they’re doing something in that category and as we continue to work and work and work towards the ideal.

And you can get in this special strength movements within those given different categories as well, especially the upper body pulling one that can tap — there’s a lot of good options there, the player will do different single arm rope rows. So where they’re kind of leaned back, pulling the rope with one hand and pulling themselves up explosively with that one arm, switching hands at the top of the exercise, kind of dropping back down in that laid back position and rolling again with opposite hand.

For more advanced athletes there’s stuff like clapping pull ups, muscle ups, all those I think can be a great tool for them. Yeah, the different supine pressing exercises. Like of course now bench press is kind of the most basic one there, but one that we do use them like grappler or a landmine set up if listeners are familiar with that, we’ll do a press hip escape. So here basically the bar is anchored at one end to the ground, so the bars are loaded on one end and they’re under that one loaded end, lay on their back, and they’ll press that bar away from them as they hip escape at the same time. That’s a great, true special strength exercise, mimicking the direction, duration and velocity of a part of the sporting movement. And of course, someone’s on their back, that’s going to be a very important skill for them to have.


COREY:         Right, absolutely. Very cool man. That’s awesome info. When you’re talking about recovery with a lot of your guys, and this will probably be the last thing we talk about. But I mean recoveries are pretty huge piece of the puzzle for you and your sports and what you guys do, but also for the MMA guy, the jiu-jitsu or wrestler. What are some of the tactics that you guys use to recover from some tough workouts?

CHAD:           Yeah, so as far as passive recovery means go like ice bath, contrast shower, soft tissue work, I think that that stuff is certainly important to use but the timing of it is important as well. That stuff is a stimulus to the body just like any kind of training is, so it can certainly be overused. Let’s say ice baths, that’s one that a lot of people like. Ice baths are great but if you ice bath all the time, ice baths are going to cease to have the same effect as a recovery tool.

So I think trying to use those more sparingly is going to be a great thing. And I really try and reserve any sort of passive recovery means like that. I start with some contrast showers being my two favorites. I try and reserve those for either dedicated restorative weeks, so I could do [inaudible] week or anything like that, or in-season training, so that would be six weeks, eight weeks, ten weeks, however long the fighters camp is going to be then go ahead and ice bath and contrast shower as much as much as you’d like really because the most important thing during that time is that they’re ready to fight, they’re ready to spar and practice their sport. So if they need the ice bath to feel good and ready to do that, then by all means, go ahead and do it.


Soft tissue work is a really valuable thing. Personally, I get Active Release and Graston therapy done about twice a week and then will get a massage, usually every two to three weeks. And just maintaining good tissue quality is going to help perform better, feel better all around.

So those are kind of my favorite three to use, they are going to be soft tissue work, ice bath and contrast shower. Some guys really like saunas. I’m not a fan of the sauna personally, just because once I go in the sauna and start sweating, I’m guaranteed to stay sweating for hours after that, it’s gross. If that’s not an issue that you have personally then the sauna is a good one too. And I know a lot of really high level guys who swear by sauna and they’re doing it multiple times a week.

But of course with any kind of recovery stuff as cliché as it is, the nutrition and sleep are going to be the most important things that anyone can do. Making a decision to not stay out late on a Friday or Saturday night and to make sure you’re getting 7, 8, 9 hours of sleep and trying to get a couple of naps during the week and stuff. The power of sleep can’t be overstated.


COREY:         Yeah absolutely. Cool. Well Chad, I think we got about almost 40 minutes worth of killer stuff here. I really appreciate you sharing some of this stuff. I know you got workshops and stuff coming up. I mean, we could talk with you for days on this stuff. But if guys want to stay in touch with you, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?

CHAD:           Our website, which is jtsstrength.com, so Juggernaut Training Systems strength.com. We’re putting new articles up there five, six days a week; variety of topics from a variety of experts in different fields, and then [inaudible] newsletter list on there. And then our Facebook is just Juggernaut Training Systems, Instagram at Juggernaut Training. We’re always just trying to provide valuable information to our readers to help them improve.

COREY:         Cool, man. Well, thanks again Chad. I’m sure everybody’s stoked on the stuff you were sharing. And we’ll be in touch soon.

CHAD:           All right. Thank you very much Corey.