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Starting Strength in the Real World


The Black Iron Training After-School Barbell Program

by Chris Kurisko, SSC | March 09, 2017

After school strength at Black Iron Training

About a year ago, three new kids joined my gym from a local high school. None of them were big or exceptionally gifted athletically, but each of them worked hard when they came in and did the program. Their school had a contract with the local university’s “Performance” training center, and it was expected that all student athletes follow their program. The only problem was the program was filled with all the same silly methods that compose most of modern S&C: the 30-minute dynamic warm up, high rep/low intensity circuit training, rubber bands, and partner-assisted box jumps. Luckily, the new kids’ parents understood the value of strength.           

These kids took a lot of crap from teammates and coaches throughout the year for training with me, but they got the last laugh on testing day. One of them, who barely weighed 150 pounds and was a third-string center, just about out benched and squatted everyone in his junior class. Pound for pound, my three guys were much stronger than their peers. It was kind of funny because their school is a powerhouse in football that rarely loses more than one game in a season, besides the last one. My boys sent a very loud message about their team’s collective lack of strength.           

Once all the other kids got embarrassed by our boys in the weight room, my phone started ringing a lot. The Monday after football season ended last fall, my gym was filled to capacity with a lot more kids from their school. I personally taught them all how to squat, press, and deadlift on Day One, and they were all told about the importance of recovery and adding weight to the bar.           

From November to January my new athletes all gained an average of 15-20 pounds of muscular bodyweight, increased their squat and deadlift by 150 pounds, added almost 100 pounds to their bench and 50 pounds to their press. They also learned how to power clean and added weight to that as well. Not bad results for a couple of months of training, but standard operating procedure for my after-school program.           

We get these results because we focus solely on the acquisition of strength. We do not try to train endurance and strength concurrently, because that is foolish. I have watched many novice athletes try this, and it never ends well. Every athlete that comes into my gym that tries to sneak in extra conditioning either stalls out or ends up hurt. The kids that listen to our advice about recovery (eating and sleeping) and show up to train hard each session get bigger and stronger. This increase in strength always leads to improved performance. I have watched plenty of average kids go on to have above average performances because they got stronger.           

Time and time again it has been proven to me that you cannot make an athlete more athletic. Sorry, but things are just the way they are, and there is not an amazing-enough dot drill in the world to make an uncoordinated kid more coordinated. But there is a simple barbell program that will make any kid stronger, and it works every single time. I know because I have used it effectively in my gym for the last five years, and I have gotten consistent results every time. Just about every kid that has come through my gym and spent time in our after-school program has ended up stronger than everyone else in their school. They like this a lot because not only does it improve their performance athletically, they also enjoy a great deal more confidence as they walk the halls.

Most coaches fail to understand the fundamental importance of strength. When an athlete gets stronger, everything else becomes a little easier. Mind blowing, I know. Everyone is so worried about endurance. Coaches throw their hats and have hissy-fits on the sidelines because their kids run out of gas before the end of the game. Their solution is to do a lot of running the next day in practice, which does more harm than good. It is not a lack of conditioning that has their kids run down, it is a lack of strength. And all of the wind sprints in the world are not going to solve this problem. 

Too many programs out there focus on speed, agility, and endurance. You cannot make a kid much faster without making him stronger. Rip has highlighted this fact for years, but for some reason not enough people are paying attention. Parents are wasting a lot of money and valuable training time on ineffective programs that focus on all of the wrong things. The kids hate most of it because it’s awful, but they are told that they have to pay the price if they want to succeed. Of course, they need to pay the price, but not the wrong price. There is a better approach: getting strong and playing your sport.             

I’d like to see more after school programs like mine. With a simple, straightforward teaching model and a few basic lifts any kid can get a lot stronger. The program works every time. But you need the right coach that has the experience and has done the homework. Kids face a lot of distractions in this world, and I have found that in order to get their attention you have to get results. You can tell any story you want on YouTube or Facebook, but the truth always comes out of a correctly-designed program.


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