26 Training Lessons From 26 Years – The 4 Rules

(Parts One, Two, Three, and Four, in case you missed them)

The following four lessons are what I refer to as my “4 Rules” of training and life. A key part of training all of my athletes is ensuring they learn the 4 Rules, in order, and can recite them at any time…which isn’t too hard because there are only four, they are quite basic, and I am frequently yelling “Don’t break rule number __!” In retrospect, I should have done a countdown style format building up to this post (as these are by far my top lessons), but hindsight is always 20/20.

Training lessons 23-26:

Rule #1 – Don’t Die

Simple enough. If you die, the game is over – it’s pretty tough to come back from that without luck, a defibrillator, or divine power.

How it applies to training: Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself. Remember, sometimes less is more, and more is too much. I’m as big a fan of gut-check workouts as anyone, when they are used in moderation and programmed appropriately.

How it applies to life: Pretty self-explanatory. But in a less literal sense, don’t kill yourself with stress or reckless decisions (smoking, drinking in excess, etc). Live a little, but don’t break Rule #3 (see below).

Rule #2 – Breathe

Another simple rule that most people do without worry for most of their lives.

How it applies to training: It amazes me how frequently people will hold their breath while training until their face turns red and they get light headed. Taking in and holding a deep belly breath is an excellent way of increasing intra-abdominal pressure while handling heavy, heavy weights, but working with 5+ reps is too long to hold your breath. If you’re working with 2-5 reps, take breaths between reps to make sure you don’t end up like this guy (skipping past the horrible deadlift technique).

How it applies to life: Other than a necessity of life, breathing can help control stress and anxiety. A saying I learned a long time ago was “Control your breath, control your mind.” Don’t forget to breathe through the tough times, it will help more than you think.

Rule #3 – Don’t Be Stupid Just Because It’s Easy

As mentioned above, it’s still important to take some risks, have some fun, and do some stupid things from time to time…but for the right reasons. What are the right reasons? If you’re going to be stupid, it better be for one of four reasons: it’s going to be fun, you have a chance to make some money (bet you twenty bucks you can’t _____), you are paying up on a lost bet, or you have a chance to get the girl. You can usually tell when someone was stupid just because they could be by how they tell the story. If it starts with “So this one time, I thought it would be a good idea to…”

How it applies to training: Don’t screw around in the weight room. Don’t try a max without a spotter. Don’t be reckless. There really isn’t a better way to put it than don’t be stupid.

How it applies to life: You’ll have plenty of opportunities to be stupid. Don’t take them all, avoid the unnecessarily dangerous or foolish opportunities. If it’s fun, profitable (not an investment that is just as likely to cost you money), or can get you a date, go for it. You only live once.

Rule #4 – Don’t Suck

An excellent quote describing rule #4 – “If you go outside, meet twenty people, and one’s a jerk, you met a jerk. If you go outside and meet twenty people, and they’re ALL jerks, then you’re the jerk.”

How it applies to training: Hold yourself accountable, be a good teammate, and apply yourself to your training. Don’t act better than everyone else, show up on your own schedule, or disrespect those your sharing the weight room with (rack your weights, don’t go around shouting, clean up after yourself).

How it applies to life: You won’t get very far in life if no one can stand being around you. If a friend asks a favor, don’t turn them down just because it requires you to get off your couch. The more you help and support those in your life, even casual acquaintances, the more likely you are to succeed.

I hope you enjoyed this series and if you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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26 Training Lessons from 26 Years: Part 4

If you missed them, here are parts one, two, and three of this series.

18. Spend the Time & Money to Learn

This is a huge one. As I mentioned before (#14), everyone thinks they know how to be a strength coach. The truth is, there is an infinite amount of detail that can be seen in every rep of every lift. Learning to recognize these subtle cues requires experience and, more importantly, a teacher. I have been very fortunate to learn from some excellent coaches and mentors in this field. One of the best investments I have made as a coach was attending a USA Weightlifting certification course. Two days of hands-on experience, working with former Olympic Weightlifting coaches, as well as thirty other coaches with various levels of training the Olympic lifts, was an incredible learning experience that no amount of textbooks or videos could duplicate. If you want to become a better coach, invest in yourself and learn from everyone you can.

(With that said, I want to take this chance to thank those in the field who have helped me along the way thus far. Alan Stein (first mentor and helped ignite my passion for this, I can’t thank you enough), Brett Fischer (and his entire staff at Fischer Sports), Frank Renner (If anyone has taught me how to coach, it is Frank – couldn’t have asked for a better mentor), Taylor Kleinschmidt/P.J. Fabritz/Taylor Janowicz (being able to bounce ideas off you guys has helped tremendously), Mike Boyle (the resources he provided, in addition to learning from him for a month was unbelievable), Dan John (if you haven’t read Never Let Go, quit reading this until you do. Seriously, go buy it now.), Dr. Erson Religioso (who has amazing content over at, Ben Bruno (your assistance/referrals with my site has helped more than you know), all of the ATHLETIC trainers and physical therapists I have been fortunate enough to work with, as well as my current colleagues – I learn something new from you every day and become a better coach with every bit of it. Thank you all for your help.)

19. Don’t Major in the Minor

Several athletes and coaches are interested in perfecting tiny details, but fail to see larger issues that demand attention. A quote I really like is, “Don’t be too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” and I think it’s an excellent way of saying fix the problem and the residual issues will take care of themselves. A good example is training accessories – weightlifting shoes, bands, chains, etc. These are great for the individual who knows what he/she is doing with them, but just frills. If you can’t deadlift at least twice your body weight, don’t worry about adding chains or bands to improve your lockout. Master these movements – squat, hip hinge, push up, plank, and rowing/chin ups to be able to retract your scapula. Once these are under control, then get more creative, but the secret to an effective program is simplicity – do the basic movements, do them well, and progressively increase resistance to improve.

20. Do More Ground Work

A couple months ago, I wanted to incorporate more ground work and became interested in learning more about Primal Move workouts. I found an amazing set of videos at Breaking Muscle by Andrew Read and starting implementing the movements into my own warm up. I noticed a big difference in my lifts with these warm ups – I felt like I got rid of my “old man syndrome” while I was rolling around and working my way up off the ground. I don’t have any research or evidence other than personal experience, but it’s something worth trying if you are looking for a change in your workout.

21. Give it Some Time

Training is an investment, not a pay day – it takes time to see the benefits. One workout is enough to make you a little better, but it takes several to see any real gains. If you are trying a new training program, commit to it for a few months to allow it to work. You can’t expect results if every other week you bounce from 5/3/1 to triphasic to Power to the People to whatever else catches your eye. If a program is going to work, it is going to require time – think big picture.

22. Learn to Schedule, You’re Going to Need it

I’ve worked in private business, professional, and college settings and can say the most consistent aspect of all three is time demands. Your daily schedule will be like Tetris – find the perfect slot for Team A or Person B, then realize Group X needs to get their time pushed back to that day because of Random Event Y… then flip your desk over and shout profanity at your computer screen. Basically, as a strength and conditioning coach, your rank of importance on some one’s schedule is pretty low. For an athlete it goes – games, practice, extra individual work, eating, training. Students are similar but add in their classes, enough time for homework, and group meeting times. Then team coaches have to take in these factors plus weather (if their sport is outside and susceptible) and availability of facilities. Your perfect schedule will get changed every way imaginable and if you can’t roll with it while staying on top of everything, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and lost in the mix. Learning to communicate with your athletes and coaches (and doing it consistently) is the best way of keeping everything humming along.

Next week, I will wrap up the series with my big four rules of training.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES


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Inspirational Quotes – FREE EBook

As many of you are aware, I am a big fan of quotes and love having a quote board in my gym. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I try to put up a couple of my favorites each day. Well, today I did something better. I put together an entire ebook of over 200 quotes on success, motivation, effort, adversity, and mindset. The best part is the entire collection is completely free – no signing up for a newsletter, no advertisements in the pages, just download the document in whatever format works for your ereader (actually, you may need to create an account on smashwords, but that’s free as well). It is compatible with iPad, Kindle, Nook, and can even be viewed as a PDF or webpage.

This was all possible thanks to the free services at and I owe them a lot of thanks for simplifying the process. This is a trial run before putting together an ebook of training ideas and programs, which I hope to finish by the end of the year. Again, if you enjoy motivational quotes, please visit Smashwords or click here to download your free copy. If you enjoy it, I ask that you please rate it on the site and share it with friends, family, or anyone you feel will appreciate it.

Thank you,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW

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50 Ways to Become a Better Athlete

Here are some tips to help you or your players reach the next level of their development.

  1. Lift more – The best athletes are in the best shape. There’s no sport where extra strength is anything but beneficial. Get into the weight room and on a real strength program.
  2. Lift less – The flip side is there can be too much of a good thing. Overtraining can derail your progress and increase the chance of an injury.
  3. Lift heavier weights – At some point, you’ll need to advance to heavier weights and lower reps. 8-12 reps only works for so long, if you want to increase your maximum strength, you’ll need heavy weights and 5 reps or fewer.
  4. Lift lighter weights faster – The limiting factor for power development is rarely the strength aspect, but rather time. It’s important to train your neuromuscular system to recruit the stronger Type II muscle fibers as fast as possible.
  5. Lift your body weight – Learn to move your body in space. Pull ups, push ups, plyometrics, etc. Many stabilizing muscles are better trained in this type of environment, where the body is the source of both movement and resistance.
  6. Get bigger – If you’re on the smaller side, get in the weight room, eat more calories, and bulk up. You’ll need it at the higher levels of competition where the athletes are universally bigger and stronger.
  7. Get smaller – If your body fat is on the higher end for athletes (generally above 15-18%, but it depends on age, gender, and sport). Get some help with your nutrition and work on getting leaner. Please, be sure to do this safely and not by starving yourself or risky diets/supplements.
  8. Learn from people who have done what you want to do – There’s no better resource than someone who has been where you want to go. Learn from their mistakes and try not to repeat them.
  9. Stretch more – Full range of motion goes a long way in preventing injury and staying healthy.
  10. Stretch less – Don’t become obsessed with your flexibility, unless it is imperative to your sport. It’s important to maintain elasticity in your muscles for the stretch-contract cycle.
  11. Focus on mobility – Like #9, range of motion is an important area to focus on. Muscles can be flexible, but joints must be mobile in order to move freely.
  12. Put more time and effort into your warm-up – The days of jogging on the treadmill for 5-10 minutes and doing a light set or two of your first exercise are over. Learn a proper warm-up and implement it.
  13. Focus more – Put away your phone and pay attention to the task at hand. If you’re distracted during a game, you’ll get beat. Train how you play – focused.
  14. Think less – Malcom Gladwell did an excellent job describing the difference between panicking and choking in his book, What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures. We choke when we over-think and question our instincts. Clear your mind and let your body do what you’ve trained it to do.
  15. Listen to your coaches – Yes, there are some that don’t know what their talking about, or don’t have your best interests in mind, but they are a much smaller minority than athletes believe. Your coaches want to help you – let them.
  16. Play other sports – This is especially important for younger athletes (high school and under). The more sports you play, the more your body will develop. Areas not regularly stressed in your sport become addressed with cross-training, and you avoid getting burnt out.
  17. Play your sport more – Of course, the further along you are in your athletic life, the more important it is to get more reps. If you play basketball, get in the gym and put up more shots or jump into pick up games. Continue to develop outside of practice.
  18. Sleep more – Sports, and training, put huge demands on the body and require adequate recovery. This is even more true for student-athletes who go through the strain of school on top of their physical demands. Get to bed early, sleep as many hours as you can before midnight, and let your mind & body recover.
  19. Eat more – As I said above, your body needs proper recovery in order to develop. Starving yourself or not getting enough fuel can quickly lead to overtraining.
  20. Eat less – Remember, eat to fuel, not to feed. Don’t put junk into your body or else you’ll get junk out of it.
  21. Find your motivation – Everyone reaches a point where they have to ask if all this work is worth it. This moment comes at a different time for everybody, but acts as an excellent filter to find the truly dedicated athletes. Find what works for you – quotes, posters, whatever helps you fight through the rough patches to reach success.
  22. Do more sprinting – I have yet to find anything as great at developing athleticism than sprinting. Huge bang for the buck – fat loss, lower body strength, lower body power, increased speed, increased vertical – great all around for athletic development. Very few athletes can’t benefit from getting faster.
  23. Go swimming – Not many training programs schedule in frequent trips to the pool, which makes it a perfect change of pace. No-impact, different stimulus, and different demand on the body.
  24. Fight a grizzly bear – Not literally (hopefully), but try something you think you’ll fail at, but have wanted to try. Worst case scenario, you’re right where you started, but you’ve gained a new experience. Best case scenario, you’ve beaten the grizzly and are ready to take on the next challenge.
  25. Get more reps in your sport (relaxed) – Remember what first started your passion for sports, they’re fun. Spend some time getting back to having fun with it and not worry about mechanics or perfecting every move.
  26. Learn something new – This can be related to your sport or completely separate. It’s important to keep yourself mentally stimulated and not get complacent with what you know.
  27. Build a support structure – Nothing great was ever built on a poor foundation. Friends, family, coaches, and mentors can provide invaluable resources for your development. If you let them know your goals, you’ll be amazed at the support, motivation, and help you’ll receive.
  28. Try to help others improve – I’ve found that one of the best ways to improve is by trying to help others. It’s amazing what you can learn about yourself while viewing someone else.
  29. Watch the best – Take the time to see the best at your sport. Instead of just watching a game on TV, try to study the players. Learn from them and see what you can carry over to your game.
  30. Do more single leg lifts – Most movements in sports are unilateral. Train single leg movements to improve hip and core stability.
  31. Get off the ground – If your sport involves power (hint – they all do), then make sure you’re getting in some good plyometrics. Moderate your total jumps, but be sure to include hops, bounds, and jumps off one and two feet.
  32. Learn to do the Olympic lifts – Compared to the big three lifts (deadlift, squat, bench press), Olympic lifts are the best for power production. The list of benefits are endless and include improved flexibility/mobility, increased power output, and great posterior chain training.
  33. Play above your level – Very important for high school athletes. Sometimes, it’s good to realize you’re place in things. Older, bigger, better players will negate all your strengths and force you into finding other ways to play.
  34. Drink more water – At least a gallon a day. Grab a jug and finish it by dinner.
  35. Take fewer supplements – You don’t need everything GNC sells. Remember, they are supplements and should be supplementing your diet. Eat right and you won’t need to spend hundreds of dollars a month on powders and pills.
  36. Take more supplements – There are a select few I recommend. Get a good  protein supplement (I like Muscle Milk), fish or flaxseed oil, magnesium for before bed, and a good multivitamin. Some extras that are nice, but just luxuries to have, are pure L-Glutamine and some BCAA powder, but there should be enough of both in your protein.
  37. Ask questions – This goes along with several of the above points, try to learn as much as you can. Asking questions of other players, coaches, even players from other sports can provide you new information and insights to improve your game.
  38. Train like you play – Does your sport involve several quick, explosive movements followed by brief rest periods (pretty much all do)? Then why train by running on a treadmill for an hour? Strength, speed, quickness, and power are the key ingredients to an elite athlete, not distance running (unless you’re a distance runner/triathlete).
  39. Get healthy – Go to your athletic trainer or doctor and find a way to get rid of any nagging injuries you have. An injured athlete is an ineffective athlete.
  40. Take some time off – Right after season, step away from the court, field, etc. Give yourself a few weeks to recharge mentally and physically.
  41. Turn off the TV – Years ago, before all of the video games, people were forced to find other means to entertain themselves. Before Madden, people actually played football outside. Crazy idea, but give it a shot.
  42. Do something calming everyday – There’s a lot of stress in this world, be sure to find a calming activity that relaxes you. There’s plenty of time to be stressed, find ten minutes to be calm.
  43. Listen to your body – Not every day will be a great training day. Go off what your body is telling you and take a rest when you need it and push when you can (and you can more than you realize, so keep pushing).
  44. Find a mentor – A good mentor can teach you more than any book, class, or video ever can.
  45. Don’t be afraid to fail – This goes with learning something new. You won’t perfect a skill overnight, but you can get a little better at it each day.
  46. Buy a foam roller – I’ve expressed my love for foam rolling before, but it deserves repeating. Roll out every day and work out any kinks you have. You’re body will feel better after.
  47. Avoid alcohol – Alcohol doesn’t do anything to benefit your body and instead wreaks havoc on your training gains. Decide what’s more important to you, drinking or succeeding in your sport.
  48. Surround yourself with positives – As with stress, there is plenty of negativity in this world, try to surround yourself with as little of it as you can. Positive energy feeds positive results.
  49. Know your limits – You can only do so much. We all have our limits
  50. Try to exceed them – But fear of them can keep you from making gains. Have a gut-check workout. Bust your butt and try to better yourself every day.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments by email, or on Twitter. As always, if I can ever help you or your program, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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Addressing Strengths & Weaknesses

“It’s not enough to be good if you have the ability to be better.”

As you may be aware, I am big on quotes and that one tops the list (even on the link). An issue with several athletes and coaches is the belief that “good” is enough and they can hold steady and continue to succeed. Reflecting on yourself, your knowledge, and your skill set, then finding where you can improve and actually RECOGNIZING those areas as weaknesses is a difficult and humbling act. 

In the weight room, this is evident in athletes who hate stretching, or doing heavy leg work, or balancing their bench pressing with enough back work. The reason for avoiding certain work in training is usually simple – they aren’t good at it. They aren’t flexible so stretching hurts and shows their inflexibility, their weights on leg lifts aren’t as impressive as others or leaves them sore (due to lack of training), and nobody ever asks how many chin-ups you can do, the focus is on pressing big weight. Ask a high level athlete what his strengths are and you’ll likely get a well-rounded answer (depending on how modest the athlete is). Ask the same athlete about their weaknesses and you’ll likely get a half hearted response or one that starts with “Well, coach says I need to work on…” 

And therein lies the issue – athletes (and their coaches) attempt to distance themselves from their weaknesses and focus exclusively on their strengths. There is reason to emphasize strengths and hide weaknesses in competition (don’t plan to run the ball 90% of the time if your team is built to pass), but in training this leads to imbalances or worse, injuries. Most athletes have been training to enhance their imbalances most of their lives by drifting towards their strengths and avoiding their weak areas at all costs. By the time they recognize the importance of a balanced program, it’s usually too late or comes after rehabbing an avoidable injury.

In order to return to a physically balanced state, it is important to build the program in an IMBALANCED manner. More specifically, put a higher emphasis on improving weaknesses and creating a balanced (in terms of agonist/antagonist muscle forces) athlete. Eric Cressey does an excellent job describing how he addresses this in his training programs with this webinar

Many of these imbalances can be seen in an athlete’s posture or with a simple movement screen such as the FMS. Common imbalances such as Janda’s Upper-Crossed/Lower-Crossed Syndromes or any chronically overactive/underactive muscles can be noted by these assessments, but in order for an athlete to improve, a self-assessment is necessary. Below is my own self-assessment and next week I will show how the workouts have been built to address them.


  • Ankle mobility
  • Lower body flexibility – primarily hamstrings & quadriceps
  • Unilateral leg strength
  • Transverse plane core strength – resisting rotation
  • Scapular retractors isometric strength
  • Rotator cuff activation & strength


  • Bilateral leg strength
  • Posterior chain & erector spinae strength
  • Sagittal plane core strength – resisting spinal flexion
  • Vertical pulling strength

It’s important for weaknesses to be addressed first in both assessment AND program design. When looking at weaknesses first, it becomes obvious what modifications must be done in programming. Next week, I’ll cover how the above weaknesses are addressed in my workouts. If you have completed a similar assessment and would like some ideas on how to improve them, feel free to leave a comment below or email me anytime.

As always, if I can ever be of assistance to you or your program, don’t hesitate to contact me.

All the best,

Drew Henley, CSCS, USAW, CES

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