Ryan Whiting Starts Anew

Nikola and Marcel Lomnicky

Teen sensation Jacko Gill

Strength For Athletic Performance

Fallacies laid to rest

Fat, Power Production & Weight Gain

Life In The Ludus

Ball and Wire Throwing Drills

Remembering A True Legend

Rob Suelflohn - Masters Champ

The Search For Improvement

Get Your Hips Into It

Dealing With Calluses


Blood And Sand

By Mark Valenti,
Dynamo Sport Athletics

The garage is over 50 years old, the roof leaks and the floor is slightly slanted.  There is no air conditioning, limited heat and itís 20íx20í square.  The local high school less than a block away has one of the nicest weight rooms Iíve ever seen at a school(I know because I built it when I was the strength coach there), yet every day my garage is packed with some of the most intense high school and college athletes in Northern Ohio.  We donít call it the garage; we call it the "Ludus" if you donít know what a Ludus isÖGoogle that só.

I started training athletes in 1997 and since that time I have been in six different gymsÖfive of which no longer exist.  So after the last gym went under financially, I moved into my garage.  I promised my wife a new car starter if she relinquished control of the space and after some prodding, she agreed. (I still have to get that car starter).  The Ludus is packed with three power racks, competition bench, 0-90 degree bench, reverse hyper, glute/ham raise, lat pull down, full set of dumbbells, a strong man log, atlas stones, EFS yoke bar, hex bar, bands and chains at each power rack, boards for benching, foam pads for jumping and squatting, 10 Olympic bars, a bamboo bar, wooden boxes, core blaster and about two thousand pounds of iron weight.

The athletes who train in the Ludus are very different in their athletic goals but very similar in their desire to succeed.  We currently have the leading tackler in Division One football in the state of Ohio, Marty Thomas, two very good throwers, Zac Papay and Grace Demyan and an incredible minor league prospect, Tyler Marrero.  We also have swimmers coming out of our ears.  A few years ago I trained a swimmer, Paige "Cyborg" Samek, who went on to win just about every title you can imagine in swimming. The year she graduated I picked up another swimmer, Evan Heidersbaugh who is now cleaning house on the Ohio State swim team and was her high schoolís first All- American athlete. All of a sudden I was a "dry land" coach, which is swimmer code for weight lifting.

No matter who trains in the Ludus, our primary success has come from the throws. Three state champions and forty-one state qualifiers in track and field have trained with us. I love the throws and have coached the events for the last 13 years, but what I really love is training athletes in the weight room to throw far.  When I get a thrower, I try to teach them the most basic technique I can, and then I take 4 years and get them in the best shape humanly possible.  That usually equals big throws.  I donít really buy into what I like to call "The Ring logic"- you know the posts on The Ring internet site you see every couple of weeks where they claim you donít have to be strong to throw far, or after certain strength levels, you get a negative effect.  Well, that may be true, but I donít know of any thrower in the USA at any level who is there (maybe Cantwell).  Look folks, we arenít that strong yet. Have you seen the numbers John Smith has posted about the old East German throwers?  Anybody lifting those numbers? I didnít think so; keep lifting.

Iíve had several people inspire the training we do here in the Ludus, namely Jud Logan at Ashland, Louie Simmons at Westside Barbell and John Smith at Southern Illinois. The training, however, leans heavily toward the Westside principles.   We donít clean, we donít snatch, sometimes Iíll throw in some heavy hi-pulls, but itís rare.  Why donít we Olympic lift? Because I get the same or better results with the box squat, dead lift and weighted jumping. They are easier to teach and less dangerous to perform. I personally think we spend enough time teaching technique to these throwers, and the Olympic lifts are just another difficult technique to master.  I know this for a fact since I have a 275 lb snatch and a 350 lb power clean, and my technique is about as poor as a human being can possess.  I do however know that as my dead lift and squat go up so do my Olympics.  I think they are a fantastic test of strength and speed. I just think there are better and easier ways to build that strength and speed. 

We train men and women here and the women are held to the same standard as the men.  A good squat is a good squat, no matter what gender you are.  I sent two women to Ashland in the last two years and their goal was to get on the menís record board in the gym.  Being the top on the womenís board was an insult.  Thatís what pushes strength.  Itís what makes me want to work with kids like this (Shu and Burgie, love you girls). A few years back we decided to test out the snatch without ever practicing the lift.  I just wanted to see what our results would be after a few minutes of coaching and lots of months of lower back and leg training. I watched David Eastaugh, my senior shot putter, miss the same 90 kilo snatch 15 times before finally catching and holding it over head.

We squat wide.  Why? Cause like everything else we do it seems to work. Believe me, if I found a better way to do it, we would do that instead.  I always train my kids with wide box squats and test them with a shoulder width stance in the front squat.   They always seem to improve, and I was able to hit a 560 lb front squat last winter after squatting wide all year long.

We use a four-day split, but I like the athletes to train three days a week.  If they are recovering fast, Iíll allow them to come out four times a week, but I really think for most athletes at most levels, three days is plenty.   Iíve had great results on two days a week for myself, but I get antsy if I donít train and will head out for a third session.  I like the athletes to train in a three-week pendulum wave and give them a de-load week when needed, although getting them to de-load is like pulling teeth sometimes: a problem you have training highly-motivated athletes.

We push the max effort exercises to the limit and switch the exercises up weekly.  We use the front squat, yoke bar squat, box squat, Zercher squat, dead lift, deficit dead lift and rack pulls for the lower body and military press, bench, board bench, incline and log press for the upper body.  

On dynamic lower body days, we use the box squat for multiple sets of two reps and speed pulls for singles.  We use bands and chains to accommodate resistance for the older, more experienced athletes, but I keep a close eye on the days after because in some cases the over speed eccentric tends to put a stress on the lower back.  If an athlete experiences lower back pain, we back off the bands and use straight weight. 

We also use a repetition day for upper body training and push the weight no matter what rep range we are.   Auxiliaries are performed after each dayís major lifts and we try to get as much in as possible in an hourís time, give or take. We try to push the weight or volume of the auxiliaries weekly. So in week one, we might do three sets; week two, four sets and week three, five sets.  Or we may keep the same volume and up the weight, but itís either one or the other.

Core training is done with rotational exercises, standing cable abs, land mines, the reverse hyper, good mornings and back extensions.

We use a variety of strong man exercises to replace major exercises or as auxiliaries. I am getting more and more into training with the strong man implements because I think it builds brutal, real world power.  Itís all about the bang for your buck, right?

What wonít you see in the Ludus?  People standing on wobble boards, Bosu balls or training on one leg to do upper body exercises. Iím not a guru; Iím not a Yoda.  I donít charge clients a hundred dollars an hour for training, and I donít let you wear gloves or whine that your back hurts.  If your back hurts, go see the chiropractor.  If youíre lifting, your back and knees are going to hurt.  Learn to live with it.

I am so much happier now training in my little gym on Cleveland Ave. I have no gym owners trying to tell me how I should train my athletes or that Iím not charging them enough money. I can train athletes more frequently and with more flexibility, and the kids I work with are truly the type of athlete everyone would want to work with.

There isnít a lot of external motivation going on; very little yelling and screaming when a kid is going for a big lift.  Iíll raise a hand to signify something big is about to be lifted, and the kids usually go silent or may let out a word or two of encouragement, but these kids donít need a lot of external motivation.  The voices in their heads are already screaming at them to achieve. Works for us!  *L&S*