Chad Vaughn: At-Home Training for Weightlifters

Chad Vaughn is a multi-time Olympian and one of the most accomplished weightlifters in American history. He joins the BarBend Podcast to discuss how weightlifters can stay strong, mobile, and fast when training from home with limited or even no equipment. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao and Chad Vaughn cover:

  • Facing the difficulty of minimal-equipment training (1:45)
  • Motivating athletes from home and at home (5:09)
  • How the community is stepping up on equipment loans (7:17)
  • The first thing weightlifters should focus on when they have to train at home with minimal equipment (9:45)
  • Programming for at-home Capacity WOD workouts (posted for free online!) (12:51)
  • Using CrossFit principles to keep moving (16:40)
  • You have a barbell and weights but no squat rack; how do you train leg strength? (17:02)
  • Focusing on mobility and positional awareness even without weight (20:00)
  • Training hip extension and mobility (24:59)
  • When hips are tight, it’s often due to internal hip rotation; here’s how to combat that tightness (27:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


Chad VaughnChad Vaughn


Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I like this. I like stripping it all the way down to just the option of “Hey, look. There’s no way that I’m going to be able to get any equipment. I’m stuck here in this space. What can I do? How can I stay motivated?”

David TaoDavid Tao


Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast,” where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao. This podcast is presented by

oday, I’m talking to multi-time Olympian in weightlifting Chad Vaughn. With a lot of people stuck at home and without access to their normal gym, Chad gives some fantastic actionable tips for weightlifters and other strength athletes looking to stay fit and mobile with minimal equipment or even no equipment. Chad has some great suggestions there.

Really looking forward to diving into this conversation, but first I want to say that we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast. If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it.

Chad Vaughn, thanks so much for joining us today. This is actually the second time we’ve had you on the BarBend podcast and circumstances at this time are a little bit different. Today, we’re going to be talking about strategies for weightlifters, specifically to stay fit and mobile while they might be on an extended break from the gym or might not have access to the gym.

First off, Chad, thank so much for joining us. What has your training been like in the last couple of weeks since the COVID-19 epidemic or pandemic started?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

[laughs] Yeah, it’s definitely a really interesting time and a lot of athletes and people in general have a lot of thoughts and a lot of struggles in a lot of ways. Now, I haven’t…I do a little bit of my training at home anyway. I have got a pretty tight, small, home gym, but I got a squat rack and bar in place. I feel very fortunate for that.


I haven’t been forced to do any workouts at home yet. Today is actually the first time that I’m going to be able to not go to the gym. They required to shutdown the gyms and no training inside of those gyms here in Texas just yesterday.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is just for reference for folks, we’re recording on March 19, that will come out next week or in the weeks following. Texas is a little bit behind New York when it came to shutting down gyms.

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

Yeah, we have been seeing all that stuff on the news in other states and other cities being shut down and required to shelter in place and all that kind of thing was…


Assuming that it was going to happen here as well and knowing that we were a little behind, but of course, just like everywhere else in the country, there are more and more cases being found now and more and more restrictions. Of course, there’s no doubt about it that a lot of people are going to be stuck at home.


I’ll tell you, I had an interesting feeling really just this morning. You know me, David, if I’m not on a podcast or something like that, I’m very introverted so I don’t really have too much of a hard time sheltering in place and being by myself and being at home. It’s almost somewhat of a welcome for introverts, I think.


Even at that, I had a moment where just realizing that there are restrictions and that I don’t have the option hit me in the gut a little bit. I can only imagine what those out there that have been stuck at home for a much longer period of time than I have been and especially for those that aren’t introverts, that want more social interaction.


I can’t even imagine how they’re feeling and I know that it’s going to be a little bit tough to maintain the motivation to keep moving. I think the biggest thing that we’re talking about here, Dave, is not only giving ideas for what people can do at home with their workouts, but the biggest thing is to find a way to stay motivated and keep moving in general, whatever that may be.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, I would certainly agree with that. I think one of the most difficult aspects of this entire situation is, for the fitness community and the strength community, it’s not just lack of access to the equipment and the gyms. It’s lack of access to the people.


Some of our best friends, if you’re in strength training, whether you’re an elite multi-time Olympian like yourself or whether you’re just a schlub like me, some of my best relationships are based around people that I train with, that I lift with. That motivation and knowing that I’m not going to be able to work out with them regularly, it weighs on me mentally.


What are some strategies you’re telling your lifters and the people you coach on the mental side and that motivational side? We can talk about that first.

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

Yeah, for sure. For a lot of athletes that I coach, I do most of my coaching online, so I think most of them that I have, luckily, are good to go in regards to they have a home gym. If they do a lot of their training at a gym, they also have some home equipment that they’re going to be able to do that with.


Again, going back to the realization that I had, David, I haven’t really had to cross that bridge yet, in regards to having to give recommendations on how to stay motivated and that kind of thing, especially with most of the athletes that I have being more self-motivated.


That’s the people that tend to gravitate more towards me, because that’s the type of coach that I am. Again, I feel there are going to be those moments for these individuals where we’re going to have to have a conversation.


One of the things that I can recommend is a lot of what my wife Jody is doing. Man, I’m so proud of her of how she’s handling this and sitting here watching this. She was on a FaceTime call this morning with one of her athletes.


We’ve only been shut down for one or two days from the gym. She’s already implementing these meetings with these athletes where she’s watching the athlete train live here in distance over the phone. We’re only a few miles away, but she’s still on the phone watching this athlete train in his garage.


She’s setting up meetings for as many of her athletes as she can to watch them. I think that is something that a coach can potentially do for their athletes to not only continue coaching them and keep them engaged, but also keep them motivated, and keep that social interaction going with them.


Even if you can’t be there in person, hop on the phone, have that FaceTime chat and FaceTime training session with them if at all possible. Another thing that I feel has been very motivating and encouraging to athletes is so many CrossFit gyms and weightlifting gyms are offering up their equipment.


If you have a gym or if you’re a coach, if you had any equipment that you can spare to loan out to those athletes, if there’s a way that you can get that to them or they can come get that, then that’s very helpful.


Not only to allow them more options to what they can do at home, but for the feeling of support. “Hey, somebody cares enough about me and what we’re doing in my training that they will offer up some of their equipment.”


I’m so proud of the community in general, CrossFit, weightlifting, strength sports, for not only the response but the incredibly quick response and creativeness that’s been going on here.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s interesting that at times like these, we’re reminded that the weightlifting community, the powerlifting community, the CrossFit community, it’s really all one and the same. It is the strength community. I like how you talk about CrossFit gyms opening up…Not opening up their doors, that’s the opposite of what’s happening, but lending out their equipment to weightlifters.


That’s a really good thing to earmark in this podcast, is that if you are having difficulty finding equipment or being able to borrow equipment, look to other people who are still strength athletes, but compete in a different strength sport or train in a different strength sport in your area. It’s a good tip, Chad. Thanks for bringing it up.

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn


David TaoDavid Tao

Changing tack just a little bit. We’ve talked a little bit about how to maintain that motivation. Could be through FaceTime, Zoom. Might be difficult to Zoom during a training. Everyone’s lifting at different times. A lot of clinging and banging. You could have a Zoom call with your full team and your normal training session team afterwards to talk about how training went.


What are some strategies to stay fit at home for weightlifters specifically if they have access to, say, no equipment? We’ll talk a little bit on later, hey, maybe you don’t have a squat rack, but you have a barbell and some weights, or maybe you have some kettlebells or some dumbbells.


Say someone has no access to virtually no equipment. They may be stuck in an apartment, like many people I know in New York City are. They’re training and weightlifting and are looking to minimize the loss of gains, minimize the loss of mobility. What are some things you would emphasize they focus on?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

I like this. I like stripping it all the way down to the option of, “Hey, look, there’s no way that I’m going to be able to get any equipment. I’m stuck here in this space. What can I do? How can I stay motivated, once again, when I have nothing?”


Here’s the first thing that immediately came to my mind in all this for weightlifters specifically, is look, whether you like CrossFit or not, or whether you’re a fan or not, it’s time to take a page out of their book and do some CrossFit. There are a lot of bodyweight-only CrossFit workouts that you can do.


Again, the response from the community, from weightlifting CrossFit and other strength support communities, just get on Instagram and scroll down your page a few strokes and you’re going to see especially a CrossFit workout that requires no equipment that you can do relatively quickly or maybe there is a long one on there, too.


There is no lack of options for CrossFit workouts that you can do at home. As far as continuing to move and doing something, I’m not trying to turn you into a CrossFitter if you are a weightlifter, but I’m just saying even if you’ve never done CrossFit before, let’s be open to that.


Let’s do some CrossFit workouts so we can keep moving. Not only so we can keep moving, but so we can stay healthy. You’re not going to be able to feel the resistance that you want, you’re not going to be able to do heavy squats or do heavy snatches, and heavy clean and jerks, so it’s OK to breathe hard for a little bit.


We can go back to that other stuff later as soon as we possibly can. We can get back to it and start trying to build any strength that you lost back up, which if you keep moving in some way, if you are doing an intense CrossFit workout you are far more likely to maintain strength than if just doing nothing obviously and you’re more likely to maintain mobility.


You’re going to be doing lots of things like burpees where you’re bending over and you’re pushing back up at the waist. There is a lot of mobility really inside of a burpee.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, if you do it right. [laughs]

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

You’re absolutely right. I’m glad you said that because we could certainly spend an entire podcast, Dave, on burpee technique. I have no problem with that, but we won’t do that to you. In any movement you’re going to do and doing it correctly, there’s mobility inside of that.


Air squats of course and push-ups and sit-ups and all these types of things that again, there’s no lack of recommendation of anywhere on social media that you go.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some of your favorite body weight, at-home movements to prioritize? You talked about burpees, we obviously know squats, lunges, things like that. Are there any variations on those movements that might be an additional challenge or change the way the movement is loaded or the stress the musculature is feeling that you particularly like?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

There’s a lot of examples that we can get into, Dave, but what I want to bring up is this concept and this programming that I’ve been working on with Chris Hinshaw, Dave, for the last year and we’ve been putting it out. It’s called Capacity WOD. It just so happens that these workout pretty much perfectly for what’s going on here.


We do a lot of stuff with barbells and a lot of stuff with pull-up rings and a lot of stuff with a lot of different equipment. By nature of what the programming is we also have a lot of no-equipment workouts.


What we’re doing right now is thumbing through those workouts and we’re going to be, like a lot of other companies and athletes and coaches are doing, posting them online for people to see and for them to use if they need to.


If they don’t have any equipment, it’s going to be stripped down. These are workouts that you can do. These workouts, I’m not going to dig into the science behind them or anything else but just to explain quickly and to give you a summary, they’re five-minute workouts.


They’re all five rounds, they have a short sprint portion of each round and then they have a longer period of slow, continuous recovery type movement. Very commonly we’ll have people sprint for 12 seconds, let’s say it’s air squats.


You’re going to do as many air squats as you possibly can, all the way down, all the way back up, in the first 12 seconds and then for the remainder of that minute, for 48 seconds, you’re going to do very slow un-intense but continuous movement air squats.


When the top of that minute comes back around, you’re going to sprint again as fast as you possibly can. The first couple of minutes, usually it feels like, “This isn’t going to be a workout at all. It’s not enough,” but this type of workout adds up on you very quickly and you’ll start to feel it, if not by the third round, for sure by the fourth and fifth round.


Really no matter what movement that you’re doing and especially if you’re doing it as intensely as we are indicating for you to do so in the sprint portion. You can do this with any movement and burpees are one of those, push-ups are one of those and in different ways.


It’s a good way to work on your capacity for the specific body part that we’re working on, for your capacity in general. For what we’re going through right now, it’s just a good way to get a lot of reps in and a really good workout in a short amount of time.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re really focusing on time-under-tension there because during that protocol, you’re not stopping the movement. If you’re squatting, you’re squatting intensely and then you’re squatting at a steadier pace but you’re still squatting the whole way through, correct?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

Yes, absolutely and we do another variation of that workout where we’ll add another movement, or we’ll add a pause and a key position. For example, take those air squats again, we may say, “15 seconds sprint then let’s pause in the bottom of the squat for 5 or 10 seconds. Then we’ll do the slow continuous movement.”


We’ll switch it up in that way as well. Obviously, if we have equipment we’ll do that in different ways. For the burpee that may be, “10 seconds of burpees and then let’s pause in the plank position for 10 seconds. Then we can turn over on our back and do floor presses or something for the recovery phase or just bend over and touch your toes for the recovery phase.”


Lots of different things that you can do and again we’ll be putting out some samples for anyone out there that’s interested in doing that type of workout. We’re talking about weightlifters here. I’m digging into some CrossFit and some capacity stuff here, but what I’m saying is that in that mindset, in that idea of using CrossFit to keep moving, this is an option for you as well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Chad, say you have a barbell and some weights at home but no squat rack. Obviously, you can do the Olympic lifts, you can do dead lifts, you can do both, but it does change the way people have to approach their squat training, potentially.


Say, you were stuck on a desert island with a great set of weights, a barbell, and a platform. You’d obviously train the regular movements but when it comes to keeping those legs nice and strong and squatting, what might you recommend there?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

I’ve got a pretty good recommendation for that. I have it handy just because I had an athlete, an online athlete in that exact situation. Can lift in her garage. She’s got barbells in place but no squat rack.


If you don’t mind, I would like to actually come back to that because I want to talk to weightlifters a little bit more about if they don’t have equipment and what they can do aside from implementing some CrossFit.


Everyone has a broom, or maybe you’ve got a PVC pipe or something that you can hold in your hands that you’re going to be able to mimic that bar with. Surely, everyone has at least something like that.


My recommendation is spend time hanging out in some of these key positions. What are the key positions that are most important, that you can spend some time in, and that you can move in and out of slowly?


With a PVC pipe or with a broomstick, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend moving quickly and doing technique work with that, to be honest with you, just because it’s not realistic enough.


A lot of people struggle enough with mobility that receiving the bar in the front rack, for example, is going to be pretty compensated and we don’t want that to carry through. But you can move slowly through some of these key positions and one is a start position.


Get into your start position, hold it for 5 or 10 seconds, move slowly up through the rest of the deadlift and slowly back down. You can do tempos there as well.


Hang out in the above-knee position, meaning at the level of the broomstick/barbell, at the level of the top of the kneecap. This is an important transition point within the pull of the snatch and the clean and obviously do this with snatch and clean grip.


Spend time there, hold that position for not only 5 seconds. You can hold it for 10, 15 or 20 seconds or you can do an exercise that I call snatch or clean pull-ins where you’re in this position.


You relent your pushback on the bar where the bar comes out and then you push back in and push against your leg so you’re creating some resistance there.


If you have regular equipment, I’ll have athletes do that with a regular bar usually with no weight, but for those that can do it well and are strong enough, we may add even a little bit of weight on there.


For now, your resistance is going to be pushing back against your leg and creating awareness…The biggest thing is awareness, but awareness and strength of pushing back on the bar when you can get back in.


Making sure that that position is good, a few major characteristics we want to see is that the entire foot is grounded. I don’t want you too far on your heels, I want a slight bend in the knee and I want those shins vertical or very close to it.


We’re trying to mimic the position that you ideally want to create when you are doing your heavy snatches or cleans with the bar at that level. Hanging out in those key positions. Another position that I hope is obvious, and maybe it’s not — Dave, you know how much I like the bottom of the squat — is hanging out into the bottom of the squat in some way.


Now, here’s the problem I talked about earlier a little bit with the pull and not really wanting to receive a broomstick necessarily due to mobility. I tell people all the time that an air squat, and therefore holding your bottom position unassisted with no weight, is something that I stay away from with a lot of people because it’s compensated.


I say all the time that an air squat, specifically when we’re talking about getting as low as you can, getting into a bottom position that you want to reinforce, is the hardest variation when it comes to the quality that we want to see. Unless you have really, really good overall mobility, that’s going to be — an air squat in the bottom position — is going to be a tough position for you.


You can easily understand that if you think about how much easier for most people a lightly or medium or even heavily weighted front squat is, position-wise, to get into, and how much better it looks as opposed to an air squat.


What we want to do is spend time, if that’s the case, not only getting into these positions but finding ways to maybe even improve them during this time that we have by doing some mobility work.


Some key areas of needed mobility for your pull are going to be hamstrings, and T-spine, and even hip extension. We can go over some of those maybe quickly here in a minute, and then for the bottom of your squat, the biggest things that you’re going to need to work on are ankle mobility and hip mobility.


Going back to some of the mobility that you can do at home for your pull, and you can do this going back and forth from hanging out in these key positions and the mobility work that we’re talking about — one, you can get in a doorway or just up against the corner of a wall to where, say, if your right leg is up on the wall, your left leg is just to the side of the other edge of that wall. Hopefully, that makes sense. I might have to give them a visual for that.


What you’re doing is, with the right leg up, you’re going to slowly raise your left leg and slowly lower it back down. I like to do 10 reps on each side, but during that, you are making sure that your body is in a position in relation to the wall or the upright that you’re using that will allow for quality.


If your hamstrings are tight, you may not be able to get your butt all the way against the wall. You may have to scoot back away from the wall a little bit to be able to maintain a straight, tight leg on each leg. To do that, you’re going to flex your quads, both quads, throughout, and you’re going to point both toes and do 10 reps on each side.


Then go do some PVC pipe or broomstick Romanian deadlifts or hang out in that above-knee position that we talked about. That’s one of many examples. By the way, this reminds me, Dave, that I’ve also been working on some other programming. We just call it barbell mobility.


My wife and I had been working on it for our entire careers to be honest with you. These are just workouts that we’ve been collecting specifically for the last six months. We’re hoping to put out the programming pretty quickly to the public.


For now what we’re doing is we’re just like Capacity WOD, we’re thumbing through and picking out these workouts that people can do with little to no equipment. That’s one of many examples that we’ll be putting out of a workouts, going back and forth between hamstring mobility and just a simple Romanian deadlift with a broomstick or a bar.


T-spine get something that you can lay over the top of even if you have to bundle up two or three towels to create something similar to a foam roller and just lay over the top of it. You can lay over the top for 60 to 90 seconds and go back and forth between those Romanian deadlifts that we talked about.


Another important one, like I said, is hip extension. For this, I like to get into a launch position, tighten the glutes, tighten the abs down, and push the hips forward until you feel a stretch. If you’re in the right position, it doesn’t take a whole lot for you to feel that stretch.


You can go back and forth between that and say a Cobra pose to help not only open up those hips but keep them flexible so you can use them when you’re extending once you’re able to put more weight back on the bar once again.


For ankles and hips, there’s a lot of different things that we can do but especially at home what are called ankle rocks. You simply get up close to a wall where you can support yourself with your hands. The foot that you’re stretching or the ankle that you’re stretching, that foot is going to be about a foot away from the wall.


All you’re doing, keeping your heel on the ground, is taking your ankle all the way to its end range. I recommend that you look down and make sure that your knee is not directing inside of your toe, that you’re in line with your toes or even exaggerated out.


You’re going to take it to its end range. You’re going to feel shin muscle working to pull into that stretch as much as you can. You’re going to put as much force on it as you can, hold it for two seconds on each rep except for the 10th rep, you’ll hold it for 10 seconds. You can go back and forth between that, holding the bottom of your squat.


If you struggle quality-wise, you can elevate your heels with anything that you can find to allow you to sink to a better, higher-quality position. While you’re at home and while you’ve got the time, over time you can try to progress that elevation down.


You can also assist this position along with elevation by holding anything you can find out in front of you. It’s better if it’s a little bit weighted, but even if it’s a dinner plate or a jug of milk, anything that you can find to hold out front to offset that position and help you reinforce the quality that you want.


The last one we’ll go over, Dave, and I know I’m going over a lot here but for your hips. Usually, when athletes’ hips are tight it has to do with internal hip rotation. What we can do is sit down on the floor, bend your knees at about a 45-degree angle. Your feet are going to be about shoulder-width apart. Your hands are going to be behind you to support.


You’re going to kick say the right foot out first a little bit keeping the butt glued to the floor as much as you can. You’re going to do a windshield wiper with that knee, pushing the knee in, very similar to that ankle rock. You’re going to hold for 2 seconds on each rep and then 10 seconds on the last rep.


Now, when you’re coming out of that stretch on each rep, you’re going to open up your knee as far as you can all the way to the outside just to give a moment of relaxation there and then get back into it, 10 on each side. Again, you can perform that in combination with any squats that you’re doing.


If people will do those types of things, I think that we will limit the allowing our bodies to tighten up [inaudible 27:59] through this time that we have. Again, we don’t know how long it’s going to be.


Also, what I really like and what I really believe is that we may have some athletes that they really do these things on a consistent basis because they’ve not really made theirself focus on it before, they may come out on the other side of this with a little bit more mobility.

David TaoDavid Tao

Yeah, definitely. That’s certainly a positive to take away from all this. Chad, that was an astoundingly detailed rundown and I really appreciate it. I was going to ask all these mobility-specific questions around various body parts, I had a whole list, and you covered them, so it made those notes a moot point.


The last thing I do have to ask is back to our earlier discussion about, an athlete has a barbell, they have plates, they have no squat rack, but they want to maintain or build leg strength. What’s your protocol there?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

My protocol there is, you’ve got your program that you’re doing, most likely these athletes are going to have a program that they’re using already that they can still see and have access to.


What I told my athlete to do, I said, “Any time that back squats come up, what I want you to do is say, just for example — and we mix this up a little bit — for three sets, you’re going to use whatever weight that you can power-clean with quality, jerk it overhead and then lower it to your back and do sets of 10 in the back squat.


“Any time front squats are called for in the program, you’re going to do as heavy of a weight as you can squat-clean with quality and then do four more reps so you get a total of five front squat reps in there.” It’s not going to be as much weight, more than likely, as what was going to be indicated in the program, but it’s a way to keep some reps in there.


Obviously, you know with me that I’m going to indicate some pauses in the bottom on at least some of those reps.

David TaoDavid Tao


Well, it wouldn’t be a Chad Vaughn program without some pause squats.

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

[laughs] No, definitely not at all. Those are just some simple protocols that you can follow. I like that scenario because I think a lot of people are going to be in that scenario where you’ve got weights, you’ve got a bar, but you don’t have a squat rack. Keep squatting and that’s a way that you can keep squatting.


A way that you can keep overhead squats in there…This is a long conversation that I won’t get into, but I don’t feel like any of us really do enough overhead squatting anyway.


One of the ways that I accumulate time with my athletes and myself with overhead squats without this situation is anytime you snatch for the first five or six sets as you build up in weight, we’re going to do one snatch or one power snatch, for example, one overhead squat with a 5- to 10-second pause in the bottom, and then one regular snatch right after that.


That’s not a whole lot of reps, but at least you’re getting a little bit of time in that bottom position with the bar overhead. If you’re already snatching anyway, let’s go ahead and just add that in for the first five to six sets and that should take care of you pretty well.

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Chad Vaughn, thanks so much for joining us today. These tips are going to be really useful to listeners at home looking how to stay strong, especially for weightlifters, but I think there are good lessons here for all sorts of strength athletes. Just so folks know where to find more of what you do and the information you put out, where’s the best place for people to follow you?

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

Those Capacity WOD workouts that I was talking about on Instagram, @capacitywod. We haven’t started really releasing those yet, we’re in the process of digging through those and getting some out to you guys. I’ll also likely repost those on @olychad, that’s @ O-L-Y-C-H-A-D.


I’m reposting any that we put out for barbell mobility through Vaughn Weightlifting at @vaughnweightlifting, V-A-U-G-H-N weightlifting. I’ll repost those on olychad as well.




You guys have any questions, need any help at all, I don’t shy away from answering Instagram messages, so please shoot me a message and I’d be glad to help if I can.

David TaoDavid Tao

Chad Vaughn, thanks so much for joining us.

Chad VaughnChad Vaughn

Absolutely. Thanks, Dave.