Chad Wesley Smith: How Powerlifters Can Stay Strong At Home

Chad Wesley Smith is a record-breaking powerlifter, coach, and the founder of Juggernaut Training Systems. He joins the BarBend podcast to talk about the four main areas powerlifters and strength athletes of all types can focus on when working from home with limited or no equipment. Chad also highlights specific movements to focus on to keep neural force production high while away from heavy weights.

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

  • Chad’s recovery from a recent surgery (1:30)
  • The response Chad has seen from athletes without access to normal equipment and gym space (2:33)
  • Areas strength athletes can focus on during this time (5:15)
    • Retaining neural force production qualities via high velocity and high force movements
    • Retaining muscle mass and hypertrophy
    • Building work capacity 
    • New movement patterns and mobility work
  • What Chad prioritizes with no equipment (10:30)
  • When the intensity is low, you have to get the stimulus from volume and frequency (12:24)
  • Nutritional considerations when training at home (13:20)
  • Business considerations for those in the fitness industry (16:00)

Relevant links and further reading:


Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


The first is that, to retain a neural force production qualities, basically your nervous systems ability to, generate high outputs. If you don’t have access to a bunch of weights to do that, the way you’re going to have to do it is with really high velocity, high force movements.

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, and this podcast is presented by

Today, on a special at-home Training and Fitness episode of the BarBend podcast, I’m talking to Chad Wesley Smith. Chad is the founder of Juggernaut Training Systems. He’s a record setting powerlifter and accomplished Brazilian jiu-jitsu athlete. You name it, he works with some of the world’s top weightlifters, powerlifters, strongman athletes. Chad is a force in the world of strength sports.

Today, we talk about strategies he recommends for staying fit and strong at home during a period of time when you might not have access to your normal equipment or the gym.

I do want to take a second to say, 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.

A man who needs little introduction in the strength sports community, but I’ll introduce him anyway.

Chad Wesley Smith, thanks so much for joining us. I have to say, you’re recovering from a fairly minor surgery, I would say, during this time, so you’re probably not doing a lot of training right now, is that right?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

 Yeah, looking back on things, I guess it was a convenient time. I had a surgery to repair a ruptured tendon in my thumb on Monday, which actually happened four or five weeks ago in a jiu-jitsu match.


With everyone closing and jiu-jitsu school closed and stuff, and here in California, we just got put on the 24-hour lockdown or shelter in place, I think the term is, last night. I guess it’s a good time to be rehabbing an injury. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

When lifters hear shelter in place, what they really hear is, “No gym. Don’t go to the gym.”

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith



David TaoDavid Tao

What kind of response have you seen from the athletes you work with and the athletes in the Juggernaut training system regarding this lockdown and maybe them not being able to access their normal equipment, or their normal gym space?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

It’s a bit of a mixed bag. We have a lot of people who have pretty robust home gym setups, myself included. If my hand was healthy, I’d be relatively unaffected in that sense. We have other lifters who are trying to make do.


A lot of our weightlifters come from a CrossFit background, so that’s helpful in that they can do more body weight stuff, and handstand push-ups, and just use this time to work on their GPP.


I have two athletes I work with privately, who are pursuing, hopefully, the 2020 Olympics for track and field. One is the number one US hammer thrower. One is a 2016 Olympian for Greece, in the shot put.


Both of them are scrambling right now to find places to throw, to find places to train, and keep that going. All the while worried about the greater global health situation, as well as how that’s going to affect the Olympics happening in a couple of months here, and the last years, or a lifetime of work they put in, trying to get there.

David TaoDavid Tao

What are some of the initial communications that you’ve had with your athletes? Have you all sent anything out Juggernaut-wide? Any State of the Union address?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


Not a COVID-19 update necessarily, as I’ve been receiving from so many companies, some of which I don’t understand how this pertains to your guy’s business at all.

We’ve created some at-home training videos, and ideas, to help people out, our online clients to sort of bridge the gap at this time.

I think the main thing from a training standpoint, as trivial as that may seem in the grand scheme of things, is it’s just a time to pivot the goal, to make the best of a bad situation, and try and find some positive momentum, even though it might not be in exactly the same direction as the competitive powerlifters, and weightlifters, that we deal with the most.

David TaoDavid Tao


When you say pivot into a positive direction, what are some of the areas that you think strength athletes can really focus in on during this time?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

There’s four main considerations to be made when training at home, or training in the absence of a gym. When we say a lack of equipment, that varies so widely, because the videos are made…I have a video it’s called “At Home Training Ideas”, that’s called “Corona Mania at Home Training Ideas”.

David TaoDavid Tao


Great branding, great branding.

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

Trapz Johnson, if you’re familiar with him, he may be making a reappearance, as I’m losing my mind here in quarantine.


Four main ideas to focus on. The first is that to retain neural force production qualities, basically your nervous system’s ability to generate high outputs. If you don’t have access to a bunch of weights to do that, the way you’re going to have to do it is with really high velocity, high force movements, like sprinting, jumping, different kinds of plyometric exercises, plyometric push-up variations.


That’s going to keep the qualities of the nervous system you need to lift heavy intact for longer than doing nothing, of course. Particularly exercise like depth jump, where you’re dropping off of one box, or ledge, or chair, or whatever, coffee table, whatever it may be right now, landing, and jumping as high as possible. That can really help retain those force production qualities for this time, depending on how long it goes.


Number two thing to focus on, is going to be retaining muscle mass, and hypertrophy. Even if you’re limited to only bodyweight training, or getting creative, adding backpacks and duffel bags, Zercher squatting your dog, or your child, or firemen carrying your wife around the house, whatever it may be.


Even those limited intensity exercises, limited load, if you’re training it for very high volume, and to near-failures — zero reps and reserve type of work — that’s going to help retain muscle.


It may be redundant training, it might be just a lot of push-ups, squats, lunges, inverted rows using your kitchen table to do inverted rows, or dips from a chair, but doing a lot of volume of that’s going to help retain muscle, and keep you in the best position possible, when you get back into the gym.


Then, more to the idea of pivoting the goals — while you probably can’t get stronger during this time, depending on your qualification as a lifter — building up a lot of work capacity with high frequency, high volume training, short rest periods. That’s all going to be a long term benefit when you get back in the gym. You could actually be in as good, or better general shape, to be able to tolerate a little bit more training.


Utilizing things like EMOMs, time to rest periods, drop sets, mechanical drop sets, AMRAPs, cluster, all these different things, is going to be a useful time.


Then finally, to introduce new movement patterns, more mobility work. If you’re in a situation like me, and you’re dealing with an injury, and you’ve been neglecting taking care of it, this is the perfect time to take a step back from training hard, and make sure that you’re coming out of this time as healthy as possible.


For powerlifters, weightlifters, even CrossFitters, who deal almost exclusively in that sagittal movement plane — they’re just going up and down, forward and back, type of thing — implementing some side to side, some rotational movement patterns, is going to help you stay healthier.


It’s going to help probably correct some imbalances that may have arisen in the last weeks, months or years of more specific training, and it can just be fun for a new challenge.


I think if you focus on those four things, and then you force yourself to be creative in how you can load some of these exercises — backpack on your back, backpack on your front, both, Zercher carrying your kids around, whatever it may be — you can still create a lot of positive momentum in this time, with training.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve heard a few different people say, and I won’t name names, but I’ve heard them say that the really smart athletes are going to come out of this, maybe with slightly lower one rep maxes, but they’re going to look better, they’re going to move better, they’re going to feel better, and they’re going to have great six packs and bulging biceps and triceps before they went in.


Maybe there is some truth to this, “Hey, work on the other things and come out of this stronger and healthier.”


I’m curious, Chad, if you were not recovering from a surgery and if you were stuck at home with no equipment, what would be some of your go-to movements or protocols? Say, if you were still a competitive powerlifter?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

It would be a ton of push-ups, weighted push-ups, weighted dips, different kind of [inaudible 10:51] holds, good mornings, lunges, reverse lunges, lateral lunges — all of those type of things plus a ton of…


This is the time to do a lot of ab work, things that maybe often get left to the end of a workout and powerlifting that it gets easy to skip a lot of times. It’s a whole different plank variations, front and side plank variations.


Copenhagen planks are great exercise to do. Put your leg up on the coffee table or whatever to do that, adapt or focused plank movement, and just really high volume, high frequency, because if the intensity of the training is low — and this idea carries over to any kind of rehab protocol or return from injury, or return to play type of stuff.


If you can only do low intensity…For example, when I dealt with herniated discs, about seven years ago now, coming back from those herniated discs, the first thing I could do was just air squat. Doing 20 air squats in the morning for me, who at the time squatted 900 pounds, wasn’t really going to be significant at all.


I was doing 50 in the morning, 50 at lunch, 50 at night. Once I could increase the intensity, do a goblet squat, it became 50 in the morning, 50 in the afternoon. Once I started squatting with a barbell again, it was six days a week.


When the intensity is really low, like pushups, even weighted push-ups or dips, maybe with a backpack filled with books or whatever you got to deal with right now, you have to get the stimulus from volume and frequency.


Because the fatigue being generated by each of these training sessions…If you want to go read scientific principles of strength training or watch our videos on the YouTube, we are dealing with the concept of SRA, stimulus recovery adaptation, very short SRA curves, you have to introduce the stimulus very frequently to get maximum effect.


Doing twice a day workouts everyday could really be a viable option because that’s where the stimulus has got to come from when the intensity is low.

David TaoDavid Tao


Do you recommend any sort of changes in nutritional protocol or nutritional plan when folks are maybe doing this lower intensity but more frequent paths of training?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

First off, it’s going to depend on what your grocery store situation is [inaudible 13:30] . For me, living in Southern California, a very densely populated area, the grocery stores are pretty picked over.


I’ve talked to one of my buddies yesterday who lives on Boone, North Carolina, and they’re pretty unaffected by things out there. Assuming you could have access to all of your normal foods, yeah, with these smaller workouts…This is outside my field of expertise. I’d refer you to experts like the fine folks that [inaudible 14:05] .


Cutting your carb intake down is probably a worthwhile thing in this time. At any time, you got to make sure that protein is sufficient to sustain your muscle mass that you have. It’s probably even more significant when the training stimulus and hypertrophic stimulus from training is a little bit less significant.

David TaoDavid Tao

That certainly makes a lot of sense. This seems like a silly thing to talk about, but it’s something I’ve noticed personally.


I’m drinking a lot less water when I’m at home. What about hydration? I’ve heard a lot of different things about over-hydration, people are not hydrating enough. What kind of markers do you look for as an athlete, especially when you’re in training mode and volume training mode, regarding hydration throughout the day?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


I definitely find myself drinking a lot more right now but yeah, probably less water, it’s correct.

Simplest thing is going to be the color of your urine, making sure it’s light to clear. Beyond that, I don’t have too much commentary on it.

David TaoDavid Tao

Just curious. I’ve asked 12 different people and I’ve heard 14 different opinions for the average athlete. I’m just curious. Chad, what do you think the next few months are going to look like for the work you do, for Juggernaut and for your athletes?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

It’s a bit of a nerve wracking time. It’s a time of uncertainty for everyone. I am certainly glad right now that I sell a digital product rather than operating a physical gym space. I feel for everyone who’s getting their businesses closed down or suggested to be closed down.


I’m not an infectious disease specialist or an economist or anything like that. I’m reticent to do make too many predictions of how long this is going to go. I think it’s a thing where a lot of people, a lot of businesses, are going to suffer, and all kinds of different industries. Our priorities are going to be restructured by all these.


We are going to have to reevaluate what’s most important. I do think, whenever we come out the other side of this, there’ll probably be a bit of a surge in health and fitness as people are going to…if they’ve been cooped up for two weeks, two months, whatever this ends up being.


When they get out on the other side, hopefully there’s some disposable income left for people and that their health and fitness is going to become even a higher priority at that time because they’ll see how valuable that is, and they’re going to be hungry to get back, and train, and do what they love after being restricted for so long.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, Juggernaut, you mentioned selling a digital product, which is a relatively solid position to be in right now when that’s how people are staying connected in person services, gyms are going through very much a forced downswing.


How do you think Juggernaut may adapt further if this goes on for months at a time? Are there different products or services you all may tweak or develop in response?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


At this point, I’m trying to stay positive in thinking that…

David TaoDavid Tao


Oh, totally, totally.

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith

 …we are going to be out of this in a couple of weeks. If I start to feel like that’s not the case, then more robust at-home training ideas will be something that we’ll be releasing.


I’m encouraging people to, if you have more time on your hands, or staying at home, whatever it is, to take advantage of our ample educational resources, and trying to learn more about training, so you can create a better plan going forwards.


Beyond that, it’s a little bit of wait and see for me right now. For our own business, we’re at a time trying to — and this was pre-Corona as well — set up as many systems and automated systems and stuff as possible so we can hit the ground running when everyone starts coming out of this.

David TaoDavid Tao


Makes a lot of sense. Chad, thanks so much for joining me. Where’s the best place for people to keep up-to-date with the work you and Juggernaut are doing now and moving forward?

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


Our YouTube is definitely, where the most content is happening in Juggernaut Training Systems YouTube., @juggernauttraining on Instagram, and myself is @chadwesleysmith.

David TaoDavid Tao

Awesome. Chad, thanks so much for joining us. It’s always a pleasure wishing you and yours the best during a tumultuous time, that’s for sure.

Chad Wesley SmithChad Wesley Smith


Thanks, David. Take care, stay safe out there.