Joey Szatmary: Building a Home for Strongmen and Powerlifters (Podcast)

Building ANY community is tough. So building a space and community for people obsessed with strength brings its own special challenges. And no one knows more about that than Joey Szatmary.

Joey is a multi-sport strength athlete (powerlifting and strongman) and coach who owns The Lions Den Elite Training gym. Throughout his career, Szatmary has worked with a huge variety of athletes and constantly shares his knowledge and experiences on his quickly-growing YouTube channel. In today’s episode, we talk to Szatmary about opening his own gym, training requirements across different strength sports, and much, much more. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, guest host Jake Boly talks to Joey Szatmary about:

  • Joey’s current pro favorite strongman athlete (2:00)
  • Joey’s thoughts on Brian Shaw for the 2020 season (2:36)
  • Joey’s background and his origin story finding strength (4:00)
  • When to narrow down your business’s niche and go all-in on a couple things (8:45)
  • What Joey loves about the sport of strongman (12:20)
  • How Joey adjusted training and loading to accommodate for his knee surgery (17:40)
  • What are a few things every great training program consists of (19:40)
  • Where do most beginners get lost when starting their training journey (21:00)
  • Advice for anyone feeling burnt out from training and how to shift their goals and mindset (24:30)
  • How Joey likes to structure in-season and off-season training for his athletes (27:45)
  • Why Joey stopped sweating accessories and started really dialing in on compound when working with Alan Thrall (31:15)
  • Building a program to strengthen a squat and dialing in frequency (35:30)
  • Structuring variations when working on a compound with high frequency (37:30)
  • Why tempo training has so much benefit (40:00)
  • Building a timeline for a compound focused mesocycle (42:20)
  • Tips for noticing when a program has run stale and when it’s time to change (44:20)
  • What to do if you feel stressed after a low stress week (48:35)
  • Rapid fire questions (49:35)

Other Joey Szatmary Content

Did you enjoy the conversation we had with Joey Szatmary? If so, you’re in luck. We’ve filmed a few videos with him including this awesome video discussing five great tips for improving your deadlift. For lagging deadlifts, check it out!

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

At times, it’s nice to root yourself back down and just remember, “Why did I get into this? Why did I get started?” That’s something that I’ve had to think about recently.

 

If you want to be in for the long haul, you’ve got to have other external motivators to do it than just simply, “Oh, I want to get a 500-pound squat.” What happens when that day comes, or what happens if that day never comes?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Welcome to the “BarBend” podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your guest host Jake Boly, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Joey Szatmary is a multi-sport strength athlete. He’s a strength coach. He owns the Lions Den Elite Training gym in Pennsylvania. Throughout his career, Szatmary has worked with a variety of athletes and constantly shares his knowledge and experiences on his quickly growing YouTube Channel.

 

In today’s episode, I talked to Szatmary about opening his own gym, training different strength athletes, and how their training differs. This is a great episode for athletes, and coaches that want to explore different strength sports throughout their careers. As always, 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. Every month, we give away a box full of BarBend swag to one of our listeners who leaves a rating and review. All right, welcome to the BarBend Podcast.

 

Today, we’re joined by Joey Szatmary, who is a strength coach, strongman, and gym-owner. Thanks for coming on, Joey. We’re stoked to have you.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Oh, yeah. Pumped to be on. Let’s do it.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

You’re big into strongman training, in the strongman game. I got to know who is your favorite professional strongman right now.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I was just asked this question on Omar’s podcast with Eric Helms. The weird thing about me dude is, I’ve been an athlete my whole life and for some reason, I never really get into athletes. I just play the game. You know what I mean? I think people are really cool. From the US, I would really be rooting for Brian Shaw. I think he’s a good guy.

 

I would actually really like to meet Thor. I have some connections that know him and I think it would just be cool to make the trip to Iceland. I think I’d have to go with Brian Shaw, right now overall.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

I would hope so. I mean, it’s cool to see how long they’ve been in the game. They have their ups and down. Across the board, he’s been a super consistent athlete that I think anything is possible. He’s a beast of a human being and it’d be cool to see him make some turn around and come out with a title in the future.

 Love it. He just actually said he was going to be competing in Santa Monica coming up. It’s going to be really interesting to see how he does. Do you think Shaw is going to be able to turn his 2020 around compared to his 2019 performances?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I would hope so. I mean, it’s cool to see how long they’ve been in the game. They have their ups and down. Across the board, he’s been a super consistent athlete that I think anything is possible. He’s a beast of a human being and it’d be cool to see him make some turn around and come out with a title in the future.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Yeah, I agree. It’s always fun to read in those comments where it’s like, “Oh, he’s falling off.” He’s been in the game forever and he’s a legend. He’s still amazing at what he does.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Yeah, dude. Any of the grayest people can say whatever they want, but across the board, what they do is absolutely amazing. It’s almost unfathomable for anyone to comprehend how strong these guys really are.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Seriously. Across all of the events, too, it’s unreal.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Yeah.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 Dude, I would love to hear a little bit more about your origin story and how you got into strength training, owning a gym and building your business, especially the content that comes along with it. I think a lot of viewers would love to hear that story and I’d love to hear your origin story.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I was born out of the womb at 6’2″, 250 lbs and…

…the rest is history my man. Nah. I guess it’s crazy because I never thought I would be doing what I’m doing today, which is pretty cool. Looking back, I thought I was going to go to college, get a degree. I wanted to go into the FBI and do criminal interrogation and stuff like that, but that is not where I’m at today. [laughs]

 

To dial it all the way back, when I was younger, lived a normal life, I would say. I was definitely not super athletic when I was younger and I lacked self-confidence a lot. What I wanted to do was build my confidence. I tried different things and I really fell in love with martial arts when I was younger.

 

I think martial arts set me up for a good successful future, which is being an athlete. It taught you awareness of your body, being flexible and mobile. From then, I started playing sports as a kid, typical soccer, whatever. I drifted more towards the contact sports, so I ended up playing football, lacrosse, I wrestled.

 

My main thing was always trying to get better at whatever it was. Like I said, I wasn’t really gifted with that ability and whatever you see now. I had to work really hard towards it. I really fell in love with the whole training with the weights for sport. I was always in the weight room. People would always find me there. I became that resource for all my friends. If they had any questions about the gym, they’d come to me just because I immersed myself so much in it.

 

I went to college originally for criminal psychology. I went to a small private college and I played the Cross there. Like I said, my goal was to probably join in something in that field, whether it was forensics or something with crime and justice, but I went through a weird period where I felt lost.

 

There was this weird time for me and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was questioning a lot of things. I thought the best thing for me at the time to do would just come home from school, go to community college for a little bit and just try to see what I was interested in.

 

During that time I was offered a cool experience to help. A family friend opened a small gym studio, and that’s where I got my feet wet with personal training. During that time I was training everybody under the sun. I was training kids, adults, athletes, non-athletes, older people who had lots of limitations.

 

It was a blessing in disguise, because not only did I see a lot from the business end and not have to be responsible for it, but just be a part of that whole journey of starting a gym and watching how businesses work and grow, what doesn’t work, what does work.

 

It also helped me figure out what kind of clients I like to deal with. During that time I was into anything that was strength-related. I was pushed towards that end of the spectrum, was getting people stronger. That was my passion.

 

That was probably a process of a few years of doing that. During that time, I had started my own little garage gym inside of my uncle’s garage. Just collecting gym equipment and training out of the garage because at the time I was building pools as my main source of income, and I was doing the training on the side.

 

The garage gym was my “No Excuses.” When I got home from work, I was going to just get out of my car, get right to the garage, hit my training session, whether it was 30, 40 minutes, whatever I could get in a just so I didn’t have that excuse of getting home, sitting on a couch and feeling like a bum.

 

I did that for a while and that was a crazy cool story is that the garage gym grew. I had over a hundred people at some point out of this two-car garage training. We’re using kegs, and atlas stones, and tires, and sledgehammers, and all sorts of cool odd objects along with the typical barbell stuff, and things you would see in anybody’s garage gym.

 

But that just flourished and then I wanted to take the plunge to start my own training facility, and that was just a crazy process in and of itself, but I got that done. Throughout that whole thing, I was always competing, whether it was in CrossFit. I was big in Olympic weightlifting for a while.

 

I had a knee injury that segued my interest into changing it up. That’s when I got into Strongman, probably about two and a half, three years ago.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Got you, yeah. Something you said in there caught my interest. I know you’ve spoken about this before, is that, when you were building up your gym, one of your pieces of advice is honing in on your niche audience that you want to work with, and then building from there so you had a hundred people coming into your gym at one point.

 

When did you decide to narrow down that niche and so forth, was it based on your personal interest in Strongmen, or was it based off of where you saw the business going and where you wanted to develop to?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah. There’s two interesting points there. The first one I would have to say was definitely what I was interested in. I was always drawn to strength-training. That’s always something I loved and I just enjoyed it doing that.

 

If you’re going to be your own business owner or an entrepreneur of any point, there’s something to [indecipherable 09:26] with. Really enjoying what you do and trying to cut out or minimalize a lot of stuff that you don’t like to do. You’re trying to work for yourself. There’s a reason that you’re an entrepreneur, and you want to do what it is that you’re trying to do.

 

For me, keeping that happiness was doing the strength-training and cutting out a lot of stuff that I didn’t like to do, or just delegate it to someone else who enjoys that. Even at the gym now that I have, we do run, some “bootcamp” classes or conditioning classes. I have some coaches that are into that and they do a way better job at it than I do.

 

I let them take that and that’s what makes them happy. They get to do what they enjoy, and I get to do what I enjoy, but it all works together under one umbrella. The interesting thing about the Strongman is when I first opened the gym, my current location, it’ll be three years this year, is most like any business owner.

 

I thought it was going to be hard, but I had no idea how hard it actually was going to be. I thought people were just going to come flying through the doors. I thought I had the coolest equipment. We have these huge atlas stones, we have yokes, we have farmer handles, kegs, all these things that no other gym had.

 

That just wasn’t the case. [laughs] It was funny because I’m like, “Damn, how am I going to get this rolling?” Over time, it gradually started picking up. I remember I actually had a close friend who was a very well accountant, made a lot of money. She quit her job and started traveling the world.

 

She’s a very inspirational person, but the cool thing is, she went to so many gyms all over the world. When she came to my gym, I just asked her, I said, “Hey! What’s your feedback of this gym? What do you think of it?”

 

I’ll never forget this because she looked at me and she smiled, and she was like, “I believe your gym is ahead of its time. I don’t think they’re ready for this gym yet.” I was like, “That really hit home with me.”

 

It’s just been super funny to see the evolution of Strongman training because you have now Strongman equipment in regular commercial gyms that you would have never thought you’d see this in. You have huge influencers in the bodybuilding space doing Strongman exercises and movements.

 

That’s just really helped push the movement of Strongman, I believe, to a point now where, since I stuck with it so long ago and had that niche you were talking about. I’m pretty much the only known Strongman gym in my area. That’s what draws people to my gym, and I built that reputation. It’s really worked, but I had to be very patient for it to get to where it’s at.

Jake BolyJake Boly

That’s really cool. One of the latest articles I actually really enjoyed was getting shredded with the sandbag, which is really cool. That’s an underutilized tool that, like you said, is making its way into commercial gyms way more often, and it’s finding way more used in general programs.

 

I know you mentioned that you got into Strongman after rehabbing a knee injury earlier. What about the sport, physically, like really just gets you going and that you love the most? Because everyone has a certain niche or strength sport that they really connect with. What, like deep down, connects you to Strongman? Do you have any idea of why that connection is there?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah. For me, like I said, even psychologically or subconsciously, when I first started training, I was flipping tires. I was using sledgehammers. I was doing push-ups with chains around my neck. A big influence when I was younger were guys like Elliott Hulse or Zach Even-Esh.

 

I always appreciated what they were doing because it was very no BS. There’s no excuses. You have so many things around you that you can use for your own workout. I was never a fancy guy. I like when things are sometimes gritty, and you get down and dirty.

 

Coming from an Olympic weightlifting background, which I would say is quite the opposite of that, it’s almost like the prim and proper strength sport, where you’re trying to do a max lift or clean jerk and snatch. You have to be pretty much dead quiet. The crowd doesn’t get hyped.

 

Maybe they’ll give you a golf clap, you can’t slam the bar. It’s almost like I had to keep my beast inside a little bit. With Strongman, it is very opposite. People are getting nuts. They’re freaking out. They’re screaming for you. I think the community is just absolutely amazing. It’s fun.

 

It’s interesting to watch. I think it’s way more of a strength sport, but it’s also entertainment. You see these guys who were pulling planes or they’re carrying fridges and you chant, just crazy things that make it entertaining, but it’s also showing strength in this sport, which is very cool.

 

For me, I really like that. Also as a competitor, if you look at powerlifting or weightlifting, they’re the same lifts over and over and over again. If you bench squat deadlift or whatever, then for Olympic lifting, clean jerk and the snatch, and then there’s CrossFit, which is a mixture of everything.

 

With Strongman, the events always change, which is pretty cool. It’s like CrossFit in that aspect, but it’s always going to stay typically under 60 seconds, where CrossFit, you may run a marathon at some point. You don’t know what you’re going to do.

 

I’m not like, “That’s not my thing. I’ll do it if I have to, but I was way more on the strength side of it.” For me, Strongman was the perfect sport that fit everything that I was into, what made me happy and what I enjoyed. It was a no-brainer, and once I started, I was hooked.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

What was your knee injury earlier in your career, you mentioned?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I had torn my meniscus. It was a partial tear. My MCL, or PC, I forget, but that had happened during…Well, I’m sure it happened prior, but what was the ending of that was at a weightlifting meet. I went for my second clean and jerk attempt. I felt that typical when they say they feel that pop or whatever in their knee.

 

My adrenaline was super high. I probably shouldn’t took a third attempt, but I was like, “We’re doing it.” I did it. Then I remember I couldn’t walk for a few days. I went to the ortho, and I had my knee surgery.

 

That was probably my first more bigger injuries that made me think about my training. How am I going to work around my training? What am I going to do? I basically rehabbed myself throughout that process. At the same time, I wanted to change it up.

 

I was getting a little bit tired from Olympic weightlifting. It was a little bit too monotonous for me. I was also training a lot by myself. Getting into the Strongman was interesting because I was actually watching YouTube videos, which is funny because that’s how a lot of people know who I am.

 

I was looking at ways to build Strongman equipment for my garage gym, and then the gym that I was about to open at the time. This guy, Brian Alsruhe had a bunch of videos that I was watching.

 

When I was looking at his channel, and I think at the time, it was maybe like 30 or 40,000 subscribers. He was based out of Maryland. I thought this guy was just an absolute beast for how much weight he was putting up and how athletic he was.

 

I can really relate to him because I like to be athletic, and obviously, he’s very strong. So I sent him a message and I said, “Hey, man, I just watched you on YouTube. You’re about two hours from me. Is there any way I can come out and train at your place?”

 

By the time I went to train to his place, his YouTube channel actually exploded. I think he had around like almost 100,000 subscribers, which is crazy. Anyway, we trained together. We really hit it off. He taught me a lot of the basics of Strongman and the moves.

 

I got to use that equipment, get more into it myself and take what he had taught me, and just expand upon that down the road. That’s initially from that knee injury, rethinking the whole process of what I was doing and what made me happy, and what I want to get into to where we’re going, man.

Jake BolyJake Boly

That’s pretty crazy that you injured your knee and shifted from weightlifting to Strongman, which I feel like to most people would even say it’s even a little bit more harsh on the body. I guess where I’m heading at.

 

My question is, is when you were self-rehabbing and going through that rehab process, how did you scale movements and adjust training to accommodate for coming back from that knee surgery?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Intuitively, I wasn’t really thinking about too much back then. I didn’t know, obviously, what I know now about pain and injury. To keep it simple, I just avoided anything that caused me a lot of pain and discomfort, and kept trying different things that I could do, that didn’t cause pain.

 

To be honest with you, the process heal relatively quickly. It was a lot faster than I thought. I’m also the guy where it’s like…I don’t like to take “no” for an answer. If you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to do my best to get it done and prove myself wrong, or other people who told me something.

 

I’d sit there. I would try squats. I knew I couldn’t get below parallel, but I knew I could do a box squat. I would just do box squats. If I could do a lunge, and I didn’t bother it, I would do lunges until the point where the pain is dissipated. I didn’t feel it any longer.

 

When I got into the Strongman stuff, I would say my knee was pretty much ready to rock and roll at that point. It wasn’t a big concern. That was the point where I was like, yeah, just an interesting time where I was like, “OK, I’m sitting here at home. I have a lot of downtime. What am I going to do moving forward?”

 

I think times like that pop up for everybody at different points in their life, and it just helps them reflect on themselves or where they want to move forward with or where they’re currently at.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. I love that whole shift of mindset to and how you turn that into something much more than how most people feel like view it. Cool, man. I want to shift gears and ask you a couple of questions about building effective training programs. It’s something that I think you do extremely well, especially in a lot of the content.

 

I think something that separates you from others is, that you produce content that provides “A why”, but then also “A how.” Giving people steps for effectively training better or doing something a little bit better.

 

A topic that I would love to ask you about is, across all strength sports, across all training disciplines, what are the couple things that every great program has in common? Obviously, we all have goals, and a program should be structured on goals. What do you feel like great programs consist of that every program needs?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

[laughs] The thing of programming is, I always think people want these really complicated answers. I try to keep things as simple as possible, and that either makes people really like me or not like me, because I’m not super… [laughs] I’m not all about one thing because I see there’s so many different ways to skin a cat.

 

I think, like you had said, one of the biggest things with great programming is that it has some sort of structure to get them to their goals. If it’s doing that, then I think it’s fine. I can’t sit here and say it was good or bad program.

 

If you’re getting closer to your goal then I’d say, yeah, that to me is effective. There may be some tweaks you can make? Yeah, sure. It depends on the goal, and having that structure. If they’re doing that, then I think it’s a good program.

 

There’s a lot of nuance that can be put in. I’m sure we’ll get into it more with programming. At the base of it, I just think, if my client has this goal, and the program that we’re doing is getting them closer to that goal, I’m fine with that.

 

There’s some issues that we can get into which I’m sure you’ll ask a little bit, but that’s the basis and probably the easiest effective answer I could give you for that.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love it. That segues perfectly into my next question. For let’s say, the more beginning or beginner lifter, where do you think most get lost in the weeds on? Because I love you keep things simple.

 

I think that’s a great approach for most training programs for a lot of folks. My question for you is, what do you most beginners focus on, but really shouldn’t? And what should they focus on instead?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

There’s a couple different ways to go about this. One of the main things is that they want it to happen as soon as possible to get to the goal. You have to understand that it’s going to take a lot of time.

 

That just comes with training and more wisdom on the fact. I had a kid in today, who…he’s younger. I think he’s 15 or 16. He’s like, “Man, a month ago, I could squat 300 pounds, and my squat today was at 275.” I looked at him and he looked devastated.

 

He was just like, “What is wrong? Can you help me?” I was like, “Brother, there are days when I come in, and I can squat 500 for 10 or 15. Then there are days when I can squat 500 for 2.”

 

I just said, you got to understand that it’s a journey. It’s a process. Don’t get caught, like you said, in the weeds with the numbers, but more just enjoying the process and the journey of it. I would say to piggyback off of that as to keep it simple.

 

We had talked about, and you’re agreeing with is the basics to me…I’ve always worked, and I would always be skeptical of programming that has you doing a ton of crazy things, different things, and using all these big words or fancy implements or movements.

 

Being in as long as I have, which isn’t that long. I’d say I got at least 10 years of training under my belt. The basics are what got me to where I am today, and just being patient with the process.

 

I probably wouldn’t have added this until recently, but I’d say just enjoying it too, like having fun. There’s something so big with just having fun with your training.

 

I realized that from being a top-level competitor, that you can get caught up in the numbers, you can get caught up in the competition but that’s not why I got into this. That’s not why a lot of people get into it.

 

They get into it for other reasons. Maybe it’s their social outlet. Maybe it’s their way that they meditate, where they express themselves. Maybe it helps them build their confidence. I think it’s easy to lose track of that when you start getting involved with lifting. It’s the nature of the beast.

 

I think at times, it’s nice to route yourself back down and remember, “Why did I get into this? Why did I get started?” That’s something that I’ve had to think about recently.

 

If you want to be in it for the long haul, you’ve got to have other external motivators to do it than just simply, “Oh, I want to get a 500-pound squat.” What happens when that day comes? What happens if that day never comes?

Jake BolyJake Boly

 I love that. I think that is a cool point. I think a lot of coaches who have been in the game for a while come to that realization and they share their thoughts on it. I would love to pick your brain then. On when you had that realization of realigning your focus and realizing that you’re in there for the long haul.

 

How did you objectively realize that? Do you have any tips for anybody who might be getting frustrated with the acute sense of, “I’m not getting there quick enough or I’m not really happy with my training right now. Maybe I’m feeling a little burnt out from training.” How did you go about that process?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Whenever I start to feel burnout, like I said, “Mentally just sit down and think about what first got me into it”. Like I said, “It wasn’t trying to take a national title. Wasn’t trying to get a 700-pound deadlift.” I went to the gym because it made me feel great.

 

It made me feel like I was doing something to make myself better. I get a high off of that so that helps. Now, if that isn’t enough something I really like to do is just switch it up completely.

 

A lot of people do the same thing over and over and over again I’ve seen it time and time again at the gym. Where people identify with one type of lifter or strength sport so they’re like I’m a powerlifter, I’m a weightlifter or I’m a strongman.

 

They get stuck in that identity and they think that’s all that they can do. Then when that time comes where they get burnout, it’s a very awkward feeling. They feel insecure or they feel lost.

 

One of the best things to do that is just try something else and detach yourself from that identity. Realize you’re everything, you’re more than just a powerlifter. You can be a bodybuilder, you can be a CrossFitter, you can do barbell training, you can use dumbbells or kettlebells.

 

For me, that’s a mental switch that I like to do. I’ve been trapped in that mindset where I thought I was a weightlifter and then I got into strongman. Then I thought,” Oh since I’m a strongman, people who thought I was a weightlifter will not like me.

 

Now, I’m starting to do a little bit of weightlifting again, because I enjoy it. At the end of the day, you got to sit down ask yourself, “Why did I get started? Why am I doing this?”

 

If I knew I was never going to hit these numbers or this is going to be my last day to ever PR my life, would I still keep doing this? I think that’s a question a lot of people need to ask themselves. If the answer is yes, then you got to figure out what is it that’ll keep you going.

 

That could be “Hey, switch it up for a little bit and try some different stuff.” That’s how I talk to the athletes who deal with the burnout. Try to make them realize why they originally got into it and get them back on the horse.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

I love that. With that shift of mindset, you end up learning different trading disciplines and learning different ways to go about different processes.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Absolutely, I think one of the things that makes me, I would say, unique in the strength sports world is I’m very versatile. Where if you told me to go sign up for a CrossFit competition I would do it, or powerlifting, Strongman, I would do it. If you told me to go run a marathon, I would go do it.

 

Not saying that I would kill it by any means. The thing is I would do it for the process of whom I’m becoming from trying to do that. The knowledge you get.

 

It’s tough because like I said earlier, “People want a coach to be very specific on one thing.” I would say mostly for me it’s strength training and strongman, but the same time, I have many heads to the beast, which I think overall helps me see how things relate, understand the athletes more, and just makes me a more well-rounded coach and athlete which I would say for everybody to take a lot of time to try to do that the best they can.

 

Long term, it’s going to make you better at your craft and as a coach if you want to be a coach.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. It’s almost sounds like you’re intuitively doing like an in-season, off-season kind of shift. You’re when you’re in-season, you’re very heavily invested into your original niches, things you’re really good at, things you like to compete in, but when you’re in the off-season, you like to do different things.

 

Question there for you is for athletes that you work with who are vested into one string sport, how do you go about from with the in-season and off-season training and how long do you structure off-season?

 

Do you implement more things like you’re talking about, of different ways to train to expose people to different skill sets and different mindsets and so forth? How do you go about that?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah, absolutely. I use what I do for myself. Like right now, technically, I’m in an off-season, I do Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I do a lot more Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu right now. Then once I get closer to bigger competitions, I go maybe once or twice a week, to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I’m doing very specialized training for my competition.

 

The same thing would be for the athletes that I deal with. I just had a bunch of athletes who came off of a long prep, say, anywhere from 16 to 20 weeks for a Strongman competition that they really wanted to dial in on.

 

I’m sure you know about and that are the listeners, this is just the rule of specificity. The farther we are out, the less specific we will be from whatever the competition or contest is going to be. As we get closer, we really dial it in, specifically to what the test will be.

 

Since they just got done their competition for the next, let’s say two months, they’re going to be doing a ton of GPP. They’re going to be doing a ton of different movements that they’ve never done before, just to mentally help them, physically help them.

 

We’re talking about building that base, just a well-rounded foundation. Then as we get closer to whatever they want to get better at, we’ll change the training accordingly. That’s how I handle all of my athletes, but even for myself.

 

There was a time, I think, after nationals where I was just doing basically like hypertrophy and, and some bodybuilding, a fair amount of conditioning that I haven’t done in a long time, just to give me something new to try and help me mentally and then physically.

 

It’s completely different. It’s a new stimulus, and my body’s not used to it. When I do get back into the Strongman stuff, it’s only going to help benefit me. I’m also getting a break from it so you’re giving that stress back to the body.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. Something that I remember you said in the Q&A with Alan and Omar was when you were talking about compounds and accessories, and obviously, correct me if I’m wrong here.

 

Something you’d said was when you started working with Alan a little bit more closely, more of as a coach, you stopped focusing so much on the accessories, but started dialing in on compound movements a little bit more. I feel like talking about off-season in-season, and the principle of specificity segues perfectly into this.

 

I would love for you to elaborate a little bit more on what you meant by you started really focusing a lot more on the compound movements or the big lifts that you were really trying to focus on and stop worrying so much about the accessory movements each workout.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Interesting story about me, if you’re in Strongman or you want to get Strongman, you have to have a fairly decent press, and a rather large deadlift. When I got to strong man, my presses was decent because I knew how to do split jerks and push jerks.

 

I could put more weight over my head and in Strongman most people either strict press or push press. As a technical advantage in that, but my deadlift was garbage. It was trash.

 

The reason, honestly, was because I didn’t deadlift enough. I spent a lot of time doing all these smaller accessory movements, and maybe I deadlifted once and then the rest of my time was designated doing something like rose or something for my hamstrings, etc.

 

It wasn’t until I actually had hired Alan to be my coach. I remember, he first sent me the program that we were going to do, and it was like three or four movements for the whole session. I was used to doing like 10 to 12 movements a workout. On top of that, a ton of conditioning.

 

I’m very confident to say that I was well over-conditioned as a strongman. [laughs] When I looked into this, I was a little concerned like, OK, deadlift, all right, and then it was like

 

Press and then maybe a bench or something like that. He’s like, “Dude, just give it a shot.” What we really need to do is put more work into deadlifting if you’re trying to get your deadlift up and less work on the accessories and I was a little resistant to it at first. Then over time, I realized that if you want to get better at something, you need to put more focus into that than anything else.

 

When I looked at a total volume I was doing for deadlifts, it was so small compared to what it would have went to after that. That’s how I am today when it comes to getting specific for, say, your bench squat, deadlift or something with strongman, you have to practice that and the variations closest to it.

 

Not to say that there’s not a place or time and place for variation but when you do variations, you want it to closely mimic that main movement. Instead of doing a ton of just direct hamstring work or isolation work on my hamstrings, I’m going to do different variations of the deadlift.

 

You have your deadlift on one day, and then the next day, doing something like pause deadlifts, or something like a block pole, or maybe something with bands and chains, but we’re still doing the deadlift. Training that movement more is my basic tip for getting better at it.

 

I know it’s not a fancy answer, and a lot of people are resistant to it, but it’s taking my deadlift from 500 to 750 pounds. There’s some proof to the pudding in that.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Dude, I love that. Quite honestly, that sets us perfectly up for the next topic I want to dive into. We’ve never really done this on a podcast, and it’d be very interesting to see how this actually works.

 

Listeners, if this doesn’t work that well, I’m incredibly sorry. I’m trying something new here. Long story short man is, if you want to get great at something, you have to do it often. Personally, you have one of the better coaching minds in the industry when it comes to seeing everything from a whole as opposed to just dialing in on one thing.

 

I would love to build a mock leg-focused or squat-focused program with you and just pick your brain on the why and stuff like that while we’re on the podcast.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Yeah, sure.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Let’s say I’m a client coming to you. I’m a recreational lifter. My lifts are pretty good. You’d classify me as intermediate. I want to say I really want to focus on my squat and increase it. What would be kind of the frequency you would start working with and the why behind that?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

If I knew you were squatting once a week, and you were OK with that frequency or dose of once a week, I’d probably bump you to twice a week, and then just kind of monitor and see how we were doing.

 

As long as things are OK, and we’re managing the fatigue, and you’re giving me feedback. I would probably keep it there for a little while, and then bump it up to three times per week.

 

If looking back on myself, I used to do every main movement one time per week. What the research is showing, and this is stuff through Mike Israetel, and other Stronger by Science guys. Is typically, the more we can increase the frequency, it’s looking like we’re getting some better results.

 

I would say anywhere from that one to three range. I’d say more than once a week is what I would recommend and have them do. It would be a slow and steady progress to what they could handle.

 

Typically, obviously, when people increase their frequency, they’re going to have soreness. What I’ve seen with the clients I deal with, even with myself, after a couple weeks that tends to go away. I wouldn’t measure your progress with your training by how sore you are.

 

What I do, honestly, I don’t really get that sore that often unless it’s something new or a novel stimulus that I’m giving my body. For you to constantly want to be sore, I don’t think that’s a great way to gauge it. I think if you increase the frequency that soreness will subside. You’ll be able to handle that as your body adapts to it.

 

The higher the frequency, the more we can stress the muscle or the movement and cause the strength adaptation over time.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Got it. You wrote me a program. We’re increasing my squat frequency, modifying my intensity so I don’t get too fatigued or burnt out. What are some of the variations that you would include on those two to three days of squatting?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Also depends, but typically what I would I do is if say you are just looking to increase a squat. Say we’re training three to four days a week. The first day of the week would be your competition squat day so if you’re a powerlifter, this is going to be your comp squat.

 

Meaning you’ll wear whatever you would for your competition so typically it’s going to be wrist wraps, belt, knee sleeves, or knee wraps. Whatever. You’re going to be as geared up as possible because that’s going to be the day that you’re going to push the hardest on that main movement. That’ll be on day one.

 

The second day, this could be day two or day three, I like to do a variation of the main movement typically on a weak point. This could be a pin squat. Maybe, say, you’re having trouble getting out of the top or coming up on the way up. We put the pins wherever you’re in that weak point.

 

Now, the interesting thing about this is you’re not going to be allowed to wear a belt, wrist wraps. I’ll give them the option to wear knee sleeves or not, but this is automatically going to regulate the intensity. Which is nice, because what I like to track is stress over the long haul.

 

I’m not really looking at the weights, obviously. I want to see the stress that we’re doing and slowly trying to get you as close to your maximal recoverable volume but above the minimal effective volume. Just right in that right dose of stress level is where I want to keep the athlete, so finding that. Taking away the belt will help do that and still let them train. That would be the second day.

 

Then on the third day, I probably would give them some sort of tempo squat or maybe something like a split squat, like a dumbbell split squat. That’s how I would do it. The reason for the tempo squat is it’s going to help with technique. Three-count down, three-count up for however many reps we’re doing.

 

It’s also going to regulate the weight because you’re not going to be able to go as heavy if you have to do a six-count total for each rep while we’re still getting more volume in and increasing the frequency. That would be what I would have them doing if they’re doing three days a week, just as an example.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. That gives a lot of great feedback. In terms of tempo training, personally, I love it, too, for regulating intensities, especially for clients who might have form that they want to improve on or just improve on a skill.

 

Outside of just improving the skill, how else do you like to use tempo training? Is it always just based on skill acquisition? Or do you have other reasons you like to include tempo as well?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

For myself, one of the things that I’ve come into a roadblock with has been tendinitis or tendinopathy. Say I’m getting some knee tendinitis and I need to reduce the weight on the bar. I’ll do tempo squats with as much weight as I can handle. That’s still letting me squat and it’s reducing the weight. It’s letting my knees heal at the same time.

 

I would say, for someone who’s maybe experiencing some sort of knee pain while squatting, you’re probably going to want to try some tempo squats. You can do those without a belt. You can take your knee sleeves off.

 

It’s going to reduce the weight on the bar. It’s still going to keep you squatting, focus you on your form and technique and giving your knees a little bit of a break to help recover at the same time. I would say everything that you said, on top of if they’re dealing with any sort of knee pain or injury.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Do you ever use tempo for hypertrophy work?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Oh yeah. Hell yeah. Yeah, definitely. If you want to get those quads burning man, that’s a great way to do it. Tempo work for sure. In a lot of my hypertrophy blocks, I have them doing tempo work for any of the movements, honestly. That’s just a great way to get time under tension and get a good stress stimulus going.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love it. We’re squatting three times a week. You have me doing my comp squat. I’m beltless squatting with a variation based off of where I might be lagging a little bit more. Then, we’re doing a third day with another variation. How long would I perform this for? Do we have a goal in mind or do you like to set a goal in mind when it comes to, let’s say, a number?

 

Is it based off of the client’s feedback for their fatigue levels or where they want to go next? How do you generally structure this? I know it varies a lot, depending on ,obviously, what the client or athlete wants to achieve. How would you structure the length of a very hyper-focused program like this?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Do you mean the squat specifically, like it works off their actual squat?

Jake BolyJake Boly

Yeah. If we’re doing a squat program three times a week, generally, how long would this block or group of mesocycles be?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

It all depends. See, I’m a big fan of “run it until it no longer works.” [laughs]

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Got you.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I know that’s a simple answer. At the same time, it’s like, if you just kept riding this out and you were trending really well, and you were like, “Man, I’m feeling great,” we’d keep going. It all depends on the athlete. I’ve had athletes who, four weeks is too much. Then, I’ve had athletes who I can run it for six weeks.

 

It’s very interesting because there really isn’t a cut and dry way to do it for each athlete. Just a general rule of thumb, I’d say anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks. I know that’s vague, but if you wanted to give it a shot, and you say, “For the next 6 to 12 weeks, I’m really going to work on my squat,” I think that’s enough to get some conclusive data on what you tried.

 

If you try it for a week or two, or maybe even three weeks, I think it’s tough to gauge. You need to give it some time to really have some data to be like, “OK, I’ve done this. I’m noticing that my squat’s feeling better,” or whatever. You’re going to have that test and you did get some sort of new strength stimulus and that’s good. If not, what are we going to change?

 

If we were to go back to our original point, so many people want it so fast that they don’t give things enough time to actually get the result. They change their mind so quickly, when you got to be patient with it. I can’t give you a exact definite time frame, but I would say anywhere from that 6 to 12 week range would be enough to actually get some conclusive evidence on how things are going.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that, man. I think that your points are all so great because there really isn’t a one-size-fits-all. When it comes to talking about these topics, that’s always something that’s really tough to navigate and get across. I love that you gave that larger range of dates.

 

I guess my question for you then is, all right, I’m giving it the 6 to 12 weeks. Do you have any tips for judging when that trend line starts to go down and when it might be time to change? Let’s say we’re on the mindset of keeping it simple. We’re going to run this until it obviously doesn’t work anymore.

 

What do you as a coach look for, or obviously if the lists are going down or if the stress is high, is there anything that somebody can do on their own if they’re deciding to do this that they can objectively ask and be like, “Woah, these two weeks I’ve seen a big trend down. I should change things up?” How do you navigate that when you are training on your own and you might not have a coach to give you feedback?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Typically, we’re all going to have off weeks, off days. The way our program is using RPE, rated perceived exertion, as well as percents. I really like RPE training because it’s to that day, that given day, of how you’re feeling. I think often, at times, when we use percent-based programming, which does have its time and place.

 

For myself, I could come in and the program says we got to do five reps at 85 percent, but I didn’t sleep at all the night before, everything’s been crazy because of the holidays so I didn’t eat that much. That five at 85 feels like 95 percent.

 

Technically, that’s not the accurate training stimulus that I needed for that day, so I’m actually going off-program, where with RPE, where we have that set number, which is dependent on that day, and that’s an accurate stimulus given the circumstances that we are under for that day.

 

Then say we wanted to do some back offsets, we take our percentage from our working set of that day, and it’s very accurate to the same stress that we need. That’s been a huge help, just in general. I know it’s a little bit of side note, but it’ll help kind of when I explain the answer to your question.

 

I do like using the RPE-based training for myself but when I start to see myself downward trending, I noticed that my mood’s pretty bad, obviously, the weights are going down, my motivation for training is pretty low.

 

At that point, what I would do is the low-stress week. I’ve made YouTube videos about this. I know some other people like Mike Tuchscherer, the Barbell Medicine crew, Alan Thrall, they put out videos about low stress weeks. I absolutely love a low-stress week.

 

What this is, is it’s sort of the equivalent of to what people call a deload week. However, when most people deload, they drop the intensity super low, or they take a complete week off. The opposite is what I do.

 

I keep the intensity very high, but the volume drops. Typically, when people are feeling that burnout, or their bodies just kind of feeling pretty crappy from training, it’s because they are not recovering from that volume.

 

If we decrease the volume, we’re letting our body recover but we’re also still training at a higher intensity because that’s not what’s fatiguing us. Most of the time, doing heavy singles or doubles, or some triples isn’t going to make you crazy sore or run you into the ground.

 

What would do that is going to be lots and lots of volume. By doing that low stress week, we’re still working the skill. If you have the option to train while you’re recovering or not trained at all, I’m going to go with the training option, which is what the low-stress week lets us do.

 

When I feel that way or my clients feel that way, I’ll throw them the low-stress week. Even how I structured my programs, I give them a low-stress week, say, on the fourth or fifth week, maybe just that it says it there. Even mentally, they can know it’s there.

 

There are times when I got to adjust that low-stress week. I can also push it off because I have a client who says to me, “Dude, I’m feeling great where we have a low-stress week next week, but I’m feeling really good.” I’m like, “OK, well let’s just keep on with the program.”

 

Their low-stress week say comes in at week six. Like we said before, it’s athlete-dependent, but when that situation does come, a low stress week is a great way to still train and recover throughout that process.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Got you. Do you ever see instances where you do a low-stress week, but you’re still feeling a little bit burnt after that week?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

For me, typically not. For me, if I take anywhere from three or four days of a low-stress week or dialing it back, I’m itching by then to get back into the gym. For people that do feel that way, throw in another low-stress week.

 

It’s a simple rule of thumb if you want to, just try low-stress week again. If it’s more of a burnout thing, just change the movements for that block to maybe give you something to make you more compliant to the program or a little bit more excited.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Got you. Man, I love that answer. I love that we just talked through what a higher squat-focused workout program would look like it be. Man, I appreciate all the answers there.

 

Before we wrap up our chat, I do have some more, let’s call them rapid fire questions for you before we head out. First question, if you’re ready, is if you could train with anybody, alive or dead, who would it be and why?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Oh dude, that is so tough. [laughs]

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

That’s a loaded one.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah, dude. It’s going to be a lame answer. Honestly, all the people that I’ve trained with. I would love to just have a big party and train with us all together. I’ve had some really awesome people that I’ve crossed paths list.

 

Some people I haven’t trained with that I really want to and I’m supposed to in the future be like Stefi Cohen and her crew, Bryce Krawczyk from Calgary Barbell — him and I talk a lot, but I would be super pumped to train with him — and Mike Israetel.

 

Actually, I do Jiu-Jitsu where he does Jiu-Jitsu which we’ve never trained together, like in the gym, so I wanted to do that. I don’t really have a specific one person that comes to mind. I train my grandma. My grandma’s pretty badass so I like to train with her. She was in South Carolina. She’s kick ass, so maybe I’ll hang out with her.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

That’s amazing. All right, next one, and I am not sure how you’re going to actually handle this one. Would you rather win an Olympic gold medal in weightlifting or four consecutive World Strongest Man titles?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

I’m going to have to go with an Olympic gold on this one.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Interesting.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

The Olympic Gold is like…I mean, it is so known. If you got an Olympic, that’s crazy. That is crazy. I’m not to say that four consecutive World Strongest Man titles aren’t crazy but historically, the Olympics are just so massive, that having a gold medal around your neck from the Olympics would just be phew. That’d be cool.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

That’s rad. I thought that one might trip you up a little bit but you answered it perfectly. Never mind then.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

It kind of tie but the history with the Olympics to me is probably what sold me but other than that, I don’t know. I don’t know man.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

It’s tough. It’s really tough. All right, what is your favorite guilty pleasure training song? A song that you love to listen to maybe when you’re training alone that others might look at you and scratch their heads with. Do you have any?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

 Yeah, I got a good one. I really like “Highway to the Danger Zone” from Top Gun. If no one’s in the gym and I’m trying to get hype and be a goofball, I throw that on and try to lift some weights.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

That’s amazing. Final question for you before we end our chat is who has been the most influential person in the strength and conditioning world in your career thus far?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Dude, just one person.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

All right, what about two or three then? Can you come up with two or three that have helped shape how you are as a coach and how you view your business and so forth?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah, for sure. I would say Elliott Hulse and Zach Avinash were really like the founding fathers to what got me started. With Strongman, Brian Alsruhe really kicked it off for me and that led me to Alan Thrall.

 

I have to say, those guys have really helped influence me as a coach, my knowledge, my business. Those are great guys.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

hat’s amazing. Well, before we head out, would you mind sharing where folks can find you and follow you and learn from you?

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

Yeah, you can check me out on Instagram. My Instagram is @szatstrength. The gym’s Instagram is @lionsdenelitetraining. I have a website, szatstrengthe .NET and the YouTube channel Szatstrength.

That is where you can find anything and all my content.

Jake BolyJake Boly

 

Listeners, as always, we will link everything down below that was just mentioned. Joey, thank you so much for the time, man. It’s been a pleasure.

Joey SzatmaryJoey Szatmary

 

Yeah, man. Thank you for having me on. It was awesome.

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