Zack Bartell: What No One Tells You About Opening A Gym

Zack Bartell is a powerlifter and gym-owner based in Southern California. Bartell opened SoCal Powerlifting to the public at a very young age, and with strategy, a dream, and a business mindset, he has expanded the gym twice and has created a hub for multiple powerlifters and coaches in a few short years. In this episode, we discuss the logistics of opening your own gym and what it truly takes to build a successful coaching business.

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Zack Bartell and guest host Jake Boly discuss:

  • Who is Zack Bartell? (2:20)
  • How Zack has grown his coaching business/gym. (4:30)
  • How to switch from personal to professional business systems. (8:00)
  • Lessons learned from switching to new systems. (12:00)
  • Recognizing and changing course to shift business gears. (15:45)
  • When Zack shifted from his personal training to building his gym (18:45)
  • How Zack blends different coaching philosophies. (23:00)
  • Shifting structure for different clients. (26:30)
  • Tools to help clients see the endgame. (29:30)
  • Hypertrophy work for powerlifting and how to program it. (34:20)
  • Using hypertrophy at various fitness levels. (37:00)
  • What a normal hypertrophy training day looks like for Zack (38:20)
  • How Zack structures accessories following compound movements. (40:30)
  • Tips to scale back volume/intensity. (42:00)
  • Best advice Zack has ever received. (44:00) 

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Zack BartellZack Bartell

By the time he got surgery and came out of it, he couldn’t weightlift anymore and so he had to realign and find something else, find power lifting, find coaching in the sense fulfilled that role in his life, the other coaching.

I looked at that I said, “Look man, you know, I may have a bum knee and my knee is not great and I can still bench, you know, a good amount, deadlift good amount, the squats aren’t going to be there. Well, I’m going to try to be the best damn coach.”

Just realigning with that as me a huge role and even now from that coaching priority it’s realigned to more of that mentorship and leadership and business ownership. Priority of like, let’s create the best coaching organization that we can and create the best value there and build a damn good community.

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.

Today I’m talking to my good friend Zach Bartell. Zach is a power lifter, strength coach, and the owner of SoCal Powerlifting based in Irvine, California. Zach has coached hundreds of athletes and since starting SoCal Powerlifting at the age of 20 has quadrupled its size in less than five years.

In today’s episode, I talked to Zach about taking a leap of faith to start his own business, the lessons he’s learned along the way with scaling his gym, and much more. If you’re currently a coach and thinking about starting your own business, then I think you’ll truly love this episode.

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.

Today on the podcast, we are joined by Zach Bartell. He is a power lifter, a strength coach, and a young business owner from Southern California. Zach’s a good friend of mine. I’m stoked to have him on the podcast. Zach, if you don’t mind could you share a little bit more of your origin story for the audience that might not know of who you are.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah, totally. My name is Zach Bartell. I own a powerlifting gym in Southern California, Orange County specifically. We opened back in 2017 and currently have five coaches on staff, 170 members.

It all started when I was in high school. I was overweight my whole life. I actually didn’t really find a weight room until it’s 15 or 16. I think like most of us, right? Just decided that this is what I love. I fell in love with powerlifting.

I did my first meet when I was 17 and knew that would just be the start of everything. From there, I started going to Cal State Fullerton. Studied kinesiology and I was working for Chad Wesley Smith, who I’m sure many of the listeners are familiar with and Juggernaut Training Systems.

I started training myself there and coaching there as well and learning everything I could during that time. That’s really where I fell in love with the coaching aspect of powerlifting. Maybe I wasn’t destined to be the greatest powerlifter [laughs] or athlete rather, I knew that I can really leave an impact and make a mark as far as the coaching goes.

From I think the years of 2015 to 2017, I worked for Juggernaut. I learned everything I could and then ultimately when Chad decided to take his gym and business completely online, I purchased some of his equipment and opened a small space in Newport Beach with a few racks.

We started from there and grew. That’s my story. Obviously, there’s been other things along the way, but really just finding strength from a younger age and taking it as far as I could.

Jake BolyJake Boly

100 percent, man. I love that because I think what inspires me most about you is how young you are and how you’ve grown your business. I believe we met back in 2017 at the Barbell Brigade Open?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah, we did. Yes.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Watching how you’ve grown and how you’ve shift your mentality, whether it be through social media or just talking to you directly, I think it’s been amazing. I want to dive into how you’ve grown your business.

Because me personally, as a coach, I think it’s so interesting that you took a leap of faith when you were so young to tackle a goal that I think a lot of coaches and trainers eventually want, to open their own gym.

Can you walk us through the whole mindset process you built to take that leap? Because you were young, right? You were 20 or 21 when you did so?

 

Zack BartellZack Bartell

I was 20 when we opened. Correct.

Jake BolyJake Boly

That’s amazing. Share your [laughs] thoughts and process, man, because that takes a lot of confidence to do.

 

Zack BartellZack Bartell

The biggest thing is, people always ask, “When did you know was the right time?” or “What made you make that decision?” There’s never a right time. I think that’s the biggest thing and a lot of the hurdles for people who want to be entrepreneurial in the fitness realm is when to take the leap.

My biggest piece of advice will always be just do it. I realized that there was an opportunity for me to purchase some equipment with a very lenient payment plan, thanks to Chad. I saw the opportunity in front of me and I just seized it.

I never thought that I would own a gym. I didn’t think gyms were very profitable. I didn’t know the possibilities there but it all just kind of came together.

I’d say the biggest thing when getting into fitness business whether it’s online coaching, whether it’s brick-and-mortar gym is building to scale. Learning how to build a scale it takes time, it takes even mentorship.

Really what that is, is building out the systems so that as you do grow and as you add more clientele, that you’re able to offload and you’re able to teach your processes, it’s not just all kind of in your head. It’s not just the one-man show or the one-woman show.

It can be something that you can add on team members, and they can take over certain things, and you guys can continue to grow if that is your goal. At the end of the day if you want it to just be you and you have your coaching business and it’s just you, then that’s totally fine.

But it’s going to be really important to stay on top of your stuff and make sure that you have the systems in place. I’m sure you’ve met tons of coaches and stuff that still take payments over Venmo and Manual PayPal and stuff.

They don’t have kind of an automated billing system or they don’t have agreements in place. These little things here and there. People have yet to kind of learn how to operate their coaching business or the fitness business on that more professional scale and level. I think that’s one of the biggest things that have played a role and an impact.

What I’ve been able to do is from the get-go, I learned from very early on that if you want to grow your fitness business or coaching business you have to put in the systems in place to grow. We use true coach for all of our coaching. Having that all organized in one place, automated billing systems, agreements in place.

Things like that to show that we were next level or the more professional than maybe another coaching business or coach. I feel like really has played the biggest role, and from there it’s been leadership. Knowing that I wanted SoCal Powerlifting to transcend just me.

I wanted to be a team effort and adding on the right people and with the right positions in place to do that and making sure that it was good quality individuals as well. I’d say those are the biggest things. It would be systems and leadership and building the team for sure.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Got you. Something that kind of strikes my attention in there is what you said about systems. I think one of the toughest parts for a lot of folks is deciding when to implement certain systems. Is it based on volume? Is it based on your time allotment?

Can you walk us through how you navigated some of those stickier situations of when to switch from, let’s say Venmo to a more professional billing system? When to switch to bringing on more people. Were you strapped on hours? How did you kind of dictate that?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

I think there was definitely some points in my life where I was like, “OK, like, enough is enough. I have to do X or I have to do this.” One of those things was, for example, communication. In the beginning, sure most coaches will start by texting our clients. If they’re online, they’re sending us videos maybe via text message, Facebook Messenger, different things like that.

That got very overwhelming very quickly. The reason being is, when you have that open line of communication, it’s great and it’s great value, but you’ve never clocked out. While that has its pros and cons, as an entrepreneur, you get to set your own schedule and work the day you want.

It can lead to a lot of anxiety. That’s what it did to me. I think I had gotten roughly 20 to 30 clients. This is back in 2017, I think, or late 2017 early 2018, where I was still texting clients and stuff. What I realized was, I couldn’t do it anymore. I’d wake up to 20 videos on my phone and it would make me anxious.

I’d be in a movie, maybe on a date or something and I get texts from clients, I felt like I needed to respond immediately. While that’s all good, it’s really not healthy as the coach. Setting those boundaries, there’s never going to be a set like, “OK at 10 clients you do this, at 20 clients you do this and 30…” so on so forth.

What I would recommend and what I’ve tried to mentor other coaches that are outside of my own business and even just in the industry is, just start now.

A lot of people are afraid of, “Oh, if I don’t allow my clients to text me like they won’t think I care.” That’s not true at all. 100 percent not true. People respect your boundaries and I guarantee they will. The other thing is, as far as the payment stuff goes I think the need of reaction there is, let’s talk taxes.

If it’s through, let’s say automated business prof or PayPal business or whatever it is, yeah, that’s tracked and you would need to pay taxes on that. But to my argument on that is, “Look, you’re going to miss less payments, it’s going to be more professional and you’ll probably streamline the business a bit better and grow a little faster.”

Because at the end of the day, you don’t want to have to send 20 Venmo requests every month to clients. It definitely lacks professionalism. I think we need to uphold as a standard for coaching and coaching businesses.

I’d say from the get-go, just start now. Even if you just have five clients, create your business. Whether it’s a sole prop, whether you want to form an LLC. If you really want to go all in on this thing, do it now. Why not?

Then find the automated billing system that you like the most. For many, that’s PayPal business. A lot of people use that. A lot of big coaching companies use that. Find a platform for coaching that you like. If that is Google Drive and Google Sheets, if you are a Sheets guy or girl, do it. If that’s TrueCoach or TrainHeroic or whatever other platform, do it.

I would definitely stress the importance of finding those programs and software that work really well for you and doing it now because you should treat your 5 clients like you have 30, and you should treat your 30 clients like you have 5.

What will happen along the way is, if you don’t input those systems and you start to grow, and you go from 5 to 10, to 20, etc., you’re going to hit those marks of I’m getting anxiety. I’m having problems. My retention is down. Things like that. I’d say get in front of those problems now and take the leap even if it’s a little bit uncomfortable, and do that stuff.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. I resonate with that so hard because outside of Barbend and stuff, I managed 12 clients. That’s where I capped myself because anytime I try to do more man, I just have that exact same panic and whatever else that you’ve been talking about. That anxiety, it’s always being on, on, on. Never breaking. I love that.

Going off of all that, my biggest questions for you are, when you were going through implementing these processes, what are some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way? Have you made a bad call when you’ve tried to implement something new and have you overcorrected and how have you done that? Can you give us a couple examples of times you’ve done that maybe?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Totally. There’s nothing that glares right out of me as, oh man that was a mistake, but I will say there was definitely a learning curve in the sense of the clients I was texting and had that communication with.

Setting those new boundaries can be tougher. It’s easier to set the boundaries with a client that you’ve never coached before and you bring them on and just explain that this is the protocol versus a client that you’ve been texting every single day for the last year.

Now you’re saying, “Hey man, I need you to email me these things. I need you to post on TrueCoach or message me here,” and finding a way to phrase that so they feel like they are still taken care of, that can be tough. Honestly, one of the bigger roadblocks that I found at my level where we’re at is we implemented more long-term agreements and contracts at the gym.

We implemented those back in June, this last June. That was a huge leap of faith for me because in my mind I’m like man, who’s going to want to sign up for 12 months? I was afraid people were going to turn around and walk out when they found that they had to either sign up for 6 or 12 months or pay a little bit more.

Ultimately, it’s one of those things once you just hop in and go for it, all your insecurities vanish, because then you see it work. You see the success. There’s a reason that these systems are in place. There’s a reason people do this. You’ll see that right in front of you.

As far as the billing and stuff goes, honestly, there’s no reason why someone can’t create a PayPal business or something like that. There was really no issues on that end, but I’d say as far as communication goes, sometimes setting those standards can be tough. Just finding that groove is really important.

The other thing is being really aware of your true capacity as far as clientele goes. Honestly, at one point, I was coaching, I think I had 64 clients under me. At that point, my quality of work was not where I wanted it to be and I knew that right away. I tried to be aware. One of my biggest insecurities was offloading some of my personal clients to some of our other coaches in-house.

That was really hard for me, but I realized then and looking back now, I should have done that a long time before that because I did start to have people leave because I wasn’t able to give them the attention that they frankly deserve that I was able to give them before that.

That was definitely a very, very hard thing that I went through. My advice to someone would be, before you get to that point, be aware of what your capacity should be. If you do create your own coaching company and have other coaches under you, be aware that to have your business scale and to have the company grow and prosper itself and have those other coaches prosper, you’re going to need to have time to do that.

That might mean lowering your roster a little bit and having those hard conversations with clients that you love and care about that, hey at this moment where we’re at, this person can do a better job than I can. That took a lot of heart and guts on my end. I waited a little too long to do that, for sure. That was one of the things that definitely pops out in my mind.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Gotcha. When you have those moments of self-reflection, when you recognize when you’re at your cap…Because I think a lot of coaches go through this or something similar. A lot of trainers do that as well, where they realize like, “Holy crap. I am so bogged down right now. What do I do?”

Did you reach out to mentors to talk about it? How did you go through that self-reflection process? I think that’s huge. Being able to recognize, take a step back, and then change your course pretty much to be more aligned with what you want to do. Can you walk us through some of that?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

It’s tough because there’s really no right answer to any of this stuff. I go based on feel for a lot of things. That’s how I operate. That’s how I am. I definitely talked to some mentors and people in the field, people who I looked up to. I realized that the feelings that I were feeling were very valid, one.

Two, that the clients that I had to have these conversations with, if they really care, they’re going to stick around and be grateful that you did have those conversations and move them over before it got to a point where you just couldn’t put in the energy and effort. They’re going to be grateful when they see the quality of work and the value that that other coach has to give to them and realize that that’s totally OK.

It’s just tough because there is no right or wrong answer. You just have to go by feeling. That I would probably just say as you are scaling and growing, just be very aware of where your client load is at in the quality of your work.

If you catch yourself getting lazy on certain things, maybe copying and pasting some blocks a little bit too much, not editing things enough, or your feedback on videos isn’t as good, just be aware of those things and take note. At the end of the day, people are going to notice. If you want to uphold your standard, it’s important that you do that and you lead by example there.

I was starting to catch myself getting a little bit too lazy on programming, because I was so worried about 10 other things. I was worried about keeping the roof over our head and the rent covered and all these other things that in my mind at the time were more important, because you don’t have a place to live, then what’s the coaching mean anyway?

I realized that the time I was spending on the coaching and programming with that amount of client load, it wasn’t what it should be. From there I now have just under 20 clients and operating way more smoothly.

Putting in my 110 percent effort on both the client’s side and the operation side and able to handle it a lot better. Like I said, to really sum that up there’s really no right answer. You just have to be very aware

Jake BolyJake Boly

Gotcha. Stemming from that, I was listening to your podcast with Juggernaut. I believe it was about a week or two ago, just doing some research for this. I loved the part where you were talking about shifting from having a full-on focus on training to more of a gym owner/coach.

It sounds like a lot of what you just talked about kind of segue into that. I want to ask you when did you decide that, all right, I need to take more of my attention from my own personal training and shift that into growing this and prospering this and lifting up other coaches and athletes?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

One of the biggest things and if you listen that podcast, you’ll know my knee injury history and stuff. Just to give the listeners background on that, I grew up dislocating my kneecap quite a lot. Playing football in high school I probably had like…in one year I had like eight kneecap dislocations and what that did was, it did pop right back in place, it was all good.

What happened was, then the kneecap started sitting at a little bit laterally and as I got into power lifting really started to degrading that cartilage in that left knee to the point where the knee had very, very little cartilage left, extremely painful. Some of my history is like my best squat came in April of 2017 and after that things just went really downhill.

I finally found a good doctor to perform a surgery on me and I had surgery a little over a year ago, in November 2018. What that did was I had to reshape my focus. I had to come to the realization that with this knee thing even if I got surgery which the surgery is great, it’s better but still not 100 percent I’m not going to be the best power lifter and me and my mind and the way I work is I want to be the best at everything I do.

I’m very competitive person. I realized that, OK, well, I’m not going to be a wrestler, all right. I’m not going to be a John Haack. It’s just not going to happen but you know what I can do, I can be the best damn coach. There’s nothing stopping me except my work ethic and my ability to learn and adapt.

I just took ownership of that. I was like, “OK, if I can’t be the best powerlifter, what can I be?” That was coaching. I could keep my hand in powerlifting and keep in it by coaching and living vicariously through my lifters, even if I couldn’t lift myself. Honestly, one of the biggest influences in that was Max Aita.

For those that know his history, he broke his wrist weightlifting and didn’t get surgery on it for I think a year where his lunate bone and his wrist went necrotic. By the time he got surgery and came out of it, he couldn’t weightlift anymore. He had to realign and find something else, find powerlifting, find coaching in a sense.

Fulfilled that role in his life via the coaching. I looked at that and I said, “Look, man, you know I may have a bone knee and my knee’s not great and I can still bench, you know, good amount and deadlift a good amount, but the squats aren’t going to be there. Well, I’m going to try and be the best damn coach.”

Just realigning with that has made a huge role. Even now from that coaching priority. It’s realigning more of that mentorship and leadership and business ownership priority of life. Let’s create the best coaching organization that we can and create the best value there and build a damn good community.

That’s definitely hard and anyone who’s gone through injury, serious injury or debilitating injury in lifting, they’ve been sidelined either for X amount of time or forever to a certain extent. You’ll find a lot of those people have had to stop identifying themselves as that thing.

I was Zach, the powerlifter. That was who I was for five years. I identified as Zach, the powerlifter. I’m good at it. This is what I do. I had to give that up in a sense and re-identifies. I’m more than Zach, the powerlifter. I’m Zach, the coach, I’m Zach, the brother, I’m Zach, the student.

All these other things that I can put my 100 percent into so that I didn’t feel all was lost and it was all over. It’s all about perspective. At the end of the day you’re not going to be able to powerlift forever.

You’re not going to be able to crossfit forever. You’re not going to be able to weightlift forever. Those types of sports aren’t lifelong sports. Identifying as other things and finding other ways to keep in it and stay focused and help others, I think, has played a huge role in my success and growth both on a personal level and professional level.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Gotcha. I want to ask you a little bit more about coaching and how you reference building your business to be the best type of coaching. When it comes to blending different coaching methodologies, how do you do that and how do you approach it?

With trial and error? Is it from you trying things? Because I think that’s always so interesting to ask other trainers and coaches and athletes because everybody has their take on what works best, right?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah, to

I want to know how you blend different methodologies and how you go about doing so.

tally.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I want to know how you blend different methodologies and how you go about doing so.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

I think, as far as coaching philosophies go, just in general, I think the people that make the biggest impact are going to be those coaches’ coaches along the way. I’ve been extremely fortunate to work with some awesome coaches to the likes of Chad Wesley Smith, Mark Theta, Eric Bodhorn.

All different levels and somewhat of a different philosophy there, too. I’ve been able to take that anecdotal experience…I think a lot of coaches take that anecdotal experience with the stuff they’ve done, apply it, and add their own spin on it, in combination with the scientific literature where things are at.

I think that’s really important is to always stay on your toes and never stop wanting to learn, continuing to read articles, continuing to see what’s new and what’s out there, and not getting stuck with, “Oh, this is my way. This is how I do this. This is how I’ve been doing it for 10 to 20 years, so I know what I’m doing.”

I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had come in the door that are like “old school.” They’ve been lifting for 20 years and they’re still doing 5/3/1, or whatever it is, when we should really be taking maybe a little bit of a higher volume of approach there, or different things like that.

I’d say, as far as philosophies go, I definitely have taken a piece from everyone who I’ve worked with along the way, along with what I’ve learned in school, what I’ve learned from the literature, other great coaches online like Alberto Nuñez, Greg Nuckols, Eric Helms, and just applied that.

The other thing is, too, there’s never a right or wrong answer when it comes to programming. Believe it or not, it should be individualized, and a lot of that has to do with the given lifter, what kind of lifter they are, what their MRV is, what they can handle, their life stress, their balance.

There’s so many things at play there, and that’s why I can’t stress the importance enough to, if you really want the highest quality of coaching, it’s important to limit your roster. When you get into those upper echelons of higher client loads, you can’t be on top of it like you should.

As far as philosophies go, of course, there’s going to be little takeaways. There’s going to be some anecdotal experience there, stuff I’ve gone through, stuff I’ve learned. It’s just a culmination of all of that, bringing it together to fit that given client, and learning it along the way.

I like to say, “Programming is a science experiment.” When you’re working with a client, the longer you work with them, the better the programming should get, because you start to understand what that client responds to, how their body responds, how should they peak, all these different things. How’s their recovery?

Just optimizing little things as you go, changing one variable at a time, so you can really elicit the change and see where that change came from. Versus just completely trashing that current methodology, throwing in a new one and seeing, “Oh, does Westside work for this person? No. OK, does 5/3/1 work? Does 5..?”

Just constantly changing what that protocol is. Let’s manipulate a little bit of time and see what can work there.

 

Jake BolyJake Boly

I dig that. I think Ben Pollack wrote an article on, similar to that nature, just pretty much talking about changing little things as you go. I do have a question on shifting structure for different clients.

Let’s say a client responds very well to volume but you don’t recognize that right away, how long do you give them a program or work with them before you start to try a little bit more of the macro structuring of the program?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

I’d say probably roughly 12 to 16 weeks, going through a few mesocycles of training and different blocks of periodization. If you take someone through a hypertrophy block, and they respond great, maybe that person wasn’t doing a lot of volume before.

Therefore, we’re eliciting a ton of change, because this is very new for them, and they’re making tons of adaptations. I would say I like to take lifters through 12 to 16 weeks of training into a meet before really making changes.

I had a lifter who, he’s one of my coaches on staff, actually. I wrote his training block into a meet last year, last spring. He’s very, very jacked, very lean and I threw him into the ringer, thinking, “Oh, man. This guy’s jacked, he’s probably been doing all this volume.” He gave me his training history.

I realize not everyone can handle that amount. It is trial and error, and explaining that to them, too. Communicating, like, “Hey, look. This is your block. This is where we’re starting out, and I’m going to continue to adapt and make necessary adjustments to this as we go along and just know that it’s just going to keep getting better and better. I’d give it at least 8, 12 to 16 weeks before making major changes.

Let’s say someone has a meeting in three months or 12 weeks from now, taking them through what you would assume that block should be based on if they are X amount of body weight and this gender and this training history. Take him through that and then making those changes afterwards and seeing, well, it’s the best change and making decisions from there.

It takes time, but if you communicate that, they say, “Hey, you know what?” It’s possible that we don’t see the results we maybe desire at first as we learn you and how you respond, but I guarantee that as we continue to adapt and change we’re going to see those results. We’re going to see it dramatically.

I can’t tell how many lifters I’ve had where I’d take them through their first meet prep and we didn’t hit massive PR as these are more intermediate advanced lifters. There’s less new beginnings to be had there and we didn’t hit maybe the PRs we wanted or maybe we PR the squat but match the bench on the deadlift.

Just explaining that the baby wins or wins and that this is just a learning experience for us to grow and adapt the programming and then at next meet, they absolutely crush it because we made the necessary changes.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Yeah, I was going to ask how you navigate that because with longer-term goals and smaller tiny, let’s call them micro changes, I feel like it’s hard to believe that clients and trainees that look at the long game here. At the end of the day, it’s also like when you’re coaching and training it’s also an experience.

You’re selling them on the benefits that it holds but you also need to have them feeling like they’re getting a ton of work in. How do you navigate that?

I know you mentioned that you make sure you vocalize and explain exactly your processes and how it’s going to be a long game effort, but do you have any more acute tools that you plotted your toolbox to help clients see like, “Hey, this is why we’re doing this. This is what’s going to stay consistent” when you have those clients that might want to jump or they’re getting a little bit fidgety because they don’t feel like they’re doing enough?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah. I’d say depending on your structure as far as your coaching goes, whether you have regular, if it’s online with a regular like Skype meetings, ZOOM meetings or calls, things like that, explain the macro.

Maybe this client just signs up, maybe they’re on a month to month plan with you, and they’re working with you, and they are prepping for this next meet, the way I advised my coaches, the way we go about things is just from the get-go, we treat the client like they’re going to be around for a year. We just assume it.

That way, it makes our job better and easier because then we’re able to put in that effort. I’ve whipped out a macro plan with clients and said, “Hey, here’s your next year. These are the meets we’re going to do. Here’s how your training is going to probably look through these meets, and how we’re going to change things as we go along.”

Get a little more sports specific as we get closer to the bigger meets. Things like that. Really just communicate that, “Hey, we may see less progress here to here because we’re working on these other adaptations.” Maybe it’s hyperbole, maybe it’s increasing general strength and general physical preparedness.

Making sure you’re communicating the different goals of the given block because not every block is going to be, “Hey, let’s get massively strong and make all the progress.” Some of it’s going to be, “Hey, let’s add muscle mass. Hey, we’re going to be on a cut here, so now we’re going to get a caloric deficit. Maybe the results are going to be a little bit less.”

I would say have regular communication with the client, be completely transparent with what you’re doing, be straightforward, and take a long-term approach. Assume they’re going to be around for a while and treat them like they are and you might find that they just stick around.

I’ve had very few clients quit after one trading block or cycle because they didn’t see the results they wanted because I’d try to do my absolute best to say, “Hey, this is a long-term game, powerlifting is a long-term sport and the way to stay in this a long time is to think of the macro perspective.”

Honestly, I’ve also been able to use my personal experience when it comes out as well. I used to just train so hard. Just over training and gym twice a day, doing 10 by 10 on squat, just all the volume because I thought working hard is the answer. It’s just important to communicate that it’s not.

I find this being a little bit more of an issue with younger lifters because you find if you’ve ever coached like a 16, 17, 18 to urge the junior lifter, they are very just like any young person just they want it all now, they want it yesterday.

Just explaining that, look, we’re not going to squat 700 pounds tomorrow. It’s not realistic, but in five years, yeah, that’s a possibility. You squat 500 pounds now, five years, a good training, stay on top of this, staying injury free, we can crush that.

Just really relating that this is a long-term sport and to stay in it a long time you have to train smart and showing them the plan in front of them, a tangible plan that’s well thought out versus just being like, just to stay in the pocket, just hold on tight, I think it’s very important.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. I don’t think a lot of coaches show enough visuals when it comes to the long-term approach and I think that’s awesome. Do you ever show, let’s say, other clients that you’ve had from their longer-term macro plans and do you kind of relay messages in that way?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yes. I have before. I definitely should do it more often so I’m not going to be one to be behind my day and be like, “Oh man, I’ve got a macro plan for every single client I ever coach and everyone I’m coaching.”

The clients who have showed a little bit more reservations or anxiousness when it comes they’re training of their progress, I definitely have taken the time out to lay out the plans so that they can see the why behind what we’re doing because not everyone is going to be a soldier.

Not everyone is going to see the plan and just be able to just go out there and execute it and have this clinical blind trust. A lot of people would need to see the why behind the what. As a coach, it is your job to know the why and to be able to explain the why. I think that’s very important. What you’ll find is, you get a lot more buy in there and therefore you probably see better results as well.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I’m going to take a quick transition because I want to pick your mind on coaching, a little bit while we’re on the topic of coaching. One of the articles you wrote for us I absolutely loved and that was hypertrophy for powerlifters.

As our knowledge continues to grow in this sport and in strength sports in general, a lot of people are seeing stock and doing a lot of high perjury work for powerlifting just in terms of longevity.

I would love for you to walk us through your thought process with how you program hypertrophy lifting for both beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters and how that skill shifts in terms of how much work you dole out for each population?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah, totally. As far as programming hypertrophy for lifters of different states, whether they’re beginner, advanced, intermediate etc., your beginner lifters are always going to need more and they’re going to respond to more. We can assume most beginning lifters are less jacked.

I use that word quite a bit in that article and we know that the more jacked we are, we can assume we’re probably going to be stronger. Yeah, getting those beginning lifters on more hypertrophy blocks, so maybe that’s a ratio of two hypertrophy blocks to one strength block to one peaking block.

Maybe on an intermediate lifter that’s going to be one hypertrophy block to one strength and a peak. Maybe on that advanced lifter, that’s going to be a ratio of more strength blocks, maybe one hypertrophy block to one strength block.

It’s going to shift based on the person because you may have an advanced lifter that maybe they filled out their weight class. They’re killing it, but we’ve been a little stagnant. Maybe it’s time to fill out the new weight class above that. Maybe you’re going from 52 kilos to 57, so we need to do more hypertrophy. Now we’ve got to build more muscle mass on the frame. It is highly individual.

I’d say generally, we can assume that the beginning lifters need to do more hypertrophy. I think that is definitely a mistake, or it’s not done enough. In today’s day and age and with training, a lot of lifters they pull plans offline. They’ll pull a five by five, a StrongLifts, whatever it is. They don’t understand the importance of that hypertrophy because they just want to lift heavy all the time.

It’s definitely hard to communicate that importance of, “Hey, you know what? You signed up for powerlifting coaching, but we’re going to do some bodybuilding with some powerlifting focus for quite some time.”

It comes down to communication. At the end of the day, I would say, the more beginner you are, the more hypertrophy you should be doing, and the more advanced you are, the less you need because you’re already fairly jacked.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I was going to say, when you look at free programs online, you just see compound movements in every single day. It’s like, “All right, well, that’s cool and all, but when we have someone who’s just learning how to squat, why are we just going to have them just squat and not build everything else up around it?” Build strong gluts, focus on the core. Focus on everything that assists.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

To go along with that, too, I like to explain it this way. I actually hosted a small seminar yesterday for a local college class. I talked about, we taught a lot of technique, and we changed a lot of things.

I just said, “Look, what I don’t want you to do is take this new technique, go into the gym and max out or go into the gym and do sets of three. I want you to go in the gym and do four sets of eight. I want you to go in the gym and do five sets of six,” or whatever it is.

That gives you 30-plus opportunities to get better, grease that groove, and learn that technique. If we’re a beginning lifter, we’re learning a new technique that we just went over, and we’re doing three by three, that’s nine reps, man.

That’s not a lot of time to really practice and actually nail it, versus doing a four by eight. That’s 32 reps now. Think about how much more we get out of that. Not only are we getting hypertrophy adaptations, but the technical adaptations are huge as well.

Jake BolyJake Boly

100 percent. I think that a lot of people write off hypertrophy as just being good for building mass, but I mean, reality, it’s like what you just said. It’s greasing the groove. It’s building efficiency over and over with the specificity of that movement.

Cool, man. Going off of that, I have one more question for you on hypertrophy. I want to hear your thoughts on, let’s just say a normal, squat-focused leg day. What does a normal hypertrophy day look for, for your clients and how you coach?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Totally. It’s tough because it is very individual, so let’s assume this person trains five days a week, or I’m going to also assume they’re a 170- to 190-pound male. That person’s probably going to squat twice a week. Let’s say they’re in hypertrophy [inaudible 38:50] , they’re going to squat twice a week. Both of those leg days have squats in them because, again, we want to take into account specificity.

One day might be a little bit heavier, and one day might be a little bit lighter, and one day might be a little bit more leg accessory dominant. We do maybe a four by eight, let’s call it a 60 to 70 percent depending on where they’re at. Then we might do one exercise, maybe we do like 1.5 squats where we come out of the hole, go back down, come all the way up.

Maybe we do sets of five or six there. We’re getting a ton of leg hypertrophy there. Then we probably move on to leg press or belt squats for sets of 12 to 15, depending on what block they’re in. From there, maybe we’ll do some unilateral work, maybe it’s Bulgarian split squats, or walking lunges, or step-ups. That’s usually quite a bit of stimulus for the quads for most people.

I’d say four to five quad exercises are good on that end. Maybe we’ll do one more back movement that day, but they’re probably going to be gassed from all the squat work as is. Again, it really depends. It depends on the size, strength, and it also depends on how much time that lifter has to train because some people take forever to do a hypertrophy squat workout.

They’d need two to three hours, and not everyone can get that done in an hour, hour and a half, and maybe they don’t have two hours to three hours to kill in the gym. We would then, at that point, if they’re crunched for time, maybe do a little more squatting, but still on those high rep ranges just to get those hypertrophy adaptations.

 

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love it. I love the visual that you just laid out because I think that can be tricky for a lot of folks, especially when they’re writing their own programs.

I want to ask you, when building that workout day how do you structure accessories that follow the primary movement? Is it based on energy allotment? Is it based on basic load on the body? How do you structure that? Because I know how I structure my accessories, but I really want to hear how you like to do so with your methodologies.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Definitely as far as the energy allotment goes, you’re going to use more energy on the multi-joint movements, your squats and stuff. Again, huge, right? Then from there doing that, that first variation movement, again, that’s going to be more taxing than doing pin squats to parallel are going to be more exhausting to your body than doing walking lunges.

We do it in order of that. By the time that individual gets those walking lunges, they can still execute it because it’s not so much stimulus that they can’t handle it anymore, that they’re too tired. It’s enough to list at the quad hypertrophy.

Would you structure it that way? It really is based on fatigue. Even intro workout fatigue if…How will that person be able to handle it? Everyone’s a little bit different. I have some people that maybe they’ll do that a four by eight on the squats.

They’ll do their variation. They can only handle one accessory and they cannot do anything more. The quads are cramped, and they’re done. Everyone’s a little bit different. Everyone’s in a little bit different shape. You just have to pick, pick and choose from there.

I’d say, those multi-joint movements first, obviously. Then we get into more those single joint and more unilateral stuff with less load are going to be towards the end there.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Do you have any tips for folks who are programming for themselves? When it comes to being objective enough to know your limits? Is it based on…Because I think a trap that a lot of beginners especially coaches can fall into is doing too much and thinking that pushing through is the ticket.

When in reality it’s your body actually signaling, “Hey, this is my cap for what we’ve done with volume and intensity for today.” Do you have any tip? Do you have any tools there?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Yeah. Well, OK. My biggest tip’s going to hire a coach. [laughs]

Jake BolyJake Boly

Yeah, of course.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

I know, right? The jokes aside there. One, hiring a coach is great because they’re…It takes that subjectivity out of it. Now, someone else’s writing the plan. You go in and execute. Also if you are a coach yourself, it gives you learning opportunities.

I still work with a coach till this day. I’ve gone through different periods of time where I program for myself, but I find that either I work too hard, or don’t work hard enough. There’s no middle ground there. If you do program for yourself, it really is important to listen to your body and not just free-for-all on it all the time have a good structure.

Have weights programmed out in advance and don’t…Think about yourself as a client. Think about what you would tell a client to do. If you have, let’s say, five by five at a given weight and you feel great that day and you want to do 10 to 15, to 20 pounds more, what would you tell your client? Probably say, “No.”

You’d probably talk about the long-term plan quality. Probably, say, “Hey, look, we’re going to go have your next week anyways. Let’s not do this now.” Try to treat yourself like a client as much as you can.

If you don’t have the funds to hire a coach, or you aren’t following a plan that you’re just following plans written for you, it’s going to be tough, but the best way would just be stay as objective as possible. Write the plan in advance and don’t pick your weights on the fly.

Jake BolyJake Boly

I love that. Man, that pretty much wraps up our chat. I do want to ask you one final question to cap this podcast. This has been a very insightful podcast when it comes to building a business and fitness, but also just some of your takes on coaching itself.

My final question for you, Zach, is in all of your years of training and building a business, what has been the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a mentor or somebody that you look up to?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Honestly, I’d say, bet on yourself. It’s something I’ve talked about on my Instagram, but the best bet with the most return you’ll ever make is betting on yourself and realizing that you can…Your work ethic is under your control.

Your ability to learn to adapt is under your control. You can make those decisions to influence the outcomes that you want. If you have been mulling over going out on your own, and starting your own thing, or breaking off, and jumping into coaching full time, just do it.

There is no right time. You’re not going to feel comfortable. I still don’t feel comfortable because everything’s always new all the time. We’re always growing at different levels and stuff. Just get comfortable being uncomfortable and really bet on yourself. I think that’s the greatest gamble you’ll ever make. Just put in the work.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Dude, I appreciate your time. I love that advice. That’s something that everybody can use, whether you’re in fitness or out of it.  I appreciate the time, Zach. We look forward to having you back on eventually. Hopefully in maybe middle 2020?

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Awesome, man, yeah. I really appreciate being on. I hope all your listeners had some good takeaways here. I’m super excited.

Jake BolyJake Boly

Have a good one, Zach.

Zack BartellZack Bartell

Bye-bye. Have a good one.

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