JL – Zach, before we did this interview I heard of you running camps for athletes
all outdoors. How successful were they and what kind of training did you do with
the athletes?

ZE – Oh man, this was great fun! A few years back, the town I worked for had all
these summer sports camps, but none of them were for getting athlete educated
with the proper ways of training.

So I pitched the idea and they were concerned with how I could run a “strength,
power and speed camp” without a weight room. Problem was that once summer
started, Football started running the weight room, and the gym was being used by

So I told them not to worry, everything would be outdoors, and if it rained we
would train under the gazebo’s at the park with bodyweight and sandbags. No
problem ?

I brought sleds and sandbags with me and the rest of the work was done with
bodyweight and partner bodyweight drills. The camps kicked ass and they were a
huge hit with all the athletes.

We always did a warm up with various movements and mobility drills and simple
calisthenics. From there we moved on to sled training. We did relay races at the
end of each sled workout and we really got the kids hyped on this. We would form
teams, let the kids come up with team names, then the races would be various
dragging movements and sometimes we would mix in sandbag exercises or
calisthenics at the end of the drags.

We did the same with the sandbag training. Every day we would review the basics,
perform strength work with them, then add one or two movements to learn and
practice. After sandbag training would be more relay races.

We also took trips to all the local playgrounds and every day created different
workouts with the different playgrounds. You’ll see this a lot in my Underground
Strength Kit. I have a boat load of training pics at various playgrounds because
so much of my own training plus the training of my clients is performed at
playgrounds and fields.

You can’t beat the versatility of having an outdoor gym ready for you which is
also FREE!

JL – That reminds me of the days of the OLD Muscle Beach in Venice, California! I
loved seeing all the training those guys did on the rings, parallel bars and all
the bodyweight partner movements! Did those guys influence you at all, Zach?

ZE – Heck yea, those guys motivated me and influenced me! The ladies trained
there as well! You can see from their photos how much they were having fun and
literally just loving life! Training out in the sunshine, the freedom to move
their body as they wanted and not be confined to a machine or gym rules, those
were THE days! That’s why it was called “The Golden Era”.

I am definitely a throw back to those days and I always felt I belonged on
Muscle Beach back then. I bring my own traveling rings with me though! I heard
they took the rings down from Venice Beach which is really too bad!

But, getting back to what we do, I was also influenced heavily from a college
Gymnastics instructor I had who was also a wrestler. His physique was awe
inspiring and his wrestling performance was like nothing I had ever seen!

It proved to me the importance of bodyweight and gymnastics training and the
only place I have access to equipment similar to gymnastics equipment is at the

I took it a step further and created a boat load of partner combative movements
that can be used anywhere and anytime. I use them when I run seminars at
wrestling clubs. I literally have no equipment at these clubs but the results
and the workouts these athletes experience is awesome!

The great benefit to the partner combative drills is that they force both
athletes to work but through different movements and requirements. One might be
training speed while the other is working static strength to hold a position and
so froth. These combative drills can also be applied with variations to
accommodate less experienced athletes and even non athletes.


Should He Stay or Should He Go? The Risk and Reward

JL: Zach, tell us how you learned about “Underground” training?

ZE – Well, without a doubt, my very first days of training at a gym always leave
me with the recollection of George, a jacked dude who was built like he was
carved from stone. This guy was solid muscle! He never did what the rest of us
did. He trained his own way, his own style and he never cared what others said
to him.

I still remember to this day watching him spend over 30 or 45 minutes on one
movement! I would be finishing a workout and he was still training one movement!
I remember watching him do endless sets of weighted dips, or flat benching or
weighted pull ups. Back then I never saw anyone perform weighted bodyweight
exercises except George. But, his arms were busting through his sleeves and his
traps were stretching his shirts out big time!

My memories reminded me after many years of training by the rules, that to get
seriously strong and jacked, there truly are NO rules!

JL – And now that you follow this “NO Rules” philosophy is this how Underground
training evolved?

ZE – Exactly. My friend, Ryan Lee, was interviewing me one day about my training
methods, and he asked me what best describes what I do. I flat out told him I
don’t follow the majority of what people say or advise on doing because it
usually doesn’t even work in the real world! All my training was taking place in
garages, back yards, playgrounds, fields, parking lots, etc. – the only way I
could describe what I do was by calling it “Underground”.

JL – Take us through an Underground workout that one of your athletes would

ZE – Most of my athletes are Football players and wrestlers. I also consult with
BJJ and MMA fighters. The workouts, I hate to say, are always different
according to what the individual needs to work on at that point in time. This
isn’t a cop out, it’s true, but, I’ll give you a sample of an off season workout
our wrestlers might go through.

1) warm up with mobility, movement drills and calisthenics. This might include
skipping, galloping, mobility drills such as bird dogs, fire hydrants, hip
bridges and various arm circles. After a thorough warm up we then begin the
2A) Trap bar DL 5 x 3 – 6 reps
2B) Recline thick rope body rows 5 x max reps
2C) abdominal movement 5 x 12 – 15 reps
3A) rope climb up & down 3 x 15 ft.
3B) sledge hammer swings across right & left shoulder 3 x 10 ea.
3C) sandbag zercher carry around back yard 3 x 1 lap

We will finish the workouts with soft tissue work on the foam roller and the
medicine ball.

Some workouts are all indoors, others all outdoors and some are a mix as you saw

JL – What is the biggest misconception people have of Underground training?

ZE – People assume we do only odd object lifts and don’t use barbell and
dumbbells or other tools. This is totally off. We use everything because
everything works. The odd objects hit the body in places that barbells and
dumbbells simply have not or can not do.

Things like starting off a sandbag squat and ripping it off the floor. Every
first rep is a power move that benefits the performance more than if we normally
back squat and nothing else. The variety of implements helps us keep fresh as
well. Eventually, people get bored of doing the same old stuff or training in
the gym all the time! Training outdoors in the fresh air kicks ass! This is why
Arnold and Franco and the rest of the crew loved training at Muscle Beach. The
atmosphere and outdoor energy was electric!

JL – In your Underground Strength Kit, you have a separate manual solely
dedicated to stone training! I thought it was awesome and I was shocked to see
so many movements with just a stone! What motivated you to begin stone training?

ZE – Of course, watching The World’s Strongest Man competitions was always an
inspiration, but in addition to thw WSM, there were times when I was really
strappedf for cash and had nothing but a barbell and a few dumbbells.

At the time I trained at my Dad’s, and his backyard had a row of odd shaped
stones of different sizes. I started using them with wrestlers, football players
and basketball players. I didn’t have a choice, I needed weights!

To my surprise, the stone training was phenomenal. We started simple by just
doing carries from one end of the backyard to the other. We did military
presses, bent over rows and deadlifts.

Strength was improving like crazy and they all were improving performance. Our
football guys were playing in summer camps and were hitting harder, running
faster and getting tougher.

The basketball players were out-conditioning their opponents and always had the
strength and power endurance to rebound the ball more often and had improved

The wrestlers were dominating like never before! They were lifting kids and
throwing them around like rag dolls. I was seriously in shock watching my
athletes perform and hearing their success stories.

I knew we landed onto something big by combining these Underground methods with
the barbells, dumbbells and bodyweight!

To this day I keep on refining the methods and transforming athletes and non
athletes with these methods that I have in The Underground Strength Kit.

As for my self, these methods have breathed fresh air into my workouts,
literally! Training outdoors clears my mind and gets me away from the BS inside
99 % of the commercial gyms. I feel fresh air is man and woman’s best friend and
we should ALL spend time training outdoors. There is a lot of therapy that comes
with training Underground and humans need it!

With all the stress we endure on a regular basis, people will realize that
training outdoors makes them feel great. Sun and fresh air are powerful
therapeutic tools for all people, adults or not.

In fact, I just had a Mom contact me for the second time to get her kid back
here again. They live so far away that it takes them 45 minutes to an hour to
drive here, one way! So I sent them to a friend who trains athletes but lives 10
minutes away!

They want to come back here! The Mother told me her son loves the Underground
training, the atmosphere, the outdoors and everything we do! For young athletes,
this style of training seems to be a huge boost to their ego as well. I feel
this is a huge area we are missing the boat on when it comes to training young
athletes – the need to train their mind first and foremost. Boosting their self
esteem is a priority and I have been fortunate beyond belief to see how happy
these kids are when we train together!

JL- Stay tuned for part II with our interrogation with Zach Even – Esh and his
Underground Training Methods!

If you want to learn more about Underground training in the mean time, check out
Zach’s latest e book which will knock your socks off! I have NEVER seen such a
thorough compilation of training manuals and amazing bonuses! My personal
favorite is with Coach Ethan Reeve but you’ll have to listen to him talk
training to believe me! It is downright a** kicking stuff!


Creating The Perfect Athlete

This follows on from my previous coaching post:

Problem #4:  Coaches changing their practice/ training schedule without notifying you.

Solution:  Most of the time, there is nothing you can do about this.  But if you have a set schedule, you are more apt to stick to your plan.  So if a team comes in unannounced, you may have to turn them away because you are already working with other athletes.  This will hopefully send the coach a signal that you are busy all the time and they must communicate and work with you.  On several occasions, I have shown up on a Saturday or Sunday (my days to spend with my family), only to find out that the coaches changed their mind and decided not to lift today.  I let the coaches know that in the future, they need to get a hold of me if anything changes.  And if it happens again, then that team can no longer ask me to come in on the weekends.  They lose that privilege.  It may sound harsh, and you may be thinking, “It’s not fair to cancel all weekend training sessions because of one incident.”  But if you have a family and take time out of your personal schedule to make a point to be available, then I believe it is important.  Stick to your guns and don’t let the coaches walk all over you.

Problem #5:  The Coach is afraid that lifting heavy will ruin the skill technique.

Solution:  Exercise selection will be crucial here.  Don’t trick the coach into thinking that you are doing things his way.  But let him know you are willing to work with him on this issue.  Do one heavy exercise that is important for your program (squats, deadlifts, etc.) and pick other exercises that don’t require “heavy weights”, but are still difficult (natural glute ham raises, pistol squats, etc.).  Inform the coach that a base level of strength is important for the body to run, jump, decelerate, accelerate, react and move.  Without that base level, the athletes will lack the ability to do these simple tasks.  Reassure them that we are not here to make them into weight lifters, but to improve their strength to a level that is necessary for their sport.

Problem #6:  Coach John is all about numbers and how much the athletes are lifting or the times they are running.

Solution:  Turn the focus away from just the lift number itself.  Give him a list of decreased injuries, percent increase on lifts, lifts relative to body weight (BW goes down, the lift goes up.)  This will make him more aware of the athlete’s strength level in relation to their sport or position.  This is very popular in football, as most coaches want each position to be at a certain strength level.  But if you have a kid that can barely squat 300 as an incoming freshman and squats 550 by the time he’s a junior, I’d say that’s a massive improvement!  You’ve almost doubled his squat!  Focus on the positives. 

Problem #7:  The Coach wants you to follow the workouts of another team (usually a National Championship Team).

Solution:  Let the coach know that you are always looking for new ideas and you will be more than happy to look the program over.  Explain to him that you will study it carefully to see if anything will make a good fit for your program.  Remember, give him a little of what he wants in order to get what you want in the long run.  It is also important to explain to him that the program his athletes are doing is suited JUST FOR HIS ATHLETES.  Nine times out of ten, the coach will agree with you that his athletes are not of the same caliber as Tennessee, USC, or North Carolina.  Therefore, the program you use is best suited for his athletes here and now.  And always thank the coach if he does give a good idea.  It lets him know that you are willing to work together. 


Creating Champions

As a collegiate Strength Coach, you not only have to work with the athletes, but many times you are also fighting battles with the coaches.  Over the years, I’ve come across many situations that required long discussions and lots of patience.  While this list is by no means complete, hopefully it will offer you some suggestions as to what can be done when a problematic situation arises.  Please note that this is how I handled or would handle the issue and is not the final answer. 

Problem #1:  The Coach wants you to change certain exercises in the program based on what he likes or what he did 20 years ago. 

Solution:  I’ve found that when dealing with coaches, you need to give them a little leeway at first.  If Coach Schmoe wants to do leg extensions and you don’t like them, compromise at first.  Give them what they want on your terms.  Tell him you’ll do leg extensions for a few weeks, then you’ll try something new.  In the meantime, show him the exercises that will get more bang for their buck (squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, etc.) and how they are now working the quads in conjunction with the hips and hamstrings.

Problem #2:  Sometimes when the new school year starts, Coach Schmoe wants to test him athletes’ 1RMs. 

Solution:  While I’m not a huge fan of testing, to begin with, it can be a confidence builder for athletes to see the progress they are making.  But when a coach wants to test new athletes that I’ve never worked with before, that’s where I draw the line.  How can you be sure that these new athletes have the perfect technique or have even lifted weights in high school?  You can’t be sure.  So, when I had this situation arise, I told the coach that I would not test the freshman athletes because they don’t have perfect form.  He said ok, then watched me put them through a series of exercises that not only gave them a workout, but allowed me to see their strengths, weaknesses, and technical problems.  By the end of the workout, the coach saw that his athletes were working hard, sweating and still had a really good workout even though they didn’t max test.  So, start with simpler exercises as the coach watches so he can see that the new athletes are not prepared for it.  Teach the technique of the exercises he wants to test in order to show him that the athletes have a long way to go before being able to test.

Problem #3:  Coach Jane wants to do every conditioning test under the sun to see if her athletes are in shape upon returning from summer break. 

Solution:  This one can get tricky.  Sometimes the coach wants to run a variety of tests because that’s what she did when she played in college.  Sometimes the coaches mean well, in that they want to see who’s in shape and who’s not…. But they just get a little carried away.  This may take a while to change, especially if this is something that the coach has done for many years.  Offer the run the tests she wants under your supervision and timing.  And the reason I mention timing is because of the situation I ran into.  Coach Jane had five different tests, five days in a row… on top of 3-a-day practices!  After the first year of letting her run the tests the way she wanted to, I finally had a little input.  I was able to spread the tests.  So instead of testing five days in a row, we tested Wednesday, Friday, Saturday (which was more of a punishment run… not everyone had to do this test) and Monday.  We even cut one test out.  So while it wasn’t the perfect testing conditions, it was way better than the year before.  Another option is to use some of the tests as conditioning after practice.  Sure, they might not be fresh, but at least the emphasis is on conditioning and being in shape and not just testing times.  Eventually, over time, you can talk about condensing tests that test the same metabolic system.  (Do we really need to run both the mile and the Cooper Test?)

Like I mentioned, this list is by no means complete, but hopefully it will give you some ideas when dealing with coaches who want things done their way.  After all, we don’t tell them how to run their offense or defense!