-“So you think that YOU are strong do you?”

- “How to become a strength & conditioning coach without going to business school”


Let’s debate for a moment. What do you consider to be the truest measure of absolute strength? Do you identify strength with the squat, deadlift, benchpress, or even the arm curl? If so, then who do you consider to be the strongest guy or girl you know? Is it super-freaky Fred, the guy at work who can bench 390 lbs at a body weight of 165 lbs? Is it that guy at the Arnold Bodybuilding Classic Bench Press competition who benched 685 lbs at a body weight of 198 lbs? Or is it Dave Tate, the well-known strength coach who is preparing to squat 1000 lbs?

Those are all amazing feats. But how can normal people, those that aren’t “freaks of nature”, excel in a test of strength? Well how’s about this statement: “the truest test of relative upper body strength, and one that has application to everyday living, labor, and sports performance, is the 1-arm chin-up”? Is it possible that the 1-arm chin-up is a better test of “true” strength than the bench press? Remember that this is just a “theoretical debate”…

Fortunately, the opportunity to discuss and debate this issue is available because everyone has an opinion on “true” strength. Regardless, here is a chance for plenty of “everyday” people to narrow the strength gap between themselves and some of the much bigger guys in the gym. Look around your training facility. Sure most of the guys perform a bench press with their body weight (and much more) and everyone should be able to do some pull-ups, but wouldn’t a 1-arm chin-up really turn some heads?

How many people do you know can do one? How many people do you know have even tried one? In this day and age of “the more mass the better”, people that have incredible relative strength ratios (strength per unit of body mass) are often overlooked, but this exercise can be a great “performance” equalizer. After all, the bigger you are, the harder this task is likely to be.

Now that you are a little more curious about the exercise, your first question is probably, “How do I do a 1-arm chin-up”? According to Brad Pilon, nutrition researcher and label expert, “It is best to use a semi-pronated grip because the body will naturally twist into this position if you try to use a supinated grip.” In less technical terms, this means that the palm of your hand should be perpendicular to your body, rather than facing towards or away from your body. Fortunately, strength coaches such as Charles Poliquin and legend Arnold Schwarzeneggar believe that this is the strongest grip position in the chin-up exercise.

From this position, allow yourself to rest briefly in a full hanging position. When it finally comes time to grab the chin-bar and pull yourself 18-24 inches vertically with just 1-arm and 1-lat muscle, remember that in order for it to be a true measure of strength it has to start from a dead hang, no “bouncing” on that first rep. Not only should anyone feel a little pride in performing this impressive task of strength but mountain climbers and many combat athletes will likely be rewarded with this newfound strength.

However, now that you have more likely failed miserably in your attempt to “reverse-curl” yourself to the top position of the chin-up, you must be wondering how you can accomplish this “easier said than done” feat of strength. In essence, your training programs should almost always mimic as closely as possible the test or competitive situation in which you will perform. For example, the goal is simply to do a single 1-arm chin-up, so there is no point in training with moderate intensities or for muscular endurance. You need to stick to 6 RM training or less, and the closer to 1-3 RM training the better. For your choice of exercises, 1-arm pulling movements are paramount. You need, and want to perform most exercises one arm at a time. Fortunately there are many options.

1-arm pulldowns Sit as you would to do a regular pulldown, however this time you will be using a D-handle, rather than the traditional pulldown bar. Grasp the handle with the previously described semi-pronated grip and pull down, bringing the elbow into the side. Be sure to go through a full range of motion and do not twist as you do the exercise.

Assisted 1-arm pull-ups This requires the use of a Gravitron machine (or another commercial assisted chin-up machine). Be sure to use the appropriate assistance and practice the 1-arm chin-up. You should progress to using less and less assistance each workout.

Poliquin’s 1-arm pull-ups This exercise comes from Charles Poliquin’s book, “The Poliquin Principles”. Perform the 1-arm chin-up but this time you are allowed to brace your working arm with the opposite arm. Simply by holding onto the forearm of the working arm, things become more stable and a little easier. Here again, progress to using less and less assistance each workout.

DB rows Rest the left hand and left knee on a flat bench, lean over and keep the lower back flat. Grasp a dumbbell in the right hand with the arm in Full extension and slowly row it up to the lower abdomen. Keep the low back tensed in a neutral position and the right elbow tight to the side. Slowly lower the dumbbell to the starting position.

There are also several bilateral exercises (exercises that use both arms simultaneously) that will help you improve, with the obvious being weighted chin-ups. In addition, you would likely benefit from performing towel chin-ups.

Towel chin-ups improve your grip strength, something that is very likely an important contributor to this test of strength. Fortunately, Matt Jordan, a strength coach out at the Canadian Olympic Training center in Calgary has these tips to share aside on the towel chin-up. Towel Chin-up Get a strong yet small towel and loop it over a chinning bar. Grab each end of the towel with a very firm grasp and perform regular chin-ups. You will have no choice but to use a very strong grasp here, otherwise the towel will simply slip out of your hands. Don’t restrict the use of the towel to chin-ups. It can also be used in rowing, pulldowns, etc. Just loop it inside a D-handle or V-handle and perform the exercise to get extra grip work. The rest (the hard work that is) is up to you. Don’t expect to be doing 1-arm chin-ups in a week, but if you plot out a reasonable course of action, then you will soon have a pretty unique talent.


One question that has recently surfaced a great deal on websites and in the CB ATHLETIC CONSULTING emails is, “How do I become a strength and conditioning professional”?

First off, there are 2 distinct qualities that most successful strength coaches have:

1 – “Real world” experience. Some coaches may quit school (or go to part-time status) and simply begin working at a gym to gain experience. Unfortunately, I don’t recommend this, although you can be a successful “personal trainer” this way (after all, like in the business world, many entrepreneurs have only a high school degree). You will have to learn a lot about the body and how it works on your own, a very difficult task indeed. Furthermore, by choosing this route you shut yourself out from future possibilities, such as becoming a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) because a university or college degree is a pre-requisite for this. The CSCS designation is a standard necessity for getting a true Strength and Conditioning gig.

Thus, the second quality, a formal education is absolutely necessary.

2 – Go to university/college.

Take Kinesiology/Human Movement/Nutrition/Exercise Science (whatever, etc.) and do extra work that will distinguish you from the rest of the crowd. A master's degree may be necessary. Consider getting additional certifications such as Massage Therapy, Physiotherapy, Athletic Therapy, or even becoming a chiropractor. Become a nationally certified coach in the sport you want to work in. Get lots of practical experience. Basically, sounds like long hoursin the gym and in the books. But really, if you want to be a strength coach, training isn’t work.

Don’t get caught up in the “schooling” aspect, and don’t spend all your time training, you must meld the two together. Balance the basic fundamentals with brilliant theoretical programs. Give everything a try, all programs, all exercises, and all nutrition. And even when you think you know what is right, don’t get tunnel vision. Always keep an open mind. Aside from dangerous practices, never say that one type of training “will not work”. Obviously, every training system under the sun has produced one individual with successful results. Every thing can work. Strength coaching is a combination of science and art, but fortunately it is not rocket science.

Learn to recognize the priorities. For example, don’t spend all day reading about alcohol-induced motor behavior patterns when your goal is to train powerlifters. Don’t get sidetracked by your thirst for knowledge, it is impossible to know everything. If it comes down to it, take a hit on your geography exam if it means you will have more time to study and understand the exercise physiology class you are in. Even if it means taking a part-time course load so that you can gain experience volunteering with local teams or working part-time at a gym. Do what is necessary to reach your goal. Never be left thinking “what if”?

So basically, a successful strength and conditioning coach combines these 2 attributes. You can’t have one without the other and success does not go hand-in-hand with ignorance. Oh yeah, learn how to market yourself. Being a strength coach is as much a business as many other professions. You have to learn to sell yourself, something that does not get taught in many Kinesiology classes! Make contacts. Don't hesitate to contact any and all coaches. They will help. Probably because they wish someone had been there to help them when they started. After all, it’s not quite an "Established" field, especially in Canada and many other countries in Europe.

Prepare yourself to work for yourself. That’s how the most successful strength coaches are such as Ian King, Charles Poliquin, and Peter Twist. They all have an entrepreneurial spirit, drive, marketing sense, and determination. Makes them all sound like your Bill Gates but with some athletic talent. Are you beginning to see the need for a “business” mind in the industry yet? Most importantly, and worth mentioning 3 or 4 times, keep an open mind. Talk to lots of people, and be prepared to spend a lot of money now (when you might not have any) in order to make some money in the future. Most aspiring professionals should get a lot of technical information from the NSCA (National Strength and Conditioning Association), by reading other strength coaches articles and philosophies, and of course from Kinesiology classes.

Also check out the exclusive links section at You will find strength coaches that have taken a variety of routes to reach their goals and have built successful careers. In particular, check out for examples of Coach Peter Twist’s success (also a former McMaster University graduate)!

You may not get a lot of financial encouragement or professional respect at first. In fact, be prepared to spend money, lots of money, in order to make a little money. Furthermore, there is no clear or “correct” path to becoming a successful strength coach. In fact, each generation of coaches finds a new and exciting way to the endpoint. Luck may have a lot to do with it, as good coaches may unfortunately get passed over, but if this is what you really want to do, then you will be working hard when lady luck “comes a callin’ on you”.


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