Last week, in part one of our feature interview with Underground Strength coach Zach Even-Esh, he talked about his inspiration to become a coach, how he educated himself, and his three essentials for being a good coach. This week we get into more detail. What does it actually look like to train with Zach Even-Esh?
For Zach his coaching business is a blend of different clients – from high school athletes to middle-aged weekend warriors. There are specific challenges to training competitive athletes, however, that are different from the challenges of other clients. We talked at length about how he trains his wrestling and football teams, who come in three times per week for strength and conditioning training, but also train outside Zach’s gym on their sport-specific skills. Zach explained:
We have three main workouts a week. We’ve got an upper body day, lower body day, and a work capacity day. Those work capacity days are really conditioning and mental toughness, whereas the days where we work upper and lower, those are more focused on performance, power, explosiveness, strength, conditioning, and even muscle building. There are certainly many cycles where we get whole-body workouts, but most of the time I found that we were not building the muscle on these younger athletes by doing whole body workouts all the time. So now, each mini-cycle lasts two to three weeks. So we’ll do the upper, lower, and full body, and then every month change the order around. So it’s not like every Monday it’s upper day, or lower day, or work capacity day; it’s going to get switched.
Just because Zach’s workouts are divided along upper and lower body, don’t think it’s about bodybuilding or aesthetics. For Zach, his mission is to improve the performance of his athletes through a blend of strength and explosiveness.
We do mini-cycles, and each workout is a blend of strength, power, and conditioning. So we don’t do conjugates where there’s just strength all day, power all day, or muscle building. We blend it into one workout. But we start each workout with explosive stuff or we couple strength with explosiveness. So we might hit heavy deadlifts coupled with box jumps or rebound jumps.
No matter your age or goals, training with Zach isn’t just about coming in to do a hard workout. It’s also about learning how to train and how to care for your body. That means learning how to work on mobility and flexibility, staying focused on good technique and form, and remembering the importance of rest and recovery. Zach outlined what this looks like for his wrestling teams:
When they come in they’re on the foam roller or the lacrosse ball. We have different stretches depending on what they’re training. So if they’re doing leg work, we’re doing hip stretches. If they’re doing upper body work, we’re stretching the shoulders, doing soft tissue work on the area that they train. So they do it before, during and after. Then we feel like we need classes for our athletes. So every six to eight weeks, we will have one of our coaches run them through mobility work. Or they might run them through proper set up on the bench press or the deadlift. All these things just constantly educate them so that if they’re not with us, they’re doing it, and when they are with us, they’re doing it. So basically we tell them if you’re going to train hard, you’ve got to rest hard. That’s why we don’t have them train with us five days a week. We found that two or three hard workouts coupled with two or three sports sessions works. Because we train athletes, we like them to have days off and just be a kid. If you never rest, you start fighting yourself to go and workout. We want them to be hungry to train.
While last week we discussed what Zach thought were the three essentials to being a good coach, there are special needs when it comes to competitive athletes. Not only is there a lot more on the line when training a competitive athlete, but there are also additional variables you don’t have to consider when working with the regular fitness clientele. Explained Zach:
You want to make sure you’re very in tune to what’s going on with them when they’re not with you. So you should know if it’s in-season, do they have a competition tomorrow, two days from now, or a big event coming up where we need to deload or try to peak and kind of work backwards from there. We train wrestlers, so they’re always in their stance, so in season we’re going to stay away from deadlifting and things that really fatigue the lower back and the legs. So you’ve got to be super, super in tune with them. Basically verbally and non-verbally, we’re constantly reading them.
Every workout is an assessment, meaning, okay we’re warming them up – this week everyone looks good, next week during the warmup everyone’s squatting, or they warm up with bodyweight, but it looks like they’re really struggling to get past a half squat. We know that their legs are tired; we find out that their coach had them run three miles every day. So sometimes we’re working against and trying to un-fuck what some of these coaches are doing to these kids. We train wrestlers, and it’s not odd if their coach makes them run 2 miles, 3 miles, stairs, all this shit, 6 days a week in season. It’s just crushing their legs. So we’ll have them do things like swings, back extensions, sled drags. They’re not going to squat or deadlift. We’re going to do recovery work for their legs: soft tissue work on the quads, the hamstrings, and the calves – everything we can to help them recover.
There is something about this lesson that can be applied to the everyday client, though. There is something to be said for not training so hard you can’t go about your regular life, or you can’t make it back to the gym the following day. Zach is a firm believer that fitness should be in support of your lifestyle, not hindering it. As he explained:
You need to be in tune with what’s going on with everybody. You need to know what they do when they’re not with you, and make sure we’re not screwing up their day-to-day life. So like, I think about a mom running around with two kids. Do I want to crush the mom who’s at home with kids and needs a lot of energy so that when she gets home from her workout, she can’t do anything with her kids? I want to leave some energy in her tank so she can go home, get more energetic with the kids and family, and be motivated to come back the next time. I don’t want to crush her and make her not want to train on a regular basis. I’d rather leave a little in the tank and get her to train often.
This theme, of fitness supporting life for everyone from competitive to everyday athlete, was a theme Dan John mentioned in his interview with Breaking Muscle, as well, and it’s no surprise that Dan John is one of the coaches Zach named as a source of inspiration. Dan John’s books are amongst those in Zach massive collection of strength and conditioning texts. His collection dates all the way back to the 1800s. When asked what his top three favorite books from his library were, Zach offered this list:
- Secret of Russian Sport and Fitness Training by Dr. Michael Yessis
- Westside Book of Barbell Methods by Louie Simmons
- Never Let Go by Dan John
To learn more about Zach read the rest of our feature interview:
To follow Zach’s workouts here on Breaking Muscle follow this link:
Strength & Conditioning Workouts from Zach Even-Esh