Recapture Your Passion by Matt Kovacs

There can be a difference between being comfortable and being happy. I've been comfortable in jobs, relationships, training programs and other life situations. Comfort is a good thing most of the time. Low stress, security, routine. But comfort can also lead to apathy, carelessness and settling. There's a point when your passion turns into work. You lose the drive, you start phoning it in, you accept the status quo, and in turn, expect those around you to settle right along with you. Sometimes it takes a negative force, a kick in the ass, to make you remember you're better than that. Sometimes the realization that you're surrounded by other settlers is what will lead you to gravitate towards other passionate people, like you used to be before you lost that drive.

The right situation can be a life changer. Recapturing your passion can be just a step away, but that could mean leaving that comfort zone and taking a chance. Finding your passion again is usually the difference between comfort and happiness. I recently found my passion again, with the help of friends who knew it was always there. Honestly, it's probably the fifth time I've had to find it. Each time I lost it though, I learned something. I guess being in a shitty situation can go one of two ways. Deciding to make it a positive and break away in the direction you were headed before you were derailed can be tough, but when it works, you find that you're happy, not just comfortable.

The Universal Benefits of Powerlifting by Matt Kovacs

Believe this: Powerlifting training is not just about lifting heavy, it’s also about proper execution.

Dramatic improvements in functional strength, flexibility, metabolic activity, and body awareness are incidental to the safe integration of the “Big 3” motions into your training program.

During my initial new-client assessments, many often ask me if it’s appropriate for them to learn these lifts when their training objectives include weight loss, marathon training, or increased muscle tone.  The truth is that the squat, deadlift, and bench press are the three best motions for myriad fitness goals including weight loss, increased muscle tone, marathon training, improved bone density, power production and overall strength.

Incorporating powerlifting-style training in your program is much different than training for a powerlifting competition; a competitive powerlifter trains to execute these exercises with the greatest load possible. I am a competitive powerlifter, and as such, I am constantly working on improving my maximum strength for just one safe rep.  When I work with a client, our focus is their connection to the contracting muscles, moving joints, and breathing patterns necessary to ensure a sustainable, strong and safe execution.

All of these lifts are compound motions, and not only is more than one joint moving, but all of the largest muscles in the body must work in concert to move, assist, and stabilize.  The incidental spike in metabolism sends your caloric expenditure through the roof… and not just for a few seconds, but for most of the day… hours after you’ve left the gym!  This is called Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) and guarantees that you burn a significant amount of extra calories long after you’ve completed your last rep.  Burn more calories while at rest, just from incorporating these three exercises into your routine?  That’s exactly right!

Injuries are often a result of improper training, ineffective instruction, and poor spotting technique.  YouTube videos and magazine articles are insufficient in detailing and explaining the many nuances of the “Big 3”.  It takes a trained professional with years of experience to effectively teach and coach these motions, so if you’re reluctant to ever attempt any of these exercises, it’s important to talk to a certified trainer and assess both your need, and your ability to safely incorporate them into your program.

Incorporating this type of training in my clients’ programming has always been a no-brainer.  It’s functional, effective, and indispensable for just about every fitness objective.  Talk to your fitness professional today about safely adding them to your program, and experience the effects of the “Big 3” for yourself!

The Super Program by Matt Kovacs

Coming off a back injury, I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get back to 100%. I missed the last team competition and that was tough. I was there to coach and support my team, but sitting back and watching, when all I wanted to do was compete is something I did not enjoy. I was previously on the Sheiko program, which is an intense program compared to others. All the big lifts were done 3 times a week, heavy. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it again, mentally or physically. I had success with Westside so I decided to incorporate it with Sheiko and a few other aspects of other programs. I call it the Super Program.

As with Sheiko, we squat and bench 3 times a week, cut deadlifts down to 2 days, but I incorporated a speed day for each lift, per Westside. This not only allows us to work on explosive strength, but also gives us a day off from going heavy. By using percentages of our 1RM, which is what Sheiko is based off, we’re able to work up to 95%, perform a lot of singles, and squeeze everything out of every rep.

A main part of the program is incorporating cluster sets into all 3 lifts. Again, working up to 85-95%, we perform singles for as many reps as possible to failure with short rests (10-30 seconds). I can tell you that besides getting stronger, we’ve improved our endurance as well. Very short recovery time between heavy sets forces you to recover quickly, while keeping the weight near maximum. I’ve found this to be the most effective protocol, when coupled with speed days and drop sets. Accessory work such as shoulder presses, triceps extensions and squat and deadlift variations, are also worked in to each day.

 After reading about an 8 week program designed by Tim Henriques for bench, I took a lot of the ideas behind that and expanded on it. Personally, my squat has improved dramatically. My previous 1RM was 375 and I’ve improved to 405 in 6 weeks. My bench press has also improved, but I’ve also noticed my form is much better. I believe this is because we perform so many heavy reps you’re forced to make adjustments and, again, squeeze everything out of every rep. My deadlift, which I was worried about because that was the cause of my injury, has also improved. It took a while just because I wasn’t mentally ready to go heavy. I’ve slowly increased the weight each week to the point where I feel stronger and more confident in going heavy. My goal has been a 500 lb deadlift for the last three years and I feel good about hitting that soon.

As far as my teammates that I have on the program, their numbers have also increased, as well as their endurance. Some of the team have taken aspects of it and worked it into whichever program they’re on. Cluster sets have become the go-to protocol for the entire team, with good results. Although the volume is high, staying on this program for 8 weeks at a time is something I plan on doing for the next competition as well.


Saturday (this day is meant to be split up into three separate sessions throughout the day, but I’ve found it can be done back-to-back as well, although it kicks our asses.

Exercise                          Sets                                 Weight                Reps

Bench                          Cluster Set                          90% 1RM                ***

Close Grip Decline              5                                                               5

Bench                5 Multiple Cluster Set                  80% 1RM                 5

Seated DB Military Press    5                                                                5

Bench                    3 Drop Sets                       90, 85, 80, 75%            4

Skull Crushers                    5                                                                5


Exercise                        Sets                                Weight                 Reps

Squat                      Cluster Set                           90% 1RM                 ***

Hip Thrust                     5                                                                    5



Exercise                     Sets                                 Weight                 Reps

Speed Deadlifts          10                                  50% 1RM                  3

KB Swings                   5                                                                   10

Speed Bench              10                                 100% 1RM                 3

High Rack Press         4                                                                   3



Speed Squats           10                                   50% 1RM                 3

Lactic Acid Tolerance   ***                                    ***                       3



Exercise                  Sets                                 Weight                Reps

Deadlift                 Cluster                              85% 1RM                 ***

Barbell Back Hyper    5                                                                 5

Pause Pin Press         6                                                                 3

Pause Speed Bench  8-10                                50%                     3



Sets                                 Weight                Reps

Squat                 3 Drop Sets            90%, 85%, 80%, 75%          4

Split Squat               4                                                                   6

Front Squat             5                                                                   5

Good Morning        5                                                                   5

Cluster Sets for Quick Results by Matt Kovacs

I recently introduced cluster sets into my training, and I have already seen a dramatic increase in strength gains over a short period of time.

The premise behind the basic cluster set is setting a weight between 85-95% of your 1RM. Perform a single rep, rack it, rest 20-30 seconds, and perform another. This is continued until failure. The idea behind this is that you’re getting just enough recovery to be able to perform a near maximum weight for several reps without breaking down. Even with just a 30 second recovery time, I find that I’m able to get up to 15-20 singles in one cluster. I’ve also found that there is no concern with form breaking down when you perform one rep at a time with a short rest. Once it does, you know you’re done. When you’re able to move 95% of your 1RM for 20 reps in a single session with very little recovery in between, your body will adapt and have no choice but to get stronger.

I use clusters with the 3 big lifts: squat, bench and deadlift. I do each lift on a different day spread throughout the week. I’ve also added in 5x5 clusters. This is done basically the same way, but 5 singles are performed with a 10 second rest in between each single. You then rest 2-3 minutes and perform another set of 5 singles until you perform 5 sets of 5. Taking a 10 second rest instead of 30 completely changes the dynamic of the set. Keep the weight no more than 85% of your 1RM. You’ll find that by the 5th single, you have nothing left. Recover 2-3 minutes and you’ll be back to full strength.

Clusters are a major component of a new program I developed I call the Super Program that I will outline soon.

The Female Strength Movement by Cara Gibson

There's a movement that's sweeping through the fitness community. Although it's not a new concept, it's finally reaching the masses and making it's way into gyms and studios across the country. Thanks to resources like Girls Gone Strong, women are finally realizing the fact that strength training should play a role in their training routine. Hopefully the days of steady state cardio routines and going to the gym just for the spin classes are over.

I'd like to say the myths associated with women strength training are gone as well. Statements like 'I don't want to get bulky' and 'I don't want to put on muscle, I just want to get toned' are unfortunately still heard by trainers every day from new clients. I always stress the importance of strength training as a key component on transforming their bodies, getting healthier, moving better, and just generally feeling better about themselves. Progressing through squat and deadlift variations, I always enjoy the reactions from my female clients when they hit a PR, or are finally able to squat past parallel. Accomplishments that they couldn't realize pounding away on the treadmill or working on machines. Big, compound movements such as some variation of the squat, deadlift, clean & press and pull ups should be incorporated into a program that also includes conditioning.

The self confidence and excitement I see from most of my female clients when they finally squat their body weight, or get through a set of heavy kettlebell snatches with perfect form, or are finally able to do a strict pull up makes my day. When a client hits her PR on deadlift and tells me to throw on 10 more pounds or hits a sticking point on bench press and tells me not to touch it; I know she's caught the bug. I know that coming to the gym means something different to her now. She's set goals for herself. She sees the changes, feels different, more healthy and confident. It's a great transformation to witness, both physically and emotionally.

Some strong women to follow. These are the founders of the Girls Gone Strong movement:

Powerlifting as a Fitness Tool by Cara Gibson

A brief description of the Westside Barbell program and how it can be used as a guideline for general fitness.

Over the last year, I've been training and coaching a few clients to compete in powerlifting competitions. I had the good fortune to coach one client to State and National Championships. I was training as a powerlifter but didn't have any desire to pursue it further than the coaching of others. I entered a few small meets and, along with The Club at Morristown Powerlifting Team, competed in my first full meet last month. The success at that competition prompted me to enter another meet in May, and possibly competing at the national level in August. I owe the success my team and I have had so far to Westside Barbell's conjugate method.

The Westside conjugate system is the best of two advanced training systems: the Soviet system, where several special exercises are used to advance the training of superior lifters and athletes, and the Bulgarian system, where near-max lifts are performed every workout. The Westside system is a combination of the two.

My previous training involved focusing on the big three lifts (squat, bench press and deadlift) simply because they are the three lifts performed in meets. With Westside, more focus is put on accessory exercises and speed work. This combination hits every aspect of each lift, strengthens lagging muscles, and puts an emphasis on core strength which is a key piece of any successful powerlifter. According to Louie Simmons, founder of Westside Barbell and creator of the conjugate system, he has trained world class sprinters using this system. Not once did he have his athletes perform a straight sprint. Instead, he focused on strengthening the hamstrings, core, and utilizing bands with resisted sprints.

What I found is the Westside system is not a program designed specifically for the sport of powerlifting. The speed work, combined with max effort days, is a perfect system for training any athlete in any sport. In all my years of training, the progress in strength and speed through this program has been unmatched. Coupled with a conditioning program on the off days, the conjugate system can be utilized to suit the needs of anyone whose goal is to improve overall general fitness.

What makes the Westside conjugate system unique is the variety, not just between speed training and max effort days, but the variation of exercises performed every two weeks. Because of this variation, this is one of the only programs that doesn't have to be substituted when you hit a training plateau. By adding bands and chains for accommodating resistence, a must when using this program, each session is unique and concentrates on hitting different "sticking points," such as the bottom of a squat or deadlift. By adding bands or chains, the load increases as the bar is lifted. This forces the lifter to exert more at the top, and stabilize more at the bottom of the lift.

Besides my powerlifting team who is currently on the Westside Barbell program, I train other clients with this method, from a Division I lacrosse player to a middle aged attorney. Both have greatly increased their speed and strength. There isn't one perfect program out there. In fact, there's a saying that the best program is the one you're not currently doing. But Westside is a great program that, when properly followed, goes way beyond your typical powerlifting program.