Interview with Dan Brown

Dan Brown is one of the newest additions to the IFAST Team, and I’ve got to say, we’re really lucky to have him!

Dan is incredibly versatile – in his coaching career he’s done everything from 1-on-1, to bootcamps, to working as a Division-1 strength coach at Purdue University.

Needless to say, I think he’s a guy we can all learn a lot from.

Here’s Dan!

Dan, thanks a ton for being with us here today. Could you start by telling my readers a little bit about yourself?

DB: Readers, you are in for a treat! I am highly narcissistic. I’m a Pisces. I enjoy long walks on the beach and the finest wines and cheeses.

Ok ok ok, I actually enjoy picking up heavy things, putting them down, and picking them up again.

I really love Olympic lifting and grip development – neither of which are popular amongst our average Americans, which is a crying shame, I might add.

I am severely addicted to caffeine only because my beautiful wife and son both have the energy system of a hummingbird and I am trying to keep up with those two. My delivery system of this glorified drug use is Diet Mountain Dew and black coffee.

I love to read. I probably read more than the average coach/human. If it has been written on strength and conditioning, you can bet your ass I have read it. However, my favorite stuff is philosophy-driven. Not necessarily Nietzsche, but more digestible stuff.

At one point in my life I enjoyed hunting and fishing; however, with the start of my new business Force Barbell, time in the woods has been scarce. The older my son gets, the more he and I will enjoy that father-son time together. He is just a little too young to take along; even by NRA standards, 14 months is too young to handle a shotgun. He needs to be at least 18 months!

Mike, I guess I should mention something about my education? I am barely literate; however, due to a flawed educational system and grade inflation, I was able to pick up a few degrees from a highly respected academic institution. I spent the majority of my time cracking jokes and writing papers on energy systems, force production, and my favorite – the history and philosophy of Olympic Weightlifting.

What originally led you to the field of strength and conditioning?

DB: My dad actually led me to the field. When I was a youngster, my dad bought me one of those sand-filled, Sears Special–type weight sets.

I started lifting weights in the garage, and coincidentally, ESPN 2 had just launched and was basically running episodes of the Worlds Strongest Man on a 24-hour loop. So at about the age of 11 or 12, I was ingrained with man-memories of strength.

I always loved training, and like most who get involved in this field, I was very competitive in sports. When I went to college, I tried to deny that my heart was in strength and conditioning, and initially started my formal education as a business major.

After graduating college, I moved to Chicago and entered the private sector. For the next few years, I tried to get into collegiate strength and conditioning with little success. (For those not familiar with the collegiate setting there are about a million applicants per job.)

I finally obtained a position at Purdue University, where I coached for about three seasons, and learned a whole heck of a lot about what I wanted out of life. I can say with certainty that I am happy right where I am in the private sector.

Dan, you’re super interesting because you’ve got about 10 things going on right now. Could you tell us a little bit about everything you’re working on or in?

DB: I recently started a multi-faceted company, Force Barbell. I consult, train, write, and speak.

In addition to all of those things, we have developed Force Equipment, which is dedicated to getting quality strength products in the hands of athletes and coaches at an affordable price.

Honestly, that is where my passion is. I want everyone, regardless of budget, to be able to pursue strength.

I believe that strength sports do much more than just develop the physical. I believe that everyone learns so much about himself or herself when they pursue physical goals, and Force Barbell aims to make this world a better place through strength!

At this moment I have some jobs out for bid at the lower levels of collegiate athletics. My favorite product is our custom-made jerk box sets. The boxes look like they can handle a nuke being dropped on them!

Our most popular products are our real steel sled, our oak plyo boxes, and our lifting platforms. You can check out all of our products on www.forcebarbell.com!

Part of the reason we originally crossed paths was due to your love of the Olympic lifts. How did you originally get started in the lifts?

DB: I was very fortunate that I went to a high school that had a full-time strength and conditioning coach.

Coach Randy Vanderbush introduced me to the power clean and that started it all. It was always my favorite lift; yes, I even liked it more than bench presses and bicep curls!

After sports, I took some time away from the lifts and floated in purgatory of the training world, only to realize that absence of the lifts made my heart grow fonder. I actually turned my entire Master’s degree into the study of the lifts (snatch, clean and jerk, for those not familiar).

Whether I was in history or philosophy class, exercise physiology or biomechanics, all of my projects centered around the lifts. I must say the history and philosophy of the sport is my favorite thing to discuss.

I really enjoyed this time because I got to do a ton of reading! Almost all of the reading was centered around what I love most.

Following up on that, I know you have a very strong philosophy with regard to proper O-lifting technique. Could you get into that a little bit?

DB: I do have very strong feelings about the lifts. First, the bottom line for me is that I want the sport to grow.

I am never going to knock anyone’s coaching. I may say some things that are not mainstream, but I will always justify why I feel we should coach the lifts differently from what we are doing in the USA. I never intend to discredit anyone’s coaching; I believe everyone coaching has good intentions.

From a training aspect, I think that Olympic weightlifters need two coaches. They need a sport coach as well as a strength and conditioning coach.

The technical aspects of the sport can take time to learn; however, while perfecting the technique of the lift, the athlete can be working on the development of other characteristics that make for a good lifter.

I like to compare the Olympic weightlifting to the sport of throwing. Whether it’s the shotput, discus, hammer, weight, or javelin, there is a significant learning curve on technique.

However, for a short while you can get by using explosive strength. I understand that technique would be the rate-limiting factor for the athlete’s growth, but while they are developing you should go ahead and train the characteristics you need to be competitive at the time.

I’ll give you a good example. Everyone at IFAST knows my wife Natalie, not only for her stunning good looks ;), but also for the fact that she is pursuing international competition in the sport of Olympic weightlifting.

About two years ago, my wife had never lifted a weight in her life. The first 6 months of her training was mainly with an empty bar or PVC pipe.

However, we also squatted and pulled tremendous weights. We coupled that with box jumps and other plyometric work to lay the foundation of characteristics needed to be a good Olympic lifter.

In the 7th month of her training, we added weight to the lifts, even though the technique was not perfect; by the 9th month, she had qualified for nationals in her very first weightlifting meet.

She went from normal-strength human to national-level competitor in 9 months! A big part of that was what we did developing her maximal strength in the front squat and maximal strength from the floor.

Her technique still is not perfect because she also had a child in the middle of her two years of training, but her maximal strength keeps her competitive in the lifts. Her time was divided between technical sport time and characteristic-developing time. I think more Olympic coaches should consider setting up training cycles in this manner.

Now we are at a stage in her training where her strength is no longer the rate-limiting factor, and we’re focused on maintaining that while we increase her sport mastery. Stay tuned to see what happens, but don’t be surprised if you see her in the 2016 Olympics!

I would like you all to check out some videos posted of Natalie doing the lifts on Force Barbell’s YouTube channel. The lifts that are up are completed lifts, but you can see that there are some serious technical faults in the lifts – which is ok! We have stuff to work on to complete her as a lifter.

Too many Olympic coaches are looking for that Russian-inspired technical mastery too soon. I will leave it at that, but this is something I love to discuss.

The second issue I really think needs to be reconsidered in USA weightlifting is the general technique of the lifts. I will try to keep this simple and not go into too much detail.

Basically, I try to keep an objective eye when looking at strength sports, and try to avoid debates about powerlifting vs. Olympic lifting. My take on this, though, is that if you’re interested in maximal strength, you have to at least peek into the world of powerlifting. See something they are doing right, and see if you can steal anything from that sport to make your Olympic athletes better!

The sumo deadlift has caused a lot of deadlifts to go way, way, way up and this got me thinking about the mechanics of an externally rotated femur and a vertical torso.

Now, all you Olympic weightlifting purists pump your brakes. I am not suggesting we pull cleans sumo style; I would just like to apply the science of this vertical torso and externally rotated femur to the lifts.

I would like to see all of the developmental weightlifting athletes coached to learn a knee-splay technique. Basically, this involves the athlete moving their knees to an externally rotated position (about 30 degrees) as the bar passes the knee. I also want my athlete to have their chest as vertical as possible when the bar passes the knee.

The knees being rotated 30 degrees allows for the adductor magnus to work in the sagittal plane. When the adductor acts in the sagittal plane, its primary role shifts to become a hip extensor. Also, that increase in rotation allows the entire glute to be active in the lift. So now, with that rotation, we have more muscle being used to launch the weight vertically!

In this technique, the athlete moves the body around the bar, not the bar around the body, eliminating “loop” in the bar.

If an athlete keeps a vertical torso as they pass the knee, they will be in a position where the knee and hips will extend simultaneously at the top of the second pull, versus having the hips extend first – which is what is being currently taught with athletes covering the bar.

One other quick note: with a vertical torso, the center of mass of the object being propelled (i.e., the bar) is close to the center of mass of the athlete. Again, all of this goes to maximum force production. I am strongest when I have a weight closest to the center of my body.

Whoa, that got a little technical, but I’m sure most of our readers love the geeky anatomy stuff, especially when it comes to the Oly lifts. 🙂

Let’s switch gears a bit, but still in the realm of power production: I know you really enjoy using Tendo units in training – what value does a Tendo unit bring to your program?

DB: I wont give away the whole kitchen sink, as I will be presenting on the Tendo and its benefits at the Midwest Performance Enhancement seminar on August 24 in Indianapolis. But I’ll say this:

If you use a Tendo, you have optimal control over the loading your athletes. You will always know how prepared they are to lift, and how much stress you can put on their body. A Tendo basically becomes a high-tech yet cost-effective dashboard for your athlete’s engines!

One thing that intrigued me was how you discussed using a Tendo unit not only to measure performance, but to measure recovery and readiness to train. How would you do that?

DB: The basic gist of it is this: you would work an athlete up to a max effort in an exercise that involves a good amount of power output. The tricky part is not using an exercise that is too slow, like in a max squat, or an exercise that is too fast, like in a vertical jump. The clean and the snatch are the two that I use the most often.

During the work-up, if you have a rough idea of where the athlete will max, you can start using the Tendo unit at around 30% of 1RM. (If you have no idea what they can do, you just take data the whole time).

I suggest recording peak velocity at 5% increments after 50% estimated 1RM, so you would record the weight and bar speed at 30, 40, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, 80, 85, 90 percent, and every max attempt from then on.

In most cases, you are going to see the athlete’s speed peak at roughly 70 percent. It may be a little more or a little less, depending on technical considerations. (This is something that will be covered at the Midwest Performance Enhancement Seminar).

The weight that they are using at peak velocity is very important. During normal training, as a coach you are going to warm your athlete up and use that data as feedback.

A basic example of how to use this technique is this; let us say 60% of your 1RM clean is where the athlete hit max velocity. On the day you train the clean, you are going to work up to 60% and observe the bar speed. If speed is decreased, you know the athlete is not fully recovered and you should adjust training accordingly. Where to go from there is a whole ‘nother (as we say) interview!

This wouldn’t be a legit interview without talking more about Natalie. What does she have going on in the strength training world right now?

DB: I always tell people I don’t play the lottery because I feel like I have already won the most important lottery, the wife lottery! Bottom line, Natalie is awesome.

She’s beautiful, sweet, a mediocre cook, and an absolutely amazing wife and mommy. Anyone that knows me knows how much she has to put up with because of my non-stop puns and jokes. And aside from all of her awesome personality qualities, she is just wicked strong.

Natalie stands about 4 ft. 10 in., although she constantly claims she is 5 ft. tall, and is a 48kg competitor who can put up some numbers that make grown men blush.

Olympic weightlifting is her primary sport. She snatches around 57ish and clean and jerks 65ish, but is just getting back into the sport due to the birth of our son. I expect by the end of the summer, she will snatch 63ish and clean and jerk 70ish.

For fun, she is competing this summer in the 100% Raw powerlifting federation where she expects to break a world record or two. She has squatted more than the current world record in training – at the end of her Olympic workouts, no less! – so we fully expect she will own that world record.

She can deadlift quite a bit. I don’t want to mess with her technique as far as changing it from a clean set-up to a deadlift set-up, so I am not sure if she will hit the world record or not, but it’s gonna be close! She’s just a little powerhouse!

I will say this: she hit 2 sets of 5 snatch-grip deadlifts using 100kg at the end of her workout. For all of you adult males reading this, try that tomorrow at the gym, it’s no joke.

I always get asked what it’s like training your wife, and let me tell you, in the beginning we had some knockdowns, but now she trusts that I would never have her train in anyway that is not conducive to making her the best she can be. In fact, sometimes I wish she wouldn’t listen so carefully to me! She can over-think it, but all and all I love coaching her; she is my favorite animal.

Hahaha, not many guys get away with calling their wife their “favorite animal” but it works for the two of you. 🙂

Dan, as coaches we’ve all made mistakes along the way. What’s one mistake you’ve made, and how have you learned from it as a result?

DB: You asked for one, I am going give you two. 🙂

My years as a collegiate strength coach can best be described as unbalanced. I gained about 30 lbs. and worked somewhere around 1 billion hours. I’m pretty sure I didn’t see a movie for two years and TV for one.

That all changed with the birth of my son. Balance is key, not only from a mental clarity stand-point, but also from a learning standpoint. If you are not balanced, you will focus everything on one area of coaching when you could be pulling from multiple outlets in the field.

The second mistake I made is one you will love, only because you know how much of a nutball I am about asking questions. I regret not seeking out the best professionals in the field earlier and learning from them. Sure, I read quite a bit but, I didn’t ask enough questions. I changed that about 4 years ago, the difference it has made is amazing.

Dan, thanks for being with us here today. Where can my readers find out more about you?

DB: Thanks for having me on here, Mike! Please check us out at www.forcebarbell.com. Or if you have any questions email me at [email protected] I love to talk training and answer questions!

Live light, lift heavy!

Thanks again Dan!

3 Comments

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  1. The vertical torso and externally rotated femurs are characteristics of the frog stance in Olympic weightlifting which does result in the bar being closer the the athlete’s center of mass.

    Although from what I’ve seen very few athletes pull in a true frog stance with the hips extremely low.

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