The Holy Grail of Strength: Updated and Continuously Improved

"For every feature we add, we take one out. A lot of big sites don't do that and it's a problem."
                                                                                                                          - David Karp, Tumblr

For the past year, we have been following the Holy Grail of Strength training program.

While the RESULTS speak for themselves, I am firm believer that there is no perfect system in the world and there is always room for continuous improvement.

I am also a firm believer that there is a limit on people's time and attention, so for any new feature (improvement) added to a program, another one needs to be taken away.

At the risk of overusing the term "I am a firm believer", I will also mention that I am firm believer that changes should not be made simply for the sake of change. Any time a change is made to a training program, a workflow, an organizational structure, a playbook, etc., you need to know "the why" causing you to make the change. If you don't know "the why", you may be solving a problem that doesn't exist.

With that, here are the 7 new features that have been added to the Holy Grail of Strength over the past year. For each feature, I will link it back to my 3 firm beliefs listed above.

  1. Continuous Improvement --> What is the new feature?
  2. Know "The Why" --> Why was the feature added? 
  3. Time and Attention are Limited --> What old feature was removed to make space for this new one?

1. New Gear

CustomInk Model

What is the new feature?

Dry Fit T-Shirts ...

Short sleeve, long sleeve, and even the unthinkable ... NO SLEEVE!

We also have hats and hoodies (seen below), as well as a plan for towels and shorts in early 2017.

Advanced Training Models

Why did we add it?

Simple ... Our guys asked for it.

To be fair, they had been asking for many years, but I made the HUGE mistake of not listening.

I also made the mistake of thinking that gear had zero influence on performance in the gym or on the field.

If you expect your athletes to be walking billboards of your program, you'd better give them gear that they feel great in and are proud to wear.

What did we remove?

The old style cotton t-shirts with the Advanced Training logo.

The only cotton shirts that will remain are the "Trophy" shirts linked to Power Points, Toughman, and Challenge Championships.

These are earned

2. Olympic Lift Every Day

What is the new feature?

We now perform one "Olympic Lift" each day of the program. In this phase, that Olympic lift will not change for at least 3-6 weeks to allow time for skill development and proficiency in the execution.

As always, the lift is performed at a sub-maximal load with a focus on Strength-Speed.

Why did we add it?

The results of our 2016 Summer Testing clearly showed that we did not focus enough of our efforts on speed-strength development.

While our maximal strength increased on the bench press and deadlift at record rates, our broad jump increases were relatively low compared to other years.

By adding in more "Olympic Lifts", I am hoping to close the gap between maximal strength and speed-strength, as well as improve our overall rate of force development.

What did we remove?

I am cringing as I write this, but here it goes ... the Back Squat (for now).

Not only are time and attention limited (see firm belief #3), but so is the capacity to move heavy loads in every training session.

Because we were squatting, benching, and deadlifting every day, guys were getting burnt out. One of the 3 had to go and back squat drew the short straw.


1. Bench and Deadlift are a key component of our Power Point Testing.
2. New Feature #3 would help supplement it's loss.

Which leads us to New Feature #3.

3. Overhead Lift Every Day

What is the new feature?

We now perform one overhead lift each day of the program. As with the "Olympic Lift", the overhead lift will not change for at least 3-6 weeks of the program.

Why did we add it?

Since the day we began in 2004, overhead lifts were a staple of the Advanced Training program.

I was a big fan of how something like an overhead squat or  overhead lunge put a simultaneous emphasis on core engagement and shoulder stability, all while working the big muscles of the lower body.

I loved it so much that I asked my Uncle John to develop a logo based off of an overhead movement.

The OG logo

Unfortunately, I did not put such an extreme emphasis on this over the past few years.

It finally hit home a few months ago when I asked a guy in our program why our logo looks the way it does.

I did it right after he dominated a set of overhead squats, while wearing the new shirt with our "fancy" logo right on his chest.

Although this athlete was both super-smart and a member of the program since 2009, he had no idea why the logo had a guy holding a bar over his head.

I realized I had failed him and the program.

The overhead movements are who we are and what we do at Advanced Training.
And now they are back as an everyday movement.

Insider Note to Billy Blanco: I apologize for this. When you see a certain DB from Poly Prep, you can thank him for not knowing the answer to my question.

What did we remove?

As mentioned before, by adding in the daily overhead movement, we were able to remove the max effort back squat.*

4. Speed Bench Press Once Per Week

What is the new feature?

We used to max-effort bench press at every training session. Now, we have replaced every third session with the speed bench press.

Why did we add it?

The speed bench press was added for 2 reasons.

1. Guys were hitting the wall on their bench press training max too quickly. (For those who appreciate the math behind this, please see my notes below.**)

2. We were not working enough on our rate of force development for the upper body. (For the lower body, at least we had broad jumps and light Olympic lifts 1 day per week***)

What did we remove?

We removed heavy bench press from every 3rd session.

For those of you freaking out that I am stealing your gains, don't worry. We added a finisher to the speed bench press day that included high volume db incline bench press.

Which leads us to New Feature #5.

5. Competitive Bodybuilding Every Day

What is the new feature?

Yes, you read that correctly.
"Competitive Bodybuilding" was added to the Advanced Training program.

Before you go signing up for unlimited sessions at your local tanning salon and buy a bulk order of our sleeveless Advanced Training tees, allow me to further explain what I mean.

By bodybuilding, I mean we do low load / high volume work primary focused on hypertrophy.

By competitive, I mean we do this work by competing against ourselves to get a certain number of reps in a certain amount of time.

Here are two examples of what you may see.

  • Get as many reps of seated rows as possible in 4 minutes
  • Get 75 reps of inverted rows in as little time as possible

Why did we add it?

Simple ... guys wanted to look good in a bathing suit. (I finally gave in after 12 years of telling them it was all about being strong, fast, and healthy.)

Having said that, I still somewhat held onto my principles by making this part of the session as grueling as possible. Doing seated rows for 4 minutes is a nightmare.

What did we remove?

We removed heavy assistance work that focused more on strength than hypertrophy. One example would be a chest supported row, working in the 5-8 rep range.

6. Competitive Jump Rope Every Day

What is the new feature?

We used to start and end every Advanced Training session with a prescribed number of jump rope "touches".

For example, do 3 sets of 100 "touches".

Now, we end every session with a competitive jump rope segment. (The start has not changed.)

Here are some examples:
  • Get as many "touches" as you can in 3 minutes
  • Get 100 "touches" in as little time as possible

Why did we add it?

Guys were not taking the jump rope segment at the end of our sessions seriously. If I wasn't watching closely, they would try to skip out on it (massive pun intended).

Now that it is competitive, this is no longer an issue.

What did we remove?

We removed the traditional prescribed jump rope reps at the end of the session.

7. Decompression Every Day

What is the new feature?

We now decompress after every session, by hanging from a bar and laying upside down with our hands under our head on a decline bench.

Hang From Bar

Lay on Decline Bench

Why did we add it?

1. We literally wanted to decompress our spines after carrying around heavy loads in our lifting sessions.

2. We wanted enhance recovery by engaging our parasympathetic nervous system (via diaphragmatic breathing) and Active Lymphatic Drainage.****

What did we remove?

We used to do something called "Stretch of the Day", where we picked one stretch the entire group would do.

It definitely had some benefits, but a great deal of time was spent explaining a new stretch every day. In addition, that one stretch may not benefit everyone, as everyone had different things they wanted to focus on.

For right now, this decompression is routine is optimal, as everyone can benefit from spinal and mental decompression.


In the spirit of continuous improvement, this will not be the last iteration of the Holy Grail of Strength.

We will continue to make incremental adjustments to the program over time, but never without having a "why" and never without removing an existing feature.

(My Lean Six Sigma Mentor would be so proud right now.)


*For those of you who want the gory details, we used to "Olympic Lift" and Overhead 1x per week, and max effort back squat 3x a week.  By removing the back squat, we now have room to do both 3x per week.

** Adding 10lbs to your deadlift weight every session has less of an impact than adding 10lbs to your bench press. The reason ... you have a much higher deadlift max than a bench press max (I hope). If your deadlift max is 400, going from 280 to 290 only changes the working percentage from 70% to 72.5%. If your bench max is 250, going from 175 to 185 changes the working percentage from 70% to 73.7%. This may not seem like much, but it adds up after a few weeks.

***We also had many explosive lower body movements incorporated into our field sessions such as sprinting and plyometrics.

**** Here is a great excerpt from Dr. John Rusin from an article he wrote for T-Nation called "4 Things To Do After Lifting to Boost Gains"

Active Lymphatic Drainage

As you train a muscle group, increased blood flow is siphoned to the area in
order to continue to fuel the activity.  This increased local blood flow also
triggers a certain amount of fluid accumulation locally from the interstitial fluid
balance, which is more commonly noticed as the prolonged pump effect of a
tough workout.

While the lymphatic system is pivotal to human function, too much local lymph
can limit the recovery process of local tissues and the system as a whole.

Having control over the amount of local lymph is pivotal to expediting recovery.

We can do this in a few ways.

Raise Your Arms or Legs

First, we can use gravity to our advantage and use a systemic drain by
elevating extremities above the level of the heart in order to push lymphatic
fluid back into central circulation.

On lower-body training days, this may be as simple as lying on your back and elevating your feet
and legs (allowing a little knee bend) using a short plyo box.

For upper body training, just place the arms overhead in a relaxed position to enhance drainage.

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