5 Questions with Ben Coker

Todd: Ben I had the opportunity to meet you in person at the PerformBetter Summit inRhode Island this year. Most of my readers have not had the opportunity to catch up with you in person. If they meet you, why will they want to high-five you?

Ben: First up Todd I’d like to say a big thank you to yourself for wanting to interview me but moreover, give you a massive congratulation as you have the immense honour of being the first guy to interview me!

So why would someone want to high five me? Well…I guess it would be because I’d just enlightened them with one of my ‘stories’. Something you were exposed to inProvidence! Saying that though, It would either be a high five or a look of absolute dismay dependent on the party. Let’s just say I’ve learnt to identify those who would ‘appreciate’ such before I spout.

Anyway, I like to think that I bring some personality along with my love for S&C. I’d hate to just be a mundane individual giving out advice.

Todd: Your stories are very ‘enlightening’, especially about rugby culture in theUK. Speaking of rugby, I happen to train a few rugby players, and I know you’re a former player, so I’d be interested to hear your opinion on rugby training. In your opinion—what are most rugby programs that you’ve encountered missing from an S and C standpoint?

Ben: That’s a tough one. From my exposure I’d have to say it’s having adequate form in the Olympic lifts, rather than a programming issue per say.

I know rugby players are not weightlifters.  Therefore form on the Olympic lifts will never be perfect nor does it need to be. That’s obvious. But hell, there is a difference between good enough and sloppy!

Common gripe is with the power clean. I see players hauling up power cleans and catching the lift with a stupidly wide stance to reduce ROM as the load is honestly too heavy for them and they can’t hit a good squat position under the bar. In the process of this they lose all integrity of the hip and knee, not to mention potential issues with the shoulders, elbows and wrists.

S&C Coaches that I have seen whilst at university don’t correct such. Nor do they really commit to addressing the mobility and stability issues that are limiting successful execution.

A good lift looks aesthetically pleasing, bad lifts don’t. If your athlete’s lifts are looking ugly then you need to consider correct loading and should be tackling any mobility come stability issues they may have. 5-10kg less load, performed quicker, and executed better is far more beneficial and sustainable.

When asked, most coaches will automatically say an Olympic movement has to be in their players program. Why?  An Olympic lift is just a tool to develop power. Never allow sloppy form for the sake of doing an exercise because ‘they say’. If your athlete’s form is on the suspect side don’t be afraid to leave them out, there are other ways. High pulls, shrug pulls, dumbbell cleans, snatches and kettlebell swings, cleans and snatches (oh no he didn’t suggest the K word) can deliver the same physical qualities without exposing those individuals to as much risk.

I am currently in the process of bettering myself at teaching the Olympic lifts and you know what? Because of this they aren’t a main stay in my programs. Funny that.  Just because your qualification has shown you a 7 step layout of how to clean, it doesn’t really make you that clued up in delivering them.

Look deeper, think wider and get better.

Todd: What about rugby energy systems training? I’ve seen some rugby conditioning programs that have had outrageous amounts of volume—I’ve had to cut a lot of conditioning out for rugby players so they could recover. How do you approach energy systems training for rugby?

Ben: I am definitely a believer in ‘why do more when less does the job?’. Now the issue becomes finding ‘that point’. Both weight training and conditioning should be based around the concept of ‘program minimum’ and the minimal effective dose. I am a big fan off building capacity in a sports specific context to achieve some sort of density. So for rugby that could be touch or grab and hold games, where the tacklers have to retreat 10 meters before returning to the game. Not only does this hit the energy systems hard, but it is great in reinforcing decision making skills, both in attack and defense as holes now need to be covered or exploited dependent.

From my time playing rugby, this type of conditioning was far more prevalent than other forms of ‘beasting’ that the team was thankful for. In preseason there is more room for standalone conditioning but I still find incorporating it into a type of game scenario is the best way to train the energy systems and achieve density. No one likes running to markers or tempos for the sake of it. If the goal is to win or achieve another objective other than conditioning, effort is always higher and so is the knock on metabolic training effect.

One final point, and a point that links into the previous question now I come to think of it is ‘change of direction’ and ‘varying mode of locomotion’ conditioning. Simple linear locomotion, turning at a point and returning to the start point as seen in typical shuttle drills will only go so far. Multi directional and multi-mode of locomotion conditioning brings a whole new level of metabolic demand. This needs to be trained to truly condition a rugby player and prevent injury. Game scenarios allow this to occur as they would in a match. Simple shuttle drills can leave a player still gasping when multi planar, multi-mode locomotion comes into play.

Todd: Ben, wow, great answer! I definitely agree. If someone wants to be conditioned for their sport—they need to go play their sport!

I know that you’re also a big fan of training for hypertrophy. I don’t want you to give away all your secrets, but can you give us a general idea of how you approach training for mass?

Ben: I love mass. It’s what gets me going and it’s what got me into the industry. So in ‘a no nonsense’ summary, typical of me, I’d have to say my approach to hypertrophy is this,

‘More reps. More weight.’

Great answer I know! But you want more so I’ll say this, ‘Focus on compound lifts, make squatting a priority and eat like a horse. That is it. Hypertrophy 101. You need not buy another muscle-book again!

Don’t worry people I won’t leave you with a two line answer, but it’s a thoroughly complete answer in my eyes.

So, good old linear progression. People just don’t hold themselves accountable to it. People float around gyms week to week, month to month, year to year, lift the same weights for the same reps and wonder why the mirror still sticks a middle finger up at them! Shit man, progress already. Lift a weight for more reps or lift more weight for the same reps. Ideally, do both –a heavier weight for more reps. Do this from session to session, every session. No other options available. If you get stronger you get bigger.

I’ll add that in the quest for muscle size I do believe we still need to expose our muscles to sufficient level of time under tension to elicit maximal gains in hypertrophy. As a result I promote getting stronger in the 8-12rep range. This is what suits most people best, some individuals can grow like water cress on the lower rep ranges…these guys are lucky. 

As for stubborn muscles, I advocate using high volumes (after you have beaten your day’s rep PB of course on a suitable lift for that muscle).Don’t be afraid to go insane.

Todd: Great stuff, Ben! Be consistent and be simple. I like it.

You said “eat like a horse.” I agree—to get bigger a guy (or gal) has to eat a lot. But what and when? How do you eat to get bigger?

Ben: I remember vividly the diet that was my ‘turning point’ as it were. It marked the point where I went from being a guy who was obviously in shape to a guy who was ‘BUUHHIG!’. Well at least from where I was. I took myself from 82kg to over 95kg in a very short space of time. It was the summer of 08 and off season for rugby – nothing but weights and rest. I had figured at that time that I needed to eat way, way more than I was used to. So I ate more and pre planned what was going in and when. My meals consisted of3 protein shakes with milk; one in the morning, one after the gym and one before bed. I also had 2 meals that consisted of 4 or 5 scrambled eggs with a whole tin of baked beans to go with and a final 6th ‘feed’ which was whatever mum cooked that evening. I ate this everyday religiously for a long summer and bam…shit happened. Calories and consistency.

Now that’s far from what a nutritionist would call a perfect diet. Well I wasn’t a nutritionist and I was a teenager. Oh and did I forget to say it put 2 stone on me!? Although my knowledge of food has widened, my menu hasn’t. Meat, fish, eggs, a high quality whey protein powder, rice maybe pasta, oatmeal, nuts, and milk are the foods that I gravitate towards. They work. Throw in plenty of water, some veg, a multi vitamin, omega 3 tablets, and some ZMA for good measure and you are good to grow. I am very basic when It comes to eating. I eat to get a job done.

Looking back across the years I have learned to auto regulate, knowing that as long as I push the weights heavy and hard, with volume then I need to eat whenever I’m hungry. I’m now sitting comfortable at 105kg with a reasonable body fat %, having been as high as 114kg but ‘powerlifter swole’ if you get me! I encourage those that are struggling to grow and not as ‘tuned in’ to the workings of their body to keep an accurate food log. Plan food in advance and tick the meals off as you go. Eat. Eat. Eat.

One thing I would say is that people are too afraid to lose their beloved six packs. Now don’t go all sumo wrestler on me but you have to put those abs on hold temporarily, get a ‘coat’, and harbour some serious muscle growth. As long as you are lifting heavy and regular don’t worry about the large amounts of food making you fat. Going up 5% or so don’t mean shit. Let it be a reminder to push the weights even harder! Make your body thankful for all that food, and ensure it puts it in the right place.

Todd: Awesome stuff, man. I love that you continued to talk about consistency. When it comes to training and nutrition, it’s the most important variable.

 Again, thanks for your time, Ben. Let’s wrap this up. How can people get a hold of you, and/or is there anywhere you’d like to direct readers?

 Ben: Consistency all the way! Todd it’s been a pleasure, and thank you for showing a genuine interest. For those interested I host regular articles and blog posts on my website, http://ben-coker.com/. Check it out for more information and full contact details. I am also active on Facebook and Twitter, again all relevant links are given on my site.

Thanks again Todd. Let’s see you in England sometime soon! (1917)

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Todd Bumgardner
M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger
Todd Bumgardner

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M.S./ CSCS/ Owner of Beyond Strength Performance/ Ginger

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