5 Questions with Joe Meglio

My friend Joe Meglio is an absolute beast!  And underthe coaching of Zach Even-Esh, he has turned out to be a great strength coach.  I was pumped when he said he could take the time to do an interview with me.  If you haven’t heard of Joe Meglio yet, trust me you’ll be hearing a lot about him in the future!  Without further ado, 5 Questions with Joe Meglio.

Todd: Big Joe!  I had the pleasure of meeting you at the AMPED Seminar at DeFranco’s Gym a little while back.  You showed off some BEAST strength in the pull-up contest and on the prowler row.  Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you developed your train like a beast philosophy.

 Joe: Thanks Todd, it was a pleasure meeting you, also. For those of you that don’t know me, I am a strength and conditioning coach at Zach Even-Esh’s Underground Strength Gym. In addition to doing this I run my own business training athletes. I have had the privilege of studying under Zach for the past two years and during this time he has really helped me to develop and mature as a strength coach.  While I work with various athletes, my niche is baseball players. I have played baseball my whole life including four years of college baseball. 

The main philosophy behind my train like a beast program is to build a solid foundation of strength.   The biggest problem I see with most athletes is a general lack of strength. Aside from skill, physical strength is the most important attribute an athlete can possess. It is the foundation upon which other athletic skills are built. Speed, agility, flexibility, mobility, power, and explosiveness are components of athletics that can be significantly improved by dramatic increases in strength.

Another main philosophy behind my “Train Like a BEAST” program is training economy. By this I mean choosing exercises that will give you the best bang for your buck. Not only will this deliver the best results in the least amount of time but it is also a way to keep things simple. A minimalist approach to training is another philosophy behind my program. Too many people try to create complicated programs that are impossible to follow. By using a minimalist approach, athletes and even non-athletes will be more consistent in their effort to achieve their goals.

The last part of my philosophy is to build a durable and bullet proof body. In order to do this we need to attack your weaknesses. For most athletes this includes a lack of relative body strength, muscular imbalances, weakness in the posterior chain and poor mobility of the thoracic spine and hips. In a nutshell these four ideas shape up the philosophy of my “Train Like a BEAST” program.

Todd: I love that you said you take a minimalist approach to training.  There are definitely too many coaches out there that over think things and try to reinvent the wheel THE WRONG WAY.  I know your true passion is baseball strength and conditioning, so I’d love to hear more about your philosophy when it comes to training baseball players.

Joe: Todd, my view on training athletes is pretty simple; the gym is meant to build better athletes, not to become better at your sport. That is why you practice your sport!  In general the goal for all my athletes is to get theme stronger, faster, more explosive, durable and in some cases to add on some size. All these attributes are essential to becoming a better athlete. The more athletic you are, the more potential you have in your sport. The demands of an athlete’s sport will dictate whether or not you will avoid certain movement patterns or avoid certain lifts.

When it comes to baseball players I tend to avoid overhead pressing. This is the biggest difference in the way I train baseball players compared to other athletes. Other considerations include back squatting for pitchers and catchers. I always favor the safety squat bar for pitchers compared to the straight bar because they are not forced into external rotation. Since catchers tend to be quad dominate I opt for a deadlift variation or box squat instead of a traditional back squat. Especially as we move closer to the season and during the in season. Before I open up a can of worms let me give you a quick explanation as to why I avoid overhead pressing for the most part. First off, I think the overhead press is an awesome exercise and offers a lot of bang for your buck but I don’t think it is for everyone, especially not baseball players.

There are two main problems I have when it comes to utilizing this lift for my baseball guys. First off, the shoulders have already taken a beating from the physical demands of the sport. Why compound this problem by stressing the shoulders even more? Second, most people in general are not built to press overhead. Many people lack mobility in the thoracic spine to press overhead properly and thus cannot press with proper mechanics. I often see a lot of extension at the lumbar spine, which is not a good thing. If you continually repeat a motion over and over with bad mechanics you are bound to get injured, it’s as simple as that. The number one goal for all athletes is to stay healthy. What good are you to your team if you are injured? Can you name any All Americans or Hall of Famers that had an injury plagued career? I don’t think so.

So does this mean I never have baseball players press overhead? Not exactly, it all depends on the risk vs. the reward.  I have no problem pressing overhead with a high school athlete that plays multiple sports and has the proper mobility and stability to press overhead. This type of athlete has a lot to gain from the overhead press.  In all honestly, I don’t see these types of athletes all that often. Most high school athletes I deal with have poor t-spine mobility and poor stability in their scapula.

Now that I have gotten off on a bit of a tangent, let me get back on track by saying that my philosophy for baseball players is to get them STRONG. We get them strong by using a combination of compound exercises with barbells, bodyweight training and using other objects such as dumbbells, kettlebells and other strongman objects. Once we get them strong we will get them faster and more explosive by adding more reactive training (med ball throws, jump training, sprinting etc…). We always do a ton of corrective exercise before, during, and after the training session to address weaknesses and problem areas. This is essential to staying healthy and durable. Again being injury free is the number one goal. You cannot perform if you are hurt! Hopefully this gives you some insight to my philosophy on training baseball players. Again I try to keep it as simple as possible by utilizing a minimalist approach and taking training economy into consideration.

Todd: Let’s keep on the baseball theme.  Are there any aspects of training that you use that you think most baseball players are missing out on that they could especially benefit from?

Joe: Absolutely! Before I get into the aspects of training that most baseball players are missing, let me get into the biggest mistakes I see baseball players make. First off, I don’t know why most people in the baseball community think that there is a correlation between running long distances and pitching performance. This is a topic within itself and I wrote extensively about this. Other mistakes I see baseball players make is focusing too much on the little stuff and not enough on the meat and potatoes of a solid program. Many in the baseball community think that simply doing simple rotator cuff exercises will increase your mph on your fastball and keep you injury free. Another mistake I see baseball players make is stretching external rotation. Truth is that this big mistake and will actually leave a player more vulnerable to injury. Instead, baseball players need to focus on improving internal rotation.

With that said there are aspects of training most baseball players can benefit from. The first is lifting heavy weights. Let’s face it; most baseball players are weak as hell! Whenever you see a baseball player that is in good shape or is strong, what is the first thing people thing of? He should be playing football but this shouldn’t be the case! Why shouldn’t baseball players be freakish athletes? From a durability and injury perspective, once you start to break down physically the first to go is your skill. Just look at players like Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr.

Reactive training is another important aspect most baseball players are missing. This is the area of training where athletic ability is really on display. Reactive training includes explosive medicine ball throws, sprinting and jumping. Improving rate of force development is critical to building an efficient athlete. 

Another aspect of training I think baseball players are missing out on is bridging the gap between weight room strength and on the field strength. First off, you can bridge this gap by mastering the mechanics of your sport. Second, use odd objects in the preseason phase to help bridge the gap. Odd objects include nontraditional weight training equipment such as tires, sandbags, and kegs to name a few.

Last but not least, focus on addressing your weaknesses. You are only as strong as your weakness link. Baseball players specifically need to address the decelerating muscles used while throwing. Other common weak areas include the posterior chain and muscular imbalances in the lower half.

Todd: I love that you use odd objects with your baseball players, and I’m sure this is a topic that a lot of people aren’t familiar with.  How do you implement odd object training into your baseball programs?

Joe: Before I get into how I implement odd object training into my baseball program, let me first define what odd objects are. I consider odd objects any nontraditional weight lifting equipment, most notably sleds, prowlers, tires, sandbags and other strongman and nontraditional equipment. This type of training will help you improve physical strength, power, speed, explosiveness and strength endurance. Not to mention the mental toughness you will develop. This type of training isn’t for baseball players who like wine, cry, or get their hands dirty. It is for those who want a competitive edge over the competition both physically and mentally. In keeping with my training philosophy, training with odd objects offers a great bang for your buck.

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Baseball is a power sport that includes short and explosive burst. Like strongman training, the motor skills in baseball require the body to work as a whole to produce forceful contractions.  The awkwardness and unpredictability of strongman training, forces the body to use muscles that traditional strength training cannot use. Training with odd objects can help bridge the gap between the weight room and performance on the diamond. For this reason, I have found that the best time to incorporate odd object training into my baseball program is during the preseason phase. During this phase athletes are starting to include more sport specific skill work and are spending less time in the gym so I want to make sure they are getting the best results possible in the least amount of time.

The beauty of training with odd objects is the variety it offers.  There are hundreds of different ways to incorporate odd objects into the training of baseball players. The key is to find out which movements work best for YOUR athletes. I have found the best strongman exercises for baseball players to be tire flips, hand over hand pulls, heavy sled dragging and farmer walks. Substituting sandbags in for basic kettlebell or dumbbell lifts like lunges, step ups or rows are an awesome way to implement odd object training into your training. Check out this SICK video below of how I incorporate odd object training into the training of my baseball players.

Who said baseball players shouldn’t be strong as hell?

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Todd: Anyone that said baseball players shouldn’t be strong as hell is grossly missing the point!  I love your philosophy and your techniques, Joe.  Like a lot of coaches, I’m a big fan of issuing challenges.  Big Joe, throw a challenge out there for everyone reading this interview!

Joe: Todd, my favorite challenge is prowler suicides. Not only is it a great conditioning test but more importantly it is a great gut check and most importantly a test of mental toughness. We have all done suicides in the past; now imagine doing them with the prowler! Start with a 5-10-15 and progress from there. You can progress to 10-15-15 or 10-20-30, the options are really limitless.

 We don’t do these types of challenges all the time because they are extremely demanding and if you abuse them they can affect your training. However, when we do them you bet your ass that we put something on the line. Sometimes the winner will get a t-shirt or they will get out of doing some extra prowler sprints. In some cases the winner will actually choose to do the extra prowler sprints.

Overall, I really like this challenge because it forces you to get comfortable being uncomfortable. This is one of the main things I learned from Zach Even-Esh over the past two years and this is exactly what prowler suicides force you to do! 

My favorite upper body challenge is the pull up challenge. This is the ultimate test of relative body strength. Athletes that can do the most pull ups usually are the fastest, most explosive and most athletic. While this is general statement, how many fat athletes do you see nowadays? The best athletes have low body fat levels and can really control their body weight. While the pull up challenge isn’t as sexy as some of the other crazy challenges people come up with nowadays, it is still a staple for all my athletes. Long live the PULL UP!

Todd: A man after my own heart! Prowlers and Pull-ups, sounds like the title of an epic book!  Joe, I want to thank you again for taking the time out to do this interview.  Before we wrap this thing up, is there anything else you’d like to let people know?  Is there a website that you want readers to check out?  How can everyone contact you?

 Joe: First off, I would like to thank you, Todd, for holding this interview. It’s been a blast, let’s do it again sometime. I’d like to let people know that I am real easy to connect with through facebook, twitter, email and of course my website, megliofitness.com . Weather you play baseball or are just a serious athlete or fellow coach, make sure you get your ass over to my website and check it out! ha ha. I always love connecting with my readers and followers so don’t be shy. Shoot me over any questions you have in regards to training, nutrition, business or life.

The best way to stay connected with me is by checking out my website, megliofitness.com and signing up for my newsletter. You can email me directly at MeglioFitness@gmail.com.  I make sure I answer every email that comes my way so don’t hesitate to reach out. Thanks again for your time Todd.

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Todd Bumgardner

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

Todd Bumgardner

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