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Ask The Strength Coach With Strongman Legend Mark Philippi: Volume 1

I have a 12 year old son that plays several sports, but he needs to get faster. What is the best way to improve his speed?

Too often our children participate in so many sports that we neglect to improve the athletic base upon which these sport skills are dependent. Speed, strength, agility and flexibility are important parts of an athlete’s base. Improving an athlete’s athletic base will then allow him/her to improve their individual sport skill technique.

Speed is a skill that can be trained. First and foremost, by getting a young athlete stronger through resistance training, their speed will improve because of the improved ability to control and accelerate the body. This could simply be doing push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. Additionally, learning the proper running mechanics (PAL = Posture, Arm action and Leg action) will drastically improve a young athlete that has poor running technique. Properly taught running mechanics need to be constantly practiced in order for them to be an unconscious action. Flexibility must also be continually improved to allow a young athlete to demonstrate proper running mechanics. A tight athlete will have difficulty performing the proper running mechanics. This must be done dynamically by performing movements that warm and stretch the body like bodyweight squats, lunges, lunges with rotation, over under hurdles etc. An athlete must also have a solid conditioning base. You can’t be fast if you are out of shape. Do this by running short sprints at near maximal levels with short rest periods. Sprint resisted or sprint assisted drills can be incorporated after young athlete trains for a period of time. For most kids though, improving total body strength, developing proper running mechanics, and improving flexibility will improve a young athlete’s speed to a noticeable degree.

What is the best machine for improving leg strength?

Sorry, there is no best machine to improve leg strength. Barbell squats are the best way to improve leg strength: with free weights, not on a machine. They must also be done to parallel depth. This means that the top of the thigh is parallel to the ground. Most lifters in the gym do not come close to this depth. Squats done to parallel depth will develop more lean mass; strengthen the hips, hamstrings and glutes to a greater degree than not squatting to the proper depth. These muscles extend the hips and increasing their strength will improve speed and power allowing you to run faster and jump higher. Squatting to parallel also stabilizes the knee, reducing injuries.

The proper technique for a back squat is as follows: Place the bar on the back across the shoulders at the bottom of the trapezius muscles. Squeeze the shoulders backward and expand the chest. Draw the abs inward (pull belly button to spine). Set the feet slightly wider than hip width with the feet slightly turned out. Head is pointed forward in a neutral position. Focus the eyes on a fixed point. Before descending, take a deep breath in and hold your air until you rise from the bottom of the squat. Drive the hips backward (like sitting in a chair) and push the knees out over the feet. The shins should stay almost vertical and the torso should mirror the same angle as the shins at the bottom of the squat. The descent should be steady and controlled. When getting to parallel depth, pause very briefly, keep the body tight, push the feet into the floor and drive the back up into the bar keeping the chest forward, and the back and abs tight. Accelerate the bar upward. Exhale as you ascend from the bottom position. Stand up with the bar. If you are going to perform another rep, don’t fully lock out the knees. Keep the knees slightly bent.

Stop trying to make your legs stronger on a machine. Put a bar on your back and start squatting.

How much rest should I take between my sets during my workout?

The average person that visits the gym often overlooks rest intervals.

Rest depends on your workout goal and the amount of weight being used. If you are trying to improve your general conditioning, recovery, and increase muscle endurance, use lighter loads. Fifty to sixty-five percent of one repetition maximum or rep ranges from 12 to 20 reps and rest periods shorter than 75 seconds between sets.

If your goal is increase muscle mass the rest periods also need to be relatively short, in the 60 to 75 second range but you need to increase the amount on weight on the bar. Use sets with weights in the 65% to 75% of one repetition maximum range or 8 to 12 reps for each set. The short rest periods will create muscle growth or the “bodybuilding” effect

If gaining strength is your focus, you need to take longer rest. Too often individuals want to lift heavier weights and get stronger without taking sufficient rest. Focused strength training uses percentages of >85% and longer rest will be needed to recover from one set to another. Powerlifters lifting near maximum weights may even take 5 to 10 minutes in between the heaviest sets. Don’t make the mistake of missing reps during a heavy strength workout by not allowing your body to recover 3 to 4 minutes between heavy sets. The number of opportunities to attempt heavy weights during a strength workout is limited so take time to rest. Workouts that will produce elements of strength and size (5 sets of 5 reps or 5×5) also take more recovery time, usually around 2 to 4 minutes rest between sets.

Athletes performing ballistic movements to increase explosiveness need to treat the workouts similar as heavy strength workouts and take the same rest periods. You are working the nervous system and it will take time to recover between sets. If you don’t rest you will lose the ability to coordinate your movements properly. I have seen too many explosive plyometric workouts turn into conditioning workouts where the movement technique breaks down increasing the injury potential. All due to lack of sufficient rest between sets.

If you want to keep your natural hormone levels high during you workout, perform multiple sets of various exercises with moderate to high intensity levels (10 repetition maximum or heavier) with short 6o second rest intervals. Performing workouts in this manner will keep both testosterone and growth hormone levels elevated during your workout. This provides an anabolic effect to your workout. This type of resistance training is the best way to fight off the effects of aging in older adults.

Know why you are training and what the overall goal of your workout is before choosing your rest intervals.

Have a question for Mark? Email him at

Mark Philippi Information

Mark has been a fixture on ESPN’s Worlds Strongest Man contest, competing for seven years, making the finals twice and finishing 7th in 1997 after winning the America’s Strongest Man title that year. Mark has traveled the world competing against the best strength athletes on almost every continent. Before competing on the professional strongman circuit, Mark was a National and World powerlifting champion (1996).

Mark is the President and Co-owner with his wife, Tracey, of Philippi Sports Institute Las Vegas, Nevada. PSI is a 9000 ft training facility with a staff of performance coaches, physiotherapy personnel, and scientific consulting team who’s mission is to help athletes of all ages and sports achieve their goals in the areas of athletic performance, fitness, diet and conditioning.

In addition to being an incredible athlete, Mark unlike many athletes is an outstanding couch and instructor. Numerous world class athletes such as MLB Star Jason Giambi of the NY Yankees have traveled across the country to learn from Mark. Here is what Jason had to say about working with Mark:

“I am a power hitter. I need to be strong. Mark is an expert at developing strength and power. He had me ready for the season.”
Jason Giambi, New York Yankees


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