Todd Bumgardner Interview: Programs, Coaching and Barbells

Todd Bumgardner is, in my mind and many top fitness/strength and conditioning minds, one of the top “young guns” in performance coaching.  He is an innovative coach who “creates monsters” out of Ranfone Training Systems.  I wanted to pick is brain and start learning how Todd thinks and coaches people and the information is gold…

So here it is, for you to enjoy and learn from as well!



Do you follow a strict assessment process? Some coaches have been nixing this process. They are just coaching the basics as the athlete/client starts and adjusting the progressions/regressions fluidly. 


I’ve heard the rumblings of a lot of coaches poo-pooing evaluations. I think it’s silly.


I live by the credo that we need objective information to make subjective decisions—the evaluation process gives us that information and it streamlines the programming process.


Rather than guessing and trying to introduce a bunch of movements to someone, an evaluation tells us what kind of loading a person can handle. For example, let’s say a client tests well in a squat pattern on some sort of objective rating scale. It would be silly to start at the most basic level—you’re starting three steps behind where you should.


Beyond movement assessments there are cardiovascular assessments, orthopedic assessments, medical histories and performance assessments. Thinking simply and only about movement assessments is woefully short sighted.


Evaluations/assessments give us the opportunity to streamline the programming process and make the best possible programming decisions for our clients.


When programming for strength what are your 2 most important variables to coach and work in?


I don’t think exercise selection is ever overvalued and nor are rep schemes. It’s all a reflection of the evaluation process—exercises are selected based on the client’s movement competency and training age. For example, if a new client can’t touch their toes and their active straight leg raise is poor, they don’t have the movement competency to full-range deadlift. They need to be regressed/lateralized to a movement that fits their current abilities—like a high rack pull combined with a basic hinge variation. It could be that they just work on hinging.


Rep schemes also reflect this thought process. If the same client—low training age, poor movement competency—is given heavy loading their nervous system and tissues are being sabotaged. They’re being set up for failure. But if they’re given a remedial exercise in a mid- to high-rep range, their tissues build resiliency as they adapt to the movement and the nervous system is given the right stimulus to learn to move.


Kind of a roundabout, long-winded answer, but I believe exercise selection and rep schemes based on movement competency and training age are the two most important strength programming variables.


Working in the “private sector” how do you handle the volume/intensity of the athletes programs if the sports coach doesn’t plan and work their athletes ideally for their performance?


Constant monitoring. My colleagues and I at Ranfone Training Systems have our clients fill out daily subjective rating scales on sleep, diet, soreness, perceived difficulty of their last workout/practice. We also have them track their heart rate every day. Synthesizing this info allows us to make intensity and volume alterations daily. Mel Siff called it cybernetic training—modern folks call it autoregulation. So essentially every decision we make is to prepare our kids to deal with sport coaches that choose potentially harmful training loads—whether our workouts are to prepare them for ridiculous practices or to help them recover.


Barbell lifts:

What are a couple of your favorite ways to teach a new client/athlete to develop and maintain tension throughout a lift?


Grip and torque. Setting an aggressive grip is the first step in creating full-body tension. External rotation torque at the hips and shoulders is the follow-up. Think of “breaking the bar” and “dialing the feet.” Do these things and you’ve sent a message to the brain that you’re ready to generate force.


Do you find that any athletes/sports struggle becoming proficient in the weight room with the barbell lifts?


No, not really. I don’t typically use upper-body barbell lifts with baseball players, but I don’t think there is a specific athlete group that struggles with barbell training. Athletes typically respond well because they learn movements well and are easily able to internalize cues.


How do you define a lateralization and do you have an example of when you have used a lateralization for a specific exercise and athlete?


I can’t claim the term lateralization—it’s a word that my friend Charlie Weingroff coined. Some folks would think of lateralizations as regressions—like doing a rack pull instead of a full-range deadlift. (There’s your example, by the way). But rack pulls are still loaded aggressively, and offer the body a strong physiological stimulus. And there we have the definition of lateralization—the movement variation that offers that strongest training stimulus without sacrificing good positioning. If a person can’t set their spine in neutral to deadlift, but they can while rack pulling at the knee, they rack pull at the knee.



Developing a culture for the athletes is essential for the gym, how do you go about bringing the athletes into the culture of the gym?


Great question. Step number one is making them feel safe and welcome. It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that we all learned in Psych 101. People need to feel safe before they’ll trust you to do anything for them, before they feel like they can join the group. I do this by identifying with them and showing them that our gym is a place where you’re wholly allowed to be yourself and let your personality out.


From there it’s about constantly giving energy…showing the clients that you give a shit about them, showing them that you’re passionate about your job. You can’t expect someone to give a shit about the sets and reps you’ve put on paper if it doesn’t look like you give a shit about being in the building. Enthusiasm is infectious.


Then I do quirky stuff like give kids weird nicknames…it’s fun way for us to identify with each other. I also give them the opportunity to pick the music that plays while they train. It seems a simple thing, but small choices go a long way in developing resolve and opening the door so they’re receptive to your coaching.


It’s mostly about leading from the front and setting an example. Be excited and behave in a way that’s worth emulating.


How do your athletes plan their goals? Do the coaches guide them in the process?


We start the goal setting process day one—it’s a part of the assessment. We help clients identify goals and learn the difference between behavioral goals and outcome goals. But we start with a clear conversation about the importance about deciding what you want and owning the process. I emphasize the emotional component of goal setting. If the goal isn’t deeply meaningful, then it’s easy to bail on it. But if the goal is something that you can emotionally attach to, all the behaviors necessary to achieve your goal are framed differently. Not burdens, but opportunities.


Then we help each kid set actionable, concrete, time sensitive and measureable goals and we write them down. It’s a constant conversation about how our behaviors and choices either help us achieve our goals or are detrimental to our ability to achieve them. We ask simple questions like, what can you do each day to take a step closer to where you’d like to be?


Todd is coming to Cincinnati on May 9th and 10th for a 2-day hands on coaching seminar, where you will learn all you need from assessments and mobility to programming and coaching the barbell lifts to your athletes and clients.  If you are in the area sign up as spaces will be limited!  Check out the link below and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out and ask us.


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