Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Interview with Charles Staley

Charles Staley has been called a lot of things. And that is a good thing. Charles is the kind of coach that makes other coaches think about performing a self-inventory on their practice. His instruction is as effective as a sword’s point; and even in humility, he catches what most coaches miss. He embodies his team with top notch advice and encompasses them into an “education program” called Bed & Barbell. The uniqueness of Bed & Barbell is it doubles as a teaching facility—full with an entire fitness facility specializing in Olympic lifting Powerlifting, and Strongman, and a rejuvenating getaway in sunny Gilbert, Arizona—full of all proper amenities.

I’ve been a fan of Charles Staley, since I read his article featured on titled “Convergence Phase Training”. That article really opened my eyes to making my personal lifting sessions more efficient. It made me re-evaluate what lifts mattered to me the most, which lifts should become auxiliary lifts, and which movements improve my overall performance. To me, that article was the beginning of the end of 3 hour lifting bouts.

I had a grand opportunity to interview Charles Staley and honestly, I could have gone on and on with this guy. But, we’ll save that for a future part two.

JOHN: Coach, let's get right into what you provide to the industry and what you are doing with your athletes and clients. You run a very unique facility down in Gilbert, AZ called "Bed & Barbell". This is a VERY cool concept. Who came up with this concept and how did it come about?

Charles: “Well, I was looking for a new facility, and I didn't want to do a strip-mall type of location (we don't depend on walk-by traffic anyway), and also, I'm not a client-factory so to speak— we tend to have a low-volume, high-quality approach to training people, and to make a long story short, it just occurred to me that I should just find a big house and turn it into a gym. So we did that, and at some point, my offline marketing director Julianne says, "Hey: let's call it "Bed And Barbell!" And with that, I knew we might be on to something - people would come in and live with us while they learn how to train. So we're a residential learning facility. We've been running at about a 60-65% occupancy rate, and I'm very proud to say that thus far, every guest we've ever had has returned at least once, and many have returned several times.”

JOHN: You mention "quality control" in terms of the recipients of your practice. That is important. Can you tell us why quality over quantity is important in terms of "who" you train versus how many you train?

Charles: “Well, as a teaching facility, we're not interested in keeping clients dependent on us. There is a small group of locals that train with us twice a week, but aside from that, we want you to come in for (say) a week, jump-start your understanding, and then go back home and run with it. Then we'd like to see you back maybe 2-3 times a year ideally. So I guess in summary, you don't come to us to get a workout— you'll do workouts, but you're coming to learn. That's what sets us apart I think.”

JOHN: What attracts you most to the Olympic lifts?

Charles: “Man, where do I start?!?! There is just an implicit (and unique) sense of satisfaction and completion when you execute a great O-lift. It's that delicious "sweet spot" sort of feedback that you experience when you hit a golf ball really pure, or when you score a knockout punch...there are moments like this in most sports, but those are the ones I'm personally familiar with. Aside from that, "the lifts" as they're sometimes called, are great for improving strength, power and mobility.”

JOHN: Back in 2001-02, I read an article of yours titled "Convergent Phase Training" and it changed the way I view exercise selection. I think at the time, it was the best way to go about putting together an exercise program and giving muscle groups ample exposure to load. Do you still follow this philosophy since this article? What has changed in your thought-process over the years since writing that article?

Charles: “The principles of that system remain valid, and I think, one of the best ways to arrange training loads. As a "creative type," If I may call myself that, once I create something, I tend to lose interest in it and want to move on to the next creation. But yes, we still use that template— it's an example of something that I've always found interesting, which is "How to you find a way to maximize the up-side while simultaneously limiting the down-side?" Because all methods have both pros and cons.”

JOHN: What are the most challenging aspects of teaching O-lifts?

Charles: “Generally, people are not used to or comfortable with accelerating weights. Snatches and cleans bear more resemblance to a throw than a lift. Many people think good form means moving weights slowly, but technique and speed are entirely different entities. It's fun to watch people when they finally "get it" — if you've never "thrown" a bar, there's something liberating about it.”

JOHN: What are some of the goals or intentions of the patrons that come to Bed & Barbell? Is it solely to learn O-lifting or do they want to be better coaches? Physique alteration? Etc, etc?

Charles: “You know, the common thread is that they're all familiar with my work and want to learn more, but with that aside, we have people from all walks of life with widely varying goals. We focus mostly on teaching what we call the 3 fundamental disciplines: weightlifting, powerlifting, and strongman. These are the tools that we want people to grasp and ultimately master. Sometimes people come in with primarily aesthetic goals, while others are athletes, and some of our guests just want to get healthier.

Our point of view with almost all of our clients however, is to help people improve their relationship with physical activity, which is where the fundamental disciplines come into play- unlike the activities that most people focus on, when you perform a snatch or a tire flip or a deadlift, there is a unique sense of satisfaction and "completion" for lack of a better term, that you experience. It's that magical "sweet spot" type of feedback I mentioned earlier. In contrast to this, think about how many modern fitness equipment companies now hide the weight-stack behind a cowling— it's supposedly to improve safety, but the reality is, it prevents you from seeing (and enjoying) the work you're accomplishing. It's like studying for the SAT's for weeks, taking the test, and then never learning how you did! Could you imagine that?!?! To me, that's the problem with the conventional approach to fitness- it's devoid of function, satisfaction, and ultimately, results.”

JOHN: How did you get involved with strength coaching? Take us through your history from when you discovered a passion for lifting, schooling, training, etc

Charles: “Well this goes back to my days as a martial arts teacher and competitor in Dutchess County, New York. I was absolutely infatuated with the martial arts but at the same time I had only modest amounts of talent, which is the charitable way to put it. So I began exploring with physical preparation methods, which pretty much boils down to strength and power training methods. And it helped me, as well as my students. And before long, word was getting out somehow, and before you know it, I was training athletes from other sports in addition to my martial arts competitors. Keep in mind we're talking the early '80's here, before the word "personal trainer" or strength coach" had made it into the lexicon.”

JOHN: As a strength coach, in your there a difference between "preventing" injuries and "reducing" injuries? If yes, can you explain? If not, what is your approach to dealing with the potentiality of injuries?

Charles: “Sure there's a difference. In terms of prevention, there are a number of strategies that can be employed, including sound technical execution, rational progression from workout to workout, optimal warm-up habits, and prioritizing performance over pain. By that I'm referring to that fact that many, many people assess the value of a workout by how much pain and fatigue it causes. This is perhaps the most prevalent mistake that people make. Fitness is a function of what you do, not how it feels. It's my core philosophy.

On the fly" decision-making is also critical here: when you feel something's "off" on a particular rep, do you stop and re-assess, or keep pushing so you can "feel the burn"?

Injury diagnosis and rehabilitation are somewhat outside of my scope of responsibility, but suffice it to say that injuries need to be acknowledged, diagnosed, and finally, treated. I see too many guys and gals out there who never get a proper diagnosis, and without out that, you really are baseless in terms of addressing the problem.”

JOHN: I still get a kick when I hear that "locking joints is a bad thing" from other your opinion, why do you think there is such a huge discretion in the level of information/knowledge from fitness professionals across the board?

Charles: “Well again this stems from the paradigm of prioritizing pain over performance— if you don't lock the joint, the muscle never gets a chance to rest, and then you get what you're looking for: pain. If you want to prioritize performance however, you lock out the joint so that you'll have a momentary rest to facilitate a better performance on the next rep.

Joints are designed to safely accommodate full extension. That doesn't mean you should "slam" the joint shut, but this is another example of something I always say, which is that the "no pain no gain" philosophy is responsible for more bad decision-making than anything else out there.”

JOHN: Random thoughts/phrases here...please just tell us the first thing that comes to mind when you hear…

...only one exercise --which do you choose?

Charles: “The classic unanswerable question! For me personally, the snatch. If I couldn't do snatches, I'd be miserable.”

...creatine supplementation for explosive training...

Charles: “Use it.”

...posterior chain training...

Charles: “It doesn't get the attention it deserves. Quads are over-rated for athletic performance. Almost everyone we see at Bed And Barbell is quad-dominant.” the trenches or in the books?

Charles: “ both are so important, but if you're looking for a superior coach and you had to choose one, I'd say in the trenches.”


For more information on Charles Staley, please visit:


  1. Went to a CS seminar in London (UK) a few years ago and learnt so much. I was constantly writing stuff down throughout. What really stuck with me apart from his wonderful EDT workout was how long he spent answering and chatting to people after the event with never a semblance of him getting bored or fed up. Great man.

  2. Thanks for reading. Charles is a very smart coach.


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