[00:00] About Zach Even-Esh
[03:00] How Zach Got Into Underground Strength & Conditioning
[15:38] Zach's Unique Body Weight Training Exercises
[23:19] Using Sandbags For a Workout
[33:29] Using Rocks For a Workout
[39:07] Using Kegs For a Workout
[46:11] Using Tires For a Workout
[55:31] End of Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and my guest today is Zach Even-Esh, and Zach actually just wrote this new book called the “Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning”. He's one of my friends, and he's actually one of the few guys who I really consider to be an absolute beast when it comes to physical strength. In his book, Zach gets into this of how he wasn't always so strong and how when he was a kid, he had self-doubt and low self-esteem and depression and career ending injuries, and eventually he got to the point where he learned he was put on Earth to make people strong. His actual book is making me strong just because it's so freaking heavy, but I went through it. It's actually a really good book, and it's got a bunch of stuff in there from like sandbags to working out with stones to tires to freaking kegs to a bunch of things that we're going to talk about in today's show, in which you are going to learn whether you're a guy or a girl, how you can use a lot of these underground strength training methods that go way above and beyond just the gym to get strong and to stay strong. So Zach, thanks for coming on the call, man.
Zach: Hey dude, this is a big honor for me, and I know people always say that in an interview. It's my honor, but I'm serious. I listen to your podcast all the time. It's amazing, and you know, of course, as you know with people listening, I've hired Ben to coach me with nutrition and just I really love what you do. I think it's amazing, not just with your podcast, but I love seeing the stuff that you do with your family and how you're raising your kids. It's really inspiring, so I mean I am really honored to be on your podcast and help all the listeners. I'm really excited.
Ben: Yeah, I posted on my Instagram, one of my boys lifting this book that's the encyclopedia that you wrote over his head, and I'm like this is how you become a beast. So the kids are actually into that kind of stuff too, lifting rocks and carrying these rocks around. We went to an entire store and got them little tires that they flip around the house. So it's pretty fun, but for you, I know that you haven't always been in to this form of strength training. Can you talk about how you got into this specific style of using a lot of these weird tools to get strong?
Zach: Yes, absolutely. So a little bit of my background was kind of similar to yours. You competed in bodybuilding. I'm a little bit older than you. I'm thirty-eight, I'll actually be thirty-nine in two months.
Ben: You're ancient.
Zach: Yeah, I feel people. They're like “oh, you're that old?” I feel great and my training knowledge started in the late eighties, and back then with you, we're getting training information. It was really from the select few bodybuilding magazines out there, and the stuff being written was pretty much fabricated by the writers. They would kind of interview the bodybuilders, and then they would take all kinds of amazing photos and they would fabricate stuff. So I followed those workouts, and you know in a nutshell, without dragging on the story. It's like you got beach muscles and you're all show and no go. So I trained like this bodybuilder. I did train extremely hard, but it didn't have a carry over to my sports, my competitive sports. I was a high school wrestler, and it also did not give me the confidence because as I would compete and go against guys that looked like they almost didn't work out, yet they would be stronger than me or I'd be in the middle of the match or only through the first period which is two minutes and my body would start to kind of breakdown, and I'd feel this tremendous fatigue, then in the back of my head, I'm like how can I train so hard and feel so weak.
One thing lead to another, and basically I did not have a strong body. I did not have a strong mind. Maybe for the onlooker, they say, “wow. Zach's pretty strong”, but when it came to putting it to use, it was just beach muscles. Just useless, and it really got me mad because I worked so hard, and it really, you know. I talk about the pains in life. The pain of discipline and the pain of regret, and that's why I'm always so inspired and passionate about helping people truly get strong so it has a carry over to life. A kind of training that builds your confidence, so fast forward through the years. In college and then post-college, I continued to stay involved with wrestling. And then in those early and mid-nineties, Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts came out, but back then, they were just calling it shoot fighting and no holds barred fighting and they called it Mixed Martial Arts. So I began getting involved with that, and my training was evolving a bit more to be modeled after. I had some old books from the golden era of bodybuilding, the late sixties and the seventies.
Ben: Like the old Schwarzenegger stuff?
Zach: Yes. Arnold Schwarzenegger, I mean these guys would deadlift heavy, they would bench heavy. They would do weightlifting, like clean and press exercises. I paid more attention to that. Like Arnold's book, you'd see him lifting. There was like stone and ice lifting competitions and deadlifting competitions, and I saw how they were built and how they were also able to perform. They were very athletic at the same time as strong. A lot of the World's Strongest Man competitions from the early eighties were the bodybuilders, and you had guys like Franco Columbu who could hang upside down from a chin-up bar by just flexing his feet, flexing his shins and his feet would hang on the bar. I mean tremendous strength, they were carrying a lot of odd objects. So I started paying attention to those things, and I started having a bit more success as a competitive athlete, and most specifically I was into combat sports, and what kind of really set me to the next level was I competed in one of the earliest tournaments of the grappler's quest which is now, you go there, you show up in the morning and you'll be competing until nine at night, but back then, there was just shy of a dozen or so competitors, and I lost after just two weeks of training. A really close match in overtime to a Judo black belt, and here I was, a kid that only wrestled in high school, and I only had two weeks of training, and when I lost to him, I was like wow.
I had such confidence when I competed at that time, and I learned it because when I would train in a Columbu gym back then, I was doing things that nobody had really seen before. This is like 2000 or something like that or 2001, I was still into things like dumbbell farmer walks. I was doing lateral jumps over the benches. I was doing things like heavy bench press, heavy dumbbell cleaner press. Then I would sprint on the jump rope for a minute, sprint on the treadmill. Everybody in that gym was bodybuilding and I started training in a way that was pushing me physically and mentally, and it boosted my self-esteem and confidence beyond anything I experienced.
So after I lost in overtime, the coaches were just blown away. They were like, “holy crap, that guy was a Judo black belt”, and in the back of my head, I said I lost in overtime to a black belt. Now I'm going to train so hard. I took the Dan Gable philosophy of outwork your competition, and I was just pushing myself like crazy for an upcoming tournament that was probably like a month away, and I tore my ACL during one of the practices and that really set me off. Because before that, I had some serious shoulder injuries, neck, back. I already had a knee surgery at the age of nineteen. This was going to be my second one, but that surgery just set me off, and I said I'm going to research the ways of the best combat athletes and the best wrestlers in the world.
Ben: Yeah, it's weird how injuries can do that to you. They put you in this whole new mindset where you almost get this desperation to change course.
Zach: Yeah, and you know as a coach, it makes you smarter. It's like the unfortunate way to teach you how to get smarter with setback.
Ben: Yeah, I completely agree. I've learned some of my best lessons by getting fit and about getting strong from having to fight through injuries and figuring out new ways to train.
Zach: Yeah, because you have to truly learn the science of listening to your body, and then of course, you're a coach. You coach people all around the world. You have to learn to treat people individually. You learn that there's no such thing as a cookie cutter program for everybody. So at this time, this injury, my ACL is a fourth year or fifth year teacher. So it's like 2002 or so, 2003. When I started researching how the Russians would train, they were very athletic. They were high leveled gymnasts. They could do back flips, they could do backhand springs, they could do handstand walking, yet they weren't gymnasts. They were wrestlers, and when they trained, they would train outside, they would train inside. I was lucky enough. I came across videos 'cause I started reaching out to coaches that I knew had competed in Russia, and they shared with me VHS tapes of Russian wrestlers training outdoors. They were chopping wood, they were training outside on gymnastics, like playground equipment. They were even doing their skill work outdoors. So I noticed that they were truly doing a cross training method to build athleticism. They were building strength, they were building power, and they trained their endurance in different ways. I saw them doing Water Polo, they were playing Basketball, but it was more like Basketball-slash-Rugby. Basically what I learned was they weren't setting rules.
They weren't like we will only train with kettlebells, we will only train with body weight. I saw that they did not discriminate against these different ways, the many ways to get strong, and so that gave me the idea. It inspired me to really stop going to the traditional gym, and I started using all of my surroundings. So in the backyard, when I was with my parents, they had all these stones that were lined across the middle from where the backyard got raised up. So I started doing things like stone carries, clean and press, bent-over rowing. I started chopping wood in the backyard, I started going up to the woods and doing sprints through the trails mixed in with calisthenics, and my body felt way more, you know I hate to use that word, functionally strong, but I had a much, much different fitness than when I was just bodybuilding. And granted I did look good when I was bodybuilding, but the bottom line is I was not performing. So that was my beginnings of becoming a coach. I started training neighborhood athletes for like five bucks. One kid I actually traded. I told him and go, “hey, if you borrow your dad's car to help me buy all this used gym equipment”, we went to a barn where it was being stored. Even all those things inspire me. Being in the guy's barn, I started thinking, “oh man, I need to have a gym in a barn”. So I picked up some dumbbells. I picked up a chin-and-dip bar, but we trained outside and those kids, my first athletes, just started beating the crap out of people. We had a basketball player that wasn't really strong or fast, and then in the end of the summer, he was able to slam dunk. He was the team captain. Then we had another wrestler who had lost.
I remember a match, and two weeks later, he wrestled the same kid and major decisioned him which is when you beat a guy by ten or more points, which is basically you're dominating, you're crushing that person. I started paying attention to how training without following the perfect rules, the perfect workout will squeeze the muscle. All those things I followed as a bodybuilder that actually worked against them, and I also learned that physical strength is one thing, but if they are not comfortable being uncomfortable, they will not get to the highest levels when things always go wrong, and I've read so many of your articles. Like you're writing a triathlon and your stomach is killing you, and I think if you trained always in that perfect setting, you would've quit. But you trained your body and your mind at the same time, and that's basically what I do is when I train athletes, I'm not worried about perfection. I'm certainly very dialed in. There's a scientific approach to the training, but there's also I huge mental component to the training, and this doesn't have to be. When I say athletes, I’m not talking about a high school or college athlete. I'm talking about anybody who exercises.
I look at everybody as an athlete, and I train them to be athletic. You know, we have adults that train at the gym, and a big thing I do with them is we train them to overcome the challenges, the physical challenges, and then I tie it in with the mindset, and essentially I'm telling them, “you're going to use these lessons and apply it to your life. All those little struggles that you overcome through training, help you overcome the challenges in life”. You know, when you hear people say train for life, train for life, that's truly what I mean 'cause when I was training, I'm not just thinking about getting big biceps or trying to get ripped or something like that. That stuff's not at the forefront. It doesn't inspire me, and it doesn't change people for the long run, and that's what I'm interested in doing.
Ben: Yeah, I like how in the book, you call it farm boy strength. It's just a great way to describe it. Like that functional strength that lets you just move things and get things done. So I want to delve into some of the nitty gritties here 'cause you got all sorts of different methods of training that you talk about in the book, and one of the places you start is body weight training exercises. And a lot of times when I look at body weight training exercises websites or books, they've got the same old body weight training exercises. Push-ups, variations on sit-ups, variations on planks, etcetera. What are some of your favorite body weight training exercises that you rarely see people doing? Like some of the unique ones that you think people don't talk about but that are super effective and kind of fly under the radar?
Zach: Right, so I agree with you. People always talk about push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups, but one thing that hit me hard was that when I was in college, my gymnastics instructor was also a former two-time All-American college wrestler, and when we would train, he would always have us walking on our hands. Of all variations, your partner would hold your ankles. You would walk on your hands, partner wheelbarrow. We will walk on our hand on the paddle bars. Forwards, backwards. We were bear walking, crab walking, and then we would do wall walking which is when you put your feet against the wall and your hands are on the floor, and you walk up, down. You walk side to side.
Ben: Yeah, I've been doing that one. Since I read your book, I've been basically in my gym. I'll kick up and do a handstand and rather than do it like handstand push-ups. Just walk sideways along the wall. That's a really good one.
Zach: Dude, it is tough, and I'll even do that stuff. My daughter, I know your kids play tennis. You're a big tennis player. My daughter's just crazy with tennis. So she will usually warm-up at the tennis court that has the wall, the half court, and I'll usually do some training there. I do a cartwheel to kick my feet up onto the wall, and then I walk sideways. I walk left to right, and if your feet are up higher, your upper back and your shoulders and your triceps get worked. If you walk your feet lower and your hands are farther from the wall, your abs are basically in a plank position while your upper body is also working, and you walk side to side. All the body weight training is a big aspect of my warm-ups, and the warm-ups moved up into a more plyometric jump training. So I do this stuff a lot when I'm training wrestlers, or a lot of times coaches have me come out and train large teams and they just put me out on the grass, and I remember the first time.
The first time, the coach was like we're not going to be able to use the gym, the basketball teams in there. I've got seventy something kids, we're going to be out on the front lawn. Are you going to be okay? And I was like, that sounds right at home for me, so we do a lot of broad jumps of various types. We do them without feet close together. We do them jumping high, jumping low. We do them with our feet a little bit wider apart. We call those frog jump where your fingers touch the floor, and you're jumping forward. A lot of hand walking I would say, is the unique stuff that people don't really do. All the different jumps of not like, squat jump, lunge jump but also travelling forward jumps and mixing them in with some very basic gymnastics work such as jumping a couple of times, and then on your last jump, go into a forward roll or do a backward roll and push through into a hand stand push-up.
So those are the things that I like to do because you're developing your mobility, your flexibility, and it's a great way to build overall athleticism, and the reason why that's so important, especially if somebody's a competitive athlete, and for the coaches out there that are especially listening. I think, sometimes, people just focus on strength, and then you have these guys that could lift a lot of weight in the gym, but they're basically what I call strong and useless. They're strong, they can squat, bench and deadlift a lot, but then you tell them to sprint and then they're exhausted for the next thirty minutes. You know they don't have that. I know they talk about this with you guys at Kokoro Camp is they don't have durability. They can't handle ongoing exertion of speed, power, strength as well as mental toughness. When your body starts to feel beat up, your mind wants to play tricks on you, so it's important that when you train, you do things that challenge your body, challenge your mind.
Ben: Yeah, and another thing that you have in here that I really like is the whole idea of getting fit with nothing but a picnic table. You've got this one page where you just like doing double-handed and single-handed picnic table presses. Just literally doing picnic presses with a picnic table. You know, you've also got hand walks with the picnic table and squats and push-ups, but it's pretty cool the things that you can do that people don't think about. You've got this other page where you pretty much have a towel and then the monkey bars at the kid's playground where you're just like doing grip strength and pull-ups with the towel. Really cool stuff. I like this kind of stuff that gets my wheels turning because I can bring my kids to the playground to play. They can have a good time, and I'm over there, you know, getting myself better in this case for things like Spartans. So it's really cool.
Zach: I do exactly what you do. On the weekends, we have the tennis court and the playground is right near us. So I'll play tennis, then I'll go up on. It's not meant for dips, but I jump up and do dips, I'll do leg raises, I'll do hand walking on their parallel bars. I'll play tag with them and all those things. They get your body going, and if you want to intensify it, like you said, you could throw a towel over the bars to do pull-ups, and those picnic tables. You know I have a video. I'll have to send it to you, you could share it, where I was supposed to train some pretty high-level wrestlers inside a wrestling club and we got locked out. So I went on my phone and Googled the nearest elementary school, and it had a very old school type of playground, and you see these guys just crushing the workout. They're like jumping, they're doing box jumps on and off the picnic table. They're doing split squats or push-ups with knee tucks with their feet on the swings. Then I had them wrestling, doing pummeling drills, and I've even had football players do that pummeling drills, and all of those things help them build the athleticism.
For people like yourself that are into doing Spartan races and all these challenges, now you see, what's his name, Steve Austin doing the Broken Skull Challenge and a lot of that stuff is you're wrestling, you're sprinting up a hill carrying object. He's really shocking the people that go on that show that are kind of bodybuilders. They look big, but I watch them compete, and their bodies basically shutdown on them, or their mind starts to get out of that comfort zone and then they shutdown. So all these different trainings that will challenge you mentally, I think that's important no matter what your age is because of how it makes you feel. You feel awesome, and that has a big carry-over to life in general.
Ben: Yeah, if you send me that video by the way, I'll put it up as usual for those of you listening in. I take pretty extensive show notes, so in this case, I'll put the show notes for this episode over at bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach. That's Z-A-C-H, bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach.
Zach, I want to talk about some other things that go way above and beyond body weight, but remember to send me the video, by the way, so I can put it in the show notes for people. Sandbags, you talk about sandbags. I've been using sandbags lately actually. Since I read your book that was the day I started using sandbags, but what if people don't want to go buy a sandbag from Rogue Fitness, one of these websites that sells sandbags for stupidly insane prices. How can we make our own sandbags? And as a follow up to that, I'm curious. Once we've made our own sandbag, what your number one sandbag exercise is. Like if you were going to do one exercise with the sandbag, what will it be?
Zach: Awesome, so making your own sandbag, and it's so funny 'cause some sandbag companies e-mail me with something. They get pretty angry with me that I recommend to just go and use what's called an Army Navy bag. You can go on an Army Navy store, you can go on Craigslist, eBay, and you can buy old Army Navy duffel bags. So obviously, the bigger it is, the more you could fit in there, and there's various ways to load them up. If you want a heavy one, you're going to have to go pick up some sand, even though they come usually in like forty or fifty-pound bags. You could slice open a sandbag and fill up a contractor bag with twenty to thirty pounds to make smaller sized bags. So let’s say you don't want to make a hundred pound bag, you could make a seventy or eighty pound bag by cutting one bag in half, and filling it in a contractor bag.
Ben: Yeah, that's what I do. I got contractor bags.
Zach: You need a couple of them.
Ben: Yeah, and I made one for my wife too. For me, I filled like three contractor bags with sand and put those inside that Army-style bag that I bought based on your recommendation, and then for my wife I had one and a half bags of sand in there.
Zach: Yeah, so you want to make sure that you, I would say triple contractor bag them, and then tape them up a little bit. Not too much because then it kind of get away with from the odd nature of being able to grab the bags, so that's one way. You could use sand, and even though they're called sandbags, I've had many friends that have made their sandbags filled with mulch, so it's not as messy in case it ever does break, and some people have used wooden pellets. I guess for what you would put in like a wood-burning stove, but they still wrap them up in about three contractor bags, and if you're going to use that bag a lot, you're going to have to open it up and re-wrap them because they take a beating. Listen, I love those Army Navy bags because there's no handles to grab onto.
Ben: Exactly, like when I went down to SEALFit, they have whoever makes the bags, and they've got handles on them and everything, and I actually thought it was pretty easy 'cause I've been using this Burlap sack where you got to figure out where to hold it, so it builds your grip strength. I filled my contractor bags just 'cause I went to my local hardware store and this is what they had with pea gravel, and that actually worked pretty well. Double contractor bagged it, packed this up with some duct tape, filled them up with pea gravel, and those are my sandbags. I like them better frankly than the bags with handles just because they're a little bit more hardcore, and you got to figure out where you're going to grab them and so they get you fit. In my opinion, better than the ones with handles.
Zach: Right, and listen. Look, I know the sandbag companies out there, they're going to be mad at me, but it just doesn't make sense. We're using an odd object, and then we're putting all these handles on them, and I understand that you do it for all these rotational exercise and all that stuff, but the whole idea behind an odd object is to use something that's really challenging, and I remember. I remember from the first time using sandbags and the kids were struggling because they had to crouch down very, very low, stretching their hip. It wasn't this perfect motion, and the kid looks up at me. He's like, “this thing is so hard to grab”. I go exactly, that's the point because they're used to perfect. You're going to squat down, pick up this barbell, and pick up this dumbbell. It's perfect, and a friend of mine, a very strong friend, he competed in powerlifting back in the day, squatted a thousand pounds. He goes, “Zach, come on. How heavy does a 130-pound sandbag feel.” I go, “dude, it doesn't feel like a hundred-thirty-pound barbell.” Let me tell you that right now. It is a whole another world when you're using a sandbag, and so if I was to say, what's my favorite movement?
I would say go with a clean-and-press where the bag touches the ground every rep, where you pull it up in front of your chest, and then you press it over your head. Or if anybody has shoulder issues, you could do what's simply called shouldering, where the bag is in between your legs and you pull it up extremely fast and get it on top of your shoulders. So they're both full body exercises, but the shouldering allows you to save your shoulders a little bit if they don't feel that great for doing a lot of overhead work, and for the advanced people out there listening, you would do what's called the Bear Complex. So they would do a clean into a front squat, then they would press the bag overhead, put it on their back, do a back squat, press it over their head again, put it down. So it's clean it, front squat, overhead press, back squat, overhead press, put it to the ground. That's one rep, so I like to do things ten, eight, six, four, two with that, and after maybe each one if you want to push it, you could do things like pull-ups after each set, or you could do a sprint or a farmer walk. I mean you could really push yourself, and I've done workouts with just the sandbag to just get my body in mind tough.
Ben: I love it. I've got this. So I keep the sandbag 'cause I just moved in this new house, and it's got three flights of stairs. So I've been keeping the sandbag in my gym which is in the basement, and I have this workout I've been doing which is five of those clean-and-jerks, just like you describe with the sandbag where you're cleaning it and then pressing it overhead, and then after the very last one, I have to bring it down into like that Zercher squat position, right? Where you're kind of cradling the sand bag into your chest. You got to climb up all the way up to the top of the stairs and come all the way down back the stairs, and then I set the sandbag down. That's my recovery, but that's just it. That's the whole workout and you do that for like twenty minutes. Five clean jerks, bring it up the stairs, bring it down the stairs. Love the sandbags, it's very cool. I'm glad I discovered those.
Zach: What I call that, and I never did it upstairs, but I call this loaded conditioning which is very similar to what you do, and man, I have this old, old DVD I created. I'm going to have to try to pull it and just put it on YouTube, but we would do something called loaded conditioning, and we would train out on the field of an elementary school during the summer time, and this area of the grass was about seventy-five feet. And depending on the athlete, I would kind of cater to their sport. So these wrestlers, I would make them do something like five reps of the clean-and-press then you have to carry it to the other side of the field. When you get to the other side of the field, you're not allowed to put it down. You do five squats. Carry it to the other side of the field, three rep shoulder on each side, carry it to the other side. Do bent over rows or reverse lunges, so they must carry it for a little bit of time, then they do five to six reps of an exercise and they keep going for time without setting it down, and it builds just crazy amount of mental toughness and strength endurance, and as you know, you did Kokoro. You guys, when you were crushed, you had to do a mountain marathon.
Ben: Oh, yeah. I had to carry logs around, do the mountain marathon. Yeah, nuts. It is so different, and listen. I was just in Vermont this weekend. I took a bunch of coaches up to Joe De Sena's house, and we did basically a mix of business, life, and Joe had us training, training, and our train was doing all the mountain work, and then on the last day, we had them work on the farm for an hour, and you know what, they were splitting wood. They were inside a garden area and just using this garden hoe to clear out all the old vegetables, and they were just sweating bullets. I mean they were working, and you know what? They were having a great time, and I've always remembered seeing the guys that did manual labor. The people that were physical, they had a very unique energy to them, meaning they didn't get tired, and I pay attention to those things. Like when we bought our first house, we had an Italian, old Italian mason built our stairs, and they didn't break anything. They had no machines, they didn't have a jackhammer. They did it all by hand, and the father was in his early sixties, and it was his son who was maybe late twenties, mid-twenties, and then there was a couple of helpers and the father broke everything by hand. He used a sledgehammer to break down all the stairs. He did it all by hand, and this guy. I remembered looking at him at the time. I don't even think I was thirty years old. I may have been thirty or thirty-one, and I couldn't believe how strong he was.
Zach: Then he took all the stones, threw them in the car, and then during lunch break, the thing that hit me the most was the father never stopped working, and all the other guys were sprawled out on the front lawn and eating pizza. The father, he was unstoppable, you know? It was just amazing, yet the generation that grew up with traditional training or kind of not really having to overcome tough obstacles, they were taking a break, and it reminded me a lot of my grandfather. He also was a manual worker, and he was very tough. I write about him in the back of the book, in the dedication.
Ben: Nice, you know we've talked about body weight, we've talked about sandbags, and then of course, as you eluded to Zach, you got rocks in there. Rocks and stones, and I got this river rock that I went down into the river and got from my house that I basically just carried up and down my driveway from my mailbox up to my garage, and then I'll set it down and run around for a little bit. Let my grip strength come back and then do it again. You've got lots of different rock workouts in there, but I'm curious. If you think back over the years to the hardest workout that you've ever done with just a rock, what would you say you’re hardest stone, your hardest rock workout is?
Zach: Look, you know I wish I could pretend and shock people with a lot of fancy stuff, but I'm a firm believer in the basics, but one of the things that you can do if you're training out in the field and you're not doing this on your yard, instead of just doing a traditional clean-and-press, you would do a clean-and-throw, and you'd do this for distance or for time, and I heard about it first. Long time ago, I spoke with Juan Carlos Santana, who I'm sure you know, and he kind of lays low now, but he was telling me about when in the seventies, his martial arts instructor brought them on the beach and he said man, we took a stone and he said we had to throw it. And I can't remember what the distance was, but I remember it being something like they went for like twenty minutes. Pick it up, squat and throw. Pick it up, squat and throw. He said, then we went and ran through the water, but with the water right under your knees, so you're constantly curling up your legs and you said we were kicking trees. He's like this was before Van Damme in Bloodsport. We were laughing so hard, and him telling me about those stories would always inspired me.
I always paid attention to the unique ways that open-minded coaches want to talk about training because I know, like I said earlier from my experience. You follow the rules and you train in this perfect environment. You become actually more susceptible to injury. You don't develop that mental toughness. So for stones, do a clean and throw or do some of that loaded conditioning that I spoke about earlier. Do five clean-and-press then carry it fifty feet? Do five squats, carry it fifty feet, and five reverse lunges each leg, carry it again. Five bent over row, carry it again, and then maybe finish with five clean-and-throws, and you could do that for as many rounds as you want. You can do it for fifteen minutes. You know, I'm like you though in the way where most of my workouts are short and tense, and then once, maybe twice a week, I'll just go and really work my ass off. I’ll go to the state park which is pretty close to my house, and no water with me and I don't really pay attention to the trails. I'm not the best guy with directions. So I'll just run and run, and when I find a rock, I might pick it up and carry it, and then I'll drop that. Then I'll run, and then when I find a low hanging branch, I'll do pull-ups.
So I love to train with no rules, and the big thing is the Russian way, the Eastern bloc training methods, and listen. That's all great when you don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend and you don't have a family, and you live on a training camp and they cooked for you and you don't have a phone. I mean all these people do are, they're not exposed to anything besides training, sleeping and recovery methods. Where people today, they think everything needs to be perfect. I think we want to optimize and hack things like you say, but with the training. If you truly want to develop that inner strength for life, you want to do some workouts that actually don't make perfect sense, and that doesn't mean do poor technique and don't warm-up. It means you're still training smart, but you're really breaking the boundaries of what a traditional workout would look like.
Ben: Yeah, and that reminds me, you were talking about Juan Carlos Santana splashing in the water. That's actually one of my favorite workouts to do if I'm not using the river rock up by my house in the Spokane River that stays cold. It's like fifty to fifty-five degree on a warm day, and so one of the workouts I'll do is go down to the river and on one side of the river, just pick up a rock, like the heaviest rock I can find and do five squats to overhead press. Then you swim across the river, you find another rock, and you do five squat to overhead press, but every time you swim across, you're getting colder and colder, right? So you're trying to squat the rock and press it overhead while your muscles are just not cooperating as they get more and more cold. Fantastic workout, and again, you just brought up the idea of working out with traditional equipment inside a nice heated or air conditioned gym, having the capability to make you soft or even more susceptible to injuries. You get used to lifting symmetrical objects, and I hope that folks, if you're listening in, you're kind of getting the idea here that this is the stuff that doesn't just make you strong. It makes you hard, and I think that that's really important. It's a big part of Zach's book.
Zach, I got just a couple more questions for you, and I know you have some bonuses and thing like that that you want to give to anybody listening in who picks up your book, but I'm not done yet with the Q&A because you talk about something else in the book. I used to work at a coffee shop in Pub in college, and we'd have to bring the kegs back in the bag to get them filled up, and then carry them back and I remember just the most awkward thing on earth to carry. And so I'm reading through your book, and you start talking about kegs and how you can use kegs for a workout. Can you get into that a little bit? Like how you actually use kegs in a way other than just carrying it around? You can use a keg to workout?
Zach: Yeah, so back when I was finishing up grad school, I would work Saturday nights at an old school shot and beer pub. Old schools, real blue collar town, and I remembered during the summer. I filled in for the guy who worked in the morning. Believe it or not, this bar would open at 7 a.m., I'd have to get there at six. It was right near a GM plant, the cardio ship. I think that had shut down some years ago, but he, on like Tuesdays or Thursdays or something like that, he had a double shift. It was like 7 a.m. until like 5 p.m., and I remember at four ‘o clock at the end of the day. You're so exhausted that like every beer ran out by the keg, and this place was so old. Most places have this basement with all these kegs. You walk downstairs, and all you do is you remove, I don't even remember what it is. Whatever the hose is that connects the keg, but this bar was so old school that you had to go outside. You had to go into the basement, so the side will keg, one of those doors that you would lift from the ground, and the stairs were completely broken downstairs. So you would barely be able to walk up these stairs, and you're so tired. I remember it was like one keg after another, and this was the beginning to me. I remember I carried three or four kegs upstairs in an hour, up those stairs then inside. I remember when I was done, one of the guys said, “Zach, and you should've let us know. Usually we go downstairs with whoever's working the bar. We put down two 2×4, we stand behind you, you roll it up, and then we've got a hand truck.” So I almost crushed myself, but I felt so awesome, so liberated.
So when I started training athletes out of my house, I went to a bar that my former wrestling coach family owned, and I told them, I said, “I used to wrestle with your son which was my coach, and your other son was the team captain when I was there.” So I said, “can I get two kegs from you guys that are empty?” And what I do is I fill them with water or sand, and they're certain you could go onto YouTube to find out. You had to open up your keg, you had to do it safely, so you have to be careful with that. So I really recommend everybody watch those videos, and you fill them up with water or sand. The water is much tougher 'cause it moves around so much.
So we do, the keg is more, I believe something for somebody who's advanced and has good knowledge of exercise technique. Meaning, you know, when I started training athletes in like '02, '01, there weren't all these TV shows. You didn't see seven-year-olds flipping tires, and I don't think that's truly the safest thing for them. So for somebody who’s going to use kegs, they're extremely awkward. So we do real basics, we carry them and we do clean and presses with them. If they're not too-too heavy and they allow you to have pretty good technique, we do various squatting techniques, and I also have, I guess they're like half-kegs. They're like a shorter keg. You could take them and throw them, and I'm a big believer in not just lifting or carrying, but throwing objects because you develop power when you throw. You're not putting the brakes on when you're extending your arms or throwing it.
Ben: You have to recruit so much more muscle once you decide you're going to make something move that fast?
Zach: Yeah, you pick it up fast then you throw it fast, and what's crazy is one of my gyms is next to a Globo gym, and they're really cool with us and I use their front lawn and will have the guys stand across from each other, and they'll take. We have like heavy medicine balls or those sand-filled kegs, and they will, you'll see it in the book. They clean it and throw it, and I'll sometimes say everybody's got to do twenty of them or I'll do some sort of a circuit, and I make them clean and throw it for time. Now obviously, nobody's catching it. The people stand far away from each other, so when you throw it, yeah. I always got to warn people 'cause you know, you always got that guy that's like if you don't give me exact direction, he's going to call this buddy and say we need to throw kegs and they're going to try to catch it.
Zach: You got to go, and you could train alone. I know people probably, in the back of their head, are saying well guys, I don't live where you live, Ben. I don't live out in the wide open, or Zach, you live near the beach or you have a field. Well listen, that's what you got to do on the weekend when you train. Go to an empty school playground area or to the empty field, and go get a sandbag. You could even throw dumbbells. Like you can do a clean and throw it like you're punching, and just obviously make sure that nobody's around you. So on the weekends, that's kind of how I started doing it, is me and my friend would put a sandbag in the back, a few kettlebells, a sled, and we'd go to the playgrounds and set up our own little torture session, and man, it was just awesome. There's nothing more awesome than training out in nature. Like when I hear you talking about training out in that river, we did that Sunday.
We took a real intense mountain run, and we had to cross through a creek, and to me, there's just something that's powerful about training in nature, and I felt better than I ever felt. Just being able to run and go through that cold water, and one of the kids actually who ran with us, he's eight years old, and I read your book. “Building Tiny Superhumans”, and the kid, he's in the middle of the creek and he just started drinking the water. In the back of my head, I said there's a tiny superhuman. And this kid looped, that hill was so steep that at point, you're like on your hands going up it, and that kid just smoked us, and he's eight years old. He's ripped, and he was fresh after. It was about two miles up, two miles down, and I see him drinking the water from the creek, and I think just training outdoors, it's powerful. All people should do it, even if you do it once on the weekend, and it’s okay if it's the winter time when you're doing it. It's okay if it's very hot out when you're doing it. Just get out there and train in the fresh air. It's extremely powerful and liberating.
Ben: Yeah, and I have yet to get the keg, but my mom owns that pub, so I've contacted her and told her next time one of those kegs gets available, I want it. That thing will be getting filled up with sand, and it's going to go in my backyard.
Okay, just a couple of other things. You talk about tires a lot and most people are used to just thinking of tires as something you could get and you could flip it. Like back and forth, just flipping a tire. You know, it's certainly very easy to get tires. I just went to my local tire store and drove in there and asked if they had some heavy tires I could use, and I picked up one for my wife and one for each of my kids and then like a heavier one for me, and they helped me load them up on the back of the truck and then I brought them home and unloaded them, and they're out there in the backyard. We flip them. I actually have one of these battle maces, this company Onnit makes maces, and they sent me a mace. I figured you can actually use the mace to hit the tire, like in the same way you chop wood. What another really good exercise, if you had to think of one good exercise that someone could do if they weren't going to flip a tire or hit a tire, what else could you do with the tire?
Zach: It depends on the size of the tire. So like you said, if you got a tire that's big, mainly you're going to be doing tire flips or if you got a partner that's kind of in equal size and strength, you do partner battles where you push it back and forth which is like you're standing up and your arms are moving in a push-up position. But if you've got a big enough tire, sometimes we'll have those tires outside and those big tires that we use. So the guys will do a couple of tire flip, then they'll do a couple of box jumps, then they'll elevate their feet and do push-ups, and then they'll do split squats where the back foot is elevated. It's a stationary lunge up and down. So if you have a big tire, you would be using it for those things.
If you've got a smaller tire, that's how I made my first dragging sled. I drilled a hole through the tire, and then I put an eye-bolt, which basically it's a hook with the circle at the end, so you drill through and then I put toe strap to it. So if you have a smaller tire, you could use it for the sled drags, and then next to one of my gyms is an auto garage, and on the side of this garage, he has car tires. So they're just regular-sized tires, and again, we've done all different type of throwing to develop because I train a lot of power athletes, a lot of football players, wrestlers, tennis players, and sprinters. So we will do one-arm throwing, rotational throwing to develop rotational power. We also do like tire, kind of like tug of war, where the tire's there and each partner grabs the tire, and they have to pull it. Kind of like they're dragging it backwards. You could do it with two hands, with one hand, and this is, you know, really it's like you're training like a warrior, you're training like a gladiator. And people that never do that stuff, of course, they think we're crazy.
Listen, I'm right next to a Globo gym where a lot of people are inside, checking their hair in the mirror or sending text messages. For us, that's just something I don't want to be part of, but listen. I was in kind of that old, those days training in those gyms, but I always thrived on intensity. I love being in that kind of atmosphere, and we've done these unique things because a lot of the people that I train, it's not so much that they're weak or undersized, but they're lacking confidence, tremendously. So parents come to us with kids lacking confidence, and that, of course, hits home to me because that's the kind of kid I was. You're just scared of the whole world, you don't have confidence in yourself. You don't believe you could do it, and we start, little by little, getting them out of their comfort zone, and it could be as simple as them dragging a sled. It's simple as doing kettlebell farmer walks, but then they get to a point where they're wrestling with other kids on the front lawn. That takes them out of their comfort zone because they're all used to wrestling on a mat, with a referee. So we do all these training methods that develops strength, power.
We use the basic movements such as squatting, lunging, pressing, clean-and-press, but we add just a little bit of twist to it. The basics always work, and one of my things that I like to live by is I say listen, the amateur always wants the gimmick. The flashy, shiny object, you're just trying to impress people with something that looks weird, but the expert sees the beauty behind simplicity. So when I, using these odd objects, I'm not trying to rewrite the book. I have books from the early 1900s that are some of my favorites. These are like some of the strongest men of their time, and they just did things like clean-and-press, snatches. They did a lot of gymnastics training. They walked on their hands. They ate healthy, they would start their day with a morning walk, they would meditate, they trained in fresh air, and they would sleep at night with always the window open and have fresh air. It was just like this simple way, and we kind of got to a time, I guess with the internet, and people just tried to shock people with flashy, crazy stuff, and that's not why I trained what I train. I do it this way because I've done the stuff that doesn't work, and now all I care about is results, and I just love what the training does to people. I get the e-mails from the young ones and from people that are much older than me. Tell me how the training, how it just feels so much more invigorated and more powerful and energetic, and I love to hear that stuff. It just makes me feel great.
Ben: Yeah, and you got, I won't go over it now 'cause getting close up to an hour here, and there's so much more in your book that people just need to go read it, but you got on page 384. Like you outline this eleven step workout that you use to get some wrestlers that you were training. Extremely tough, and it may be similar to that video you were going to send me for the show notes, but I mean just like pushing a truck just across the parking lot, sprinting up the hill, doing a sled drag, doing the picnic table military press, do the monkey bars. It's just nuts.
Zach: Yes, that's the original. That's when I was back when I was training athletes out of my house. We converted the two hour garage to a gym, and we would basically do twenty minutes in the backyard carrying tree logs, climbing a rope, swinging the sledgehammer. Then they do about twenty minutes in the garage, in the gym using traditional free waves and kettlebells. Then I take them to the elementary school down the street, and they hit that circuit up there. It sounds very much like stuff that you do. I saw like on Facebook, somebody was like, I'm not going to train with you. You're like dude, my weekend training is a two-hour puke fest.
Ben: Yeah, he's like, I want to come do this workout with you. Only two hours of obstacle course training? I'm like you don't understand. Those two hours, you're ready to quit eleven minutes in. So it's fun stuff.
Well Zach, again for people listening in, if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach, I'll put a link to Zach's book, to some of the other things that we talked about. You're going to send me the video so I can put it in the show notes, Zach?
Zach: Yeah, I'll send you that video, and I've got plenty of stuff to show. You'll have the link for the book and all that stuff, and we're going to take good care of your listeners. You already got an amazing podcast, and I can't wait to share it 'cause I want people to listen to all your stuff. I've changed my nutrition since listening to you, and I feel really good. And health, I always tell people. I go, your health is number one. If you don't have your health, you have nothing. And for the parents out there, this book when this was written was when I started reading books in high school. I was so inspired by books like Arnold's education of a bodybuilder where he didn't just talk about training, but he spoke about how he overcame life's obstacles and how he truly went after his dreams. So this book is out to inspire people of all ages and to educate them, so I'm really pumped that you gave me the opportunity to be on your show.
Ben: Yeah, and I'm pumped that you came on too, man. Again if you're listening in, Zach is a friend of mine, and he will take care of you if you go to bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach and you order over there. I mean I don't think I don't need to tell you as a podcast listener now that it always helps the show out when you order books through the show notes over in the podcast, but you'll also in this case 'cause you get a bunch of extra bonuses from Zach. So check that out at bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach. And again the name of the book is the encyclopedia, and it is a big book. It's an encyclopedia that you could probably throw and do some farmer walks with, “Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning”. So check it out at bengreenfieldfitness.com/zach, and Zach, thanks so much for coming on the call, man.
Zach: Cool. Thanks a lot. Thanks to everybody for listening.
Ben: Alright folks, we'll talk to you later.
Zach Even-Esh – author of the new book the “Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning” – is one of my friends, and one of the few guys who I truly consider to be an absolute beast when it comes to physical strength. But he wasn’t always so strong. As a kid, Zach was crippled by self-doubt, low self-esteem, depression and career-ending injuries. Later in life, he got sidetracked by false prophets trumpeting bodybuilding lies that weakened him and had him beaten down over and over again by stronger, more agile, tougher opponents. Faced by all these failures he could easily have thrown in the towel and contented himself with a comfortable, average role as a so-so athlete and so-so personal trainer. But Zach had a dream and a vision that was more powerful than the army of setbacks and the bouts of despair. So he never quit in his relentless quest for athletic supremacy, and continued to persevere and struggle, through multiple odds and continued setback. Things finally changed when he was told that he was put on earth to make people strong. And that’s what Zach and I talk about on today’s podcast – not just his backstory, but also how he’s discovered a ton of secret, underground training methods that build strength fast in both men and women.
During our discussion, you’ll learn: -Zach’s amazing story of how he got into underground style strength training… -Zach’s favorite body weight training exercises that you rarely see people doing… -How to get fit with nothing more than a picnic table… -How you can make our own sandbag, and the #1 sandbag move that Zach recommends… -The hardest workout Zach has ever done with a rock… -The shocking ways you can get fit by just using a tire (and it goes way beyond tire flippin’!)… -How you can get a keg and how you can use a keg for a workout… –And much more!
Some of the world’s toughest—and most successful—men have endorsed Zach Even-Esh’s Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning as a must-have, go-to resource for developing the supreme athletic durability, multi-functional strength and spiritual fortitude they most prize. Men like Joe De Sena, founder of The Spartan Race, who says: “At Spartan, we have always said the world needs a thorough encyclopedia on strength and conditioning. Whether it is our own athletes attending our races, moms, or even the elite special forces we speak to, everyone is looking for an edge. Zach’s Encyclopedia of Underground Strength and Conditioning is exactly what today’s society needs to build a stronger mind, body and life, just as we encourage here at Spartan. The inspirational life lessons shared in this book along with these training methods are what make this book powerful and timeless. You owe it to yourself to read this book if you want to change your life.” And men like the warrior-athlete Mark Divine, founder of SEALFIT and Unbeatable Mind, NYT bestselling author of 8 Weeks to SEALFIT and The Way of the SEAL, says: “When it comes to functional strength and conditioning—old school style—Zach Even-Esh has been there, done that. Zach is a master at developing young athletes who not only become world class at their sport, but also develop the strength of character to be successful at whatever they choose in life. I highly recommend this book, as it will open your eyes to reality-based training.”
Read more at: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcast/fitness-podcasts/encyclopedia-of-underground-strength-and-conditioning/