Interview With Wake Forest University Strength Coach, Ethan Reeve!

Ethan just can't seem to get enough of this strength and training stuff. He has two strength certificates: United States Weightlifting Federation and the new Strength and Conditioning Coach certified through the Collegiate Strength...
Mike Mahler: What is your background and what are you doing for a living right now?

Coach Reeve: I am presently the head strength and conditioning coach at Wake Forest University. My background in strength training began in grade school when I took a great interest in strength training and weightlifting, especially for the sports I participated in. Most of what I know is like many of your readers ... through reading books, clinics, the web, self-experimentation, videos, and articles.

I just can't seem to get enough of this strength and training stuff. My B.S. degree is from the University of Tennessee in Education. I have two strength certificates: United States Weightlifting Federation and the new Strength and Conditioning Coach certified through the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches.

MM: What are some of the common mistakes that you see athletes make with regards to training?


  1. Over training - too much volume mixed in with the excessive volume of training in their sport. This is why I like Pavel Tsatsouline, John Davies, Steve Maxwell, Louie Simmons, Ken Leistner, Bill Starr and Matt Furey. Short, intense work is much more effective for sports training.

  2. Not working on athleticism first: flexibility, balance, strength, power, agility / speed, kinesthetic awareness, and mental toughness.

  3. Spending too much emphasis on isolation lifts instead of full-body explosive and strength lifts that require coordination of the whole body.

  4. Not attacking the weights when in workouts. Too much sitting around talking and not focusing on the task at hand. An athlete should attack the weights like champions attack the skill of sport in competition. The weight lifted is not as important as the attitude of lifting the weight.

  5. Trying to lift too much weight for the present technique.

MM: One of the most controversial topics in the training world right now is the concept of "training to failure." Do you think that this concept has merit?

CR: We have had our teams use "high intensity training." We have found it to be quite productive for the time we used it. We never stay on this training for long, maybe 4-6 weeks a year. We have found this to be good for mass development with some strength due to the increased mass. I believe there is a place during training for "training to failure." We just don't incorporate it that often because we have found better strength gains from multiple sets of low reps: singles, doubles, and triples on our full-body strength and explosive lifts mixed in with higher rep kettlebell, dumbbell and bodyweight calisthenics. I am not against "training to failure" because I know it works but I also know you do not need to train like this to produce mass or strength.

MM: So training to failure works as long as you do not use it all the time. What exercises do you use with kettlebells and what bodyweight exercises do you recommend?

CR: We have experienced "training to failure" has a place but if used too often the athletes will plateau. So, I would cycle training to failure into a program or not use it at all. With Kettlebells, we train most of our athletes with the two arm and one arm swing. This gives us a dynamic stretch and strengthening of the glutes, hamstrings and erectors of lower back. With football players we do one arm snatches after our power clean or hang clean workout.

I really like to have the basketball players do the under leg passes. We will do this every day in season and through the fall. It is great for defense position and dribbling. As for bodyweight calisthenics, all of our football players and basketball players must be able to do chins. I also like dumbbell pushups-n-rows (get in pushup position on the dumbbell and do a pushup then stabilize at the top on one hand while doing a row with the other).

We also do bumper pushups (bumper plates on upper back and pause for 5 seconds on each rep at top of pushup). Others are glute-ham raises, hand to feet bridges, squat thrusts, lunges, knee raises, and free standing squats.

Click HERE To View The Kettlebell Exercises!

MM: Wow, looks like you do some really intense exercises. What is the one exercise that all athletes should be doing?

CR: I am a big believer in athletes doing these things:

  1. Power Clean or another comparable explosive lift
  2. Squats
  3. Some kind of bend over lift (stiff legged deadlift, good morning, kettlebell swings)
  4. Some kind of standing press (military press, push press, kettlebell press, bent press)
  5. Chin Ups
  6. All types of Bodyweight Calisthenics (pushups, chins, dips, crunches, squat thrusts, bridges, mountain climbers, handstand pushups, glute-ham raises)

MM: Why are One Legged Squats better than other forms of Squatting?

CR: In sports, the one legged squat will help make the strength gotten from the front and back squat become more functional. I wouldn't give up the barbell front, back and overhead squat. But I think it is important for an athlete to be able to balance while squatting on one leg because many of the skills in sports require either balancing on one leg or transferring weight from one foot to another: running, jumping, agility, kicking, punching, throwing, etc. One legged squatting movements I like in the strength room are lunges, back step lunges, walking lunges, step-ups on box, stepping drills, one-legged squats. All of these can be done with weight or just bodyweight for reps.

MM: Do you use any "odd" stuff in your training programs such as sandbags, kegs, logs, yolk, tires?

CR: We used tires for flipping (300, 500, 700), sandbag carries up stadium steps, sledge hammers (hitting sledge hammers on earth, moving tires turned on side), wooden sled pushes, pulling sleds, truck pushes, seated or standing rope pulling with weighted sleds, rope pulls from ceiling pulleys (something I started back in Chattanooga because a lot of the big guys couldn't do rope climbs). We did all of this stuff at Ohio but not all of it here at Wake Forest yet. My athletes already question my sanity. Maybe they shouldn't read what they will eventually be doing.

MM: Sounds like fun stuff. What do your athletes do for core work and how important is core work?

CR: Let me start by saying my definition of core might be different than some folks. The core to me is the center part of the human body: the middle link of the chain between the upper and lower body. The muscles of the core are: erectors of lower back, abdominals, obliques, gluteals, upper hamstrings, upper quadriceps, hip flexors, adductors and abductors. Imagine all of the human movement in this core body.

We prefer to train the core in ground based training (feet on the ground) and with lifts and exercises that incorporate the core with the upper and lower body together. It is my personal philosophy that this training of the core makes it more functional to sports skills. Therefore squatting, Olympic lifts, rdls, overhead presses, bodyweight calisthenics, and kettlebell work are our predominant ways of developing the core.

However, we also end the workouts two days per week with the "core work-n-stretch routine." This is a series of static holds on the floor that stabilize the core muscles. Bridging is one the static holds. Superman is another. Other core work that we do outside of what I listed is the one arm dumbbell bench-n-rows, bumper pushups, wrestler twist and the dumbbell pushup-n-rows. I especially like the glute-ham raises for core development. Since we only have three of the glute-ham pieces here we haven't done those much here with football players ... yet.

MM: Do you work with athletes with diet and nutrition? If so, what do you recommend?

CR: No, not that that much. I'm intrigued with this area but am by no means an expert. I am experimenting personally with the "Eat 4 Your Blood Type" diet. We are trying to get our athletes vitamins, minerals, trace minerals, essential oils, etc. We don't get into sport enhancement supplements, only supplements that help their general health. If they are generally healthy they play more. If the good athletes play more then we have a better chance of winning.

MM: Thus, you do not recommend protein powers or supplements such as Creatine?

CR: We used Creatine at Ohio University. We would only allow twelve grams per week. The results were very positive. Athletes did not have to take creatine. It was purely voluntary. Maybe 50-60 % of the players used it. Our football players were part of a study on the effectiveness of creatine on strength gains. We found that the group taking creatine gained more strength on the first four weeks of the study as compared to the placebo group. However, at the end of ten weeks both groups gained equal amounts strength. I know that it works. The NCAA, however, has determined it is legal to use but strength coaches and trainers are not permitted to distribute it. I prefer protein from food instead of in supplement form.

MM: What are some of the techniques that you have used to blast through training plateaus?

CR: Well, to break through plateaus we just change the program's sets, reps and percentages. Also, we will do a lot of one minute multiple sets of low reps on full-body explosive lifts and eliminate auxiliary lifts for a few days. I have found many ways to gain high strength.

  1. Four to five warm-up sets followed by one set of a rep max (5RM, 3RM, 2RM)
  2. Four to five warm-up sets followed by multiple sets 80%+ of 1rm 3. With no concern for 1rm, start at really lightweight and move 10-22lbs. Continue you until you have completed one set at either 1 or 2 reps.

I have found them all to be very effective. However, the most effective for high strength was the one where you start very light and climb up every 10-22 lbs each set with singles or doubles until you top out with one double or one single. Then you move on to the next lift. You do this only with your major full body strength and explosive lifts. The beauty of this method is that you do not need to know your 1RM. You are only working to the strength you are for that day. However, none of these methods will permit continued strength gains forever. So, we change them all the time after the athletes or I get stale.

MM: Who are some of your mentors in the strength training field and in life?

CR: My mentor in the strength field is Gayle Hatch in Baton Rouge, LA. He is probably one of the greatest Olympic lifting coaches ever in the United States. I have learned a great deal from him about Olympic weightlifting. Most of the other things I've learned from other strength coaches have been through clinics, articles, videos, books, and visiting over the phone. I am very fond of Louie Simmons and his creativity.

There are many that I really enjoy talking with and consider friends. I think a great deal of Greg Shepard of Bigger, Faster, Stronger, the University of Nebraska system, Doc Kries of the University of Colorado. I enjoy reading Pavel Tsatsouline, Ken Leistner, and Ivan Abadjiev of Bulgaria has some of the most impressive workouts in Olympic weightlifting I have ever seen. His lifters are some of the most impressive I know of.

Having said all of this about strength coaches most of what I do comes from what I learned in the world of amateur wrestling and my mother. My high school coach, John Bosserman, had a great influence on my life. My mother, who raised me and my four brothers and sisters, by herself, and taught school had the greatest influence on me. She taught me the gift of keeping an open mind. I also learned from her that learning is fun and is for a lifetime.

The coach that I lived with on his farm in Virginia Beach, VA during my college days of summer helped me a great deal about seeking out the truth in all endeavors. His name is Billy Martin, Sr., the most successful wrestling high school coach ever in the state of Virginia. I also learned a great deal from my experience while a grad assistant in wrestling at Oklahoma State University from Tom Chesbro. He is one of the greatest teachers of any sport I have ever witnessed.

The person who helped me, unknowingly, crystallize my philosophy of strength training is Myron Roderick, a former Oklahoma State wrestling coach. The two coaches that helped me learn about teaching mental toughness are Harry Houska of Ohio University and Dan Gable of the University of Iowa. Although I have learned a great deal from all of these people, the philosophy that I developed back in the mid 1970s is mine. However, when I study more about strength training, the more I realize I only reinvented it.

Every day I awake, check my pulse, and I thank God I have been given another day to live, to learn, to coach, to watch my children grow, and to help others. Many of your readers may be in the stage of using the knowledge shared on the web, books, videos, article, clinics, etc., to help themselves in their own personal workouts. I take this knowledge to impart to my athletes. Also, I want to help other strength and sport coaches, because they will influence thousands of people. I love strength training because I love to teach and hopefully I will have an influence on the athletes in other ways than just strength training: the sheer joy of learning and human movement.

MM: Well stated Coach, what are some books that you recommend for athletes?

CR: Not in any particular order:

MM: Great list and I am also eagerly anticipating the release of Coach Davies' book! Finally, what do you do to stay in shape and what are some of your fitness goals?

CR: I will tell you that I am in no way in the shape of your readers. I had my medial meniscus removed back in 1979 before doctors performed arthroscopic surgery and would save most of the meniscus. I have severe osteoarthritis of the right knee. The training I do and have always done is to experiment on myself first. I love the kettlebell snatch, clean-n-press, bent press and under the leg passes. I predominately use the 36lb and 54lb kettlebells.

However, I did do the kettlebell snatch with the 72lb Kettlebell for twenty five reps in each arm before stopping and the 54lb kettlebell for 40 reps in each arm. I like bodyweight calisthenics. Most of my training is very sporadic. I just have to do something each day. Some days I might do 100 chin-ups. Some days I might do kettlebells only. I am excited about kettlebells for myself because its hard for me to get aerobics with my knee like it is.

When I trained as a wrestler in Junior and High school I would wake up every morning at 3:45 and do 500 regular pushups 365 days a year. I liked the Hindu squats, Hindu pushups, wall walks. Any weight lifting I did was mostly circuit training with light weights. This type of training helped me win a state championship in Ohio in 1972. I also won the Southeast Conference my freshman and sophomore years, 1974 and 1975. It was after my sophomore year I started developing my philosophy of strength training for sport.

I evaluated great wrestlers from all over the world and great athletes of all sports. There was a difference in their strength and how they used it. I noticed the strength, power, flexibility in their core body. My training for wrestling changed to doing 365 days a year power cleans w/165 lbs., 10x10 supersetted with 10x10 on overhand and underhand chins. I would have to complete this portion of the workout in 15-20 minutes.

After this I would finish with light front squats, lunges, stiff legged deadlifts, overhead presses, etc. The total workout would never last longer than 40 minutes. I would not train my athletes this way today. However, the next two years I won the Southeast Conference and was All-American 1976 (5th) and 1977 (3rd). I never became a NCAA champion like I wanted but I certainly tried.

After this I tried to compete in the 1980 Olympics but tore my Meniscus and decided to coach only and get out of competing. It was the best decision for me. I loved the competition but really loved coaching more. I wish I could have done both but I did not have the talent. Now I sit here as old guy with a lot of life experiences to share.

MM: Coach, you are very modest and I think that most people that have trained with kettlebells would agree with me in telling you that doing 25 snatches with a 72lb kettlebell is very impressive.

CR: After tweaking an old wrestling hernia slightly I prefer working with the 36lb kettlebell and 54lb kettlebell for reps. They are just so addicting. I have one of our basketball players right now doing 10x10 on a pair of kettlebell clean-n-presses with the 54lb kettlebells. He doesn't like me very much right now.

MM: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview and please contact me if you are ever in the D.C. area and dinner will be on me!

CR: Thanks for the invite to dinner and the same to you if ever in the Winston-Salem area please let me take you to dinner and a tour of our strength room here at Wake Forest. At the present time we don't have a web site but are working on it.

MM: Thanks Coach and I know how much "fun" it can be doing cleans and presses with two Kettlebells. Thanks again and talk to you soon.

Questions? Feel free to contact Coach Reeve via email at