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Interview With Strongman Adam Glass: Part 1

Adam and half of a giant phonebook

Adam and half of a giant phonebook

There is a school of philosophical thought which suggests that the only way to define certain things is by defining their exact opposite.  There are different ideas about what strength means, but the exact opposite of weakness is Adam T Glass.

Last week I was lucky enough to interview Adam for World’s Strongest Librarian.  We spoke for over an hour about many different things.  I had planned on doing substantial edits and releasing the interview as one piece, all at once.   It got way too long for that, but it was all so good that I have left the interview 95% intact.  Most of what I’ve omitted concerned my own training, which isn’t quite as interesting.  Given the length of the piece, I have decided to release the interview in five installments this week.  On Friday I will post a PDF of the entire interview for anyone who wants the whole thing.  (You’re going to want the whole thing)

On a personal note: I was blown away and fascinated by every minute.  Adam claims he is not highly educated.  Well…he may not have the degrees on the wall, but Adam Glass talks about strength training as eloquently and knowledgeably as any university professor I’ve ever had.  Absolutely brilliant.

Today’s installment covers the current state of American fitness, the hardstyle strength system, and some of the physical challenges currently faced by the US military.  Enjoy!


Josh: Why is there so much conflicting information out there in the fitness world?  Why so many different opinions?  Is the diversity caused by marketers trying to find their own spin?

Adam: There are several sources for this…the first source is this: champions become living proof of what works.  But the caveat is this: they know what works for them and they seek to make money off of that.  So you get a guy who says “I’m going to write a book based on the Westside Barbell powerlifting club principles, because coach Louie Simmons, who I have tremendous respect for, has produced champion after champion with this system”

“So they can say that this is the Holy Grail of powerlifting, because you can do it this way.  And at the exact same time, there’s another guy who says “Here is the training of Ed Coan, who’s broken more records than anybody, and it doesn’t look like what you’re saying.  So now you have a conflict right there.  People turn the question into: “Who is right?”  Instead of being a question of “Who is right?” it should be a question of “Which works better for that guy?”

Ed Coan: Photo by American Strength Legends

Ed Coan: Photo by American Strength Legends

Kettlebell training used to have a fairly diverse arena of what was right or what was contained within the one system.  Within RKC a couple of years back, you had a variety of people doing a variety of different things.  You had Mahler doing bodybuilding, you had guys like Steve Maxwell and Steve Cotter training people for Martial Arts.  You had guys like [Jeff] Martone training people for tactical application.  You had others training people for fat loss…you had a huge variety of things to pick from.

As people went off on their different ways, each system became more specialized.  What we see today is that you have Crossfit trainers who do kettlebells, but they train at the technical level.  You have your GS [Girevoy Sport] guys who are training a sport technique and saying that’s best.

You have the hardstyle principles training people for athletics in a non-specific way.  There are more kettlebell certifications out there as well…when the question become “Who is right and who is wrong?” you’re going to have a lot of failure going on.  The better question is…which system is right for me to obtain this goal.

There is confusion today because there is a lot of ego in the game and there’s a lot of money to be made.  There’s nothing wrong with money to be made, but people should be presenting the information ethically.  Instead of telling people “This is the best way” across the board, they should be saying “If this is your goal, this is the way you should be doing it because we’ve seen great success with it.”

I’m not a fan of people telling me this is the one way…nobody has a monopoly on the truth.

Josh: So why is the hardstyle system right for you and what you do?

Adam: There are elements of it that I find very very useful.  They make it a system based on principles.  The mistake people make is that they say the hardstyle training system is about kettlebells.  I’ll say that is 100% incorrect.   The kettlebell is a tool that is heavily used in the system, but the techniques that are employed when you teach someone to press in hardstyle could be taught with a dumbbell, a barbell, a sandbag, a sledge hammer, or a kettlebell.

There are specific elements within that…when they talk about the shoulder positioning, pressing from the lat, positioning of the body in certain ways versus if you said “This is the best way to press the kettlebell” as other organizations do…and they [other organizations show techniques that are very good for pressing a kettlebell, but they don’t translate.

The same way that you snatch a kettlebell by the hardstyle rules is the same way that you would snatch a barbell or a dumbbell, in terms of things you would do with your body.  You could not do the same things with other implements if you tried to do something like…for example, corkscrewing a kettlebell for a GS snatch.

I’ve been messing around with GS for a couple of months.  I like it.  It’s a very challenging sport.  Lot of mental effort.  But there are techniques employed that are highly specific to the kettlebell.  They are not training principles, they are training techniques.

So there are principles within the hardstyle system that I have found extremely beneficial for the things I do.

Josh: You’d been on the Dragondoor forum forever before you actually got certified as an RKC.  Why the wait?

Adam: Since 2003, I’ve lived in Asia.  2003-2004 I was in South Korea.  2004 to the very end of 2007 I was in Okinawa, and most of that time was spent over in the Middle East.  From Okinawa to Minnesota would have cost me about $2600…on top of the cert cost…$5000 minimum, not to mention that my job in Okinawa had me working tremendously long hours and I lived most of the time out of a suitcase.

I had a house where I kept my crap but I was very rarely in it.  At the time that was another benefit of kettlebells.  It’s a lot easier to a 24 kilo kettlebell around in a rucksack no matter where I’m at, verses having to wonder: “Will they have a weightroom?  Will I have time to go to the weightroom?”  I had a couple of times where I living in the back of a C-130 off of an island in Eastern Asia…sometimes I don’t even know where the hell we were at exactly.

But I had my kettlebell with me when I was not posted.  When I had some time, I’d knock out some snatches.  You cannot beat that kind of convenience.

Josh: You’ve written about the US military being underprepared physically.  What does that mean?  Does it mean that everyone isn’t carrying a kettlebell around?  Are they underprepared when they enlist?  Does that happen later?  Both?

Adam: Observations from me…observations from friends of mine from other services…I think overall, your average 18 year old coming out of high school is underdeveloped physically.  I think that’s a huge problem.  The American school system does not put enough emphasis on physical fitness like it used to.

They get in the service and…it’s one of those things where people should come in [physically] ready to do their jobs so we can spend your time teaching you your job.  The American taxpayers do not pay people to run obstacles courses or X amount of pushups.  They pay them to be highly skilled in a certain task.

For example, maybe we have someone who works in a motor pool. The reason they get paid, day to day…is to keep humvees operational.  It should not be their [instructors] problem to get that person in shape to do their job.  They should show up that way.

A lot of people show up…and it seems that they expect us to spend a disproportionate amount of time getting them ready.  I see a problem of there not being a lot of drive across the board for people to excel.  This seems to be the pattern in one of two ways…they come in and get physically challenged.

There’s the first type of person who says “I’m not ready and I need to better prepare myself.”  And those people work their butts off and they get better.

There’s another type of person, though…they pick up an injury, the injury becomes the excuse…pretty soon this person is no longer truly physically fit for military operations.  I think there has to be a cultural shift for people to once again truly relish being physically fit.

I do no think most people are where they could be.  I’ve made it a purpose of mine to try and push people in that direction.  But the immediate concern they always have when you introduce a new physical system is “Will people get hurt?”  So back to the American taxpayer who is paying people to be able to do a certain task…if you end up hurting them with your training system, they can’t do their job, so they resist change for fear of injury.

Josh: Even though the soldiers could wind up being more poorly fit to do their jobs, which could eventually put them in greater danger?

Adam: Absolutely.  I’ll give you an example: Crossfit has been very vocal about how they have established these gyms on various military installations throughout the world.  They are very proud of what they’ve done…they’ve got Crossfit Baghdad, blah blah blah…

What they have noted is that there are many military installations where the installation commander has outlawed Crossfit-type workouts, specifically for the number of injuries that have been inflicted.  I don’t say that to bash Crossfit, I say that to indicate: if there is a trend that indicates that people are being harmed doing it, it will be outlawed.

I’ve been in installations where basketball was prohibited for periods of time because…there was a base where they had like 19 guys blow their knees out in a six-week period.  This base had had zero combat injuries at the time.  It puts the commander in a bind because…he has to keep his people physically fit, but he cannot allow them to get hurt.

That’s why people stay with the tried and true, in my opinion.

This concludes Part 1 of the interview.  Please visit tomorrow for Part 2.


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  • Jeff May 18, 2009, 7:30 am

    Good stuff Josh – can’t wait for tomorrow!

    • Josh Hanagarne May 18, 2009, 8:31 am

      Thanks Jeff. It gets better every day. This interview was a blast.

  • David Cain May 18, 2009, 9:16 am

    Awesome. I’m excited for the rest of this.

  • Jordan May 18, 2009, 10:56 am

    That’s true, I had more Marines taken out by basketball than anything else. Possibly than everything else combined. I don’t doubt Crossfit is gaining on basketball quickly. Maybe we can get them juggling flaming knives next to even it out.

  • Al in Vancouver May 18, 2009, 12:30 pm

    Solid man! What a great start.

  • Gazza May 18, 2009, 1:38 pm

    Great 1st installment looking forward to learning some more from the rest off the Interview.

  • Greg Fedderson May 18, 2009, 4:04 pm

    When I was deployed to Iraq my unit had itsfair share of injuries. The sad thing is that most of them could have been prevented with a little bit of smart strength training. Guys were hurting their backs from loading duffel bags on to trucks or from wearing their body armor to long. We even had a couple of shoulder and knee injuries from the weight room. These injuries hindered the effectiveness of our unit and could have been easily prevented if the military would just realize push-ups and sit-ups do not prepare soldiers for the physical demands they may encounter. If the military would invest in kettlebells we would have a much more effective fighting force. I wish I had been training with kettlebells and the hard style system when I was deployed, I might have avoided some of my own injuries.

  • Spida Hunter May 19, 2009, 1:17 am

    Being in the fitness industry, I love hearing other professionals talk about “what’s ideal for you at this point, given what they have”! Okay they are my words but mean the same as Adam is saying;
    “If this is your goal, this is the way you should be doing it because we’ve seen great success with it.”!!

    Awesome stuff!!

  • Faizal Enu June 8, 2011, 10:54 am

    Great Job Adam and Josh!