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Chad Wesley Smith created one of the best powerlifting programs, and you’ve probably heard of it: The Juggernaut Method. But he was frustrated with cookie-cutter training programs, so he took his approach to the next level and developed a personalized training program using AI.
Juggernaut AI is one of the first strength training apps that uses artificial intelligence to take your real-time feedback and recalibrate your workout as you train.
If you're a lifter who wants to try one of the top programs and can't afford to have a top-level in-person coach, then Juggernaut is a great option. Chad Wesley Smith also has an inspiring personal story, from breaking records to overcoming debilitating injuries, so there are many nuggets of wisdom to unpack.
The full interview is 23 minutes long, and any powerlifter will want to learn from his successes and avoid his mistakes in their own strength training journey.
Let's get started!
Table of Contents
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Chad Wesley Smith Interview: Founder & Creator of Juggernaut AI
Here’s a quick overview of what you can learn in this Chad Wesley Smith interview (with time stamps):
- What does Chad Wesley Smith do? (0:14)
- What’s the proudest moment of his career? (1:16)
- Details of his recovery from injury (3:05)
- Did he work with doctors, or was his recovery self-directed? (6:42)
- How did he get into powerlifting? (7:54)
- Should powerlifters experience other types of training? (10:48)
- Where can people find him online? (12:00)
- How important is introspection for powerlifting training? (12:30)
- Is introspection something a coach can help with? (13:44)
- A quick overview of Juggernaut AI? (14:23)
- Why did he make Juggernaut AI? (18:06)
- What updates can we expect from the Juggernaut AI app? (21:29)
- Where can you get the Juggernaut AI app? (23:13)
Quick note: Our editor edited the text and added bold formatting to make it easier for you to find the main points.
Let's dive into the interview!
Hey, everybody. I'm Chad Wesley Smith, the founder of Juggernaut Training Systems and creator of the Juggernaut AI app, as well as one of the strongest powerlifters ever and coach to many of the strongest powerlifters of all time.
What Do You Do? (0:14)
How I usually describe myself has become more complex for me, I guess. Fourteen years into Juggernaut, when I started this, I would have said, I'm a strength coach.
Now I don't know that that's always the most accurate description, but it is probably still the one I use the most.
My friends and I were playing golf one day, and the guy asked what I did, and I said I developed artificial intelligence — mobile strength training applications. My friends got a kick out of that.
So, I think I'm still a coach and an educator about strength training.
What’s The Proudest Moment Of Your Career? (1:16)
I look back at my proudest powerlifting career, which seems increasingly far away. I think probably to two main moments: breaking the then-American record in the squat, which was 905—or 411 kilos in the 140-kilo class back in 2011.
So when I did that, it was just me and a lifter named Robert Wilkerson squatting over 900 pounds.
Now, it’s a much more common occurrence, but hopefully, it helped make that seem more possible for people. And I get to break the American record held by a lifter named John Cole before that. And he had had that since, like, the mid-seventies, so pretty cool to get to say that.
Then, I had herniated discs that I dealt with from 2013 to 2014. So returning to my first meet after that, I made a big PR squat of 937, totaling 1020 kilos.
It was my first time over 1000 kilos in total. It felt like a real milestone coming back from that injury. I sometimes felt like I couldn't get out of bed for days at a time. So to put 900 plus pounds on my back was, was something I'm definitely proud of.
Read more: Is Juggernaut AI one of the best online workout programs? Read the full list.
Can You Tell Us More About Your Recovery? (3:05)
I first became aware of the herniated discs in the summer of 2013 when I was getting ready for a meet. I think a lot of people have spent the better part of their lives putting as much weight on their backs and in their hands as they can.
If they were to get imaging, they would probably find out that there's some stuff going on there. That's a separate topic of the dangers or perils of getting imaging done because then you're into pain psychology and all this stuff.
But it hurt a lot.
After about two weeks of just laying there, not doing anything, that made it feel a lot worse. I started doing very low-intensity exercises like breathing drills and body weight squats.
So I do my breathing drills and then 50 body-weight squats, morning, noon, and night and that went on for maybe two weeks, and then I was moving a little bit better. So then I went to the breathing drills and goblet squats with the kettlebell twice daily.
Then that went on for two, maybe three, or four weeks like that of increasing the weight of the kettlebell.
Then I was like, I'm ready to squat again. So now we're probably total about eight weeks after the initial realization of the injury, and I started back. Mind you, I had squatted 900 and 905 at this time. I started back, back squatting 185 and front squatting 135, and I just alternate days of that.
I was doing that six days a week, three days back, three days front, and then the next week five by 10 each day. And then the next week, I went from 185 to 205 or, or, and then 225. And, as I got, increasing the intensity, maybe up to 315 in the back squat.
Then I switched from six days a week squatting to five days. And then once I got up to 405, then I went from five days to four days, and it ended up being a pretty big change to my entire training philosophy because before that I'd, I'd mostly squatted one time a week or one time every like eight to 10 days.
To switch to squatting four times a week, and by the end of this rehab process, about six months in total, where I felt like I'm, all right, I'm back doing normal training now and capable of doing normal training. I realized I'm squatting three times a week, every session over 450 or 500 pounds.
This seems to be going pretty well, so I returned with this new capacity or work capacity for training. Still, after that point, I shifted to higher-frequency training. And put about 300 pounds on my total.
So, as well as reshaping my squat technique, learning how to breathe and brace a lot better. So you could say it was a blessing in disguise.
Read more: How does Juggernaut AI compare with the best powerbuilding programs? Check out the full post.
Did You Work With Doctors, Or Was Your Recovery Self-Directed? (6:42)
Yeah, so I, fortunate in doing this job, to have contacts with many great physical therapists and chiropractors and that kind of stuff.
I worked mostly at the time with two doctors, Dr. Quinn Ock, a doctor of physical therapy, and a chiropractor named Jason Reynolds, who worked for his original practice was in our first location for Juggernaut. And then, he went on to work for the Olympic training center in both Chula Vista and Salt Lake City with like USA bobsled and skiing.
Yeah, I had some pretty good folks around me. Plus I didn't have insurance, so the options were out of the question. So it was like, well, I must rehab it and get it better. So, like on the day-to-day was more self-directed, just an outline of a structure we all made together.
How Did You First Get Into Powerlifting? (7:54)
I always had a support structure for powerlifting in that sense. The first getting in the lifting was like the start of high school. We didn't have a strength coach or anything like that. So I was scouring the early 2000s internet for information about how to train for football and track and field through the shot put.
And I was doing, and it turned out to, that I was doing a lot of good stuff. I was also just doing a lot of stuff, as 15, 16, and 17-year-olds can get away with. But I was training two to three hours, five or six days a week. And that was a mix of sprinting, plyometrics, and lifting.
I'll take a little bit from this weightlifting program, a little bit from this bodybuilding program, and a little bit from this program and kind of put them all on top of each other.
But that process taught me a lot about training and worked well. Probably because everyone, regardless of age, probably gravitates towards what they're good at.
And that's probably more true even for younger people and athletes. But I was good at sprinting, jumping, squats, and cleaning, and the stuff that was probably the most useful for the sports I was doing.
So as I went through college for a couple of years, and I threw the shot put and had a strength coach.
Then, in the last couple of years, I went back to controlling my training. So when I transitioned to powerlifting, I continued to throw the shot put for one year as a post-collegiate but had started Juggernaut at that time, and was sponsored by elite FTS, as a shop putter.
So I had a lot of people around me that I could get advice from on the powerlifting side. Even when I switched to competing in powerlifting, I was doing the original Juggernaut method program, which was a program I had written for people at our gym.
And I was like, I want to make this into an ebook. So I better put my money where my mouth is on this and do it myself. So I used that for my first meet, which was a very different training than any of the other elite FTS guys. They probably wouldn't have advised that even when they saw me do it, they're like, “you're doing a lot of reps.” This is weird.
Why aren't you just doing sets of one all the time? But it worked out pretty well.
So yeah, I ended up probably taking more influence from the sports coaches like track coaches and stuff I was around in that world than any powerlifting coaching.
Should Powerlifters Experience Other Types Of Training? (10:48)
As a coach, yes. I think there's much to learn, especially from track and field. That training is just, they got to push it farther than powerlifting or anything does. My understanding of coaching has come through a combination of my own experiences, which are more so in sports performance, coaching, track and field, football, strength, and conditioning.
But I think for coaches, you can become myopic as a powerlifting coach — just powerlifting coaches talk to other powerlifting coaches, and then you only get powerlifting coach solutions.
But, if you can branch out into weightlifting and the strongman, which I was also a professional strongman, and track and field and sports strength and conditioning as well as physical therapy and get, see the principles of, of what's driving these different things. That's just going to make someone a better and more well-rounded coach.
Where Can People Find You Online? (12:00)
View this post on Instagram
On Instagram, I'm Chad Wesley Smith and JuggernautTraining. And our goal for a long time with Juggernaut has been to provide coaches and athletes with the resources they need to improve, whether that's educational content, well that's mostly educational content, but in programs and seminars and all that kind of stuff,
How Important Is Introspection For Powerlifting Training? (12:30)
I think the introspective training process is very important. If people keep doing the same thing they've been doing for the last five years, 10 years, 20 years, whatever it is, without really understanding or looking like, is this actually working?
I see so many people in powerlifting, and it's always just like, well, didn't have the day I wanted, on the meat day, and then it's, it was a bad weight cut. It was this, and it was that. And it's like, okay, you got one of those, and then try the same thing. And, when it happens again, you gotta be taking accountability for, like, I have to be doing something wrong here.
What is this, and where can I make adjustments? Because I feel like I've seen some lifters who may not have had the day they wanted posts for the last 10 years.
So I think that introspection is important. For anyone in lifting or business relationships, whatever it is.
Is Introspection Something A Coach Can Help With? (13:44)
It's hard to acknowledge your weaknesses or faults. Again, whether lifting, coaching, or anything else, having a coach do that can be valuable for many people.
Some people probably don't seek coaching because they don't want to be told whether they understand that that's why.
I think that that can certainly be a big part of a good coach.
Can You Tell Us About Juggernaut AI? (14:23)
View this post on Instagram
We started working on Juggernaut AI in 2018 and then released the Juggernaut AI app in late 202. The goal was to recreate my programs for people of all levels.
So, whether someone was a beginner powerlifter or trying to break world records, the app is giving the closest approximation to what I would write for them and makes those adjustments along the way.
In the ways that the app is like a coach and probably even superior to like an individual coach in some senses, is that it's making constant adjustments to the training based on as objective feedback as you could have, whether that's RPE ratings or the readiness questionnaire before the training of how the athlete feels that day.
Outside of an in-person powerlifting coach, which is pretty rare, it would be a rare situation that you have your online powerlifting coach, even a one-on-one coach, and that you're texting them live updates of, like, this is how I feel today.
All right, make this adjustment.
Well, warmups felt like this warmup felt okay. Move your top set up; move your top set down. All right. The top set felt like this. What do you want me to do for the backdowns? If you have that in your one-on-one parallel team coach, hopefully, they'll charge you a lot. But, odds are, they're probably not charging you a lot for that. Or they're just not doing this.
Where the Juggernaut AI app is adjusting the training pre-session based on the questionnaire and during the warm-ups for the top set; then, based on what you do for the top set, it adjusts the backdown sets and from set to set. And then, session to session, week to week, block to block, and so on.
So it's making all those adjustments because it's got this huge cache of data that it's using for it.
We also do our best to provide resources, different prompts, and stuff for the mental side of lifting. Whether that's at the end of sessions, it's just asking, what's something you did well today? What's something you could improve on today?
Going into the session, what's something you want to focus on today? Whether it's a little quote here and here and there, just to get kind of people thinking about that part of things, it is certainly tough for a phone app to do the same depth that a human coach could.
However, I'm sure it does a lot better job than many human coaches do because I think a lot of powerlifting coaches probably overextend themselves and the number of clients they can take and the energy they can spend with each of them.
And people are doing a great job of it, but many people are not doing it. So it certainly does a better job than bad coaches and probably a better job than a lot of average or even good coaches on the human detail kind of stuff if people are willing to engage with the app that way and seek out a few of these resources.
Why Did You Make Juggernaut AI? (18:06)
View this post on Instagram
There are so many cookie-cutter programs, and I've been part of that problem in the past too. When I wrote the Juggernaut Method, it was fixed. It's these sets and reps, whether you get it, whether I get it, whether a brother or sister or mom signs up for it, everyone was getting the same thing.
And there was a lot of that out there. And then even people delivering that as online coaching are just getting pdf emailed to them or essentially a pdf delivered to them in the app form, but everyone's getting the same thing.
So I became increasingly frustrated by that, with people not individualizing the training and not understanding why that needed to be individualized.
Dr. Mike Israetel coauthored the Scientific Principles of Strength Training in 2015. And with that, we started talking a lot about these volume landmarks. MEV, Minimum Effective Volume, MRV, and Maximum Recoverable Volume are the most prominent and popular among them.
So I'd speak at all these seminars in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018, and explain to people these are factors that increase your MRV or decrease your MRV and should increase or decrease your frequency. And we'll talk for an hour or two hours about this and how it would affect their programs or programs for their clients morally.
But often, at the end of those presentations, someone would still raise their hand and ask, “so what's my MRV? Like, tell me what it is for me?” And so after being asked enough times, I was like, all right, principle is great. And the theory is great, but I can give people a more precise answer.
So I just started working on this scale of magnitude of, like, all right, well, how much of a difference should it make for, volume-wise, for a male lifter or female lifter. Or how does someone who’s tall versus short or heavyweight versus a lightweight or beginner versus advanced and just kind of refining that, that process like, all right, should women get three sets more or four sets more than men?
And if you're tall, do you get three or four sets less? And how do all these work together? As I start working on that process, too, I can bring people more precisely the best estimate because they will still have to train and sort it out for themselves.
But, rather than just like, here's this arbitrary starting point, and we adjust from there, and you might end up, plus or minus 10 sets from that, maybe we can get you to two or three sets of understanding right off the bat. And then that just kept getting refined more and more as we've had more people use it and, and just being able to dial it in for people better.
What Updates Can We Expect From The App? (21:29)
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The guided warmup feature has been a big adjustment where we help people to hit their target for the day as well as possible because every warm-up set that an athlete is doing or communicating with a regular, in-person coach should be informing their work for the day.
Because as we do the readiness questionnaire, which will help us understand, this is probably the target.
But then, as you go through the warm-up sets, we try to make it as intuitive as possible. Like, if you were texting a one-on-one coach or kind of looking over at your in-person coach And like how that set feel how that warm up feel and you're like, yeah, giving the thumbs down or if you're texting your coach, you send the fire emoji, and they're like, alright today's the day let's bump the weight up a little bit.
So that's the scale that we use is the fire, thumbs up, or the poop emoji to help adjust to the top set. So through the guided warmup feature, that's how that works.
Just a couple of weeks ago, we released a really big update to our history to give a much better in-depth understanding of tonnage and everything through the days, weeks, and months of their training, better visualizations, and graphing.
Then coming up, we've got Apple Health integration, getting ready to release —A strongman training, specialty training for bench-only, deadlift, all that stuff. So a lot of, a lot of cool things are happening.
Where Can I Get The Juggernaut AI App? (23:13)
If you want to find out more about Chad Wesley Smith and Juggernaut Training Systems, check his website and social media:
- Chad Wesley Smith and Juggernaut Training on Instagram
- Juggernaut Training Systems on Facebook
- Juggernaut Training Systems on YouTube
If you want to try Juggernaut AI, use code TECHNIQUE10, and you can save 10% on your subscription when you sign up at the JuggernautAI.app.