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How to Smoke a 700 Lbs Lift, Breeze Through a 26-Mile Marathon and Jump Into a Full Splits — On the Same Day

January 18, 2011 09:31 AM

Bud Jeffries has written a book on squats and leg training and produced an accompanying video. He has also written a book on combining bodyweight exercises with strongman and barbell training. Bud Jeffries has won two state, two regional, one national and one world championship in Drug-Free Powerlifting. He has set over 30 records including two world records and several national/American records. He has competed in Highland Games, winning his division in Orlando 1998. Bud Jeffries talked to Dragon Door while attending Pavel's October 2004 Russian Kettlebell Challenge Certification program.

Powerlifter Bud Jeffries possesses great strength, endurance and flexibility. Kettlebell Strength and fitness training workouts contribute greatly.

Dragon Door: Tell us about your athletic pursuits.

Bud Jeffries: My whole focus is to be good at everything. I'm interested in anything that has to do with strength in some way, and I always try to define strength very broadly. I have competed in powerlifting; won a World Championship; set a couple of raw, drug-free, world records; and set more than 30 state, regional, and national records. I have competed also in Highland Games, heavy Scottish athletics. I have competed and won in Strongman competitions, but focus on different aspects of Strongman. I've done a couple of girevoy sport competitions. I have been a No-Holds Barred fighter. As far as I know I'm the only living man to have squatted 1,000 pounds drug-free, using only a belt, and done an 1,850 quarter squat. The quarter squat ties the great Paul Anderson in that lift.

So athletically, I'm kind of all over the place with strength training, sport training, martial arts and self-defense. I studied Tai Kwon Do as a kid. I've studied Jiu Jitsu, and Shoot fighting later. I tend to study a lot of the old-time strongman movements and show-style strongman stunts. That's how I had some knowledge of kettlebells, previous to contact with Pavel.

D.D.: You go against a lot of the preconceptions out there about athletic and strength training. Do you want to elaborate on how you've been able to achieve that?

B.J.: We live in an era of specialization. Not just athletically, but technologically and in every other way. And I've never really liked that idea.

Obviously, people have moved into specialized areas because they found out that it worked. It's the simplest way to get good at something. Do that, and nothing else. But it's such a limiting thing when you apply it to the physical ideal. That's why you see people who are just one thing: The bench press specialist, who has no particular amount of health, endurance, lower body power or flexibility.

I think that having a martial arts background, as well as a lifting background and other athletic backgrounds (football, wrestling, farming), I got the idea that there was more to it. To be skilled in many areas. That's the kind of theory that I wanted to apply to the strength. And I've done a lot of experimentation as to how to apply all the factors that are involved in strength and endurance and not conflict them.

I read something in an agricultural magazine, and it profoundly affected me. I don't remember the exact quote, but the gist of it was, "A man ought to be able to build a house, raise a family, feed them, clothe them, work a job, live a life, be good at everything." The same idea as the Renaissance, you know?

People that have overspecialized are so locked into one direction of training, that they never take the time to build solid bases in all the areas of strength and endurance. So when they have all of their energies, physical and otherwise, focused in one area and they add another area, there's not enough adaptive ability left to be good at both. You drain away from the area that you are good at, and you don't have enough ability built into the other area, so what you end up with is a mediocre result. You are getting moderate to no gains in the new area, and you lose from the thing that you've been good at.

D.D.: How is your training different from what you've just described?

Powerlifter Bud Jeffries. Kettlebell Strength and fitness training contribute to his overall form

B.J.: This is why I wrote my book, Twisted Conditioning. To give people an idea of how to combine and accomplish all of these goals. I think there are three major levels of strength and endurance. There is maximum intensity strength, which would be your one rep, absolute, short-term burst strength, or the most power you can generate in a single repetition. I train with barbell-type movements (generally low volume and low reps, mostly singles), because that's the safest, most effective way to build this type of strength.

The next level would be more of a repetition-type strength, but a moderate repetition or a full-body strength endurance activity that's highly intense. Something that you can maintain only for short periods of time, like one to two minutes. I tend to train this with one specific style, with strongman-type movements, because these exercises cover a lot of bases for me. These would include tire clipping or stone carrying, that kind of thing. (This is why I produced the Odd Object Lifting series with videos on barrel lifting, stone lifting, log lifting and barbell training to demonstrate this level of training and its applications and versatility.) Now, you can relate that also with barbell movements or things you can do for ten to twenty repetitions, or some of the things you can do with kettlebells. If I am doing kettlebell presses in this category, I might do fifteen, twenty, thirty rep presses.

The third category is pure endurance. However, I tend to train endurance with exercises that create a muscular component. I think if you train endurance, things that last fifteen minutes or longer, and you add the muscular component, you can adapt to activities with a draining muscular aspect very quickly. But you can't do it vice-versa.

You are still creating that aerobic capacity, but with a much more muscular, strength-oriented component. Even if it's with a lighter weight or with only body weight as resistance, depending upon how you gage it for difficulty. For instance, I train body squats, and the best I've ever done is 500 reps in 16 minutes. That's at almost 350 pounds body weight. So, resistance-wise it's a lot more difficult for me than for a 140-lb. guy. And I think it applies even more, because I can then jump on the bike or jog while displaying decent endurance.

D.D.: Which would be the opposite.

B.J.: Right. It's not as directly muscular, but it has a similar aerobic effect. So I still have that same aerobic capacity, with a more muscularly generated base of endurance, and it's going to apply to that more. Not that I don't occasionally train with a jog or roadwork or bike or whatever, because I want to be good at everything. But if you don't train with a muscular component, it does not carry over to the other levels, nor does it carry over to highly muscular sports, like grappling martial arts.

It's not that hard or muscularly taxing to ride the bike for twenty or more minutes, unless you make it that way. You can do it in a sprint fashion. That's different, because when you sprint, you are adding a more muscular component. But, if you just ride steady state, you will not be prepared for highly aerobic activities and endurance along with bursting effort.

I think that it's most efficient to train your aerobic systems and your endurance systems by using something that is aerobic with a muscular component. You get the least interference among the other levels, especially if you use what I have termed a "natural interval." The body tends to work in natural intervals.

For instance, I've mentioned girevoy sport. Girevoy sport is in some ways opposite to the body's natural reaction. Because, it's much more natural to pick, say, two kettlebell exercises, move quickly through one to the other, back and forth. Because almost nothing you do in life, except for running/walking, is truly a steady state of movement. And even in running/walking, there's a shifting pace. That's just how the body tends to function cellularly, I believe.

When you train bodyweight exercises, it's almost like running, like that 500 reps in 16 minutes. Even though there's a muscular component, it's a very steady state, because it's one thing over and over again with little to no change. And it's not hard enough to make you stop between.

But if you do something a little harder, or you jump back and forth between exercises, you teach your muscles a very similar level of endurance. You get a greater level of aerobic endurance without creating muscles that think it's okay to not generate high levels of power and simply create low-end steady state power, which is what runners get. So that's a big way that you can create that high level of endurance without interfering with your high level of power.

I think that's the mistake that people have made. They've tried to take pure polar opposites and combine them without preparatory work. Without taking the time to build and maintain a strength and endurance base. Without any thought of interlocking levels, and without thought to the body's natural propensities. They've just said, "I want to be able to lift 700 pounds and I want to be able to run a marathon," which is totally possible… but it's not totally possible if you are training two completely conventional systems.

If you train a totally conventional marathon runner's system and a conventional heavy lifter's system and try to add them together without thought and direction as to recovery and how to make them not interfere with each other, that's like trying to run a gas and a diesel engine at the same time. Do you see what I'm saying?

Powerlifter Bud Jeffries. Kettlebell Strength and fitness training contribute to his overall form

D.D.: That's, in a way, your specialty: showing people how to succeed at both.

B.J.: Right, and not lose between. Pavel has said to me several times, "Almost everybody who puts strength and endurance training together gets a mediocre result." People say, "Well, you know, I tried that, but I never could get to lifting 700 pounds, all I got was 300 or 400 pounds," "I never really could run the marathon," or "I couldn't last in that grappling match." "I couldn't do both, because…." It's because you didn't know how to keep the two sides from interfering with each other.

There are ways to manipulate the body to get everything that you want. You've got to understand how to do it, and not be asking opposites of the body and overstretch everything in recovery. You know, there's a limited amount of recovery. If there wasn't, we'd all train all day and do everything that we wanted and everybody would weigh 300 pounds and have zero body fat, and run a ten second hundred in a two-hour marathon, and lift 1000 pounds. But, it doesn't work like that!

D.D.: So, do you think that kettlebells are something that can help put those two things together?

B.J.: Absolutely. Kettlebells definitely combine aspects of strength and fitness at the same time. I've said this to people before. Now, I've always been interested in strength, pure strength and that's very natural to me and endurance is much harder for me to develop, because my personal muscular makeup is much more strength-oriented. So developing endurance was really, horribly difficult for me. And I don't train hours and hours a day. I train less than an hour a day most of the time. My actual strength workouts are very short. Kettlebells help me to develop that strength/endurance and aerobic capacity.

D.D.: How have you been using kettlebells in your training?

B.J.: I mix them in, in different ways. Because of my focus, a lot of my training is experimental. So I'm coming up with new ideas all of the time, seeing how they work, what they affect. If it affects one thing; if it seems to be pulling away; if it seems to be good or bad, detrimental or beneficial. I personally tend to use kettlebells more in the second and third levels that I talked about, in a mix of bursting strength that lasts 90 seconds, and in longer endurance training.

And again, I use that natural interval thing. Say you mix two exercises-something that combines the upper and lower body so that you can get an aerobic effect. I'm kind of an exception there, because I have pursued strength at such a high level that even the 40-kilogram is really not that heavy.

D.D.: Yes, it's a like paperweight for you!

B.J.: [Laughter' But then again, there is the versatility of a kettlebell, because the whole idea behind it is to consistently find a harder way to do things and use the same resistance to make things more challenging.

This is different than the normal American bodybuilding philosophy that we have right now. It's just a different way of looking at things, a much more Russian way of always making things harder. Think of Steve Cotter with the Pistols. I mean, I can do a Pistol, but I don't have the balance to do it with racked kettlebells yet, not like Steve. The way he does it is equivalent to a high-level max barbell lift in its kind of strength.

Kettlebells are very flexible in that type of training because you can always find something harder to do, or make your exercises fit what you need. If you want to work low reps for strength or high reps for endurance, you can switch back and forth there. Personally, I tend to mix things in circuits. Ones that I've been playing with are Jerks or Presses along with say, "Sled-Drags," or Clean/Front Squat/Press combinations. So, upper body/lower body, back and forth for both aerobic and muscular conditioning.

Champion Powerlifter Bud Jeffries successes with Kettlebell Strength and fitness training.

And kettlebells have helped me with grip. It's a very grip-dependent movement. When I do repetition Snatches, because of that thick handle and because I have real thick hands, grip is the hardest thing.

I like kettlebells a lot, and I think one of the most powerful components, especially in the endurance idea of it, is the ballistic movement. That's a facet that doesn't get trained in an endurance way as much. Most people who do ballistic movement do heavy low-reps and that's it. They don't realize that most sports call for ballistic, repetitive movement. When you wrestle somebody, you have to attack, attack, attack, but when you attack, it's not slow and relaxed. It's [snap' an explosive movement over and over. So, I think you can train a lot of speed and a lot of explosive repetitive power with the kettlebell, without losing strength.

Most of the exercises for me are comfortable. They are easy on my wrists. I tend to do Olympic-type moves with the kettlebell rather than a barbell, because I can train the same speed component, the same kind of athletic finesse without the damage to my wrists. Without the jerking on my elbows. Another thing with the kettlebells, and Pavel and I talked about this, is that many of the exercises are very general in nature. For instance he told me that if you do the Swing properly it is a very spread-out effort so that the whole body works together. For conditioning this is great because one part doesn't give out first and stop the exercise. He said, "In fact, you just pray that something will get tired first so you can quit and stop wheezing and suffering."

Kettlebell training is another tool in my bag. It's another thing that is a highly effective workout and I'm not locked into one thing. I've got my own philosophy, but I'm not locked into that to be dogmatic, saying "this works, and nothing else."

Everybody has something of value to add. You have to be able to sift through it and find what works for you, as well as how you can apply it to other people. And use common sense from one thing to another. In some ways I specialize in maximum power, but I also spread it out over a lot of different areas. I know that I'm not going to solely train with kettlebells, because that wouldn't apply. But at the same time, I'm going to mix it in because it is great conditioning, some of the best in the world. And I'm in pretty good shape but look: some of the workouts we did this weekend were rough!

D.D.: So, what are your thoughts about the kettlebell certification?

B.J.: I think it's great. I come from a different perspective in a lot of ways, because I've been doing weights for a long time and I've already done most of this stuff in some form or another. Maybe not with a kettlebell, but with a dumbbell or a barbell. I've done most of these exercises before, but being here has been very rewarding. Pavel has a very logical system of training. The tips I've picked up for coordinating the whole body, and the Swing exercise alone, were worth the trip. I'm pretty close to being an "expert", (I don't mean that to brag, I just have a great deal of time invested), on strength-related issues and I have some new stuff now, with that exercise.

There are so many minute, specific things that you pick up being around high-level, high-quality people in a group setting like this. The people who are teaching the kettlebell certification, they all have their specific areas, and kettlebells are their specialty as well. Being able to work with someone in his or her specialty is always a good thing.

This is an opportunity to work with people from a lot of very talented, athletic backgrounds, in a setting that allows you to get intense work on the minute details. There's a lot of subtlety to the kettlebell, and it would be difficult to pick up in any other way. You can certainly get plenty of productive work by just grabbing a kettlebell and watching the videos, but you can't move up to the expert, technical level that this course gives you without the hands-on situation.

I produced a book and video on how to do squats, "How to Squat 900 Pounds Without Drugs, Powersuits or Knee Wraps," soon-to-be "How to Squat 1000 Pounds…" in the updated version. [Laughter' But even on video, even within a book, people learn differently. You have to account for that. I can tell you in the most detailed way that I can come up with, exactly how to squat. But if you come squat with me for five minutes, I can pick out little things that would be impossible for you to learn, or would take more time for you to learn, on your own. Even with the best information products in the world. If you're in a hands-on situation, it's a whole different thing.

D.D.: So, are you able to live off of your athletic talents?

B.J.: Basically, I live on being an author. I have books, videos, CDs, informational products.

D.D.: Do you do seminars?

B.J.: I'm leaning more in the direction of seminars, to do workshops and that kind of stuff. As a matter of fact, Mike Mahler and I are talking about putting together a workshop later in the year or early next year. Jeff Martone and I are definitely doing one on January 1, 2005 in Florida.

I don't have the patience to be a personal trainer in the regular sense of the words. Because if you've ever done one-on-one, truthfully a lot of it is hand-holding. And, I don't mean that in a teaching capacity. I've done it enough and I have friends that do it a lot, and many people don't want to just come and learn, they want to cry on your shoulder. They want to say, "I've a bad day," and you're like, "I'm here. It's okay. Now let's lift this rock twenty times."

I tend to work more with competitive lifters, hardcore athletes and hardcore martial artists. There are some people who don't compete in anything who are just enthusiasts that want to learn a new thing. Or they have a lot of respect for the old-time tradition. But, I tend to concentrate more on the book/video area. However I still do one-on-ones or small group workouts/sessions by appointment.

Plus, you guys brought a ton and a half or two tons of kettlebells for everybody to work with. If I had to bring all my stuff, I'd have to hire a truck. I'd have to have like, 25 assistants with forklifts.

Champion Powerlifter Bud Jeffries. Kettlebell Strength Training and Fitness Instructor.

D.D.: And you'd have to do it in a quarry! Now, you were already very strong before, but have you noticed any differences since you started training intensely with kettlebells?

B.J.: I think there are a couple of areas. Like I said before, my grip is one-the repetitive pull on the thick handle has improved my grip. Also, there's so much hamstring/hip/low back involvement in most of the drills, so it really is an excellent preparation for heavier back work. It has helped me there, without being overly taxing in the way that, for instance, heavy deadlifts can be.

A lot of people have trouble pulling heavy repetitively and I do so much squat-based work, that I tend to pull only enough to keep myself in shape to do deadlifts. Kettlebells let me keep built muscles together without having to overdo it. They're also helping me to increase my work capacity and aerobic base.

D.D.: How about flexibility? What kind of impact do kettlebells have on that?

B.J.: Excellent shoulder health is a big thing, especially on the windmill-type exercises and some of the shoulder stretches. For me, my shoulders feel good. Most of the stuff I do is overhead press-related anyway, so I don't have a lot of shoulder problems. But previously I did and I know that I wish that I had known about kettlebells back when I was playing football in college, because I ended up with shoulder injuries that basically killed my football career. I think that I would have been much better off rehab-wise with kettlebells, than what they were having us do.

The emphasis on a well-rounded type of strength really speaks to the completeness of the kettlebell system. Most people are not even exposed to the idea of flexible strength-strength in an extended position. They think only of strength in your normal basic position, not in any longer range of motion.

Sometimes I'll go and speak at churches and give little demonstrations. I'll lift about 1000 pounds, they'll see me bend a bar, and drive a nail through a piece of wood with my hand. And I'll do the splits. I'll run into someone from the audience a year later and they'll say, "Oh yeah. I remember you. You're the big guy who did the splits." They'll comment on that flexibility thing more than the strength.

But yeah, I think this is one of the only major systems that I've seen that concentrates on the idea of flexible strength, along with pure strength, endurance, safety, technique and smart biomechanics, which for most people is probably more applicable than they had ever thought. Because you want to talk about protection from daily injury, for the normal person, protection for the housewife from getting a bad back while picking up the groceries. It is applicable to joint longevity and health.

When I was exposed to the modern idea of kettlebells, I read about Pavel in Milo Magazine and then talked to him later, and I had some friends who said, "Oh, well, but that thing whips around. That's dangerous." And, it really is not. It's just you don't know how to use it.

And compared to the modern idea of strength and bodybuilding, kettlebells are much safer and you are getting the chance to teach people what most high-level weightlifters know. Because the general public will never pick up how to squat properly without hurting their knees or back. It's just not out there for most people. They read a little bit in the magazines, but it's just not the same. It's not an emphasized issue, where as it's a big issue with Pavel. And, in learning these techniques, you create a body that is much less susceptible to injury, especially for the average person.

Kettlebells are powerful strength tools, but they help build in flexibility with strength. This is true especially with a lot of lateral flexible stuff, like the Windmill, the Bent Press, and that kind of thing. Nobody stretches in that range, even most modern stretching gurus do all straightforward flexibility-straight lateral. Twisted lateral flexibility is ignored by most people.

Champion Powerlifter Bud Jeffries. Kettlebell Strength Training contributes to his multi-discipline success

D.D.: So, kettlebells would handle that.

B.J.: I think so. And they allow you to stretch and strengthen at the same time. You're killing a lot of birds with one stone, to use a metaphor. You know, if have a separate stretching practice, a separate strength practice, a separate aerobic practice, you end up spending four hours at the gym. You could do a lot of this very quickly, you know? And that's nice for me, because I want to work in so many areas, and I like when I can work a lot of things with one implement. You know, I've got a family. I love lifting weights, but I don't want to spend all day in the gym!

D.D.: You're able to do a tremendous amount athletically. You've got good endurance. You've got fantastic flexibility. You've got great strength. You've chosen to weigh in at 350 lbs. for some reason. There's some advantage. Is that in the powerlifting area?

B.J.: Right. For pure lifting, there are some leverage issues. And some of that is genetic. At 13 or 14 years old, I weighed 240 lbs. My father at 20 years old was probably 225 lbs., had never touched a weight and had 11% or 12% body fat. I mean, lean. My family is big, people on my father's side. Actually, one of my cousins is Jim Jeffries, the boxing World Heavyweight Champion from 1899 - 1905. Big and scary strong.

I was lucky in that when I started lifting, I was around competitive lifters who took me under their wings and taught me the basics of solid form and how to do the lifts. At the same time, they also had a limited view in that they were training for just one thing. And at one time I pursued being bigger, you know, somewhat for size, but also for the strength aspect of it.

Since that time, I've changed my ideas and if I had it to do over again, not that I wouldn't be the same size, but dietarily and training-wise I would do things a little differently. And I would force functionality into every size gain that I made.

In other words, most of your regular weightlifters will gain size for size's sake, but at the same time they don't gain a corresponding amount of endurance and flexibility. It's much more difficult to build that in later, which is sort of what I had to do, especially endurance-wise.

Let's take Pavel and me as a comparison. Now, he's more of a deadlift specialist and I'm more of a squat specialist, but we are probably very similar in nervous efficiency, though he's much smaller than me. But for him to make a corresponding lift, as far as pure weight, not on a body-weight comparison, (where he's obviously more efficient than me), there's no way to do it without, you know… putting on extra mass. When you are talking about a pure, muscular effort where there's not a lot of excess tendon involvement, comparatively you need the extra weight. We're both trying to squeeze every bit of horsepower out of our respective "engines" so to speak, I'm just needing a bigger engine to accomplish my goals.

For instance, compare a partial lift to a full lift. There are people who are relatively small who can get a pretty heavy partial lift, because they have that particular type of strength and you can do that with a lot less muscle and a lot more bone-attachment strength. But when you talk about having a full range of motion with an extremely heavy weight, you've just got to have a certain amount of muscle. But you can make that as efficient as possible. And, I think that's the major point that people miss. Take teenage boys. They think, "Well, I've got to get bigger." So they gain size at all costs.

I think you are smarter to gain size while maintaining balance. Gain size and maintain your flexibility. Gain size and maintain your aerobic base, or increase your aerobic base at the same time. Why? Because if you do that, size will stay with you, regardless if you have to diet. And you won't have to worry about the problems that come with size issues and have to restart and build all that again later.

Most guys that are my size have serious flexibility issues. Why? Because they didn't develop flexibility at the same time as they were building all of that size and they let that tightness get in there. Then it's really hard to get flexible after you've added all this weight. You've got so much more to stretch than you used to have. But, if you keep it stretched the whole time…it's a smarter way to go.

But, yeah, some of that is just bone structure. I mean, my knees are the size of Pavel's hip joints. [Laughter' Literally, my elbows are probably bigger than his knee joints. In regards to my bone density, when they have done x-rays to check on the density, because of the heavy weight stuff I've done, it's immeasurable. I'm off the chart.

Obviously, you are not going to start with a small knee joint and end up with one as big as mine, but you can make your joints harder, stronger, and make your bones tougher, same as your muscles. Same as your tendons.

Read more of Bud's philosophy, and check out his books and videos on his Web site,