How To Build Real Strength
With these revolutionary methods, you’ll be ripped and ready for anything

March 1, 2016


Rivulets run down the Olympic snowboarder’s legs, pooling on the floor as he clutches 23kg dumbbells and launches onto a 60cm high box. “This sucks,” he pants, smiling. “Thanks for throwing me into the fire.”

“It’s what I do,” says his trainer, John Schaeffer, with a shrug. “Now drop the dumbbells and run steps… fast!”

Vito takes off toward a staircase leading to the second floor of the Winningfactor Sports Sciences training centre, Schaeffer’s gym in a converted farmhouse in Pennsylvania. He’s in for another two minutes of gruelling work. Next up: a five-move medicine-ball circuit done without rest. “Ballistic moves performed under extreme fatigue recruit muscles you don’t normally use,” says Schaeffer, dropping one of the many insights that have made him among the most sought-after trainers in the world. “Louie is lucky it’s a moderate-intensity day – on high-intensity days, I don’t let him drop the weights.”

For Schaeffer, a former world champion powerlifter and kickboxer, fatigue isn’t just the result of exercise; it’s the goal. And anyone who doubts his methods need only consider the accomplishments of the athletes he has trained, including eighttime Olympic medallist Apolo Ohno, world heavyweight boxer Alexander Zolkin and NFL star LeSean McCoy. “John takes you to the very brink of your edge and then brings you back,” says Ohno. “But he never pushes you past it.”

The results can be almost freakish: Vito taking NFL athletes twice his size to task in mixed-sport workouts; Ohno leg-pressing 907kg (14 times his body weight); McCoy changing direction in two-tenths of a second at full speed while carrying 32kg dumbbells. “The training is tough, but my athletes quickly come to realise that they have much more energy and muscle power than they ever knew they had,” says Schaeffer. He has dedicated 30 years to mastering ways to trigger that realisation and capitalise on it. Learn his five training secrets to unlock your own potential and take your workouts to a whole new level.

 1 THE FUEL RULE: Don’t be afraid of fat

“The thing that most radically improves athletes’ performance is proper nutrition,” says Schaeffer, who developed the recipe below to help clients push harder in workouts and recover faster afterwards.

“Most of the kilojoules come from high-quality fats, a more efficient source of energy than carbs,” he says. “Plus, your body is actually less likely to store fat as fat.”


Combine 1 cup raw oats, 4 Tbsp coconut oil, 2 Tbsp whey protein and 1 cup applesauce. That makes
four servings (no baking).

Eat one, wait an hour and hit the gym.

2. THE CLOCK RULE: Brief Workouts Are Best

Muscle growth and fat loss mare proportional to hours spent lifting, right? “They’re not,” says Schaeffer. He points to Ohno’s workouts leading up to the 2010 Olympics, which rarely lasted longer than 30 minutes.

“But he did more in that time than most guys do in two hours,” Schaeffer says. “Workout density trumps duration because it forces you to keep the intensity high.”


Slice “fat” from your workouts – that is, socialising at the water fountain, chatting up the brunette on the treadmill and watching SuperSport highlights. Then give your rest periods the same attention you do to sets and reps. “Keep them to 30 seconds or less,” says Schaeffer

 3. THE BRAIN RULE: Reaction Speed Can Be Trained

A brain that can process what it sees and respond quickly has an edge. “You can grab a steal, tip a pass or land a jump faster and more efficiently than your opponent,” says Schaeffer.

The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports that NBA players with faster reaction times log better stats. “It’s a game changer for athletes,” says Schaeffer. “But it can help regular guys do better in everyday tasks, from driving to kid watching.”


Face a buddy from 10 metres away. Close your eyes and have him bounce a tennis ball to you, yelling “left” or “right”. When he does, open your eyes and catch it with that hand.

Training solo? Use a wall.

 4. THE REST RULE:  Pack In More Work

No matter how hard you go in the gym, you can probably go harder. The reason: You set the weight down between sets. “Staying under load for the entire exercise and then immediately doing one set of a ballistic move – like explosive step-ups or push-ups –will recruit dormant motor neurons and condition your body to recover under stress,” says Schaeffer.

“It will also trigger a surge of muscle-building hormones.”


Add Killer Combos [see right] to your fitness plan. “These can be very difficult, mentally and physically,” says Schaeffer. “So don’t just grind through them. Focus on good form.”

If you feel your form slipping, use less weight.

5. THE FINISHING RULE: If You End Slow You’ll Be Slow

Many guys think of strength and cardio as separate entities. But interval training can be beneficial at the end of a resistance workout. “Your body remembers and adapts to what it does last in a training session,” Schaeffer says. “If you end slow, you’ll be slow.

That’s why my athletes finish their workouts with speed work.”


When the last lift or rep is done, hop on a treadmill, rower, or Airdyne bike for 5 to 10 intervals. “For each interval, sprint all out for 30 seconds and recover 30 seconds,” says Schaeffer.

“But don’t dial it back too much during the recovery – I typically have Louie sprint at 22 miles an hour and recover at 12.”