My STRENGTH Journey
Ryan J. Mathias
How It All Began
My Strength Journey started as a child, when my dad started to have my two older brothers and I do, what he called, PT’s (Physical Training). My dad is a firefighter and he wanted to make sure his sons grew up healthy and strong, so he told us to do 50 Push-Ups, 50 Sit-Ups, and 100 Jumping Jacks everyday. Looking back, this was not very much to do and would only take maybe 20 minutes if we were slow (which we were). However, my dad was almost always at work to support our large family of 4 boys (the older 3 and my little brother) and my mom. We hated doing this easy task of PT’s, so we would really only do them whenever my dad came home for a day or two from work. This made for a very infrequent training regiment, but it planted the seed of the importance of strength and fitness.
“…it planted the seed of the importance of strength and fitness.”
The Next Step
The next step in my strength journey actually came on my own. I had been doing martial arts for a few years and in it we would do different variations of Push-Ups. I was quite good at doing push-ups at this time (likely from my dad’s initial push) and actually started to enjoy them. We would do 8 variations of push-ups in training that included standard, close, on knuckles, on fingertips, and on our wrists facing 4 different directions (this was to build wrist strength for martial arts). These were a fun challenge to me and I had the goal then of becoming STRONGER, so I started to do 70 push-ups (I skipped 1 wrist push-up variation that I didn’t like) everyday when I was about 11. I did this for about 6 months around the same time my dad got a bench press and weight set put in our garage. Again, whenever he was home he would have my older two brothers and I go do some bench press and dumbbell work. Generally it was 4×10 on everything done in a circuit fashion. I had the wrong mindset and thought that weights were too hard and would make me too stiff like bodybuilders. After a while my brothers began weight training at school with their football program, and we stopped training at home.
“I had the goal then of becoming stronger, so I started to do 70 push-ups everyday when I was about 11.”
Pushing For More
Even through the little weight training we did I made sure to do my 70 Push-Ups, because I wanted to get stronger. I didn’t want to be big, I just wanted more and more strength. So after 70 Push-Ups became too easy for me, I began implementing more push-up techniques until I had a very long and grueling push-up regiment that I would then do only twice a week. I would start with doing 1-15-1 Push-Ups in which I would do 1 Push-Up, rest for maybe 10-20 seconds, then do 2, 3, 4…up to 15 and back down again. That equated to 225 total push-ups in under about 15 minutes. Afterwards I would do my, no longer 7 but, 10 varied sets of push-ups which, over time, went from 10 to 20 to 30 push-ups each round. I would even do 5 standard push-ups as fast as I could immediately after each round of the different variations. THAT WAS 575 PUSH-UPS twice a week (Monday and Saturday)!!! Now, with that amount of volume I would not do complete push-ups for most of them. Too many were only half reps that I would not lockout, but more so try to pump out at the bottom. This was not to focus on the chest, but more just done because I had weak triceps that could not keep up with the volume.
“I didn’t want to be big, I just wanted more and more strength.”
I also added in some leg and ab work which I did even CRAZIER amounts of volume every Wednesday and Friday. For legs I would do some old school martial arts bodyweight techniques in which started with 500-750 knee bends. Knee bends are where you grab your ankles, then bend your knees until your bottom bounces off your ankles and then extend your legs again. It was a simple, but painful exercise that I did to absolute failure of 500-750 reps first thing. Looking back I see how bad that was for me, because my back was completely rounded throughout and my ankles became tight due to the constant bouncing. Next I would crouch down and do little hops in a crouched position for 100-200 reps doing 2 rounds. That would really burn my quads, cause damage to my knees and also make for even tighter ankles. I would finish with some bodyweight squats until I felt like puking.
From there I would do different ab exercises for about 20 minutes. I did those 4 workouts per week, not including my 5 mile run every Sunday. Now it is great that I was training hard, but these workouts really just tore my body apart. Oh, did I mention that I would only workout with a full body plastic sweatsuit on that was under my sweatshirt and sweatpants? I also didn’t drink much water and almost never ate any fat! My idea was that if I ate fat, I would get fat. I even cut out the fat I saw on lunch meat!
“I would only workout with a full body plastic sweatsuit on that was under my sweatshirt and sweatpants.”
I Was Doing It All Wrong
Again, my goal was strength yet I had no idea of how to get there. I would do all this training volume, yet I was still not getting stronger or making any gains. In fact I was losing weight though I wanted to gain it! This training lasted from when I was 12 until I was about 16 and a half. I was really great at doing bodyweight exercise, however I was not getting any stronger, or bigger. My goal was to weight 202 pounds just like Rocky Balboa (I loved the Rocky movies), though I was stuck at 180-190. I only started doing what I really needed when I was 16…
“I would do all this training volume, yet I was still not getting stronger or making any gains.”
Weight Training Changed Everything
When I was a Junior in High School I signed up for weight training as one of my elective classes. We had 40 minutes worth of training time before the next class started. So, with limited time I just did what I wanted. Luckily, what I wanted was to Squat for strong legs in order to improve my martial arts stances. I had a goal and started to write my own workouts at this point. Monday I would bench press, but again it was 4×10 on everything done in a circuit fashion, always to failure. This was not very beneficial and I was stuck with a 215 bench press max for a long time. Tuesdays were for Power Cleans, which I was pretty good at and quickly worked up to a 275 pound power clean at only 190 pounds bodyweight. Then Wednesdays and Fridays were Squats, with the occasional deadlifts. I would also progress very quickly with my squat strength to where after only 2 months of training I squatted 350 to what I believed at the time was full depth, but it was more like just above parallel. I had no one to show me how to do any of these lifts properly, but looking back I did fairly well with proper depth and technique for a beginner. Also, that same week I did my first ever deadlift max attempt and did 405 pretty easily. I was quick to jump up in strength once I started to do the right things, but still didn’t gain weight until I stopped doing my home training regiment about half way through Junior year of high school. At that point I started to focus solely on weight training as I saw the benefits. I also started eating some more fats at this point, but my nutrition was far from perfect.
“I was stuck with a 215 bench press max for a long time…where after only 2 months of training I squatted 350…and my first ever deadlift max attempt I did 405 pretty easily.”
My First Strength Goal
As my strength continued to improve for squats I started to formulate my first solid strength goal. In the weight room the football coach had a board up which had the high school lifting records on it. It had records for Squat, Bench Press and Power Clean (which was set and held by my older brother Tanner his Junior year, who power cleaned 330 lbs shattering the old 305 lb record). It had the current football team lifts under the records as well to keep track of the team’s progress. I never played football, though all my other brothers did. I saw that the current team did not have the squat strength that I did, in which I would squat 405 pretty regularly. So I asked the coach if he would put my name up on the board for some recognition of my hard work. He said it was only for football players. That made me very angry, but I held in my rage telling myself that then I’m going to break the school record so that he is forced to put me up there! The Squat record was set at 505 lbs by a very strong and athletic 250 lb athlete some years prior to me. I was only about 200 lbs, but I squatted at least 420 as a max at the time, so I knew I could do it. So there it was, my first goal was to squat not just 505, but 525 lbs while only weighing 202 lbs just like Rocky. I would go into the weight room and first thing, without any warm-up, load up 315 on the squat rack and do 4×10 with it. I would try to add weight every week, but I would only progress to 335 before I could not longer do 10 reps. I never thought to do less reps, because I thought 4×10 was the best thing you could do after reading bodybuilding magazines and my previous training experiences. So I was stuck, and stayed stuck.
“…my first goal was to squat not just 505, but 525 lbs while only weighing 202 lbs…”
I Was Stuck
Again, I was doing the wrong thing to progress me towards my goals by never changing things up. It wasn’t until summer came around that I got my own gym membership and started to train on my own time that I began to move forward again. I still had a bodybuilding routine style with tremendous amounts of volume, but I did realize that I needed to do some more heavy training. I would train 4 days per week doing my crazy volume work one day, which included doing every single exercise and machine in the gym for a given muscle group for 4×10-20, then do one heavier day where I did sets of 8, 6, 4, 2, 6 reps on EVERYTHING (even things like curls and flies). I would literally do every exercise I knew how to do for chest, triceps and shoulders one day, then legs another day which included some deadlifts. I almost never trained back, other than deadlifts. I also bench pressed 225 for the first time and even got up to 240 before getting injured. It was on one of my heavy upper body training days that I partially tore my left pectoral muscle doing 80 lb flyes for my 2 reps. There is still a hole in my left pec that you can feel, and it has never been the same. However, I now know how to take care of it so it rarely bothers me. I made some progress doing this type of work, but it still wasn’t what I needed for my goal. I also stopped going to the gym entirely for about 2 months to recover.
“I would literally do every exercise I knew how to do for chest, triceps and shoulders one day, then legs another day.”
Then Senior year came and I was back in the weight room ready to push hard towards the record. I became a little smarter over time, but was still doing the same form of training that really never got me anywhere. It all came down to one day during my final semester that I squatted 435 for 2 with the excessive help of a spotter, in which I realized that I was not going to reach my goal by the end of the year. I kneeled down and took a few minutes to feel bad for myself, before standing back up, taking the belt off and started doing things I never did before. I started training some back and bicep exercises on the days I was supposed to squat. I knew my legs needed a rest and I should probably work the muscles I never had worked before. I started doing bodybuilding and left my 525 goal in the past. I trained like a bodybuilder for the rest of the semester, with the occasional squats of 4×10 with 315 or 275 for 30 reps just for fun, but never pushing for strength. When summer came I was back in another gym where I would go 6 days per week, training each muscle group twice. I would learn a lot reading about training during this period and learning to train smarter towards strength. I stopped bench pressing to do only dumbbell work for about 3 months, just because I never liked the bench press. Then I realized how important of an exercise it was for my strength, so I retaught myself how to do it somewhat properly. I was progressing again in all my lifts and it felt great! I never really deadlifted regularly, but after training with it for a few months I did my first ever 500lb deadlift inside of an Anytime Fitness (they HATED me there). I also squatted 445 and benched around 250. All through junior college I would learn more and more on my own about training as I switched around to different gyms, always watching videos and reading about strength training. My goal of reaching a 525 squat was back! Then I found Conjugate Training…
“It all came down to one day during my final semester…I realized that I was not going to reach my goal by the end of the year. I kneeled down and took a few minutes to feel bad for myself, before standing back up, taking the belt off and started doing things I never did before.”
My Broken Back
Conjugate is a constantly varying form of training in which you focus on lifts related to the main lifts (Squat, Bench Press, Deadlift) yet train different areas of the lift. I LOVED this training and especially loved lifting with chains and bands! I would even carry my own 150lbs worth of chains into gyms just to be able to train with them! I was hooked! The heavy work was great too and I became very strong with this training. The problem was, my training was never really complete. So I would train all different ways, but I always tended to push things to the limit where I was not able to properly recover from it. Inevitably, I got injured. I had multiple times in which my hips would not let me squat due to pain, or my shoulder was bugging me. There was always something that was hurt. That all changed when I broke my back in 2012 at age 20. The injury came during a large martial arts demonstration in which I was doing something I had never done before and had no business doing. I weighed 20 pounds more than usual (about 220 lbs) from all the powerlifting training, and did a running dive 10+ ft in the air where I landed all my weight forwards (improper falling technique) during the demo. I did not realize anything was wrong though until I tried to get up the next day and I literally could not move without extreme pain. I had to roll out of bed and stumble my way through the house. It came down to I had a crushed vertebrae (T11) and 2 crushed/bulging discs (T10 & T11). I was told to lay in bed for 6 weeks and then do physical therapy. My activity greatly decreased, I became even more overweight (about 235) and was in pain constantly while going to school and doing daily chores (I was hard headed and didn’t take time off of school). This injury was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me, because it taught me the importance of recovery, mobility and balance in training. I learned a lot during my time in physical therapy and was able to gain a better understanding of how to progress going forward.
“This injury was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me, because it taught me the importance of recovery, mobility and balance in training.”
Recovery and Change
I realized I needed to make major changes into becoming a complete athlete again in which I could balance my strength with athleticism. I began to warm-up properly, train smarter for my recovery, eat better, and do my proper mobility work so I could still perform well in my sport (martial arts). I greatly improved my athleticism and strength together to where I could jump on a 54 inch box from a stand still and squat 450! I was back on top weighing only 200 pounds! I also gained the desire to change my major from Business to Kinesiology (Exercise Science) as I moved onto CSU-Sacramento from my Junior College. While in college I learned a tremendous amount of information that I had all wrong before! I learned nutrition, biomechanics, human kinetics, training programming, the science behind exercise and training and so much more! It was a world that I LOVED and I’m so happy I did it. From that I decided I wanted to put my new found knowledge into an easily accessible FREE website that I can use to help other people not have to go through the troubles I did. I wanted to do something that would really help people and help to Change The World. With that mindset, the Mathias Method was born! I created a website that I could have used on my journey to reach my strength goals. A site that I could have learned the proper way to build my body into what I wanted it to be. I hope to prevent others from making the same mistakes as I did. Now I am dedicated to helping others gain the strength required to surpass their goals and change their world!
“I created a website that I could have used on my journey to reach my strength goals.”
Where My Journey Lead Me
In the time since, I have competed in numerous Powerlifting Meets successfully completing 500+ lb Squats, 300+ lb Bench Press’s, and 600+ lb Deadlifts (Check YouTube for specific numbers of the latest meets). I became a NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) Certified Personal Trainer, and obtained my Degree in Exercise Science from CSU-Sacramento (2016). On March 16th, 2016, MathiasMethod.com was born. It features tons of FREE information about strength training, including FREE programs for those starting all the way to elite strength training athletes! All the information is based off the things I learned in my studies and experiences during my strength journey. I was not always smart, but I always had the heart and was very determined for success. And by using my heart, focus and determination, I developed the Mathias Method Strength System for all of the world to become stronger, both physically and mentally in order to Change Their World. So no matter where or how you started, whether it be with PT’s your dad gave you, a home gym, or just training on your own, know that I am here to help you make a difference and get stronger!
Strength to You,
Your Strength Journey Leader
Ryan J. Mathias, CPT
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