This Powerlifting Champion Is Now Tearing It Up On The BJJ Mats

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Image Sources: screenshot from Facebook: Chad Wesley Smith (left); screenshot from Instagram: Chad Wesley Smith (right)

Chad Wesley Smith is a high-level strength coach, powerlifting champion, and author who turned his focus to training Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Gracie Barra HQ in Irvine, California.

The Jiu-jitsu Times recently sat down with Chad to talk about his transition to Brazil’s soft art. The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How did you get interested in BJJ?

Chad Wesley Smith: My first exposure to BJJ was in late 2009, shortly after I’d started my company, Juggernaut Training Systems, when I cold called a gym called Gigante BJJ and spoke with Fabio ‘Gigantinho’ Villela. I spoke with Fabio and told him that I could get him stronger and better conditioned for jiu-jitsu, so he came to the gym and began training with me. He really enjoyed it and was improving a lot, so more and more BJJ athletes started coming and eventually I was working with Romulo Barral, Kayron Gracie, Philipe Della Monica, and several other Gracie Barra professors from around Southern California and would also have other athletes like Felipe Pena, Victor Estima, and Mario Reis come to train before they competed in big competitions like Worlds and Pan-Ams. That was a really fun time, training such a big, competitive group, but for my own training, I was focused on powerlifting and Strongman at the time, and didn’t want to start jiu-jitsu and risk an injury. After my most recent powerlifting competition in November 2016, though, my body was hurting from so much heavy training and I’d just become bored with the monotony of powerlifting. So I figured it was time for a change and a new challenge, and I went to my first BJJ class at Gracie Barra HQ in August 2017.

JJT: What would you say are the biggest parallels between your experience in strongman and powerlifting and training in BJJ?

CWS: The similarities are really just that they both require hard, often uncomfortable, work. Powerlifting and Strongman came very easily for me. I’d been lifting for a long time when I began them, so I was able to be extremely successful in a short time in both of them. Jiu-jitsu, though, has been very different and humbling in a lot of ways. The technique for powerlifting and Strongman, while important, is relatively simple and is the same every time, but jiu-jitsu technique is seemingly endless and so dynamic because the positions change, the opponent changes, and the situation changes. It has been a very fun new challenge.

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This Saturday at 2pm, come to JuggernautHQ and learn how to improve your squat technique and programming from @marisainda @max_aita and myself at the Juggernaut Squat Workshop. Sign up at Store.JTSstrength.com under Events. #tbt to what was definitely one of my best squat sets at the time, 342.5/755# x4 beltless at Poundstone Performance in Connecticut #JuggLife #TeamCWS @juggernautonlinecoaching #JuggCoaching

Posted by Chad Wesley Smith on Thursday, April 6, 2017

JJT: What aspects of BJJ have required the largest adaptations from you? What has been the most challenging aspect of learning jiu-jitsu?

CWS: The mobility and conditioning for BJJ have been the toughest changes for me. For a strength athlete, I had very good mobility and conditioning, but the scale of those qualities for BJJ is so much different. Right now, I’m about 6’1″ and 335 pounds, and a lot of guard positions, escapes, et cetera require a level of hip mobility that is really challenging for me. My legs are huge, so getting my shin across or knee in between me and my opponent during a shrimp is really hard. Strongman is the most demanding of strength sports from a conditioning standpoint, but that is usually one minute all out or maybe as long as 90 seconds. And in that time frame, I can really go hard. But getting into the energy systems of five minutes or more has been a big change, both physiologically and psychologically. Beginning to learn the technique has given me a great appreciation for the higher belts and the concept of process orientation. Being able to understand that something like escaping from side control isn’t just an A-to-B process, but focusing on all the smaller intermediate steps, has been something I’ve been able to carry over to my coaching for powerlifting and weightlifting. Professor Brent Littell has given me some great lessons in learning technique, seeing it, doing it, talking through the steps of it, and writing the steps of it. I use those processes with my lifters now.

JJT: You competed in the novice division of the 2018 World Championships. How did you like the experience of competing in BJJ? What are your future goals in BJJ?

CWS: I’ve competed twice now, at a Gracie Barra competition in February (where I got beat twice), then at Novice Worlds (where I got second) and am competing again in Vegas at the end of August. Its been a fun change of pace from shot put, powerlifting, and Strongman, where you’re sort of out there by yourself performing. That definitely adds a different level of competitiveness and strategy. I’d competed in some of the biggest track meets and powerlifting meets in the world, but I was definitely more nervous for the first jiu-jitsu match because it was just so different than what I’d done before, and I really had no idea if I was any good or not. As far as the future, I just want to keep improving and as I move up belts, be competitive at Worlds and have fun. I definitely don’t take my BJJ training as seriously as I did powerlifting. It’s really a fun new challenge and I enjoy the community of it.

JJT: The question I most want to ask is how do much smaller but more experienced BJJ black belts handle your strength and size? What do black belts do that gives you the most difficulty in rolling?

CWS: When I roll with Professor Phillipe Della Monica, I joke that I can only make wrong decisions, even when I do the right thing. By the time I do it, it’s wrong. Technique, in any sport, allows people to efficiently express their strength and power, so black belts who are much smaller than me and weaker from a weight room standpoint, are able to utilize their strength so much more efficiently than I can because of better positions, leverage, and special strength that they’ve developed from so many repetitions of BJJ specific movements. Generally, the toughest things for me are when a higher belt gets under me too much, like in a deep half guard or X guard and particularly if they do stuff like pull my lapel back through my legs or something. Then I just end up in a position that is totally foreign to me and I feel like I don’t even know which way to begin going. Defending standing passes in the open guard against smaller, quicker guys is tough as well. My legs being so strong is helpful in some situations, but they’re so big and heavy that it’s tough to keep them up and moving quickly in open guard.

JJT: You do a weekly podcast “Beers With Chad”. What is it about and what might BJJ guys learn from the podcast?

CWS: I have three podcasts that I do. My main one is called The JuggLife where I interview athletes and coaches about their training, mindset, and program organizations. That features powerlifting, weightlifting, nutrition, mobility, and sports performance stuff. We visited the UFC Performance Institute for an episode. We have a lot of very smart, highly qualified guests on it and there is a lot of high quality, principle-based information on getting stronger, improving recovery, improving body composition and mindset towards training and competing. Beers with Chad is a bonus each week to The JuggLife. It’s less formal, and gives more anecdotal type of information, sometimes expanding on what that week’s JuggLife was about: current events in the training community, books I’m reading, or just topics that are interesting to me. My newest one is called The Big Ugly Podcast, and that is a sports talk show mostly focused on football, basketball, and MMA. We also have a ton of content on YouTube focusing on lifting technique tutorials, lectures on program design, nutrition and mobility, plus video versions of the podcasts. The podcasts are on YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher and iHeartRadio.

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