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An Interview with Chip Conrad

Tyler Welch
26 September 2009
An Interview with Chip Conrad

Chip Conrad is the owner and head trainer of Bodytribe, a Sacramento-based gym specializing in progressive, full-spectrum fitness. He has been active in the strength and conditioning world for over 15 years and has trained with such Physical Culture luminaries as the late Dr. Mel Siff, Dan John, Tommy Kono, Dave Tate, amongst others. He regularly blogs at his own website www.physicalsubculture.com and has written articles for www.wannabebig.com, www.elitefts.com and more. His book, Lift With Your Head and DVD Strength Rituals are available on his website or at Amazon.com . He is currently filming for his next DVD entitled Brutal Recess.

USCS: Tell us a little about your gym, Bodytribe, and what you’re trying to create there:

Chip Conrad: Bodytribe is a sanctuary of movement and strength. Of course you're going to have to deal with me coming back to this concept repeatedly throughout this interview, but at least here at the beginning it won't sound redundant. I like the intensity and rawness of a good garage gym, but my place for the strength ritual won't inspire me if it is one step away from being a biohazard.

Give me music, color, art, plants and some affable fauna (the Bodytribe mascots) to surround the sweat, blood and raw materials and I'll feel a bit more complete. 'Hardcore' doesn't have to mean dirty, dangerous and tetanus worthy. If a decorator was to label it, perhaps it would be called 'tribal-industrial,' and if a decorator DID label it that, we'd have to disappear him/her.

USCS: How is what you do different from other non-mainstream fitness organizations (such as Crossfit)?

CC: Bodytribe puts the creative responsibility into YOUR hands. We'll outline the concepts we utilize and the techniques we find applicable, but all within a template that demands an individual artistic stamp. Here's your paints, here's your canvas, now MAKE. Other programs work within their demographic because they are the exact OPPOSITE of that: Here's the finished painting and we'll give you the exact steps on how to get there. Still other programs play with vague ideas of what the outcome should be, but they'll be militant in their randomness. HERE'S TODAY'S WORKOUT. It has nothing to do with your last workout except that they both are 'general' in their approach. At some point you'll be fit, whatever that means... now GO!

Bodytribe demands a very detailed definition of what fitness means, what strength means, and how you plan to get there. But the path can be odd, varied and sometimes spontaneous. Too many folks now are busy limiting their training by embracing some tool or protocol as the answer to what ills them. The kettlebell converts are a quick example. Kettlebell-only gyms? Are you kidding?

Vehemently ingesting a tool or a single protocol (like all GPP all the time, for instance) is quite limiting. The programs and philosophies that are going to create the most change in anyone's lives are the programs that expand, evolve and transcend. There is merit to many tools, many styles of training and many faces of intensity. As Bruce Lee said, take what works, discard what doesn't. Just don't get stuck in your quagmire of dogma.

USCS: Describe Physical Culture:

CC: I'm going to steal from you stealing from Eugene Sandow:

"To undo the evil for which civilization, and all the drawbacks it has brought in its train, have been responsible in making man regard his body lightly - that is the aim of physical culture."

Modern gym rats fork over their hard-earned ducats and pursue their minor workout battles daily to achieve the look of someone who is fit. A physical culturalist actually IS fit (and looks the part). There's a big difference. If someone can't see it, they fall into the first category.

Let's be able to DO, not just LOOK like we can do.

USCS: You talk a lot about mobility – what is it, and how does it relate to what most people know as flexibility?

CC: Mobility is flexibility in action, in demand, in flux. I love that word 'flux,' vaguely naughty sounding, yet not. Remember the 'flux capacitor' from Back to the Future? Let's make a hokey correlation. Mobility is our body's flux capacitor. Using flow of movement through its birth-given, rightful range of motion, a body remains young, or even regains youth. Perhaps not a DeLorean that can twist time to its will, but mobility ranks high on the things-that-help-us-NOT-breakdown-through-aging' list.

Oh wait, I hear that gossamer vibration of some kid in the back shaking his head. He's thinking that, at 22 years of age, he's got years before he has to worry about that. He can lift, fuck and fight with the best of them now, so to him mobility is yoga crap for chicks and old people.

Up until his first injury.

Mobility isn't just range of motion, it's celebration of motion, being able to take the body in new directions. A martial artist might have flexibility, but a gymnast has mobility. A dancer might have flexibility, but a B-boy has mobility. Passive flexibility is meaningless without the strength and balance to make it count.

USCS: How important is maximum effort strength training for combat sport athletes (grapplers, mixed martial artists, boxers, etc)?

CC: Maximum force development, whether through maximal loads (1 rep max training) or through speed training (what powerlifters refer to as dynamic effort training) is the hidden treasure that most fighters are simply ignoring. You're not trying to build pretty, useless muscles, so stop training like bodybuilders. You're not just high-revving, high gas mileage endurance machines, so stop focusing ALL of your training on GPP work. Put a pair of fighters together in the ring, and the guy with the 500 pound squat is the guy not going to the ground too easily. He's also to guy whose kick or cross will probably demolish you.

Sure MFD training isn't the SOLE PURPOSE of anyone's training program, outside of a powerlifter perhaps. But cycling periods of serious organized speed or load training into your training will add entire new dimensions to what a fighter is capable of in the ring. A lot more than going for 5 mile runs all the time.

USCS: What would you say would be essential components of a combat sport athlete’s program?

CC: Start with foundation work. Use the big lifts - squats, deadlifts, power cleans, overhead presses - and build an understanding of being able to move big loads with complete stability and confidence. THIS builds the vague concept of the 'core' more than any amount of crunches will. From this foundation it is easier to incorporate athletic movements into a training program and be able to execute them with devastating results.

Get the GPP work up. Be able to generate varying levels of force over slightly extended periods of time.

Rotation work. If you're not working with loaded rotation work, you're not training to fight.

And that's just the beginning.

USCS: Does training for combat sports necessitate a different type of training than other sports? Both on the basic level and as trainees advance?

CC: Nope. In fact I credit the modern media eye on fight training for bringing to light the otherwise underground world of true strength/conditioning training. I think the majority of fight training programming is still pretty weak, but heck, at least you might see some UFC clip of someone flipping a tire or lifting a stone once in a while. This is savage playtime training. It's been given names like dinosaur training or caveman training. We call it any given day at Bodytribe, and only a small percentage of our clientele are fighters.

USCS: Talk to us about your new concept of Brutal Recess:

CC: Now we're back to mobility. Brutal Recess is how we've added mobility training directly into the workouts. It's not just for warm ups and cool downs anymore. Brutal Recess is keeping the intensity high after your foundation training, like MFD work, but adding more dimensions to the movement of the body. I GUARANTEE that you can create some of the hardest workouts in your life without a single piece of equipment. You just have to be willing to push your body beyond the normal limitations of motion.

But we're not opposed to a few pieces of gear thrown in the mix. Grab a club, kettlebell, dumbbell or tire and we'll have a party.

USCS: How does Brutal Recess vary from “traditional” bodyweight training?

CC: It is simply fewer limitations. Take all the manipulative factors: speed, volume, duration, time, distance, etc., etc., and apply them to movements that challenge stability, range of motion, balance and good ol' muscle thumpin' strength and you have the recipe for utter freedom. Intense freedom. Wasn't that what recess represented to us as children? Bob Marley could have been talking about 4th grade recess when he penned "emancipate yourself from mental slavery." We unshackled ourselves from tediousness and got our movement on.

Why did we lose that as adults? So Brutal Recess is accepting that freedom means responsibility, and to embrace our freedom of movement, our freedom of strength, we must embrace intensity. It's the fun of accomplishment.

Okay, I rambled. That's more philosophy than description perhaps. But I'll sum it up this way. We've stolen from all the great movement arts: fighting, dance, yoga and even child's play and tumbling, and liberally sprinkled them into our workouts, usually in the workload or GPP phases. Get your heavy foundation lifting going and then challenge your stamina and range of motion through the Brutal Recess combos.

USCS: Anything else I forgot?

CC: Don't open that door. We'll be here all day.

You can hear more about mobility, Physical Culture, Brutal Recess, Bodytribe and more at Chip’s 2-day workshop series October 10th & 11th at Second Nature Fitness/Neutral Ground BJJ. Visit www.secondnaturefitness.org for more details and preregistration forms.

Last Modified:
11 November 2010

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