It was an arm wrestling match that led Steven D. Holt to pursue a career in sports performance and weightlifting training. The former beef cattle farmer from Iowa was dedicated to learning the practices from some of the most respected coaches and trainers from around the world.
Today, Holt is the owner of Steven D’s Strength and Conditioning facility in Cincinnati, Ohio, which works with some of the best young athletes around the world. This includes working with some of the world’s best competitive athletes, such as Olympic weightlifters like 2016 Rio Olympic gold medalist Kianoush Rostami.
Holt offers world-class strength and conditioning coaching for all athletes competing in scholastic, collegiate, Olympic and professional sports. His facility also offers continuing education and instruction for strength and conditioning professionals through certifications, clinics, seminars and private consultation with some of the most well-respected trainers from across the globe.
Brayton Wilson caught up with Holt, and got the chance to learn about his practice and how CoachMePlus has revolutionized his interactions with his athletes.
What is it that you love about coaching?
As a coach, you have such a huge responsibility. You can totally dictate an athlete’s success. A bad coach can derail a great athlete from ever achieving their goals, and a good coach can help an average athlete achieve a lot more than maybe what they thought they were capable of. I have two athletes right now who were cut from multiple sports teams, and other parents and coaches tell them that maybe sports just isn’t for them. Just knowing that with consistent work, both of those athletes – one of them was a national silver medalist in weightlifting last year, and the other one being a national bronze medalist in weightlifting. That was within 12 to 18 months of them stepping through my door.
The biggest reward, and why I like coaching, is knowing that you can really have a good impact. As a youth athlete myself, I think a lot of the values that I learned growing up were from positive coaches in my life. Just knowing that I’m able to have an influence on a younger generation and help kind of steer their way towards success, it’s why I enjoy doing it.
How has the CoachMePlus platform helped you with keeping track of everything with your Olympic athletes, as well as your other athletes? How do they vary from athlete to athlete?
CoachMePlus has helped us a ton with being able to monitor the volume and the load of everything they’re doing.
We have nine Olympic weightlifting platforms in our facility, and every single one of them has a tablet in it. When an athlete comes in, they log in and I’m able to go in and individually set the exact workout every day for every athlete in the morning. They walk up, grab their tablet and immediately know exactly how much weight to put on the bar. I can work the room a little and coach the athletes on their technique.
I’m not going to 100-percent stick to what I’ve put into the program. If I have them go down in their workload, they can put in the app their workload amount, and then I can go back at night and see how well the athletes did as far as achieving the numbers I wanted them to achieve. It has streamlined my ability to design their programming and training throughout the year, and really monitor every single athlete.
How has CoachMePlus helped you communicate with your athletes? Does it work when they’re away from the gym?
It can create a circuit. If an athlete lifted at school, they can put everything they did during their school workout in the app. Even with athletes that do running, they can load their workloads in the app right from their phone, and then I’m able to know exactly what they did. By being able to check when they did each item, I’m also able to monitor their rest periods so I’m able to know what energy systems they’re using when they’re not at my facility.
I train athletes that are in Australia, Canada, there are distant remote clients, and the app is everything. That’s how we monitor and communicate. We’re able to message each other through the app, load instructional videos through the app. Without that, we’d be trying to Skype, send emails, or make long Excel spreadsheets which would not be near anything streamlined.
Do you assign any very specific programs to your athletes? I’m sure that something for your weightlifters is going to be completely different to that of a football player.
Everything is completely individualized. We might have a similar mesocycle or block of training where we’re trying to work on volume and have less intensity. I can go in and assign everybody a general workout for the day, but I’m still specifically going in and putting the exact weight amount that I want an athlete to hit.
We still have a basic guideline of how much I want them to hit. If somebody hits that guideline and they look great, I may have them take it up a notch. If somebody is not looking up to that guideline, I’m obviously not going to work them up to it. The app allows me to go through and see the variance of change of what I expected somebody to get versus what they didn’t get. If someone overachieved, I can run reports and see all those reports as well.
Everybody’s body is different. We’ve had people that have won Olympic medals and did the polar opposite of someone in their same weight class that was nearly their same age at a different period did. Everybody’s body responds different, but the app allows us to have more data to pinpoint what each person needs quicker.
Has the CoachMePlus system helped save you time?
I don’t know an exact amount, but it has saved me a lot of time. I would say probably more than 20 or 30 hours a week.
What were some of your old tactics you used to jot down data before using CoachMePlus?
Making Excel sheets, a ton of notepad paper. I used to have all of my walls in my gyms made out of chalkboard paint, and they’d be covered with today’s workout, what workout one athlete did, who missed a lift, etc. Now my walls are clean, just black paint because I don’t have to write on them anymore. We’re so much more organized.
What else do you like about the CoachMePlus system? What about it was maybe different from another system you’ve tried?
It’s totally endless as far as anything that we can add to it. I’m confident that if there’s any type of report that the system doesn’t currently do, all I have to do is submit a phone call and the flexibility is there. I don’t feel like the program restricts me to working within any type of barriers. The sky is the limit. If I want to create an exercise, I can create it, upload any video I want, set a baseline from percentages. I can make it exactly how I want it.
So it’s not just Olympic athletes you’re working with. You’re also working with high school athletes who want to be football players, baseball players, or just want to be healthier or more physically active?
Correct. Most of them are football players and wrestlers. The biggest difference between my program and your traditional sports performance program that you would find throughout the country is that I require all of my kids to train a minimum of six sessions a week. I run my program very similar to that of an Eastern Bloc European or Soviet country’s national team, where consistency is key. We don’t have a six-week before-season program or something where you come learn this movement. Everybody that’s here is here six days a week, year-round, year after year, and we’re able to put up some big training numbers.
When you have an injured athlete, how do you utilize CoachMePlus to help with their recovery?
With a recovering athlete, the biggest thing we’re able to do is to go back and look at a lot of their previous performances before their injury. That allows us to give us an idea of how quickly they’re recovering. A lot of it is day-by-day. You’re looking at their mobility and using your intuition as a coach to determine what you’re going to have them do. It also gives you a baseline as a tool to measure how fast they’re moving forward. Without having the previous numbers sorted in the app before the injury, we’d be guessing where his workload was before the injury.
What makes an Olympic weightlifting program different from a general resistance training program? Are there similar traits to each program that you can apply to your athletes?
They’re somewhat similar in that we do a lot of the same movements. The difference is the athletes need the highest strength quality that is transferable to their sport. For example – where an Olympic lifter needs to be highly proficient in a snatch and a clean and jerk, a football player might just need to improve their power production. A football player might be doing a lot of clean pulls from different various positions, where the Olympic weightlifter might need to do full cleans.
What type of athletes do you train?
We train athletes of all ages; all the way down from six, seven, eight years old up to collegiate and professional athletes. We primarily use traditional Olympic weightlifting movements. They’re the basis for our program regardless if the athlete is a competitive weightlifter or if they’re a baseball, football or basketball player.
I’ve been fortunate enough that my main mentor is Vladimir Safonov, who’s an established Russian National Team coach. He’s coached multiple Olympians in several sports and is a multiple world record holder. I was able to learn to lift from him, so that’s why we base everything around those lifts. That’s where our strongest background is.
Before I opened in 2009, I went through more of the commercial side of training like bodybuilding, figure and fitness competitors, and then just general population weight loss. As I transitioned into sports performance training and reaching out to different mentors and education, it led to my true passion, which was working with competitive athletes.
We also do a lot of continuing education seminars that are attended by multiple facility owners and sports performance coaches. We have an Olympian in the sport of weightlifting, who has won a gold, silver or bronze medal or set a world record in each of the last four Olympics.
We mostly train youth and high school athletes, and highly competitive weightlifters that come in from outside of the country. We’re not listed as their main coach because they’re not here throughout the entire span of the year, but they do come here for training camps.
With your eight years of experience at your facility, do you work more with the younger athletes to prepare them for competition, or do you work with people of various age groups for their general well-being?
I would say 85-percent of our athletic base is high school athletes between the ages of 13 and 18 years old. We get most kids when they’re in seventh or eighth grade, and we train most of them through their senior year.
I bet I’ve trained over 35 kids who have gone to power-five schools for football, baseball or something else. A lot of them will set certain records their senior year of high school, they’ll go into massive collegiate programs, and they’ll come back every summer and still train.
They go to these huge collegiate programs where there are great coaches and great facilities, but there are so many athletes that I don’t think they get the individual attention. I’ve had kids straight bar deadlift 650 to 700 pounds as a senior in high school, then go to B-programs that are nationally recognized and never be able to pull 500 pounds over the four years.
We do have athletes we work with internationally who are at the senior level. Kianoush Rostami (Iran) is a good friend of mine. He’s a Rio gold medalist and a world record holder. He’ll be coming and training here for the couple weeks leading up to the world championship and after. Am I his real coach? No. Do I get to be part of the brainstorm of decision-making? Yes. Same thing with Mohamed Ehab (Egypt), a Rio bronze medalist. Do I get the final say in his decisions? No, but I do get to sit at the table and be one of the people that gets to be a part of that.
How did you get to where you are right now?
I actually didn’t go to school. I was actually a beef cattle farmer by trade growing up in Iowa. I met some football players who beat me in arm wrestling, and that led me to think, ‘How did these guys get so strong? I think I’m super strong from working all day.’ That led me to learn about training in general and seeking out some good qualifying coaches and mentors.
From there, I went to every continuing education clinic that I could, certifications that I could. I’m now an Eleiko certified strength coach, USA Weightlifting strength coach, USA Track and Field, USA Wrestling coach.
I’d look around and see that there’s a really good, successful coach somewhere. I’d reach out to them, and instead of me paying them for me to be a client, I wanted to pay them for their time. I wanted to shadow them, learn from them, and I was fortunate to have some good mentors.
I was also able to reach out to some international coaches through a translator and ask, “What do I have to do to learn your system? Can I pay you for your time?’ Everybody was incredibly inviting and over that span, I have been fortunate enough to have people from Ukraine, China, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, and others who come from all over the world to come both teach myself and then I kind of steal some of their ideas and pass them along as well.
Everything that I’ve got has mostly come from the direct experience of reaching out to people and spending extended periods of time with them.
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