~Two years ago, I was training a group of NFL & college football players when I received a message to call back a man by the name of Paul Levesque. “I couldn’t really hear the message because it’s so damn loud in here; but I think he’s supposed to be a WWE wrestler or something”, Ashley explained to me.
“Just put his number by my gym bag and I’ll call him back if I have time tomorrow…I doubt the guy is actually in the WWE”, I replied.
Then, one of my college athletes interrupted the conversation…“WAIT! What did you say his name was?! Did you say Paul Levesque? If so, that’s Triple H! Go call him back right now! We can finish the workout on our own!”
The rest, as they say, is history…
Nothing “fake” about it…
One of the main reasons that Triple H contacted me was because he knew he needed to make a change in his training. He had just turned 40 and the injuries he sustained during the course of his legendary career were really starting to take their toll on his body.
There is a very interesting dilemma that most WWE superstars face: It’s very important for them to have “the look” — but if they sacrifice “function” just to look good — their bodies become a ticking time bomb and injury is inevitable.
Many people reading this may be saying, “Why do these guys have to worry about training for ‘function’ and preventing injury; isn’t wrestling fake?” After working with Triple H for almost two years now, I can tell you with confidence that the physical demands and injuries that WWE superstars deal with are as real as it gets! I’ve been training professional athletes for over 15 years and I can guarantee you that I’ve never come across an athlete whose body has been through more abuse than Triple H.
Here’s just a “few” of the injuries Triple H has sustained in the ring:
- Completely torn quadriceps muscles/tendons in BOTH legs that required major surgery and rehab. (FYI, both injuries happened in the ring and Triple H continued to wrestle and finish both matches on one leg!)
- Torn biceps tendon (shoulder surgery)
- Two elbow surgeries to remove 9 bone spurs that the surgeon said were the size of “human teeth”. One of the spurs was lodged in the joint, preventing any movement in the elbow.
- Torn adductor muscle
- Torn Piriformis muscle
- Knee surgery (Thermal Heat Probe) to track the Patella: This is when the surgeon cuts the tendon on one side (to create some slack) and burns the tendon on the other side (to shrink/tighten it) in order to track the knee cap better
- Over a dozen high ankle sprains
- Torn calf muscle sustained when ‘Cactus Jack’ suplexed Triple H through a wood pallet and a piece of the pallet broke off and pierced right through his calf muscle – all the way to the bone! (Triple H pulled the piece of wood out and finished the match with his boot drenched in blood.)
After my initial meeting with Triple H, I had a new-found respect for the “Sports Entertainment” business. These guys are basically a combination of football players, Hollywood stunt men, gymnasts and bodybuilders all rolled into one! I was very excited to take on this challenge and help Triple H go from “injured bodybuilder” to “healthy athlete” — all while enhancing “the look” he’s become famous for!
Note: It would be impossible for me to cover every single aspect of Triple H’s training during the past two years…nor am I willing to give away all that information anyway 🙂 So I decided to provide some bullet-points of the most important changes I made to his former training style. According to Triple H, the changes listed below have had the biggest impact on his strength, health, performance and appearance during the last two years.
- Improving the quality of his soft tissue by incorporating SMR (Self-Myofascial Release) with the foam roller & lacrosse ball on a daily basis.
- Placing an emphasis on properly warming up before every workout and in-ring performance!
- Switching his mindset from training specific “body parts” to training specific “movements”.
- Placing an emphasis on building & strengthening the smaller, stabilizer muscles.
Example: When I first started training Triple H, his “newest” injury was the surgically repaired biceps tendon of his left shoulder. I spent the first three months of training focussing on his external rotators, rear delts, mid-traps, rhomboids, etc. I don’t think I had him touch a weight when training his ‘upper back’ during the first three months we trained together. I had him doing tons of strict isometric holds, bodyweight exercises and band resistance to target these muscles. I knew if I could strengthen these often-overlooked muscles, Triple H would eventually be much more likely to throw a punch, execute a body slam – as well as lift heavy weights again – with much less chance of an inhibitory response from the Golgi Tendon Organ. (Simply put, when your smaller, stabilizer muscles are not strong/stable enough to support a heavy weight or stabilize during a difficult activity; your Golgi Tendon Organ will “shut off” your bigger (prime mover) muscles in order to prevent injury to the weak link(s) in the chain. This is called the “tension effect“). Reducing the likelihood of this inhibitory response (by strengthening the ‘weak links’) drastically reduces Triple H’s potential for future injuries, while increasing his performance. Much to Triple H’s surprise, these “less sexy” exercises (“Y-Handcuffs”, Band Face Pull+External Rotation, Band Pull-aparts, etc.) actually made his upper back/rear delts more muscular than when he was performing traditional bodybuilding movements! We basically “filled in the holes” of his upper back by getting the smaller, “deeper” muscles to hypertrophy. These “rehab-type” movements ended up giving Triple H what bodybuilders refer to as a “three-dimensional” look (due to the thickness/density that was built.) And when we finally started incorporating heavy rows and other compound movements into his program, he was able to handle heavier weights due to the “structural balance” that was created.
- Switching from a Linear Periodization model to a Conjugated Method of Periodization. The main advantage of Conjugated Periodization is that multiple abilities (example: hypertrophy, maximal strength, power) are developed at the same time, without any drop in any one of them. This makes it ideal for a WWE superstar, due to the fact that there is no off-season and their wrestling schedule can be unpredictable. With this periodization model, Triple H is never far off from getting in peak physical condition for a big event. (FYI, it is a myth that you must train “balls out” for 52 weeks of the year with this type of periodization model. Even though Triple H trains multiple abilities year-round, we cycle the volume, intensity and incorporate deload weeks to prevent over-training and burnout.)
- Failure is no longer an option! Like many bodybuilders, Triple H used to perform a lot of forced reps, assisted reps, etc. The problem is that training to failure fries your CNS and kills your ability to recover…especially for a guy in his 40’s. Because of this; I always have Triple H leave 1 to 2 reps “in the tank”. In fact, in the 2 years I’ve been training him, he has not missed one single rep! Yes, you read that right; he’s never failed on a rep, nor have I laid a finger on the bar to help him perform a forced rep, ever! Keep in mind that we train heavy and hard…I just make sure to choose the weights/percentages accordingly in order to prevent failure. This mentality and attention to detail has resulted in 2 years of constant progress.
- Box-squatting. Triple H is yet another real-world example of someone who can now squat pain-free, thanks to learning how to box squat properly. Here’s what he had to say regarding the topic: “I always thought that sore knees and joint pain went hand in hand with squatting. I thought it was just something everyone dealt with. Ever since switching to box squats, my knees and low back feel better than they have in 15 years.” This statement speaks volumes coming from a guy with Triple H’s storied injury history.
- Variety. Although the training system and philosophy I’ve been utilizing with Triple H has remained pretty consistent during the past two years; I’m constantly adding variety ‘within the system’. In other words, I design Triple H’s yearly plan in 2-3 week “mini-cycles”. This means, every 2-3 weeks, I change his workouts based on his progress, feedback, strengths, weaknesses, goals, etc. Triple H has expressed that the “variety” is probably the thing he enjoys the most about my programming. I’m proud of the fact that the variety of my workouts keep him motivated and fresh. In fact, during the past two years, I have incorporated over 75 exercises that Triple H hadn’t previously seen or performed during his 30 years in the gym! NOTE: In my opinion, variety is the #1 training factor affecting hypertrophy. I feel that – even though Triple H is now training like an “athlete” – his physique has also improved due to all the exercise variety within this training system. When your body has to constantly adapt to different angles, resistances, set/rep schemes and tempos…you’re bound to respond by “growing”!
- Address the “Strength Infrastructure”! This “game changer” has definitely made one of the biggest impacts on Triple H’s health and performance. When I refer to the “strength infrastructure”, I’m referring to the feet, core and hands. (To me, this is the foundation for any athlete.) Take a moment and think about a WWE wrestling match, or any other sporting event for that matter. You now probably have a visual of athletes running, jumping, punching, throwing, kicking, grabbing, etc. Most of us are aware that our “core” is our ‘power center’ as it transfers power through our body; this power is then displayed through our arms (applied through the hands) or our legs (applied through the feet). Addressing this “infrastructure” is of utmost importance to reach your full power potential, while drastically reducing your chances of injury. Below I have listed the three foundational ways that Triple H increased the strength of his “infrastructure”. I say these are “foundational” because they are things every athlete can immediately apply to their training, regardless of what program they’re on, or the sport they play, etc.
Farmers Walks are one of THE best exercises an athlete can do to improve overall body strength (especially in the hands/forearms, core and feet/ankles)
-Barefoot training. The very first day I met Triple H and he told me about his quad tears, knee pain, torn hip muscles and multiple ankle sprains; I immediately recommended he start training in Vibram FiveFingers. (These are specially designed “shoes” that are essentially the same as being barefoot.)
The human foot has over 100 muscles and tendons that run through it. Wearing cushioned sneakers is like wearing a cast all day, so the muscles and tendons in your feet become weaker over time. This increases your chances of ankle, knee, hip and low back injury — or in Triple H’s case — a poor sneaker choice will prevent old injuries from healing properly. Training in Vibrams has essentially “uncasted” his feet and helped restore strength, balance and range of motion in his joints. As an added benefit, he added some size to his calves as well!
-No more lifting straps. Lifting straps act as a “cast” to your hands and forearms (similar to the example of cushioned sneakers and your feet.) Straps may help you ‘lift more weight’ while you’re in the gym, but then your grip won’t be up to the task during ‘real-world’ activities or on the athletic field.
Taking it a step further, I regularly have Triple H perform exercises with thick-handled dumbells and barbells. The larger diameter of thick barbells and dumbells increases motor unit recruitment, which accelerates strength & hypertrophy gains. On average, I’ve noticed about a 10% increase in Triple H’s strength once we resume training with regular-diameter barbells and dumbells.
-Your core is your new weightlifting belt. Triple H has not worn a weightlifting belt since we started training. I’m not opposed to the use of belts during max-effort sets of squats and deadlifts, but most people wear them way too much. This is a huge mistake; it’s also one of the reasons so many gym rats can display their strength while in the gym, yet they are worthless when it comes to real-life activities outside of the gym (such as moving a couch). This is because they don’t have the core strength to “transfer” the strength of their limbs! The most functional way to strengthen your core is to learn how to brace when lifting without a belt. This will do more for your “abdominal strength” than all the crunches in the world!
In PART 2 of “Changing THE GAME”, I will reveal exactly how Triple H trained during his final week of preparation for Wrestlemania 28! You don’t want to miss this day-by-day, behind-the-scenes look at how a WWE legend prepared his body for one of the most physically demanding matches of his life!
P.S. – Drop me a comment below and let me know what you thought of Part 1 of this exclusive article series!
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