Chad Wesley Smith has no time to be sick.
The elite powerlifter is just nine days out from competing in Australia, a trip filled with seminars that have cemented Smith as one of the most sought-after strength coaches in the world. Today, at his Juggernaut Training Systems gym, tucked away inside a CrossFit box in Laguna Niguel, CA, many of his sponsored athletes are on hand for a camp. Smith oversees the session— lead by weightlifting coach Max Aita— taking videos for potential use on the Juggernaut social accounts, all of which are run by Smith.
He has already patiently sat through a nearly hour-long interview despite a hoarse voice and will conduct a short —albeit, impressive — lifting session of his own wearing boat shoes. Across the gym and behind the counter are racks of Juggernaut clothing and Smith’s Grind Sports Nutrition line, two more branches of a spectacular one-man operation.
“I’ve got a lot of calendars in my life,” muses Smith.
He’s also only had four jobs in that life: as a 12-year-old newspaper delivery boy, restaurant worker, coach and Juggernaut, a company he founded right out of college.
Smith doesn’t envision that list ever getting any longer.
“As well as we can, we sort of conquered the world of misinformation in powerlifting,” he said. “We got people not afraid to say that Westside lifting wasn’t the best thing to do and raw lifting is just a different game. So, it’s going to take different information to succeed. Now we can fight the good fight for weightlifting knowledge as well. I really enjoy every day of work with this.”
Smith has been programming for himself since he was 14 years old, though his interest in being bigger and stronger dates back further. As a child in Sunday school, he heard the David and Goliah story. At the end of it, the teacher asked, ‘Well kids, who do you want to be?’ Everyone’s hand shot up to yell. David! David!
Smith never gave it a second thought: he wanted to be Goliath.
Being interested in being big and strong, and playing the Rocky montage’s on repeat, was one thing. By all accounts it seems Smith —who, as a kid, would wrap bungee cords around trees for resistance training— was built to move big weights.
“If I have one really great, genetic gift for powerlifting, my joints are huge. And if you are going to try to squat 1,000 lb. that’s what you want to be particularly strong,” said Smith, who has Top 10 powerlifting totals all-time with wraps (1050 kg/2314 lb.) and without (1010 kg/2226 lb.)
“I remember being a little kid in basketball and hurting my knee. I was probably 12. The team mom was looking at it and getting all worried and calling my mom over. They were like, ‘Oh my God, his knee is so swollen!” And my mom’s like, ‘Look at the other one. That’s just how they are.’”
There is a family portrait in the Smith house of Chad and his two older brothers facing away from the camera. While there’s some height variation, their lower bodies are all structured the same. Smith’s brothers are 14 and 17 in the picture. He is just five.
Smith, who was adopted, has met his biological mother and has a pair of biological brothers who are two and four years younger. They are all normal sized. No one, in his adopted family or otherwise, had any more than a passing interest in the weight room.
Smith, who graduated high school at 6 feet, 275 lb., has never thought of anything else.
At first it was a gateway to track and field. Smith — a two-time national shot put champion— knew the more explosive he was the better he would perform. He’d spend hours in the gym and at home pouring over any information he could find online.
The evolution from a kid rearranging his parents furniture for agility training to a high school athlete picking the brain
s of every opposing track coach made him hungry for even more knowledge.
As a college student, Smith had coached high school track and football.
He had seen programs and people not do things right in strength and conditioning. It drove him crazy.
So, Smith decided, he was going to be a coach and teach history. But the politics of most school systems didn’t appeal to him and, when his track and field coach passed away during his post-collegiate year, Smith made the decision to train and open his own facility instead.
“I figured, well I’m already strong. Let’s try powerlifting,” said Smith, who retired from track in May of 2009 and squatted 800 lb. in knee wraps that October. “In hindsight, I wish I had done weightlifting [first]. You can go weightlifting to powerlifting a lot easier than powerlifting to weightlifting.”
Smith—who jokingly mentions that he does own the JTS muscle snatch record— immediately garnered attention in the powerlifting world. One of very few raw lifters at the time, he had trained himself in five months using his own programming. That December he released an e-book about his methods, titled Juggernaut after Smith’s high school football nickname.
The interest was evident and the Juggernaut Method, fueled by Smith’s appearance in Muscle & Fitness magazine, kept growing as Smith kept training and writing articles.
In 2012, the lease on his gym —which was never just a powerlifting gym— was up. Smith, well-versed in the power of the Internet from his e-book, moved his business to a small sublet and starting conducting seminars and ramping up efforts to build Juggernaut’s online brand.
“Through the articles and travel, I got the opportunity to surround myself with a lot of really intelligent coaches, sports scientists, physical therapists and, through that, create a platform with what I think is the best around for information on the Internet,” Smith said.
“There’s Internet coaches and then there’s coaches who put stuff on the Internet. We have a lot of coaches who put stuff on the Internet and aren’t just Internet coaches.”
The explosion of CrossFit and, with it, the resurgence of powerlifting and weightlifting has given Juggernaut a constantly expanding platform.
Smith, who took on his first sponsored weightlifter in Colin Burns in 2012, now houses Burns and several other athletes who were training at the recently-closed Olympic Training Center. Along with the growing athlete base, Smith has a team that includes Aita, Dr. Mike Israetel (sports nutrition) and Dr. Quinn Henoch (physical therapist and founder of Clinical Athlete) to form a formidable network.
Smith, who earned his Strongman pro card in 2012, is an expert who knows where his weaknesses are. A strength and conditioning titan who hasn’t forgotten the stress of making ends meet. The Muscle & Fitness banner from his early days still proudly hangs in his office, a reminder to the kid who wanted to be Goliath that he has become a giant on the platform and around the world.
“Four or five years ago, I had to make the decision that’s going to make me $1,000 now or to pay the rent. Which isn’t necessarily the best decision for long-term growth. Now, it’s been nice to have the opportunity to think more long-term,” Smith said of Juggernaut.
“I think the path we are on is where we want to stay. We want to continue to provide the best educational content for people. We want to help provide a voice for coaches and athletes who really do it, live it every day. Even though that might mean they don’t have the most polished writing or on-camera skills. They are the ones with the best information to share.”
“I constantly try to answer the question, how can we best help our customer improve? How can we teach powerlifters, weightlifters, physical therapists, trainers, whatever, something valuable to their field? I figure as long as we continue to answer that question with the highest-quality information, that can be entertaining as well, that’s great. But the quality of information can’t ever be sacrificed. As long as we do that first, it may not be the sexiest, flashiest thing, but it’s not going out of style.”
All pictures courtesy of Chad Wesley Smith.